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Volvo OR - Podium candidates bite the Scallywag bullet

by Richard Gladwell, 15 Jan 2018 20:47 PST 16 January 2018
Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, day 15 When the wind shifts so do the smiles on board Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag © Konrad Frost / Volvo Ocean Race

Continuing her dream run, SHK Scallywag has clocked up her eighth consecutive best 24-hour run as Leg 4 draws to a close in the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race.

David Witt and his crew have staged probably the biggest comeback in the Volvo Ocean Race since the Magnus Olsson skippered Ericsson 3 took the 12,300nm Leg 5 in the 2008/09 edition.

There the late Magnus Olsson took over as skipper only four legs into the race, sailing with a youth crew. They survived a near sinking on Leg 4 - arrived late - starting Leg 5 seven hours behind the fleet. But made a smart navigational decision to break with the rest of the fleet - which paid a big dividend, and they won the leg from the 2008 Olympic venue in Qingdao to the 2016 Olympic venue in Rio de Janeiro.

Turning to the here and now as the fleet leader enters the South China Sea with 1500nm to sail, SHK Scallywag looks set to extend her lead from the initial 1-2hrs when her leg win looked likely. The latest weather routing from Predictwind now shows that distance could be eight hours or more at the finish line in Hong Kong.

While part of the margin is a better average speed manifesting it in the string of eight 24 hour runs, the balance comes from the three boats in her immediate wake having to work further south, and in some cases having to gybe to get onto the optimum course for Hong Kong.

That's a clear admission they over-cooked their northerly heading to escape the Doldrums - leaving the open for Scallywag's meteorologist/navigator Libby Greenhalgh to suggest cutting the corner and being the first to head NW and make some gain towards the finish line in Hong Kong, as well as sailing out of the Doldrums.

That point is underlined by the fact that Team Brunel is currently running in last place. They were also the last of the seven boats to turn west.

"The routing is telling us to take a step down", said AkzoNobel watch captain Chris Nicholson. "It's gonna hurt. We thought we'd have a chance later. But we have to get down to Brunel and MAPFRE while we can.

"If we leave it and wait until tomorrow that opportunity will be gone. So we are better to do it now. That's reality. We've just got to face up to it and get on with it and do what we can."

The team's rationale (along with others at the top of the leaderboard) was that the north was going to pay off. Then they found out that the southern route adopted by SHK Scallywag was going to be quicker.

"We had to take the risk last of whether we kept going and ignored the weather/course model. Or, just take the hit and gybe to set us up in the same sort of water as Dongfeng and Vestas," said skipper Simeon Tienpont.

Of course, you don't want to gybe back and not be pointing to Hong Kong", he added. "It's a bit of a chance, but let's see."

While there may be long faces aboard the second to fourth placegetters, aboard overall leader, MAPFRE they are taking a more sanguine view of SHK Scallywag's performance. The point is explained by Rob Greenhalgh who notes that they are quite happy to see Scallywag get the bonus point for Leg 4, as that means that Vestas and Dongfeng who are closer to them on the leaderboard miss out - which could be very telling at the end of the race.

At this stage, MAPFRE would seem to be safe in fifth place - with Turn the Tide on Plastic in sixth, about 45nm back and Team Brunel almost 60nm back from MAPFRE using Volvo Ocean Race's distance to finish method of calculating the places on the Leg leaderboard.

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