The CCO of Heesen Yachts talks to DN: “This is how we became world leaders in building aluminium super yachts”
They were supposed to build motorcycles, but the mayor of Oss convinced Frans Heesen to change his mind, and so they started building boats: our interview with Chief Commercial Officer for Heesen Yachts, Mark Cavendish
Daily Nautica interviewed Mark Cavendish, Chief Commercial Officer for Heesen Yachts, the Dutch shipyard based in Oss: one of the world leaders in the construction of aluminium vessels (including full custom). Cavendish told us about the beginnings of the shipyard and some fun facts, including how the super yachts are moved from the heart of Holland through the canals and to the sea.
Heesen Yachts makes some of the biggest yachts in the world. How did your shipyard start?
It started almost by accident back in 1978. Frans Heesen, the founder, was looking for a factory to carry on his motorcycle business and he found the ideal shed in the town of Oss. There was a yacht being built inside it by the previous company who had gone bankrupt. The mayor of Oss convinced Heesen to stop his motorcycle business and to build the boat. And the rest is history because he carried on building boats. Frans Heesen was like one of Napoleon’s generals – “It doesn’t matter how good you are, as long as you’re lucky you survive” – and Frans Heesen is a lucky person because shortly after 1978, the West went into the oil crisis, and the Middle East became very rich, and a shipyard like this was an exciting prospect for them.
Heesen is the top shipyard in building custom aluminium yachts. When you start building a yacht, what role does the owner play?
If we start a yacht ourselves (so we build it to then sell it) we go through quite a rigorous market analysis. We’ve done this for a pretty long time so we have a pretty good idea of where we want to go. If a new owner comes to us with their ideas, we guide them into making the decisions they need to build the boat.
What has been the strangest request an owner has made?
We deal in a world with very rich people who can afford to do anything, but yachts are sadly quite “conservative” things and yacht owners are mostly quite conservative. Probably the oddest request we had was from an owner who wanted to put on the bow of the boat a telescopic seat, actually two seats, so he and his wife could sit next to each other when they came into port or to somewhere particularly interesting. The seats raised up around two or three metres above the deck. So they could sit raised above the deck watching the world from above.
Where do most of your clients come from?
Historically most of our clients were European and American. For a period there were a lot of Russian buyers, but they’re gone now, so we’ve gone back to the predominant buyers being American. The Middle East has become a much bigger market for us, and of course, Europe. In the past we had a large number of British clients.
Your skill in moving large yachts along the canals is extraordinary. How do you plan the routes?
This is a very interesting question, because not many know that we are in the centre of Holland, at over 100 kilometres from the ocean. So when we finish building these boats, they’ve got to be transported out to sea: between the shipyard and the nearest big river, the Meuse, there is a relatively short stretch of canal, and the boats travel along there until they reach Rotterdam. We have to be careful because some of the bridges are restricted height, we need to make sure the water is the right depth. We need to take off all the top structures (masts, antennas, aerials, etc.) and put them on a separate barge, so the boat can go under the bridges. Everything needs to work, because when we start we can’t stop.
Do you have staff dedicated to this?
Yes, absolutely. We keep this problem into account from the beginning and have a team dedicated to transport.
You build the biggest yachts in the world, but do you have a limit over which you cannot go?
Yes, around 80 metres.
So if you wanted to make a bigger one…
We couldn’t. Or rather, in theory we could, but then the owner would have to spend the rest of his days cruising up and down the rivers, which would be a bit boring!
What does luxury mean for Heesen Yachts?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I think luxury is probably the ability for somebody to do what they want and how they want. The interior of some yachts can be very simple, and others can be rich and sophisticated. I think that’s the real definition of luxury: somebody can come to us and their dreams can become reality. It’s a very pleasant experience. The nicest part of the job is meeting the owner and their family. We all get into a room with a paper layout of the boat and then the dreams start unfolding. For example, some people like sport fishing, so we make special arrangements for that. Others like diving, so we work on that. Yachts are the ultimate expression of luxury. With airplanes you’re restricted because it needs to take off and can only land in an airport. Cars are limited to a particular size. But a yacht: you can a have a yacht that is 5 metres long or 150 and you can go where you want with it. That’s luxury.
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