Oyster have long set the standard for luxurious blue-water cruisers, and the Oyster 495 is the new baby in the range. Even if you’re not in the market for one, it’s nice to dream, says Sam Fortescue
Oyster 495: the dream boat that sets the bar
Following an era which saw Oyster yachts getting progressively bigger and bigger, the iconic British boatbuilder has shifted its gaze back to the sort of boats that made it famous. And the first fruit of this welcome development is the comely Oyster 495.
The best part of £2 million all told, she is eye-wateringly expensive. So why sail her?
Well, this iconic British brand has long set the standard when it comes to offshore and ocean luxury cruising yachts, so it’s worth seeing, if only to measure other boats against.
Even if you haven’t got that kind of loose change in your pocket, it’s nice to dream, isn’t it?
Freshly designed from the keel up, this is a that boat aims to combine comfort, quality build and reliable blue-water passagemaking with features found on the bigger boats.
Drawn by Humphreys Yacht Design, the Oyster 495 is the first new model since Richard Hadida bought the business in 2018.
‘She’s a go-anywhere adventure machine capable of taking her owners to the four corners of the globe,’ says Hadida, for whom this first boat has been built with a huge array of extras.
Oyster 495: a new icon
Approaching the Tuborg Marina in Copenhagen to join ship for the overnight passage to Kiel, there was absolutely no mistaking this boat, whose glossy black carbon mast gave her away long before I spotted the trademark Oyster eyebrow.
Hull number one, which is on a promotional world tour lasting well into 2023, also has a bold turquoise vinyl hull wrap.
In line with recent thinking on hull shape, the Oyster 495 punches a plumb bow into the seas and carries much of her beam well aft – noticeably more so than previous models.
Such a hull form resists heeling and reduces the need for ballast.
‘With the twin rudder configuration that we have adopted as standard on all our Oyster designs since the 885 model, it provides us with more flexibility to carry a higher proportion of form stability by increasing the power of the aft hull sections,’ says naval architect Tom Humphreys.
‘This is still introduced sensitively to ensure motions and control in waves is not compromised.’
Together with the slightly higher beam and topsides compared to the 46, it creates a lot of volume below for the master cabin and extra headroom in the fo’c’sle.
As is typical for Oyster, the mast is keel-stepped. It intrudes slightly into the corridor forward, but does a better job of transferring rig forces to the keel and reduces chainplate loading.
Our test boat had the full carbon mast option from Selden with in-mast furling, and in some ways, this is a bit of an oxymoron.
The carbon mast adds nearly £100,000 to the pricetag for a big weight saving of some 200kg, but the mandrel and furling gear puts some of that weight back in.
On the other hand, it reduces the sail area by 10 per cent and prohibits the use of performance-enhancing battens.
‘You get more sailing done this way,’ explains sales director Richard Gibson, and that is a key point in a blue-water yacht.
The sail plan is designed with an efficient 54m2 jib, which can be set up for self-tacking, or remain on tracks set well inboard for good tight angles upwind.
Then there’s an attractive moulded-in bowsprit which carries two tack points for asymmetric or reaching sails, while beefy padeyes along the raised bulwarks give you heaps of options for fixing the blocks needed to run sheets and guys.
As well as push-button controls for the mast furling and outhaul, this test boat has the optional hydraulic mainsail trim.
Effectively reversing the mainsheet to be trimmed in the boom and not on deck, this clever kit was first developed by Wally superyachts.
The mainsheet is spliced to a strop on the deck behind the helm and a ram hidden in the boom does the trimming, removing trailing ropes in the cockpit.
Just the jib sheets come back to the cockpit, because all the halyards are designed to be handled at the mast.
It keeps the cockpit remarkably tidy, but requires you to spend time crouched at the foot of the mast to launch or douse a reaching or running sail.
Similarly, the jib and main halyards terminate with loops over a mast fitting which is tensioned then pegged off.
As they are cut to this length with the sails hoisted, you can’t lower them in a hurry.
You need to unload the hook using a winch, then tie on the provided mousing line. Tidy, yes; practical, no.
Hunting for wind
Now, we had lamentably low wind during our test sail, and the delivery team were intent on reaching Kiel by daybreak, so we spent much of our 24 hours aboard with the motor running and the sails furled.
And here, it must be said that the boat performs very well.
At an optimal 2,300rpm, the efficient Yanmar 110hp shoved us along at 8 knots through oily calm seas, consuming 8.7 litres of diesel per hour.
That’s roughly 1 litre per nautical mile, or nearly 4 days and nights of motoring on a full tank of 800 litres.
And though the engine sits in the traditional spot beneath the companionway, with the chart table to starboard and the galley to port, it is very well muffled.
Crucially for the workhorse on a blue-water cruising boat, access is possible via hatches on all four sides of the engine block, while the compartment itself offers plenty of room for additional equipment.
During two passages of moderate wind, the skipper obligingly let us set the main and jib – a slow but simple question of pressing buttons, with jib sheet winches within easy reach of the helm on the coaming.
She remained light and responsive on the helm and at one point, we clocked up a decent 5.1 knots of boat speed, fetching easily into 8 knots AWS.
Conditions didn’t permit much more, but polars indicate that she will perform up to about 32º true wind angle, quickly accelerating to 7 knots upwind in a 10-knot breeze.
Broad reaching with the 197 m² asymmetric, she can manage 11 knots in a blow.
Despite being resin-infused, the boat has a relatively heavy glassfibre construction and weighs in at 21 tonnes without fuel, water, food, gear or crew.
Her sail area to displacement ratio of 16.1 is that of a solid offshore cruiser, while the waterline length to displacement ratio of 203 promises a little more power.
It gives her a very solid feel on the water, like her bigger siblings, but limits performance.
‘You want the boat to be the destination in a way,’ says Tom Humphreys. And like all Oysters, the 495 is just that.
The trademark raised centre cockpit means plenty of aft deck for lounging, fishing or blowing up tenders, while the seating, with its central fold-up table, is deep and well protected.
The optional cockpit tent and a bimini would be a boon for warm water or Baltic sailing.
Deck, rigging and underwater lighting may be a little showy for some, but do create real atmosphere. The heart of the boat, though, is its large saloon area.
Deep upholstery on either side provides space to put your feet up and relax, gather with friends, sit down for a meal around the eight-person table or even watch a movie on the pop-up TV.
The space communicates nicely with a very well-found galley to port and the chart table to starboard, and there are handrails to help you make your way everywhere.
The finish is Oyster to the core and styling has been revitalised with a new superyacht inspired look that is all geometric relief, pale wood and Nordic lamps.
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One step too far
If I had one criticism of this otherwise spotless interior, it would be the number of little level changes that connect the spaces.
We counted 12 steps in total, besides the companionway.
While they maximise the volume, they also present a tripping risk.
One of the reasons for these steps is clear: the saloon sole is raised somewhat in order to create space for the tankage beneath, as well as enjoy the views from the deckhouse windows.
And there, at least, the benefit is overwhelming, because you can easily inspect each tank, as well as the batteries and other equipment.
Custom joinery adapts the galley storage to your crockery and glassware.
Standard is a four-burner hob and oven from GN Espace, side opening boat fridge plus an optional freezer and microwave.
Another highlight is the huge chart table.
There are those that scoff at the waste of space in a digital age, but anyone undertaking blue-water cruising knows the value of this space.
B&G instruments are the standard choice. The main interfaces are touchscreen displays that drive C-Zone digital switching, but key kit still features two-pole manual switches.
‘We wanted to introduce tech into the boat, but we had to make sure that if something breaks down mid-ocean you could fix it,’ explains Gibson.
Down steps aft, the owner’s cabin is clearly inspired by the big Oysters.
The island bed measures 140cm across and features an elaborate fabric headboard that shows off the new styling to maximum effect.
There’s the option of a huge TV on the forward bulkhead, plus a vanity table and a sofa.
A luxurious ensuite heads features a separate shower, reached – you’ve guessed it – down another step.
The second cabin lies in the fo’c’sle and it runs to another good sized semi-island bed.
Having shared this space overnight with the photographer, I can attest to the comfort, and the natural light.
There is a third cabin to starboard with a pair of useful bunks, sharing the forward heads and shower. Finish quality is, as you’d expect, excellent.
In the end, Oyster has been ambitious in trying to squeeze in the features of its larger boats onto this design.
But it has been a successful project and, even as we hove in sight of Kiel’s green approaches, it was all too easy to imagine settling in and heeding the call of the high seas.
Verdict on the Oyster 495
New focus from Oyster and some modern hull design courtesy of Humphreys have given the Oyster 495 a modest performance boost and some welcome contemporary features.
However, she remains very true to Oyster’s keystone values of safety, seaworthiness and comfort. And in that sense, at least, she is not a radical boat.
Her layout, too, would be familiar to an Oyster 49 owner from 2001.
There’s plenty of technology here – digital switching, plotters galore, good AV options and hydraulic sail controls. But it is not dressed up to be flashy.
The boat is solid, well-built and beautifully finished. She is easy to handle, capable and well organised.
Our only misgivings were about the less-than-easy halyard handling, and reliance on hydraulics for sail trim.
It’s all very neat, but is that really the priority for blue-water cruising?
As to whether she represents the world’s best 50ft blue-water yacht, time will tell, but with 16 boats sold off plan, some buyers clearly think so.
Would the Oyster 495 suit you and your crew?
Oysters are the stuff of dreams, and the new 495 is no exception.
If money were no object, and it needs not to be for this boat (our tricked-out test boat cost £1.6m ex-VAT or £1.92m inc VAT), then this is a vessel custom made to fulfil blue-water cruising hopes.
She would best suit a family with a steady flow of visiting friends, or a mix of older and younger kids.
The disparity between the aft and fo’c’sle cabins rules out a project involving two couples.
She would also work well with a couple and some paid hands, although the ease of sail control and trim makes her perfectly viable for sailing solo or two-up.
There’s no reason that you couldn’t take the 495 up Britain’s rivers and estuaries, with her 2.28m draught and option for a 1.83m shoal keel.
But a boat of this capability demands to cover miles.
Sail round Britain, up to Svalbard, round the Mediterranean or around the world – the boat could undoubtedly handle it all with aplomb – but make sure you’re stretching her legs.
Solid, well-built and beautifully finished