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Heesen Yachts’ Rise as a Top Superyacht Builder

Heesen Yachts' journey to becoming one of the best superyacht builders began in 1979 with the 65-foot Amigo.

Heesen Yachts
Project Akira is expected to be available for delivery in spring 2024. Draft will be a Bahamas-friendly 7 feet, 6 inches. Courtesy Heesen Yachts

Frans Heesen, at least at first, wasn’t in the superyacht business. He was in high-tech plastics, which, during the 1960s and ’70s, were becoming so ubiquitous that the word “plastics” became a famous quote unto itself from the Dustin Hoffman film The Graduate.

But in 1978, Heesen acquired Striker Boats, which built in aluminum. The first yacht produced under the Heesen brand, Amigo, launched a year later, along with the entrepreneurial juggernaut we know today as Heesen Yachts. Frans Heesen had no way of knowing it at the time, but at 65 feet length overall, Amigo was a fraction of the size his yard would go on to represent in the superyacht industry.

Heesen Yachts
Project Apollo is a hull from Heesen’s 55-meter Steel class. The yard started the yacht on spec to shorten delivery time. Courtesy Heesen Yachts

It was in 1988 that Heesen Yachts truly became the globally known brand it is today. That’s the year the yard launched Octopussy, a 124-footer that could top 50 knots. At the time, it was the fastest luxury yacht in the world, and suddenly, the name Heesen was on everyone’s lips from St. Barts to St.-Tropez.

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Since then, the builds have just kept coming, getting bigger and more interesting as the Dutch yard delivers them. Frans Heesen retired in 2012, having sold the yard a few years earlier, but Heesen Yachts continues to be known for building in aluminum and steel. (So much for that one important word being “plastics.”)

Heesen Yachts
Heesen builds its yachts entirely in-house. From welding to the assembly of interiors, the yard oversees every inch of a boat. Courtesy Heesen Yachts

One of the yard’s noteworthy current builds is Project Apollo, a 180-footer whose steel keel was laid in August. The yacht represents a business practice that has worked well for Heesen: starting a build on spec so that by the time an owner is found, he can make his imprint on the interior styling while still enjoying a shortened delivery schedule.

And just because yachts like Project Apollo are being built on spec doesn’t mean they’re being produced as cookie-cutter designs. Yes, this yacht is the latest in Heesen’s 55-meter Steel class, but it’s also an evolution in styling.

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“As much as we love our original design with the vertical windows, we felt it was time to make an evolutionary step,” said Frank Laupman of Omega Architects, a frequent Heesen Yachts partner. “We opted for a larger expanse of floor-to-ceiling glass, without mullions, in the main salon and sky lounge. Then we took the opportunity to give a slightly more aggressive look to the profile by using continuous sheets of tinted glass. The horizontal lines stretch the optical length and balance the air draft. The result is beautiful: We retained the family look and feel but gave it an elegant touch.”

Heesen Yachts
Project Altea, now christened Ela, was sold in April after construction was already well underway. Courtesy Heesen Yachts

The recently delivered Ela is another example of how the spec-start build process still allows for adding some personality to an existing design. Ela, which was known throughout its build as Project Altea, is the second hull in Heesen’s sub-500-gross-ton Nova Plus class. The owners bought the yacht just three months before the delivery date and worked with interior designer Cristiano Gatto to personalize it.

“Together with the client, we revisited all the loose furniture, inside and out, selecting new materials for all the upholstery and the key items from Paola Lenti, B&B Italia, Poltrona Frau and Promemoria,” Gatto says. “But more importantly, we designed bespoke pieces such as tables, sofas and lamps, all beautifully crafted by Italian ateliers, who delivered them in record time.”

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Today, the yard is putting the finishing touches on Project Falcon, a 196-footer that splashed in July after being touted as the yard’s largest-ever steel displacement yacht. It has what the yard is calling “one of the most elaborate and sophisticated designs in the shipyard’s history,” with Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design including custom-built furniture and lighting along with rare woods and bespoke metal and glass. Exactly how that interior will look is yet to be disclosed, but Rick van de Wetering, the yard’s chief operating officer, says, “This has been an immensely complex but satisfying project, which has given rise to some very creative solutions.”

Heesen Yachts
Project Falcon launched at the end of July. Delivery to the owners is expected in December. Courtesy Heesen Yachts

With twin MTU diesels, Project Falcon is projected to have a top speed of 17.5 knots and a range of 4,200 nautical miles at 13 knots. Delivery is scheduled in December. On board will be a glass elevator and a touch-and-go helipad, features that couldn’t have been imagined aboard Amigo back in the late 1970s.

Just try to guess what the next half-century at Heesen Yachts might bring.  

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