Is this Oyster 565 the boat that secures the British yard’s future? Toby Hodges takes an exclusive test sail
For the sake of this iconic British brand, the new Oyster 565 can’t just be good, it has to be exceptional. Nothing less will do. When the Oyster 825 Polina Star III lost her keel and sank off the coast of Spain in July 2015, the fortune it subsequently cost Oyster directly contributed to the company going into receivership.
Its backers, Dutch firm HTP Investments, ceased to provide financial support in February 2018 and the company went into administration. When gaming software entrepreneur Richard Hadida bought Oyster six weeks later, many wondered how he could rebuild the credibility of the brand and turn the business around.
So all eyes were on the Oyster 565 when it launched at the Southampton Boat Show in September. This is the first completely new design under Hadida’s watch and it sits at the core of the British firm’s market. This is the yard’s most popular size, replacing the 56 (75 sold) and 575 (45 sold).
Hadida has introduced some key developments to help it succeed. Oyster now moulds its hulls in-house rather than subcontracting this work, and he wanted third party oversight, so a Lloyd’s Register surveyor inspects all yachts in build once a week to approve the design, materials and build quality of the hulls and decks. This brings a level of assurance to new owners and should restore faith in the build quality.
The new owner introduced a diverse group of board members, including designer Rob Humphreys and sailor and former Formula 1 team boss Eddie Jordan as well as other business authorities. He also put the Oyster Rendezvous regattas and successful Oyster World Rally back on track. However, this groundwork counts for nothing if the Oyster 565 flops.
I travelled to Barcelona to spend two days testing Panthalassa, the first 565 to launch. Knowing there is a huge amount riding on this model, I wondered whether it would deliver. The answer is a resounding yes. The Oyster 565 is one of the finest production yachts I have ever sailed.
The design is contemporary and sympathetic to Oyster’s existing line-up, but with more volume, comfort, simplicity, speed and stowage space than its predecessors. The deck and interior layout is right up to date, the engineering behind the scenes is of high quality, and the finish is a step beyond what almost any other production yard can offer.
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Times have changed
I found the Oyster 565 berthed alongside an Oyster 56 in Port Ginesta, which conveniently illustrated how hull shapes and deck layouts have changed in 20 years. The Oyster 565 has around 30cm more freeboard, the beam is carried much further aft, and it has a broader transom. The cockpit in particular is much larger, easier and safer to get into, and there are no sheets for guests to trip over.
The design strikes a balance between respecting the legacy of the 56 and the ten-year-old Oyster 575, and introducing modern features such as a flush foredeck, clean lines and a greater hull volume. Some traditional cruisers may mourn the loss of a skeg-hung rudder and cutter-rigged headsails, but the ease with which you can handle this Oyster 565 in most conditions should convince the majority that modern design wins here.
A robust bowsprit extends the yacht’s length to 59ft. Although the hull length of the new Oyster 565 is shorter than the 575 it replaces, its waterline length is longer and it boasts 10% more volume. Its full bow sections also create space for a sail locker, a crucial asset for stowing the offwind sail needed to supplement the blade jib.
The Oyster 565 is clearly the product of a yard used to building high-end large yachts, as opposed to one pushing up in size into a level of engineering and quality with which it is less familiar. This is perhaps why Oyster describes it as a ‘pocket superyacht’.
In this respect, the appointment of Paul Adamson as Oyster’s chief commercial officer was shrewd. Adamson is a seasoned Oyster skipper who took Eddie Jordan’s Oyster 885 Lush around the world (the yacht now belongs to Richard Hadida). He brings practical, hands-on expertise and big-boat knowledge to the yard.
The Oyster 565’s £1.5m price tag is steep, but it is comparable to similar-sized yachts from competitor brands and, unusually, comes with a very high standard spec. This includes hydraulic thrusters, furlers, and windlass, tri-radial sails, powered winches, a generator and a full electronic navigation package. You’ll even find 100m of 12mm chain in the anchor locker.
The Oyster 565 comes ready to go, with all the equipment the company knows will make for comfortable ocean cruising, gleaned from decades of experience and owner feedback.
It is immediately obvious as soon as you go on board that every detail has been thought through. The high guardrails have boarding gates built in. If berthed stern-to, a cassette-style passerelle (an extra option) extends at the push of a button, and its handrail rises automatically. Moving forward between the twin wheels, you enter a generous-sized, deep centre cockpit.
A bluewater yacht needs to have a kindly motion at sea, be easy it is to sail and remain comfortable when heeled. During our trials, the Oyster 565 was to prove genteel, safe and enjoyable to sail.
The 565 is simplicity itself to get on and off a berth. It comes with retractable bow and stern thrusters as standard, which allow you to spin the boat around its keel. The hydraulic thrusters are powerful enough to park sideways against a crosswind and easily correct any misalignment when approaching the dock.
The hydraulic furling makes it equally simple to deploy sails even in a strong breeze or awkward seaway. I am not usually a fan of in-mast furling mainsails, but here the ability for one person to set and furl away the main without leaving the helm outweighs any negatives.
Oyster has also ensured that you can manually furl sails should the power or hydraulics fail. Both the mainsail and jib furlers have sockets that allow you to winch the sail by hand or, easier still, operate them with a cordless drill (a fully charged 18V drill will reportedly manage 15 mainsail furls).
The blade jib enables the Oyster 565 to point higher and tack or gybe faster and more easily than previous Oysters with cutter rigs, and without the risk of yankee or genoa sheets whipping around the cockpit. It also proved the ideal sail for our long beats upwind in 12-20 knot winds. The Oyster 565 is a powerful design with a medium displacement, able to maintain consistent speed with a soft motion through the waves that makes for a quiet and comfortable ship.
The twin rudders provide the helmsman with total control and forgiving handling. When the apparent breeze reached the high 20s and the leeward gunwale was immersed, we were on the verge of needing a reef, yet the helm remained light, with only a slight increase in weather helm. This means light work for an autopilot. You can really load the boat, so would need to keep an eye on true wind speeds and when to reduce sail.
The test yacht’s bright red asymmetric spinnaker helped us get the most from the Oyster 565 offwind. Again it was the consistent speeds that stood out: 9-9.5 knots in flat water with winds in the low teens, rising to double figures when going with the swell. Once the breeze was up to a Force 5 on our second day we were sailing consistently at 10 knots. I was hooked: this is an indulgent way to tick off mile after mile.
Most sail controls and sheets are within reach of the twin pedestals yet clear of the guest cockpit. When standing at the helm it is possible to straddle the coaming to release a sheet or reach the powered winch buttons during a tack.
For owners who want to sail short-handed, however, it might be more practical to have the primaries closer to the helms, allowing them to hand steer the boat through a tack rather than relying on an autopilot. Leading the jib sheet to the aft (spinnaker) winch might make more sense, as it is closer to the helm and easier to reach without leaving the cockpit.
The mainsheet winch is directly abaft and in reach of the helmsman. It feels awkward turning round to trim the main, but I guess it is something you would get used to, or would settle for engaging the autopilot before trimming the main. There is currently no option for a traveller. Adamson believes that, for most owners, clear access to the cockpit is paramount, and a powerful vang was chosen to control the main instead.
Safe and secure on deck
The distance between the two wheels is perfect. Footwells help ensure that you feel in, rather than on top of, the boat while helming – that was not always the case on previous models. And wraparound backrests at the seats and handrails on the pedestals both create a feeling of security around the helm areas.
Moving forward along the wide side decks also feels safe thanks to high guardrails and handrails along the coachroof. Outboard shrouds and inboard jib tracks leave a comparatively clear side deck. The shrouds disappear neatly into composite chainplates below the toerail.
Going below feels less secure when the Oyster 565 is heeled, however. The flat companionway steps are steep, and curved sides would be more practical. The interior has plenty of handholds and solid fiddles, but there is so much headroom in the saloon I could only just reach the overhead handrail on the centreline.
It is easier to move forward along the starboard side of the saloon, though, and elsewhere the layout suits life at an angle. It is remarkably quiet below decks, a hush belied by the mesmerising sight of the sea foaming past the big leeward hull windows.
Behind the scenes
The British yard has stuck to a tried and tested interior layout for the Oyster 565 and has furnished and finished it impeccably. The standard of joiner work is as good as any you’ll find at production yacht level. The galley and aft cabin would be hard to better, and the utility cabin amidships, a workroom-cum-laundry with an optional pilot berth and access to the walk-in engine room, further compliments the proven layout.
Unusually at this size, Oyster offers the option of a master cabin forward with two double cabins aft. But unless you plan to spend long periods berthed stern-to, the standard owner suite aft with the magnificent views it provides will surely win every time.
Every part of the accommodation is used to its full potential, and stowage is maximised without any part feeling cramped. Practical touches include the cedar-lined, lit and ventilated wardrobes, clever use of indirect lighting, and deeply fiddled work surfaces that are shaped, moulded and laminated in-house.
However, it’s what lies behind the scenes that impressed me most. All services are easy to access for maintenance. The headlining is mounted on Velcro, while floorboards use the Fastmount panel system – although Oyster really needs to find a way to stop these sole panels creaking as it spoils an otherwise quiet interior.
Look below the saloon sole and you’ll find a proper, deep bilge sump in the keel stub. Bilges throughout the boat drain here through limber holes, which ensures any water stays in the lowest part and doesn’t slosh around. This is the most logical place for bilge pumps and by mounting them on removable plates Oyster has ensured they can easily be lifted to clean the strainers.
Installed beneath the companionway are two large bronze seawater inlets, one for the domestic side, such as fridge and air con, the other for the engine and generator. These systems are linked so that if one becomes blocked you can shut it down and use the other. It is also comforting to see the surrounding pipes all clearly labelled ‘Lloyds approved’.
The companionway steps lift for stowage and access to the top of the 11kW generator. Here you notice the thickness of the sound insulation. Adamson says Oyster has learned a lot about this through building its larger models. The engine room, for example, is surrounded by plywood with a high-density core and insulated with a composite of foam and sound-absorbing materials. When the engine is on tickover, it is almost impossible to hear it in the cockpit.
Besides walk-in access to starboard, panels below the galley sink can be removed for access to the port side of the engine room. The engine block sits on flexible mountings, below which is a sump that prevents any oil from running into the main bilge area. There is an electronic pump-out for an oil change, a powered fuel polisher and a water-in-fuel alarm – systems normally only found on larger yachts.
The longer you look, the more you appreciate the careful planning and the intricate detail that has gone into this yacht.
The Oyster 565 is a seriously impressive yacht. It’s a modern design, through and through: good-looking and spacious. It’s certainly expensive, but for good reason, as it includes an extremely high standard spec. And the engineering quality and level of finish really raises the bar. No yacht is perfect, but in terms of design and execution the Oyster 565 is as close as you’ll find on a series-built cruising yacht. This new model issues a very clear statement: Oyster is back.