Visiting yacht builder Moonen: ‘Demand for superyachts is peaking’

Despite global economic uncertainty, the superyacht rush is far from over. De Tijd was given a tour of the shipyard of the luxury yacht builder Moonen Yachts. “The Italians make the most yachts, we make the best.”

“Should I recreate the romantic scene from ‘Titanic’?” Victor Caminada asks our photographer with a smile. Together with the sales director of Moonen Yachts, we stand ten meters above the ground, on the bow of a new luxury yacht. The colossus is 34 meters long, has eight cabins – five for the guests, two for the crew and one for the captain – and has a starting price of 16 to 17 million euros.

Profile Moonen Yachts

  • Founded by Rien Moonen in 1981 near ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.
  • Since 2019 in the hands of the Australian couple Matthew and Louise Baxter. He is the founder of AM Group, a specialist in industrial doors, which was sold to Swedish lock giant Assa Abloy in 2019.
  • Has around 40 employees.
  • Delivers two ships per year.
  • Turnover for 35 million euros.

Here, on a dock on an industrial estate near ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, Moonen Yachts has been building the finest luxury yachts since 1981. On average, two roll off the production line each year, although that description belies the labor-intensive production process. During our visit, we navigate past a dozen artisans painstakingly painting the exterior of a yacht. ‘Sometimes as many as 100 people are active in the yard at the same time,’ says Caminada, who has worked for the yacht builder for just over a year but is experienced in the industry.

The luxury yacht market has been hot for several years now. With ‘thanks’ to the corona crisis, because a lot of rich people on the globe suddenly thought it was a good idea to sweat out lockdowns in their own floating palace. No fewer than 887 superyachts were sold in 2021, an increase of 77 percent compared to a year earlier. Compared to 2019, it is even a doubling according to figures from specialist Vessels Value. ‘The Corona effect is still lingering. We still feel a strong interest in the market,’ says Caminada.

With big names such as Feadship, Heesen, Damen Yachting and Oceanco, our northern neighbors have a strong superyacht sector whose annual turnover is estimated at €1 billion by the Dutch Maritime Technology sector association.

Caminada adds the figures: ‘Currently 66 yachts from 20 to 120 meters in length are under construction in the Netherlands, of which three are with us.’ Germany and Italy, two other major producers, signed 17 and 422 projects respectively. ‘The Italians build the most yachts, the Germans go for big ships and the Dutch build the best.’

Three-master of Bezos

Moonen works according to the ‘premium semi-custom’ principle. “This means that we build speculatively. We produce a yacht without immediately having a buyer for it. It has to emerge during the construction process, and so far it has always been successful,’ says Caminada, who previously worked for Damen Yachting for 18 years. The latter also offers ‘full custom’ – the customer can design his yacht from the beginning build up – on, like Oceanco. According to international media, the company from Alblasserdam, near Rotterdam, is about to deliver a 127 meter long three-mast to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.

To finance the start-up of a yacht, Moonen counts on its owners: Matthew and Louise Baxter. The Australian couple came on board in 2019 after Moonen had to file for bankruptcy. The shareholder at the time, a Mexican steel magnate, was suspected of corruption in his home country. ‘It was a shock, but now we are in calmer waters. The couple are passionate about sailing and are serious about investing in our business,’ says Caminada. “For example, the search for a new location is underway. As soon as we find them in the area, we will start building a modern quay where we can make yachts up to 50 meters long.’

At the existing yard, Caminada takes us to the lower compartment of the Moonen 110, where the interior gradually takes shape. ‘Our rule is that we never say ‘no’. We were already in the process of furnishing when the buyer announced that he wanted to let his own designer go. So we were allowed to break a part of it out,’ says the sales director, who then points to the back of the ship. “The buyer also found the swimming platform too small. That’s why we sawed off the back and now let’s build a bigger platform’.

If you order a yacht from Moonen, you must be patient for at least one to two years. Due to the shortage of raw materials and the faltering supply chain, not only the timing but also the price of a yacht is under pressure. “The lead time for our Caterpillar engines is 70 weeks. That’s a year and a half,” says Caminada, who emphasizes that these concerns are not jeopardizing production yet. “Wood, steel and aluminum have also become more expensive, although we don’t expect that . A deal is a deal. The customer experience comes first, they’re not a number.’

The sales director notes that these customers are getting younger. “While we used to see almost only people over fifty, people in their forties are more likely to visit. The young entrepreneurs who take risks and turn it into billionaires,’ says Caminada, who primarily recruits his clients through word of mouth. “There’s even an American billionaire who bought another Moonen yacht. He already had a used one and was so happy with our service. Nice compliment, isn’t it?’

Belgians and superyachts

Besides the handful of wealthy Belgians who own a luxury barge, there are a few entrepreneurs active in superyacht construction. Last year, Marc Coucke acted as the cornerstone investor in the IPO of The Italian Sea Group, which is valued at 275 million euros. Cobepa, the investment company of the AB InBev de Spoelberch family, has been a shareholder in British Princess Yachts for many years.

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