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To-wit, to-whoo.


The latest sailing news from Asia and the world.
 16 Nov 2017

To-wit, to-whoo.

Nobody has ever called me Politically Correct. I think that Jeremy Clarkson would make a great Prime Minister, and I don't believe that English Literature undergraduates should be issued trigger warnings about violence in Titus Andronicus.

However, Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag, presently competing at the back of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet under a Hong Kong flag, have now plumbed new depths of bad taste with the airing of a onboard video in which – while the other crew members on deck look acutely uncomfortable - skipper David Witt invites his solitary female crew member, Olympic silver medallist Annemieke Bes, for advice on how to apply ointment to his scrotum. As Shirley Robertson, another world class sailor (two Olympic gold medals, in case you had forgotten) said in a social media post, “Really???!!!” While Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others are currently facing the wrath of the establishment over their sexual aggression and highly inappropriate behaviour towards women, Witt chooses to lead with his chin and post sexist, misogynistic, and altogether crass behaviour on social media.

It is inexcusable, and it's not funny. Witt has had a pretty patchy track record since moving his sailing ambitions north from Australia towards Hong Kong. First there was the San Fernando Race in which it was alleged that Scallywag had missed a mark of the course right at the beginning of the race, and signed off the usual finishing declaration. Rumours abounded that crew members were later heard boasting in bars in both San Fernando and Sydney that they had “got away with it.” More than a month down the line, with an Investigation Panel looking at the possibility of a Rule 69, Scallywag suddenly retired and – five minutes later – it was announced that Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag was the Hong Kong entry for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. It is very hard to get past the idea that some sort of deal was arranged, although it is strenuously denied by all those supposedly “in the know.”

Then there were Witt's interesting comments about the Scallywag crew composition: “We're here to win a yacht race, not take part in a social experiment.” No Sheilas on my boat, Bruce! Witt went on to claim (among other things) that the time was perfect, SHK/Scallywag was going to give the opposition a good drubbing, that three of the crew (unnamed) were walking away from substantial existing commitments because “this is their best and last chance to win the VOR. Everyone on the boat wants to win, everyone wants to sail for Hong Kong.” He predicted that the race would be won and lost on the four crossings of the Equator, and that the Southern Ocean would be the easy part, “Just sheet on and send it, and don't break anything.”

The wheels started to fall off as soon as Leg 0 got going. Scallywag was at the bottom of the list after four non-scoring races, (Round the Island Race (Isle of Wight), Rolex Fastnet Race, Plymouth to Lorient, Lorient to Alicante), fifth in Leg 1 (Alicante to Lisbon), and ran aground near the finish line in Portugal. In Leg 2 the boat was in last place as the fleet crossed the Equator.

The impact of the ‘Steve Hayles Breakfast Show' on social media was immediate and stringent. The overwhelming opinions were that the event was shamefully sexist, and a very poor reflection on the sponsor of the boat as well as the organisers of the event. It was a piece of gauche bad humour that should never have taken place, should never have been filmed, should never have made it off the boat, and should never have been allowed to circulate – but it skipped all the filters, and scored high marks only for making Lee Seng Huang, Sun Hung Kai, Brand Hong Kong and David Witt look foolish. It is not the kind of behaviour that flatters sponsors or organisers. It is not the behaviour demanded of a professional sportsman very much in the public eye.

And now, having recently ‘let go' the only Hong Kong member of the team, Tiger Mok, when Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag under the aegis of Mr Lee Seng Huang rolls in Hong Kong, who will be the HK representative on the team. Er – nobody?

On 18 May this year, sponsor Lee said, “I have every confidence that Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag will make Hong Kong proud.” That is now seriously in doubt. And a rumour has just reached us that yet another Rule 69 has been lodged against Witt for “bringing the sport into disrepute.” It was a Twitter feed, so it is entirely unverified. But as one of our correspondents pointed out, “a potential Rule 69 – whichever way it goes – is not a good reflection on Hong Kong or a very inspirational example of leadership for Hong Kong youth sailors.” Whether it it is real, and whether sticks or not – the second threatened R.69 inside a year – is almost immaterial. The brush is out, and so is the tar.

Maybe, just maybe, Mr Lee's confidence is about to be severely tested.

Heading to Malaysia tomorrow for the Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta, but still standing by on 72.

Guy Nowell, Sail-World Asia Editor

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