OYSTER TELLS ALL: Statement on Polina Star Keel Failure

Grid damage

Yes, that headline is tongue-in-cheek. But just a little. That Oyster has made a public statement at all is to their credit. I cannot remember any other instance where a production builder has made any sort of substantive statement after a keel failure. This one is not as substantive as it could be, but they at least admit there is (or was) a “possible” production defect.

It is worth remembering that Oyster Marine is no longer owned by its founder Richard Matthews, who sold out to a fledgling private equity company for $50M+ British pounds back in 2008. I personally tend to doubt it is merely a coincidence that the company’s first known major production problem, after many decades of building boats, occurred after vampire capitalists took control. I would be very surprised if a boat built by Matthews ever suffered damage like this. I have sail-tested a few Oysters and sailed on one once from Virginia to Bermuda through the edge of a hurricane, and I remember pre-buyout Oysters as being reassuringly overbuilt.

I have interspersed remarks in the text of Oyster’s statement below:

Update on Polina Star III, Southampton, 08 December 2015

Since the tragic loss of Polina Star III – Oyster 825-02 – in early July, Oyster has worked with a team of independent experts to review the design and construction of the Oyster 825. Since the recovery of Polina Star III from the seabed recently we have also worked with the various representatives of the Owner’s insurance Company and other stakeholders. The objective of this work was to establish beyond doubt how and why the loss occurred, the first of its kind in Oyster’s long history. [Perhaps not coincidentally, see comment above.] We are aware of the criticism in some quarters of our preference not to add to the speculation of what went wrong and to wait for the independent investigation to reach a conclusion; it is also true to say that in cases of this sort a company is also very much restrained from detailed comment by insurance and legal interests. [Code speak for: give us a break, we are under much pressure here.]

We believe however, that our fundamental and overriding priority must be to ensure the absolute safety of all our yachts and just as important to give owners and future owners every possible confidence that they are sailing in complete safety. For this reason we believe it would be unreasonable for us to delay any longer in sharing our findings of our investigations to date.

First, it is important to note that the Oyster 825 design took into account Classification Society Rules and other standards and has been independently verified. [We followed the rules so are not entirely at fault is always a good argument to make. Which itself is an argument for imposing stricter rules to solve the problem. Builders should not be allowed to skimp on keel integrity!]

Secondly, our inspection of the other 825s (not including Polina Star III) highlighted a possible weakness in the process used to build the inner structure of those vessels. [Seems to be saying something about the interior structural grid, but more facts needed. Please describe in as much detail as possible!] This process has not been used on any other Oyster Yacht built over the last ~40 years and will not be used again. [As close as we will ever get to the vampires admitting they messed up making some sort of change to the production process. But they are claiming the 825 is the only model affected. Hmmm…]

The only way to check the outcome of the process is by invasive examination taking significant parts of the structure apart. This has been done on Oyster 825-01 and 03 and following these investigations the structure has been rebuilt and, to be prudent, has been reinforced. Oyster 825-04 was only partially built so we were able to verify its structure before launch. The process for Oyster 825-05 onwards has reverted to well-proven methods used on the rest of the Oyster fleet of more than 800 yachts. [Note use of past tense verbs. It appears all the other 825s have already been fixed. Presumably all these measures were taken right after the keel failure in July, as two of the affected boats just finished the ARC, per below.]

Regrettably, the challenging salvage operations for Polina Star III was such that much of the structure was damaged during the recovery of the yacht and hence at this stage we are not able to confirm whether this possible weakness is related to the loss of the vessel. We will continue to work with the Owner and his representatives as the investigations progress. [This seems suspect on its face. Keel failure incidents don’t normally yield so much post-failure evidence, and the photos of the quality of that evidence belies this statement. I read “continue to work” as “continue to negotiate” and intuit that they don’t feel they can concede this point in those negotiations, which are likely difficult and heated. As far as we know the negotiations only started as a result of the recent publicity generated by the irate owner. I expect those equity guys are all writing the following words on Post-It notes they are right now slapping on their foreheads: Note to Selves–Do Not Sell Defective Yachts to Russian Billionaires. ]

Oyster Marine hopes and trusts that release of these findings – relating only to yachts of the 825 Class – will allay any fears that may exist in relation to safety and security and confirms above all that the Company’s fundamental priority is the safety of the sailing experience on each and every one of the yachts it launches. Also that its inspection processes will meet the exacting standards required to meet this commitment. [Code speak for: please, have mercy on us.]

Oyster Marine takes this opportunity to apologise to owners for any concerns they may have had regarding safety issues and the length of time taken to release these internal findings and thanks them for their patience and understanding. [Obligatory mea culpa, kept as terse as possible.]

We are delighted that the owners and crew of both Oyster 825-03 and 04 have demonstrated their continued confidence in their yachts and in Oyster and have just completed fast and successful passages in the 2015 ARC.

UPDATE: Per the comments below, the current owners are another investment group, HTP Investments BV, which “acquired Oyster exclusively by using the funds of the partners Wim de Pundert and Klaas Meertens,” who evidently are the two sole principals of the firm. They bought the company for 15M pounds, a substantial mark-down in price. These presumably are the two Dutch guys mentioned below, who allegedly own an Oyster 825 and just finished the ARC. Scanning through the ARC entry list, I see the two 825s, and am guessing they are on the Antiguan-flagged Albatros rather than the British-flagged Maegan. But that’s just a guess.

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5 Responses
  1. Alan

    Charlie; balmoral capital – a private equity company – bought Oyster from Richard Matthews in 2008 for around GBP 50 million. However, they basically were heading for the fiscal wall once the recession started to bite, and Oyster was then sold to HTP investments, which is the personal investment vehicle of two Dutch Guys in 2012.
    I’m sure they paid way less than 50 million. To all intents and purposes, oyster is currently in private ownership, and has been since 2012, which is probably before the 825 was developed.

    I don’t blame Oyster for developing what is essentially a form of inner liner – there are thousands of production boats out there that use this type of construction. These days, with 5 axis milling machines, etc, you can develop complex moulds for even very low volume production parts relatively inexpensively. Modern adhesives should also make the resulting structure as strong as more traditional fiberglass boatbuilding techniques.

    Who knows yet what ultimately caused this failure, it could be the design, the engineering, or the manufacturing process , but I don’t think you can pin the blame at this stage on ‘vampire capitalists’ cutting corners!

  2. Charlie

    @Alan: Thanks for the update on current ownership! But I don’t see that a subsequent transfer to another set of vampires undercuts my suspicion. And it is only that–a suspicion. They are telling us in their statement, however, that they changed something in producing at least this one model, though they do not tell us what.

  3. You should be aware that the D

    @Alan: Thanks for the update on current ownership! But I don’t see that a subsequent transfer to another set of vampires undercuts my suspicion. And it is only that–a suspicion. They are telling us in their statement, however, that they changed something in producing at least this one model, though they do not tell us what.

  4. Waterboy

    (Bad post earlier) You should be aware that the Dutch Guys / Owners of Oyster personally own one of the affected 825’s – which they just sailed across the Atlantic on the recent ARC. Having bitten themselves in the foot the Vampires are likely to ensure this issue is properly addressed!

  5. Charlie

    @Waterboy: That’s very interesting, thanks! I have updated the post above with some links. Do you know if they are on Albatros? And how do you know this???

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