Of the 100 or more yachtsmen and women taking part in the first Oyster World Rally nearly a quarter of them are youngsters in their 20s. David Glenn met some of them in Fiji

Pic 1: Jack Ollington (left) and Roger Hart
Pic 2: Rally participants on a guided dinghy tour of the Bay of Islands

A feature of the Oyster World Rally is the
large contingent of young crew, some sailing with their families others taken
on by couples who need a helping hand. Take 25-year-old Jack Ollington, for
instance, whose experience as a yacht delivery crew based in the UK eventually
led him to Las Palmas in the Canaries where he helped sail a non-rally Oyster
across the Atlantic in the ARC last November.

When he got to the Caribbean he found his
way to Antigua where he heard about the Oyster rally some of the participants
of which were still looking for crew. Alan and Sue Brook in their Oyster 56
Sulana were a case in point. Remarkably, they had decided just two days before
the start of the rally that they would take part! The boat was prepped and
provisioned but they knew that by the time they got to Panama they would be a
hand short. Jack got the job and is now a paid professional.

I met him in Turquoise Bay in the Lau group
of islands in Fiji where after a successful Pacific crossing he was leaving
Sulana as he was keen to return to the UK to get a Yachtmaster certificate.
This seemed to me a sensible way of doing things – so often people sit the
exam, somehow pass it, and then go off to gain experience.

So what’s it been like for Jack and what
has he learned? “Things like provisioning for a big voyage I didn’t know anything
about – I helped Sue in Panama and I learned a lot,” he said.

But the big bonus for him and 24-year-old
Will Morris – also working aboard Sulana – was taking responsibility for the
yacht’s maintenance schedule which Oyster publish for each yacht they launch.

“We went up the mast to do rig checks every
two days, we checked water strainers, eased sea cocks regularly and checked the
steering systems as laid out in the maintenance log,” said Will.

On one occasion they noted that one of the
adjustable turning blocks, which lead the steering lines to the rudder
quadrant, had loosened resulting in the line starting to chafe. If they hadn’t
completed that regular check steering failure would probably have been the
result. “Alan was Mr Oyster of course so he came with virtually a spare boat
inside his boat – there’s been lost of swapping of spares for things like loos
and generators.”

Daily engine and generator checks are all
part of the task and all the way across the Pacific the maintenance schedule
was adhered to. Result: Sulana crossed virtually problem free.

Being aboard with an older couple is
something many of the more youthful crew think hard about and when they team up
with another person of their own age the company is welcome. Now that Jack is
leaving he wonders how Will might cope. The ‘grown ups’ are full of praise for
the young ones. “They’re wonderfully helpful and we’ve seen a lot of change in
them as the rally has progressed – they’ve grown up,” said one.

Not all the youngsters enjoy the luxury of
being paid. 27-year-old American Roger Hart has ‘been filling in the gaps’ and
has moved from boat to boat across the Pacific. He uses his savings to pay for
his own expenses. He’s seen more gear failures including a failed top bearing
on an in-mast furling gear unit, which resulted in a torn sail, a chafed
steering cable which lead to steering failure and a number of sudden Raymarine
autopilot malfunctions.

“I have no worries about not being paid -
it’s not what I’m here for,” said Roger who is enjoying the cultural
experiences. In fact, the last time I saw him he’d just been invited to spend
the night with a family in Daliconi village on Vanua Balavu, the population of
which had just performed a wonderful welcoming ceremony involving the
consumption of cava which left us all with slightly numb tongues and lips.