I’m writing this review from far out in the Pacific Ocean aboard my own boat, Roger Henry. There’s not so much as a rock on which to crawl up, much less a rescue facility, for 1,000 miles in any direction. I mention this because it places into sharp relief just how crucially important is every single detail of the vessel beneath us: the design, the material selection, the execution, the safety of the workstations, the viability of the living spaces. I look out on these endless horizons, then back to the through-hull fittings, the standing and running rigging, the mechanical and electrical systems.
So when a manufacturer touts a new boat as a “bluewater passagemaker,” I place that boat, in my mind, right here, and I hold it to a standard demanded by these rough and remote conditions.
Oyster Yachts need not fear that benchmark, for its design and construction teams have created a superb shorthanded, long-legged, oceangoing cruiser in the new Oyster 54.
With 50 built, the Oyster 53 enjoyed a hugely successful run. But feedback from experienced and articulate owners prompted Oyster to reapproach designer Rob Humphreys with a brief to draw a boat of essentially the same size but with improved performance, slightly more interior volume, and a more contemporary styling.
Will White, a professional captain for Oyster, invited me along to help move the first 54 in the United States from Poulsbo, Washington, to the Seattle Boat Show. This gave me an entire day to dash about the decks, crawl through the bilges, and pester him with way too many questions.
The hull is constructed with a combination of E-glass, Kevlar, and carbon fiber impregnated with both polyester and vinylester resins. This sophisticated composite approach results in a hull that is stiff, quiet, durable, impact resistant, yet light.
I found the center-cockpit layout to be as efficient as it is elegant. The cockpit’s sizable scuppers, 10-inch bridgedeck, and cleverly recessed companionway hatch protect the vessel from downflooding. A large cockpit console incorporates a table, cooler, footrests, and handholds. The teak decks are wide, unobstructed, and, with properly placed handholds, allow safe and easy passage forward. The bulwarks and stout stern and forward pulpits add to the overall sense of security.
I was particularly pleased to see Oyster’s attention to detail regarding safety equipment, which includes a designated life-raft locker, installed crew-overboard system, 27.5-inch coated lifelines, and stout jackline padeyes installed throughout the cockpit and the length of the deck.
Generous locker space can be found in the cockpit and in a deep lazarette aft. Right down to the protected placement of the AC power-cord socket, I found the entire external layout to be efficiently integrated.
Enormous, well-placed electric winches handle the sheeting loads of the large Seldén sloop rig. The traveler runs handily just aft of the helm station. My only concern is that the wheel, measuring a few too many inches in diameter, impedes the helmsman’s access to the cabin-top clutches and winches. This is easily rectified.
The interior is airy, lush, light, and sensible. The three-cabin design offers a sumptuous owner’s stateroom aft with en suite head and a shower stall. An equally luxurious double cabin for guests, with a second head/shower, is forward of the main saloon. A crew berth with tiered bunks is offset to starboard of the forward head. Every berth on the boat comes equipped with seagoing lee cloths.
The galley is contained enough to be safe in a rough seaway, yet spacious enough to allow the preparation of meals for a sizable crew. The main saloon has an offset table to starboard, with plush L-shaped seating. The polished maple table has a top so large that when fully opened, it extends to the U-shaped settees on the opposite side of the wide cabin, creating enormous seating capacity.
The engine-room layout is a study in practical access, meticulous order, and efficient use of space. The high quality of the materials and professionalism of the installations, be they electrical, mechanical, plumbing, or rigging, runs consistent from the masthead to the keel bolts.
Unfortunately, en route to Seattle, we didn’t get even a breath of wind. I told Will that although we could safely assume that Rob Humphreys had designed a peppy performer, in good faith I couldn’t write a credible review without having actually sailed the boat. With busy schedules on opposite coasts, it took us two months to reconnect. It was worth the wait.
With the help of Jonathan Davis, a Poulsbo dockmate, we moved the boat effortlessly off the crowded dock with the powerful bow thruster. On reciprocal courses to nullify any effect of current, we measured 8 knots at only 2,100 rpm on the Yanmar 110-horsepower diesel. The noise level was so low that I had to confirm that the engine was actually running. The helm was smooth and perfectly geared. The vessel turned in a tight radius and backed with complete control.
But we’d come to sail, and sail we did. In 12 to 16 knots of wind, we tacked up and down Liberty Bay, recording 6.5 knots on a dead run, 7 on a beam reach, and 8.3 when closehauled. The ease of handling was such that we found ourselves confidently tacking away from shorelines or fixed structures at the last second. This boat was so seriously fun to sail that I had to pry Jonathan’s fingers off the wheel in order to get my full turn at the helm.
If imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery, then Oyster should be well pleased, for there are several Oyster look-alikes on the market. But given Oyster’s nearly 40 years of experience, more than 1,200 built vessels, and a highly respected customer-service system, the imitators will be hard pressed to match an Oyster’s impeccable quality, stellar performance, and, even with the substantial price tag, overall value.
As I look around at these haunting high seas, I see the natural home for this worthy world cruiser.
LOA 53′ 11″ (16.43 m.)
LWL 46′ 3″ (14.10 m.)
Beam 15′ 7″ (4.75 m.)
Draft (std./shoal) 7′ 10″/6′ 0″ (2.40/1.83 m.)
Sail Area (100%) 1,249 sq. ft. (116.07 sq. m.)
Ballast (std./) 15,562/17,900 lb.
(shoal) (7,058/8,119 kg.)
Displacement (std./) 46,893/48,653 lb.
(shoal) (21,315/22,068 kg.)
Ballast/D (std.) .33
D/L (std.) 211
SA/D (std.) 15.37
Water 198 gal. (750 l.)
Fuel 224 gal. (850 l.)
Holding 50 gal. (189 l.)
Mast Height 70′ 6″ (21.50 m.)
Engine 110-hp. Yanmar
Designer Rob Humphreys
& the Oyster Design Team
Price Contact Oyster for pricing
Alvah Simon is a CW contributing editor.