Oyster 66

The beautifully strong Oyster 66 practically begs you to think big.

Capt. Graeme Maccullum and I chatted in the bright, airy saloon of the Oyster 66 AnnaCay, looking out over Falmouth Harbour in Antigua. "Why not cross the Atlantic, drop down to Trinidad and then head on down the South American coast?" we speculated. "You could stop at Devil's Island, go up the Amazon, then on to Rio and Cape Horn." For this newest of the company's bluewater cruising yachts, the thoughts were not just pipe dreams. This yacht could make such a trip comfortably, safely and fast, in hot or cold weather, seas rough or smooth.

The Oyster design team, working with Rob Humphreys, has produced a thoroughbred in the 66. Like all Oysters, she was designed and built for offshore cruising in comfort and safety, run by the owners or crew. I recently completed a circumnavigation aboard my Oyster 55, Miss Molly, and was more than interested to see how the 66 stacked up in sailing and comfort. I wasn't disappointed.

We cast off from Falmouth in gusty wind and squalls headed for Nonsuch Bay, a trip that involves bashing into the Atlantic for a few hours. We set the mainsail by pushing buttons-the Hood rollaway main is hydraulically driven, the outhaul electrically controlled. We set the high-clew yankee, again from the cockpit, using the Reckmann hydraulic furling gear. Exactly the right trim via the huge Lewmar electric winches sent us off, easily and safely. Shouldering aside great chunks of Atlantic, we powered quickly up to 8-plus knots-to windward, no less. If only I had been in this boat instead of my 55 beating up the Red Sea. Eleven grinding days spent navigating to windward would have been polished off in half the time.

Sipping cold ones from the cockpit cooler under the substantial dining table, we eased ourselves 10 or so miles out to sea. The large center cockpit, twin wheel positions and quarter seats aft provide a number of nice spots to enjoy the thrill of sailing. We eased the sheets and reached down to Nonsuch Bay before the tricky piloting started. Pressing buttons again to trim the sails, we settled down to a speed of 10-plus knots. Most big boats reach well, and the 66 is no exception, but I was impressed she held her line as well as she did when the big quartering waves tried hard to squirt the stern sideways. This exemplary behavior is the result of her fairly heavy displacement (83,774 pounds) coupled with a modern underwater shape, keel and rudder. The underbody is deeper than those of lightweight flyers but shallower than traditional cruisers, and does not have flat surfaces to pound. The keel has twice the chord length and maybe half the span of a high-performance racer/cruiser, but the shape is effective. A ballast bulb at the tip lowers the center of gravity for good stability while reducing drag. The skeg-hung rudder is large enough to take big bites of water for quick, accurate steering response.

We had an excellent chance to test her maneuverability when we lost the boardsail mast overboard. We had to quickly furl the yankee, sheet up the main, check for lines in the water and start the engine to swing back on a reciprocal course. The small emergency provided an opportunity to angle the Oyster 66 using her powerful bow thruster, and she maneuvered well, even in the rough seas.

The 66 has a spacious saloon with an elevated seating and table area that will accommodate about 10 people. Seated here, you have a panoramic view through the large windows with none of the claustrophobic feeling of being shut away in a cavern. I remember sweating belowdecks on my own boat during interminable tropical squalls between the equatorial waters of Indonesia and Malaysia. This saloon would have made those days more fun.

The navigation station on the saloon's starboard side has a large chart table with space above for a navigation/communications suite. Down a few steps to the lower saloon area are the galley and a pair of armchairs, perfect for reading or quiet conversation. The master suite back aft has a queen-size berth, a settee, two large hanging lockers and a lot of drawer space. Port and starboard double cabins forward of the master share a single head to port. All the heads have VacuFlush toilets, are finished with a wood-trimmed Formica laminate that's easy to clean and have full standing headroom, ample locker space and Avonite faux granite around the sinks.

Forward of the saloon are two double cabins, both with en suite heads. These could be used as crew's quarters or guest staterooms. I would ask Oyster to craft a slightly smaller cabin to starboard with upper and lower bunks, allowing the port double-berth cabin to be a little wider. The crew could use either or both if guests didn't need the double. Up in the forepeak are a cavernous sail locker and the usual anchor locker. Watertight doors may be fitted forward and aft to comply with MCA regulations. AnnaCay has these heavy doors because she is set up for charter, but they are not strictly required for purely private use.

Oyster uses two English yards to fit out the 66s, and their grasp of production quality control is impressive. The joinery detail, specially commissioned for Oyster by Dick Young Designs to celebrate the new millennium, features shadow-gap joints, custom Oyster 2000 logos on locker knobs and checkerboard floor panels. A variety of wood finishes are offered, cherry and American oak among them, but I prefer the traditional teak. No shortcuts were visible, even under the floorboards and behind panels.

The galley, however, could do with a little rearranging. It has a big stove, fridge and freezer, as well as numerous cupboards and drawers, but the washing machine takes up a lot of useful stowage. This machine would be better situated elsewhere, and Oyster will accommodate such requests. In fact, Oyster scores high when it comes to giving the buyer choices. The company offers custom design within the constraints of the hull moldings and bulkhead positions.

AnnaCay's hard-bottom inflatable is launched via electric davits one person can operate. A lazarette right aft held fenders, spare parts and such, as well as a dive compressor, three sets of gear, a sailboard and rig, two sets of skis and other toys. The forward stows light-weather sails, a spare anchor and a deflated second dinghy-with room for more.

After a restful night on board, we dodged back to sheltered water before a tropical front brought high winds and squalls. Running under full yankee and mainsail in about 22 knots with the usual quartering swell, we held the speed above 8 knots with no stress. We could have pushed a bit, but comfort was the order of the day. The 66 slipped along easily.

Back in Falmouth Harbor, we repaired to the Admirals Inn. As the rain lashed down and the wind howled, I decided I would have felt fine had I still been at sea. The Oyster 66 is strong, with a solid laminate hull and beefed up balsa-core deck. She sails beautifully and is supremely comfortable to be aboard.

There's no question, the design team has fulfilled its brief.

Contact: Oyster Marine USA, (401) 846-7400; fax (401) 846-7483; info@oysteryachts.com; www.oystermarine.com.