Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

‘I threw my toys out of the pram’: Fleet closes in on Hong Kong’s Scallywag and AkzoNobel in Volvo Ocean Race leg six

David Witt and his team made the most of a section of strong winds but the boats face a long stretch of light conditions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 9:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 10:37pm

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has clawed back more than 100 nautical miles on leaders Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and Team AkzoNobel as the boats entered a long stretch of weak winds on their way to the finish line in Auckland, New Zealand.

Hong Kong’s Scallywag had put more than 100 miles between themselves and four trailing boats but they slowed right down just north-east of the Solomon Islands, allowing the other boats to make up ground.

As of the 9pm on Monday, David Witt and his crew were just two nautical miles ahead of AkzoNobel and were closest to the ideal racing line, though all boats are expected to suffer under light conditions as they angle towards a narrow passageway slightly west of Vanuatu.

At the 9pm update, Scallywag – which won the fourth leg from Melbourne to Hong Kong – had more than 1,700 nautical miles to reach Auckland at the end of the sixth leg. They had gone from almost 60 miles behind AkzoNobel to the lead after their rivals had problems coming out of a cloud line that forced them to gybe south and lose a lot of time.

Scallywag team members admitted they were under pressure as the fleet closed in.

“It’s a bit stressful when you can feel the hot breath from the other boats breathing down your neck,” said Annemieke Bes from Scallywag. “But I think we’ve managed to come out the other side. It’s a big relief.”

Witt added: “I was throwing all my toys out of the pram.”

The fleet, without Vestas 11th Hour Racing, left Hong Kong on February 7. Team Brunel are third 10nm behind Scallywag but farther east and they are followed by Turn the Tide on Plastic (39 behind), China’s Dongfeng Race Team (89) and Mapfre (89).

Race control said the battle now comes down to each boat finding small patches of favourable weather and winds.

“The weather forecasts are completely untrustworthy in the next few days meaning routings are quite useless. Small-scale weather features are now much more important,” race control said.

Overall leader Mapfre had been struggling at the back of the fleet but skipper Xabi Fernandez hopes now that all boats are facing similar conditions, they can start to close the gap.

At one point, Mapfre was 194 miles behind Scallywag.

“We do really have hopes of getting much better in this leg,” said Fernández, who led his crew to victory in leg three from Cape Town, South Africa to Melbourne.

“So much to come in the Solomon Islands still that make us think this leg is giving us another chance, let’s see if it does and if we can take it.”

The latest update had the boats at speeds of 2-9 knots.

“The weather models are still quite unresolved really for how to get through this next 500 to 600 mile band of doldrums,” said navigator Jules Salter on AkzoNobel. “We’re just biding our time before deciding where we go into this light spot.”