Owner insight: Robert Book talks Book Ends and American ownership

Written by Gemma Fottles

New York natives Robert Book and his wife Amy are serious, serial boat owners. Obvious from their past record of ownership (“I think this one is number 17,” Bob tells me on board their latest 46.7-metre supertoy), but what makes them serious in their serial ownership is in the way they talk about yachting: the ins and outs of their multiple experience building boats from scratch and their intimate knowledge of not only the superyacht lifestyle, but the superyacht business. Their interest is invested, of course. Of the 17 boats they’ve owned over the past four decades, none have been in their possession for longer than two and a half years. And the vast majority have been sold on to their next happy owner without the seemingly inevitable loss of investment. So, how did this journey begin and how do the Books’ manage to continuously invest wisely in their passion?

Robert H. Book

First things first: consistently securing resale value. The most important aspect here, Book says, is choosing the right time to sell. “If you have a boat more than three years, it’s hard to sell. Two years old with 1000 hours on the engine? There’s a person out there who wants a new boat but doesn’t want to wait to build it. We had our Sunseeker for just 6 months… I know, it sounds crazy. But I’ve always made money from selling my boats.” The second golden rule? Keep her interior neutral, with accents of personality that can easily be altered to suit her new owner’s tastes. “One of the things about this boat that is so beautiful is that it is so light,” Amy explains as we sit in the upper deck lounge of the Heesen-built Book Ends. “We’ve brought in the accent colours, but anyone that wanted to buy this boat, they have this neutral palette in which they can bring in their own accents. When you have very dark wood or built-in prominent colours, it’s obviously harder to sell.

Years of experience resulted in the seasoned owners in front of me, but on to the second part of our question - where did this journey begin? Well, it all began in their native New York. Starting out with a 25 footer which the Books frequently used in New York area, they started climbing the size classes boat by boat to incorporate a growing family over the years, expanding their cruising grounds to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Florida, New England, Martha's Vineyard and other spots along the Eastern US coastline. 

Book Ends aerialPhoto: Jeff Brown

This year, however, the Books opted for a change of pace and headed over to the Mediterranean for six weeks of cruising - the most time they’ve ever spent onboard in one go. With this plan in mind, they also needed to change the kind of boat they were looking for the latest addition to the Book Ends fleet. Enter: Heesen. “I wanted to make a change in my boating habits,” Bob starts. “I had a 40-metre Westport before this which was fibreglass and semi-displacement - very Bahamas friendly. We always wanted to spend a summer in the Med, so we decided that with our new boat, we wanted to go full displacement, steel hull, Med-ready. We’ve also always had great admiration for the Dutch shipyards, they really build high-quality boats.

Built on speculation and sold just a few weeks before completion, Book Ends found her new owner in a classic case of right-place-right-time. Coming into the build at such a late stage has its obvious advantages, though one distinct disadvantage is the potential for customisation. Bob explains: “It was not easy to incorporate our changes, but there was already a lot to work with - the windows are amazing and let in a lot of light, there’s light wood throughout. We took a ton of stuff off and ripped a wall out here and there, but Heesen ultimately delivered.” 

Book ends - Upper deck

One thing coming to a European boat from an American perspective was that they had no outdoor TVs anywhere on the boat,” Book continues. “We as Americans like watching TV. Especially on a Sunday, we want to sit outside and watch sports. We don’t just eat and drink all the time, we eat, drink and watch TV! So we changed that. There is still a lot we would change on the boat, but it’s little things, and every boat incorporates an element of compromise. And you know what? You won’t find a better-built boat than a Heesen.

So, Med-friendly boat checked off the list, but what about the destination itself? Will the Books be returning to their summers on the East Coast? The answer - surprisingly after endless summers spent in the States - was a definitive no. “We had so much fun and we had a lot of friends and family over flying from the States - they all wanted to experience the Mediterranean! We will never spend the summer anywhere else. It’s amazing - especially the Italian coast, Amalfi and Sardinia... it’s just spectacular.”  For now, at least, the all-American Book family are converted.

You purchased Book Ends while she was under construction, and took delivery just three weeks later. Tell us about your yacht search. 

When I sold my other boat I was shocked. It sold in less than 60 days! We quickly discovered that we didn’t want to wait to build a boat from scratch, so we spent two years and close to two million bucks on the search for a new boat. I took my whole crew with me on every shopping spree. They live on board - they are like a family and they need to be happy, and they also spot things that perhaps we wouldn’t. We were actually very close to signing a contract with an Italian yard, but it didn’t feel right. 

I came across Book Ends when I was in the yard visiting the Dutch shipbuilders. At the time they were around 10 months into the build, but I didn’t even want to look as I was looking for a 55-metre. Thom Conboy rang me a while later and said, ‘Robert, that 47-metres is finishing up at Heesen. Do you want to go and have a look?’ I told him if we can agree on a price, then I’ll be there in two days - basically, at this point, I wanted to be in the Med by the summer on my own boat or I was going to throw in the towel altogether. So after a long search, Thom rang me at just the right time. 

Book Ends shootingPhoto: Jeff Brown

As your first Heesen after a long history of predominantly American-built boats, how was your first stint on board?

When we made the deal, I told Heesen that I needed the boat by mid-June to meet a friend in Monte Carlo. Now, I hadn’t looked at the distance from the Netherlands to Monte Carlo… turns out its 2,500 nm. So I was like, our maiden voyage is going to be 2,500 nm on a boat that has never been tested?! But what really impressed me was Heesen’s answer: ‘Well, it’s a Heesen. You just put the key in and go.’ 

They lived up to their word. We met the boat in Monte Carlo. The crew had a tough time on the approach to Gibraltar with 18’ waves, but they told me the boat was great. Heesen really got it done. We did around 300 hours on her this summer. 

What are some of the key differences you’ve noticed between the boat building cultures?

With US yards like Westport or Viking, they work like hell to get you as a customer but work even harder to keep you. In my opinion, the European yards need to adapt more to the North American culture of after-sales support. A boat is a big investment, and the experience should not end when you take delivery. You want the entire experience to be positive and the yard ultimately wants to sell me my next boat… you won’t get that with arrogance or a lack of support. I think that is more a problem with Northern European yards.  

The Italian shipyards are the nicest, most charming, most fun people to hang with… you feel like you’re part of an Italian family. But if you’re going to build a boat with Italians, you can’t get hung up on having it delivered on time. The difference with Heesen is that everything is clean, uniform. They even have a digital countdown to scheduled launch hanging over the project throughout construction. The culture is efficiency and attention to detail. With the Italians, well, if you have a good project manager then it’s fine. They do build great boats. Nick Candy’s boat, 11:11, for example, it’s one to see - the finest Benetti ever built. 

In terms of American shipbuilders, there are few big yards left. As an American buyer, would you like to see the U.S. shipbuilding industry rejuvenated?

I don’t know, I think the market has passed a lot of the American shipyards by. There was a time that Burger and Broward owned the market on big boats. Delta builds big boats, but they’re fibreglass and very expensive. Westport, great quality, great people, but it’s semi-displacement, fast, light, and you outgrow that. So as owners have evolved, the American shipbuilding market has not. If you want to buy a steel hulled boat and you want to cruise the Med with a big stable ride, you go to Europe. 

Book Ends main saloon Photo: Jeff Brown

Why do you think the American industry did not evolve like the European?

A lot of the builders were not good business people… they were just good boat builders. They got by when things were fine, but things got tough. Americans do own certain niches to this day, but in general, they didn’t stay up to date with the market and I don’t know about their future. Now, if Westport really wanted to get into the market that Europeans hold, they’re going to have to build steel-hulled boats that can go anywhere in the world. I believe Christensen will start building steel-hulled boats. They are not going to give the market to the Europeans so quickly. 

Moving to the market as a whole, do you think the yachting world has recovered from the fallout from the Financial Crisis? 

I don’t think this industry is in trouble. I think it’s evolving, and the industry will expand and get stronger. It will be people with good financial power, good marketing skills, good communication skills.

But what about the fact that the number of UHNWI in the world has risen, but the amount of clients has not?

Well, look at where all of that new wealth is? Asia. You need more infrastructure there, but I know Asia very well, I’ve been doing business there 35 years. You build good infrastructure and people will come, but you need more. A lot of people in Asia have boats but they keep them in Europe. 

So let’s say Asian infrastructure dramatically improves - will it just attract more European and North American yachties?

I think the Asian market will still pick up. I know a lot of very wealthy Asian people and I think they could really get into boating. You have some great marinas in Phuket already. Once one guy starts getting into it, then talking to his buddy, and they start doing it together… I’m very optimistic and I do not see this industry diminishing. It’s changing, its evolving, but it’s not decreasing. I think there will be fewer players in the game in the future, but they will be big players. 


In terms of clients, how can we attract more people to yachting?

In this world, it’s all word of mouth. My friend has a 201’ Hakvoort, Just J’s. We did our boating together for seven years in Newport, until last summer which we spent in the Med. He has a Nautica tender, a 48 footer with four engines on the back. Wherever we went, people went crazy to see that tender. So Nautica asked if they could take her to the Monaco Yacht Show. Do you know how many Nauticas they sold at the show? 12! So who is buying these boats if the market is diminishing? But to answer your question, it is very word-of-mouth promotion but I also think that people want to see a different product. You’re going to get younger people buying these smaller boats, and building up to the superyachts. 

Book Ends exterior detailPhoto: Jeff Brown

And what about the next generation of owners?

My son is putting our 6-year old grandson up for sailing school, and it’s the best way to learn. He already handles a tender all by himself. At show-and-tell at school, he does all the lines in front of his classmates, he makes pictures of the buoys… he loves it. It’s sheer, pure joy. So kids are the future of yachting, and you’re seeing kids being put through sailing schools in places like Asia, too. I think this is growing all over the world. I’m optimistic about the future of yachting.

Photos of Book Ends by Jeff Brown / Breed Media

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