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Building the new “mini megayachts”

Interview with Bram Kooltjes and Yoeri Bijker, Van der Valk Shipyard, and Guido de Groot, Guido de Groot Design

After an initial freeze in activity when Covid-19 first arrived, we are seeing a significant change now. Clients have not been scared away. In fact, this could be Van der Valk’s best year ever. In the last two months, demand has doubled from our original expectations for the year, while the project quality is abnormally high.

In some cases, Covid-19 has highlighted new uses for yachts. Clients can see that there may be future Covid ‘waves’ and are thinking ‘what if I had a boat’.

Happily, the supplier problems which arose at the start of the epidemic, particularly relating to component supplies in Italy and France, are now behind us. Perhaps the sole problem is that non-European clients can no longer visit us to contribute to the building process.

However, clients are adapting to the situation, and for the first time we are seeing clients conclude projects valued at as much as $10m by telephone. Clients are saying ‘it is what it is’ and finding a new way of doing business.

At Van der Valk, we are also benefiting from a significant new trend in the market. While vessel sizes being built at the yard are generally increasing, in the wider yacht market we are actually seeing a lot of owners downsizing from 40-50 meter to 30-40 meter boats. There are several reasons for this. Clients are downgrading because it’s more practical in terms of price, number of crew, choice of captain, maintenance, mooring space. The lack of mooring spaces for large ships is a real issue, and slips for vessels in the 30-40m segment are not only more plentiful but more convenient. Owners want to get more involved in shore life, spend time in the marina and avoid going from anchor bay to shore by tender all the time.

So, clients are downsizing to 30 meters but still want the experience of their 50m yacht and the same level of detailing.

We are basically being asked to create ‘mini megayachts’.

This trend is creating interesting design and production challenges, as our regular design collaborator, Guido de Groot, can confirm:

Clients are downgrading but they still want the living and entertainment areas of a larger ship. We are achieving this through more height, and clever uses of space. But the packaging is getting more complicated, it requires creativity from designers to achieve this while keeping the design wellproportioned and attractive,” says Guido.

Indeed, when I started my career a three-deck yacht of 30 metres was barely accepted within the industry and amongst clients. But today as yachts become more architectural people accept different proportions. In these cases, often the client cares less about how the yacht looks from the exterior – even if this is painful for a designer!”.

However downsizing trends suit a boutique yard like Van der Valk. There are not many yards that can provide the customisation needed, and build in steel or aluminium at this size”.

At Van der Valk, our strength lies in customisation. Every yacht is unique and every client feels he or she is creating something personal even within the semi-custom model ranges.

A lot of clients cannot get what they want when they are fixed to a production shipyard model.

And for a lot of clients, it is also about the fun of the project. At Van der Valk, the client is involved in the building process and can come to the yard and see people working on their boat.

Being a one-stop shop also means we can control quality carefully, adapt quickly to changes, and guarantee shorter delivery times. Our yard in Waalwijk can carry out everything from keel laying until delivery, and we employ our own welders, metal workers, mechanics, carpenters, electricians, engineers.

Taking part in this process is RINA, which these days is involved from the very start of the project, predicting challenges sometimes even before a naval architect is appointed.

As we specialise in customisation, it is sometimes difficult to predict the future, as we cannot always anticipate what clients will want. But it is our job to conceive of new designs, to invest in ideas and exceed expectations, and think out of the box to get our clients excited.

Guido agrees: “We have to think ahead. My role as a designer is to come up with concepts. At the moment there is a lot of discussion over autonomous yachts – there are a lot of young people in the industry focusing on this – while of course creating environmentally friendly energy supply remains a hot topic”.