Blue skies for Sevenstar Yacht Transport
AMSTERDAM _ If ever they give a prize for “Port Horror Stories,” Richard Klabbers will win it. “How much to ship a yacht?” the chief of Amsterdam-based Sevenstar Yacht Transport is asked. “Well, it depends, really. A port call can cost, say, $25,000 a day. But in unionized US ports, for instance, the added charge for loading and unloading can be 4 times that!” Ouch! Time for context and a look at the costs and benefits of yacht transports.
In 2012 in Zilt, a Dutch online sailing magazine, Adam and Leonie _ a Dutch couple circumnavigating the world with 2 small children _ wrote they put their Veliger477 on a Sevenstar ship from the Maldives to Turkey to avoid the dicey Gulf of Aden. “We are on a tight 3-year schedule,” they wrote from New Zealand and listed pros and cons. Around Africa was cheaper and more adventurous but would add 7,000 sea miles. A transport was pricier, but easier and offered more time in the Mediterranean and shore visits. They opted for the transport.
Their story sounds familiar to Klabbers, Sevenstar’s managing director. Since its founding in 1985, his company has become the world’s largest yacht transporter. “In 2012, we transported 1,400 yachts across the world,” says Klabbers. “Eight years ago that was, maybe, 300. 70% of the boats we ship are motor yachts, against 30% sailing yachts. We use 20 cargo ships. On the sail side, a big event for us the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. We ship a lot of ARC boats back to Europe.”
Sevenstar credits its remarkable success to access to a fleet of 120+ carriers, its knack for innovation and flexibility. The company says it hires more operational people _ like loadmasters and engineers _ than commercial people Yacht and Coast spoke with Klabbers.
A: “Yes, but maybe not as spectacularly as it has to date. We expect a shift toward larger motor yachts. We can handle craft of up to 72 meters. At the same time, we see growth in transporting smaller sailing yachts. Boats of, say, 40 to 45 foot.”
A: “The yachting world used to be confined to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. Now people want to go to Dubai, the US West Coast, Brazil, the Maldives and the Seychelles. Previously undeveloped sailing areas have become accessible. Emerging economies like India, Brazil, China and other Asian countries are also coming on strong. We now serve 50 or so ports around the world.”
Q: We just heard from 2 happy customers. What factors do you see benefiting your business?
A: “Fuel costs, for starters. Fuel is not cheap. Nor are crew charges. And, of course, wear-and-tear, especially on a yacht’s motor. A key factor in the resale value of a yacht is engine running time. How much has the engine done?”
Q: What factors determine transport costs apart from a yacht’s size?
A: “There are several. The distance, of course. And the destinations. A trans-Atlantic trip to, say, Florida is relatively cheap. Asia and Australia are more expensive because of the distance. The US West Coast is pricey because of unionized ports. A port call itself can be $25,000 a day. But loading and unloading may cost an additional $100,000! This has to be reflected in the transport costs for each yacht. We are no different, really than a retailer working with margins of a few percentages.”
Q: The red tape must be maddening?
A: “We have a single person at Sevenstar organizing each trip. After a yacht is booked, we create a link for its planned route. An autumn route from the Med to the Caribbean is easy. Transporting a yacht to India or another unusual destination is more complex. We also need to plan for the proper gear such as cradles and cranes.” Then comes the stow plan. Yachts fit onto a ship like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.”