#humansofyachting – Dickie Bannenburg
The son of legendary superyacht designer Jon Bannenberg on continuing his father’s legacy in a post-hedonistic era of yachting.
“I’m not an out-and-out designer and have never tried to pretend otherwise. First off, I got a geography degree and then I worked in editorial at Condé Nast for five years. It was a pretty informal transition from doing that to going to work with my dad in the late 1980s. When I worked with him, I was more of a project manager. I was making it work with the clients, suppliers and subcontractors, while he was the creative to end all creatives. That was my entry to the yacht business.
In a more informal sense, yacht design had been on my radar through osmosis since I was little. I remember as a child seeing my dad on his drawing board at home, late at night having come home from the studio or trips abroad, making big plans drawn by hand using a clutch pencil. I sometimes went with him to launches and shipyard visits, too. One that sticks in my mind was the launch of Nabila – it was the full works; white suits, wedding cakes and Rolls Royces – all that sort of thing. So, in that sense, it’s been in my blood from a very early age, seeping in without me being fully aware of it.
I worked with Dad for about 18 years, and then, in 2001, he fell ill with a brain tumour. He was 72 when he died and by necessity that is when I took over. Simon Rowell bravely joined me in 2003 to look after the design side and together we continued the vision of the company.
I’ve been in the industry for a very long time now and there have been some obvious changes. It’s been interesting to observe the changing demographics of clients. A lot of my dad’s early clients in the 60s were Greek. That prevailed for a decade or so, then he had a lot of clients in the Middle East. He also had the first wave of techy West Coast American clients. Those were three very clear phases. He didn’t live to see the extended influx of Eastern European clients. And now, of course, we are seeing lots of Americans and Hong Kong Chinese.
Then there are design-led trends, like increased creativity when it comes to designing exterior spaces, as well as the desire to connect more directly with the sea, with swim platforms, balconies and all of that. Of course, there are also more obvious trends, like explorer yachts, the greater use of glass panels and increased window sizes. And it goes without saying that technology has changed everything.
We’ve just designed a concept yacht called Estrade and our narrative around it is that it’s a sort of post-hedonism yacht. There is this move towards discretion and privacy and non-bling in the superyachting world, so I think the point we’re making with it is valid. I’ve been shamelessly repeating a quote that I read in GQ a while ago, “We’re living in the age of sweatpants and never going back,” and I think there is something to be said for that. There will always be outliers of course, but I do think there is a story to be told for more low-key yachts that are more manageable and can go into small harbours and things. You can still have an amazing life on a yacht like that.
I don’t sail so much myself. I am limited to hiring a little Sunfish or a Laser, but my sailing credentials beyond that are not very high. I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few nice sailboats and my dad had his own for a few years so I’ve certainly enjoyed some comfortable trips. I remember doing an amazing race on one of the yachts that my dad built in the Caribbean – that was a highlight.
If I had a yacht myself, a smaller model would be more than enough for me. I would take it to the Greek Islands – I love the off-the-beaten-track places over there. I remember when I was little going to a tiny little island very close to the Turkish coast called Kastellorizo. I find those places pretty enchanting. I have a bit of an ongoing love affair with Greece.”