by Louay Habib
The Oyster World Rally fleet is now in Reunion, the final rendezvous before the inaugural Oyster World Rally reaches Africa. Reunion is a French territory located in the midst of the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, south west of Mauritius and 1200 miles from the African continent. Reunion has a tropical climate, a stunning volcanic landscape and white sandy beaches fringed by coral reefs. The island is only 39 miles long but has over 800 miles of hiking routes with some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Oyster 655, Proteus at anchor in Reunion
'The Oyster World Rally visits some incredible places but I have to say that Reunion is just spectacular.' commented Oyster World Rally Manager, Debbie Johnson. 'The landscape is very similar to New Zealand but as a French ‘department’, it is also very European, which reminds me of home. There is so much to do here especially hiking including, the Piton de la Fournaise volcano, which rises to 10,000 ft with dense forest on its slopes. The whole island has the feel of a real community and there is very little in the way of packaged tourism or large holiday resorts.
From Reunion we will be sailing to Richards Bay on the east coast of South Africa and are keeping a close eye on the weather for the crossing. There are many stories of yachts being caught out by the changing conditions as the strong south-flowing Agulhas current off the coast of Africa can cause giant waves when the wind blows from the south. Long range weather forecasts are not always accurate and once the fleet are on the way, there is not really a place to seek relief from bad weather. However, we do have renowned meteorologist, Chris Tibbs issuing daily forecasts for us.
Hopefully the fleet can then time their arrival into the Aghulas current in northerly winds and have calm waters as they approach the African coast. Chris has been on standby for the fleet for the duration of the rally but as we are sailing out of the trade winds for the first time and into more changeable weather we have brought him in to advise us until we get to Cape Town. Alan Du Toit's Oyster 575, Legend IV, is already en-route to Richards Bay and sending back reports, Alan is from South Africa and knows these waters very well.
Whilst the fleet are a little nervous about the next leg, there is also great excitement in reaching another continent and another milestone for the Oyster World Rally. We will be in South Africa for Christmas and a lot of the sailors will be meeting up with friends and family who are flying in for the celebrations. After Richards Bay it is only a short hop to our next supported stop in Durban and it will be strange for all of us to experience city-life again. The Oyster World Rally has not been near a large city since Panama, so it will be a real change of scene. Everyday occurrences in cities such as traffic jams and noise are something that most of us haven't experienced for a long time, and to some extent that is why we chose to make landfall into Richard's Bay. After months of island life, arriving in Durban or Cape Town, would have been a real shock to the system.'
Captain's Log - Oyster 655, Proteus
Tim MacIntosh is the Captain of Chris and Denise Ballard's Oyster 655, Proteus. Tim has been looking after the yacht for the past two years, along with his fiancée Bryony Cowlin, and their good friend and Proteus' Engineer Oli Brett. Tim explains that whilst the Oyster World Rally is the adventure of a lifetime, the team are professionals at work.
'Myself, Bryony and Oli absolutely love taking care of Proteus and we have had an amazing time in some spectacular places.' commented Tim. 'However, life on board a yacht means that you are in close quarters with others and sometimes when tired it is easy to get a bit snappy towards the other crew but I have been pleasantly surprised about how we have all managed to cope with each other. I think an important factor in our successful working relationship has been to get some time away from the yacht.
In Darwin, Australia a group of us hired some 4x4s and headed out into the Litchfield National Park. There were about ten guys and girls and it was a nice break to get away from the yacht for a few days and do something completely different. Life on Proteus has to be very ordered and we maintain the yacht to a very high standard, so it was a nice change to rough it in the great outdoors and get covered in mud! Funnily enough the trip wasn't that different to the Oyster World Rally, we were on our own, in the wilderness, having a great adventure and that is what this rally is all about.
We have been in Reunion for a few days and it is a beautiful island. Proteus is in great shape and is behaving well so after a few days of hard work, we intend to take a few days off and enjoy the place. Tomorrow we are going for a helicopter ride - it has been highly recommended by others in the fleet and should be a great way to see the more inaccessible parts of the island. After tasting white water rafting in Fiji, we have heard that canyoning and white water rafting in Reunion is outstanding. Drifting down from the top of the mountains through dense forest is a really fun day out and a great way to see the island.
We started our journey in Turkey before the start of the rally, so in terms of longitude we will have sailed around the world when we reach South Africa. I have done a lot of ocean sailing previously but this is the first time that I have sailed all the way around. Working on yachts is never going to be a normal life but I am a little worried that after this amazing experience, it may feel like the volume has been turned down. However, Bryony and I will be getting married after the Oyster World Rally and although we have seen some fantastic honeymoon venues over the last 10 months, we have been in the heat for almost two years and we have decided to go skiing!'