The inaugural Oyster World Rally kicked off in Antigua eight months ago. The fleet is currently in Northern Australia, having sailed more than 10,000 miles. With a near gale gusting to storm force on the passage from Vanuatu to Mackay, the Oyster World Rally fleet had a baptism of fire, before reaching Australia.
Sue Brook, sailing with her husband Alan, recounts the difficult conditions in her blog from Oyster 56 sailing yacht Sulana. “For the last two days of the trip into Australia we had very rough weather, finishing off with eight hours of 30-35+ knots of cold headwinds encountered in Hydrographer’s Passage. Going through the Great Barrier Reef towards Mackay, this was utter misery, with wind, rain and confused seas.”
Happily Oyster World Rally Event Manager, Debbie Johnson reports that all of the crew and yachts arrived safely in Australia. “Everyone felt a sense of massive achievement when we arrived in Australia. In terms of miles and time, we still haven’t quite reached half way, but psychologically Australia feels like the other side of the world and it is a huge accomplishment to get here,” said Debbie.
“The weather was very rough for many of the fleet on the trip from Vanuatu to Mackay. For a prolonged period the wind speed rarely dropped below 30 knots and two yachts saw as much as 50 knots. That sort of weather could cause extensive damage but the Oyster fleet weathered the storm and everyone arrived safely. The only major damage was to Oyster 56 yacht Chinook’s mainsail, which was ten years old and scheduled for replacement anyway. Sailing to Australia from Antigua is a massive achievement but the rough seas on the last leg of the trip made it even more so. The ability to cope showed the robust nature of the yachts and the level of preparation that has gone into the rally.”
Having come through rough weather, the Oyster World Rally fleet had totally different issues to resolve, Australia has a strict Customs, Immigration and Biosecurity policy, as Debbie Johnson explains.
“Two years before the start of the Oyster World Rally, we contacted Australian Customs, Immigration and Biosecurity, to plan the fleet’s arrival and we have kept in contact with them ever since. The fact that the same officers were in charge of the process when we arrived in Australia was extremely helpful and I am delighted to say that entry into Australia was very smooth for the entire fleet.
Over the past two years, we kept updating the officers with information about the number of boats that were coming and Australian Customs and Immigration was sent crew lists and other information. Prior to leaving Vanuatu, bound for Mackay, we gave the Australian authorities the final update. As a result of the co-operation the whole process was professionally handled and it all went so smoothly.
There are many things that you are not allowed to bring into Australia and these regulations are very strict but because we had the forms in advance and gave them to every yacht, the actual process was very simple. All of the yachts were well informed about the regulations, as before the Oyster World Rally set out from Antigua, every yacht received full details in the Oyster World Rally Guide, which included scanned copies of the guidance leaflets for entering Australia by sea.
A good example of the regulations is that dairy products from outside of Australia and New Zealand are prohibited, but so are products that contain dried milk powder, such as drinking chocolate. By communicating these sort of details to the Oyster fleet, the process of entering Australia went without a hitch. All of the yachts had taken heed of the regulations and we had carefully planned our entry into Australia, as every Oyster moored up to the quarantine pontoon, each one was processed extremely quickly. In fact many of the items on the list as potential problems, such as pasta and honey, was just inspected, and if found to be in good condition was allowed to stay on board.”
The rally enjoyed a fantastic stop over in Hamilton Island with the fleet enjoying the first official race since they started the Oyster World Rally in January. In sharp contrast to the stormy arrival into Australia, the racing took place in very light airs. Oyster Regattas are renowned for spectacular parties and Hamilton Island Resort hosted a welcome Cocktail Party at the stunning Hamilton Island Yacht Club, followed by a Watersedge Dinner overlooking the beautiful Catseye Beach with a firework display, and waiters dressed in snorkel gear to serve seafood platters adding to the entertainment.
“The majority of the Oyster World Rally fleet are now in Cairns. For the last two weeks, we had very calm weather, which was ideal for diving The Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is the perfect base to visit the reef and enjoy the beautiful beaches, and pretty islands of North Queensland.
Cairns is 1200 miles from the next stop in Darwin and many sailors would consider that a very long passage. However, over the last eight months, the Oyster fleet have become accustomed to such mileages and these distances are no longer daunting.
Back in January, four yacht owners planned that Australia would be their final destination, but sailing half way around the world has been such an amazing experience and two of them have decided to continue, it has become a passionate addiction to finish the rally.”