When Turkish entrepreneur and car fanatic Vural Ak couldn’t find a shipyard to build his yacht, he decided to start his own. The owner of AKYACHT and its flagship Victorious tells Sophia Wilson about the road to ownership of yacht and yard.
“We didn’t have a family car, but when I was five years old our next-door neighbour had an old Chevrolet,” recalls Vural Ak, the owner of 85-metre Victorious. “When I heard the engine noise in the morning, I would immediately get out of bed and he would drive me to the end of the street while my parents were asleep. Then I would walk back and return to bed without my parents even noticing.”
This is Ak’s first recollection of where his obsession with cars began – a passion that has now dominated his personal and professional life for decades. After studying at university, he decided to shun conventional career opportunities in politics and public relations for a job that would allow him to be behind the wheel. “I started working in a car rental company as a driver,” he says. “It took me four years to learn the business and then I decided to start my own. At the age of 22 I established my company from zero and, thank god, I’m happy [that I did].”
Ak’s rental business has enabled him to grow a portfolio of companies that span the automotive and agricultural industries. His Intercity car rental company is now the biggest car leasing company in Turkey, and he also owns the Intercity Istanbul Park circuit in Turkey – which plays host to Formula 1 – but the road to this success hasn’t always been smooth. “We were successful, then we went bankrupt, then we were successful again and then we went bankrupt another two times,” he says. “Since then, we have hopefully learned our lessons and are all good.”
For Ak, it has never just been about the business and cars have remained a hobby. He has a growing collection of hundreds of sports cars – ranging from classics such as E-Type Jaguars to the latest Ford GTs and a Lamborghini Huracán Performante – and collects and restores vintage tractors. He has been Turkish off-road champion, raced in GT3 championships across Europe and competed in the Dakar Rally. This need for speed has also been transferred to the water and it was powerboats that ultimately led him to taking on the build of 85-metre Victorious.
“I have some very fast powerboats that can go 160 to 170 miles per hour [260 to 270 kilometres per hour] but carrying them with the big boat is an issue,” says Ak, who has previously owned a 30-metre Azimut and a 50-metre CRN. “When you travel from A to B, those powerboats must follow you from the sea; you cannot put them on your yacht because they are more than 50ft long. That’s why I was looking for a bigger boat.”
In this quest to find a yacht with enough deck space to carry these boats, Ak came across an extraordinary 77-metre project in New Zealand that was being undertaken by businessman Graeme Hart. Ak saw potential in the hull of this partially built explorer and bought it back to Turkey in 2016. “The yacht has travelled half the world without running the engines,” he jokes.
Ak had big ambitions for the boat, including a six-metre extension to the stern and the addition of a two-metre bowsprit to bring the yacht to a new overall length of 85 metres – but finding a yard to complete the project soon became an issue. “I spent more than six months trying to find a suitable place to finish the boat according to my needs,” he says. “Since I’m not a stranger to the industry, I decided to open and establish my own shipyard.”
To get the project completed, Ak found a plot of land in the shipping industry district near Gölcük in the Marmara region of Turkey, and established the Lloyd’s-certified AKYACHT shipyard. Naturally, Covid-19 had an impact on the boat’s delivery time, but working in collaboration with H2 Yacht Design, the project made its debut at the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show.
As well as enjoying the cruising grounds, the Turkish magnate is understandably incredibly proud of his country’s infrastructure developments. “Thirty years ago, I had to deliver the car rentals from one city to another and the roads were not good. Now we have highways everywhere, and some of them are better than my racing circuit,” he jokes. Ak is also a major influence in trying to make the roads safer and runs the biggest driving training academy in Turkey. “We are educating people who already have driving licences on how to drive safely and nicely,” he explains. “There are different programmes, but the majority are drivers from corporate customers who are sending up to 100 drivers a day. I believe we have saved many thousands of lives and I am very proud of that.”
Ak is also clear that AKYACHT has a role to play in Turkey’s economic future. The yard is now fully established and has two hangars as well as an in-house joinery and carpentry department. “I am so happy that I have entered into this,” he says. “Although I have more than 10 companies in 10 different sectors, this is the only business that has my family name. There are many international shipbuilding brands that are more than 100 years old and I have huge respect for them. We will try to be one of them.”
On meeting him on board during the show, it is clear that the gamble paid off. “We tried to make a different boat: friendly, easy to live in, comfortable, luxurious. And I believe we have achieved this,” he says, while we sip Turkish tea in the cool of the Gentleman’s Lounge on the top deck.
Despite his racing pedigree, Ak is clear that family is now his number-one priority, and this is evidenced throughout the yacht. “We have a family with three kids, and we have many friends with children, which is why we have 12 cabins on this yacht for private use so that it doesn’t become crowded,” he says. “We have also added many extra features such as a kids’ club, because I know that if you don’t keep the children busy and happy then your journey is not enjoyable.” There might be plenty on board to keep all generations entertained – including a cinema room, hammam and massage room – but Ak and his family are at their happiest when in the water. “My wife loves to swim, and she loves watersports,” he says. “I didn’t learn to swim until I was 20, but my wife taught my kids when they were just six months old. They’re like professionals now; they are at home in the sea – they are water people,” he says.
With Victorious’s explorer credentials – she has a 14,000-nautical-mile autonomous range – Ak wants to head to less friendly swimming waters as soon as his children are a little older. “On my to-do list is the Northwest Passage to Alaska,” he reveals. One of Ak’s non-negotiables with the build was that he wanted a wood-burning fireplace so that the yacht could offer extra comfort in colder climates. “It’s a real fireplace and we are carrying more than two tonnes of wood to burn in it because we plan to use the boat in winter conditions,” he says. “All the floors are heated and there is extra insulation in the glass in the doors so they are very strong and weatherproof.” Ak might have his sights set further afield but he is equally happy spending time on board closer to home. “The south of Turkey is full of rich habitats,” he says. “Lots of forests and it’s uninhabited, so it’s very quiet, and you can anchor everywhere. The water is so clear and the temperature is warm. We start cruising at the beginning of May and you can continue until the end of November.”
The next yacht that Ak has in mind is certain to put the spotlight on the yard once more. “My next project is an 85-metre catamaran,” he reveals. “She is going to be a real head-turner wherever she goes. She will have a huge 22-metre beam with lots of open and closed spaces and plenty of surprises. Again, without needing a shadow boat we can carry many large tenders, toys and a big helicopter.”
The yacht will be the largest private catamaran ever to hit the water when launched so she will certainly be turning heads. However, despite the audacity of the project he tells me that he is “not into extremes anymore”. “I’m just trying to keep business, pleasure, hobbies and family time balanced,” he says. “You cannot increase the time in your day to more than 24 hours... and you do need to sleep.”
First published in the July 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.SHOP NOW