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Quality over quantity

Australian owned and Dutch built – Moonen Yachts’ new lease of life is being met with vigour and a level of quality that’s striking, even for a country renowned for building some of the world’s best superyachts.

Written by Charlotte Thomas

12 April 2022

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It has been two and a half years since Australian business couple Matthew and Louise Baxter acquired Dutch superyacht builder Moonen Yachts. Since then, we’ve been through a pandemic, global lockdowns and – more recently – market surges.

Production at Moonen has been steadily increasing in spite of the challenges 2020 presented, and in September 2021 the Moonen team welcomed a new member and old hand, Victor Caminada, who joined as Head of Sales.

It’s a cold and bracing February day when I get to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the town where the Moonen Yachts yard is based, but the warmth of the welcome from the small team soon makes up for the bitter breeze blowing outside.

My trip is also a chance to see the soon-to-be-delivered 36-metre Botti, a short drive away in a marina. Aside from exploring the yacht and admiring her really top-notch finishes, my trip gives me a chance to find out a little more about what plans the owners of the shipyard have for the brand and why Moonen yachts appear to be so popular in the Australian market.

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Ocean: How old is the Moonen brand, and what do you think attracted the new owners to taking on the business?

Victor Caminada: Moonen is a well-established brand that has been building superyachts for over 40 years. There are employees who have been at the yard for its entire history.

The employees are one of the main assets of the company: the skill, the artisanship, the craftsmanship. Due to unfortunate circumstances, the company had troubles under the previous ownership, but the new owners saw an opportunity to take over the company.

They are not just a successful business couple, they are a keen yachting family – they’ve sailed the Pacific with a Swan 60, so they really are hands-on cruising people who really know what yachting is about.

They’ve had spray over them, they know what it is to anchor off an island, and they know how harsh nature can be. And they were already in love with Moonen yachts – they had seen them in Australia, where there’s actually quite a big community of them.

 

That’s interesting, why does Moonen appeal to Australians?

I think the offshore capabilities and the long-range capabilities of the boats play a role, and they are well-built and sturdy, which is essential for the conditions in Australia.

There is also a self-stimulating effect – once people see one they like, the community gets ever bigger.

The owners spotted that and when they heard the yard was for sale, decided to move in and set out a plan for Moonen to become a premium semi-custom builder, starting boats on spec then bringing them to market. They’ve committed to that, and we’ve done that successfully in the past few years. In fact, just in these last four weeks [January/February 2022] we’ve sold two yachts, which is great!

 

That’s great news – what yachts have been sold?

We’ve sold two more Martiniques, the 36-metre yacht by René van der Velden who has designed many Moonens. We’ve sold five of them now, which makes it a successful design. It’s a package that holds a lot for a 36-metre – it’s a high-volume boat with a fast displacement hull, so it can hit 16.5 knots.

We delivered one last year to the Middle East, the latest delivery is going to Florida, and we just sold one to a European owner who will keep her in the Mediterranean, plus another to Australia. Once Botti is in Florida she will trigger more interest in the US market and abroad.

 

What changes have the new shipyard owners brought in?

They have committed to starting these yachts on spec, which obviously needs a lot of money upfront, but there’s a good return if you do things right.

 

Are they involved in the day-to-day operations of the yard?

I’m in contact with them on a daily basis – they’re very involved, very motivated, very dedicated, and have a strong vision for the company.

The personnel here are very happy with the new ownership – they’re motivated to work hard and have faith in the future. The upswing in the market also gives us the possibility to accelerate.

 

Is the build methodology the same as it has always been?

This has stayed the same, although there is always optimisation so that every time you do something it gets better. The hulls and superstructures come from a renowned subcontractor in the Netherlands, and when the hull arrives here we start the outfitting with our own team.

We have our own carpentry shop – the whole interior is built by our team and that also goes for the engineering of the interior.

I’ve found it’s very strong, particularly when you’re building a yacht and there’s no client yet, as most often the client that steps into contract has a different vision on the interior, and it will never be 100 percent like we’ve imagined.

For example, on one of the projects in build we’ve been incredibly fast to accommodate a full custom interior design because the client brought his own designer. It’s a way away from the original design from Moonen that was done with [London designers] Studio Indigo, and it is actually the first time this designer has designed a motor yacht – but in a matter of four weeks, we were able to introduce a complete new design in to the yacht.

That was amazing. And that is mainly because the engineering of the interior is being done here, and the production is also done here.

What do you have in build at the yard currently?

Botti will be delivered shortly, and we have Martinique #4 in build. We’ve just taken the order for #5 but the build is yet to start.

We are also building the first 34-metre Moonen 110, a new design and a very interesting yacht for both the Australian and US markets. We’re currently finishing the interior design with Studio Indigo in London. She will be delivered in April 2023.

 

What else do you have on the drawing boards?

We’re developing a new 42-metre. We can build that size at these facilities, but we’re limited to that size because of the fixed bridges.

We’re looking for a new yard to build larger vessels.

It would probably mean a wholesale move, so it won’t happen tomorrow, but it’s our vision. We also have to think about our workforce, which is the yard’s main asset.

Also, we want to grow gradually, and it’s hard to get good personnel. The economy’s picking up quickly, but it’s very easy to put too much on your plate and, as we say in Holland, then you fall off your chair.

 

Do you think the current market boom is temporary?

Part of it will stay. Right now, yachting is a great escape for many who will go back to normal, but it will open their eyes to what you can do on a yacht. More people have been introduced to this whole phenomenon, the life aboard a superyacht, where you can go off the beaten track on your own terms.

How did the pandemic affect the yard owners from being able to visit the shipyard?

The Baxters were actually caught here – they also have a residence in France and they couldn’t go back to Australia because of the strict quarantine and entry rules. So they preferred to stay in their own residence in France and travel back later.

They very much enjoy being here at the yard – they’re always talking to the yard workers and everybody knows each other. They like also to be involved in the design process of new boats.

 

What else do you think makes a Moonen special?

The owners of Botti previously owned a Moonen 84. I asked their captain what made them decide to come back, and he said the after-sales support was fantastic – every time he had a question, he got an immediate response.

They sailed a lot on the US East Coast, where you always need back-up with yachts for one thing or another, and he got such fast follow-up that he said it made Moonen stand out. As much as anything, just getting a response means that you know someone is working to solve something, and it’s being handled seriously.

We also offer a two-year guarantee on the yacht as standard.

That was something that was brought forward by the new owners of the company, essentially saying we build the best boats and therefore we’re going to offer you two years of guarantee.

They’re confident, and we have to deliver! They want to position Moonen at the very top of the market. We’re not going for quantity, we’re going for quality, and that’s a very clear vision.

 

moonen.com

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