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Scuttlebutt News:
A Gathering Of Oysters
Report by Roger Vaughan - Photos courtesy of the Oyster Marine website

(October 31, 2006) The recent Montpelier Oyster Regatta in Palma, Mallorca, on October 18-22, 2006 pertains to the ongoing discussion about growing the sport of sailing. This was the 16th regatta Oyster Marine has hosted for its owners in five years, and the evolution of these meetings is worth noting.

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Oyster owners demand comfort; safety and reliability; and performance from their boats – in that order. The result is an elegant, heavy boat replete with amenities and built for easy handling while cruising offshore or making passages. At last count approximately 40 Oyster owners have circumnavigated the globe. When the Oyster regattas started they reflected that relaxed, cruising style. The parties and dinners ashore ranked slightly ahead of the “racing.” Over the years, things have changed a bit.

One reason for the increased interest in performance is Oyster founder and CEO Richard Matthews, a successful racing helmsman. His latest personal Oyster 72-footer, designed by a team led by Rob Humphreys, is as turbo-charged as a live-aboard boat can get. It has brought home some handsome silverware. Another reason is the patience with which Matthews and his second in command, Alan Brook (a former Admiral’s Cup helmsman), have schooled their owners, acquainting them with the rules and educating them about tactics while stressing safety and fun.

It all came together this year in Palma. For three of the four days a smokey sou’wester blew dogs off proverbial chains. For many fleets, at least one of the days would have been a cancellation. For the Oyster owners, there was no such thought. Off they went for a day of racing around the cans, followed by three point-to-point races.

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The final race was a blast reach with sheets eased and spinnakers set around the south coast of Mallorca. Speeds for all the boats registered over ten knots on a sparkly, sunlit day on lumpy seas of electric, Mediterranean blue. Leading the fleet were two Oyster 72s, hitting over 12 knots under huge spinnakers. Their minimal crews of friends-of-the-owners jibed the large boats without a problem for the last leg into Palma.

Docked at Real Club Nautico after the race, the whole fleet was buzzing after such a day-long charge of great sailing and racing. Owners with stars in their eyes sipped champagne and contemplated the upcoming ARC.

The parties and dinners still play a significant role at Oyster regattas. And any owners tempted to bring in professionals know it will adversely affect their ratings. So while the competition becomes keener, the Corinthian aspect is assured.

Oysters represent an upscale niche, no question. But kudos to Matthews and his Oyster team of capable sailors for growing the sport at that level. - Roger Vaughan

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