Three years ago, Ross Golding was sitting on the deck of his house in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, cradling a gin and tonic and pondering what to tackle in retirement. Sailing round the world was little more than a pipe dream, but a few days later he happened to read an email about the Oyster World Rally and the long-neglected ambition flared into life.
Golding had hankered after an Oyster for many years and had fallen in love with the new Oyster 565. Ordering a new yacht gave him the last available place on the Oyster World Rally 2022-23 and suddenly the race to set off on a circumnavigation was on.
Golding’s life since those slow-rolling days of the pandemic in 2020 has been lived at warp speed. He has crammed in a multitude of experiences and sights, visited scores of new countries and made deep and lasting friendships he could not have imagined. In some respects, it has changed his outlook on the world – even on life – and has been one of his most rewarding ventures, ever.
“There are so many plusses to a trip like this, it is hard to know where to start,” he says. “It is a huge undertaking but tremendously worthwhile.”
FROM LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE OF THE PANDEMIC TO A LIFE-CHANGING ADVENTURE. OYSTER OWNER, ROSS GOLDING SHARES HIS STORY OF A DREAM THAT BECAME REALITY WITH OYSTER.
Although an experienced sailor, Ross Golding had no ocean or bluewater experience when he ordered his new yacht, Oyster 565/08 Infinity. The expertise of the Oyster team was decisive. He worked closely with Dan Wurzbacher, Sales Director for Oyster Yachts in the US, and build project manager Andy Armshaw to ensure the boat was specified and fitted out exactly as required for his round-the-world trip.
Infinity was launched in the UK in October 2021. “Part of the issue of going a long way to a boat you haven’t sailed before is getting everything you need there,” Golding says, “but it was pretty straightforward. Oyster were very, very helpful and we stayed in Ipswich for a couple of weeks getting everything ready with our crew.”
In November, Ross Golding set off across the Atlantic on the first stage of his journey. He had decided that he would need two professional crew to keep the boat running and stay on top of maintenance and took on German skipper Fabian Fisahn and his wife, Daniela. “I wanted a crew that would stay with us the whole trip, it was a focus for me very early on. Oyster helped us choose and that worked well. Fabian had a lot of experience without being overbearing and had a sense of humour.”
Crew considerations are, he says, a “huge factor” on a world rally, and it’s a topic he returns to later in his recommendations for preparing for a world rally.
For Golding, the rally exceeded every expectation. It was more varied, sometimes more challenging, more thought-provoking, more full of surprises and of camaraderie than he, or anyone involved, could have anticipated.
“What you understand and appreciate more than flying over vast amounts of ocean to get from one place to another is how incredibly beautiful this planet is and how each country has dramatically different cultures. For example, French Polynesia is so different to Vanuatu. These countries are all fascinating in their own ways,” he reflects.
“Indonesia is a country I hadn’t been to and knew nothing about. So I took two weeks off the boat and hired a private guide to tour Bali and Java. That was an amazing experience. As diverse as it is, it is incredible how the country holds itself together. I asked them how they get along so well and was told it was a policy and an attribute of the country they are taught about from day one in school.”
Hospitality and a welcome were to be found in even the most humble places. “We had people in Vanuatu paddle out to us in dugout canoes and invite us to have lunch with their families, and they didn’t want to be paid for it. The only place we felt some local hostility was in French Polynesia where they are clamping down on where yachts can anchor. But pretty much everywhere else was incredibly friendly even in very, very poor places, like Colombia. We went off-rally there and it is a wonderful country,” he says.
Golding is a very keen diver and among the highlights of his voyage were the sights he saw underwater and memories such as swimming right next to a school of manta rays in Fiji.
Another is Indonesia when, having breakfast on board, suddenly “a pod of whale sharks came up and nestled beside us.”
“The wildlife you see is amazing,” he says.
“And you are going to places that you could not get to any other way.” For example, Infinity stopped at the island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra.
“A book that made a big impression on me years ago was ‘Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded’ and since then I’d always wanted to go there,” Golding explains. “Krakatoa blew itself up but a new volcano is taking its place, arising underwater right in the caldera. So we went there and it was amazing to explore the island with absolutely no one else around.”
There are many places that he would love to return to. “Some would be difficult or impossible without a yacht – for example, Tana on Vanuatu. That is a very special place with an incredible history.
“You are sailing among many of the spots Captain Cook explored, and that was a great treat. I think Fiji is one spot I’d go back to. It is beautiful, very friendly, not over-developed and easy to get to. The food is good. It is not over-populated.
“Cocos Keeling was also really special. But, again, if you went there without sailing in on your own yacht it wouldn’t be the same.”
Inevitably, a round-the-world voyage has its tougher parts. These can be challenging yet, conversely, among the most rewarding parts. That is how Golding sums up the crossing of the notorious Agulhas Current from the Indian Ocean island of Réunion across to South Africa.
"On the very first day we headed out early in the morning and we got caught in a squall and 30 knots against the current. Big waves were breaking against the bimini and I thought: ‘This is a bit more than I bargained for’. But by then we were on an Oyster and had 20,000 miles under our belt.”
“But you have to have confidence in your boat. And of course, careful planning is huge. One of the things the Oyster rally supports you with is weather forecasting and routing in key areas. That was one of them, to help make sure you get your timing right.”
Looking back, he reflects: “I consider myself very fortunate to have had a bit of a blow going around the Cape of Good Hope as some people had dead calm while we were averaging 220-230 miles a day!”
Ocean sailors are often asked in casual conversation if there are times when they have been scared. Ross Golding admits: “It is a question I asked myself before going on the rally. Everybody’s response to that is different. We got in a bunch of squalls and a few situations with wind and weather of 45-46 knots of wind but I loved it.”
“When we went round the tip of Africa, we had to slow down. That is when having confidence in your boat matters. Never for one minute was I the least bit concerned about what that boat could take.”
Sailing round the world gives you a different view of it, an altered perspective. This is one of the great privileges of travelling under sail, where life must be lived at a pace that encourages deeper reflection.
"Without question, it changes how you think,” Golding says. “You are seeing your own country from a different perspective. I have travelled a fair amount but when you are bobbing across a 3,000-mile ocean you have time to think about things you never, ever think about on land, not even if you were to do the Haute Route or Appalachian Trail.”
Such as what?
“Well,” he laughs, “that is a long conversation. My opinion is that the world is in for a bit of a rough go. You look at what happens when you are gone for a year-and-a-half compared to taking things a day at a time. The world went to war in Eastern Europe, some of my friends died, and my son got married and had a baby. You get a sense that very small minds are running very big countries and they don’t seem to be concentrating on the truly significant issues.”
“One of the things that needs mentioning is that you see the impact of global warming. Two things struck me: the San Blas islands are being overwhelmed by the surrounding ocean quickly. I looked at a photo of it from 2015. We anchored right next to where it was taken and I couldn’t believe it was the same place – it was a third of the size.”
“We had four or five days in Jakarta, which is sinking at an astounding rate and they are moving their capital because of that. It is an agrarian society and they eat and sell what they harvest, but the harvest is completely changed in the last 20 years and every single person said it had affected them. The vast majority of fields flooded before the wet season so they can’t grow tobacco anymore and are searching for other crops.”
By the time Ross Golding had reached South Africa at Christmas, he was looking towards the end of the rally in Antigua in April and the next stage of his life. Infinity was quietly put up for sale. “I pretty much had her sold when I was in Cape Town. Oyster Brokerage” found a buyer almost immediately. It was a good deal for the buyer,” he says.
“I’m getting married in September. My fiancée is a full-time practising physician so getting away is not easy. I probably don’t need to do any more big ocean crossings. I wouldn’t mind sailing from the US to the Azores and back to Europe, but for now, what we will do is take part in Oyster’s charter programme with our kids.”
Looking back, he says: “We couldn’t have done what we did without Oyster, the crew and the support. I think people think what I’ve done is more remarkable than I do. When you consider it from a global perspective, in other words sailing from Europe to the Caribbean and round the world, it seems pretty daunting, almost impossible, but you break that big task into little parts. Get the boat, get your crew, get comfortable, and sail to Guernsey.”
His advice for anyone thinking of following in his footsteps is simple: “Really get to know your boat. Get on it and sail it – a lot.
“If I was to give any other recommendations it would be to take your time and vet the crew and sail with them for an extended period beforehand, for example, an Atlantic crossing. Everyone on the rally would say chemistry with crew is a gigantic factor. A huge percentage of the rally fleet ended up going through crew once or twice, even professional crew that had been hired. Whether that was personality conflicts or issues with competency, there are a whole host of reasons why things don’t work out. You have to have a backup plan.
“Also, you are on the ocean and if you aren’t comfortable with swimming, snorkelling, and diving, it’s best to get comfortable or you will miss a huge part of the trip. Ideally, you should learn how to dive. We went to some of the best diving spots in the world and although I’ve been diving for 25 years I’d never seen some of those sights.”
Golding, a radiologist by profession, also emphasises that good health is crucial. “I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting a thorough health check and dental checkup before doing this. On the rally, muscle mass decreases, especially in the lower body. My body fat went down but bone density also went down.”
Nevertheless, Golding concluded that, except for sun exposure, living on board and sailing is good for your health.
Some people may argue that taking part in a rally dilutes the experience of sailing round the world, but no one who has been a part of one would agree. It offers built-in, continual support and backup, and readily forms its own society, becoming a close-knit village on the move.
“One of the huge benefits of the rally is that you have Oyster technical support all the way through. It is exceptional, way more than worthwhile and there wouldn’t be a crew on the rally who wouldn’t say that,” says Golding.
“The event is superbly organised by Oyster’s Allie Smith, who is no-nonsense, really organised, has a great sense of humour and cuts to the chase and gets things done. It is a huge undertaking and the rally is tremendously worthwhile.
“There are so many advantages to it. I think without question the friendships that you make on this rally are amazing and the people you meet are fascinating; they are first-rate, high-calibre, intelligent, super interesting and from all over the world. None of them comes from the same background. I thought that was one of the absolute high points of the rally.
“Quite honestly, it is a life-changing event.”
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