SHK Scallywag practicing in Lisbon, part of their preparation for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017/2018
Hailing From: Hong Kong
Skipper: David Witt
Navigator: Steve Hayles
The fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s may be stamped from the same molds, but the race’s Hong Kong entry will bear little resemblance to its neighbors come dock-out time in Alicante, Spain, in October. There’s nothing remotely commercial about this squad, which in many ways harkens back to the early days of the Whitbread Race: a bunch of salty sailors from the land Down Under sailing for an owner and a bit of glory.
The logos of Sun Hung Kai, a global Hong Kong-based conglomerate, are discreetly placed about the boat, but it’s the squad’s identity as Team Scallywag that they intend to be known as. Befitting the yacht’s name, they’re a mischievous band of blokes, says the team’s 47-year-old Australian skipper, David Witt, beholden to only themselves and their 42-year-old backer Seng Huang Lee. Lee, says Witt, is the real deal — a Malaysian-born father of four with hard Australian accent and a thirst for ocean racing.
For the sailing team, Witt has recruited from Lee’s Sydney-based 100-foot maxi of the same name. With the late July addition of Luke Parkinson, who won the previous edition with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Witt intends to set off with a crew of seven. They will be — at least initially — the only team to go with a bare minimum set of hands.
“I’ve picked only drivers, especially going with seven,” says Witt. “The main priority is that they have to be able to drive the boat really fast, and be good mates. We haven’t structured it like most of the other teams where we might have only four on deck at one stage, or only two depending on the conditions. We might be wrong and realize we need another set of hands, but we’re going into it with a strategy that the boats are underpowered and heavy for what they are, and the only performance decision we can make these days is with the people, so we’re going lighter.”
Witt expects they will be better off in the first part of the race. “I think we have better drivers, and the fact that we go into the Southern Ocean a few more times than the past few editions suits us favorably as well,” he says, “but we also cross the equator four times in this race, so that means there will be more marginal conditions, which means we have our strategy right by being lighter than everyone else.”
Witt also sees the advantage of being free of the commercial demands of a title sponsor and all the distractions that come with it. As far as he’s concerned, Team Scallywag is simply a scaled-down version of its 100-footer, and they’re approaching the round-the-world campaign as they would a Sydney Hobart.
“[In Lisbon] I was surprised by how easy the 65 is to sail compared with the 100, and it’s nice to be able to move a sail with two or three blokes and not 15,” he says, adding that the big boat’s shore team is at his disposal as well. “We have a lot of resources people don’t know about, and this [Volvo campaign] is cheaper than the 100, to be honest.”
It’s 10 longer Sydney Hobarts, says Witt, and the team will approach the race with this mindset. “We’ll treat every leg differently and not get caught up in the overall picture of where we are,” he says. “We’re Aussies; we’re simple people, and we like to keep it simple.”