Rule 69 protest brought against Team Scallywag's David Witt and Steve Hayles, following a complaint made about an onboard video produced during Leg 2 of the race.

Australian sailor David Witt, the skipper of the Volvo Ocean Race entry Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, and Scallywag navigator Steve Hayles, have been cleared of a charge of misconduct.

Witt and Hayles were today called to a hearing under Rule 69 of the Racing Rules of Sailing; Rule 69 concerns actions that may ‘bring the sport of sailing into disrepute’.

Charges of misconduct were brought against Witt and Hayles, following a complaint made to World Sailing about a video produced during Leg 2 of the race.

The complaint, which was lodged by an anonymous third party not associated with the race, focused on content contained in a video produced on board Scallywag during Leg 2 of the race.

At a hearing in Cape Town today, the International Jury dismissed the charge. In a press release issued by Volvo Ocean Race, the International Jury reported: “David Witt and Steve Hayles did not commit misconduct because the video has not caused widespread offence worldwide and has not brought the sport into disrepute.”

Navigator Steve Hayles aboard Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag during Leg 2. Photo: Konrad Frost/Volvo Ocean Race

The video was titled the ‘Steve Hayles Breakfast Show’, and featured David Witt and Steve Hayles presenting a spoof phone-in chat show. In it Witt makes mocking comments about some of his crew, including John Fisher who appears wearing a face mask in a Hannibal Lecter style, before inviting Dutch sailor Annemieke Bes onto the show as ‘Doctor Cloggs’ and asks for medical advice in treating the navigator’s ‘scrotum rash’.

The video divided opinion, with many viewers questioning the timing of its publication, which coincided with the Harvey Weinstein case and widespread revelations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Bes is the sole female sailor on the boat. Others opined that Bes appears to be a willing participant who is laughing throughout the skit, and pointed out that she is dressed with a beard as a male doctor.

Witt introduces the video, which lasts 96 seconds, with the caution: ‘Adult warning! Everything in this segment will offend most sections of the public domain.” When posted on the Volvo Ocean Race social media feed it was captioned: “Even the editors aren’t touching this one.” The video was later deleted from the Scallywag and race media feeds.

A source told us that a Volvo Ocean Race employee was also investigated during Leg 2 following the complaint, but no charges were brought against them.

We understand that several female Volvo Ocean Race sailors are uncomfortable with the suggestion that such onboard humour might equate to sexual harassment, and moved to present their views to race organisers.

Annemieke Bes remains part of the Scallywag crew for Leg 3, which leaves Cape Town for Melbourne, Australia on Sunday 10 December. However, it was announced yesterday, before today’s hearing, that Steve Hayles was stepping down as navigator, with Antonio Fontes taking the role for Leg 3.

Antonio Fontes takes over as navigator on Scallywag. Photo Pedro Martinez/Volvo Ocean Race

In a team press release Hayles commented: “It’s been great to work with David and the rest of the Scallywag crew, preparing this project from the beginning and getting it off the start line.

“But I’ve decided to leave the boat in Cape Town.”

Hayles, who has sailed with Witt over several decades on different race campaigns, remained in Cape Town to assist the incoming navigator Antonio Fontes.

Fontes has already had an unusual start to his Volvo Ocean Race campaign, training and racing with Scallywag in Leg 0 before being ‘loaned’ to Team AkzoNobel for Leg 1 after the Dutch-flagged team lost several key members of crew following the last minute reinstatement of skipper Simeon Tienpoint.

“We’re sad to see Steve leave us,” skipper David Witt said. “He’s been a great asset, with his experience, in getting us ready to compete with some of the best teams in the world. Now it’s up to Antonio and the rest of us to step our game as we head into the Southern Ocean and prepare for the leg home to Hong Kong next month.”

In the Volvo Ocean Race press release following the hearing, Dee Caffari is quoted as: “I’ve seen the video and I think it’s unfortunate that this resulted in a hearing.

“This case has shown all of us, I think, that the banter and jokes that are an essential part of life on board, don’t always travel well off the water. But to have singled out these guys for a charge when it’s clear that nobody on their boat felt offended in any way seems misguided to me.”

Jordi Neves, chief digital officer of the Volvo Ocean Race comments: “As event organisers we are constantly undertaking a review of our and the teams content workflow. We are providing updated guidelines to our communications team, including the on board reporters.

“Our focus now is to evolve and respond in a responsible manner, as we continue our authentic storytelling of the race as the sailors take on the ultimate test of a team in professional sport.”

This is the first edition of the Volvo Ocean Race where every boat has sailed with mixed male and female teams due to changes in the crew allocation rules.

Day 12 from the sky on board Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. Photo by Konrad Frost/Volvo Ocean Race

The video incident is not the first time David Witt has been at the centre of controversy. Before the race he was widely quoted as saying that he planned to sail with seven men only, because he considered the crew allocation rules a ‘social experiment’.

Before the race start in Alicante, Witt told Yachting World he was “100 per cent misquoted”, adding: “What I said was, I think the rule is terrible, that I’m not supportive of the rule. I think it’s ridiculous that there’s a boat left in the shed and there’s not an all-women team in the race.

“I’ve had women sailing on my boat for the last 15 years, and there are more women sailing in this race that have sailed with me in campaigns outside the Volvo Race than any other person in the race.”

Olympic silver medallist Annemieke Bes has previously sailed with Witt on Ragamuffin, and left Team AkzoNobel to join the Scallywag campaign.

In another innovation, for this race the onboard reporters (or OBRs) are not employed by the competing teams, but are part of the Volvo Ocean Race media team and embedded within the teams on rotation.

A key element of the OBRs’ remit is to produce more honest, unvarnished coverage of the race than previously seen before. However, an approvals process remains in place before publication. Sensitive content can be ‘tagged’ for checking before publishing – we have been variously told that the video in question both was, and wasn’t, tagged as requiring approval.

We take an in-depth look at how the unprecedented coverage of the Volvo Ocean Race is changing the game in the next issue of Yachting World, out on January 11, 2018.