Defining the sailing sweet spot
Southern Wind commercial director Andrea Micheli reflects on the challenges and successes on offer in the sailing yacht sector…
The current status of sailing yacht deliveries is fairly easy to over-simplify. As can be seen from the below graph supplied by The Superyacht Agency, 30m-plus sailing yacht deliveries have seen a significant decline since 2006, with the output more than halved after 2014. The halcyon days of the early 2000s now seem a distant memory, the factors that contributed are manifold and will be examined, in more detail, along with the sailing yacht fleet forecast in the upcoming Superyacht New Build Report.
Arguably the most consistent yard over this period has been Southern Wind. For comparison, below are the 30m+ deliveries from Southern Wind over the same period. As can be seen, there have been some fluctuations, but the consistency is plain to see. In a preview of our full sailing yacht market analysis, SuperyachtNews speaks with Andrea Micheli, commercial director at Southern Wind.
Due to its utilisation of a semi-custom and production output, direct comparisons between Southern Wind and fully custom yards are somewhat limited. However, there is something to be said for perseverance through a turbulent time in the market, and to this point is where we begin. “I think the reason why we maintain this delivery output is that consistency is one of our main goals,” starts Micheli, “consistency on the production floor and by optimizing the processes is how we have managed to be very efficient and very competitive.”
“The fact that there was always a goal to work to has maintained this constant output,” continues Micheli. “All the communication and marketing, the sales and the production align on this goal. Being able to count on such a regular output meant that we could then develop and optimise all the decision processes in the production process.”
The sailing yacht market, especially the high performance and semi-production side, have overlapping niches in terms of customer base, which forms a competitive marketplace for a historically smaller client base. The custom sailing yacht market, in contrast, has produced some iconic yachts but faces a sterner test producing vessels while making a profit. As evidenced above, the hole left in the market by the drop in these deliveries due to these factors is marked.
Southern Wind Yard, Cape Town
Micheli acknowledges this and is frank in his assertions that Southern Wind’s consistent deliveries are aligned with it recognising the areas of strength and as well as accepting the potential risk in the sailing yacht sector.
“The key to our success is that we found our sweet spot in between (custom and production). Making a full custom yacht is not an efficient process for a shipyard. In terms of technical challenges, a naval architect may have to reinvent the wheel each time, they cannot leverage on the experience and it makes it hard to improve the technology and the processes step by step. The burden of this challenge then falls on the shoulders of the yard, which translates into higher prices. Higher prices reduce the market niche - the fishing pond where a yard can fish for clients.”
Custom superyachts of any kind require a delicate balance of the design ambition, owners request and feasibility from the yard. This is exacerbated by the performance considerations of sailing yachts, especially when high performance is concerned. “There are very few clients that are genuinely interested in, and in need of a full custom sailing yacht. They often don't have the depth of knowledge in sailing yacht design, and they are not actually setting out with the ambition of changing everything from a design perspective."
"Our challenge, and also our success is that we try to educate our clients to accept some common ground in the design platform," explains Micheli. "We invest a lot of time to explain why this common design platform is a very safe starting point. We have always defended the principle and the benefits of having, as much as possible, a common design backbone.”
“Our clients and our yachts don't go for the latest technology," continues Micheli. "They go for the second latest technology. But it is the technology that works. We like to say that we don't go for the bleeding edge. We go for the leading edge.” This approach and candour are at odds with some of the narratives across the industry surrounding innovation. Avoiding hyperbole is as much the responsibility of the yards as it is the media that cover them.
"We might be seen as conservative from some of our competitors," summarises Micheli, "but actually, we like to say that we are sustainable, reliable and consistent with our basic mission. So we don't try to shoot for the Moon to get to the sky. We shoot for the sky.”
Not harnessing the obvious green credentials of a sailing yacht is an often pondered shortcoming. As the industry strives for a more sustainable future, the trend downwards in sailing yacht deliveries seems out of step with public sentiment towards lower emissions alternatives. Looking ahead, Micheli concludes to this point. “Any sailing yacht is greener than the greenest power yacht. That is a huge advantage that the yachting industry, certainly the sailing yacht industry, is not able to leverage on enough.”
The full sailing yacht market analysis will appear in the upcoming Superyacht New Build Report. To gain access to The Superyacht Group's full suite of content, publications, events and services, click here to join The Superyacht Group Community and become one of our members.
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