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January 2, 2018 Report by Peter Rusch: Close racing marked the start of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong. Overall Volvo Ocean Race leader MAPFRE was at the head of the fleet off the starting line.
Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, day 01 on board MAPFRE, Leg start, batle with Vestas to lead the fleet. Photo by Ugo Fonolla/Volvo Ocean Race.
But it was a very close run affair, and four hours after the start, as the fleet battled a heavy sea state to clear the narrow entrance to the Bay, it was Vestas 11th Hour Racing leading the charge, with the Spanish boat close behind in second place and Team Brunel a tight third.
Leg 4 is a 5,600 nautical mile race north, up the east coast of Australia, with the navigational challenge of dodging islands as well as another doldrums crossing, before arriving in Hong Kong for the first time in the history of the race.
“It’s going to be very tough, close racing,” says Phil Harmer, who is returning to Vestas 11th Hour Racing after an injury for his first race action. “There is going to be someone next to you the whole way."
For Vestas 11th Hour Racing it makes for an ideal start for new skipper Mark Towill, who has stepped into the role as a replacement on Leg 4 for Charlie Enright, who returned home to tend to a family medical emergency. For Towill and crew, the winners of Leg 1, this is an opportunity to put some pressure on race leader MAPFRE.
The ETA for Hong Kong will be more certain after the boats clear the Doldrums but is pencilled in for January 20/21.
Leg 4 update: Daily Live – 1300 UTC Sunday 7 January
Four boats are within just six miles as the leaders approach the Solomon Islands, the easternmost point of which is a mark of the race course for Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race. Dongfeng continues to lead over team AkzoNobel, MAPFRE, and Vestas 11th Hour Racing, who are all within just six miles of each other as of 1300 UTC on Sunday.
The weather is very unpredictable. In the squalls, winds can be up to 25 knots. In the lulls, there can be as little as 5 knots. The routing software suggests the boats will ‘round’ the island of San Cristobal closely, leaving it close to port, before continuing north through the lightest winds of the doldrums. The next 48 hours will be very challenging.
Leg 4 update January 14, 2018: Man overboard on leg leader Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag
Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag retain the lead in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race, despite a dramatic man overboard scenario on Sunday.
Crew member Alex Gough was washed overboard by a wave during a sail change in winds of 15-20 knots. The team swung into recovery mode, and Gough was back on board within seven minutes, unharmed. Scallywag resumed racing immediately.
Gough wasn’t wearing a harness or a lifejacket. Witt says he should have been tethered, or at minimum have told the helmsman what he was doing, before he went outside the lifelines on the outrigger.
“I was pretty stupid, but luckily the guys were on to it. They turned around bloody quickly,” Gough said. “I’m good. I’m fine. It was a bit scary… But off we go again.”
Leg 4 Update January, 15, 2018: Speeds are up with fleet targeting a Friday finish
It's a speed race now as the Volvo Ocean Race fleet powers up towards Hong Kong...
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag increased their lead in Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race on Monday as the sprint for the Hong Kong finish line moved inside 1,500 nautical miles.
Leg 4, Melbourne to Hong Kong, day 14 Alex Gough on the wheel surfing the waves on board Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. 15 January, 2018. ©Konrad Frost/Volvo Ocean Race
Driven on by the opportunity to lead the fleet across the finish line in the first ever Volvo Ocean Race stopover in their home town of Hong Kong, Scallywag have found an extra gear as they profit from favourable trade winds at the front of the fleet.
Vestas 11th Hour Racing were today some 76 miles behind, and AkzoNobel were trailing by just under 89 miles.
Despite their healthy lead, the Scallywags are taking nothing for granted.
“A couple of days ago we’d lost a fair few miles, and so we looked at some of the weather files and tried to do something slightly different,” Scallywag crewman John Fisher explained. “Over the last day or so it’s started to pay off. It’s more positive not being at the back but you know it can all change. Hong Kong is our home town so for us to get a good result would be everything.”
Among those cheering for Scallywag is one group of unlikely fans – the crew of MAPFRE. Although they would rather be fighting for the Leg 4 lead the overall race leaders, some 170 miles behind in fifth, would rather see Scallywag win the leg and pick up the bonus win point than see it go to Dongfeng or Akzonobel, their biggest threats on the leaderboard at this stage of the race.
The north-easterly trade winds now dominate the run in to Hong Kong, limiting the tactical options available to the teams.
Instead the focus is on pure boat speed as each crew attempts to rise through the rankings over the final days of Leg 4.
The latest ETA for the leaders is Friday UTC.
Leg 4 Update January, 19, 2018: Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag record historic win into home port of Hong Kong
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag have 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.
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.
Leg 4 Update January, 20, 2018: Vestas 11th Hour Racing involved in collision, retires from leg 4
The Volvo Ocean Race can confirm Vestas 11th Hour Racing has been involved in a collision with a non-race vessel
The incident occurred approximately 30 miles from the finish of Leg 4,
before the finish of Leg 4, near Hong Kong. The team has retired from Leg 4 and is proceeding to Hong Kong unassisted and under its own power.
Race Control at Volvo Ocean Race headquarters was informed of the collision by the team moments after it happened on Friday January 19, 2018.
The Vestas 11th Hour Racing team issued a Mayday distress call on behalf of the other vessel, alerting the Hong Kong Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (HKMRCC) and undertook a search and rescue mission.
HKMRCC has informed Race Control that a commercial vessel in the area was able to rescue nine of the crew and that a tenth crew member was taken by helicopter to hospital, who later died..
All of the crew on Vestas 11th Hour Racing are safe. Their boat suffered damage and the team has officially retired from the leg.