Some people acquire a yacht with less thought than they’d put into purchasing an automobile. They go to a boat show, step on board, and write a check without so much as a test drive in the nearest harbor. The boat becomes another option in their array of vacation possibilities, used once or twice a year like a ski chalet in the Alps or a villa in Tuscany.
Those people are probably not buying Oyster sailing yachts.
"When we look back at the last 100 contracts we signed, at least one of them took nine years from the first point of contact with the client," says Oyster Marine chief executive officer David Tydeman. "The typical Oyster client is not just planning a new yacht. He’s planning an adventure. We had one owner sail down to Antarctica and then back up around the other side of the world to Alaska. It took him two years, and it was an adventure of a lifetime."
Oyster, which is based in the United Kingdom, has targeted this audience of serious sailors since the company’s inception in 1973. Each boat blends strong construction, serious performance characteristics, and onboard comfort—the kind that lures clients who move on board for weeks or months at a time to cruise worldwide. The Oyster sailor might not be a hard-core racer, but nor is he the mogul who uses his yacht as a floating party palace a week or two a year, cruising by Cannes, say, for the film festival or Venice for the Biennale.
Bill Dockser, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, spends nearly a third of his time on board his Oyster 82, Ravenous II, sailing her from 14 to 16 weeks a year. He traded up from an Oyster 70 about seven years ago as his family grew. The 82 has room for his wife, kids, and grandchildren, as well as three crew.
"I love to race it in the regattas with my friends, and then we use it with the family for general cruising," says Dockser, who also charters Ravenous II for about four to six weeks each year. "Our normal routine is the Caribbean in the winter and then the Chesapeake and New England in the summer, but this summer, for my birthday, we’re going back to cruise in Italy and Spain." Dockser also owns a house in Aspen, but, he affectionately explains, "The boat is really what we consider our second home."
During the building and design process, Dockser’s wife focused on the custom interiors while he concentrated on the yacht’s exterior and construction. Safety has always been his primary concern, followed by strong sailing ability and clear decks with few items that people might trip over.
"With Oyster, you know you’re in a solid boat," Dockser says. "It sails, and it sails well. It’s a good-looking boat, too. I always feel like I have the best boat in the harbor."
Oyster continues to strive for those traits in its new designs. The Oyster 625 Blue Jeannie was recently named Best Luxury Cruiser in the 2012 European Yacht of the Year Awards. The judges called her a "baby superyacht" in terms of quality. They also complimented her interior design, which maximizes every inch of available space. That functionality, combined with styling characteristics such as the 625’s vertical windows, makes the inside of the yacht feel larger than it actually is.
Spaciousness is a goal with all the models in the company’s core range, from 46 to 82 feet, as well as with the new line of Oyster superyachts that start at 100 feet (Yachts measuring over 79 feet qualify as superyachts). Oyster’s first superyacht, the 100-foot Sarafin, is currently nominated in the 2012 World Superyacht Awards—a major honor for any builder’s first attempt. The company hopes to continue the accolades with a second 100-footer scheduled for delivery this fall, followed in spring 2013 with delivery of the first-ever Oyster 125 Flybridge.
"With Oyster, you know you’re in a solid boat. It’s a good-looking boat, too. I always feel like I have the best boat in the harbor."
— Bill Dockser
Like all Oysters, the superyachts are built as semicustom designs, which means that within the standard hull structure, owners have a good deal of design freedom. Woodwork, for example, can be any shade from mahogany to light maple, walnut, American oak, teak, or cherry. Even the number of cabins can be adjusted, depending on the owner’s needs.
"We do a semicustom build even on our smallest one, the 46 foot," Tydeman says. "We sell a boat that is family- and friends-focused. Three-quarters of our 82s were bought by people trading up from 55 feet, getting older and wealthier, and getting some crew to sail in comfort. But they are still hands-on owners. That’s who Oyster clients are: hands-on sailors buying a customized boat."
The newest Oyster is the 885, which will become the top-end model in the builder’s core range when it debuts this summer at the PSP Southampton Boat Show. The 885 is built specifically to incorporate all possible large-yacht amenities, including big windows, layout choices, and easy access to the swim platform, but at just shy of 89 feet long, the design does so without any large-yacht construction headaches.
"Another inch longer, and you have to comply with the large-yacht code," Tydeman explains. "We optimized the design to be as big as possible with the simplest level of regulations. That allows owners to have two to four crew, plus a choice of a master cabin and two or three guest cabins."
There are other more unusual perks as well: If owners, for instance, want to offer their yachts for charter, they can allocate more space for crew, or if they want to race seriously, they can add high-performance features, such as lightweight, carbon-fiber rigs.
The first 885 will launch just in time for the start of the Oyster World Rally, which begins January 6, 2013, at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. At least 30 Oysters will set off for a worldwide cruise in honor of the builder’s 40th anniversary, showcasing the very traits that have made the Oyster name synonymous with comfortable long-distance cruising.
Nearly two dozen Oysters will stay behind as part of the company’s charter fleet, which offers crewed sailing vacations worldwide. The award-winning Blue Jeannie is among the Oysters currently accepting bookings for this summer, while Dockser’s Ravenous II is now taking bookings for winter charters in the Caribbean. A typical trip is one or two weeks long—a tempting taste of the lifestyle that goes hand in hand with becoming an Oyster owner.
Kim Kavin is a writer, editor, photographer, and website developer who specializes in luxury yachting.