Written by Kirsty Fisher

On 9th January 2022, I set sail from Antigua on board sailing yacht Intrepid, a 72ft Oyster yacht bound for a circumnavigation of the world. My partner, Calum, and I joined the boat as crew in April 2021 and after two Atlantic crossings, 10,000 nautical miles and a huge refit, we were ready to take on our next big adventure. The Oyster World Rally is a 16 month circumnavigation beginning and finishing in Antigua, making the most of the trade winds that will help us sail west over 27,000 nautical miles.

The Intrepid

Though we have worked on sailing yachts for a few years, we hadn’t imagined taking 1.5 years out of ‘normal life’ for an adventure like this. Yet one thing Covid did for many of us was change our perspective of time- and if the opportunity ever arises to sail around the world, of course you say yes!

I should probably begin with a disclaimer: this is a comfortable sailing yacht. After all, Scott and Shackleton seemingly got by without a washing machine, electric oven or water maker.

However, even on a high-spec yacht, some timeless challenges remain. For example, inclement weather, constant boat maintenance and repairs, seasickness, illness and accidents are all that bit harder when you’re miles, even days, from land.

Lined up along the historic Nelson’s Dockyard, Pirates of the Caribbean music blasting, we left Antigua on 9th January alongside 24 other boats on the Oyster World Rally.

As the boats peeled off to their various destinations, we headed straight for Bonaire, our first, and what would prove to be our last, stop in the ‘ABC’ islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).

Bonaire boasted some incredible diving, salt pans providing food to the impressive flamingo population and interesting historic sites to visit.

Reminders of a chequered history with slavery, as in many of the Caribbean islands, were noticable while exploring the island. Beside the salt pans, four prominent obelisks protrude from the coastline, painted red, white, blue and orange, once beacons to trade ships indicating the quality of salt at each pick up destination. Alongside the Obelisks are huts, too small to stand up in, in rows facing out to sea. Now a seemingly peaceful sight, these huts were built in 1850 as sleeping quarters for the people enslaved by the Dutch West Indies Company, each hut housing up to six people. When slavery was abolished here in 1863, the salt pans were no longer profitable and the industry fell into decline. Today, solar salt works have revived the industry, operating alongside the flamingo reserve and providing a tourist attraction to visitors.

Bonaire Obelisk 


Bonaire Huts 

In spite of carefully following guidelines, somewhere along the way, three of five on board came down with Covid, meaning isolation on the boat for 10 days.

Gaining a thorough understanding of the term ‘cabin fever’, it’s fair to say we were itching to get back on the water and after our ten days were up, we changed our plans of cruising the ABC islands and instead set sail for Cartagena, a bustling and vibrant city on the north coast of Colombia. Nestled against modern high-rise skyscrapers, Cartagena’s old town is a Unesco World Heritage Site, hosting an array of beautiful buildings that line cobblestone streets and home to the impressive ‘Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas’ castle, situated outside the city walls. We spent a few days there, fixing boat bits, provisioning and exploring the colourful streets of the Getsemani district.

Getsemani Cartagena 

Our next stop was the Guna Yala islands, formerly known as the San Blas Islands, an indigenous territory off Panama’s north coast. White sand beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters characterise this archipelago of over 350 islands, yet where you might expect to see flashy resorts, instead there are small thatched homes.

This is because these islands are governed by the Guna or ‘Kuna’ indigenous group, who hold authority over the region. The islands and their visitors provide livelihoods for the Guna people, who visited us in wooden dugout canoes, bringing welcome supplies of fresh local fruit and vegetables and selling handicrafts, such as ‘Molas’.

Molas are intricate tapestries forming part of the traditional dress worn by the Guna women and central to their cultural identity. Each hand embroidered panel features elaborate patterns in many designs, often using spiritual symbolism, celebrating the natural world and depicting historical events.

San Blas Molas

Then it was on to Panama, our final destination in the Caribbean Sea before our journey into the Pacific. We sailed past the infamous Caledonia Bay, a place at the forefront of the Darien Scheme, an attempt for Scotland to open an overseas territory in Panama and establish an overland route to connect the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. While the vision turned into a financial disaster for Scotland back in 1700, more than 300 years later, we were making our way towards the isthmus to cut through by way of the Panama Canal.

While hunkered down in Shelter Bay, at the northern entrance to the canal, we explored the surrounding rainforest trails, bursting with interesting wildlife like Howler monkeys, sloths, coatis and an array of birdlife. We also spotted the odd crocodile and while we never saw it, a ‘growling black panther’ became the talk of the marina, a relaxing thought on your morning walk! Soon it was time to head through the canal, where the delights of the Pacific awaited…

Panama Parrot