Insight: Claasen, sailing to success

Written by Gemma Fottles

Claasen Shipyards is one of the most highly respected sailing yacht builders in the world. Celebrating 30 years in business last year, the past three decades have seen the company go from strength to strength. From gaining fame on the race circuit with their almost-unbeatable flat bottomed yachts in the early 90s, to producing some of the world’s most beautiful classic yachts following the J-Class revival several years ago, Claasen quality and reputation have seemingly never faltered.

One of the biggest changes to come in recent times, however, appeared earlier this year in January, with the announcement that the shipyard has been jointly acquired by Vitters and the Claasen Management. A purely strategical move, both yards will retain their brand identities whilst at a management level, Claasen and Vitters will make and assess decisions collaboratively. There will be close ties in project management, with the two yards working with the same suppliers and contractors in the Netherlands.

Here we talk to Claasen’s CEO, Joachim Kieft, who sheds a little more light on their new, fruitful relationship with Vitters, the importance of the regatta scene, and how the sailing yacht market can be made more attractive to prospective owners.

Can you tell us about the changes that have been happening at Claasen this year regarding your relationship with Vitters?

Claasen and Vitters will keep their own brand name and identity where Claasen will focus on the classic designs and Vitters will continue the more modern designs. For our clients, Claasen will remain Claasen and Vitters will remain Vitters. Both shipyards have their own unique qualities and we will share knowledge and manpower so both Vitters and Claasen gain from the new relationship. The facilities will remain the same, but if the demand gets bigger, size-wise, then we would increase capacity.

How will Vitters benefit from this venture?

Together we can offer a wider range of superyachts - from 20 up to 90 metres. At Claasen a client can still build a custom built 20 metres for a competitive price, but when a repeat client would like to build a yacht which is too big for the capacity of Claasen, this client would have the yacht built at Vitters. Claasen has a small overhead with short communication lines and a hands on management which our clients like but we also realise that there are limits to our company set-up.

Do you think something needs to change in the industry to make the sailing yacht market more attractive to owners?

Yes, and there are a lot of things that could be done. The importance of a good service network is absolutely underestimated. I see a lot of shipyards who try to look after their clients, but not to the level where owners expect their service to be. The superyacht industry can definitely increase the quality level of service. The automotive industry is a good model for that, but not everything is transferrable.

Do you have any plans in motion to change that aspect of the industry at Claasen?

We will definitely increase our service network. We have a base in Palma, we are currently looking into the best location for a base in France and then we will probably expand to Newport and the Caribbean. That will be a service network that even other shipyards could benefit from. Down time should be close to zero - no matter where you are in the world. Time is the only thing you can’t buy with money, and most of our owners have very little to spare.

Is the regatta scene important to you?

Yes, it’s the fun bit. Our clients like to participate, to combine their competitive DNA with the fun of sailing with their friends and family and the ambience at the event. It’s also a social event where you have the chance to talk to other owners and combine a bit of business with pleasure. For shipyards it’s great to have your yachts racing together, and owners feel as though they are part of the Claasen family. When a client is happy with our product, he is the best part of my sales team.

The majority of the people you employ already have a sailing background. Do you feel this is an important aspect of Claasen?

The project managers all must know how to sail. How can you build a sailing yacht if you don’t know how to sail? Would you ever buy a car from somebody without a driver’s license?

It also gives a lot of trust to the owners, as well as the skippers.

We bring this kind of philosophy into every part of the build. I told a client that I couldn’t meet because I needed to do seatrails and he asked, ‘You do it yourself?’ I said, ‘Yes, why not?’ We stand behind the product and how it is built. The client said to me: ‘Now I know I’m at the right shipyard.’ I hadn’t really thought about it, because it just makes sense to me.

What are you working on right now?

We are now at construction number 152, so we’ve delivered around 60 vessels to date. Under construction we have a 90’ wooden classic, we just delivered a 127’ Atlante, which won the World Superyacht Awards in the 30 to 40 metre Sailing Yacht category. We have a lot of projects on the drawing board, ranging from 24 to 65 metres.

The full interview with Joachim Kieft is featured in the latest issue of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now and never miss another issue.

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