Richard Matthews, the founder and former owner of Oyster Marine, is a living legend in British yachting circles, so it was something of a treat during MYS 2013 to chat with him aboard Twilight, his 125-foot Oyster delivered last May. He sold the Oyster brand to Balmoral Equity at the height of its success with the intention of sailing away into well-funded retirement. But things didn’t quite work out as planned. At the time of the surprise sale, he had already embarked on a joint venture with the Koch industrial group in Turkey to expand the fleet and build the Oyster 100’ and 125’ designed by Ed Dubois at the RMK shipyard in Istanbul. Part of the agreement was that he would take ownership of the first 100’ for promotional purposes.

“Yachts being the big toys that they are, I thought a 125-footer sounded better than a 100-footer, so I upgraded,” he recalls. “But for various reasons the build was delayed and you’re effectively talking to the owner of a superyacht that took five years to deliver and has been in commission for less than five months.”   

Twilight brings the tally of boats (including dinghies and a 40’ runabout) owned by Matthews to no less than 15. His first cruising yacht was a 39’ ketch and at some stage he has owned every model in the Oyster range, but he has always been a competitive sailor at heart, having won the East Coast offshore championship five times and the inshore championship three times, participated in 21 Fastnet races and spearheaded a British AC syndicate. His hands-on racing experience, however, has coloured his enjoyment of his biggest yacht to date.

“Owning a superyacht is completely different,” he points out. “One difference is that it’s a big step up in terms of comfort and amenities, so it’s easier to entertain non-sailing guests. But it also means that most of the handling is taken on by the crew, which is a bit of a downer for someone like me because I feel detached from the business of operating the boat.”

Matthews wittily likens the feeling to when Philip Hunloke, sailing master to King George V, reportedly asked his royal patron if he would like to take the helm of Britannia: “No, thank you,” replied the King. “I never take anything before luncheon.”

Nevertheless, at the time of our conversation he had already covered plenty of sea miles aboard Twilight with cruises to Malta, Sardinia (during the Dubois Cup), Corsica, Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. He originally intended sailing the yacht round the world, but because delivery was delayed this project was shelved.

“My life had moved on the meantime,” he explains. “I was two years older, the world economy went down the tubes and I got back into the boatbuilding business when I set up Gunfleet. Plus I still have Zig Zag, my Oyster 82, and 200 feet of Oyster yachts is probably a bit too much for one owner!”

Asked whether he was ever tempted to buy a large motoryacht, his response was immediate and emphatic:

“Never. It’s just not my kind of lifestyle. I’d much rather spend an afternoon sailing upwind in 25 knots of breeze than drinking wine on the aft deck. But I realise I’m not a typical owner. I was talking to my friend Sir Irvine Laidlaw here on the dock in Monaco; we have a lot of things in common – he’s owned a string of race boats and he’s a helicopter pilot like myself – but he’s not interested in a boat like Twilight at all!”

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