Article • 19 December 2022
Half a world away

June - December 2022

Sailing west to French Polynesia

Leaving the dramatic volcanic peaks and lush forestation of the Marquesas Islands, the fleet sailed west to the untouched atolls of the Tuamotus archipelago and the Disappointment Islands.

Half a world away

This chain of 80 protected atolls offers unparalleled diving and snorkelling experiences. One of the first of the Tuamotus some yachts reached were the Disappointment Islands - a mostly uninhabited group of coral islands discovered by Magellan in 1520, named as there was no source of fresh water. For the record, they are not at all disappointing, but very beautiful!

These are some of the remotest islands on the planet, with pure white sands, waving palm trees, inviting waters and super friendly people. It is almost impossible to get there as a tourist, so the rally fleet was incredibly humbled to experience them. Fakarava, the second biggest atoll, was the favourite. Judy Hill, of Oyster 725/01 Intrepid; celebrated her 60th birthday there at the amazing Havaiki Lodge.

Fakarava atoll is renowned for being home to the most undisturbed coral reef ecosystems on the planet. It also boasts the highest concentration of grey reef sharks in the world, with a single shiver of up to 700 sharks in the lagoon. The exceptional marine life includes rays, manta rays, barracuda, groupers, turtles and dolphins, making it a sport diving enthusiast's paradise. Many of the fleet dived here and didn’t want to leave.

Rangiroa was equally popular. Here, the fleet saw the amazing shark movement in the Tiputa Pass at high tide. It’s an incredible sight, something that should be on every diver’s bucket list.

SUMMARY

AS THE OYSTER WORLD RALLY FLEET PASSES THE HALFWAY POINT OF THEIR VOYAGE, CATCH UP WITH THEIR ADVENTURES OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • UNTOUCHED ATOLLS IN FRENCH POLYNESIA
  • UNFORGETTABLE DIVES IN FIJI
  • ACTIVE VOLCANOES IN VANUATU
  • EXPLORING THE INCREDIBLE GREAT BARRIER REEF
  • SPOTTING KOMODO DRAGONS IN INDONESIA
  • CROSSING THE CHALLENGING AGULHAS CURRENT

Tahiti and the Society Islands

The fleet then sailed on to Tahiti, arriving at the most stunning location imaginable: a volcanic mountain range, with deep azure sea plus surf and a marina at its feet.

In a word – paradise. Tahiti is the largest and most developed island in French Polynesia, with some of the best surf spots in the world at Teahupoo. Just 30 miles from Tahiti is the famous Marlon Brando resort at Tetiaroa, a spectacular and tranquil private resort that some of the fleet took advantage of for some R&R.

The next fleet rendezvous was Opunohu Bay, Moorea, 11 miles west of Papeete. There, they enjoyed a day of cultural activities including making flower leis, handicraft workshops, outrigger canoe races and traditional Polynesian sports including tug of war, coconut husking, fruit carrier races and stone lifting. All this was followed by an amazing fire dance show from the Moorea Swing Boys, all fuelled by fantastic local food and beer.

Three yachts from the Oyster fleet joined the Tahiti Pearl Regatta for three days of racing in turquoise waters, bordered by a barrier reef and deep blue ocean. It’s probably the only regatta in the world that serves fresh coconut at the finish line. Oyster 675/04 Seabird took the overall win in the cruising class, followed by Oyster 575/11 Nikaia in second. Oyster 625/03 Black Lion, came fourth.

The Leeward Islands of Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea and Taha’a, were all popular stops offering breathtaking hikes through lush vegetation, unforgettable dives and snorkelling in crystal clear waters. Bloody Mary’s Bar in Bora Bora, renowned for its fresh local seafood, signature cocktails and celebrity appearances, is always one of the most anticipated party spots on the rally route. Yet again it did not disappoint, with everyone enjoying a great evening catching up and celebrating not one but two birthdays in this idyllic setting.

Rally boats at anchor in Moorea photo by Sean MacRory
Manta Ray Swimming Photo By Sean MacRory

On to Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia

Next stop was Savu Savu on the island of Vanua Levu, where the fleet received a warm welcome from the Copra Shed Marina staff, Fiji Tourism and locals.

After 2,000nm and 13 days at sea, Fiji was a sight for sore eyes. The rally yachts were some of the first to enter Fiji after lockdowns were lifted and so the locals gave their traditional Kava welcome ceremony with great gusto.

Jacks of Fiji kitted the men out in sulus (similar to a kilt) and the women in sarongs. Kava root was presented to the town representatives and our owners thanked them as they were welcomed to the island. Each boat was given beautiful handprinted bags, flower garlands and a fruit basket. A variety of tours and diving trips, as well as savouring some local tradition, visiting geothermal springs and chocolate plantations kept everyone busy and entertained.

A collection of sixty islands, the Lau Group was also a very popular stopover with our fleet. As one owner told us: “It’s one of the most beautiful areas we have visited – remote and untouched by tourism. How lucky we are to be able to explore on our Oyster!".

The diving experiences have been a highlight of this Oyster World Rally and Fiji was no exception. Famous for colourful soft corals and anemones, dramatic topography and crystal-clear waters, it is like diving in a saltwater aquarium with unlimited visibility. Oyster 575/11 Nikaia visited a local school in Fiji and described their Oyster World Rally adventure to the children and teachers. They used inflatable globes to explain where they had sailed from, and in return the children sang them a beautiful song. Nikaia presented kava root to the chief and they were welcomed into his home. All in all, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

The final destination in Fiji for the fleet was Musket Cove. Everyone gathered for another iconic Oyster party before setting sail for Australia. They watched the sun set over the island, with a famous Musket Cove rum punch to hand, followed by a delicious Fijian dinner and smores around the firepit. An enthusiastic local band played through the night and encouraged everyone to get up and dance – for some of the more enthusiastic dancers, it meant getting up on the bar!

Vanuatu reopened its maritime borders just as the fleet sailed towards New Caledonia. Some of the fleet decided to head to the capital, Port Vila. Vanuatu is comprised of around 80 islands scattered over 1,300 km. It’s renowned for world-class diving in pristine coral reefs, in underwater caverns and on wrecks including the WWII troopship, SS President Coolidge.

Louis Goor and his crew on Oyster 655/02 Irene IV sailed to Port Resolution, Tanna Island, at the southern end of Vanuatu. Mount Yasur, an active volcano, looms over the Tanna Island. As the first outsiders the locals had seen for over 30 months, they received an enthusiastic welcome. The crews of Irene, Infinity and Seabird organised an eye clinic, with spectacles from the charitable foundation Sea Mercy. They gifted 80 pairs, including two pairs to the headmaster of the local school so he can read without squinting!

The rest of the fleet carried on to New Caledonia. Lying between Vanuatu and Australia, a French territory that boasts spectacular scenery and offers superb hospitality. Some of our fleet were lucky enough to arrive in Noumea in time for Bastille Day on 14th July and join in the exuberant celebrations.

It’s one of the most beautiful areas we have visited – remote and untouched by tourism. How lucky we are to be able to explore on our Oyster!
Oyster Owner
Oyster 565 Infinity At Anchor In Monuriki Island Fiji

The halfway point: Australia – Mackay and Hamilton Island

Arriving in Australia at Mackay, south of the Whitsunday Islands, the fleet made their way up to Hamilton Island, a popular holiday destination. It is home to a world-class marina and the prestigious Hamilton Island Yacht Club.

Following a drinks reception on the Bommie Deck of the yacht club, the Oyster Halfway party was held at Catseye Beach. The evening started with cocktails on the lawn, with a glorious sunset over the Whitsunday Islands, followed by dinner served by scuba divers, with a side order of dramatic music and fireworks. Prizes were awarded to those nominees for the Spirit of the Rally, including: Louis Goor of Oyster 655/02 Irene IV for his brilliance on the fleet radio net; Ed Rumble, owner of Oyster 625/03 Black Lion and Joao Carrerio Skipper for a rescue at sea.; James and Julia Thomas for sailing most of the first half of the rally doublehanded – a great achievement. The evening concluded with dancing to the Red Tie Band, who had flown in specially from Brisbane.

Cairns

After the fun and games at Hamilton Island and exploring the incredible Great Barrier Reef, the fleet sailed on to Cairns. Many owners took the opportunity to organise maintenance work including hauling out and antifouling hulls, and important rig checks, all of which kept our rally technicians busy.

Cairns is a cosmopolitan city and popular tourist destination thanks to its tropical climate and proximity to tropical rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. Some owners chose to fly home, while others took a break from their yachts to explore Australia by land. Popular destinations included the Daintree Rainforest and the stunning mountain village of Kuranda.

Hamilton Island Yacht Club Sunset
Oyster 625 Black Lion At Anchor Fiji Islands

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Northern Australia and Darwin

Next stop: Indonesia. The route took the fleet to Darwin over the North Coast of the Northern territory via the Cape York Peninsular. This section of the rally threw up plenty of challenges for the navigators, with many reefs and remote islands to manage. In addition, there are plenty of crocodiles in these waters so there was no snorkelling or swimming from the yachts on this passage. It was a tough call, with tropical temperatures and very inviting waters, but good sense prevailed!

Favourite stopovers on this passage were Lizard Island, discovered by Captain Cook in 1770 and famous for its sea cucumber population. Flinders Island has an amazing selection of birds, including the Flame Robin. Thursday Island is famous for its pearl trade and as the military HQ for Australian and American forces during the Second World War.

Darwin is in the Northern Territory of Australia and it has its own stringent rules and regulations on biosecurity. So, most of the fleet spent 12 hours disinfecting their internal water systems and pipes before being allowed into the marinas. Darwin is packed with quirky attractions, including cool street art, exciting local markets, funky cafes and some excellent restaurants. It is also the gateway to the Kakadu National Park and home to some amazing Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr Rock.

Indonesia

Indonesia turned out to be an eclectic and busy place for the fleet. The yachts cleared into Kupang, East Timor, after a short two-day sail from Darwin. They were greeted with a busy, hot and energetic welcome from the locals. Most of the officials met our crews on the beach by the anchorage and once formalities were over, they left them to explore this non-stop city.

Exploring Komodo National Park was high on most people’s agenda and many headed east towards Labuan Bajo, a vibrant fishing town located at the western end of the large island of Flores.

One major highlight of the park included the Komodo Dragons, the biggest lizard in the world growing to a maximum length of three metres and weighing up to 70 kilograms – last seen by the fleet on the Galapagos. Some crews had the almost impossible to imagine experience of diving with enormous but gentle Whale Sharks. It seems to have been on everyone’s bucket list at the start of the Oyster World Rally and it became a reality!

Sailing west towards Lombok, the fleet stopped at the Lesser Sunda Islands, which they explored thoroughly, while some sailed straight to Lombok and the Gili Islands, renowned for its amazing surfing spots. The fleet came together at Marina del Ray, Gili Gede, for a typical Indonesian party with traditional dancing, local food and wine.

Yachts sailing in Indonesia aerial view
Snorkelling in Indonesia

Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands lie 1,500nm north of Lombok. One of Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories, the fleet were lucky to be the first yachts given Government permission to visit the islands since the beginning of Covid. It was definitely worth the effort – they sailed into a true tropical paradise, with an idyllic anchorage by Direction Island.

There are just two flights a week to the islands, making food and fuel scarce, so careful provisioning took place in Indonesia to make sure the fleet did not leave the locals short before the next deliveries.

Activities on Cocos are mainly water-based – snorkelling and diving, which were enthusiastically enjoyed and appreciated. The fleet had impromptu BBQs most evenings on the beach, where everyone got together to relax and take stock before the long ocean passage across the Indian Ocean to Mauritius.

Mauritius and Réunion

On the 2,330nm to Mauritius, one of the longest passages on the rally, some yachts clocked record speeds and huge daily mileages (up to 250nm per day). Some were going so fast, they couldn’t even fish!

Mauritius welcomed the Oyster fleet with a traditional Sega dance performance and taught the crews some of the island’s history. Everyone loved Mauritius with its mix of volcanic mountains, lush sugar cane fields and miles and miles of white beaches with crystal clear blue water. One favourite excursion was canyoning – drifting down waterfalls and rocky outcrops in a wetsuit and helmet whilst taking in the remarkable scenery.

A quick 130nm hop to Réunion gave the fleet another change of culture and landscape. It is a French overseas territory, so the fleet were back speaking French for the first time since Tahiti and were also back in the Eurozone. Top activities were surfing, hiking up volcanoes, helicopter sightseeing and white-water rafting. Everyone enjoyed their time in these two remote Indian Ocean islands. Then onto the next stop, another landmark (literally), as the rally sailed on to Africa.

Oyster World Rally fleet at anchor Cocos Keeling Islands
White water rafting Reunion

Durban and Cape Town

Navigating to the south coast of South Africa can be challenging. The 1,430nm passage to Durban loops under the island of Madagascar and then crosses the difficult Agulhas Current which runs around the coast of South Africa. Spoken of with awe by sailors, it needs respect and very careful attention.

Interpreting the weather and deciding when to leave Réunion was vital. The yachts needed a good wind and to travel with the current when crossing this 60nm wide, ocean tidal flow. The weather can be very unpredictable which led to the fleet being split up – the quicker yachts left early, whilst the rest waited for the next weather window.

Durban is an amazing destination, with the local yacht clubs of Royal Natal and Point Yacht Club combining with Durban Tourism and Sail Africa to devise an entertainment programme to keep all owners busy. The activities highlighted local culture, cuisine, and scenic spots. Some Oysters have taken local sailors with them on the passage to Cape Town as a thank you for the amazing hospitality.

Top activities in Durban were experiencing a Bunny Chow (hollowed out bread, filled with curry), visiting a shebeen, enjoying a typical South African Braai (barbecue), heading off on Safari and Zulu dancing. All in all, it was a wonderful rally experience that made the most of Durban and surrounding areas.

Christmas and sailing into the new year

It’s hard to believe it is almost a year since the fleet set off from Antigua en route for the Panama Canal. They will spend Christmas and New Year in Cape Town, under the shadow of Table Mountain.

In the New Year, the Rally will set off on the final leg, heading up to St Helena and crossing the Atlantic to South America, before cruising up to the finish line in Antigua. It is sure to be another exciting adventure!

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