Sun Hun Kai Scallywag won Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race in Hong Kong after a dramatic leg which saw them recover an MOB

In a leg that will have up-ended the scoreboard of the Volvo Ocean Race, Hong Kong backed team Sun Hun Kai Scallywag took the win on Leg 4 on Friday, 19 January.

Second went to Dongfong Race Team after Vestas 11th Hour Racing halted 30 miles off the finish line, having collided with another vessel while racing at around 20 knots.

Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier reported that he offered assistance to Vestas, but was advised by race control to continue racing. This saw the Chinese-flagged team sail past Vestas to take second place, moving them into the overall lead.

As the recovery operation following the collision developed, race organisers requested Team AkzoNobel, which was approaching Hong Kong in 3rd place, to divert to support Vestas. AkzoNobel later resumed racing while Vestas 11th Hour Racing retired.

Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, arrivals. 19 January, 2018.

For all their bluster and banter, this victory evidently meant a huge amount to the ebullient Scallywag crew. Skipper David Witt leapt from the yacht into the arms of his wife Kim, while Annemieke Bes was clearly emotional as she spoke to the waiting cameras.

“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.”

Scallywag skipper David Witt arrives in Hong Kong

“It was always going to take us longer than the others to get up to speed as we were the last to enter [the race],” Witt said. “All teams need a bit of confidence and I think one thing that is underrated in sport is momentum and this will certainly give the Scallywags plenty of that… We’re all still learning and we’re going to keep getting better as we go on.”

Much of the credit for their victory will rightly be attributed to navigator Libby Greenhalgh, who only joined the boat in Melbourne. Greenhalgh is the third navigator on Scallywag, who set off from Alicante with Steve Hayles. After Witt and Hayles were charged – and cleared – of charges of misconduct under Rule 69 following a video skit they made during Leg 2, Hayles stepped off the boat, with shore navigator Antonio Fontes taking the hot seat for the Cape Town to Melbourne leg.

Scallywag had a remarkable leg, with their lead uncertain right until the final few hours after much of the fleet elected to sail in ‘stealth mode’, which conceals their position from the online tracker and skeds for 24 hours, or until the first boat is within 200 miles of the finish.

Scallywag crew Annemieke Bes, arriving in Hong Kong in 1st place in Leg 4

They grabbed the lead as the fleet exited a particularly lengthy and frustrating north-bound Doldrums crossing. Scallywag opted for a more direct westerly route, while others headed north-east in the hope of reaching the tradewinds earlier. When the trades failed to materialize, Scallywag had pulled into first, leaving a painful hitch south-west for teams such as AkzoNobel.

There was another twist when Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag had a man overboard rescue on 14 Janaury. Crew member Alex Gough was washed overboard by a wave during a sail change, in winds of 15-20 knots. Gough was on the outrigger at the time, and neither clipped on nor wearing a lifejacket or EPIRB. Despite the difficulties of spotting a crew member wearing black kit in a dark sea, with no electronic positioning, the recovered Gough back on board within seven minutes, unharmed, and immediately resumed racing.

“He went out on the outrigger, I was driving, and we went off a big sea and it picked him up threw him off, like a horse,” skipper David Witt said after the rescue.

“The main thing is, we got him back on board. He’s safe. But I think it’s shown everyone how hard it is to see the guy in the water. Even on a sunny day, 18 knots of wind… You wouldn’t want to be doing this in 20 knots in the dark.”

Greenhalgh’s signing was just one of several changes made across the fleet going into Leg 4, in part due to the fact that the previous Melbourne stopover at the end of Leg 3 was a brief five-day pit-stop which left crews with little times to physically recover after a 6,000-mile southern ocean epic.

Pascal Bidegorry, Caudrelier’s navigator and right-hand man, was unable to sail on Dongfeng due to a back injury. They recruited a certain Franck Cammas to fill his seaboots. This will have made for an interesting dynamic onboard – Cammas last competed in the Volvo Ocean Race onboard Groupama, winning in 2012, with Caudrelier on his crew.

Onboard reporter Martin Keruzore described Cammas as relentlessly performance-driven. “You’d think Franck trusted no one. When he’s not happy with the boat speed, which is very often the case, he comes out of his hideout and pounces on the helm to get a real feel for what’s going on.

“He scrutinises and analyses the slightest detail and the slightest trim. He doesn’t think twice about going to check the trim of the headsails himself to be sure that the boat is at the absolute peak of her ability.”