Boat Review: Oyster 46

Last summer I had the good luck to be invited to join the Oyster Rendezvous in Newport, Rhode Island, where I would sail in daily races aboard owners’ yachts. On the first day’s run from Newport to Cuttyhunk Island, I sailed with Geoff and Jean Renfield-Miller aboard their Oyster 46 Thales.The race that day involved a pursuit start, which meant that we, as one of the smaller Oysters, started fairly near the front of the 18-boat fleet and were followed at set intervals by each boat according to its predicted time to finish. If the ratings and the math work out perfectly, then all 18 boats should finish at the same time. But that wasn’t to be. Thales was going to sail in a class of her own.

The new 46 handled the light morning breeze well and was soon catching boats that had started ahead of us. Once clear of Narragansett Bay, the course led eastward to Cuttyhunk. The turn at R2 and R2a brought the wind abeam and then onto our quarter, so we were able to hoist the asymmetrical chute for optimum speed. We were one of the first boats to get a big sail up and drawing, so we cleared the last turning mark in third position and soon slipped away into first place.I am not sure what was going on aboard the other boats, but we had Thales heated up and really sailing quickly. It seemed we had a knot or more of speed on everyone behind us, except the lovely Oyster 72 Magrathea, who was picking her way steadily through the fleet and catching us. A mile or so from the finish line, Magrathea pulled abeam and then slid by under the press of her huge spinnaker to cross the line a few minutes ahead of us. Thales soundly thumped the rest of the fleet, much to the delight of her owners and crew.

DESIGNED TO SAIL  The 46 was designed by Rob Humphries, who has been the builder’s primary designer for the past 10 years. Over that decade, the Oyster range has evolved and expanded so greatly that the company offers boats from 46 to 125 feet, all of which are known for fine sea-keeping features, excellent build quality and gracious accommodations for demanding owners.The new 46, however, may in fact be more of a revolutionary than evolutionary design. The hull and deck are considerably lighter than earlier models, the waterline is longer, the beam broader and the rig more powerful. All told, the 46 is a true performance cruiser, which explains why we sailed away from the fleet so handily on our way to Cuttyhunk.  The nondimensional numbers give a good indication of how the design stacks up relative to other ocean sailing yachts in her class. The sail area-displacement ratio, which indicates the design’s horsepower and ability to accelerate, is 17.65. This is modest compared to round-the-buoy racers or ultra light production cruisers, but very respectable in a blue water passagemaker.  The design’s displacement-length ratio of 258 is moderate by modern standards and in the range many yacht designers believe is ideal in a displacement, offshore quality yacht. You will see boats out there with ratios under 200 and they may be fast and close winded, but they will also have very active motions at sea and will need to be reefed early and often.

Under the water, the 46 has a cruising fin keel with a lead bulb that enhances stiffness and stability. The large rudder is mounted on a full skeg that protects it from flotsam and jetsam; this is a definite tip of the hat to cruisers who will be exploring parts unknown and need the sturdiest possible rudders. The 46 has a saildrive propulsion unit that throws a three-bladed, Varifold folding propeller that reduces prop drag and thereby adds up to a knot of boat speed under sail.The 46’s working sail area is 1,293 square feet, with the 150 percent genoa flying off a roller furling headstay and an in-mast roller-furling mainsail. So, the boat is easy to sail and has the horsepower to continue to make tracks when the wind goes light.The real secret to the design’s success, however, is the combination of a long waterline at 40 feet, seven inches and a generous beam at 14 feet, six inches. The long waterline is what delivers the boat’s speed, while the beam gives it an extra measure of initial stability. Moreover, by stretching these crucial dimensions, Humphries also increased the 46’s interior volume, which translates into larger and more commodious living and storage spaces.  The 46 was created to be a revolutionary sailing yacht for Oyster, and both Humphries and the builders have not missed in fulfilling this mission.

LIVING ABOARD  The 46 has been designed from the keel up to be a comfortable couple’s cruising boat that can accommodate children and visiting friends. The cockpit is where we live most of time in good weather and a lot of attention has gone into the ergonomics. The mainsheet traveler is mounted aft, where it is handy to the helm but out of the way. The seat backs are high enough for comfortable lounging, and the forward end of the cockpit is neatly shaped to be comfortable for nestling under the dodger with a good book, as Jean did a good part of our trip to Cuttyhunk.One benefit of a center cockpit arrangement is a large afterdeck, where Oyster has built seats in the stern pushpits. These are excellent places for relaxing and chatting with friends. Underfoot on the afterdeck is a huge lazarette where you can store lines, fenders and toys. And, the stern swim platform is large enough for two to stand and shower after a day in the water.The raised deck saloon design creates a huge area amidships that has a curved dinette to port and a bench settee to starboard. The dinette’s table folds out to reach the settee so you can seat at least five comfortably. The chart table is to port and down one step, with enough surface area to spread out a chart and ample cabinet area for mounting electronics and radios. Just aft of the chart table, a door leads to the master head and shower, which can double as a wet locker for foul weather gear.

The galley is in the passageway to the aft cabin to port. The twin sinks are inboard and built-in over the engine compartment so they will drain on both tacks. The fridge is accessible through a top-loading lid when you are heeled over on port tack, and via a side-opening door when the boat is on the level. Outboard of the counter there are large lockers for stores and dishware.The aft cabin has a centerline double berth that you can get in and out of from the sides; this small detail makes the double much more like your bed at home. If you will be sailing offshore a lot, a split mattress with a lee cloth rigged down the middle will turn this big double into a good sea berth. The master head has a separate shower stall as noted and plenty of locker space for toiletries and medical supplies.Forward of the saloon there are two double cabins—one with upper and lower berths and one with a V-berth. The forward head is to starboard across the hallway from the upper-lower cabin. This arrangement fits two good cabins into a narrow place and will work very nicely for a family with up to four children or for two guest couples. Oyster offers interiors in a variety of tones, so you can select from lovely pale finishes of white oak or maple, or choose darker cherry or teak. The joinery aboard the 46, like all Oysters, is superb and the finish work of the highest standard.The details are what make an Oyster an Oyster. The large saloon windows are all provided with Oceanair blinds; all hatches have Oceanair screens and shades; all of the doors and cabinet fronts are grain matched to their adjacent bulkhead’s patterns; door hinges are concealed; drawers are mounted on top quality sliders; and the boat comes equipped with Oyster custom Wedgewood bone china and Sheffield steel cutlery.Whether you are living aboard for an extended cruise or entertaining friends for the weekend, the 46 offers a level of comfort and luxury that is hard to match.

BWS THOUGHTS I have visited the Oyster plants in England and seen how the builders craft these yachts. The boats are built to the highest standard, designed to sail well and be great floating homes.More than that, an Oyster is built to cross oceans even if her owners are not. The hulls and decks are constructed to withstand whatever the sea throws at them. The rigs are conservatively set up and fitted with the best equipment so they will meet rising winds safely and carry a press of sail when necessary. The engineering and electrical systems are installed with exacting attention to detail and in the knowledge that the marine environment can be unforgiving on all things mechanical; everything is labeled and protected from the environment.

The new Oyster 46 is a great couple’s cruising boat and will be both a lot of fun to sail and a great escape home afloat. This is a boat you could truly sail around the world without crew or extra hands.And when you show up at the Oyster Rendezvous that are hosted in the Med, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the U.S., you can be assured that you will be one of the fastest boats in the fleet. At the end of the two-day Oyster regatta last summer, Thales finished in first place with two seconds in fleet and the best combined point score. Not bad, considering Geoff and Jean had never raced the boat before.OYSTER 46LOA 46’10”LWL 40’7”Beam 14’6”Draft (standard) 7’1”Draft (shoal) 5’9”Displacement 37,920 lbs.Fuel 198 gals.Water 172 gals.Engine 75hpSail area 1293 sq. ft.Mast height 62’5”SA/D 17.65D/L 258Two of the photos, the aerial (first shot) and the salon are courtesy of Oyster Marine.

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