Nine o’clock sharp on this, the first day of racing in the 2013 Oyster Regatta Palma, and heads jerked to attention as all around the RCNP quayside cockpit VHF’s burst into life with a “Welcome” and the start of the day’s sailing instructions. Wind was light in harbour but building from NNE, and the committee boat already out in the bay reported 15 knots while Oyster 82 Starry Night of the Caribbean, out practising, reported 19 knots further offshore. It might be a tough call on whether opting for white sails or colour, some thought.

The order of the day with winds set to fall through the week was to try for two races rather than the originally scheduled single, with one morning, sponsored by Lewmar, one afternoon, sponsored by Pelagos. This played out well, with the day’s challenges mostly about gybe angles and working the shifts in varying strengths from slight to interesting.

A big switch in choice of colour sails or white appeared between the two races, with in Race 1 Class 3 (Oysters 46 through to 575) largely white but then a shift to spinnakers for most in Race 2. Meanwhile in Class 2 (Oysters 62 through to 66) virtually all flew their colour sails excepting Oyster 62 Galloper of Hamburg and Oyster 66 Marlene who have no spinnakers.

In Class 1 (Oysters 72 through to 100) again most opted for colour sails with in Race 2 only Oyster 885Clare under white sails, owner Sir Frank Chapman drawing on tactics of old practised on his previous Oyster 56, poled out twin headsails dead downwind. Unfortunately, the single tack didn’t win over the gybe angles of top rival Oyster 885 Karibu.

These two 885s dominated Class 1 with Karibu clearly leading with two firsts. With their more modern designs they’re performing well across the spectrum, showing a particular improvement in lighter winds, and with the twin rudders working really well upwind.

Starry Night of the Caribbean led fellow Oyster 82 Dama de Noche in both races, perhaps not surprisingly so as she’s a true veteran of Oyster regattas and carries a crack crew while today wasDama de Noche’s first ever racing. Boldly they pulled the spinnaker out of the bag in Race 2, flying it for the first time in anger, and initially with some frustration. “But a great day,” said skipper Chris Richards, “just needed a bit more wind.”

Oyster 725 Spirit of Phantom and Oyster 72 Billy Budd enjoyed good close racing, swapping third and fourth placings between the two races, and in the lighter airs both finished before the 82s. “First race we needed to blow out the cobwebs,” said Spirit of Phantom skipper Brett Sleeth, “but the second race came good, picking a couple of nice shifts we came back from the dead!”

Oyster 100 Penelope despite having sailed the Superyacht Cup earlier in June was racing for the first time with owner Paul Brewer on board and also on the helm, and sailed cautiously but well, and looking a picture snaffled the attention of plenty in the fleet as she sailed through the smaller boats initially ahead by virtue of the six staggered by boat size starts.

Class 2 saw some very smart, close starts particularly among the Oyster 625s, one of which took first in both races. Brazilian Dario Galvao’s then placed a good second in both aboard his 655 Rocas and was rightly pleased. “Our crew had never sailed together before today, so went out early to practice, particularly the spinnaker. That was a challenge. Racing our first set was a disaster but it got better. The courses were very good, well placed. It was also good that when the fleet was in close contact, everybody was very fair, well connected with respecting the rules. On board we had three newcomers who had never sailed, a father and two sons. It was good, we had 15 year old Paul helping me with tactics and Mark helping too on the main. There he is, never sailed before and trimming the main. A fantastic day!”

Oyster 62 Galloper carried perhaps the youngest average of all with Oliver and Astrid Niemann’s two sons Ingo, Gero and their friend Jakob, aged 13, 15, 16, constituting half the total crew. The Niemanns bought Galloper in 2009, previously having many years with an Oyster 49, but this is their first racing, the family having long contemplated competing, but school prevails at the time of Palma which this year fortunately coincides with a public holiday in Germany. They’re hoping for future repeats!

In Class 3 there were some really close results on corrected time but then variances played in interestingly. Wolfram Birkel’s Oyster 56 Cat B had the widest ranging result between races, having started badly in Race 1 and just not catching back up on the beat. But Race 2 was very different and her second became a first when John McMonigall from Oyster 575 Zaybo in true regatta spirit marched straight into the race office after docking admitting hitting the windward mark, so dropping a place. Crew member William Friis-Moeller said: “Second race was our best start, then first around Mark 1 we led the whole way, only four 80-footers in front. We chose the right angles for our gybes and got the timing right. Great atmosphere, everyone aboard is very happy, and that makes for good racing.”

Oyster 575 Cloud 9 also swung both ways. American owners Jan and Terri Buskop have lived aboard, cruising extensively in northern waters and then the Med, since taking delivery in 2011. Today was their first ever racing and after an eleventh in Race 1 they pulled nicely through to fourth in Race 2. “That feels good,” said Jan with a smile a mile wide. He and Terri previously cruised an Irwin 52 in the States and Caribbean before coming to Europe and Oyster. “We wanted more space and a lighter, faster boat with newer technology and the 575 we thought was the biggest we could sail easily as a couple and it’s just so comfortable.” Today they also discovered how well she performs.

Showered, refreshed and coached to the outlying Finca Son Mira in fabulous grounds and a blend of ancient agricultural main house, courtyard and contemporary pavilion, the fleet sipped and supped well before the evening’s prize giving and the chance to impress on the dance floor to a cool sax-led session before bed and a head full of how the next day’s light wind, with two races scheduled again, might play out. Only tomorrow knows!

Written by: Mike Owen
Photo: Martinez Studio