Leave it to the Brits. You’re not apt to see a lot of Oysters here in the States, but when you come across one it’s worth a close look. They are proud and seaworthy and, yes, even expensive; they are sumptuous, comfortable and fit for a king; they are constructed of modern materials, by way of a genuinely conservative engineering mind-set. In a range of sailboats that begins at 37 feet and unfolds through 80, Oyster Marine offers a unique glimpse into the finer side of life on the water. We had the opportunity to sample the builder’s meticulous approach on Oyster 55 Sovereign, an advanced, upgraded version of a formidable 55-foot center-cockpit voyager designed by Oyster’s in-house team of Holman and Pye.
Overall, the 55 is a powerful offshore cruiser with sprawling teak decks and an ambitious masthead sloop rig fitted with a cutter stay for double-head work or storm canvas. The "Sovereign" designation refers to Oyster’s highly styled component, featuring a layout developed by the European accommodations guru Andrew Winch, cabinetwork and joinery elevated to an art, and an equipment package that renders the boat positively luxurious. Indeed, Oyster has spared nothing in the way of hardware, finish or attention to detail. The thoroughness of the builder’s approach is reflected in the price tag, but the notion that you get what you pay for -- even if it’s exorbitant -- may be apt in this case when you come down to it.
Construction and Execution
The hull is molded of solid FRP in accordance to an elaborate laminate schedule that is adjusted from one part of the structure to the next to meet the varied loading demands of topsides, underbody and centerline/keel. The gel coat and three outer laminates incorporate special blister-resistant isophthalic resin, and on that score the whole boat is covered by an extended five-year warranty known as "Hullsure." The standard keel is a moderate-draft fin cast in antimony-hardened lead and encapsulated within the molded FRP keel element; a shoal-draft Scheel keel is available optionally. Ballast is held down low and the design begets a very deep main central sump fully limbered to the ends of the boat and evacuated by an electric Jabsco Maxi 3000 rated to 600 gph at a 10-foot head.
The deck is molded of FRP cored with Baltek end-grain balsa for lightness and stiffness. In loaded areas the core is replaced by marine-grade plywood, and all fittings are attached using substantial aluminum backing plates. The hull-to-deck joint is accomplished by means of an eight-inch inward hull flange on which the deck sits and to which the deck is bonded and sealed with FRP from the inside; additionally, a slotted anodized toe rail runs fore and aft and this is bolted through deck and flange with stainless fasteners for mechanical bonding. The deck element includes a recessed locker in the foredeck for anchor chain stowage, as well as an overboard-draining gas canister locker in the aft deck large enough to handle two 20-pound cans. Also notable are two self-draining deck lockers on the fantail suitable for deck gear and, more importantly, life-raft stowage.
The rudder blade is foam-filled FRP bonded to a solid stainless steel stock. It is supported by a protective skeg, reinforced with stainless steel. The bottom pintle is connected by a thru-bolted bronze heel casting. The tube through which the stock is led is self-greasing and incorporates top and bottom bearings. The stock itself terminates at a deck-level inspection plate for easy installation of an emergency tiller. Steering is Edson cables and quadrant, with easy access to all the components of the system through a large lazarette locker.
Systems and Mechanicals
The standard engine is a Perkins Range 4 M 90 four-cylinder diesel rated at 80-horsepower at a satisfyingly low 2,400 rpms. It turns a two-bladed 24-inch bronze propeller by way of a 1.5-inch stainless shaft. The unit sits on flexible mounts in a large, fully lit insulated engine compartment just aft of the main saloon with walk-in access on one side and a series of removable panels all around, depending on the accommodations plan; the 55 we inspected was a mechanic’s dream come true. Sensibly, the engine sump is self-contained to control oil spillage. Sealed limber tubes bypass the area to convey normal uncontaminated bilge water from the after portion of the hull forward to the main sump at the keel.
Typical of many European high-load marine-electrical systems, the one aboard the Oyster is 24-volt DC. Storage for the house bank is in four six-volt 20-hour-rated batteries offering approximately 230 amp-hours at 24 volts, which would translate into 460 amp-hours in our more familiar 12-volt vernacular. The batteries are heavy-duty deep-cycle Varta type. The engine start bank consists of two 12-volt batteries offering an 88-amp-hour 24-volt supply. Primary charging is by way of a 40-amp 24-volt engine alternator (80 amps at 12 volts) and diode isolator.
Onboard AC power is provided by a three-cylinder Westerbeke model BTD 8 220-volt generator located in an insulated compartment beneath the cabin sole just forward of the engine area. This unit is started by and charges its own single 12-volt start battery. It can be used to fortify the DC system through a Victron 50-amp 24-volt battery charger, which is adapted also for dockside juice.
The mid-cockpit orientation allows for tremendous volume below, and the Oyster people in conjunction with Andrew Winch have taken advantage of this by introducing a provocative menu of architectural shapes and split levels to add liveliness to the accommodations plan. Standard finish is in American oak for the brightness it imparts, although the 55 we came aboard was rendered in optional cherry. Teak also is available. Natural light in the form of fixed ports and opening portholes and deck hatches is abundant; secondary lighting is sensitively organized using a blend of general overhead lights, accent lights, spot reading lights, red night-lights and low-draw fluorescent lights where applicable.
The standard layout features a main saloon forward of the companionway with a large oval settee to starboard opposed by single built-in chairs plus a large bar area to port. Forward accommodations include a roomy cabin in the bow with a centerline double berth, vanity and hanging lockers; aft of this is a stateroom to starboard with upper and lower berths. A large head compartment accessed from the common passageway serving these cabins features a toilet, washbasin and shower compartment. Aft of the main saloon and down three steps to port are a generous navigation station with meticulously installed electronics components, instrument readouts and electrical monitoring and distribution paraphernalia, along with an Admiralty-chart-size nav table. A cabin aft of this area can become children’s or crew’s quarters, a workshop, a utility room or even space for a washer and dryer. On the starboard side aft of the saloon, also down three steps, are a lavish galley and then an owner’s after cabin with a centerline double berth, its own curved settee, generous hanging and storage space and, of course, access to the aft head and shower.
The quality of finish and joiner work is remarkable throughout the boat. Everything fits to a T and all opening elements latch positively. Drawers are intricately dovetailed and installed on gliding metal runners. Hardware is custom fabricated of chrome and stainless steel. Access to critical areas of the hull and deck behind or beneath finish work is made convenient by way of demountable ply panels and take-away furniture components. Handholds and sturdy fiddles are provided wherever possible to make moving about at sea simple and safe. The execution is first-class.
Deck, Sail Plan And Behavior Under Way
Wide teak side decks and an enormous fantail area freed up by the midship location of the cockpit contribute to a deck plan that favors easy movement and wide-open lounging. The cockpit itself is deep and secure although not overly large; still, six people are plenty comfortable in it, and visibility forward is excellent given the unique vantage. The cabin house is substantial but not overbearing; it slopes down to deck level at the area around the mast partners, forward of which are a series of opening hatches and Dorade ventilators.
The standard spar is a keel-stepped Hood Stoway furling mast with a 24-volt electric drive and of course manual backup. Hood Seafurl headsail furling gear is installed on the forestay and inner stay on the bow, with manual control lines led aft to secondary winches near the helm. Standard rigging is continuous 1x19 stainless steel wire to Norseman Gibb bronze-bodied turnbuckles. Running backstays are lead outboard to deck pad eyes aft of the cockpit.
At 50,000 pounds with a Disp/Length ratio of nearly 283, the 55 tips in at moderate displacement for a cruising auxiliary, and certainly, given the long-range scenario for which the boat has been designed, these are entirely reasonable numbers. We sailed aboard the vessel in a light chop on Chesapeake Bay amid eight to 10 knots of breeze. We flew a full main, a high-clewed genoa and a staysail.
Not surprisingly, the Oyster is powerful under sail and extremely solid through the water. A fairly low Ballast/Disp ratio of 29 percent would indicate some tenderness, but we found that the boat stood up handily even with the full press of canvas and that the angle of heel was not affected by errant puffs. Acceleration through tacks was deliberate though reserved, but not unreasonably so considering the fact that the 55 is an oceangoing boat designed more for long boards in blue water than for short hitches inshore. Once we gathered way, she moved out nicely, especially when cracked off the breeze, and her motion under way was consistent and comfortable.
Unfortunately, on the particular hull we sailed steering was a demanding chore, somehow out of character with the grace and polish with which the boat as a whole had been rendered; however the builder assured us that the problem involved the faulty installation of the rudder quadrant and that it decidedly was not an indication of any shortcoming in the boat’s design. Given its stellar execution overall, there is every reason to accept that explanation and to assume quite legitimately that the flaw we came across is essentially moot.
In short, the Oyster 55 is a good example of top British boatbuilding and a compellingly salty response to the prerequisites of truly luxurious long-distance cruising.
Oyster 55 Specifications
Draft (deep) 7’7"
Draft (shoal) 5’8"
Ballast 14,359 lbs.
Sail Area 1304 sq. ft. .
Mast above water 71’1"
Sail Area/DSPL 15.3
Water Tankage 204 gal.
Fuel Tankage 228 gal.
Auxiliary Perkins 80-hp.
Designer Holman & Pye
Base Price $764,760
Oyster Marine Ltd.
Fox’s Marina, Wherstead
England IP2 8SA
Phone Ipswich (0473) 688888