I discovered the secrets of Oyster Marine's success yesterday, some distance from the deep water in which these ocean-cruising sailboats thrive. I found myself in the old boatbuilding town of Wroxham, an unlikely drive a couple hours northeast of London, amidst the Norfolk Broads, where most of the few dozen Oysters produced each year emerge from one of two yards, Landamores and Windboats. (The 54 model is produced at McDell Marine in New Zealand, and the 82s are built at Southampton Yacht Services.)
Ronnie Yaxley showed us around Landamores, where he manages production; joining me were Liz Whitman and Robin Campbell, Oyster's marketing and sales director, respectively, who normally work from offices to the south, in Ipswich, where most Oysters receive final commissioning. Although the builder is well established and, in fact, built the first Oyster for company founder Richard Matthews some 36 years ago, Ronnie said there have been a number of changes recently, including moving to a modern building a couple years ago and adopting a lean-manufacturing approach, both of which have led to faster build times.
Some things haven't changed. The agreement to build Oysters, which is the whole of Landamores' production, was based on a handshake, which remains the principal tie between the two companies even now that Matthews has sold his interests to an investment group. Ronnie pointed out that it is a good arrangement, since his company doesn't sell boats but Oyster certainly knows how.
Half a dozen yachts ranging from 46 to 72 feet were underway as we toured the clean, new facility. Two hulls are underway for Oyster's latest model, the 575, an upgrade to the company's popular 56, and we had a unique chance to see a relatively bare hull with bulkheads-only installed (No. 2) and an interior that was much farther along for No. 1, which is to be sailing in the late fall and on display at European shows this winter.
The 575 shares a distinguishing stylistic feature with Oyster models, the striking G5 (generation 5) deck saloon windows with cat-eye type molding. In fact, they're not so different structurally from older models, but black gelcoat is used on the fiberglass sections between windows, enhancing the wrap-around look. The 575 also shares modern new teak-less cap rails with recent models, as well as its center-cockpit configuration; but it departs from the norm by fitting twin wheels and a centerline walkway aft, which provides a convenient exit and entrance from the cockpit area. It also increase the headroom over the berth in the aft stateroom dramatically.
Rob Humphreys designed the 575's foils and hull, increasing its beam aft compared to some of his previous Oyster designs. Oyster also employs an in-house design staff of nine naval architects and engineers, in part because the company is moving into the superyacht business with the production of a 100-foot model. Although he is working on the superyacht projects, one of the lead designers, Daron Townson, took time off to give us a run-through of the 575 on a dramatic display screen. Some of the highlights follow:
- A more plumb bow has drawn the volume of the boat forward compared to the 56, increasing waterline length quite a bit. Combined with more freeboard (and a slightly lower-profile deck) the sense of space throughout the interior is enhanced.
- A molded bin for halyard tails under the a hinged section at the front end of the cockpit sole keeps the area tidy, allows for all cockpit drainage, and provides for a vertically sliding companionway "dropboards".
- The walk-through aft between the helm seats (mentioned above) is combined with a step up that improves forward visibility from the helm stations as well as space below in the aft cabin.
-Forward of the mast, four recessed dorade boxes bracket a recessed sunbathing area on centerline.
-The aft double berth is offset to port, allowing for a large desk to starboard.
-The long galley to port not only features sinks, oven, fridge, freezer, and dish washer but a clothes washer/dryer at its forward end.
I finished the afternoon with Robin, visiting four or five models in the final stages of commissioning, in the water at Fox's Marina in Ipswich. Oyster staff run tests of all equipment here before the boats are delivered, and we stepped aboard several different models, comparing the effects of different choices of different woods for the interior. Oyster offers a great deal of customization to its owners, evident not only in the darker or lighter interior spaces we looked at, but also on deck in choices made ranging from the type of dinghy davits to carbon rigs with or without in-mast furling, flush or regular hatches, and headsail plans.
My last sail aboard an Oyster was at an owner's rendezvous that Liz arranged during the last America's Cup in Valencia, Spain. I sailed aboard an 82-footer that day. Next time, perhaps, it will be a 575, and if another America's Cup isn't scheduled soon, it might have to be in the Caribbean or elsewhere in the Med.