#humansofyachting - Jasper Smith
The tech entrepreneur on why he took the leap into the superyachting industry with the launch of Arksen, a builder prioritising sustainable initiatives.
“I have always had a deep passion for the ocean. I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau movies and being enthralled at the idea of being challenged by an endeavour. When I was looking for an explorer vessel that I could use with my family and friends, there was nothing really that grabbed my attention. There seemed to be a gap in the market, so I thought it would be a good time to start something. My aim with Arksen was to create the perfect machines to enable adventure. I also wanted to build sustainable boats which considered full life cycles, from material sourcing to recycling.
I’ve learned that there are two misleading words in this industry – one of them is ‘super’ and the other is ‘yacht.’ From the public’s perception, it can look elitist and a bit bling. But a polished white hull is no longer the only definition of luxury. At Arksen, when we talk about luxury, we are talking about the capability and purpose of the yacht. If you look more closely at the industry, you’ll see that it’s got great heart and great soul – and it’s taking significant steps to work towards the betterment of the oceans. The clients are some of the most influential people on the planet who have the money, the wherewithal and the willpower to help in all sorts of ways. It’s a perfect storm of really great engineers and yards linked to highly influential customers.
A lot of people who have the money feel a responsibility to try and make sure that the oceans are well looked after. The people that are attracted to Arksen are passionate about the ocean and want to go off on slightly more advanced expeditions and trips. With that audience, there is a tremendous buy-in to the boat being for more than just their own purposes. We ask all owners to sign up to our pledge, 10% for the Ocean, donating 10% of the time of their vessel to philanthropic activities. So yes, they might use it to go to the Med for a few days, but then they could go off and do a fish survey in Newfoundland or some conversation work in Southern Chile. Our pledge came from the fact that only a tiny proportion of philanthropic spending goes towards ocean-related causes. It’s a bid to try and shift that needle in parallel with the UN’s Ocean Decade.
For many of our customers, family is key. The idea of heading off into the unknown together is a really empowering idea, particularly after lockdown. I’ve got three kids, but they are all a bit older now. When they were very young we sailed from the Azores to the Med. It was one of those journeys – wind on the nose, lots of hazards, a few technical issues and it took 10 days rather than an estimated six. There was lots of uncertainty but it is also a wonderful thing to look back on. When we got to the Med it felt like arriving in paradise so we went to a great restaurant and drank a lot of wine. As far as sailing was concerned, it was a make or break moment for us as a family – and fortunately, my wife and the kids said yes to more.
I also had a memorable trip many years ago with three friends. We sailed out of Hong Kong and up to Kamchatka in Russia just as communism was collapsing. I think we were the first western yacht to sail through there in about 50 years – then we crossed over to Alaska and down the coast of America. It was a long time ago but it’s the type of trip that stays with you – all four of us still talk about it today. We met wonderful people and it formed a lot of my thinking around adventure. More recently, I sailed to Greenland and it was mind-blowing so I would love to go back up to that region.
Yachting, from the get-go, has been a leisure activity – a pastime. Long may that continue. But at the same time, our oceans face a multi-headed crisis. The ocean ecosystem, hidden beneath the waves, is profoundly changing without us understanding very much at all about the ocean itself or the changes our actions are causing. One of the key reasons for the apathy is that there are simply not enough platforms available for marine research scientists to operate on. My greatest hope for the yachting industry (and those who enjoy the yachts we produce) is that we all embrace initiatives like 10% for the Ocean and Yachts for Science and that we put our collective heads together to ensure that our leisure comes with a purpose.”