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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Scare for Hong Kong boat Scallywag after hitting rocks in dash to finish in first leg of Volvo Ocean Race

American team Vestas stun favourites Mapfre and Dongfeng while David Witt’s Scallywag runs aground in Lisbon

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 1:07pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 10:44pm

Hong Kong boat Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag ran aground before the crew staged a dramatic rescue in an exciting dash to the finish of the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race in Lisbon.

After more than 1,450 nautical miles from the start in Alicante, Spain, skipper David Witt’s yacht attempted to pass AkzoNobel near the finish in the River Tagus by sailing closer to the coast.

But the plan backfired and Scallywag had to kedge after running aground, with navigator Steve Hayles hit by the boom. It is not yet known whether he was injured.

Scallywag eventually finished fifth in the seven-yacht fleet, with American-Danish yachting team Vestas taking the stage on Saturday 10 nautical miles ahead of Spanish craft Mapfre and 20 nautical miles ahead of China’s Dongfeng.

“I’ve never finished like that before,” Witt said. “We tried to get AkzoNobel by coming down the shore there, went in pretty close and then we got stuck on the bottom.

“Parko [Luke Parkinson] and Alex [Gough] had to swim out into the channel with the anchor to get us off the bottom, so we could the drop our sails and drift across the finish line.

“We put two lifejackets on the anchor with sheets, and Alex and Parko swam it out, then we could winch ourselves back off the rocks.

“[But we’re really happy. We were in there for most of it. We’re on the up. We’re getting better. Look out in a couple of legs’ time.”

Skippered by American Charlie Enright, the Vestas, with a total of nine sailors aboard, blew a 34 nautical mile lead from overnight when wind dropped to an almost dead calm.

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With the River Tagus pushing the Vestas back out to sea the crew zig-zag tacked home with the river.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. We won’t rest on our laurels,” Enright told the race’s official website. “We want to keep coming to work every day hungry to improve.”

Enright and compatriot Mark Towill follow in the footsteps of two other American sailors who won the opening leg of the world’s premier around-the-world race.

Paul Cayard captured the first leg in the 1997-98 race, when it was called the Whitbread Round-the-World Race, while John Kostecki skippered Illbruck Challenge to the Leg 1 victory in the 2001-02 race.

Both went on to win the overall title for foreign-flagged boats.

Nick Dana of Newport, Rhode Island is the third American crew member on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

The next stage, a 7,000 nautical mile haul from Lisbon to Cape Town, which starts on November 5, is the longest to ever feature in the race’s 13-edition history.

Countdown begins to Volvo Ocean Race Hong Kong

Each competitor has a crew of nine and each craft is identical.

The other ports of call on the 45,000 nautical mile route are Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajai in Brazil, Newport in the US, Cardiff, Gothenburg and The Hague.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press