by Richard Crockett
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag won Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, leading the fleet into their home port of Hong Kong.
It’s an historic win for skipper David Witt and his team who had to overcome significant setbacks on the leg before grabbing the lead with a bold tactical call out of the Doldrums last weekend.
“We had a bit of a plan and we stuck to it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and this time it worked for us,” Witt said.
It was an extended Doldrums crossing, and Scallywag had moments where they appeared to be in a strong position.
But late in the crossing, after falling behind the fleet again, Witt and navigator Libby Greenhalgh made the decision to cut the corner, and turn to the west earlier than the opposition who kept pressing north in search of stronger winds.
The move paid dividends nearly immediately on the leaderboard as Scallywag had less miles to sail to the finish line, but pundits cautioned that the teams in the north would almost certainly overhaul them as the tradewinds filled in from the northeast.
It never happened.
Even when the team dropped miles recovering a man overboard after Alex Gough was swept off the boat by a wave, after executing a flawless recovery, Scallywag returned to racing and extended to nearly a 100-mile lead.
But then, the chasing boats began chipping away at the lead. Two days out from the finish, the margin had been cut significantly and the pressure mounted.
“I was really impressed by the way we operated over the past couple of days,” Witt said. “We had a pretty big lead and then through no fault of our own, about two-thirds of it got taken away. But we stuck to our guns, did what we thought was right and it’s worked out.”
But the celebrations on reaching the finish were muted when news broke that Vestas and an unidentified fishing vessel had collided, leaving a crew member from the fishing vessel dead.
Vestas, in second sport at the time, ended up retiring from the leg and motoring into Hong Kong with a huge hole in the bow.
News on this incident is sketchy and not forthcoming.
That incident allowed Dongfeng to snatch second place for the leg.
There were mixed emotions on board Dongfeng, the Chinese entry in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, as she finished Leg 4 in second place today but with the crew’s thoughts focussed on the collision between Vestas 11th Hour Racing and a local fishing boat.
The incident with Vestas happened as the American boat was about 30 miles from the finish in second place and being chased by Dongfeng. Caudrelier offered the Vestas skipper, Mark Towill, assistance following the collision but was informed that this was not required.
“It was a very good result for Asian sailing – I am very happy about it,” said Caudrelier. “Of course we wanted to arrive first here. When we arrived first in Sanya in China in the last Volvo Ocean Race it was amazing for our sponsor Dongfeng. But this is a good finish for the general classification overall.
“We are coming back on MAPFRE – taking points off them – so it is a very good leg because, as you have seen, this leg was quite complicated and, even if we sailed well, the Doldrums were a real nightmare. It’s a place with no wind and you don’t know what is going to happen. Scallywag (dodged) one or two clouds and took the lead but you are always afraid that you are going to get caught out by a cloud – it was a very dangerous leg for the overall positions.”
Caudrelier praised stand-in navigator and former Volvo Ocean Race winner Franck Cammas who he said had done a superb job and brought plenty of new ideas and enthusiasm to the task. He also confirmed that Pascal Bidegorry, who missed the leg because of a rib injury, will be back as navigator for the next stage to Auckland.
“Franck is a very good sailor and it was very positive having him on board,” said Caudrelier. “He arrived, he didn’t know the boat, he had a lot of new ideas and it was a very rich experience for us and he did a good job with the navigation. It was good to have fresh people – we also replaced Marie Riou with Justine Mettraux for this leg – Justine did an amazing job and was full of energy and motivation. We can feel that people who have done all the legs are really tired, so it is good to have fresh people and what is good is that now Pascal is coming back and he is fresh,” Caudrelier added.