YachtTalk Special 2: Market special with Burgess
The second instalment of Heesen’s YachtTalk Specials took place in St James, the heart of London’s competitive yacht brokerage sector, where we caught up with Jonathan “Joff” Beckett of Burgess to learn more about the current superyacht market. He shared his insights on short-term trends and long-term developments with host Charlotte Kan. Heesen’s CEO Arthur Brouwer also tuned in to add some perspective from the shipbuilding angle.
Peeling back the years
Burgess has orchestrated the sale of myriad famous superyachts, with Beckett at the helm throughout much of it. The charismatic broker broke the ice by reflecting on one of his most memorable deals, the 1987 sale of Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi’s 86-metre Nabila to a young Donald Trump for $30 million.
“In its day, that represented the largest deal by double than any previous yacht sale that had ever occurred,” says Beckett, “and dealing with the two parties involved was quite an experience for me as a young man.”
Burgess has enjoyed collaborations with Heesen since the shipyard was founded by Frans Heesen over 40 years ago. The broker sold and managed two of the Dutch yard’s early boats, including 41-metre Ladyship and record-breaking 44-metre Octopussy – the fastest yacht in the world at the time of its launch in 1988.
“In total, we have sold around 25 Heesens over the years, new and second-hand,” says Beckett. “We have also worked on new builds with Heesen, and we have approximately 14 Heesens in our charter fleet today. Heesen understand what the market wants and are building a product that the market is keen to have. Their boats appeal to over 70% of the market, the quality is very good, the price point is competitive and they’re known for building boats with speed, which is an attractive proposition.”
When asked about his thoughts on current market trends, Beckett described the yachting industry as “being on fire”. He spoke of a large appetite for yacht sales, something which he says could never have been predicted a year ago.
“Twelve months ago, when the pandemic was getting a grip, we were hoping for the best but planning for the worst,” he says. “We took precautionary methods, but the charter market fell off the edge of a cliff, as did sales. But by July 2020 the market began moving again and since August last year we’ve experienced a record number of sales.”
Beckett was keen to point out that the surge in sales over the past year has not led to knockdown prices but “good market level prices”. He described a “carpe diem” attitude among yacht owners and buyers who are looking to enjoy life while remaining safe, and a superyacht, much like a private jet, is the ideal platform on which to achieve that.
“A yacht will encompass many different age groups, from people in their 70s down to their grandchildren,” he says.
Heesen CEO Arthur Brouwer tuned in during the conversation to provide an update on Heesen’s present position. He highlighted the yard’s successful transition to shift work during Covid but was happy to announce that day shift working has now resumed at the Dutch shipyard, which has 12 yachts currently in build.
Brouwer also echoed Beckett’s observations on 2020 sales, commenting: “We had a very bumpy ride last year with sales going down rapidly in the first half of the year but in Q4 everything changed, and in such a way that we have never seen before. We sold a lot of yachts, and that has continued into 2021 with the sale of two new vessels and requests remain high.”
Most surprising was Brouwer’s point that Heesen has witnessed first time yacht owners purchasing yachts up to 50 metres in length as their introduction into yacht ownership. “That’s not something that happens very often,” he says.
Looking to the future
Beckett referenced the new wave of younger buyers that have entered the yacht market in recent years, citing Heesen’s modern new builds as being “the perfect product” for a younger demographic. He drew a comparison with the current wealth curve that is rising exponentially, and the superyacht growth curve which is not keeping pace at present. However, he predicts a dramatic uptick in the yacht market in years to come as today’s younger generation reaches maturity.
“I think the superyacht market will explode in 10 years’ time,” he says. “We’re seeing young people in their 20s right now who don’t necessarily aspire to owning a yacht, but as they reach their mid-40s and begin to have families of their own then I believe we’re going to see an explosion of them moving up into the yacht market.”
Other market trends relating to younger buyers that Beckett highlights include wanting to explore further afield and the advent of the ice-class expedition yacht sector capable of long-distance cruising. He also notes that younger buyers take an environmentally conscious approach to new construction builds and sustainable technology.
Brouwer notes that a broader customer base is also emerging, and an increase in semi-custom yacht ownership with buyers keen to acquire a Heesen speculation build going on to customise the finish at the end stage of construction.
When asked what he was most looking forward to during the second half of 2021, Brouwer replies: “That myself and our team can start interacting in person with customers, captains, crew and brokers. We’re really looking forward to the opening of the yacht sales season in Monaco and Fort Lauderdale.”
Beckett agrees that boat shows provide great networking opportunities, but notes that Burgess is conducting just as much, if not more, business when not attending boat shows. “A boat show is a great celebration of superyachting, but we are re-evaluating what the aim of attending is and who we invite.”
Most important of all was Beckett’s response to the question posed by yacht designer Dickie Bannenberg during the first episode of Heesen’s YachtTalk Specials. Bannenberg asked: “Joff has been at the helm of Burgess forever, so I’d be curious to know what his first yacht sale was, and how it went?”
Beckett replies : “The very first yacht that I sold singlehandedly was a 76-foot steel motoryacht built in Holland. It was sitting in the old port of Cannes, and I sold it in 1983 from a British scrap metal merchant to an Israeli owner for £42,000 – I think the commission was £2,500 – and I remember after closing the sale I arrived back in the office in Monaco, and Nigel Burgess was there with a bottle of Champagne ready to celebrate me getting off the starter blocks.”
Next instalment of YachtTalk Specials will be at British superyacht design studio Harrison Eidsgaard and will see Charlotte Kan in conversation with yacht designer and co-founder Ben Harrison.
When invited to ask Harrison one pressing question, Beckett responded: “Ben, if you were not a yacht designer but wanted to work in the yachting industry, what would your favourite job be?”
Tune in to find out!