Commissioning Manager, George Newman is no exception. Discover how his extensive experience and background as a skipper of classic and Oyster yachts helps him in the vitally important and meticulously detailed business of commissioning our boats.
MEET GEORGE NEWMAN, OYSTER YACHTS COMMISSIONING MANAGER, WHOSE EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE HELPS HIM IN THE VITALLY IMPORTANT AND METICULOUSLY DETAILED BUSINESS OF COMMISSIONING OUR YACHTS.
I became a sailing professional right after I left school, heading to the Mediterranean to join the Classic racing circuit, sailing vintage boats. I spent 10 years on Mariquita, a 125 ft gaff-rigged cutter, starting as a deckie, then working my way up through bosun to the first mate to captain, which I did for five years. In the early years, the owner used to join us for one day a year, but the new owners came for every single race – eight regattas a year – and we worked hard to get the most out of her. It was great fun but a very long season. Starting in May in the south of France, moving on to Italy, the Balearics, mainland Spain, back to Italy and finishing up in France at the end of the summer. After I met my wife on the circuit and we had a family, I wanted to move to a more shore-based job.
After the Classics, I ran an Oyster 745 for two years. It was much cruisier (literally!) than the Classic circuit, a much slower pace, much calmer – we’d do just three Oyster Regattas every year. I got to know the boat, and understand all the systems and how they worked practically, so it was a logical step into commissioning.
I am lucky; every day is different. I’m deeply involved with boats; none of them is the same, even those of the same model. Owners specify different systems and configurations, so there are new considerations every time. We are always busy too – in 2022, we will be handing over 25 yachts ranging from the 495 right up to our biggest model, the 885.
Before we start work on a boat, we’ll send a team to the yard, during the testing phase, to fully understand the specification. This ensures we have a good idea of what to expect when she arrives. Most of the commissioning takes place in Ipswich, apart from the new 495, which is done in Southampton.
A boat will arrive on a Monday from Wroxham. We’ll launch her on Tuesday and the first thing is to get the mast stepped and the rig in. It’s a complex job and we work for a week to set up the rig, tensioning it and getting the sails on. At the same time, we’ll be connecting the hydraulics and electrics, making sure all the systems are running properly. At the start of the following week, we get out on the water to tune the sails and get her sailing at her best. We go through all the systems and use them as much as possible in real situations to ensure everything works properly. We have incredibly high standards, which ensures everything is as it should be – perfect. We put all the systems and moving parts through real-life simulations to test functionality, just like an owner will when they’re on a passage.
Time with the boat is at the heart of our success. A well-commissioned Oyster is what sets us apart from the competition and a worldwide reputation for building the world’s finest sailing yachts. Commissioning takes between four and twelve weeks, depending on the size of the boat. And there is no better way to test things than taking her out and using her as much as we can in real sailing situations – and that takes time. Our commissioning logs are extensive, with over 100 pages of checks and tests. We could easily sign off hundreds of checks moored up in the marina, but it’s only when you’re heeled over in a stiff breeze, with all systems running, do you feel like you’re testing her properly. It is about attention to detail and we like to take it to the extreme!
We take a yacht out on a 24-hour passage and then test everything simultaneously – from the cookers to the showers and bilge pumps, along with electronics and navigation systems. And if we can get a few hours of upwind sailing in, we’ll put her through her paces, which is the best way to shake everything down, in the same way the owner will when they set off on their adventures.
After all the testing, we put together a snagging list which we work through with the yard to ensure she meets the owner's expectations at the handover. When we do finally hand her over, we have absolute peace of mind that everything is in great shape. Our meticulous attention to detail helps mitigate extensive warranty snags and, most importantly, ensures the owner enjoys their Oyster from the moment they take the helm.
It depends on the size of the yacht but it’s time-consuming regardless. We take four weeks to commission a 495, followed by a two to three-day handover with the owners. At the other end of the scale, the 885 is a much bigger and more complex yacht, so you are looking at a ten–twelve week commissioning process, with a week or even two of handover.
It is full-on and there is a huge amount to take in. Some owners film the whole experience so they can go back to revisit and digest it later. Most usually have some knowledge and experience, so they’re not starting from scratch. No matter what level of experience, all owners leave us feeling confident with their yacht and we are always here for them for further questions once they have got to know her better.
With a smaller model, handovers start on a Monday, when we do a final polish to make sure everything is in tip-top condition. On Tuesday, the owners meet the team and their Project Manager who has supported them throughout the build from day one. Then begins a walk-through of the boat from stem to stern. We look under the beds, lift floor hatches and open the headliners to reveal all the systems, so they know where everything is, literally.
The second day is spent out on the water with the sailmakers to demonstrate the sails. The owners learn how to set them and how to work all the automatic sailing systems, winches and windlass.
Day three and four involve going over the deck and the IT team come on board to show them how to use the plotters and comms equipment. At the end, the Oyster After Sales team bring in all the spares.
For larger models, we follow the same handover process, but the time required expands to consider the size of the boat and the complexity of the systems. As you can imagine, the bigger the yacht, the more there is to get your head around – we probably impart a lifetime’s knowledge in the space of a week or two!
It’s an amazing job all round. I get to spend time with these incredible yachts, experiencing the entire Oyster fleet. Nothing beats putting a new yacht through her paces with a great team around you. It’s more fun in summer than in February, but it certainly beats a desk job! I think the best part of the job is when the owners arrive for the handover. Typically, it’s the end of a lengthy project. It is the first time they have seen their boat finished and looking stunning. They are usually giddy with excitement and very emotional – who wouldn’t be!
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