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Driving ambition: This edition of the Volvo Ocean Race has snuck up on us, writes Di Pearson. With the first qualifying full-fleet races in the UK at the start of August, Aussies are predicted to be on every boat.

The biggest contingent of Aussies in the Volvo Ocean Race CVOR) is likely to be aboard Sun Hung Kai's Scallywag, skippered by well-known Australian, David Witt.

"Witty', as he is affectionately known, says he is proud to lead the first Hong Kong charge for Sun Hung Kai (a properly company quartered in Hong Kong), and Seng Huang Lee and family, especially since the territory will host its first VOR stopover in 2018.

Crew will predominantly be from the supermaxi Scallywag (ex-Ragamuffin), along with 1990s Volvo legends and a couple of America's Cup guys. Other Australians are David Mann, Alex Gough, Luke Parkinson and bowman Ben Piggott, the youngest confirmed competitor in this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Ranging in age from 21 to 47, Witt says he "selected them mainly for their ability to drive the boat fast."

Moreover the Sydney yachtsman, who has been living in Hong Kong for a while, admits that he is propelled by passion, ambition, and an obsession to have his own team in the race.

Because of the heavy, long downwind and off-the-wind nature of the race, it is perfectly suited to Witt's talents. And he agrees: "The race course is perfect; both for me and the team."

Given free rein to run the whole project and let loose on the downwind course Witty, who sailed part of the 1997--98 race on Innovation Kvaerner, says: "It is a privilege to represent Seng Huang Lee, his family and their companies, and to have their 100 per cent trust and support. It is something that is not just rare in sailing, but in life. It is something that I will always cherish and preserve."

Admittedly lagging in terms of time aboard the Volvo Ocean 65, Witt and crew were training in Lisbon ahead of competing in August's Rolex Fastnet Race. But in their favour, Witt says the Scallywag/ Ragamuffin component of the crew have raced together for ten years, mainly on supermaxis, winning and breaking records in recent years.

And yes, he says, "We will still be lining up for the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year. Seng Huang Lee has done a lot of modifications to the 100-footer, and his passion for the Rolex Sydney Hobart is becoming an obsession like mine."

HARD SCHOOL

This VOR, you'll find trimmer/ helmsman Phil Harmer on a blended male/female Vestas 11th Hour Racing crew. A veteran of four Volvo Ocean Races (in 2005-08 with Brunei; 2008-09 on Green Dragon; on overall winner Groupama in 2011-12; and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in 2014-15), Harmer is working on a hat-trick.

The 38-year-old from Sydney will be a linchpin on the Vestas crew. His offshore experience--including a number of Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Races, the last two on Comanche and Beau Geste--gives him serious sailing cred.

Lesser known Tom Johnson started sailing in Mandurah, Western Australia, and his big moments have been on an overseas stage. (Johnson sailed Moths and 49ers before racing on Team Vestas Wind in the 2014-15 VOR, but their race was cut short after the boat was grounded near Mauritius on Leg 2.)

At 26, Johnson was one of the youngest members of ORACLE Team USA in the recent America's Cup, filling the role of wing trimmer. He says he most enjoys the development and technology side of sailing, so should be a double asset to his new USA/Denmark team, whose aim is to make an impact on and off the water.

On the Dutch Team AkzoNobel, 37-year-old Queensland steerer/trimmer Luke Molloy is gearing up for his second VOR. Based in the UK, his first was in 2005-06 aboard speed record-breaking ABNAMROII, which led to his being invited to join the Swedish 32nd America's Cup challenger, Victory Challenge in 2007.

Bryce Buthenberg, a Sydney offshore sailor, is a reserve and shore crew of the new Dutch challenge, skippered by Simeon Tienpont. Working shore-side on Oracle Team USA's victories at the 2010 and 2013 America's Cup makes him a natural for the job.

Jack Bouttell from Taree in NSW is on the Dongfeng Race Team. He was in their shore crew for the last edition, and skipper Charles Caudrelier invited him to sailLeg3. It gave the 26-year-old the leg-up for this race, assisted by the three Solitaire du Figaro campaigns under his belt.

As Director of Boats and Maintenance, former VOB sailor Nick Bice is the highest-profile Australian. A boat builder by trade, he first came to prominence as crew on Syd Fischer's Young Australia in the 2,000 America's Cup challenge before moving into ocean racing, including the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

South Australian Bice has been involved with the VOR since 2001, first as boat builder for Amer Sports, then as watch captain on ABN AMRO II in 2005-06. He subsequently raced on Delta Lloyd in 2008-09 before moving back to shore-based roles for the next editions.

Not all crews have been announced, meaning more Australians are sure to be at the line-up in Alicante on 22 October. But one thing's for sure--there'll be no shortage of the green and gold in this year's VOR. volvooceanrace.com

Caption: RIDE STABILITY Witty and the crew of Sun Hung Hai--Scallywag working-up the numbers in their 'as new' VOR 65 off Lisbon.
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Title Annotation:SEAMARK
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Aug 1, 2017
Words:877
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