When the time was right, I started looking for a boat of my own. With the internet, searching for a boat for sale was never easier. A few clicks and you can find hundreds to choose from.
What I wanted from a boat was simple: very high build quality, over 45 feet and big enough to stand upright anywhere onboard. Enough (working) equipment on board including radar, water maker and SSB radio. After seeing some boats, I discovered Oyster brokerage, who were selling a well-equipped 1988 Lightwave 48. Located in Ipswich, it was just a €25 flight to go to see her.
When I saw here, it was clear she was a grand old lady. Her first owner was Hugh Amherst of Hackney, a former Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes – a boat with heritage.
To cut a long story short, I bought her.
So, now the first part of the dream had come true – I had my yacht and big plans to sail a long way in her. And that’s where the work started. She was (and still is) in good shape but needed some TLC to get her up to the standard I wanted. No structural work was needed, but I specified lots of vital equipment including a windvane, inverters, solar panels and USB charging points (indispensable!).
On top of that, there were many details to attend to – gathering a lot of information, taking workshops on engine maintenance, medical care and medication, as well as several courses in meteorology, along with the necessary vaccinations. I had a rough plan to sail to Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of Argentina – also known as the End of the World. From there I planned to navigate the Patagonian Channels, cross the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, possibly stopping off in Japan and China before crossing the Indian Ocean to Madagascar, on to South Africa and then home.
After years of preparation, in June 2017, I set sail.
I sailed to Oostende in Belgium and then headed over to the UK, where I paid a courtesy visit to the RYS in Cowes (my yacht’s old sailing grounds) where I received a very warm welcome.
I continued to explore the south coast, where all the stopovers from Studland Bay to Lulworth Cove, Weymouth and Dartmouth are easily accessible. After a final call at Falmouth, I crossed the Gulf of Biscay to Spain and sailed down the Atlantic coast from La Coruña through Corcubión, Muros, and the islands of Ons and Cies. The latter is a National Park, so if you visit make sure you apply for permission to navigate and anchor there.
Continuing south along the coast of Portugal, I stopped at Leixões so I could visit Porto. Moving on, I sailed down to Cascais on the outskirts of Lisbon. I left the mainland behind and headed into the Atlantic to Porto Santo, where Christopher Columbus once lived, then on to the Canaries to the volcanic island of Graciosa. (You also need to apply for a permit to anchor here.) At El Hierro, I scuba dived with Julian Lara Troglia, a local diving instructor.
In general, I found Spanish villages tricky to access. I either went into a marina (not my preference) or anchored outside and navigated the dinghy through fishing harbours, which are often gated. Getting hold of the necessary anchoring permits in Portugal was never a problem.
From the Canaries, I continued south to explore the islands of Cape Verde before setting off on an ocean passage for Brazil. While I was in Cape Verdes the Israeli boat Nam8 caught a Wahoo, big enough to serve the crews of five boats for two days!
I stayed at the island of Fernando de Naronha, off the coast of Brazil – it is the most stunning marine national park (which is also very expensive but well worth visiting). Heading south again, I followed the coast, visiting Maceio, Salvador, Ilha Grande and Paraty. Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande were real highlights. On my way down the Brazilian coast, I spotted pods of humpback whales migrating north to mate and give birth. A trip to the waterfalls of Iguazu is highly recommended – they are stunningly beautiful.
Uruguay gave me La Paloma and Montevideo, Juan Lacaze and Colonia which is really worth visiting.
Following the coast of Argentina, I called at Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata (avoid it if you can!), Quequen, San Blas, Deseado, Staten Island and finally arrived at my destination of Ushuaia. In Argentina, I made unforgettable trips to Salta and Mendoza. Salta offers an incredible combination of Spanish colonial architecture and Andean heritage. Mendoza is in the heart of Argentina’s wine country and boasts a mix of fantastic art deco and modern architecture. The landscape here is awe-inspiring and I rented a car in both places to go sightseeing. If you get the chance, take a trip on the Tren a las Nubes or the Train to the Clouds, which climbs to over 4,220 metres (13,850 ft) above sea level, making it the fifth highest railway in the world.
I mentioned you should avoid Mar del Plata if you can and visit Quequen instead. The Prefectura Naval in Mar del Plata will inspect your boat thoroughly against a list of rules. This is the “Complementary rules of chapter 2 of the Regime of Nautical-Sports Activities of title 4 of the Regime of Maritime, Fluvial and Lacustre navigation.” Some of the requirements are a little ridiculous in the age of sat nav and iPhones – for example, when did you last use a sextant? If you’re curious, the list is available here.
Google was my friend wherever I went and in the big cities, the most helpful apps were Uber and Moovit.
As well as discovering some of the most stunning scenery in the world in some amazing destinations, many of the most exciting and exhilarating highlights were the people I met on my way. This is not only true of other sailors – the sailing community is like a family who help each other out in every possible way.
But it is also true of the people I met and who offered help without asking for anything in return. Or those who were interested in my story and opened up their homes to me, inviting me for a barbeque or dinner, or just to spend time with them. I found Argentinians are amongst the warmest and most welcoming people I have met anywhere in the world.
Building enough confidence to handle the boat and to find my way in places I had never visited before was a huge challenge. And learning to have the patience to wait for the best weather window before setting off for the next destination. I had little sailing experience prior to the trip. I had sailed on the Dutch lakes, took a trip to the East coast of the UK and a voyage up to Norway – all these trips helped. But it’s a very different story when you cast off for a circumnavigation!
Not surprisingly, sailing more than 12,000 nautical miles, I am now very familiar with the boat. My trust in her has only increased during the trip – she never let me down, even in the weirdest conditions. For example, during sudden increases in wind speed (faster than I could imagine – reading about it is one thing but experiencing it is something else!). Or catching eddies and tide rips in unexpected places and stormy conditions.
If you’re planning a similar trip, the following tips might be helpful. Many times, I was happy to have a decent anchor, nautical charts and weather information from Predictwind via the Sailmail network. Make sure you have multiple devices with nautical maps on board (plotter, iPad, computer). Always set an anchor alarm at anchorage or on a mooring. Take as many spares as you can, especially if you are visiting Brazil or Argentina – spares are either not available or extremely expensive. Make sure you have taken some courses in first aid and meteorology. It’s a big plus if you’re handy with tools so you can fix most problems on the boat when needed. Take all the documentation for every piece of equipment on board.
And then, just go!
I arrived in the Falklands and moored on the East Jetty in Stanley next to a steel sailing boat. A big cruise ship anchored in Port William and was transporting passengers on 100-seater tenders to the public jetty about 100 metres away from my mooring. One of the tenders left the public jetty and hit me on the bow at around 7 knots, shunting me into the steel sailing vessel.
As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, it took me four months to come to a settlement with the cruise ship company.
The cruise ship company sent a surveyor from Argentina to assess the damage, but we couldn't agree on some damage to the boat as a result of the collision. I took as many photos as I could and contacted Oyster for help. Oyster After Sales expert Eddie Scougall got in touch within days to share his expert opinion, which was a huge help in the appraisal of the damage. When the surveyor asked for the build plans of our boat, Eddie and his team rapidly delivered them.
This made a world of difference as I tried to cope with the collision. The surveyor couldn’t ignore Eddie’s opinion and without his help, I might not have reached the financial arrangement I did to repair the boat. This is, in my opinion, what makes Oyster Oyster. Not only are the boats built to highest standards but being able to produce information after some 30 years, combined with the expertise, knowledge and service when you need it most.