The fleet gathered in Antigua from the end of November, with some yachts making their own way to Nelson’s Dockyard, while others sailed with the ARC across the Atlantic. Over the following weeks, each owner and their crew made their final preparations. As well as provisioning their yachts and ensuring the smallest details were taken care of, owners and crew took part in final training sessions and spent time with the Oyster technical support team to make sure they were ready for the big day.
All the owners and crews taking part spent many months preparing for this big moment – from commissioning their brand-new Oyster or choosing a Brokerage Oyster, to in-depth training on navigation and weather; from honing their sailing skills, to learning how to provision their yachts properly for the long passages between stopovers.
Each Oyster bluewater yacht is designed to be a true live-aboard adventure machine, built with meticulous attention to detail to take owners on this epic adventure effortlessly, in safety, comfort and luxury. The Rally is unique as it is the only fully supported circumnavigation event, with Oyster’s expert Rally support team meeting the fleet at major destinations. They assist with everything from managing berthing, supervising repairs, sharing their experience and technical expertise, along with an in-depth knowledge of the must-see places to visit.
By the time the starting cannon’s roar echoed across Freeman’s Bay, everyone was raring to go. Trevor and Judy Hill, owners of Oyster 725/01 Intrepid, summed up how everyone felt shortly before the start: “We feel ready, not panicked, just excited! There are so many highlights on this trip ahead of us, but it’s the prospect of the adventure we’re most looking forward to."
25 OYSTER OWNERS SHARE THE MEMORIES THEY HAVE MADE AS THEY REACH THE HALFWAY POINT OF THE OYSTER WORLD RALLY 2022/23. SHARE IN THE THRILLS AND STORIES OF ADVENTURE ON THIS ONCE-IN-A-LIFE VOYAGE.
The fleet left Antigua for their next major stopover, Panama City, but it wasn't a case of the whole pack following the same trajectory - in fact, the fleet took three routes across the Caribbean. The first pack headed north via the British Virgin Islands, with boats bolstered along the way by the north-easterly trade winds. The second group took a southerly route through the Caribbean islands including Guadeloupe, St Lucia and Grenada. The third went south-west through the Leeward Antilles, also known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). The whole fleet stopped at the San Blas Islands close to Panama, before meeting up to prepare for the Panama Canal transit.
A group of yachts headed for Bonaire, including Intrepid, Seabird, Akoya, Nikaia and Irish Blessing. Judy Hill, onboard Intrepid, recalls “It was fun because we were always in sight of each other, so that was a special way to get started.” The passage proved to be quite full-on for the crew of Irish Blessing – “We arrived in Bonaire after a three-day passage and learned a lot about sailing and each other. I (John) am now considered the squall king! It’s best if you can get your sails reduced in two minutes. After three squalls, Cullen and I now have it down to a pattern. Thank God!”
Bonaire is a small (20 x 5 miles) Dutch island, located 50 miles north of Venezuela. The owners and crews enjoyed some amazing diving in the protected seas around these islands. There are more than 85 dive sites to explore, with a mix of wreck and reef dives. It is also heaven for kite surfers – five of the world’s top ten hail from the island.
Irene IV took the southern route and enjoyed some snorkelling on stunning coral reefs around the island of Bequia, where they enjoyed a warm welcome. A local, Alvin, came out on his boat to see if they wanted any banana bread and invited the crew to a beach barbeque with his family. Everyone was blown away by their warmth and generosity, no doubt the first of many encounters with strangers whose kindness will be a highlight of the Oyster World Rally.
All the fleet called in at the WW islands (also known as Guna Yala). It is a group of 365 islands along Panama’s southern Caribbean coast, home to the Kuna Indians. Many of these stunning, white sand islands, filled with coconut palms, are uninhabited – “your quintessential Gilligan’s Island…” as one owner described it.
In mid-February, the fleet reconvened in Shelter Bay Marina at the top of the Panama Canal to prepare for their transit. There was plenty to keep them busy, with lots of formalities and planning to be completed by the Oyster World Rally support team. Taking a break from the preparations, the fleet enjoyed plenty of activities planned by the Rally Support team, including cigar and rum tastings and an unforgettable party at Fort San Lorenzo – made famous by pirate Captain Morgan, who passed through on his way to relieve the Spanish of their gold in Panama City in 1671.
Approaching the Panama Canal from the Atlantic, boats are taken through a series of locks to Lake Gatan, where they stay overnight before continuing through towards the Pacific. To exit the canal, there is another series of locks (the Miraflores locks) that step down over sixteen metres into the Pacific. Apart from a short delay caused by gale force winds, the fleet transited in two groups without problem, with the help of canal pilots who know the waters intimately. Irene IV’s pilot, Caroline, was one of just four female pilots in a pool of 300.
The yachts were secured together in nests of three boats to pass through the locks safely. Arriving in Lake Gatun, the yachts moored for the night, before sailing in convoy through the lake and being guided through to the next stage of the canal by the pilots. The canal is very busy, with huge container ships, tankers and cruise ships sharing the waterway.
The diminutive size of the Oyster yachts was brought into perspective when the ‘Irish nest’ (made up of Irish Blessing, Irene IV and Ruth II) found itself in the Miraflores locks parallel to a cruise ship. Looking at the pictures, the cruise ship looks like a floating block of flats, dwarfing the three yachts.
For Louis Goor, owner of Irene IV, the icing on the cake was an announcement over the tannoy as the fleet left the last Miraflores lock and headed under the iconic Bridge of the Americas: “Welcome to the Pacific Ocean Oyster World Rally Fleet.” Harald Findlay, owner of Serendipity, came through the Canal feeling encouraged by the Oyster World Rally experience so far: “Splashing into the Pacific gave us the sense that maybe we’d be able to pull this voyage off – and that turning back to enjoy a 2022 vineyard summer was not an option!”.
Everyone agreed the Panama transit was a big tick on the bucket list. All were impressed by the incredibly well-organised operation, the professionalism of the pilots and the breath-taking scenery. The owners and crew were also hugely appreciative of the Oyster team’s support. The team began organising the logistics and paperwork associated with the transit back in early 2020, when they booked the fleet transit window and began completing the lengthy paperwork required for each vessel's transit.
After an invigorating break exploring Panama City and the Las Perlas islands, the fleet set sail into the Pacific on their next leg to the Galápagos.
The route to San Cristóbal took the fleet across the equator, which was celebrated in traditional seafaring style. For those crossing for the first time, it is traditional to pay homage to King Neptune with a ceremony that transforms you from a Pollywog to a Shellback. The crew of Irene IV describe a typical experience: “The ceremonies invariably include costumes, good wetting and eating somewhat unsavoury food items…King Neptune, Queen Amphitrite, Neptune’s Herald, Davy Jones, a doctor, an astronomer, and a barber all made an appearance aboard Irene IV!” Infinity chose a slightly more civilised approach, celebrating with a nice meal and a bottle of wine, but of course, Neptune was given his share in return for a safe passage for the remainder of their adventure.
At the end of February, the fleet began arriving in the Galápagos, where they were welcomed by the local sea lions, whose sole purpose in life seems to be lounging on any available surface – from yacht transoms to swim decks, even in tenders! As well as the sea lions, each yacht was visited by eleven Ecuadorian inspectors – from immigration and customs to doctors and nurses. Each boat must be fumigated, and the bottom cleaned in Panama, then inspected before they are allowed into Galápagos.
Once there, the fleet enjoyed exploring this iconic destination. The islands sit at the northern end of the Humboldt current, a flow of cold water from Antarctica that is full of nutrients that feed the huge variety of sea life. The current dictates the weather, which in turn makes the climate perfect for the distinctive species that populate the islands – including giant land turtles, finches, flightless cormorants, along with the Galápagos lava lizards and marine iguanas.
The fleet filled their days with hikes up volcanoes, diving and snorkelling. Many took off on day trips, while others explored off the beaten track, with local guides showing them special places away from the tourist trails. Highlights included diving at Kicker Rock, meeting the giant tortoises, taking in the lava rocks at Sullivan Bay and meeting some curious penguins.
After a few weeks taking in the Galápagos, the fleet gradually set sail on the next leg of their journey - the longest ocean passage of the Oyster World Rally to the Marquesas Islands.
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The passage from the Galápagos to the Marquesas covers 3000nm of the Pacific Ocean and takes around three weeks. The Marquesas Islands are 1,300km northeast of Tahiti and 3,000km west of Mexico, making them one of the remotest destinations in the world.
The fleet had plenty of time to contemplate life, the universe and everything else on their passage. In his blog, Intrepid's Trevor Hill mused on the immensity of the ocean: “…to sail across the Pacific, when day after day, week after week, you see more of the same blue ocean that seems as if it will go on forever, you gain a different awareness of how big it is. I found myself comparing our journey to that of Magellan and the early explorers who were going at half our speed and unsure of what awaited them; or imagining how in the future travelling to Mars will be a similar experience…”.
Irish Blessing summed up their crossing in statistics: “3,150 nautical miles from Galápagos to the Marquesas (3600 miles). 300 gallons of fuel, 1,800 gallons of water made (onboard desalinator), 270 individual meals prepared. Only two bags of garbage (all food waste overboard), all plastic cans, bottles etc washed and dried to eliminate odours. Five fish caught (one blue marlin released and four tunas consumed). Ten books read. Movies watched, too numerous to list. 128 flying fish and 16 squid cleaned off deck on morning inspection. Each crew member stood watch three and a half days at two hours a shift…”
Despite the vastness of the ocean, they were not alone – everyone was treated to visits by pilot whales and schools of dolphins. On the human front, Louis Goor of Irene IV led the daily SSB Radio Net for the fleet, at 09:00 and 18:00hrs. His unique humour kept everyone entertained and informed, the calls were eagerly anticipated as a chance for a little human contact on the long passage.
By mid-April, the whole fleet had arrived in Nuku Hiva, the largest island in the Marquesas, where they spent a couple of weeks exploring before heading south to the Tuamotus Islands. Spending time on dry land was very welcome after so many weeks at sea. The Oyster French Polynesia agent organised a fresh food delivery for the fleet to help them provision for the next leg of their trip. Getting a goodie bag of fresh fruit and veg in such a remote place was a real treat.
The Marquesan people laid on a whole day of festivities and entertainment to welcome the fleet. Everyone was invited to try local handicrafts, ride horses along the beach and perform a Haka. This was followed by a traditional feast and a welcome speech given by the mayor. In the evening, local dance groups and musicians kept everyone entertained into the early hours.
The fleet spent time exploring the lush forests and volcanic peaks of the Marquesas, but soon it was time to prepare to sail south to the Tuamotus and then on to Tahiti and Bora Bora.
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