Done well, restoration projects are held in high esteem in the superyacht industry. Hard to come by and a challenge to get right, such projects can provide their facilitators with a great deal of satisfaction and pride. Much of the driving force behind restoration projects is the aesthetics: looking back at some of the most prominent projects, Fair Lady, Shemara and Lulworth, their ability to stand out from the crowd is undeniable. 

“Restorations command a different kind of appreciation,” explains Henk Wiekens, joint managing director of Pendennis Shipyard, a yard that has been responsible for some renowned classic restorations including, most recently, Malahne. “You can create the same functionality you have on any other boat, we proved that with Malahne, and owners enjoy the history and the timeless look of the boat.”

For Duncan Chalmers, former director of Fairlie Yachts and now director of Grey Beard Yachting, who oversaw the restoration of Mariquita, the majority of owners who restore yachts have, in the past, restored cars and houses. “To some extent, restoration is in their blood,” he reflects. “There is the view that things from previous times are irreplaceable and therefore more elegant. These projects are also in limited supply: it is easy to throw money at a new build, but finding a restoration project and putting the right team together is more of a challenge.” 

Noting a recent spike in the popularity of restored yachts, William Collier, managing director of G. L. Watson & Co, believes that it comes down to the evolving wishes of a changing landscape of yacht owners. “I think yacht design has changed to favour more exterior space, and classic yachts provide that,” he explains. “There is also a move towards mid-sized yachts as clients realise that a more intimate space can make spending time with their family all the more enjoyable.”

Restorations differ from even the most extensive refit insofar as the original functionality is transformed. They are never straightforward and much depends on the condition of the original vessel, as well as the passion and patience of the owner who should be willing to make compromises and accept astute advice. It is by no means guaranteed that a restoration will cost less than a new build, and there is always the risk that a budget can spiral out of control due to unforeseen costs. 

“A classic boat has a smaller interior volume than a modern boat and often a big part of the cost of a new build is the interior fit-out, so it might cost a bit less than a modern yacht built at the same yard,” explains Collier. He admits, however, that the financial challenge for the owner is that, with a new-build project, you can be very accurate with the estimated cost of the project, but with a classic it is very much an unknown.

“You have the purchase stage, which is hopefully the cheap part, the recovery stage, which can be very expensive, but the biggest thing that is very difficult to ascertain until you dismantle it is the absolute condition of the vessel,” he explains. “It is important that the owner has a good level of trust with the team about the revealed costs. The main cost will lie in the steelwork or structural repairs, but it is the unknown that concerns most: you have to start taking a boat to bits before you know where the bottom line is.”

“Restorations can easily end up more expensive because once you buy the yacht, you have to take it apart, so you have already spent a lot of money making a pile of junk on a shipyard floor,” concurs Chalmers. “The next thing to consider is how to restore the yacht: are you going to employ the techniques used at the time or do you use modern epoxy and timber framework? But the most difficult factor is whether or not to spend more on hiding all the mod cons that owners are used to on a boat that looks classic – all this affects the overall cost.”

As for potential restoration projects left around the world, they are certainly not in abundance. “There are not as many potential restorations as when I started 35 years ago, but the ones that are available are in more hidden places that would cost a lot to salvage,” explains Chalmers. When asked to give a specific example, he refers to one schooner, in particular, sitting on the West Coast of America in need of repair.

The early 1990s saw a trend where a lot of sailing yachts were being restored, including Lulworth, Shamrock and Sylvia. “The classic motoryacht market may be starting to follow the classic sailing yacht market, which has been very popular for a lot longer,” assures Collier. “There certainly will be other projects, and we are busy with some of them, as people see the amenities in them. There is also a small market emerging of people building neo-classic looking yachts and those who want to build replicas to original drawings.”

For the committed owner, a restoration project can be a daunting task but is not without reward. There may not be any advantages in terms of cost and timing savings, but the sense of satisfaction associated with the preservation or rejuvenation of a piece of history is perhaps the overwhelming return on investment.

This is a preview of an article found in Issue 24 of The Superyacht Owner.

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