Shipyard Q&A: Amels and Damen

Explorer yacht in Antarctica

Exclusive interview with Victor Caminada, Brand Manager, Amels, Damen Yacht Support and Damen SeaExplorer

How did Amels get to where it is today?

Amels was started in 1918 by Mr Amels in Makkum, north Holland, as a family company. He started building commercial vessels and fishing boats but when shipbuilding declined in the 1970s in Europe, the company had to diversify so they went into yacht building. The first yacht launched was KATALINA, which was 48m - at the time a big boat. Of course, Amels was used to building big commercial vessels, so straight away they entered the market at a high level. Damen took over Amels in 1991 seeing a good opportunity to enter the superyacht market. Damen usually rebrands the companies they take over, but Amels was already such a strong brand name in the yachting market that it was not wise to throw it away and bring it under the Damen brand. So Amels was kept, and it grew from there.

Tell us about the yard’s first yachts.

LADY GEORGINA (ex. KATALINA) was launched in 1984 and is still sailing today. This was an interesting project, our first cooperation with Tim Heywood, at the time at Bannenberg design. KARIMA (1993) was the first true purpose-built explorer yacht in the world. MONTKAJ (1995), a Terence Disdale design was the largest yacht built in the Netherlands at the time – it is still a beautiful boat and it’s aging very well. TIGRE D’OR (1999) was the first MCA compliant boat in the world. ILONA (2004, pictured left) remains one of the most technically advanced yachts afloat, almost 15 years after her delivery.

How did the yard’s famous limited editions originate?

So far, we had done all full-custom yachts. Then came 9/11 and fewer orders were placed. Mr Damen had made his success by introducing the concept of standardisation in 1969: building tugs and standardising them. He realised the basics of shipbuilding are all the same and he could anticipate what would be needed ahead of a contract being signed. He could build these vessels and have them ready - the owner would decide on the colour, name and engine size and the boat could be delivered in 2 months. And he was in business – man, he was in business! With each boat, he improved, and doing things over again meant he needed less time and money to build them. So he had a competitive advantage: he was able to deliver faster, at a lower cost, and a higher quality. Not many people don’t like that!

He thought, why can’t we do this in the yachting market? The principle works for every market, why not yachting? Obviously it’s familiar ground if you’re talking about smaller yachts, a Sunseeker or a 43m Benetti, but with boats above 500GT it was very rare. For each design, our team gets together, we make a GA, we make all the technical specifications, we find an exterior designer which has always been Tim Heywood, we find an interior designer, and we build. We don’t know the client yet but for us to understand the market, to find the sweet spot, to develop a boat: that’s the know-how of Amels. Now we have a range of 6 boats. And we have just delivered no 23 of that design and we have 12 projects under construction at the moment! Clients can buy a boat already under construction, decide on an interior designer, and have their boat delivered (depending when they step in) in about 1 ½ years. That is a very strong proposition.

How have yacht owners changed since Amels launched?

For years we had a typical full-custom client, which was mainly western European for Amels, and then we saw a shift to the east European market, where I think we are market leader. We are also seeing a trend for younger owners, but our Owners remain family people – not flashy guys who are into fast speedboats!

Are today’s owners exploring more adventurous itineraries?

Absolutely. And it happens to be that our boats are extremely well suited for adventure! We have the mindset of building strong heavy things because in the end we are a commercial shipbuilding company in our DNA: we are not on the tip of our toes trying to build a bigger boat. Amels boats are overbuilt. We were seeing people take yachts to Antarctica that weren’t originally built to go there but came back! So much of the sea is beautiful and you can see in luxury, safety and comfort.

We try to inspire our Owners, because the boat can do it. In 2009 we launched the Damen Yacht Support vessels for a client who needed logistical support for his fleet. This is a huge platform that stores, toys, crew, Beach landing craft, fishing boats, tenders, helicopters, supplies, garbage... And then we thought hey, there is also a possibility in the yachting market for these offshore vessels. In 2009, ‘shadow yachts’ ran only at 8-9 knots so could not keep up with large yachts. Ours run at 22. They are purpose built and high end rather than converted old offshore vessels - fully engineered to superyacht standards.

How did the SeaXplorer concept develop?

People were blown away by the Yacht Support vessels – they often got more attention than the mothership! But there were no guest spaces onboard. Damen is a very entrepreneurial company and decided to creative a concept that not only offered the support function but that could accommodate clients onboard. The first SeaXplorer was 90m long, it could host parties onboard with 300 people and they could leave their shoes on. The concept perfectly brought together Damen’s skills in building very capable ice going boats with Amels’ expertise in luxury guest areas.

We also introduced Eos, the leading outdoor expedition company, who have taken over 100 superyachts to the Arctic. This meant we could design the ultimate expedition boat, with every detail thought of: a mud room for changing into expedition gear, an observation gear at the bow where the whales and dolphins are, lots of storage for garbage, a double-acting hull with an icebreaking stern, never done in yachting before, the capacity for two helicopters, submarines and snowmobiles. Normally there aren’t 17 crew on a 55m, but a SeaXplorer will have ice pilots, guides, doctors. And these yachts will travel not only the Arctic but also very importantly, the Amazon River and other remote tropical areas where far away from infrastructure. This boat has 40-day autonomy – no need to return to port to re-provision. Our philosophy is that the technical spaces in a SeaXplorer are not to superyacht finish but the guest and owners areas area to Amels level. It saves an enormous amount of money.