The spectacular range of Oyster Yachts, participating in the first Oyster World Rally, have now past an important milestone in their round the world adventure. For the first time, since kicking off the rally in January, the fleet is currently heading back towards the fabulous Caribbean yacht charter location – Antigua, the point of origin for the 16-month Oyster odyssey.
“We finally passed the northern tip of Australia, Cape York, and moved into the Torres Straits. The Cape itself is pretty non-descript, no towering cliffs but just low scrub and sand dunes. However, passing the Cape meant we could finally sail west again and closer to home,” logged Andrew Lock, owner of Oyster 54 sailing yacht Pearl of Persia.
“The wind had been building for three days and by now was whistling around us, so we took shelter behind Adolphus Island for the night. It’s always amazing coming into the protection of land when the wind and sea have built up. Having to hold on and shout to each other, soon becomes quiet and ‘all calm’,” continued Andrew. “A short sail next day brought us to Thursday Island, an Australian outpost in the strait, where we could re-provision. It had a strange third world feel to it.
Looking at a map the Torres Straits shows blue between Australia and Papua New Guinea. I imagined it would be a deep clear sea but in reality it is a maze of shifting sand, rocks and reefs, most of it no deeper than 10 meters. Ships need to keep to very specific channels to avoid going aground. We zig zagged through the channel markers, leaving behind Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Island (no mention of Monday) and moved into the Prince of Wales Channel. We had been in the Pacific Ocean for 6 months and we’re finally leaving it behind, out into the Gulf of Carpentaria, towards the Indian Ocean.
After crossing the Gulf, we passed through the English Company Islands, all Aboriginal lands and off limits, and on to the Wessel Islands and into the Sea of Arafura. The option was to sail around the northern tip, a half day detour, or through a tiny passage between two islands known as the ‘Hole in the Wall’.
We had seen no other boat for three days but had agreed to meet two other Oysters at the entrance to the ‘Hole’ and as we approached the specified latitude and longitude just after dawn, we spotted the two masts in the distance. The land ahead looked just like a continuous cliff of shattered rock and it was only when we were half a mile away that we could spot the passage.
As we entered, the wind, waves and spray quickly calmed, we were in another world. Jagged cliffs just 20 metres each side of the boat and then after a mile we were through. We were tired after three nights at sea, so decided to anchor and recover before the final push on to Darwin.
Three more days would see us there and each evening we found lovely deserted places to drop anchor, where we could enjoy the sunset and get a good night sleep. As we were approaching the final anchorage before Darwin, on the edge of Van Diemen Gulf, and still a mile from land, Sussanne was up front preparing the anchor when we spotted a huge four metre salt water crocodile swimming by. It was a sobering sight, as it glided by, the whole length of it’s body visible. The swimming suits stayed safely stowed away for yet another night.
After a thousand miles of coastline without so much as a light, Darwin appeared on the horizon with its ‘skyscrapers’ seemingly out of place. There are always lots of jobs to do after a few weeks at sea, but we did manage a trip inland to the Mary River wetland area, which compared to the barren scrub we had seen from the sea, was teeming with life. The river was full of flowering lotus plants, with incredible birds, and crocodiles resting in the shade on the bank. Tomorrow morning at first light, we leave the organised, world of the west and in three days enter the chaos of Indonesia.”
David Caukill, owner of Oyster 575 yacht Serendipity described the yacht’s arrival in Indonesia: “If arriving in Kupang, Indonesia was a bit of a shock, it wasn’t because we weren’t expecting Third World conditions, it was because I had forgotten how such a large and vibrant town feels. It is more than a year since we have seen this kind of thing. True we have been to Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia in that period but our interactions with those countries was mainly in small towns and villages, each of which had their own charm where we also got to talk to the locals. By and large, the people we met were pleasant and helpful.
Our passage through the channels of officialdom to enter the country were facilitated by the Oyster Team, shepherding the customs and biosecurity teams around the fleet, before we were allowed ashore. The Oyster Rally management team had managed to corral Biosecurity, Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority into a single hall.
Armed with 10 copies of each of our Clearance papers out of Darwin, our Permit to Cruise Indonesia – CAIT (obtained in advance), our Crew List, our Ship’s Registration and passports and visas, we navigated that ‘room’ in about an hour. Heavens knows how long we would have taken had we had to go to each of their offices, one after the other.
Some time before arriving in Indonesia, we went to a charity shop in Darwin to get some clothes to give away to the Kupang locals, should we get the opportunity. A small contribution to the Salvation Army and we were the proud possessors of three bags of children’s clothes. The Oyster Rally group found out about an Orphanage in Kupang and encouraged all the boats to pool together a donation to fund the purchase of sacks of rice, flour and cooking oil. Also some mattresses for the boys (who apparently have to sleep on the concrete floor) and toys, toys and toys.”
Oyster World Rally Event Manager, Debbie Johnson reports from Indonesia: “After months in the Pacific, the fleet is in a new ocean and it feels like the beginning of a new adventure. There is some trepidation about the Indian Ocean; we were becoming so used to the ways of the Pacific and are entering the Indian Ocean with a little uncertainty. So far we have had very light weather conditions but we are expecting some great sailing conditions across the Indian Ocean and hope that it lives up to my previous experiences of being the most gentle of ocean crossings.
Already it is apparent that we have entered a world with a different culture and very different way of life. It is the first time that the Oyster fleet has had to barter with people trying to make a living and is a sharp contrast to the more straight-forward dealing with the Pacific Islanders. On the positive side, the food in Indonesia is a new experience too and far cheaper than in Australia.
It is great for the chilli-lovers amongst us to have some spice in our food, to eat out in inexpensive restaurants and to sample the wares of the street vendors. The Oyster 56 yacht Duchess has spent a little time in Bali and has inspired many boats to go on an Indonesian cookery course for an education on the different spices and to stock up with supplies from the local markets. Bali will be the last stop in Indonesia before we start island hopping all the way to Africa.
The fleet left Australia in good shape after having had easy access to spares and marine services for several months. It will now be important to carry out rig checks and essential maintenance prior to leaving Indonesia before we head into much more remote locations in the Indian Ocean.”
The next rendezvous for the Oyster World Rally will be the Indonesian island of Bali, famous for its spectacular mountain scenery, beautiful beaches and vibrant culture. All of the Oyster Yachts are fitted with trackers showing their locations and regular blogs, pictures and more, are being sent from the fleet.