The Tiger’s Tale


With the Oyster Regatta - Palma 2016 about to start next week, we are looking forward to a fantastic week on the water. We are delighted to see that Oyster 625, Tiger, is signed up to participate amongst the fleet of 37 yachts. Read more below about Oyster 625, Tiger, as published in the 2015 Oyster Magazine

In a light morning breeze she sits crisp and neat, stern to the dock, warps smart, sentinel white spars standing tall above true navy blue topsides. Her ensign lifts gently, lightly dusting the name on the stern, Tiger. And there in that gesture we begin this Tiger’s tale.

The naming of any vessel tells a story or two but with this impeccable Oyster 625 there’s an intriguing, intertwined spiral of familial and naval history stretching right back to Napoleon’s surrender and Nelson’s Victory. It’s quite a web…

Tiger was launched in 2013, commissioned for charter, with the build managed from Australia by Rebecca and Simon Pillar. While Simon is a lifelong sailor on everything from dinghies to offshore cruiser/racers, Rebecca sails with shorter history but increasing keenness. Their journey to Oyster began with recommendations from both a superyacht skipper and a friend then involved in the company and who encouraged a visit.

Simon, whose business is based in Sydney, Australia and who commutes between there and England, takes up the story, “I went up to the yard for the day and as I walked into the different areas of the shed where the guys were making doors and cabinets, and saw these older craftsmen with their apprentices beside them, I was impressed.
This old style quality manufacturing, what a wonderful thing. I had already been a little seduced just by the attractiveness of the boats themselves but then when I actually understood what went into them, and from that what a quality product it was, I felt this was something that would be a great privilege with which to be associated.”

The family discussion began. “We were conscious, being based in Australia, that usage would necessarily be restricted... was it the sensible thing to do? I think one of the things for me, and perhaps this is the circle back to history and upbringing, was that I reflected with Rebecca on the joy and benefits a family gets from spending time on a boat together, away from the rat race, away from the screens and all those sort of things. Just enjoying the great outdoors in the way that you do, living together as a family in close quarters. My memories of that, growing up, particularly with my brothers and father but also the broader family, were very treasured. I felt it was something that would be lovely to share with our children as well as with our friends and others. Building Tiger for charter seemed to be the ideal solution.”

Oyster 625 Tiger Traveling

Simon, one of four children, just as he and Rebecca now have four youngsters themselves, was born to a naval family, his father the second ever engineer achieving the rank of full Admiral, then rising to Fourth Sea Lord before retiring into the role of Governor of Jersey in the Channel Islands. Wherever the posting, the family pastime was sailing, saltwater coursing through the collective heart, fuelling adventure and independence.

Faslane Naval Base on Scotland’s River Clyde provided Simon his first dinghy sailing in Bosuns. Yacht sailing followed on. “I have two distinct memories of my first experience, a holiday on a 28ft woodenbuilt boat called Helen with a petrol engine, feeling sick on the petrol fumes, then rounding the Isle of Arran in a Force 6 or 7 thinking we were going to die in the chop and the wind, and my brother Nick trying to comfort me. And yet we overcome these things,” Simon says with a laugh. “We do, don’t we? I’m starting to see it in my own children already!”

With his father’s appointment as Commanding Officer of the Royal Naval Engineering College Manadon near Plymouth, the bug bit deeper and brothers Simon, Tim and Nick with father Bill sailed widely as family and also with students aboard the college fleet of Ohlson 35s and Morgan Giles 40s.

Always extending the reach of those around him, Pillar Senior was a caring, encouraging mentor, and not just to family. On his passing in 1998, The Times newspaper wrote of Admiral Sir William Pillar, “His inspirational talents were never put to better use than at Manadon [Naval College] where he made it his business to know, understand and guide every one of the young students. He was also able to indulge his passion in sailing. Convinced of the character building effect of offshore yachting, he would often accompany crews of students, but never as skipper and always taking his turn at menial tasks.”

This was his way and afloat perhaps his best memorable days were those aboard a former light cruiser converted to helicopter cruiser. “Pa always used to refer to her as a truly happy ship,” says Simon, and a quick delve into online forums shows that her crew still write of that shared happiness on board alongside Chief Engineer “Bill Pillar, a real gentleman.” That ship was HMS Tiger, now decommissioned. 

“She was always regarded as a happy ship among those who served on her over the years and I guess these things reinforce themselves. So when people joined the crew, joined the officers’ mess, knowing that the ship has this reputation, it self-perpetuated, this happiness. And this was the reason we felt that the name Tiger was so appropriate for a boat that would be sailed by a lot of different people. It was a celebration of a life well lived, and a life that loved sailing, and this notion of ‘a happy ship’ seemed a worthy thing to share with others.”

That connection influenced then not just the name but aspects of design from the navy blue of the hull to the battleship grey upholstery in cockpit and deck saloon and also, importantly, the two framed prints on the main bulkhead below. To port, a nostalgic black and white, crew signed photograph of HMS Tiger from Simon’s father’s time aboard, and to starboard a more cryptic antique print of an early 19th century naval scene, the surrender of Napoleon to Captain Maitland, Commander of King George III’s 74-gun, three-masted HMS Bellerophon, the ship that had dogged the Gallic Emperor’s steps for 20 years. Nicknamed Billy Ruffian, after three fleet actions and early operation under Nelson’s command, this was to be her last seagoing service. 

But the name and legend Bellerophon perpetuated on the stern of later newborn craft including, until an almost immediate name change, yes, the illustrious HMS Tiger. Tiger was born Bellerophon. Now hold that mention of Nelson in mind. We’ve another spiral yet to intertwine.

Oyster as builder, designer and stylist is, of course, well known for and practised in completing highly personalised interiors. The planning for Tiger involved extensive discussions with Jo Humphreys, the wife of Oyster’s long-standing naval architect partner Rob Humphreys. Jo has served up more than a dozen Oysters and was engaged to develop the theme.

Simon comments, “Although we were many thousands of miles away, we had a lovely relationship with Jo, and Rebecca was very involved. It’s a nice thing to build a warm friendship with somebody who’s intimately involved in designing something that is close to your heart, and we felt that way about Jo.”

Jo picks up the story herself, “My work on Oysters is often with clients like Simon and Rebecca who may be abroad with it difficult for them to be as involved as they might want. So I worked closely with them finding out the sort of things they like, with a lot of talking, Skyping and sharing of images. You get a feel and then together arrive at a hybrid of thinking, theirs and mine.”

With Tiger, key design parameters were the grey upholstery and the prints of ships in the saloon and, with the added import of the bright shades of Australia, lively orange and sand tones which were introduced in the soft furnishings to build on the bold blue in the especially commissioned paintings coming on board.

“To help make it as bright possible,” says Jo, “I incorporated combinations of those colours in slightly different ways for variety and used, actually, a fairly traditional design with banding and inserts for those subtle differences.”

The technique might be traditional but with the bold and contrasting colourways the effect is pleasantly contemporary. For practicality as well, elements such as bed covers are specifically design-cut for easy outboard-side tucking and made from crease and crush resistant fabrics that won’t be affected by mould or UV light. Sensible, simple, good looking, and no-fuss tidiness.

Oyster 625 Tiger on a body of water

A final detail but one determined early in the planning was a facsimile of HMS Tiger’s crest to be mounted behind the nav station, overviewing the new namesake’s course work. A replica was found but disappointed. Jo then uncovered a treasure, Ian Brennan, a man who only by happenstance found a second career in sculpting and is now, from his garage workshop, one of England’s finest, unusually both carving and casting, and with expertise including heraldry and antiquarian recreations.

With extraordinary attention to detail, exemplars include significant contribution to the restoration after fire of Windsor Castle’s Great Hall, to Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, and then the royal crest and ceremonial sword for HRH Prince William of Wales. For such a modest man his granted title is extraordinary, ‘Sculptor to the Most Notable Order of the Greater and Most Honourable Order of the Bath’. His work is a treat and he came up trumps for Tiger, inmore ways than might be expected.

Involved a while back in the long running restoration of Nelson’s flagship Victory in Portsmouth Dockyard on England’s south coast, Ian was permitted to exit with ancient timbers stripped from the interior. It seems back then the value of historic recyclables was not necessarily clear to all as the guy on the gate supposed Ian was in for a good bonfire that weekend. Ian retorted, “Not exactly what I was thinking!”

“These years later,” says Simon, “Ian kindly suggested he could carve the naval crown out of the original Victory lower gun deck timber, so that’s what the naval crown on the crest is made of, which is a wonderful link to the Napoleonic past.”

Tiger’s connection was made complete. That made for a happy ship, too. 

That completeness has remained and Tiger, with permanent crew Peter and Jill Whitelaw, has spent her time since delivery in the Mediterranean with the family enjoying lengthy spells on board, mostly cruising but enjoying, with all brothers on deck, last autumn’s Oyster Regatta Palma. This year the focus is further east: Montenegro, Croatia and perhaps Turkey. Tiger is also available for charter through Oyster Charters, her four guest cabin plan making her perfect even for two families to enjoy together everything that Tiger has to offer… including her unique tale.

Words by Mike Owen   
Photos by Nico Martínez & Mike Owen