Most vacation home buyers gravitate to beach destinations, mountain locales or golf and ski communities. But for some in the very deep-pocketed-set, only a superyacht will do. Defined as boats that are at least 90 feet long, these yachts are floating mansions that travel wherever their owners want them to go.
The Netherlands-based Heesen Yachts is one of the world’s best-known superyacht builders and constructs steel and aluminum boats that sell for anywhere from $39 million to more than $112 million. Founded in 1978, the company has 13 superyachts under construction at its shipyard in Oss, about an hour’s drive from Amsterdam.
One example is Pollux. Costing 43 million euros, or about $48 million, and expected to be finished in the fall of 2020, the yacht is 180 feet long, has six bedrooms and a more than 1,000-square-foot sun deck with a large bar and Jacuzzi.
The company’s chief executive, Arthur Brouwer, said that most of Heesen’s clients count their yacht purchases as their fifth or sixth vacation homes and have long wanted to own superyachts; they’re usually from the United States, Europe or the Middle East.
Below are edited excerpts from a recent interview.
Do interested buyers work with Heesen’s architects to design a yacht that your company builds from scratch or do they buy a yacht that you’ve already built?
We see a combination of both, which reflects the yacht industry in general. For custom projects, clients hire a naval architect and designer to conceive the yacht. Then, they find the shipyard they want to work with. So, when we get a custom project, the boat has already been pretty much designed.
But while our company started off only as a custom yacht builder, selling yachts we’ve already built and working with buyers on the design details is a bigger part of our business today. In the industry, this is known as yachts built “on spec.” It’s a segment that’s been big for us ever since the 2008 recession, when people became more keen on reducing their financial exposure. The growth of this segment is also indicative of the modern client, who is often cash-rich but time-poor.
How long does it take to build a typical yacht from its design phase to the very last detail?
Anywhere from three to four years. The interior design process tends to take the longest, especially if clients don’t know what they want. It’s not unusual for us to go back and forth with a client at least 20 times on the design.
Where do you confer with buyers about what they want? Do they come to your headquarters, or do you go to them?
For the first meeting, we usually fly to the client to discuss basics. But they all eventually come to our shipyard in Oss at least three or four times while their yachts are being built.
They can see the progress firsthand, give further design input and request any changes before it’s too late. But before getting to this stage, actually buying the boat is a pretty elaborate process that can take more than a year.
Prospective clients typically reach out to us directly or learn about the work we do at a yacht trade show or through yacht brokers.
We will fly out to meet them wherever they are in the world a few times, and before they commit, they have the help of a whole jamboree of people to vet us, including their lawyers.
Can you talk about what goes into the interior design of a yacht? Is it different from designing a home on the land?
Yes. A yacht moves, so unlike a typical home, the furniture needs to be built-in or firmly rigged to the boat. Also, on a boat, designers tend to avoid sharp corners, which could be potentially very painful, and instead opt for soft-cornered furniture. And the materials need to be durable, because they are exposed to UV rays, moisture and corrosion from salt.
What are some of the most over-the-top amenities or design features that clients have asked for on their boats?
Foldout platforms that extend over the water and make a boat’s socializing space larger; loggias, which are small covered balconies attached to bedrooms that give owners total privacy; cascading waterfalls spread over multiple decks; multiple swimming pools; and outdoor cinemas.
Are there certain features that drive up a boat’s cost?
The engineering that goes into creating speed, such as big engines and lightweight materials, is what makes a boat most expensive. Also, state-of-the-art sound systems and home theaters drive the price up.
If the owner sells, do you renovate the yachts for the next buyer?
Usually, yes. We have an “aftersales” department which connects buyers with shipyards that specialize in renovations. Our engineers and designers work with the shipyards on the redesigns.
Do people live on their superyachts for a few weeks at a time?
Some clients live on the boats for 30 weeks a year. They have their offices on board and work as they sail from port to port. Others spend only a few weeks a year onboard.
What are some of the most popular destinations for your yachts?
St. Tropez in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter are the most popular year after year. But an increasing number of our owners are exploring more far-flung locations such as Thailand, Papua New Guinea and the Galápagos. The beauty of owning a yacht is that nowhere is out of bounds.