- Business - Exploring explorers with Cantiere delle Marche

By Dario Schiavo

Exploring explorers with Cantiere delle Marche

CEO Vasco Buonpensiere speaks with Dario Schiavo about the passion that lies behind the yard’s iteration of the modern explorer…

Vitadimare 3

Have you ever wondered what characteristics a boat must have to deserve the epithet ‘explorer’? A particular shape or certain specifications? The ability to stow toys or long-range navigation?

Following a lively conversation with Vasco Buonpensiere, CEO of Cantiere delle Marche, alongside the aforementioned characteristics, we must reckon with an additional ingredient: the essence of the explorer lies in both passion and culture. “If the story rests on our passion and that of the enthusiast who seeks out the boats we build, the product is the character,” says Buonpensiere. “That is how we have achieved the success we have today. We did not invent a segment but developed something that already existed but had never been fully expressed before.”

Dario Schiavo (left) with CEO Vasco Buonpensiere

To understand who the pioneers of the modern explorer were and what this name meant in its origins, we must go back in time, to when ‘explorer’ meant conversion. As far back as 1922, the American William Henry Vanderbilt converted a 63-metre French corvette into a yacht to travel 15,000 miles throughout the Mediterranean and near east.
In 1983, lawyer Gianni Agnelli, known as the “Avvocato”, commissioned the conversion of a 32.8-metre ocean-going tugboat into the classic explorer F100, designed by German naval architect Gerhard Gilgenast. The F100 had a steel hull, aluminium superstructure and teak deck, and was equipped with high standards of safety and comfort. Besides his great passion for cars and football, Gianni Agnelli loved the sea and owned some of the most beautiful and iconic boats in the world: Agneta, Extra Beat, Tomahawak, Capricia, Stealth, G.A., Cinquanta, Adagio and Azzurra.
The F100 proved that an explorer could be created by transforming a commercial boat into a yacht. When Agnelli realised this, he started a real trend, not only because it prompted several owners to buy similar boats but also because it paved the way for great changes in yacht design by giving birth to the modern explorer. “The F100 is still an extraordinary boat today, with a layout based on that of an old tugboat, featuring a single cabin, a lobster and fish tank, and a single engine,” says Buonpensiere.
This leads us to ask what differentiates the explorers produced by Cantiere Delle Marche from others on the market. Regarding the shape, there are many types of explorer but, as Buonpensiere says, “Design has little to do with it. What matters more is what you can do with the boat. We have evolved the classic shapes of the explorer while remaining consistent with our DNA and the principles of mechanics, systems, etc. In a nutshell, a boat can be designed like an explorer; there are many on the market. However, it is the technical specifications, along with the culture and passion for this type of boat, that make the difference.”

Clockwise from top left: Yolo, Aurelia, Acala and Mimì la Sardine

Buonpensiere says there are people in the shipyard who used to build all kinds of merchant ships, whose prerogative was to never stop, and that this is the culture that underpins the work that goes on every day at Cantiere delle Marche and that customers love, appreciate and share. The yard’s ability to build boats that have now become the reference point for those seeking a true explorer differentiates it as a leader in this sector of the market.
I remember when the yard was taking its first steps in 2010; industry insiders saw it as just one of many attempting to make a mark in the nautical world, which, let’s admit, is very difficult to penetrate and is full of rules that are not pre-established. The name Cantiere delle Marche might suggest Italian ownership, but this is not the case. Buonpensiere explains: “Some time ago, Ennio [Ennio Cecchini, president and co-founder] and I were considering a leveraged buy-out merger, which was a significant economic operation. The previous investor – the Virgili family ­– had almost finalised the investment when one day, a German client of ours Tom Schroder (the owner of the Flexplorer 146 Maverick) proposed he become the majority shareholder, but only under the condition of maintaining the current size.
“We are agile, there are only two of us and we don’t have to do a lot of product committees. We send each other few emails because we talk to each other a lot and everything is faster and easier. We have 17 boats under construction with two new contracts coming in. It means that the method we have developed works and that our culture fully embraces our product.”

Flexplorer 146 Maverick

Another crucial ingredient, in my opinion, for understanding the success of Cantiere delle Marche and its explorers is the company culture. The workers have given the team the nickname “tribe”, a sign of great cohesion among everyone. Based on my own experience, it reminds me a lot of the virtues of the old Perini Navi: limited production, excellent boat quality, strong camaraderie among colleagues, passion for the sea and sailing, and a powerful sense of family both within the shipyard and with the owners.
“Our customers,” says Buonpensiere, “are not attracted by the brand of the furnishings because you can simply buy those, and they have nothing to do with the yard’s ability to build the boat. I always advise them to be wary of those who emphasise the brand of the furnishings during boat shows. I believe there is a market I call ‘real estate yachting’, which offers a houseboat, and then there is yachting, the genuine one. To understand the importance of the culture of explorer clients, when they see super-cool floor-to-ceiling windows resembling those of a London flat, they complain about the wasted space to stow everything they need for sailing.
“Our customers, who are among the wealthiest individuals globally, seek yachts with a capital ‘Y’ because they desire to sail, not just [go on] vacation. They may not necessarily aim to circumnavigate the world, but they often have prior sailing experience and understand the intricacies of navigating and docking. They discuss topics like DPS, enquire about the boat’s systems and possess a deep passion for the sea.”

Vasco Buonpensiere with co-founder and president Ennio Cecchini (right)

The figure of the explorer enthusiast, says Buonpensiere, is a person who embodies very specific values. These elusive and affluent individuals, classic members of elite circles, have contributed across generations to shaping a distinct notion of high society and the aspirational lifestyle now referred to as ‘old money’ in the collective imagination.
“One of our owners is a genuine sea enthusiast, aged between 38 and 65, who prefers classic cars over Ferraris. They are not concerned with appearing ostentatious or seeking recognition. Simply purchasing an explorer reflects their indifference to others’ opinions. I would describe them as a country gentleman, unashamed to drive to Chelsea in their Defender, dressed in hunters, Barbour jacket and a ‘vaiella’ shirt.”

Cantiere delle Marche main shed

In relation to markets, Buonpensiere says its target market until recently was Mexico, a land of affluent yacht owners, where Cantiere delle Marche sold two boats to the country’s most iconic figure in yachting. Currently, England represents a highly significant market, with seven boats sold to date, with Italy in second place.
Buonpensiere closes our conversation with some news about future plans. “We are moving towards a significant and strategically important dimensional choice, especially in certain markets, which involves a very demanding exercise. It entails a different utilisation of bridges with a consequent functional distribution, which until now has not received the attention it deserves.”
This new bridge will have a different name ... stay tuned!

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