Oysters Collect in Valencia

Enjoying the ambiance and facilities prepared for the 32nd America's Cup, a fleet of cruisers dabbles on the racecourse.

OysterSt

During the 2007 Oyster Rendezvous in Valencia, Spain, CW editor John Burnham joined Oyster Yachts founder and chairman Richard Matthews aboard his 82-foot flagship, Zig Zag. To view the gallery, click here.John Burnham

During the week before the America's Cup, owners of 37 luxury cruisers built by Oyster Marine gathered on the waters of the America's Cup to compete and take part in the build-up to sailing's most famous event. Valencia, Spain, is the Mediterranean city that hosted both the Cup, which started on June 23rd, and the Rendezvous, which ended on the 22nd. At a spectacular final awards dinner, copious amounts of prizes were handed out to Oyster owners at one of the city's unique architectural landmarks, an eyeball-shaped glass and steel structure called L'Hemispheric.

I sailed on the last day of the week aboard the flagship of the Oyster fleet, an 82-footer called Zig Zag, under charter for the week to Oyster Yachts founder and chairman Richard Matthews. Although it was the biggest boat in the fleet, under the handicap system, Zig Zag was rated only second fastest, after Spirit of Montpelier, a much lighter 72-footer. The fleet had been sailing typical windward-leeward courses earlier in the week, but on this day the organizers arranged a pursuit race, three times around a triangle. The smaller, slower boats started first, so Richard, who besides being a keen competitor is also a keen photographer, turned Zig Zag into a photo boat, switching back and forth from one wheel to the other, all the while clutching his long-lens camera and clicking away.

Once the race started, shipboard life actually became calmer. All the winches are electric powered, so even though we had 8 people aboard, only four trimmers were needed-two to tail the main and jibsheets and two to press the buttons to turn the winches. Not having to work too hard was a good thing, otherwise we might've had difficulty digesting the salads and wine we'd had in the big center cockpit on the way to the racecourse.

Gradually we gained on the boats ahead, and after the first of three laps around the course we began to pass some boats, some of which are pictured in our Rendezvous photo gallery. Needless to say, the fastest boats didn't get their photograph taken because we never caught them, and in the modest breeze in which we sailed, two boats in particular distanced themselves on the fleet: Jesus Gasca's Sine Die and John Maxwell's Solway Mist. Both are brand-new Oyster 46s, a new generation of lighter, faster cruisers produced by the company (to read CW's review of the 46, click here).

After we crossed the finish line, Richard thanked his crew and announced he was going below to take a nap. We enjoyed a nice reach of a couple miles back to the harbor, rigged a huge set of inflatable fenders, and parked the boat at Valencia's new North Marina. Then it was home to our hotels to freshen up for the big evening event.

Of course a dinner in Spain can't start until quite late, and after an hour or two of cocktails, we sat down at our tables about 10 p.m. Richard dispensed with all of the awards right away, so we wouldn't drowse off during an after dinner speech. In fact he had other plans in store for us.

Overall results weren't calculated officially, but judging from the number of trips to the podium made by 46 owners John Maxwell and Jesus Gasca, they were among the best sailors for the week in the smaller-boat Class II. Likewise, Graham and Victoria Hetherington's Great Bear IV, an Oyster 62, was the most common winner in the big-boat Class I and David Fass's A Sulana, in the Oyster 56 class.

I think we had about 5 courses for our meal, and a new glass of wine or port with every one. But we were jolted out of our amiable saturation at midnight with a spectacular close-range fireworks display. After that, the dancing started, and although I soon drifted home, it began to dawn on me why Richard's siesta was such a good idea.

You can read more reports about this event by Roger Vaughan at the Oyster website.