One of the things that draws sailors to the Oyster World Rally – aside from the promise of sailing to the most beautiful and remote destinations in the world – is the opportunity to undertake this amazing adventure fully supported by the Oyster team.
Supporting the fleet from the moment they sign up for the rally and offering them assistance in each official stopover along the route is the responsibility of the Oyster World Rally team. They work around the clock to ensure this lap of the planet is as stress-free as possible for the entrant, covering all bases from the start to the end of the canal crossing.
The Panama Canal transit is a bucket list experience for sailors globally – and this year’s fleet have just ticked it off their list. Heading from the tropical islands of the Caribbean to the South Pacific Ocean, the Oyster team have been with them at every key stopover.
Responsible for organising the logistics and paperwork associated with the transit, the Rally team also provide guidance to the fleet on the canal transit itself. It’s one of the most labour intense jobs of the entire circumnavigation. Splitting into three key areas (amongst others), the Oyster team help with logistics, technical and destination-specific support. Planning for the recent 2022 canal transit began way back in early 2020 when the team booked the fleet transit window and started the comprehensive paperwork required for each vessel’s transit.
Combining two milestones on the rally – one of the most complex transits in the world, and the first planned fleet gathering since the start of the Rally – the Panama Canal transit requires intense logistical support from the Rally team, and this year was no different.
Primarily, the aim of the Rally support team is to ensure a smooth transit through the canal and readiness for the next destination. Prior to the fleet assembling in Shelter Bay Marina at the top of the canal, the team gathered paperwork, sorted visa requirements, and organised with the Canal Authority time slots for yacht measuring ahead of the transit. Once berthed in the marina, briefings about the transit were held to ensure that each yacht (owners and crew) were fully informed of the specific procedures for entering the canal, and there are many! This also gave the team a chance to gather and check the information in the famous Oyster World Rally guide, organise any required COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, support travel arrangements and distribute any After Sales orders and parts to the fleet.
While the fleet enjoyed some of the activities arranged by the Oyster team – including a party at the UNESCO world heritage site Fort San Lorenzo, a mimosa and tapas evening plus a huge Superbowl event – the team ensured that each boat passed the necessary checks before entering the canal ahead of their sail to The Galapagos.
Any sailor who considers transiting the Panama Canal will understand the level of administration that comes with the experience of taking the journey.
Every yacht was booked into their measuring slot pre-transit, a mandatory requirement before being allocated a ‘nest’. The yachts go through the canal in a nest of three yachts together, and each wave was allocated a whole lock to themselves – quite exceptional allocations from the canal authorities. As for the onboard support, the team were busy organising the canal tolls, inspections and navigation permits for each of the fleet, as well as securing pilots and advisors for their crossing.
Each yacht transiting the canal must have five crew aboard, one driving the yacht (or helmsman) plus four line handlers. Each line has to be 38m (125ft) long and at least 22mm (7/8”) minimum diameter. These are bigger and longer than the ropes normally used on an Oyster so they had to be hired, as these lines are so long, they reach the top of each lock when the yacht is at the bottom. Once through the end of the canal, the lines and extra crew are then collected and brought back up to Shelter Bay Marina at the top of the canal, ready for the next wave of yachts coming down the following morning.
A key element to a successful circumnavigation is ensuring the yacht is maintained to a high standard throughout. The Oyster Technical Support team is second to none and were busy checking over each yacht in the fleet to ensure they can safely continue to the next destination. As well as solving technical issues, the team offer advice to owners on how to self-maintain their yachts and how to keep things running smoothly.
While providing help and guidance to all owners and their crews, the Oyster Rally Support team continuously work with the Oyster After Sales team to ensure any spare parts are ordered and shipped to the desired location for each yacht. The Technical team are then on hand to help install and give advice where necessary.
This is just a small snapshot of how the Oyster World Rally team has supported the fleet at the start of their circumnavigation, at the first of 25 official stopovers on the rally. The knowledge and expertise of the Oyster World Rally team is something Oyster are proud to share with rally owners and a service that makes the Oyster World Rally experience so unique and valued.