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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

‘I’m 47, it’s too late to change’: David Witt ready for Hong Kong’s Scallywag to return to winning ways

Skipper says it has been a mentally tough time since tragedy struck the crew and admits he can’t wait for the race to finish

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 10:46pm

Skipper David Witt and his Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag crew are ready to start winning again in the Volvo Ocean Race after a difficult couple of months in which they suffered the tragedy of losing teammate John Fisher.

Scallywag were in sixth place soon after the start of leg nine from Newport as the seven-boat fleet started the relatively short 3,300-nautical mile journey across the Atlantic to Cardiff, in Wales early on Monday morning (Hong Kong time).

China’s Dongfeng Race Team was leading the fleet heading east towards the United Kingdom.

“We are learning to sail better and obviously we had a bit of a tragedy that set us back on the scoreboard and personally, but we’re ready to get back to where we were before all that happened and, hopefully, with double points we can get back,” said Witt before leaving Newport.

Scallywag won leg four from Melbourne to their home port in Hong Kong before a second place behind Team AkzoNobel in leg six from Hong Kong to Auckland, New Zealand.

Tragedy struck on the treacherous Southern Ocean during leg seven from Auckland to Itajai in Brazil. About 1,400 miles from the tip of South America, the 47-year-old Briton Fisher was knocked overboard. Despite rescue efforts, he was presumed lost at sea and Scallywag abandoned the race. Witt and his crew decided to continue but, with only a few days to prepare, could only finish last in leg eight to Newport.

Asked what the most difficult part of ocean racing was, Witt said the mental aspect was taking its toll and admitted he couldn’t wait for the race to finish.

“I think the most obvious thing that people don’t realise watching it on TV is how mentally tough it is,” said Witt. “I mean, the emotions, especially with us this race.

“The highs and lows are some of the biggest highs and obviously the biggest low I’ve ever had in my life, so mentally dealing with it is certainly harder than everything else.

“And at 47 I can tell you that my body is screaming and can’t wait to finish this thing. That’s how tough the mind has got to be.”

Witt is notoriously shy with the media and with camera crews on board each boat providing images and live video, the Australian admits it can be a bit off-putting.

“Clearly I struggle with it if you’ve been following the race,” he said. “I’m too brutally honest and not politically correct, but I’m 47 and it’s too late for me to change.”

Team Brunel, meanwhile, accomplished its first goal of taking the early lead on leg nine. The Dutch team, led by eight-time race veteran Bouwe Bekking, has been on a tear over the past two months of the race and is attempting to muscle its way from a podium position into a battle for the overall race lead.

Spanish team Mapfre lead the overall standings with 53 points ahead of Dongfeng (50) and Brunel (42). They are followed by AkzoNobel (36), Vestas 11th Hour Racing (28), Scallywag (27) and Turn the Tide on Plastic (22).

Leg nine is worth double points. After Cardiff, the boats head to Gothenburg in Sweden before the final race to The Hague in the Netherlands on June 21.