Icons & Innovations: Feadship: Big Splash

  • Marilyn M. Mower

Big Splash
Although the notion of pleasure boating may have originated with the Dutch, who enjoyed cruising in their jachts in the 16th century, the country’s yacht building industry nearly succumbed to the devastation it suffered during World War II, when many of the shipyards were destroyed, and no one was purchasing boats designed for pleasure. The boatbuilders’ ability to revive their businesses then was hindered by the period of austerity that prevailed throughout Europe following the war, an era during which the Dutch government levied a 25 percent tax on luxury goods.

Recognizing the limitations of the European market at the time, a cadre of Dutch yacht builders turned their attention to America and its robust postwar economy. However, to attract American customers, they would have to display their products in the United States. Thus in late 1949, representatives of six Dutch shipyards formed a coalition whose members would share the cost of building, on spec, yachts that they were going to bring to America in the hope of finding buyers. This gamble, born out of desperation, marked the beginning of Feadship, the First Export Association of Dutch Shipbuilders.

In 1950, in what would be a pivotal transaction, the association granted prominent naval architect Henri de Voogt a stake in the venture. De Voogt, who designed the yachts and received a fee based on varying percentages of the sales prices, helped Feadship ready three boats for the 1951 New York International Boat Show: a 24-foot Baby Holland Cruiser built by the van Lent shipyard, a 32-foot steel express cruiser by Vis, and a 21-foot wooden daysailer by de Vries. The shipyards built the latter two expressly for the show.

Attracted by the unique vessels—and the pots of tulips with which the Dutch boatbuilders decorated their display—as many as 25,000 people a day visited the Feadship stand, including three who purchased the boats. The American press raved about the Feadship vessels’ quality, but the American public—enamored at the time with mass-produced autos and tract housing—was reluctant to buy boats that did not exist; although Feadship did sell the three boats that it brought to the show, that first trip to New York proved mostly fruitless. Nevertheless, the Dutch returned the next year, arriving with a 40-foot Vis Express and a smaller sailing yacht and leaving with 15 orders. The Feadship members had planned to draw lots for the first contract, but now there was plenty of work for all.

Two years later, at the 1953 New York show, Feadship displayed a handsome 55-foot steel cruiser called the Capri model, which de Voogt had designed and de Vries had built. As the largest yacht on display it was bound to draw attention, but because it had become stuck under the Third Avenue Viaduct en route to the show—an incident captured in photographs that ran in all of the city’s newspapers—the Capri was a sensation that brought 30,000 people a day to the Feadship stand. She quickly sold, for $70,000, but more important, the boat’s appearance that year in New York established Feadship’s place in the American nautical lexicon.

Three’s A Company
feadship’s business grew after its initial New York appearances, but the number of Feadship partners declined. Some severed ties for business reasons, and others did so because they could not accommodate the size of the yachts being ordered. In 1966, the three remaining original builders—de Vries, van Lent, and H.P. Akerboom—formed a new co-op structure called Ver Feadship Holland. Naval architect Henri de Voogt’s design office acted as general secretary, and instead of sharing in risk and profit, it was paid an annual fee for individual designs.

As an independent, de Voogt helped the competing Dutch builders produce marketable, head-turning products, and his heir, Frits de Voogt, created designs that propelled Feadship to the top ranks of luxury yacht builders. De Voogt’s charm made him the ideal face of Feadship as well as its president for 32 years, while a design team that included Bastiaan Vermeer and Jan Kops toiled in the background, incorporating client requests into yachts with the classic Feadship look.

De Voogt began relinquishing some of his management duties in the design firm in 1993, but Feadship’s design continuity continued. Hugo van Wieringen led the design and engineering departments for the next decade and directed the consolidation of these units and the offices of Feadship Holland into a single high-tech facility in Aerdenhout in 1995. The labor of more than 45 naval architects, engineers, designers, and draftsmen now is completely computerized, providing the necessary efficiency for a design team that works concurrently on as many as 11 different projects at three shipyards. Feadship receives more than 150 serious inquiries in a typical year and as many as 35 full-scale design proposals.

Bring About Some Sea Changes
Much of what we expect in megayachts and from their builders today can be traced to Feadship’s responding to owners’ requests. For example, in 1952 the van Lent yard accepted a commission to build, side by side, a pair of yachts for a European family. Today, a yard without the space or workforce to build three or four yachts at a time is considered a boutique builder, but in 1952 this was a remarkable achievement. More impressive, however, was technology that Feadship incorporated into these boats. They were the first yachts equipped with air-conditioning and the first Feadships with autopilots. “You no longer have to leave your bed if you change your mind about your course,” quipped one newspaper.

The following are some of the other innovations that Feadship has introduced over the years:

• In 1954, the 61-foot Merposal III featured an aluminum superstructure on steel to reduce weight aloft and roll.

• Camargo IV, a 115-footer, introduced retractable stabilizer fins driven by gyroscopes and hydraulics in 1961. She also featured Feadship’s first automatic sprinkler system.

• The 120-foot Intent sported the first bow thruster in 1970.

• The 147-foot Big R pioneered satellite navigation in 1973.

• A satellite dish installed on the 157-foot Daria in 1979 was the first of its kind, allowing for telex and Telecopier reception and transmissions on-board.
 
• In 1989, Feadship cleared the aft decks for recreation and dining by stowing 180-foot Le Pharaon’s tenders behind mechanically hinged bulwarks aft of the wheelhouse.

• Motorcycle garages with hydraulic lifts were fitted on the main deck of the 155-foot Mi Gaea in 1990 to transport his and her Harleys.

• Feadship launched its first turbine-powered yacht, the 162-foot Sussurro, in 1998. Two diesels and two gas turbines delivered 46 knots.

• Feadship debuted its advanced dynamic positioning system in 2003 with the launch of the 169-foot Dream. The system tied the bow and stern thrusters with the engines to hold the yacht in position automatically without anchoring.

• Launched in 2004, the 282-foot Ecstasea featured the first forward-retracting helicopter bay.

Feadship
www.feadship.nl

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