SPOTLIGHT ON UK SHIPYARDS
Last updated: 31/03/2020
When you think of the collective term ‘yachting’, the isles of the United Kingdom might not immediately spring into your mind… but they should!
There have been a slew of fascinating builds and refits that have taken place in Britain, and this article will briefly review the rich history between the UK and yachting, before we cast our sights on the current landscape of British shipyards, speaking exclusively to some of the leading brands in the industry.
Yachting Pages itself is based out of Bristol, UK having been conceptualised in Antibes, France. We are excited to shine a spotlight on some of the impressive superyacht projects and brands that were born in Britain.
Shipyards with heritage
The United Kingdom is a nation with a rich history in yachting, having originally been brought to the isles from the birthplace of yachts, Holland, in 1660 by Charles II. Since then, Britain has been home to a wide variety of yachting enthusiasts, and this has been echoed in the historic shipyards that are scattered throughout the nation’s coastline.
The first yachting regatta in the UK took place in 1661 between vessels Katherine and Anne, and from then on, the precedent was set. Yachting became the ‘sport of kings’ and within a century, the world’s wealthiest had joined in and yacht clubs began to form across the land.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and the climate and industry have changed significantly. Superyachts have become the fancy of any owner, with facilities available to accommodate these huge vessels on every corner of the planet. Technology has become readily available on board and yachts are looking sleeker and more modern than ever before.
Some of the major players in today’s current climate include Princess Yachts, Pendennis, Sunseeker International, Oyster Yachts, Glider Yachts and Spirit Yachts, among a host of other respected shipyards.
Many of these shipyards have been pushing innovation in the yachting industry for a number of years now. Kiran Haslam, chief marketing officer at Princess Yachts, said exclusively to Yachting Pages, “We are really proud of how our business has evolved, from Project 31S in 1965 through to M Class superyachts. Currently we really had a shot across the bow with the R35, bringing in a radically new way to utilise foils, not to lift a boat out of the water but to act as Active Ride Control (ARC) to bring about two key changes – the first being predictable handling and consequently safety at great speeds, and secondly efficiency gains of up to 35% to reduce drag and weight savings by using carbon fibre. The other exciting project is the X Class, with our all-new X95 – a product that redefines space on board to deliver megayacht features with the practicality of a 29-metre (95-foot) overall length.”
Francesco Frediani, director of superyachts at Sunseeker International, spoke about some of the builds that Sunseeker is most proud of, “There have been so many significant projects but the launch of our first 155 yacht was a momentous day for us. This was the biggest build we had ever launched. We are really excited about our two new innovative models, the Ocean Club 42 and Ocean Club 50.”
Nigel Stuart, managing director of Spirit Yachts, reflected on a recent launch, “The 34-metre (112-foot) Spirit 111 sailing yacht went into the water at the end of last year. She is the largest single-masted wooden yacht built in the UK since the 1930s and is one of the most eco-friendly superyachts in the world.”
Competing in the global marketplace
The legacy of yachting in Britain makes the nation a respected location in the world of shipbuilders. Frediani, from Sunseeker International, revealed, “The UK has a long-standing heritage and tradition of ship and yacht building which has always been world-leading in innovation, design and performance. This is what makes British shipyards really stand out.”
Whilst the United Kingdom may not be the most geographically appealing location on the planet, there are a long list of reasons why shipyards continue to compete in the superyacht marketplace. Haslam, of Princess Yachts, continued, “We are very self-sufficient. Unlike many yards based in Europe, Princess goes from raw material to finished yachts on our own premises, with 3,200 employees all based within a 10-mile radius of our headquarters. Our nature is to be, generally, rather understated. With a true luxury brand that resonates very deeply with our clientele, so British brands are respected for having that tone and persona.”
The sentiment of luxury craftsmanship is echoed by other yards from different corners of Britain. Nigel Stuart, managing director of Spirt Yachts, commented, “Build quality. British shipyards are held in high regard for the quality of their yachts; it’s something we should all be proud of.”
Toby Allies, joint managing director at Pendennis Shipyard, noted on standing out in the worldwide marketplace, “Each one of us has a unique quality and concentrate on diverse sectors of the market. Pendennis’ core market focus is on the construction, restoration and refit of superyachts between 30 and 90 metres (98 and 295 feet). It’s our 430-strong highly skilled in-house workforce, the knowledge and experience we hold from our diverse portfolio of projects over the last 30 years and our purpose-built 14.5-acre waterfront site in Falmouth that are at the core of our success.”
The future of shipbuilders in the UK
The future of shipyards within the United Kingdom looks to be positive, according to those on the inside.
Haslam of Princess Yachts continued, “I think the wave of great British design has returned, and design firms, naval architects and yards are returning to former glory. We can certainly see the industry is in a growth phase, and the latest reports from British Marine (UK government) demonstrate that in people employed within the sector. The change will be decided by those businesses and yards that can push green credentials and develop tangible new technologies to see the industry have a much stronger environmental stance.”
The growing appeal of environmentally friendly yachts, the impact these vessels have on the atmosphere as well as the ocean has definitely been more widely considered across the sector. This can be attributed to a number of changing parts within the industry and within society as a whole; people are now both more aware and more critical of their own carbon footprint, governmental legislation around emissions and pollutants affecting both leisure and business vessels, alongside a multitude of reasonings for these growing considerations.
Frediani of Sunseeker International suggested that the marketplace is demanding bigger and better vessels than ever before, “Demand for larger models continues to grow year-on-year, with Sunseeker having delivered more than 137 yachts over 30 metres (100 feet) in length already. The increase in demand has been the driving force behind Sunseeker’s truly momentous plans to expand its manufacturing into the world of metal-built yachts. This exciting new development will see Sunseeker produce its largest superyacht ever, the Ocean Club 50.”
This penchant for larger vessels is something that Allies, Pendennis Shipyard, has also witnessed, “Clients [are] considering large-scale refits on existing superyachts rather than building from scratch.”
The effect of Brexit on shipyards
In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union. After many years of debate as to what the implications of the referendum are going to be, it’s starting to become clearer. What do Britain’s leading shipyards think the impact Brexit might be on the yachting industry?
Sunseeker International’s Frediani explained, “There is more certainty around Brexit and the UK will become a global player on its own. Sunseeker is in a strong position to capitalise on this as a company and will focus on continuing to drive innovation, launch new products and grow market share. We are positive about the future and will continue to provide our customers with the yachts they desire.”
This kind of ambition to become a market leader in a reinvigorated marketplace is shared by Sunseeker’s counterparts. Spirit Yachts’ Stuart, explained, “Brexit may open up the interest in UK shipyards from US customers. There is a strong sailing culture on the East Coast of the US, so we may see sailing yacht buyers look to the UK once Brexit is finalised.”
Some yards are still waiting to see how things play out a little more. Haslam of Princess Yachts noted, “No matter what happens, our intention is to stay in the UK and continue manufacturing here. That is clearly important for us as a leading and very large employer in the South West of England, to continue our very vertically complex manufacturing on site here in Plymouth. Thus far the short-term potential impact of Brexit has been positive for us, bizarrely, because we have some degree of exchange rate benefit. But as with every other business, all you really want is stability and free trade. If you have economic security and free trade, you're alright, so we leave it up to the politicians to make sure we get that.”
Beyond Brexit, Allies, from Pendennis Shipyard, outlined the businesses intention for 2020, “To continue to serve and expand our existing client base, supporting them at our main facility in the UK, our technical service centre in Spain and through our global yacht support network. The Pendennis management team will continue to invest in our Apprentice programme and the training and welfare of our staff, as well as look to make further developments to our facilities in order to meet the evolving needs of our client base.”
Shipbuilding is an industry that should be both respected and protected in the United Kingdom. Yachting has a special place in the history of Great Britain, and this legacy has been continued throughout the years, with no signs of slowing down.
Keep your eye out for some of the great yards that have been referenced throughout this article, and the amazing, innovative projects that they continue to produce, to the delight of owners around the world.
To find out about what might be coming in the industry in this next decade, check out the upcoming superyacht trends of the 2020s..