As piracy fears prompt skippers to ship yachts from Oman, rally organisers are to cease trading

Sadly, the Blue Water Rally circumnavigation has come to a premature end in Oman because skippers judged the risks of piracy in the Gulf of Aden too great to continue.

This marks the end not only of this event, but the finish of the Blue Water Rallies as a whole.

Their biannual circumnavigation for cruisers has run since 1997.

Skippers taking part in the current rally decided to bow out from the event following a fraught leg to Salalah in Oman from India and the deaths of four US crew who broke away from the event who were shot by pirates.

The 20 yachts in Salalah, Oman will be shipped to Turkey by yacht transport company Sevenstar.

The rally was due to end in Crete in April. The fleet will now be delivered to Marmaris, Turkey. Sadly for skippers it means missing part of a full circumnavigation.

The next Blue Water Rally, planned to leave Gibraltar later this year, has been cancelled. There were only seven entries for the event, which was to follow the same route.

Last week, Blue Water Rallies’ managing director Chris Mounsey announced that the company would cease trading from 30 April.

Mounsey stated: ‘Since its formation in 1997, Blue Water Rallies have organised eight world rallies and take great pride in having enabled over 200 owners and hundreds of crewmembers to realise their dream of a circumnavigation.

‘The current economic downturn and a dramatic rise in piracy in the Indian Ocean (which shows little prospect of resolution) however, have led us to make this disappointing, but we feel realistic, decision.’

It is a shame because the organisers have by all accounts done an excellent job for crews.

As I blogged last week, most of the crews taking part in other rallies have also bailed out, and some 15 yachts are being shipped from the Maldives.

Listening to chatter from sailors, both in person and online, I note that quite a number are very critical of Blue Water Rallies’ decision to continue along this route.

To be fair, staff spent a long time fully briefing skippers and crew. And there’s a fundamental and extremely important point to remember here: that decisions affecting the safety of a vessel or crew are always the sole and irrevocable responsibility of the skipper.

An acceptance of this full and personal responsibility underpins everything in sailing.

Yet I do think that that the rally organisation didn’t adapt as times and risks changed, and that it made the decision for skippers considerably harder than if they’d given them a firm steer with a diverted route and schedule.

Once a group has been established and bonds formed it is very, very hard to make an individual decision to leave.

It’s true that the Blue Water Rally’s record in going through the Gulf of Aden in convoy was impeccable. But the longer they continued to run it through this area the greater the statistical risks would be of something untoward happening.

In any case this is a highly stressful and rather unpleasant section of a circumnavigation, with some potentially nasty windward work ahead in the Red Sea.

It has always been a bit of a dark cloud hanging over an otherwise pleasant tradewinds circumnavigation. Recently, it’s been more like a Sword of Damocles.

In contrast, World Cruising Club, which began the model for round the world rallies nearly 20 years ago with the first two events, Europa 92 and Europa 94, did adapt to the changing geopolitical scene and since 2008 have taken a longer route to and from the Caribbean via the Cape of Good Hope.

Crews from the Blue Water Rally fleet are stressing to other sailors that the Indian Ocean/Gulf of Aden route is now very dangerous and people should not sail there.

It has been pretty dangerous for a while and in fact back in January I passed on warnings to friends in the rally from the EUNAVFOR coalition forces, strongly advising them not to continue to the Red Sea.

But having done that, crews have found themselves in Oman between a rock and a hard place: it is risky to continue and even more so to back-track.

Their plight and the end of the rally sends out a very clear signal: the Indian Ocean is a no-go zone. If you want to be sure of completing a circumnavigation safely, choose another route.

I’ll be having a look at all the alternatives and their various pros and cons in the May issue of Yachting World, which is published next month.