Tansu Yachts in a Turkish superyacht designer, and builder. So far, the yard has successfully delivered superyachts Ceylan, Nomade (now called Bar Tender), Only Now, Alyssa and So’Mar, as well as a large number of smaller vessels, all known for their uber-cool styling. SYT’s Merijn de Waard met up with company founder Risa Tansu, at his design office in Istanbul.
How did your career in boat design, and boat building start?
After college I was working in the interior design and furniture business for 5 years. Then I opened a restaurant in Istanbul, and I thought it would support my design business. I could invite my clients and have fun with them and maybe it would also make money. The business actually went very well so I quit my design business. I fully concentrated on the restaurant business for four and a half years, then I sold the place. It was packed every night of the week, so we made a lot of money out of that.
It’s like a nuclear sub, having a place like that packed with people. You don’t have a luxury to run out of ice. You should have the food always in the best form, and it’s a very demanding kind of business. So it is tiring, you have to be there all of the time on top of the business. After selling it I was relaxed for 20 days, and then after 20 days I started to get bored.
I was 35 by then and I was thinking about what to do. The interior design competitors passed me in the four and a half years I was running the restaurant, and I was well behind them. So going back to interior design was risky. But I missed design work and I just said let’s do something different. I thought it would be nice to design and build a yacht in Turkey, because I saw the capacity of Turkish work force. At the time there were only people doing copies of Sunseeker and stuff, but there was real potential.
So I said lets design and build a boat and see if it works. If it’s not going to work then I would be on top of it for two years thinking about what to do. But it worked, and a German client ordered two meters larger version of her. It all started like this. We started the business in 1996 and we took the first order in 1999.
What kind of size where these boats?
It was the 23.6 metre Troy Explorer. The naval architect was Stephen Seaton. It was a Pacific Northwest trawler design.
So how would you describe your style of design or type of boat?
Simple, no ornamentation and nothing fancy. Form following function.
If we go a little bit back in time again, how did projects like Ceylan and Nomade start? Was it client driven or was it an idea you had?
The evolution took a lot of time actually. From 1996 to 2007 we worked on these boats a lot. We really built a lot of smaller yachts with work boat DNA. We made pilot boats, we made two trawlers, minesweepers, patrol boats, and all. We tried everything to understand the pros and cons of every type. And on the last one we spent a lot of design hours, the CV70. We really put our manifesto on the table with CV70 that we want a boat like this. It was a very cost effective boat to build and it was a good platform to see if our design works. Then we built it very cost effectively and after using it for two or three seasons we sold it for a really good price.
The aft deck was large enough to carry a 5m tender. After putting the tender on the water the deck was all ours to serve as a generous beach. There was a small salon and three spacious staterooms. All the ideas we executed on that boat worked very well. When you see the CV70 from the back, in a marina, you would think that it is a 45 metre boat, but it was only 21 metres. Exposing the tenders on the deck instead of hiding them was cool. It was like a toy carrier. Thats why we called her Carrier Vessel. (CV)
Then it was 2007. It was about time to use all this knowledge from all these experiences on a larger design between 30 and 40 metre. We thought that if it’s working on a 21 metre, it would be way better on a larger yacht. Nomade was built for a client. With Nomade, we had the opportunity to put all our experience and knowledge to a boat that was over 30 meters. During the process, we became good friends with the client and decided to be partners on the project. After spending a great season onboard Nomade, we sold it.
The 35.2 metre superyacht Ceylan came in the middle of the process. It was a contract and it was a sister ship. The owner liked the model and he said, ‘I want this one’. So we focused on that and launched her in 2010, a year before Normade, actually.
The two boats we sold worked well with a more generous size. In terms of speed, the CV70 was a very slow boat, going 8 knots or so. We thought that around 15.5 -16 knots is a good speed. The beach/tender deck concept was working well, with a relatively small saloon, and lots of open spaces. So I think the first two projects in which we really showed our design were Normade and Ceylan.
Ceylan was launched a year before Normade, but Nomade was our flagship and showboat in 2011 season. It was a very good year for us and we sold her even before the MYS. It was a real success.
Then you signed Only Now?
Yes, Only Now was a contract, not a spec boat. The client was a good friend of mine and a very experienced yachtsman .I knew what he wanted and already made a design for him. One day he called me and he said he wanted something new and he gave me the brief. I showed him the design and that day we closed the deal. He is very happy with Only Now now and spending more than 100 days every season. After launching OnlyNow , we had two clients signing contracts for Alyssa and So‘Mar.
You always want to start one project on speculation. If you have sold two boats, are you already thinking about the next one?
Yes, I always keep trying to build a boat on speculation - now we have 39.3m Cutlass under construction.
Cutlass is a steel/Aluminum boat. What was the reason behind building her in Steel/Aluminum?
Clients and the brokers are now getting more and more familiar with the wood/epoxy composite technique but it is still safer to build out of steel/aluminum.
Where do you see most interest from your clients, is it mostly European countries?
Yes, European countries. mostly Italians and Germans.
Because they like the style?
Yes, those people really like our style.
Do you have any interest from the United States?
We had one American client who was a scientist - It was real fun to work with him back in 2008.
You design all of the interiors yourself, but would you also be open to working with an interior designer from a client?
Yes, of course.
Is it more that your clients wanted your style of interior design?
We are offering a package with a certain exterior / interior design and price.So yes its a part of it and they like it.
Do you see more interest for bigger boats?
Sure, but we would like to stay under 500 GT. Even it its a 50m project we prefer to keep it simple and less volume.
So you would be open to designing boats that are being built at other shipyards?
Yes, but working for another yard would be difficult while we have a lot of our own projects going on.
Was it always your idea to have your own shipyard and build boats yourself?
Yes, from the start.
Because then you have the full control of the whole building process?
Exactly. We are trying to build “sound” yachts without all those complex systems.
That keeps the cost very reasonable, so you can offer clients a very big boat for a very reasonable price?
Yes. It’s like a beach house on the water: very light, and simple. We believe the elegance of minimum. I think success is being interesting without being over the top.
Do you see people trying to copy your idea?
A lot. As they say imitation is a form of flattery - but I think is only a shortcut to the learning process. So it’s their problem.
How do you see the future of your company, would you like to build two or three boats a year or do you want to become really big?
Not really, we want to stay like this. That’s for sure. Two or three projects a year would be good, and under 500 GT.
You worked with Diana Yacht Design for the engineering and naval architecture. Was that a strategic choice for you to subcontract that to a Dutch company?
Yes, Only Now was the first project. Cutlass, So‘Mar and Alyssa followed. Our work ethics are similar and we became good friends and business partners.