by Tim Day
Blue Water Sailing
Sailing into headwinds of 18 to 22 knots in the shallow waters off of northern Florida is never all that much fun, particularly with an easterly swell pounding you on the beam. However, what normally would have been a grueling and aggravating 48 hours was instead a real test of performance that gave us the opportunity to see the Oyster 53 live up to expectations.
We were now into our second week of an extended delivery from Newport, R.I., to Key West, Fla. After leaving Newport in a cool northerly breeze of less than 10 knots we had motorsailed for a little over 50 hours, with the 100- horsepower turbo diesel Yanmar pushing us on at a comfortable eight knots, the RPMs never lifting much over 3,500. We were sailing with Eric Bell, Lady Tara’s captain, Tom Evans and Matt Reinhardt. Watch rotation had never been easier or more comfortable, with ample hours to sleep, read or watch satellite TV, depending on your preference. For a sailor who grew up cruising many miles with few creature comforts, there was no complaining.
Hourly weather reports came in by e-mail, and as a low formed off of Cape Hatteras we decided to pull in to Hampton Roads, Va., to wait it out. Dockside, the Oyster 53’s living accommodations, with four sleeping cabins and two heads complete with showers, were far from cramped for the four of us, another testament to the Oyster Design Team, which has created an interior layout suited to extended periods of living on board, with little or no need to run ashore.
Oyster Marine has more than 1,000 sailboats (and many more dedicated customers) out cruising the waters of the world, which is not surprising when you consider how their superior design and craftsmanship have lead them to the top of the pack for semicustom offshore-capable yachts.
The Oyster name is synonymous with a symbiosis of quality construction, comfort, safety and performance. The Oyster Design Team, led by Humphreys, has continued to produce some of the best cruising sailboats available. It was not until we had the opportunity this past fall to sail over 1,400 miles offshore in the Oyster 53 Lady Tara that this reputation would actually come to have real meaning.
Building on the precedent of the Oyster 56, the 53 is a cruising boat that integrates style with functionality. Its stylish outboard profile is coupled with an ergonomically designed cockpit, using technical specifications from the Department of Ergonomics at Loughborough University in England. The hull and deck are made from hand-laid glassfiber reinforced polyester (GRP), allowing for strength as well as moderate hull displacement, with the outer hull laminated in Vinylester resin. It is not surprising that Oyster offers an incredible threeyear warranty on the GRP below the waterline.
The external lead fin keel is fitted with a high-performance bulb, which reduces drag and increases stability and lift. While sailing both off and on the wind, in conditions on both angles of from 10 to 22 knots of true wind, Lady Tara easily carried her course, allowing the autopilot to work with minimal strain.
Hardened up to close hauled, the 53 sailed easily at 45 degrees and could pinch to 40 without much loss in speed. With 48,000 pounds of displacement, and the ballast concentrated in the bulb of the fin keel, Lady Tara tacked smoothly and stood up well to puffs of up to 25 knots. In the steep broken seas of four to six feet off of Florida, her low center of gravity, high topsides and semiplumb bow provided a comfortable and dry ride, considering the conditions. The protected skeghung rudder gives the 53 ample steering control with minimal weather helm.
In the heaviest weather encountered on our delivery south, with 25 knots on the nose, we were most comfortable with a 50- to 70-percent reduced main and 75-percent reduced genoa, which still provided exceptional stability and speed over ground of seven knots.
Oyster provides superior quality rigging as standard, with silver-anodized Seldén alloy vang strut, Lewmar blocks, Harken headsail furling systems and Dolphin Sails for the headsail and mainsail. Lady Tara utilized a furling mainsail system by Formula, which only added to the ease-of-use factor and did not noticeably diminish performance.
Mainsheet and headsail sheets all run back to Lewmar self-tailing electric winches in the center cockpit, allowing for easy sail trim while on deck alone. The cockpit itself has been designed to seat six adults and has a table large enough for comfortable dining.
Aft, there is also a self-draining life raft locker and a large lazarette on the stern deck for storage. Storage space on deck, an essential feature for safe passagemaking, is in no short supply, with lockers on the stern deck and in the bow. The cored deck and coach roof are all finished with teak.
The stantions, mast guards and deck cleats are all stainless steel, and with a natural teak toe rail, maintenance is moderate for a boat of this size. Overall, the 53 has a clean deck, well run sheets, ample storage and minimal maintenance requirements, allowing for an uncluttered, good looking and functional cruising boat.
With the nav station laid out to accept an array of electronics, such as the VHF and GPS/chartplotter interface, and a chart table on the port side immediately below the companionway, there is good accessibility to and from the deck, and with the dodger in place there is little chance, even when waves are breaking over the foredeck, of sea water getting below.
The dinette in the saloon is large, with capacity for six around the starboard table and room for two more on a port side love seat. All of this is finished in a choice of oak, teak or maple joinery, with cherry also available, which is what we had on Lady Tara.
The 53 carries 198 gallons of water, an ample supply for days at sea, and with the addition of a watermaker, you can enjoy a shower at sea (with pressurized hot and cold water) and still have plenty left over for cooking and drinking. While we carried bottled water on the Lady Tara for drinking, we could easily have done without.
The engine and generator charge the deep-cycle batteries in cells of six volts, with the standard 24-volt DC for her electric systems. There is also an additional 150- amp, 24-volt heavy duty alternator, and overall, the 53 has enough power to run many of her systems simultaneously while underway, an added bonus for offshore sailing, where we often have to trade our comforts for functionality. This ample power system is testament to the intelligent and informed design of the Oyster team, which obviously understands the balance needed between needs and wants and how successfully doing so translates to a more enjoyable sailing experience.
The Oyster 53 is no exception. Lady Tara handled herself well in all conditions, proving to be a fast, safe and comfortable ride whether motorsailing in 10 knots of breeze or pounding into steep swells with 20 knots on the nose. The sleek profile below the water with the wind tunnel–tested fin keel and lead bulb, the fuller form aft section and the well designed rig give her balance and stability, while the skeg rudder gives her a well balanced helm. When you realize that this performance is coupled with the amenities and comforts of larger yachts, storage suitable for true offshore sailing and an intelligent and spacious interior layout, you realize that this boat was designed to take you around the world in style.
Oyster Marine is led by experienced and accomplished yachtsmen, which means they understand how to imagine, design and build boats that have real value to serious sailors. With Richard Matthews at the helm and management that has accumulated some of sailing’s top awards, Oyster Marine has earned such prestigious awards as the Queen’s Award in England, giving owners confidence that their Oyster purchase has brought them into the Oyster family, where quality design, construction and service is paramount. For oceangoing, blue-water vessels, you can do no better.