By Sue Brook
First over the line, according to ARC organisers, was Oyster 72, Kealoha 8 helmed by proud owner David Holliday, just inches ahead of sister ship Holo Kai, owned by Chase Leavitt, setting the pace for the other 14 Oyster yachts taking part.
With winds of 20 knots from the North and a heavy swell, the waters outside Reina Isabella Marina resembled a swirling yacht soup when Keahola 8 appeared majestically from the rear of the committee boat, the Spanish Navy warship Atalaya, to take up prime position and lead the fleet onto the start of its 2,700 mile trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
For some it was the trip of a lifetime while for others it was the exciting first leg of a round-the-world adventure. Four Oysters will be joining 41 other yachts signed up for the World ARC 2008, which sets sail from St Lucia on January 23 – leaving plenty of time for some serious Christmas and New Year partying.
The intrepid four are Oyster 72 Kealoha 8, 82 Tilly Mint, 53 Jigsaw and 56 Into The Blue.
The party atmosphere was already to the fore for many yachts with family and friends arriving to wish them bon voyage and wave them off. On Thursday evening Oyster MD Alan Brook hosted a drinks party at the plush Hotel Santa Catalina where owners could get to meet each other and swap handy tips. Alan wished them all a safe and enjoyable crossing and assured them: "Your Oyster is strongly-made and will look after you, if you look after it." ARC organiser and director, Andrew Bishop, spoke of the long-standing relationship between the ARC and Oyster. Andrew said Oysters had covered many millions of miles and he was glad to see so many owners returning with new boats as well as a number of new owners coming along.
Some owners had prised themselves away from demanding jobs – heads of industry, commercial whiz-kids, even a member of the House of Lords – while others had made considerable financial sacrifices to be there, and five lucky children were there because their parents realized it would be an education-enhancing, life-enriching experience for them.
It is a great testimony that all the British children taking part in this year’s ARC were on board Oyster yachts. As Jeremy and Diane Menage, crew on board the 55-foot Fuerte, which is home to three children, aged five to 14 years, observed: "We thought, well if Petra and Richard consider the Oyster safe enough to take their children on, it is safe enough for us."
Paul McCarthy and Mary Byrne obviously had similar confidence in entrusting their ten-year-old twins Molly and Kate to their 35-ft ketch, Jigsaw of Gosport. At 20 years old, Jigsaw had the distinction of being the senior member of the Oyster fleet – while at the other end of the scale, the stunning 655, Roulette v.2 was the newcomer. Her owner, Trevor Silver, took delivery in August this year.
But no matter what age the yachts, all the owners and crew would have devoted months to careful planning and were now about to realise their own particular hopes and dreams. Every effort had been made to ensure everything was in tip-top condition, all reasonable precautions taken to cover emergency situations, finding the ideal crew and of course, food, shopping for at least 17 days at sea. The final test of ingenuity was finding space to stash those precious supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables – Tilly Mint’s huge branch of bananas made a very passable substitute for a Christmas tree, lashed to the transom antennae mast!
However, despite the best-laid plans there are always last minute hitches and these included Roulette v.2 suffering a broken electric headsail furling motor. Once again Oyster’s Service Team came to the rescue, arranging for a representative from Reckmann to fly over from Germany, to deliver and fit a new part – the very next day. "I’m not easily impressed," said Trevor, "but this was really exceptional service."
As in previous years, the Oyster’s highly-efficient service team, headed by Eddie Scougall, was heaped in praise by grateful owners. The appearance of ‘the team’, in their distinctive red polo shirts, was enough to bring an immediate sigh of relief from owners experiencing problems and even those without problems appreciated the reassurance they felt following a courtesy visit and the offer of a routine inspection.
They were joined at one stage by a team of riggers from Formula Spars, who managed to supply replacement hydraulic headsail furler motors in the 17-year-old Oyster 55, Fuerte.
Owners spoke enthusiastically about the team’s willingness to go the extra mile – and the extra hour – to ensure a job well done. One or two have even admitted a slight feeling of smugness over owners of other yachts who feel decidedly second-class by not receiving Oyster’s renowned first-class after-sales service! Take a bow Will White, from Newport, R.I., together with Pete, Stuart and Ed.
There was however, one last minute hitch ‘the team’ couldn’t help with. For Dick Morgan, owner of Oyster 655 Blue Destiny, it was touch-and-go whether he would leave Las Palmas with the rest of the fleet as his chef, Stephanie Martin-Shad went down with a stomach infection on the Friday and was still not back to full strength by Sunday. Blue Destiny did leave with the fleet at lunchtime with Dick fully prepared to divert to the Cape Verde Islands if necessary.
But as Ian Herman, Marketing Manager of the St Lucia Tourist Board told ARC entrants at their official briefing: "It is not about the speed, it is the experience!" Having extolled the virtues of his exotic homeland he said he looked forward to meeting them all again after they cross the finish line at the entrance to St. Lucia’s famous Pigeon Bay.
While the adults were finalising preparations for the crossing the five children going along were quite busy themselves.
Twins Kate and Molly McCarthy who celebrated their tenth birthday on board their parents’ 35 foot ketch Jigsaw on the trip to the Canary Islands and 12-year-old Laura Haig, from Fuerte, soon showed themselves to be budding socialites.
Not content with the usual video parties and sleep-overs, the girls decided a pool party for all ARC children would be a good idea and set about organising one. They drew up eye-catching posters with full details of the event, to be staged at the nearby marina pool, and attached one to the entrance of each pontoon. By all accounts a great time was had by all!
Kate and Molly have done a great deal of sailing since their parents Paul and Mary bought Jigsaw four years ago – visiting Ireland and France along the way. Mary says the girls are very confident on board and didn’t seem too bothered when they met a violent storm in the Bay of Biscay, which threw them around as if they were in a washing machine.
Mary and Paul, who both work for Social Services have taken extended leave for the trip and have been given special permission to take the girls out of school – but Mary has plenty of work planned for them, as well as introducing them to the constellations.
The children on board Fuerte will have had even longer off school. Their parents, Richard and Petra, sold their house in the Midlands to buy their Oyster and fund their own 18-month voyage of discovery. Petra, a practice nurse, has told her patients she is taking a gap year and she believes it will be a bonding experience for them all. And, knowing that Fuerte is now their home, they have splashed out on a beautiful silk carpet – which WILL be packed away while at sea!
Oyster owners are, by definition, an ingenious bunch, and their resourcefulness even extends to their plans for keeping busy while not on watch. Some were planning to learn another language, brush up on their (Irish) history, dip into psychology, get to grips with video-editing, teach the children some of the constellations and even keep fit. Chris Shea, who is a keen walker, has estimated he needs to do 50 laps of his Oyster 56, Magrathea, to complete one mile – and as he bends down to clip and unclip his safety line he should manage a good few squat thrusts too!
But for Phil Holliday on board his brother David’s good ship Kealoha 8 there is some serious business to sort out. He is planning to set up his mother Joan’s Oyster 68, K7, as a charitable trust to provide Sea Cadets and disadvantaged youngsters with sailing and life-affirming opportunities.
Phil, who already has a major company interested in getting involved, thinks the venture would be a fitting tribute to his late father Leslie – a keen Oyster owner and generous fundraiser for children’s charities. "Although I can’t afford a K8 of my own I know that I am nevertheless, very privileged," explained Phil, who runs his own construction company, "and I want to do my bit to help change society for the better. My long-term project is to persuade the government to introduce a compulsory ‘gap year’ for 16 to 18 year olds to take them out of their normal environment where they could learn to show respect and how to earn respect."
The logistics of putting one’s "real" life on hold to embark on an 18 month trip of a lifetime are explained by 43-year-old Nick O’Donnell and his 35-year-old partner, Rosie Russell. Nick, whose dream job with Microsoft eventually turned into a nightmare, had begun to realize his work/life balance was seriously out of kilter and he was on his way to his first heart attack. He switched to shortterm contracts with the BBC handling multi-billion pound property portfolios as he and Rosie researched how best to fulfil their ambition of travelling the world.
Rosie was similarly snowed under, doing a job she loved, as Business Development Manager for The Lonely Planet publications, but gradually realising she had too many pairs of designer shoes and handbags and not enough time to enjoy them!
First step was finding the right boat. The couple, who have had considerable experience on Oyster yachts - Nick’s father, Barry, has owned two, and both Nick and Rosie have raced with Richard Matthews – could not afford their own Oyster and pretty soon had to acknowledge that nothing else would do. "We just could not countenance going around the world in anything other than an Oyster so then looked into the possibility of becoming crew for someone else. "To cut a long story short, Alan Brook put us in touch with David Holliday, owner of Kealoha 8 – and here we are."
She and Nick are certainly looking forward to visiting their dream destinations and have planned to take two or three extended trips away from the boat to give themselves and the rest of the crew the essential "time-out" from each other. They are particularly keen on visiting Australia and South Africa but are slightly disappointed at not being able to fit in New Zealand and sailing around Cape Horn. "We’ll just have to look forward to doing it at some time in the future – perhaps in our own Oyster," added Nick.
Of course the event would not happen at all without the hardworking team in the ARC office, headed by Andrew Bishop. Easily spotted in their sunny yellow polo shirts, they were on hand to give advice on just about every subject – from medical matters to sailing instructions, which is not easy when you realise that 28 different countries are represented in the ARC event. Oyster owners might be interested to learn that two of the ARC team are long-standing friends of Richard Matthews and Oyster Marine. Anna Brooke, who was there with her husband Chris, is the sister of Anthony Landamore, in whose yard in Wroxham, many Oysters are fitted out.
To find out more about the ARC, visit the event website here.