Nostromo has been an enduring source of calm for her owner as he faced the headwinds of life. British Industrialist Sir Andrew Cook talks through his six decades of adventures at sea, and the tough decision he has made to sell his beloved sloop...
“If you want a sailing yacht you need to be a yachtsman,” says Sir Andrew Cook, from the deck of his 30 metre yacht in Malta. “You need to be an adventurer, an explorer, a navigator.” Having owned Nostromo for more than 12 years, Sir Andrew appreciates that he is unusual among yacht owners. “I like to sail. Most owners of large yachts aren’t yachtsmen; they want a platform to entertain their friends and float around on. They don’t like it when it gets rough. For every sailing yacht owner, there are probably 10 motor yacht owners.”
Sir Andrew’s passion for being on the water started at a young age. “When I was 10, I remember learning to sail on a little rented dinghy in Poole Park [in Dorset] where there was a little boating lake,” he recalls. “Then my father bought a very old boat – I think it was about 20th-hand – called a Cadet. I enjoyed sailing that even though it was falling apart and half rotten with cotton sails.” In his teens Sir Andrew graduated to a two-person Merlin Rocket but, after getting frustrated with finding a crew to meet his high standards, he opted for an OK Dinghy.
“I was successful competing my OK Dinghy so when I was in my early twenties, I thought I would have a go at the Olympic thing,” he says. So Sir Andrew bought a Tornado multihull and competed on the Olympic circuit attempting to qualify for the 1976 Games in Montreal. However, it soon became clear that the huge time investment required, including all the travelling, meant that it wasn’t going to be feasible. “If you wanted to do that successfully it would have to be a full-time job,” he says. “And I had a collision with a submerged object at a regatta at Hyères in the South of France that ruptured the centreboard casing, and it was a hell of a job to repair. At that point I gave up dinghy sailing.”
Sir Andrew’s competitive achievements may have fallen short of his ambitions, but he never lost his passion for being on the water. After years of chartering and owning a selection of smaller yachts and powerboats, he set his sights on his first superyacht. “They say your yacht in feet should equal your age in years. When I was 10, I had a 10ft sailing dinghy; by the time I was 50 I had a 50-footer, but I wanted a 100-footer,” he says with a smile.
By 2006 Sir Andrew finally found himself in a position where he could make this dream a reality. “I could afford a large yacht and I was determined to build one precisely to my own specification,” he says. “I looked at a few that were second-hand, but they didn’t really fit the bill.” In the end, Sir Andrew found an existing design from Dubois Naval Architects’ Malcolm McKeon and decided to tweak it to fit his specifications. “I made some quite significant modifications to one of his designs to turn something that was a nice yacht into what I believe to be a unique yacht,” he says.
With the design chosen, Sir Andrew then had to decide where to have it constructed. “All roads led to Holland as there were three Dutch yards that could build you a large sailing yacht,” he recalls. “But Pendennis in Cornwall was also building large yachts and, being an English industrialist myself, I felt that I would prefer to recycle some of my wealth into the British yacht-building industry.”
Choosing Pendennis also allowed Sir Andrew to take a hands-on approach to the build, which was important to him. With the help of the sleeper train from London to Cornwall, he was able to leave his then home in Derbyshire after dinner and be in the yard shortly after nine the next morning. “It allowed me to get very close to the build, and make sure it was done right,” he says. “I not only enjoyed supervising, or helping to supervise, the building of Nostromo but I was also able to be present to prevent mistakes being made.”
The yacht was built with four cabins for nine guests and was designed to be lightweight with transatlantic capabilities. Sir Andrew was adamant that the yacht should be built with an aluminium hull. “Steel’s much too heavy and fibreglass is not the right material, in my opinion,” he says. Following a few “hiccups” Nostromo was eventually launched in 2009. “We were a bit late completing the vessel. Inevitably there were a lot of teething problems so the first real season we had was in 2010,” he says.
Nostromo hasn’t been the only major construction project that Sir Andrew has undertaken. He also spent four years restoring a 10-carriage Swiss Classic Train, built in the 1930s. Sir Andrew found the carriages that had been withdrawn from service in various scrap yards and took them to the Czech Republic to be brought back to life. “I needed a piano for the bar car. I walked into a piano shop in England and said, ‘I want to buy a piano for my train’ and they looked at me in disbelief,” he recalls. Now fully restored, the steam locomotive goes out once a month. “It’s a revenue earner,” he says. “I don’t think it earns enough revenue, but it does earn revenue.”
Sailing and steam trains might be hobbies for Sir Andrew but his professional career has been dedicated to building the William Cook company, which manufactures components in steel for a range of sectors including rail, petro-chemical and defence. “I picked up the pieces of what had once been a family business but was now a tiny quoted company in which I had a few shares, and made it my life’s work to recover it,” he says. Sir Andrew became chairman of William Cook in 1981 and began a period of rapid expansion, with the company growing to a turnover of £120 million by the early 1990s. In 1997 he was able to defeat a hostile takeover bid and took William Cook back into private ownership. Finally, in 2004 he achieved his aim of restoring the company to 100 per cent family control for the first time in 50 years.
Sir Andrew is the first to admit that his life off the water has been more turbulent than his life on it. His mother died when he was just a year old, which led to a difficult upbringing by his widowed father, with whom he eventually severed ties when he was in his late twenties. “It’s been a bumpy ride,” he says. “I have owed a hundred million pounds twice, and I have managed to pay that off twice. I have always been experiencing headwinds in business just as one experiences headwinds in yachting.”
Sir Andrew has four children from his first marriage and his son now works for the business. Despite this, he is adamant that “nothing is set in stone” when it comes to the future running of the company. “A battle plan survives only until the first shot is fired, so there isn’t really a plan,” he says. “I am 72, so I’m not going to go on forever. I hope William does take it over but only if he wants to. I don’t want him to have the half-century of the ordeal that I had. I just want my children to do what they want to do and have happy, balanced lives. When I am six feet under, I won’t be caring about the business anyway.”
Throughout all this turbulence Nostromo has remained a source of calm. “I have changed my life more often than I have changed my yacht,” he says (Sir Andrew has married three times). “I helped to design Nostromo and incorporated everything I felt was necessary. It has been my karma. If I were going to build a larger yacht, all I would do is scale it up. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
A history and geography aficionado, Sir Andrew has used his vessel to explore virtually every corner of the Mediterranean – including the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, Bosphorus, Dardanelles, Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Ligurian seas and the Galician coast of north-west Spain – most of it under sail. “If there is wind, I will sail,” he says. One of his most memorable moments was crossing the Aegean in 2019. “There was a force six meltemi on the port beam the whole way,” he recalls. “We didn’t put the engine on once from the end of the Corinth Canal right across to the Turkish coast and the city of İzmir.” Another memorable passage came sailing to La Coruña on the north coast of Spain after a refit back at Pendennis.
“We were two nights at sea and under sail the whole way. It’s wonderful when you are under sail because the marine life – the whales and dolphins – come up to you. I think three whales came alongside on that trip,” he enthuses.
Despite his obvious love for Nostromo, Sir Andrew has decided to put her on the market. “It’s with a heavy heart but I’ve done everything I ever set out to do,” he says. “I shall miss Nostromo badly, but it is time to let somebody else have a go. I believe there is a prospective buyer who wants to do a circumnavigation with their family, and I can think of no better boat to do it in. I shall make sure it goes to a good home.”
Nostromo may be on the market, but Sir Andrew will still have a chance to scratch his sailing itch as he also owns a Wally Nano called Nostromino. The yacht spent the winter undergoing maintenance in the Netherlands before returning to Switzerland, where Sir Andrew is now based, to compete in the annual Bol d’Or Mirabaud around Lake Geneva. “We did that in 2019 and there was an immense storm with, I think, about 400 retirements,” he says. “I have never seen a storm like that on sea or lake – it was frightening.”
Following this year’s Bol d’Or, Sir Andrew intends to return to Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez “to avenge our defeat of 2021”. Having heard how he has responded to previous defeats in life I wouldn’t put money against him achieving his goal. Sir Andrew might be about to part ways with his beloved Nostromo, but it’s clear he is still a yachtsman who means business.