The art of building dreams
When a superyacht owner’s search for the perfect dayboat drew a blank, he designed and built his own to his own exacting standards – and soon realised that other superyacht owners might also appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship.
Sietse Koopmans has always been focused on the details. A passionate engineer, he built a successful business from having no market share and 14 competitors to successfully selling it 28 years later with 85 percent market share and just one competitor. It was that competitor who bought the business from him. “We didn’t do any advertising or attend any exhibitions, nor did we do any radio or television – our success was based purely on quality,” he begins. “In the business I was in, if you make the best quality then you become the best company.”
It’s an ethos that Koopmans has carried over to other aspects of his life, and in particular in relation to yachts. As a boater from childhood, he is no stranger to being out on the water, and indeed after selling his company he bought a superyacht of his own to indulge in a grand, global cruising adventure. At the end of the noughties he completed a circumnavigation on his yacht, the 37-metre JFA-built explorer yacht Zeepaard (ex-Axantha), covering some 65,000 miles over five years, anchoring 3,000 times and taking, as he said back in 2014, some 40,000 photos of his travels.
But there’s another side to Koopmans’ passion for yachts, and it stems from a realisation a little over 20 years ago that the dayboat he always wanted to own just didn’t exist. “I was actually looking to build a boat myself,” he explains. “I ended up doing a lot of research and development and came up with a model of my own. The idea was to build something that was not a run-of-the-mill boat – I didn’t want it to look like anything else. The idea was, and still is, to appeal to those who appreciate beauty, elegance and mechanical superiority.”
It’s not unheard of for superyacht owners to get involved in the business of building yachts, either by design in setting up their own yard specifically to build their dream project, or through necessity in terms of taking over a shipyard to secure a part-built project and see it through to completion. For Koopmans, however, there was a conscious choice to set up a yard and to start to build his dream dayboat cruiser, which morphed into a very limited series available for other passionate yacht owners who appreciate the very highest levels of craftsmanship.
Photo: Guillaume Plisson
Photo: Guillaume Plisson
The result was the founding of the Zeelander yard in the Netherlands, and over the past 20 years the brand has delivered exquisitely crafted motor yachts to a select handful of discerning buyers. The Zeelanders draw their inspiration from the classic US commuter boats, and feature astonishingly complex curves in every facet of their interior and exterior design. It makes them unique, very difficult to build and highly sought after.
It’s a trend for something uniquely special that is reflected in small pockets of extraordinary craft skill across the yacht industry. Using similarly complex and beautiful shapes, combined with exceptional deftness of working in wood, is similarly iconic brand Spirit Yachts, whose modern classic sailing and motor yacht projects combine the elegance of a bygone era and similarly delicious curves with thoroughly modern sailing and underwater profiles and cutting edge engineering. The brand, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is majority-owned by a passionate group of Spirit Yacht owners. “From humble beginnings in the Suffolk, UK, countryside to multiple awards, yachts in two Bond films, and over 80 bespoke yachts located worldwide, Spirit Yachts is a unique success story that continues to push boundaries,” says Karen Underwood, Managing Director at Spirit Yachts.
For Koopmans, being an owner meant seeking perfection, but like the owners of Spirit Yachts there was also a realisation that that perfection and passion could be shared. “We started off with one, and then realised that we put so much effort into it that it would be better to sell it to others – but we never intended and still don’t intend to be a high-volume production builder,” Koopmans says. Each Zeelander costs as much just to build as most other high-end boats retail for, and that’s a reflection of the time that goes into each model. The first 14.7-metre Z5 model – an evolution of the original Z44, the first boat to emerge from the yard – clocked 27,000 man-hours in its construction.
That art is created by a team of around 70 highly skilled craftspeople who work in Koopmans’ yard, many of whom joined him from the business he sold. It is floating art that is enjoyed and appreciated by a select few, many of whom have superyachts themselves. “As one of our clients told us, we make art for the water,” says Koopmans. It’s here that the level of detail Koopmans has applied, from his experiences as a superyacht owner to his love of precision engineering and sea, has translated into a boutique business that is still going strong 20 years after he decided to build his own perfect dayboat.