On a sea trial in windy weather, the new 625 from Oyster proves once again the yard’s ability to make beautiful, high quality yachts that can also stand up to testing conditions.
As I boarded the 625 it wasn’t accompanied by the azure seas and trade breezes you’d expect when sailing this luxurious blue-water cruiser. It was brown, Dutch water, the top of which was streaked with white thanks to a steady 35 knots of wind. Our yacht was already heeling on bare poles; this while she was still inside the marina. Once we were off the dock safely and had negotiated the tight confines of Ijmuiden’s marina channel, a heavily reefed main was unfurled from inside the mast, along with the staysail. The result was an exhilarating angle of heel, a good combination for the conditions while immediately demonstrating a benefit of a twin headsail set up.
We soon hit nine knots at 35 degrees apparent, and the Oyster 625 coped very comfortably with the one-metre waves within the harbour’s outer walls. I was testing the 625 for the European Yacht of the Year 2011/12, and she duly went on to win the highly competitive Luxury Cruiser category against the likes of the Hallberg Rassy 64 and Amel 64. (Editor’s Note: the Oyster 625 was also named Best Production Sailing Yacht, 50ft and Up, at the 2012 Asia Boating Awards).
But then, Oyster are renowned for their blue water cruisers and remain the aspirational boat for many, and this new 625 shows the Ipswich-based company once again stepping their game up another notch. Having entered a contract with RMK Marine in Turkey in 2007 to build 100 and 125-footers designed by Dubois, much has obviously filtered down from this superyacht experience into Oyster’s large production boats. For example, there was a strong focus on reducing noise and vibration below on the 625, while a service pit under the saloon sole helps ease system maintenance. Cosmetically, she looks the part too – this is the first production Oyster to use superyacht-style vertical seascape windows, while a leisure cockpit provides relaxation room free of sailing systems (as proven on the 575).
But it’s the deck saloon concept that Oyster have monopolised and continue to capitalise upon, particularly under the stewardship of Rob Humphrey’s naval architecture. This has resulted in 15 models in the 45 to 90-foot range in the last 15 years (the 625 is a new shape, superceding the 61 and 62). The 625 has been designed for owners to be able to sail the boat themselves, but to also offer the option for a forepeak cabin, giving the boat the versatility of having a professional skipper or charter crew. Elsewhere, accommodation is in a spacious owners stateroom, with up to four other cabins.
Handling in tough times
Back on the helm, the 625 was proving a dry boat, responding well to the waves and displaying promising surfing potential (indeed, she topped 15 knots). Off the wind, we were reaching at ten knots with the apparent wind still above 30 knots. But ignore those figures for a moment: For those who wonder the worth of testing a boat reefed down in such conditions, my retort would be that within ten minutes of sailing the 625, she had put me at ease and shown how comfortable and at home she was in a blow and seaway. These are precisely the credentials long-distance cruisers seek out.
Steering from outside the cockpit provides excellent visibility from the dual wheels. They may seem relatively high up and exposed, but feel further aft than a conventional centre-cockpit boat, producing a very pleasant driving sensation (a pay-off in helm feel comes with her gearbox-linked steering however). The helm seats are notably comfortable for two, and there are pedestals each side with main controls to port and foresail controls each side.
For ease of sailing shorthanded, the mainsheet and backstay controls are also within comfortable reach of the helm, while runners and jib sheets can be manned from within the safety of the cockpit – although these do present trip hazards across the side deck, while having a dedicated means of tidying rope tails would better befit a yacht of this caliber. But the choice of having the mainsheet on a conventional block and winch system is one I applaud, as it makes it uncomplicated to use and maintain rather than relying on hydraulics. The sunken cockpit area is line-free for guests to relax in, while behind the helm stations, there is a large and uncluttered aft deck, ideal for sun lounging and swimming, for family or charter guests.
One of the most impressive points of note from that sail was the joy of descending into the interior, which proved an instant tranquil relief from the apparent wind – we were going upwind with up to 49 knots across the deck at the time! It really is very quiet and reassuring – a peaceful accommodation pays dividends when on passage.
The test boat was Oyster’s second 625 and had been done in maple, the lightest timber choice. This, together with those triple hull windows on each side of the striking saloon, helps make the yacht astonishingly bright inside. It is the smallest boat Oyster have fitted a service pit too – a feature which really works well as it makes it very easy for the skipper to do daily checks the on the filters and pumps, plus the watermaker, calorifier and other plumbing items are mounted very tidily in this area below the raised saloon sole. As mentioned, Oyster has put a lot of effort into noise reduction – all the cabins have carpets, all the doors are rubber-lined.
Not that that is what would close the deal with Oyster clients. No, that’s where the trump card, the aft cabin format, comes into play. The 625 uses the full beam (remembering she carries a beamy aft shape) and makes it hard to think of a more enticing master cabin on this size of boat (likewise with the galley). For owners wanting to make quick checks on deck at night, a neat touch is the telescopic steps that pull smartly down from the deckhead above the bed to access the escape hatch to the aft cockpit. The ensuite heads and shower flaunt size and natural light, with plentiful headroom and a clean, light and practical Mica finish.
Further accommodation is in two guest cabins, each with a heads and shower, while a fourth cabin can be configured as a Pullman guest, workshop, or children's bunk cabin (accessible from the master cabin). The test boat had a Pullman forward to port (a cabin most likely to be taken by skippers on charter), with a day head forward connecting into the sail locker, and it must be said this was the tidiest sail locker I’ve seen.
The linear galley again enjoys the extra beam, creating impressive space for both food prep and stowage, while citing the fridge inboard now allows Oyster to spec a standing height version, plus front-opening freezer and full-size washer-dryer. Low-level lighting and recessed lights throughout the interior help produce a chic look at night, while ventilation is excellent, with deck dorades throughout and wardrobes ventilated (and lined with red cedar).
Seeing Oyster’s third 625 at the Dusseldorf Boatshow gave a good feel for the type of contrast possible with the semi-custom approach on their larger boats. A dark blue hull and warming teak interior had been chosen by a client who predominantly wanted the boat for cruising North European waters, and had also specified watertight bulkheads throughout the boat and carbon rig and sails (instead of the triple spreader Formula mast and Pentax Tri-radial Dolphin sails carried on the test boat).
Oyster has proudly carried the banner for British boatbuilding the world over for the last three decades, and its name has become synonymous with quality. The Ipswich-based company had been built up since 1973 by Richard Matthews, who sold to Balmoral Capital in 2008 – and although the Oyster Group changed hands again this year, now owned by Dutch investment company HTP Investments BV (HTP), it remains under CEO David Tydeman, and a loyal team of sales and marketing directors most of whom have been with Oyster for nearly 20 years.
The instant sell-out launch of Oyster’s new World Rally (30 will set sail in January 2013) backed up by their renowned aftersales worldwide are key buoyancy boosters during these tricky economic waters.
The year 2010 saw Oyster’s largest order book by sales value – with over 50 percent of its yachts built for export – and the sales figures for last year sustain this high export trend combined with a move towards their larger fleet, particularly the new 625 and 885 models. Having traditionally subcontracted hulls out to east coast yards Windboats and Landamores, the latter is now owned by Oyster, while larger boats continue to be built at custom specialist Southampton Yacht Services. Following in the same style as the 625, and again using those vertical seascape windows, Oyster’s 725 and 885 are just being lowered into the water from here for the first time, due for official launch this autumn at the Southampton Boat Show.
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