Test driving Zeelander 5 boat

10 images

All images: Guillaume Plisson for Zeelander

The jet-set collectable: test driving the 15m mini superyacht Zeelander 5

1 July 2024 • Written by Sam Fortescue

Produced in limited quantities at its facility in the Netherlands, the Zeelander 5 captures the essence of a superyacht with the character of a sports cruiser. Sam Fortescue finds out why she is the perfect collectable for jet-setters. 

Twenty-five, twenty-six... the dial eventually comes to rest on 31 knots as we rip through the urban landscape of riverside Rotterdam with the throttle as far forward as it will go. There is a steely gleam to the early spring sunshine, which glitters through a million droplets of water casually picked up and hurled aside by the speeding hull of our Zeelander 5. Wow, is it good to be back in the water again.

I slalom joyously from one side of this busy waterway to the other, revelling in the sense of control; the grip on the water. Just for fun, I raise and lower the bow using the intuitive trim tab buttons. And despite the twin Volvo IPS drives belting out a combined 960hp, their roar is so muted that I can easily speak to my co-pilot without raising my voice. In fact, quietness is one of the boat’s biggest selling points.

Speed freaks can add a third engine to coax the boat up to 40 knots at half load. There’s also the option of a Seakeeper gyrostabiliser.

It has to be said that Rotterdam’s pick n’ mix of blocky, post-war architecture doesn’t feel like the natural habitat for the Zeelander, although it has already proven very successful here: roughly a quarter of the 60 yachts built since 2002 have been sold to Dutch clients. But curves are what really define these boats, from the meandering shearline to the flared bow and enough tumble-home aft to make a J-Class blush.

“The new Zeelander 5 has an S-shaped sheer, instead of the C-shape of its predecessor, the Z44,” explains Floris Koopmans – the precisely-attired son of Zeelander founder Sietse, and the brains behind a carefully weighted marketing campaign. “It gives the boat a more modern appeal, with a wider stern that creates greater space and better handling characteristics.”

Feedback from owners of the coveted Z44 led Zeelander to improve side access to the aft deck, making it less of a step up to the quay.

Koopmans takes us for a tour of the spotless Zeelander shipyard in rural Groot-Ammers, where each boat is painstakingly assembled. As we wander from boat to boat, half marooned like islands in the vast ocean of the shop floor, the true extent of this obsession with curved form is brought home to me. 

As he reels off words such as ‘voluptuous, ‘seductive’ and ‘timeless’, we pause alongside the ready-moulded hull of a 5 that has just been delivered. And there, for the first time ever, I see fairing compound being applied to the exterior of a fibreglass hull.

Let me just illustrate why this is unusual. Smaller fibreglass hulls, like that of the Zeelander 5, are typically wet moulded in female moulds, which have themselves been built over an exactly milled male plug. This technique allows extraordinary control over the final shape of the hull, built up in layers of fibre and resin over an initial coat of hard, shiny gel coat. In other words, the hulls that emerge from a well-made mould are practically perfect.

With half of Zeelander’s yachts sold in the US, this is a brand with deep appeal stateside.

But not, it seems, perfect enough for Zeelander. By applying fairing compound to every curved surface of the hull, the yard says it can achieve an even better finish; one that is practically distortion-free by the time it is painted. “We want to give superyacht builders something to think about,” says Koopmans levelly. “It took 24,000 man-hours to build the first Zeelander 5 – it really is a mini superyacht."

“Look at this cleat,” he urges, pointing to one of the numerous pieces of spotless deck furniture made of matching oval-profile stainless steel. “You have to crush the tubing, then weld on the tips. It costs €3,000 to make this, where any other brand would just bolt on a readymade one. But otherwise, it wouldn’t be a Zeelander.”

It is a story that is repeated throughout the boat, from the imposing headlight-studded stem fitting to the gorgeous, smoky leather floor tiles below. Everything is art, finished to a much higher standard than the norm. And because of this, it is perhaps harder to critique the minor eccentricities of the boat. After all, who would have raised their hand to set Picasso straight? Well, let me have a go...

Standing on the footrests at the pilot seat, a tall person can even peer out through the sunroof.

It's largely a question of volume below deck on the Zeelander 5, and that is a function of its smaller size, but also of aesthetic decisions that have shaped the boat. Cosy dimensions can be forgiven in the V-berth in the raised bow cabin, but it is harder to swallow in the full-beam master amidships. 

This sits beneath the saloon seating, with a deckhead that follows the changes of level seen above, resulting in very little clearance above the kingsize bed – itself extremely low to the floor. It makes a statement about style and fun, but it won’t suit anyone with creaky joints. To port, however, there is standing room, which makes the little desk-with-a-view here an attractive feature and gives the ensuite bathroom the necessary height.

In the saloon above, headroom is no issue at all, especially with the push-button sunroof panel that hums quietly open. The table has cosy seating for at least four, but you won’t notice that because you’ll be too busy gazing out of the windows. 

The whole saloon is wrapped in a delicate glass enclosure – one whose three-dimensional curves can be faithfully reproduced by only two manufacturers globally. If it weren’t for the windscreen wipers, marooned on the glass by the removal of the mullions, vision would be perfect. “The view is one of our main things,” low-balls Koopmans.

The master cabin

Compared to the previous Z44, from which the Zeelander 5 has evolved, there is a clearer division between inside and out. A single pane of stainless-framed glass can be raised or lowered between the saloon and the cockpit, extending the boating season in a cold climate. 

The bathing platform is also much bigger. The transformation from slipper-launch transom into sunpad-by-the-water is quickly accomplished by push-button hydraulics, and there’s even a staircase that extends from the end of the platform to offer steps into the water or up to the dock.

What there isn’t, however, is room for a tender. While the bigger Zeelanders have a dedicated side garage, the baby of the fleet does without. “When we asked our previous owners how they used the Z44, none of them seemed to care much about a tender,” shrugs Koopmans. “The boat is shallow, with a draught of just 1 metre, so you can get in close to the shore.”

Zeelander likes to say that it has a single model of boat in different sizes: a Zeelander 8 has just been announced.

A stickler might also say that the beautiful helm station forces you to adopt a very casual sideways stance, because the wheel is offset between the two seats. And they might even argue that the backrests of those transforming pilot seats are too far back to offer much support at the helm.

Such niggles are small beer, however. With more than a dozen billionaires among previous owners, Zeelander boats are as much art as engineering and transcend such mundane considerations. “Our owners want to sail the boat themselves, without crew,” says Koopmans. “Many of them own bigger yachts and like the hands-on experience the Zeelander gives them.”

Though he wouldn’t be drawn on figures, it seems clear these boats have a price tag to match the profile of their owners. Not for nothing does Koopmans compare the Zeelander brand to Hermès or Patek-Philippe: these are yachts so scarce that their value appreciates with time. They are collectables for the jet set.

A woody problem

Other than the teak decking, there is precious little wood to be found on a Zeelander yacht, unless an owner really insists on it. Plenty of fittings look like wood, but this is mostly an illusion – and one that goes to the heart of Zeelander’s design thinking.

Take the curved cap rails, which run around the whole boat. They appear to be in a dark, walnutty wood on our test boat, but are in fact built of GRP and cleverly painted to resemble the client’s choice of wood. On one of the Zeelander 7s we see in-build at the yard, they’re a futuristic mix of obsidian with silver grain patterns, to match the hull. 

Either way, it is the work of one uniquely talented Dutch woman, who hand-paints the exterior trim on every boat that’s built. In the salon, woody accents around the skylight, dashboard and on the curved stairs down to the accommodation below are all made of vinyl.

Koopmans says wood is impractical because it expands in the heat and requires regular varnishing. But for me, this is more about brand positioning - dead trees are simply not part of the Zeelander look. “Wood doesn’t fit with our timeless design philosophy,” agrees Koopmans.

Zeelander 5
LOA: 14.7m
Berths: 4
Range: 455 nm
Beam: 4.3m / 14.1ft
Draft: 1.1m / 3.7ft
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D6-IPS 650 or triple 650

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