SAN FRANCISCO – Before the start of this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, the crew rules were changed to encourage the teams to have at least one female. The number of sailors allowed in an all-male crew was reduced from eight to seven, but a team could take up to two female sailors, to make a total of nine. Skippers could take 10 sailors if the team consists of an even male/female split, and an all-female team may take 11 crew members. According to the VOR press release announcing the new rules, this was, "Designed to add flexibility for teams, and create a clearer pathway for female sailors to take part in the race...."
When learning of the new rule, Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag skipper David Witt (AUS) had a lot to say about it. According to an October 28, 2017 article the Hong Kong-based team's hometown newspaper, the South China Morning Post, Mr Witt said, in a nutshell, "There's no room for women on my boat."
He didn't stop there.
"The least amount of people you can really sail on the boat is seven, so you want seven strong guys. It’s practical I think. The boats are one design and the sails are the same, so weight is the big issue – food is rationed and you basically live in your skin with some wet weather gear. The only different decision you make in this race is the people. And that means character, gender and numbers.”
Nor did he stop there, adding his now infamous "social experiment" comment.
“A lot of the other teams are taking one or two girls, and I think that’s Volvo doing a social experiment, and I’m pretty sure I know what the outcome will be and I don’t really want to be part of it. I’m not being a misogynist, but I think the way the rule is written is actually derogatory to women sailors as well – what you’re saying is you can have an extra person but only a girl because they aren’t good enough.”
But when Olympic silver medallist Annemieke Bes (NED) left rival team AkzoNobel in the the contractual and personnel chaos that consumed that team prior to Leg 1, Mr Witt did an about face and recruited Ms. Bes, explaining his change of heart by saying he needed another hand on deck so he could spend more time with his navigator down below deciding tactics. The second reason was that they had found the right woman and she fitted in perfectly. “We didn’t just get a girl for the sake of getting a girl. We had to get the right person and Annemieke is the only person we asked,” Witt said.
Then there was the unfortunate "Morning Show" incident on Lisbon-Cape Town Leg 2 that resulted in a third-party protest against Mr Witt and his then navigator Steve Hayles (GBR) under racing of rule 69, "Misconduct." The third-party protest was filed by a non-competitor, indeed a race fan, as the result of a silly, sophomoric on-board video that some saw as sexist, misogynist or worse. The protest, after a big harangue in the sailing media, was summarily dismissed by the VOR's International Jury during the Cape Town stopover, and costing the team thousands in legal fees.
(World Sailing should be ashamed of having promulgated this ridiculous rule and the attendant procedure; Sailing Illustrated again calls for its immediate revision.)
For the Cape Town-Melbourne Leg 3 Mr Hayles was replaced as navigator by Antonio Fontes (POR). That didn't seem to help, as they finished as an also-ran for the third leg in a row.
In the first three legs Scallywag finished 5-6-5 in the seven-boat fleet. Not that you can easily discern their results from the scoreboard on the VOR website, screen-capture right, which only shows per-leg points. Even more confusing is that Leg 3 scored double points. And some wonder why our sport is not taken seriously by mainstream media.
For the current Melbourne-Hong Kong Leg 4 Mr Witt recruited Ms Greenhalgh, a VOR veteran and meteorological expert, as navigator. So now there are two women on board, including the aforementioned Annemieke Bes. And with less than 1300 miles to the Hong Kong finish, they are leaders of the pack. Indeed, most pundits tip Scallywag to be the likely winners come this Friday or Saturday.
Today our good friend Richard Gladwell (NZL), the editor of the Kiwi edition of Sail-World.com, published a nice photo-essay written in part by Ms Greenhalgh, on the navigational and routing routine aboard Scallywag. A few days ago, skipper Witt and navigator Greenhalgh made a gutsy call to turn west sooner than the rest of the fleet, in effect cutting the corner on the others. This despite predictions by many that there would be more wind to the north.
In another article, Mr Gladwell says that decision has led to one of the biggest comebacks in VOR history.
So isn't it ironic, and more than a bit delicious, that the skipper who said, "There's no room for women on my boat," and who so far has three dismal finishes, brings onboard for Leg 4 a second female, as the all-important navigator no less, and is now poised to win Leg 4 into their ostensible home town of Hong Kong?
One assumes that, barring snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, upon finishing Mr Witt will at least eat some humble pie if not his own words.
Navigator Libby Greenhalgh (GBR) with skipper David Witt (AUS) at the nav station aboard Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. With the addition of Ms Greenhalgh to Mr Witt's boat, they are poised to win Leg 4 after back-marker finishes on the three previous legs.