Buying Versus Restoring A Yacht

Sentimental value: Yacht owners now prefer boats with a bit of history to them as opposed to brand-new white yachts.

When, this spring, Pendennis re-launched Malahne, arguably it set a new benchmark in the company’s expertise: the restoration and refitting of yachts. The 50m classic motor yacht was built by Camper & Nicholsons in 1937, making it one of a very few pre-war motor yachts to have survived into the 21st century.

The 30-month restoration was one of the most ambitious seen to date, seeing the recreation of many of the yacht’s original features, including its hull shape, while modernising the workings to meet Lloyd’s Register and other maritime codes.

Indeed, it perhaps represents something of a trend to refit older yachts rather than buy new. “My feeling is that there’s a rising interest in sympathetic yacht restoration over new-builds, in keeping with the perceived value in older things, as we’re seeing in the car market too,” argues Mike Carr, joint-managing director of Pendennis, the Falmouth, UK-based specialists. “Do you want just a big, new white yacht, or do you want a piece of nautical jewellery? Demand for the latter is growing because there are fewer and fewer such boats available in a condition that can be restored.”

Certainly, the reviving and revamping of the yachts of yesteryear now accounts for some 60 percent of work for Pendennis. But while Malahne counts more as a historic or classic yacht, there is also growing demand for yachts in the 10- to 30-year-old age bracket. The simple reason is that, even with an extensive refit, they are likely to be on the water faster than a new build and, second, they can offer better value, especially since 2008. Younger yacht buyers also have different ideas as to what they want a yacht for. “There is now much less focus on hanging out in Saint-Tropez as travelling much further afield, to places where there is no accommodation on-shore,“ says Gary Wright, co-founder of Monaco-based yacht-builders Y.CO. “Yachts have to be more beach-house and less penthouse.” This means a new focus on mundane details such as more storage space and flexible, multi-use living spaces.

The appeal of older yachts is also in part because of the possibilities of what can be done given today’s tech: not just interior overhaul, extension, or the addition of a diving platform. “Yacht-building has been in a bubble for 30 years with regard to its use of technology and is now breaking out of that, catching up with the aircraft industry in terms of tech and materials,” adds Wright. “And customers are demanding that yachts be more progressive, more environmentally friendly.”

That, according to Michael Breman, sales director for Lürssen, might mean the retro-fitting of older yachts with particle filters, or cleaner, quieter, perhaps battery-driven engines. “Most new boats now, for example, don’t have to be anchored anymore — that damages the sea-bed,” he says. “Now it’s about ‘dynamic positing’; the boat keeps moving so as to seem not to move, so to speak. And it can do that on a hairpin.”

Aesthetics matter too, of course. Yacht-builders such as Icon and Palumbo are starting to explore the potential of architectural glass, for instance, using it to replace huge swathes of hull. Ronno Schouten, head of design for Dutch yacht-builders Feadship, worked on what was dubbed ‘the Nemo lounge’ — half above and half below the water-line — for Savannah. He was also responsible for the 30m floor-to-ceiling glass sidewalls of Venus: the yacht commissioned by Steve Jobs. “And we’re even working on a glass elevator that will descend out below the bottom of a yacht,” Schouten adds, “which I think will move from concept to viable proposition within five years. We already have glass in the bottom of boats, so it’s not such a crazy idea. We’re a long way on from when the only glass in a boat was a few portholes.”

Not that new buyers should necessarily go to town with a rebuild. Wright warns that big figures can rack up quickly with a refit and, while that gets the owner exactly the yacht they want, it also means that the money spent might not be recouped on re-sale, if that’s intended. “If you don’t do your calculations carefully it can work out wiser just to increase your upfront budget and buy something newer. It’s not to say it’s not money well spent, but refits do have to be very carefully managed.” Certainly choice is there: if there was a period when yachts were treated as real estate, and did increase in value, now a healthy supply means that there are plenty of yachts on the market at more than 10 years old to pick from. “And when you have bought one,” Wright adds, “there’s really nothing, refit-wise, that can’t be done.”

Originally published at

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