Changing tack

Changing Tack

Sailing yacht vs motorboat

On a summer’s day in 2017, Cees Heuker of Hoek was sailing from Valencia to Ibiza on a friend’s yacht. As he listened to the sound of the boat surging forwards on the breeze, he had a sudden idea. “A thought just hit me like lightning. I should buy a yacht.”

“It was nice, so relaxing,” he explains. “There was no noise. We were working a little bit on the course. And I saw that a yacht is like your house; every time you go out it’s your home.”

Heuker of Hoek already owned a boat, a beautiful 38ft Wajer open motorboat. For five years he had kept and enjoyed it in the south of France near St Tropez. But with a sailing yacht, he could see different horizons opening up.

“After five or six years, I really thought that a motorboat is more about getting to a destination than enjoying the journey. Yes, it is an advantage that you can go from St Tropez to Monaco [quickly] but after so many years it felt a little bit like a taxi.

“And after a long time of working, I wanted to do something else with my life, with my head.”

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When he discovered that hull number 12 of the Oyster 595 could be ordered for delivery in 2023, he realised he had a life-changing decision to make. 

“I stopped my car on the way to work and said: do I want to do this? Should I stop working and hand the company over to the management so I can enjoy every part of the Oyster dream?

“I said to myself, why not? I was 58. I was privileged to be able to work and still go and do something else. My partner said to me: “If you wait until 63 to order a boat and you get it when you’re 65, and then you have to learn what you need to know to sail it, you’ll be nearly 70. You don’t know how you will be. You can’t look in the future. Later is now.

“So it was like a bell ringing. There’s never a perfect time. I decided that I have to do it now. Sailing would be a way for a new experience, a once in a lifetime adventure.”

The versatility of sail

Cees Heuker of Hoek is one of a small but steadily growing number of people willing to make the move from power to sail, seeing both its environmental advantages and an oceangoing yacht’s world-girdling capabilities. 

“We have been thinking that people in motorboats would start to think about a sailing boat and of ways to motor less and minimise their burn,” says Paul Adamson, Oyster Yachts CCO.

“And maybe there’s a generational thing as well. When somebody goes to buy a boat, they have to buy it for the whole family. The kids think it is less and less cool to turn up in anchorage with two big diesel engines running. A yacht has far less impact on the environment.”

Following the launch of the new Oyster 495 this summer and its tour of Scandinavia, Adamson and his colleagues have heard more frequent conversations about moving from power to sail. “It was properly the first time I have had couples, who are motorboat owners, coming on board saying they were thinking of changing to sail and were there to see what it is all about,” he says. This heightened interest mirrors the rapid adoption of electric cars and is being driven by the same concerns about sustainability and independence from fossil fuels.

Sailing may appear to require specialised skills, peppered as it is with esoteric terminology. The modern reality, however, is that automated systems make modern yachts comparatively easy to sail, and the navigation, boat handling and mooring skills used in motorboating are readily transferable.

It is also a clubbable sport, with a huge range of fun, cruising and racing events and the strong sense of a global community making the sailing world remarkably friendly and open.

“You don’t need to have sailed as a kid. Sailing is a welcoming sport,” says Paul Adamson. “There is a massive social side to it, with a huge variety of events such as the ARC Transatlantic Rally and the Oyster World Rally, where you can meet up and bring your friends. You can also get  far off the beaten track with a sailing boat.”

It’s true a sailing yacht is more complex to operate,  but Adamson says: “It can seem complicated; people have to learn a whole new skill. But that is getting easier. If they invest in a bigger Oyster they will have a crew, or we can put a crew on a smaller Oyster to look after them and train them. What I have noticed is that once a motorboater jumps on a sailboat, they are surprised that they have the space on board and all of the comforts they are used to.”

When somebody goes to buy a boat, they have to buy it for the whole family. The kids think it is less and less cool to turn up in anchorage with two big diesel engines running.
Paul Adamson, Oyster CCO
Crew onboard Oyster 885 Lush

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A well-found sailing yacht such as an Oyster has a far wider range of operating conditions than most power boats; can keep making progress safely in almost any conditions; and will open up the world in a way in which they cannot be rivalled.

It also synchs with a change in how people are thinking about their impact on the world. Conversations about topics such as solar power, hydrogeneration and lithium batteries for long periods of self-sufficiency and silent running are now the norm, mirroring the shift from fossil fuel to electric cars.

“The cost of fuel costs is also impacting motorboats,” notes Paul Adamson. “On a motorboat, you could burn 1,000lt in a weekend. On an Oyster, the same amount will easily support you on an ocean crossing.”

Adamson thinks it is part of a wider reassessment of life and priorities that coalesced in the course of the pandemic. “People want to see more and do more. We’ve seen it with the Oyster World Rally and the places that sailing boats go. People think it’s really cool to set off across an ocean and explore, and it is achievable.”

Satellite communications technology at sea is keeping pace with land-based infrastructure, and the new acceptability of Zoom and Teams meetings makes it possible to work or run a business from onboard – numerous Oyster owners do just that. It has also altered many people’s long-term outlook.

“Going sailing is true escapism and while, traditionally, people would wait to retire or sell their business, now they are thinking, why wait?” Adamson observes.

Now or never

From his young days as a windsurfer and early career in the Navy, Mikki Schestowitz always dreamed of having a sailing boat. Life got busy though and a motorboat was a neater fit – he still owns an Azimut 77. Then, in 2020, he visited the Düsseldorf Boat Show and fell for the Oyster 565.

“I was looking at a 64ft yacht and had even been sailing on one but thought it was too big; I could not take such a responsibility,” he said. “And I didn’t want to get a skipper, I wanted to do it myself. Then I saw a video about the Oyster 565 and the story of how it was developed. I went to Düsseldorf and thought, ‘I am 62, it is now or never.’”

Everything about the Oyster attracted him: the standard of build, the joinery, the sense of luxury, the large, bright Seascape windows – and the company ethos itself. “I said to myself, ‘you need the possibilities of an Oyster from what you have seen’. Not just the look, the whole package was a game-changer. You feel more secure making this [buying] decision. Honestly, if it had not been for Oyster, I don’t think I would have done this.

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twin helm station oyster yachts

Schestowitz ordered his boat and Oyster 565/09 ZiGi, was launched this year. Initially, his family thought he was crazy.

"Do you know what you are doing?’ they said, but in a humorous way. No, they are excited for me and I believe I am right. And if I am, I will sell the motorboat.

He will join the boat for the passage from Spain to Corfu where he will keep her to sail in the Mediterranean. One “gentleman crew” will look after the boat, he says, but he will skipper Zigi himself when on board.

For him, sailing an Oyster strikes exactly the right chord. “I don’t like the image of a motorboat or having a crew. I would rather be alone with my wife and family. I always look at a sailing yacht and I know that it’s tougher but it’s much more meaningful.”

Opening up the world

Owning a large sailing yacht and planning an adventurous voyage is a complex project, but for Cees Heuker of Hoek, “that was part of the attraction.”

“When I retired a couple of months ago, it was because I wanted to enjoy it,” he says. “You have to investigate about technology and learn to use the instruments and to manage what will be your house. I made the decision last year that I wouldn’t solve all the problems about family, kids and business, but I will make it work.

“[In terms of] learning to be a sailor, I have been on courses and I will do it step by step. That part, in conjunction with the experience of being totally in control of a yacht of 65ft, is really exciting. The boat doesn’t bring you from A to B, you have to do it.”

He sees this as merely the start of his journey. His new Oyster will launch next year, too soon for him to join the 2024 Oyster World Rally he feels, so he is planning to take part in 2026. “I need two years to become a sailor. So I have time from 2023 to learn and get confident and be ready in the summer of 2025 to leave the Med and sail across the Atlantic to join the rally.” 

Migrating from power to a larger sailing yacht will open up a world of experiences that he did not imagine, and were not possible before. “I am privileged still be able to go and do something else. I see it as a gift to ourselves, and to my family, my two boys, and my girlfriend’s two kids, to be a part of that dream.”


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