Alan and Jean Du Toit sailed the longest Pacific leg aboard their Oyster 575 with no other crew and managed to cope with a broken boom only days after they left Galapagos. David Glenn met them in Fiji

Photo: Mark Snyder/WetArtProductions

Surely one of the most experienced crews
taking part in the Oyster World Rally which has now reached Fiji, are Alan and
Jean Du Toit from Cape Town aboard their immaculate 575 Legend 1V.

Alan and Jean (pictured with daughter Nicolle) are retracing the steps they
took almost 30 years ago when they completed a circumnavigation in a 34ft Van
der Stadt design. Then they navigated by sextant and dead reckoning complete
with Walker’s trailing log, they had no fridge, and they very nearly lost the
rig as the deck-stepped mast almost penetrated the superstructure.

Alan couldn’t work out why he was
continually having to tighten the bottlescrews only to realise the mast had no
underdeck support post and was about to work its way into the saloon! An off
cut from a hut being built on a beach somewhere in the Pacific was quickly used
to prop up the rig and all was well. 

In the 1980s it took them 31 days to sail
from the Galapagos to Marquesas whereas they’ve just completed the same passage
in considerably more comfort aboard Legend 1V in just 18 days. They’ve been sailing
on and off with daughter Nicolle and other friends and family but the Du Toits
were keen to do the big Pacific leg on their own. Both of them have come to
love the cruising way of life and they relished the challenge of just the two
of them making the crossing.

But it could have been an even quicker trip
had they not suffered an unusual accident which meant they sailed for much of
the way without a boom. Just a couple of days out from Galapagos there was a
bang as the bottom end of the hydraulic boom vang parted company with the mast.
A threaded screw which holds the vang in place had undone itself and the vang
had let go, dropping onto a superstructure window.

Alan immediately started sheeting in the
main but what he hadn’t realised was that the pin connecting the boom to the
gooseneck has also begun to work free because of a lost or failed split pin. So
with the pin half out the boom twisted as it was sheeted in, the force enough
to tear the entire boom from the mast. Alan showed me pictures of quite a large chunk
of aluminium missing from the gooseneck fitting which is bolted to the
face of the mast.

Although the Du Toits were able to lash the
boom in position – they couldn’t remove it completely because of various
electric and hydraulic cables ‘connecting’ the boom to the mast – they ended up
sheeting their in-mast furling mainsail like a trysail to a quarter block and
sailing on successfully at about seven knots. Fortunately they had no upwind

An alarming feature of the incident was
that when the vang let go the boom came crashing down on top of the bimini
because the yacht was not equipped with a topping lift. That has since been
rectified by Oyster.

Oyster, in the form of the indefatigable
Eddie Scougall and Debbie Johnson who are running the rally, immediately sprang
into action, ordering spare parts from Oyster HQ in Ipswich who in turn made
sure everything was ready and waiting in Tahiti when the yacht eventually got

Alan and Eddie set about the complex task
of removing the broken gooseneck fitting (it unbolts from the mast extrusion),
dismantling the in-mast furling drive mechanism and the manual furling back-up
and putting it back together again with the new parts.

Alan told me it took about a day and when I
took a look in Fiji you wouldn’t know there’d been a problem.

To complete the job Oyster agreed to
replace the saloon window which had been chipped when the vang hit it.