A Big, New World

Gabby Covill, who owns the Oyster 745 Mexican Wave with her husband, is cruising the globe for the first time as part of the Oyster World Rally.
Oyster 745 Mexican Wave
The Oyster 745 Mexican Wave charges downwind in the Oyster World Rally 2024-25. Courtesy Oyster Yachts

Gabby Covill and her husband, now in their mid-50s, met when they were younger and both had an interest in sailing. They owned an X-332 that they’d race around their home waters in Britain, and they had three children, which meant that sailing around the world had to be put off as a dream.

However, they chartered Oyster sailing yachts in the Mediterranean and Caribbean—and those experiences inspired them. With the children now in their 20s, the couple is embracing post-pandemic YOLO mode. They commissioned the Oyster 745 Mexican Wave in February 2021.

They took delivery last year and spent some time getting to know the boat in the Mediterranean. This past January, they set off with all the other Oysters from Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua as part of the Oyster World Rally 2024-25. Cruising World caught up with Covill just after Mexican Wave arrived in the Galapagos Islands in early March.

What inspired you to take part in the Oyster World Rally?

My husband retired 18 months ago, and he wanted a project, so he decided to build this Oyster. What really attracted us was that we could build it and go around the world fully supported. They have technical support. There’s a whole team to help us as we go around the world. It’s a real comfort. We’re doing it with the other boats, so it’s really sociable. You get to meet lots of fun, interesting people who are doing the same thing.

Mexican Wave at rest in the Galapagos Islands
Mexican Wave at rest in the Galapagos Islands. Courtesy Oyster Yachts

How different is this experience from your previous time on boats?

We’ve never done anything like this. We used to race our little X-332, but this is ocean passages. It’s completely different. It’s one of the reasons we chose the Oyster 745. We realized that we needed crew to help us maintain the boat, and we needed some extra support sailing her.

How many crew are aboard Mexican Wave with you?

We have three crew: a skipper, a first mate/chef and an engineer. We’re so proud of our skipper. She’s the only female skipper doing the Oyster World Rally. She’s also a diving instructor. She’s great fun.

How do those dynamics work, in terms of who actually sails the boat?                 

We very much want to be involved. We all do watches. We all work as one big team. We’ve just done a four-day trip, and we were as much a part of the rotation as everyone else.

We spent this past summer in the Med, prepping the boat, and my husband did the ARC last year, sailed across the Atlantic. It’s much more new to me than it is to him, but we absolutely love it. It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone. The next passage will be the big one, to the Marquesas.

Oyster 745 Mexican Wave
The Covills commissioned the Oyster 745 Mexican Wave in February 2021. Courtesy Oyster Yachts

What have been some of the rally’s unexpected highlights so far?

Starlink has made a massive difference because I can stay in touch with my friends and my children. It gives me confidence, and it takes away the remoteness. Eighteen months ago, you’d do a passage, and everybody would be excited to get to land, to get some Wi-Fi. Now, people are in contact and posting on Instagram the whole time. I wouldn’t be on this boat if I couldn’t stay in touch with my kids.

Bonaire was an unexpected highlight for my husband. He did a lot of diving there. The Galapagos, we’ve been here for only three days so far, but we dived yesterday with the hammerheads, which was an amazing experience. The wildlife is not afraid of us. It’s incredible.

And we were in Panama for three weeks. We stopped over in Coiba Island, which we didn’t know much about beforehand. It’s a national park, and it’s very remote. We snorkeled and went on a couple of hikes. It’s so peaceful. There are no boats there. We arrived with the Oysters, had a few drinks on the beach, and then went back to the boats. It was fantastic.

Transiting the Panama Canal was also a highlight for us both. It’s just amazing to me, from the Atlantic through to the Pacific, and you’re transiting through with these huge container ships. The pilots who come on board, it works like clockwork. You’re nested up with two other boats, and you go through the locks into Gatun Lake, and then down the locks on the other side, and the gates open, and you’re in the Pacific. It was a real emotional moment for us.

Oyster 745 Mexican Wave
The Oyster 745 Mexican Wave is cruising the globe for the first time as part of the Oyster World Rally 2024-25. Courtesy Oyster Yachts

How do you balance the fun of cruising with the competitive spirit of a rally?

We constantly have a joke: It’s a rally, not a race. But you can imagine, when the sails are up, all the skippers turn into racers. It’s good fun.

Now, all the Oysters are together in the Galapagos, but then we’ll head off to different places, and then we’ll meet up again in the Marquesas. So you get your freedom to go off and do what you want to do, and then you meet up again, and there’s always somebody not too far away because you’re always leaving at the same time.

We’re not trying to get there as quickly as possible. We’re trying to get there as safely as possible. It really makes no difference if you’re the first boat or the last boat to arrive. You can go at your own pace.

How did you prepare for the demands of around-the-world sailing?

We had to have extensive medical training for each person on the boat. You buy a kit, which contains everything from an IV to oxygen, antibiotics, injections—everything you’d need in an emergency—and then you have access to 24-hour medical care by video, text message and telephone. The doctor will call you back and talk you through whatever the problem might be.

We had to do the sea-survival course as well. That’s what to do if you have to abandon ship. They teach you how to use everything in an emergency.

How did you find your three crewmembers?

Oyster has a crew manager, and we found our skipper through her. Our engineer, we found because he’d done part of the rally before. Our first mate answered an ad on one of the social media groups.

Our skipper, we interviewed digitally because she was in Fiji at the time. Our first mate, we interviewed in person in Palma. We interviewed our engineer digitally as well. It was personality as much as anything else. You’re spending 18 months with these people. They become your family. We call them our boat family. We are living in a very small space.

Sunset aboard Mexican Wave off Panama
Enjoying a stunning sunset aboard Mexican Wave off Panama. Courtesy Oyster Yachts

What are your relationships like with the other rally participants?

We have a lot of fun with all the other boats. When we meet up, there’s always a party. We’ve got an owners’ WhatsApp chat going, which is really fun, and because of Starlink, we can do that.

We’re also all in touch by SSB radio, but in all the rallies before, they used SSB to make sure everyone checked in at 9 o’clock in the morning and at 7 o’clock at night. Now, everybody feels that WhatsApp has taken over, but we still need the SSB.

What kinds of things get discussed?

Somebody will say, “Has anybody got a part?” Say somebody has a problem with their fridge filter. It will be on the WhatsApp group, and somebody else will answer. That’s happened a lot recently. We all share our parts.

What do you think of cruising as a lifestyle so far?

I think it’s absolutely fantastic. We can now go anywhere in the world on our boat. It’s incredible, and we absolutely love it. We’ve got lots of lovely things on the boat, so it feels like home. We have fabulous watermakers now. The fact that we can literally go anywhere—when we finish this rally, we don’t know what we’ll do, but we could go see the East Coast of the States. We could go to Polynesia. We’re not really sure, but we could do anything.

What advice would you give to cruising sailors who are interested in joining a rally?

Do it, because you just don’t know what’s around the corner, so you should try to live every moment. That’s why we’ve done it. We’re in our mid-50s now, and we’ve just got to do these things when we can.