Hours after stepping off their Oyster 575 in a picturesque bay in the South Pacific, Harvey and Sue Death were staring into the fiery crater of the world’s most active erupting volcano. Mount Yasur is one of the mightiest sights in the natural world, yet few people ever get to see it – the island of Tanna in Vanuatu is too remote and inaccessible for most land-based tourists.
The Deaths, however, had sailed to Vanuatu as part of a small group in the Oyster World Rally 2017-19, and were welcomed as guests by the islanders. They had brought clothing to give the villagers, and in exchange were offered presents of fruit and vegetables before being taken to walk up to the volcano’s crater.
Four years on, this experience and connection with the people of Tanna still stands out among the Deaths’ multitude of memories. “You somehow have an instantaneous friendship with people wherever you go,” says Harvey Death. “One of the magic things about sailing round the world is that you can get to places other people can’t in cruise ships, places that are tiny, with no infrastructure, and you get to see things others can’t.”
Asked about the best parts of their voyage sailing round the world with the Oyster World Rally, the Deaths agree: “There are almost too many to single out.”
“The whole experience was so fabulous, and there was such a volume of it,” says Harvey. “That question opens up a myriad of memories. There was a bit of everything: the people you met, from native yachtsmen to villagers in the middle of nowhere, the camaraderie.
“Diving with 14ft tiger sharks in Fiji, visiting a village in St Helena that is just like somewhere in the Cotswolds, seeing Ascension Island, a volcanic rock with tropical rainforest at the top absolutely infested with high-tech surveillance gear and a runway big enough for the space shuttle, going to Devil’s Island in French Guyana, the amazing wildlife…there was just so much.”
Harvey and Sue Death hadn’t planned to sail around the world. After owning an Oyster 56 for ten years and sailing across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, they decided to upsize to a new Oyster 575. It was while they were choosing the yacht at the Düsseldorf Boat Show that they were asked if they had considered taking part in the Oyster World Rally.
“Someone had approached us to buy our business, so it was an ideal time,” says Harvey. “On the way home from that conversation we agreed that it was a window that might never be open again. Our parents were well, we had no grandchildren, we had the time to get a new boat and to make sure it was one that fulfilled our needs.”
At first, Sue’s plan was to “fly in and fly out” during the rally. But as their preparations gathered pace she decided to sail all the way round. “I was on the boat for the whole two-and-a-half years and I did every single passage. I’m so pleased I did. I sailed every single mile of the 32,000-mile circumnavigation,” she says proudly.
Preparing to sail around the world can be a daunting logistical challenge, but if you are building and equipping a yacht for the voyage, the support, advice and back-up starts from the minute you buy a new Oyster. A new yacht provides an opportunity for an owner to tailor the layout, sailplan, equipment and set-up exactly as they wish for a circumnavigation.
To help owners and crew gain the knowledge, information and top-up skills required, the Oyster World Rally programme begins long before the start with series of workshops and seminars.
Husband and wife team Eddie and Debbie Scougall have been involved in the planning and technical support for the rallies since the first in 2013. “The start point is speccing your boat and talking to the project manager about what you’ll need, then the rally provides a lot of training,” Debbie explains. “We don’t expect owners to be highly experienced sailors but we can build up a lot of that experience.”
Training workshops cover topics such as how to make sail repairs, rigging repairs, and advice on downwind sailing. “We do lots of technical stuff, such as showing how to service generators, engines and watermakers, and manufacturers come in and demonstrate,” says Debbie.
“We have a day at Lewmar finding out how to service winches and windlasses, and a day at Dolphin Sails repairing sails and learning how to splice. We help crews organise safety training, and we build up and give people confidence in all these areas.”
Specialist training such as Yachtmaster Ocean Theory, Medical First Aid at Sea and SSB radio courses are set up for owners and crew – it is a comprehensive syllabus. And in the course of learning, crews get to know one another. “Most people already knew each other before we started the rally and had had social meet ups,” says Debbie.
While owners and crews are preparing themselves for the rally, Oyster’s After Sales team helps prepare a list of spares likely to be needed for a circumnavigation. Drawing from the experience of supporting fleets of two previous rallies, Dee Addy and her team prepare a comprehensive list tailored for each yacht.
“We assign one of the After Sales team to look after a particular owner before, during and after the rally, and we get to know the owners very well,” explains Dee. “We will put together a spares list a year in advance, down to flags, charts, tools and safety equipment, which the owner can adjust as they like. We do the ordering for them, the parts come to us in Wroxham and we box, label and store them until the owner is ready to have those spares shipped to them.”
Oyster’s After Sales service covers every yacht the company has ever built over 49 years. They have a file on each yacht and lists of all the equipment and parts serial numbers for all the most recent yachts. The After Sales team includes a former boatbuilder and has built up a bank of knowledge and experience in sourcing every element, from masts to cockpit table hinges.
They do whatever it takes to make sure owners get what they need in time, once flying someone to Antigua to hand deliver an urgent part. Dee Addy recalls taking a replacement window home on Christmas Eve to make sure it got shipped to South Africa on Boxing Day.
The window was actually for Harvey and Sue Death, who were in Cape Town and about to set off on the next long legs across the South Atlantic. “It was a saloon window that had been accidentally damaged, so it was a show-stopper,” Harvey recalls.
“The Oyster After Sales team in Wroxham are brilliant; their support service is amazing at getting parts where you are going to be and they never let anyone down. They were also very, very good at giving advice over the phone. We had a really good relationship with Dee.”
From the moment the Oyster World Rally begins in Antigua, the Oyster Rally team is on the move to meet the fleet and support crews all the way round the world. They arrive in the main stopovers ahead of the yachts. “We are ready for the first and we are the last to leave,” explains Debbie Scougall.
“We get everything from berthing to customs and immigration paperwork set up ahead of the first arrival.” They will also make sure the spares and kit being shipped to the fleet are cleared through Customs and ready for the yachts.
“We will organise SIM cards, wifi set up, we’ll help with flights for visitors or with travel agents. We compile a guide to each destination about pilotage, charts, a directory and contacts at each port, the locations of things like supermarkets, phone numbers for taxis and car hire, and also a guide about what to do and see. In some places we have parties or we’ll arrange a tour or a dive guide.”
The Oyster technical team also helps and advises with repairs. Debbie’s husband Eddie Scougall is the guru of technical support and was invaluable in supporting the first Oyster World Rally. “We can help them find local services or show them how to make repairs — there is always someone technical on hand,” Debbie explains.
“The technical support is fabulous,” agrees Harvey Death. “There is someone you can communicate with anywhere you are for advice, technical staff from Oyster flown in at official stops, and Fox’s Rigging came out to New Zealand and Cape Town do a complete crawl all over the rig to check everything.”
“And,” he adds, “when there are 30 yachts in the fleet, you get pretty broad skills to cover most other eventualities. We had nurses, doctors, engineers, electrical engineers, computer specialists. People will swap spares and we had some very helpful, very experienced sailors.”
One of the best things about the Oyster World Rally, say those who have done it, is the sailors themselves. A group of likeminded people, they form into a tight-knit community who are all committed to supporting each other and sharing the fun.
The encouragement of other women on the Oyster World Rally 2013-14 was the reason why Sussanne Lock decided to sail round the world rather than sit on the sidelines. Her husband, Andrew, decided to do the rally after the couple bought their Oyster 54 Pearl of Persia. Sussanne, was “not a sailor”, she admits, and considered passage making a “dutiful ordeal”.
“I said to Andrew: ‘You go but don’t count on me.’ Going out on open oceans out of sight of land was something I couldn’t bear thinking about.”
Two things changed her mind. One was taking part in the Oyster Palma Regatta with a crew from Oyster who filled her with confidence in how to handle the boat. The other was meeting up in the Canary Islands with some other wives who were about to sail across the Atlantic.
“I met some others who were very much up for doing the Atlantic crossing and we got chatting. They kept saying: ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I started slowly thinking that if they could do it, I could do it. So I made a snap decision. I thought, if I don’t go, I will really miss out. I had a couple of weeks sorting things with the house and I jumped on board.”
From the Canary Islands onwards, Sussanne not only sailed round the world, but completed it almost entirely double-handed with her husband, a feat only a select group of sailors in the world can boast.
She is now writing a book about her experiences, and what they meant to her.
“It is one of the most amazing things I’ve done in my life and I would do it all again. The connection with other boats and people, the places we saw that I would never ever in my life have gone to, like the Marquesas Islands or these tiny atolls in the Pacific where you are entirely on our own – it is wonderful.”
She adds: “On the rally, you become really very close to others because you are doing something together and in radio contact daily. You hear about other people’s problems and you share yours, and a solution is given to you by somebody in the group. We could have done it just the two of us, but it wouldn’t have been the same without the other people waiting for you.”
Sue Death agrees that leaping into the adventure was the right thing to do. “I’m so pleased I did it. We loved sailing our beautiful, brand new Oyster. I would definitely recommend it. There were some other halves who didn’t do the whole rally but they really missed out on, for example, the camaraderie.”
Harvey Death agrees: “You knew people were out there and you would talk to them twice a day and share experiences, brag about the fish you didn’t catch, talk about cookery and cakes and tell some very bad jokes.”
Looking back, Sussanne Lock sounds wistful about the longer passages: “I really enjoyed being out at sea at night. I was always on watch from midnight until 0400 and I would have the night sky. At times there was a full moon that lit up the sea or I’d see dawn break with nothing else around. There is nothing like it. It’s really quite spiritual.
“I would absolutely recommend sailing around the world to anybody. If I had missed this, I’d kick myself. I’m very proud. Everybody should be told that they can do this.”