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Home > Features > The Oyster World Rally – Antigua to the Marquesas
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The Oyster World Rally – Antigua to the Marquesas

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At 1300h on Sunday 9th January His Excellency the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, Sir Rodney Williams, fired the starting cannon for the Oyster World Rally from Charlotte’s Point, Antigua to mark the start of the 2022/23 Oyster World Rally. A fleet of 25 Oyster yachts crossed the starting line heading off on a 16-month epic adventure, taking them across three oceans, sailing some 27,000 nautical miles, for the experience of a lifetime.

The fleet had gathered in Antigua from the end of November, with some yachts making their own way to Nelson’s Dockyard, and others sailing with the ARC across the Atlantic. Over the following weeks, each owner and their crew made their final preparations; provisioned their yachts, ensured the smallest details were taken care of, took part in training sessions and enjoyed the support from the locally-based Oyster technical team.

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Getting to this point had taken years of preparation for some. For the White family on Oyster 625 Makara, it had involved choosing a brokerage Oyster, taking it to Palma for complete boat refit and preparation, completing courses in in navigation and weather, honing sailing skills, and learning how to cook onboard and provision properly for the long passages between stopovers.

Unique as the only fully-supported circumnavigation, Oyster’s expert World Rally team meet the fleet at major destinations, assisting with everything from managing berthing, repairs, sharing experiences and technical expertise, along with an in-depth knowledge of the must-see sites to visit and, of course, local bars and restaurants.

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Trevor and Judy Hill, owners of Oyster 725 Intrepid, summed up how everyone felt shortly before the start: “We feel ready, not panicked, just excited! There are so many highlights on the trip ahead of us, but it’s the prospect of the adventure we’re most looking forward to.”

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Antigua to the Panama Canal

The fleet left Antigua with Panama City as their next major destination. But as with the whole of the Oyster World Rally, it wasn’t a case of everyone setting off in a pack on the same trajectory, some of the fleet sailed north via the British Virgin Islands, or south via Guadalupe, St Lucia and Grenada, whilst Infinity, Seabird, Akoya, Nikaia and Irish Blessing headed south-west through the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).  Judy Hill onboard Intrepid recalls: “It was fun because we were always in sight of each other, so that was special way to get started.”

Most of the fleet stopped off at the San Blas Islands, also known as Guna Yala.  This group of 365 islands along Panama’s southern Caribbean coast are home to the Guna Indians, but many of these stunning white sand islands, filled with coconut palms are uninhabited, giving the many youngsters on the rally the chance to step ashore a classic deserted island.

Panama Canal Transit

By mid-February, the fleet had reconvened at Shelter Bay at the top of the Panama Canal to prepare to transit the famous waterway. Assisted by the Oyster World Rally support team, there was plenty to do including the formalities for the transit, but also cigar and rum tastings, and an epic party at Fort San Lorenzo which was made famous by pirate Captain Morgan who passed through on his way to relieve the Spanish of their gold in Panama City in 1671.

Approaching the Panama Canal from the Atlantic, the yachts transited a series of locks to Lake Gatan, where they overnighted before continuing towards the Pacific. To exit the canal, another series of locks (the Miraflores locks) step down over 16 metres into the Pacific. Apart from a short delay caused by gale force winds, the fleet travelled in two groups without any problems, assisted by the canal pilots who guided them safely past huge container ships, tankers and cruise ships, all sharing the waterway.

With the Panama transit a real bucket-list experience for the majority of the fleet, Louis Goor, owner of Irene IV, said the icing on the cake was an announcement over the tannoy as the fleet left the last Miraflores lock and headed through the iconic Bridge of the Americas: “Welcome to the Pacific Ocean Oyster World Rally Fleet!”

Crossing the Equator

After an invigorating break exploring Panama City and the Las Perlas islands, the fleet set sail into the Pacific on their next leg to the Galapagos.

The route to San Cristobel took the yachts across the equator celebrated in traditional seafaring style with those crossing for the first time paying homage to King Neptune with a ceremony that transforms sailors from a Pollywog to a Shellback. The crew of Irene IV described their experience: “The ceremonies included costumes, a good wetting and eating somewhat unsavoury food items…King Neptune, Queen Amphitrite, Neptune’s Herald, Davy Jones, a doctor, an astronomer, and a barber all made an appearance aboard Irene IV!” Infinity chose a slightly more civilised approach, celebrating with a nice meal and a bottle of wine, and of course, Neptune was given his share in return for a safe passage for the remainder of their adventure.

Arriving in the Galapagos

By the end of February, the fleet started to arrive in the Galapagos, where they were welcomed by local sea lions, whose sole purpose in life involved lounging on any available surface – from yacht transoms and swim decks, even in tenders! As well as the sea lions, each yacht was visited by eleven Ecuadorian inspectors – everyone from immigration and customs to doctors and nurses. Each boat had to be fumigated and the bottom cleaned in Panama, then inspected before being allowed into Galapagos.

Once there, the fleet enjoyed exploring this iconic destination, filling their days with hikes up volcanoes, diving and snorkelling. Evenings were spent cementing new friendships in the many bars and restaurants to be found on the main island, Santa Cruz. From exploring off the beaten track with local guides, to diving at Kicker Rock, meeting giant tortoises and penguins to the lava rocks at Sullivan Bay, the entire fleet enjoyed their land-based activities prior to setting off on the next leg of their journey – the longest ocean passage of the Oyster World Rally to the Marquesas Islands.

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Crossing the Pacific to the Marquesas

The passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas covers 3000nm of the Pacific Ocean and takes around three weeks, making them one of the remotest destinations in the world.

On Infinity, Trevor Hill mused on the immensity of the ocean: “To sail across the Pacific when day after day; week after week you see more of the same blue ocean that seems as if it will go on forever, you gain a different awareness of how big it really is. I found myself comparing our journey to that of Magellan and the early explorers who were going at half our speed and unsure of what awaited them; or imagining how in the future, travelling to Mars will be a similar experience.”

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Irish Blessing summed their crossing up in statistics: “3,150 nautical miles Galapagos to the Marquesas (3600 miles). 300 gallons of fuel, 1,800 gallons of water made (with the onboard desalinator), 270 individual meals prepared. Only two bags of garbage (all food waste overboard, all plastic cans, bottles etc. washed and dried in order to eliminate odours). Five fish caught (one blue marlin released and four tuna consumed). Ten books read. Movies watched, too numerous to list. 128 flying fish cleaned off deck and 16 squid on morning inspection. Each crew member stood watch 3.5 days at 2 hours a shift.”

But despite the vastness of the ocean, they were not alone, with daily visits by pilot whales and schools of dolphin.  Maintaining human contact, Louis Goor on Irene IV led daily group calls for the fleet at 09:00 and 18:00 with his unique humour keeping everyone entertained and informed.

A warm welcome in Nuka Hiva

By mid-April the whole fleet had arrived in Nuku Hiva, the largest island in the Marquesas, where they spent a couple of weeks exploring before heading south to the Tuamotu Islands. Spending time on dry land was very welcome after so many weeks at sea, and special treat of a goodie bag of fresh fruit and vegetables was organised by Oyster’s French Polynesia representative.

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Part of the benefit of being on the Oyster World Rally is the land-based activities organised to entertain the fleet.  This included a whole day of festivities and entertainment, with everyone invited to try local handicrafts, ride horses along the beach and perform a Haka. This was followed by a traditional feast and a welcome speech given by the mayor, and in the evening local dance groups and musicians kept everyone entertained into the early hours.

The fleet spent time exploring the lush forests and volcanic peaks of the Marquesas, before setting sail south to the Tuamotus, towards Tahiti and Bora Bora and the next stage of the adventure.

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The Oyster World Rally fleet can be followed live at www.oysteryachts.com with the fleet’s next destinations including to French Polynesia, the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, Indonesia, Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Mauritius.  Christmas will be spent in the fantastic city of Cape Town, South Africa before setting off to the remote island of St Helena, en-route back in the Caribbean in early 2023.

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