As the only New Zealand yard with a new build superyacht underway there is no doubt that Yachting Developments, owned and run by the Cook family, is one of the country’s best success stories.
Having recently delivered the 33.83 metre Germán Frers designed sloop, Cygnus Montanus, in July 2016, the yard team is currently hard at work on a 38.7 metre Michael Peters sportsfisher, Hull YD 1015, due for delivery in 2017. Current refit projects include the restoration of Windhaven, built in 1948 and considered by many as New Zealand’s first luxury yacht. “Enquiries are strong and we are busy,” says Ian Cook, Managing Director at Yachting Developments.
Founded in 1990 the company started life building composite race boats, including an America's Cup boat for Spain, before moving into the world of superyachts. Those race boat origins have never been lost and today many of the superyachts that the yard has built are known for being light, fast and competitive on the regatta circuit. Specialising in composite construction, the team have built a variety of projects including sailing yachts, catamarans and sports fishers, with the Yachting Developments fleet including the 37 metre Bliss, the 30.5 metre sailing catamaran Quintessential, the 36.7 metre Bristolian, and the 30 metre Antares III. Classic yachts are a particular passion of Cook’s, and more often than not the shed has modern day superyachts sitting side by side with classic yachts awaiting restoration. It was this passion that led the yard to securing its most prolific refit project to date, the major refit of Endeavour in 2010/2011.
While new build is the most prolific division, it is just one of the main arms of the business. When the Global Financial Crisis hit – with Yachting Developments losing two orders in the fallout – Cook responded by diversifying, making sure that the yard was not reliant on new build orders. The busy refit and restoration division, together with composite commercial, residential and smaller boat work, has allowed Cook to ride the peaks and troughs of a temperamental order book and, most importantly, keep his expert staff employed. “New Zealand’s marine industry has trained its staff so well that they are seen as very desirable and good value in other industries and are highly sought after so it’s important to hang on to your people,” says Cook. “We need to always be looking 10 years ahead and continuing to train and grow our staff so that the next generation of craftsmen and women are coming through.”
The yard’s apprenticeship scheme is something Cook is particularly passionate about, having served as Chairman of the Industry Training Organisation for several years, he strongly believes in the importance of helping to pass on the craftsmanship and knowledge of boatbuilding. 10% of the staff are apprentices and in addition to learning their trade on the job, Cook also has several classic yachts in the shed that he uses to teach the art of finishing, refit and restoration to the apprentices. “I enjoy seeing young fellas grow up and learn a trade,” he says.
Despite the wide range of projects being undertaken, composite is at the heart of all the yard’s work. “We are definitely composite focused and we are one of the few yards in the world specialising in what we do,” says Cook. “People have asked us if we want to build something in aluminium. While we could do it, they are better off going to a yard that wants to do that.”
Building custom projects to perfectly suit an individual owner is what the yard loves to do best and although they have considered developing concepts to present to the market, in the end the decision was made to not pursue this approach as a marketing tool. “We’re in it for the people that are passionate about what they want to do in terms of us realising their dreams. You’ve got to have the people come to you with what they want to do rather than you trying to tell them what they want,” says Cook. “Our fleet of yachts is the best example of the work we have done. From there people come to us with their own ideas.” Indeed the order for Cygnus Montanus came after her owners admired a Yachting Developments-built boat.
Whether the New Zealand new build industry can recover to levels of years past is inevitably a question regularly asked of Cook. “I doubt that it will return to where we were in the past, but in terms of new build resurgence the opportunity is certainly there. New Zealanders build a great product,” he says. “In the end it all comes down to the clients – new build is driven purely by a client’s wishes and desires to do something, and there’s no doubt we’re a customer driven market. Our distance from the market will continue to be our biggest challenge, and that’s been especially noticeable in the last five to seven years as owners have become much more time-poor.”
New Zealand has been proactive about promoting the country to yachts in recent years but Cook believes that yacht building is so personal that in many cases the build country takes a back seat to the relationship between yard and owner. “It shouldn’t be about a country, the relationships are most important, not where you are and what you cost,” he says. “What we do is very personal and the importance of good synergy between yard and owner can’t be underestimated. It’s a life long relationship.” Getting the balance right and staying true to family values and a commitment to quality is at the heart of every project the yard takes on. “You never want to think you’re being chosen because you’re the most competitive,” he says. “You want to be chosen because the owner relationship is right, everyone’s paying a fair price and you are delivering a quality item. It’s as simple as that.”
While he admits that boat building is not without its stresses, Cook feels lucky to do what he does. “I enjoy coming to work every day and creating things,” he says.”I don’t have one favourite part of the job, it’s right across the whole spectrum, it’s all good fun.”
This article was published in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper.Subscribe nowand never miss another issue.