When Rose Damen was 10 years old, her father Kommer decided to fulfil a lifelong dream. Taking a leave of absence from work, he took his wife and four children on a sailing trip around the world. “For three months of that year, I was home-educated on board our sailing boat,” recalls Rose. The worldwide journey was completed over the course of eight years, with the family travelling across the globe in eight separate legs, each taking three months. “We took our time because we wanted to experience the countries that we passed through. We started in the Caribbean and went through the Panama Canal, the Galapagos Islands, Australia, and from there to the Seychelles, Africa, Brazil and back to the Caribbean.”

The trip not only cemented Rose’s lifelong love the sailing but also was also unconscious training for the world of yachting. “It didn’t feel like it much at the time but looking back, it was a part of my education,” she says. “Now I see clients where they are taking their family and their children to see these different places, and not just giving their children a life of luxury, but also wanting to teach them something and show them different parts of the world. To learn about the environment and different cultures. We are seeing that becoming a more important aspect in yachting.”

"Now I see clients where they are taking their family and their children to see these different places, and not just giving their children a life of luxury, but also wanting to teach them something and show them different parts of the world."

Amels was established in 1918 as a small boatbuilder in the north of the Netherlands, and the shipyard built its first superyacht, 48.2m Katalina, in 1982. In 1991, it was taken over by Damen Shipyards. “I think what really sets Amels apart is that we have a different business model from most other shipyards,” says Rose. “Of course, [it is] something that is closely related to Damen, which my grandfather started just over 90 years ago.”

The shipbuilding behemoth, founded by Rose’s grandfather Jan and her great uncle Rien in 1927, has since its inception delivered more than 6,000 vessels and has an annual turnover of over two billion euros. Jan’s son Kommer took over the running of the shipyard in 1969. “When my father took over from his father in the late 1960s, he was very much inspired by the car industry and their vision on production and economies of scale and standardisation,” says Rose.

Amels, as a luxury shipbuilder, had delivered many iconic custom builds such as Montkaj and Boadicea in the latter part of the 20th century, but the company had struggled with profitability. “Back in 1991, Amels came up for sale, it had had a challenging time in the late 1980s, and my father bought it with the vision to apply those principles that he [had] already [done] successfully in the commercial shipbuilding industry to luxury yachting.”

At first, the straightforward, established techniques of Damen’s commercial shipbuilding world were not embraced. “First of all, everyone was telling my father, ‘Mr Damen, it is great that you have been successful in the commercial industry, but yachting is something really quite different and it won’t work because clients want something unique, they won’t go for something that is more standardised’,” says Rose. The desire to start building yachts on speculation was also put on hold because the shipyard lacked the working capital to do it. But after a number of years continuing with traditional yachting methods, Kommer had had enough. “It wasn’t until the early 2000s, when our investment in yachting had not been very fruitful for those first years, that my father said, ‘Okay, this is not working, we need to try something different. We’ve tried it your way, and now we are going to do it my way.’ And that’s when we introduced Limited Editions, which is a standardised technical platform in combination with a custom interior.”

Rose believes the yard will continue to see larger deliveries, especially with clients returning to Amels for bigger yachts. Like many other builders, Amels is noticing a change in their clients’ use of the vessels. “We really see clients who want to venture out of the more traditional yachting destinations in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean and go to different places. So that [calls] for an alternate approach and for different requirements in terms of yachting. It’s not just that people want to sit and sunbathe and swim and go on jet skis. They want to dive, use their submarines, and they want to get in larger tenders to see wildlife and to venture into a new area that they are exploring.”

The continued development of the yacht-support side of Damen is a no-brainer. “We always have to think what makes sense for us as a business, and as we have the commercial side of our business and the yachting side of the business, we tend to think a lot of crossover advantages, which you’ll see in the yacht-support market.”

“We always have to think what makes sense for us as a business, and as we have the commercial side of our business and the yachting side of the business, we tend to think a lot of crossover advantages, which you’ll see in the yacht-support market.”

The advantages of commercial shipbuilding are undeniably evident in the SeaXplorer range. These vessels, the first in the world to be built as Polar-Code-compliant expedition yachts, were unveiled at the Monaco Yacht Show 2015. “In 2020, we will be delivering the first two Damen SeaXplorers, and that is going to be really interesting because at the moment, when you look at expedition yachts, you see that different shipyards and clients are still searching for the right balance, and I think that we’ve really nailed it,” says Rose.

As the Dutch shipbuilder celebrates its centenary, how does Amels look to continue over the next 100 years? For Rose, it’s important to remember the core values of the shipyard and the wider Damen group. “I think in the end, it is a combination of sticking to what we are good at, but at the same time looking at new horizons, and it will be always be in the spirit of Amels to continue innovating and growing.”

This interview appears in full in The Superyacht Report. To subscribe, click here.

The future of the superyacht market and next-generation clients will form the backbone of The Superyacht Forum programme. To learn more about the event, held 12 - 14 November in Amsterdam, click here.

Image: Kommer and Rose Damen, courtesy of Amels

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