Arrivals day at the ninth annual Oyster Regatta in Palma, Mallorca created  a stir at the iconic Real Club Nautico de Palma (RCNP) as a fair armada of 26 Oysters from 46 to 100ft (14-30m) surrounded the club, mooring stern-to the  immediately bordering quayside. With the regatta’s famed, blended mix of social competition, this setting in the late season’s sun seemed the perfect picture framed.

For both Oyster and RCNP, 2013 marks a very special year with respective 40th and 65th anniversaries to celebrate. In RCNP Commodore Joan Bonet’s address to the 250 Oyster guests at the evening’s waterside terrace cocktail party and tasty BBQ prepared dinner, Joan spoke warmly of the event and its meaning to the club and presented Oyster CEO David Tydeman with a plaque in honour of Oyster’s anniversary and wished all a great regatta.

In all a very pleasing 11 nations are represented in this 32nd edition of Oyster’s worldwide regattas, Oyster the only sailing brand with such dedicated owner events. It’s a history that draws and creates great interest among owners new and old, and this Palma event sees every level of involvement from the likes of Oyster 82 Starry Night of the Caribbean which has raced every one, through to a clutch of newcomers this year of whom we’ll hear more in the course of this regatta’s daily reporting.

With the increasing length Oyster’s now building, where once there was a domination of 49 to 54ft (14-16m) boats in Palma, now it’s an ascendant 62 to 82ft-plus (19-25m). Reflecting not just a trend but the actual growth of Oyster as a business, if laid stem to stern this year’s fleet would need a quay more than 500 metres long, or 1723ft (522m) to be precise.  If wonder world-record sprinter Usain Bolt could keep up his impossible pace that far, even he’d still need a full 50 seconds to run its length. That’s quite a step on from this regatta’s early days which, as an industry and owner standout, seemed impressive even then.

Its expansion has also led to interesting change in the racing and race management with this year’s regatta adopting adapted elements of the Superyacht Racing Association’s (SYRA) racing rules for increased safety on the course, now the fleet includes such a significant 80ft-plus (22m) component, six boats in all in Palma.

Clearly mixing it up on the mark or wind-shadowing in too close-quartered combat among crews of diverse ability, from family and friends to honed circuit stalwarts, could be unnerving or worse lead to incidents, and that is not in the spirit of Oyster regattas. So as Oyster CEO David Tydeman led the Race Briefing there was not a single rumble from the floor as he explained:  “How hard it had been to rewrite the rules to keep you apart. If you have a 20 or 40-metre safety zone, how then do you get an overlap on the mark?” But a solution is in place and now embedded in the Oyster Regatta Sailing Instructions, with the briefing endorsing this, urging empathy on the course. “For a few people here it’ll be their first time across a start line,” said David. “Others are pro, and I ask that this experience is used to help us all sail safely.

To simplify starts,” David expanded, “we don’t expect you to turn round and re-cross. We’ll radio, asking you to furl sails then sit and wait until released by radio again.” A civilised solution, indeed.

Encouraging clean competition in other ways too, excuse the link please, the Arrivals Day as always had a Concours d’Elegance built into the tidy-up process once docked, in which a crack Oyster squad armed with clipboard and keen eyes swept on board the willing victims’ yachts to score the highs and lows of exterior presentation.

An early arrival and keen contender was found in one of Oyster 82 Dama de Noche’s crew who deftly demonstrated prowess with a super cyclonic Dyson dustbug hand tool in the aft deck’s every corner. Aboard neighbouring Oyster 725 Spirit of Phantom, with her handsome block leather serving, and impeccable sheet wrapping of headsails, skipper Brett Sleeth injected a light note with the offer of €100 finders-fee for any rust found. More seriously though, that Phantom looks so good says much for the combination of Oyster-build and a good crew, for in her first year she’s already sailed 18,000 miles.

The same is true of Oyster 72 Billy Budd, the third of her line, with extensive bright steel work and clean, hard worked decks. But it’s not the age that sets the measure of concours score, it’s where the boat’s been, and the stainless steel striker and ice breaker on the bow clearly hints at owner Maria Cristina Rapisardi’s high latitude adventures. One crew member quipped: “No we don’t want to win the Concours for a second time, that would be arrogant… we’re going for the regatta this time!”

Winning in Class last year, Dario Galvao’s Oyster 655 Rocas showed a keen determination, skipper Ian Smith declaring, “well, you’ve got to go for it”, replacing bungees and end caps especially as icing on the polishing cake.

Oyster 625 Lady Mariposa looked a picture, too, accessorised with neat leather bound quayside shoe chest and director’s chair.

Casting traditional biminis into the shade, new Oyster 885 Clare and good looking Oyster 54 Oyster Reach both boasted new tan, mesh-sided tensile awnings from Dolphin Sails. Beautifully cut following software generated ‘form finding’ lines, the fabric itself actually adds to stability of the structure with the same tension across the entire surface. Great stability and much simpler, reduced connection, so simpler erection. On Oyster Reach it’s over seven metres long and takes less than eight minutes to set. “As instant shade as you’re going to get,” says Dolphin’s Matthew Vincent.

Philip and Helen Scott’s new Oyster 575 Helen, sailed from their Norfolk, UK base to Palma specifically for this regatta, was more than shipshape too with, tempting in the heat of the day, decorative rope-work serving and displays even of Philip’s favoured Adnams ales! Topping that, the boat-named fenders were extraordinarily precision hung, swung, levelled and rotated.

Attention does so count, but who will win? To misquote Shakespeare, that other famed Britsh-best, Oyster of course being the first, it’s only when the racing’s sailed and done, that all the class course and Concours winners will reap their reward for most polished performance. But let’s not wish the regatta away, Thursday, Race Day One, promises brisk winds before lessening through to Saturday. So until then, let’s get to it!

Written by: Mike Owen
Photos: Martinez Studio