Sailing superyacht owners love and use their boats well, but brokerage sales have been slow recently. We speak to expert brokers to find out why.
Swift, luxurious and magnificent, sailing superyachts inspire passion in their owners.
Yet these graceful giants, which make up about 18 per cent of the overall superyacht fleet, showed poor brokerage sales figures in the first quarter of 2012, with two sold compared with 51 motor yachts. The last quarter of 2011 was an unusual high, with 17 sold, against 36 motor yachts, but back through 2011 monthly numbers have been depressed, between two and (a sharp peak of) 11. Brokers we spoke to agreed that super sailer brokerage has been slow over the past 12 months and the reasons have as much to do with the attitudes of their owners as the niche market and unique maintenance and crew needs of sailing yachts.
‘A lot of motor yacht sales in the last 18 months have been the result of very keen sellers,’ says Toby Walker, managing director of brokerage, charter and management at Dubois Yachts. ’Whereas a lot of sailing yacht owners are not financially bound to have to sell the yacht. We’ve got a number of owners who would sell at the right level, and go on and do another project, but they are by no means desperate to sell.
‘We’ve seen the low numbers of sailing yacht sales because owners are not prepared to give them away at throwaway prices.’
Perhaps then, sailors represent a particularly financially secure section of the superyachting community, but an emotional element is in play too.
‘With many motor yacht owners it’s about the image and the enjoyment,’ says Walker. ‘Whereas with many sailing yacht owners it’s all about the enjoyment – and nothing will get in the way of that. To paraphrase, for some motor yacht owners the yacht would be the first thing to go; for a lot of sailing yacht owners it would be the last thing to go.’
The ideas that sailors are less likely to want or need to sell their superyachts, and that they will be less likely to slash the prices if they do, are supported by all the brokers we spoke to. Our statistics, in comparison, show that a roughly proportional number of sailing superyachts have been coming on to the market in recent months. In Q1 of 2012, 18 came on to the market, compared with 80 motor yachts and in Q4 of 2011, 15 came on to the market, compared with 108 motor yachts.
In 2011 as a whole, 408 motor yachts were new to the market, compared with 63 sailing yachts. Neither do our statistics suggest that sailing yacht sellers are reluctant to make reductions on their yachts once they are for sale. There were 25 price updates on sailing superyachts in Q1 of 2012. In 2011 the average reduction on a motor yacht was 11 per cent, and on a sailing yacht, 14 per cent. In 2010, the average reduction on a motor yacht was 14 per cent, and 11 per cent on sail.
But when assessing the superyacht market, so few units are involved that statistics can be skewed by a few anomalies – for example, a couple of massively reduced boats can skew reduction figures. This is even more of a danger when narrowing the field to sailing boats. Bruce Brakenhoff, president of Perini Navi USA, says the prices of sailing boats that have sold over the past 12 months have been ‘all over the place’.
‘A few have been low; one wasn’t even on the market – he was made an offer that was off the charts; and on another deal there was a trade involved.’
In any case, he does not believe that slashing prices is an effective way to sell sailing yachts. ‘More motor yachts could satisfy a particular customer’s needs, so he will go after the one in his price range – the one that’s the best deal. Whereas the sailboats are few and far between and just because you drop the price from €30 million to €20 million doesn’t mean the client for that boat is out there.’
Where, then, do potential owners turn for a super sailer?
‘The buyer who really wants a large sailing yacht and can afford that, is keen to try to build a new one,’ says Bertrand Vogele, CEO of Yachting Partners International. ‘When you are very rich, and very passionate like sailing yacht owners are, it is more interesting to build a new one.’
He adds: ‘Competition between the top sail yards in the world – there are five or six – is hot. So [owners] can get good prices.’
Walker agrees that the ‘high-end, pedigree yards’ for large sailing yachts have seen good business over the last few months. Our statistics show three new orders were made in the first quarter of 2012, six in the last quarter of 2011, and 27 in 2011 as a whole (compared to 81 motor yachts). Not bad considering the small number of specialist yards. These yachts will be well used for the purposes to which they will be tailored.
‘Sailing superyachts tend to be one-offs, for owners who are completely committed to big campaigns, be they rallies, regattas or charter work,’ says Walker.
The growth of racing events, such as St Barth’s Bucket or the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta, means there are more reasons for an enthusiast to make a new order. ‘We’ve seen the evolution of superyacht racing. That’s allowed a lot of former cruising owners to enjoy a modicum of racing and, in certain owners, it’s generated a focus on design and performance,’ says Walker.
‘They always want to embrace new technologies and there’s a constant trend towards reducing weight for performance: yards that can build in composite are seeing more enquiries.’
Brakenhoff has found that this paring down has filtered through to interiors in the market, which previously favoured classical styles. ‘They’re getting more hip, more contemporary for interiors. Now they are maybe 50 per cent modern, 50 per cent classic, whereas it used to be 95 per cent classic.’
So what does the future hold for sailing superyachts? ‘I don’t think it’s affected the market yet, but over the next 10 years, environmental issues will favour the sailing yacht market. Fuel costs, carbon footprint, that sort of thing,’ says Walker.
But when it comes to sailing superyachts, it seems passion is as likely to sustain the industry. One might, for example, think the maintenance and skilled crew requirements for a sailing yacht would deter buyers, but Brakenhoff disagrees. ‘It would, however, affect whether they sell or not. If they’re frustrated they’ll sell. But that doesn’t happen often.’