by Quentin Warren
Blue Water Sailing
OYSTER 49 DECK SALOON
Contemporary charm and classic yachting merge as one
Oyster makes no bones about the fact that the company builds high-end yachts for a high-end market in which quality comes at a price and the people who seek it aren’t shy about paying for the privilege. The brand-new Oyster 49 is born of that tradition, an immaculate blue-water performer developed to provide top sailing capability and copious amenity in a semi-custom package that radiates quality and polish.
The boat was designed in-house by Rob Humphreys and the Oyster Design Team. Logically it follows in the wake of the successful Oyster 485, a 1994 Holman & Pye creation that remains to this day an especially popular member of the Oyster range (see “Transatlantic Shakedown,” BWS October 1998). Notable differences brought aboard the new 49 include a measurably improved Displacement/Length ratio (243 for the 49 versus 302 for the 485), and the elaborate if subtle development of ergonomic curves and contours throughout the deck and cockpit superstructure, a design theme introduced in the Oyster 56 and Oyster 53 projects preceding this one.
Thirty years in business and over 1,200 boats delivered give Oyster Marine a uniquely credible footing in an industry continually put to the test by the sea that harbors its products and the customers who rely on them for safety and the fulfillment of their voyaging dreams. It’s easy to step aboard an Oyster at the dock and be impressed by the quality of construction and the lushness of its execution; it is important to consider in a broader sense, however, that the company’s niche is an oceangoing one, with a track record in recent years to bear that out.
Founder and chairman of Oyster Marine Richard Matthews caught the bug three decades ago with a victory in Britain’s East Coast Offshore Championship aboard the Hustler 25.5 UFO. He commissioned Holman & Pye to design a prototype 34-foot cruiser/racer in the mid-1970s, of which 150 would be sold, and following that he embarked on a string of level-rated and IOR-derived cruiser/racers through which he established for himself—and for Oyster in the process—a formidable offshore presence. To date, Matthews has sailed 15 Fastnets, won two trans-atlantics, taken the Royal Yacht Squadron’s Britannia Cup twice, and collected silver at the SORC—these among a host of other accomplishments too numerous to list here.
Upon the launching of the Oyster 46 in 1980, the company shifted its emphasis to the semi-production cruising boats with which it is identified today. The seagoing imperative has been preserved and in fact you could argue that Oysters now predominate the modern blue-water cruising rally scene, from the Europa Around the World Rally to the Trade Winds Round the World Rally to the venerable Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), in which over 100 Oysters have participated in recent years. The Oyster 49 represents one of a dozen or so current Oyster models ranging in size from 42 to 100 feet, all of which incorporate Oyster’s signature Deck Saloon configuration marked by a center cockpit that enters into an open main cabin on a raised floor with wide wraparound windows and an enhanced airy interior.
The overall concept by Rob Hum-phreys emphasizes a lanky hull with a powerful raked bow, a subdued, low-profile superstructure, and a modern reverse-transom stern sporting a recessed boarding platform. The underwater profile shows fairly deep sections developed well forward incorporating maximum deadrise in the area of the keel. The keel itself is a medium-aspect GRP fin carrying its ballast payload in what Oyster calls a “high-performance bulb” (HPB). Underwater sections taper up to the stern, where a stainless-steel-reinforced fiberglass skeg supports a deep rudder blade. Forward sections are fine, with max beam achieved well aft around station four.
The fullness of the underbody along with the depth and fineness of the bow contribute to excellent sea-keeping potential and deviate somewhat from familiar ultra-modern notions of flat sections and reduced deadrise. The payoff, of course, includes an easygoing motion at sea and increased interior volume. Certainly the boat is not designed to be a skimming dish and this should come as a relief to anyone whose priorities include a comfortable ride offshore. As noted the 49 enjoys a Displacement/Length mark of 243—light by most standards for a vessel as lavishly outfitted as this—and that is great news because it indicates an easily-driven package with a good shot at slippery acceleration.
Humphreys has drawn a fairly high-aspect, cutter-optimized sloop rig for the boat with a lot of emphasis on the versatility of the foretriangle. The 49’s 135-percent furling genoa may be augmented by an optional furling staysail on an intermediate forestay to give you a variety of alternatives for working canvas and storm sails forward. The standard rig is a sloop, with the furling cutter stay just described or a remove-able inner forestay with a hank-on jib as options. The furling cutter option requires checkstays or possibly jumper struts, according to Oyster.
There is a lot of horsepower in the big jib and obviously it is a good thing to be able to shorten sail without having to rely on rolling it in and using a tortured corner of it in a breeze, the bane of too many sloops. The boat’s Sail Area/Displacement figure of 13.8, seemingly low, is deceptive in this context because it is calculated on the basis of the mainsail plus 100 percent of the foretriangle. Given the added sail area represented by a second sail forward and a big overlapping genoa, the sailplan outperforms that number handily. Oyster uses the mainsail plus 150 percent of the foretriangle in their SA/D calculations, which confers a healthy ratio of 17.9.
A LIVABLE CONCEPT
The accommodations package below is open to some degree of cus-tomization, as the aim of Oyster is to work with the owner on the development of a proper interior plan. BWS spent time aboard hull number three, outfitted in American white oak which, as advertised, brightens things up in every cabin, especially the saloon in conjunction with all those windows. Cherry and teak are available optionally. Detailing is subtle but effective, highlighting the effort by Oyster to make a statement about the refinement of its joinery while keeping the look clean and anything but fussy. Paneled doors, for example, are shadow-gapped at their joints to accent the texture of the panels themselves; fiddles and grabrails are sculpted in place; cabin soles feature checkerboard teak veneer floor panels, outlined at the edge with a crisp black perimeter line inlay. You are pleasantly aware of these accents but you are not bombarded by them. Lighting is by way of 32 recessed Xenon headliner spots, with inciden-tal reading fixtures installed where applicable.
The standard layout provides for six sleeping berths in three separate cabins, not including the main saloon, which is set up for casual lounging. There are two heads—one aft, private to the owner’s cabin, which includes a separate stand-up shower stall, and the other forward, accessed for general use, with an integrated stand-up shower; both are fully sumped and accented with Swanstone wash basins and Avonite counters. The owner’s cabin all the way aft features an off-center island double berth with a split mattress on sprung battens. It is fitted with three lee cloths as standard, as are the other sea berths in the boat. There is an upholstered seat in a niche to starboard that has become, on hull number three, an office cubby. The head is to starboard, while on the port side is a large hanging locker and entry-exit through the galley.
The galley stretches longitudinally along the port side beneath the companionway in the passageway forward to the saloon. It is convenient to the saloon from a congenial point of view but separate, at the same time, in a formal sense. It includes a gimballed Force 10 four-burner stove/oven, double sinks, a large front-opening fridge and a top-opening freezer unit. Up a step and you’re in the main cabin, airy and open with its copious seven-pane expanse of glass and its panoramic view to the outside. A three-person settee resides to port, while a six-person wraparound settee opposes it to starboard with a folding dinette that expands to include the entire width of the cabin for a well-attended gathering. Beneath the companionway to starboard and down a step is a nav and communications center in a dedicated niche.
Moving in the general direction of the bow, you step from the saloon down into a passageway that leads to a stateroom to starboard with two single bunks up and down, opposed by the forward head to port, culminating in the boat’s double V-berth fully forward. The bow section can be treated as two discreet living quarters as presented here, or developed as a single, quite sizeable suite. Either way, it leaves the owner’s cabin in the stern completely private, leaves the galley and communal areas amidships fully open and within reach of an accessible head, and provides for a functional expansion of living, storage and sleeping space.
Minor changes in level—essentially one step down to the forward accommodations, and one step down to the galley and accommodations aft—are a dynamic aspect of the raised-saloon configuration, creating an interior plan with variety and organic movement, not to mention the preservation of headroom in the ends. Features such as this keep you on your toes; they also make the interior of the 49 a unique experience, more interesting and thought-provoking than the standard cookie-cutter three-cabin layout seen on the majority of mainstream boats.
CONSTRUCTION STANDARDS AND MECHANICAL
Oyster’s commitment to building boats with unfailing strength has led the yard to a cautious if conservative mindset with regard to materials, and a meticulous, highly technical approach to execution. The 49 features a solid-glass, single-skin hull, laminated by hand using Lloyd’s approved isoph-thalic gelcoat and laminating resin along with a varied assortment of woven glass products and powder-bound matts. Kevlar can be applied, if desired, in various locations beneath the waterline for added strength and impact resistance. The basis for a single-skin lay-up lies in the desire to go with what’s proven—pure and simple. Says Oyster, “We are aware of the apparent advantages of lightweight, cored construction but…we are also very aware of potential problems, especially in the later life of a vessel.” Needless to say, this speaks volumes to the view taken by the builder with regard to other aspects of the boat’s fabrication.
The teak-laid deck is molded in GRP with balsa core applied for stiffness and insulation. In load-bearing areas or where fittings are secured, the core is replaced with marine plywood. Aluminum backing plates accept all thru-bolts. The hull-to-deck joint involves a return flange inboard of the hull to which the deck is sealed, bolted on 12-inch centers, and glassed underneath. The hull itself is reinforced with massive athwartship members fabricated of solid glass, and further stiffened by way of bulkheads and architectural elements bonded to the hull and the underside of the deck. The boat is solid as a rock to walk on, jump on, and sail aboard. Ensuring that experience, all removable floor panels in the cabin sole are flush-fitted and seated on flexible rubber gaskets to eliminate the mere possibility of any creaking when stepped on or under way.
One of the advantages of a raised-deck saloon of course is the ability to use the space beneath the cabin sole for larger, heavier equipment items and tankage; given the deep underwater profile of the 49, this feature is enhanced. Oyster has used the space diligently, fitting 218 gallons of water and 231 gallons of fuel in single, easily accessed tanks beneath the saloon sole port and starboard. Amidships is the yacht’s DC 24-volt electrical supply, a bank of four heavy-duty, deep-cycle, six-volt Vartas delivering 230 amp-hours for house use, well ventilated and equipped with an exhaust fan for safety when charging. Two separate 12-volt 88-amp-hour batteries are devoted to engine starting. The battery installation is solid, secure and clean as a whistle.
The engine—a Yanmar 4JH3-TE, four-cylinder, 75-hp diesel—sits beneath the companionway, easily accessed by way of a large opening door in the nav station to starboard, along with removable panels forward behind the stairway and to port by way of the galley. It spins a three-blade feathering Max-Prop by way of Aqua-drive couplings and sits on cushy Aquadrive flexible mounts. Everything engine-related is well organized and within reach, a hallmark of this boat that describes all the major systems aboard. “You can take the boat to bits if you want to,” says the new CEO at Oyster USA Robin Campbell, alluding to the notion that so many owners of vessels this size and smaller tend to become do-it-yourselfers, which places a premium on the accessibility of mechanical and electrics and the clarity of their installation.
Separate conduits run through the boat for AC, DC and electronics/data. Every sea cock, hose, plumbing valve, pump, service panel, filter and the like is carefully labeled and secured at an inspection point. Every wire is numbered. The owner’s manual aboard the 49 is a hardback multi-part document with schematics, service info, equipment rosters, effusive diagrams, and a list of every single wire aboard, compiled for each boat individually. The complexity of a million-dollar sailboat is nothing to be taken lightly;
BWS went aboard this one half expecting to be swallowed up in it, only to find the execution logical, easy to decipher, easy to get at, well annotated, and clear as a bell. Oyster has gone to great lengths to bring the 49 in all its abundance down to a practical, serviceable, human scale.
Our sail aboard Oyster 49 hull number three came at the tail end of a weak frontal passage on Rhode Island’s Naragansett Bay, in winds that varied from 15 to 18 knots in the first hours of the outing to 10 knots and variable at the end of the day. Going upwind into a solid 22 to 25 knots apparent, we sheeted the genoa hard with the
assistance of the boat’s Lewmar 64 self-tailing electric primaries. We tacked easily through 85 to 90 degrees on the compass, and in puffy conditions maintained respectable boatspeed in the high sevens—this, with a furling mainsail set, the notion being that a convenional-hoist battened main would improve those numbers further. There was notable acceleration out of the tacks, and steering response by way of the Whitlock Monarch cable-and-quadrant system was positive and immediate.
The 49 moves along with assurance once the true wind gets up above 12 knots or so; as the breeze over the deck moves into the 16- to 17-knot range, she heels a bit, puts the rail down and goes. Downwind the boat balances nicely. Coaxing the genoa to windward and slipping along wing-and-wing is just where she wants to be as the breeze goes aft. The midship cockpit provides terrific visibility forward, offers congenial interaction with the main cabin just below it, and frees up the deck aft at the fantail.
We have not had the opportunity to enjoy the 49 on an extended offshore passage—yet—but given the blue-water context of Oyster yachts in general, and given the time we were able to pour through and sail this one, it is easy to make the leap and recommend it for transoceanic voyaging. With the guidance of Oyster’s Stateside CEO Camp-bell, project manager Nick Creed and after sales support manager Will White, we pulled up cabin sole and settee panels throughout the boat, dug through lazarettes and deck lockers, peered into mechanical compartments and played with expensive equipment. Certainly from a technical point of view, the package is expertly assembled, which is to say that all working components have dedicated locations, that systems are organized and documented for service convenience, and that accessibility is a given.
As a pure sailing yacht, the 49 is tempered without being overly con-servative. Designer Humphreys has hit upon a blend of sophisticated sailing ability and seakindly hullform, in keeping with the contemporary Oyster vernacular. It is modern and anything but traditional, especially below, but solid in concept and execution—simply, designed to go to sea with a bit of luxury in tow. At just under 50 feet, it speaks persuasively to the voyager with means and an enthusiastic hands-on approach to boat ownership con-templating the three-year, circle-the-world plan.
Hull length 48’10” (14.87 m.)
LWL 43’10” (13.35 m.)
Beam 15’0” (4.58 m.)
Draft (std. bulb) 7’3” (2.21 m.)
Draft (opt. shoal bulb) 6’0” (1.83 m.)
Ballast 12,235 lbs. (5,550 kgs.)
Displ. 45,745 lbs. (20,750 kgs.)
SA (100%) 1,102 sq. ft. (102.4 sq. m.)
SA (150%) 1,460 sq. ft. (135.8 sq. m.)
Mast above water 67’7” (20.6 m.)
SA/Displ. (at 100%) 13.8
SA/Displ. (at 150%) 17.9
Fuel 231 gal. (880 ltr.)
Water 218 gal. (830 ltr.)
Auxiliary Yanmar 4JH3-TE, 4-cyl, 75-hp
Designer Rob Humphreys
Interior Oyster Design Team
Base Price $1,015,000
(FOB Newport, RI)
Oyster Marine Ltd
Ipswich, Suffolk IP2 8SA
Ph: +44 (0) 1473 688888
Oyster Marine USA
5 Marina Plaza
Newport, RI 02840
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