Emile Bilterijst had been trying for years to get the commercial shipyard where he worked to begin yacht building. When he realized they were not going to take his advice, he quit and purchased an established yacht and megayacht shipyard from Rien Moonen. Moonen Shipyards, located in the medieval Dutch town of ’s-Hertogenbosch (a.k.a. Den Bosch), has since then steadily built larger yachts. Here, Emile Bilterijst speaks about Moonen’s growth and focus and discusses a personal passion, his classic tugboat.
Megayacht News: Moonen has long focused on what you call pocket-size superyachts. How did that phrase first come about?
Emile Bilterijst: Interesting question. Actually, it was the journalists first writing about Moonen in 1985 who described what we were building as pocket size. The word superyacht is a very relative one, as is the phrase pocket size. What we called a superyacht 25 years ago is not at all big today. I think the word superyacht does not signify size alone, I believe it firmly describes the quality to which it is built.
Megayacht News: At what size will you ultimately draw the line?
Emile Bilterijst: There is obviously a demand for very big 80- and 100-meter yachts, and there are several good yards focusing on this size of yachts. At this stage I just do not envisage us building one. We have building larger and larger yachts with every build we undertake, and have done so since our beginnings in 1963! Currently we have facilities where we could build up to 55 meters, and with some adjustments we could go even bigger. It is not us that draws the line, it is the requirements of our customers that we need to adhere to.
Megayacht News: Do you envision a time when a 50-meter could be become “pocket size”?
Emile Bilterijst: We deliver at the quality the market expects from us, based on the vessels we have delivered in the past. This means that if we do grow to bigger sizes, it should be in a controlled way. For this reason the most logical boundary would be for the time being the 500-gross-ton mark. Gross tonnage is more important than the length, as it is directly related to regulations, both for building as for operating the yacht. Also the price is more related to gross tonnage than to the length, because ultimately it is the volume that counts. So, if we would have a client that wants us to build a 55-meter yacht at Moonen, we would not say no, because we know we can do it. If we were to develop a yacht ourselves, it would be one with a maximum gross tonnage of 499. Perhaps in today’s world that is still pocket sized.
Megayacht News: You own and have restored a classic tugboat. Do you ever draw on your personal experience?
Emile Bilterijst: I have been sailing since I was 9 years old in all different kind of sailboats. I have studied naval architecture at Delft University with an MSC in ship design and hydrodynamics, and have been working in the shipbuilding and ship-repair industry as engineer, designer, sales manager, product manager, and turn-around manager since 1982. So yes, I know boats, and it is upon all the experiences that I draw when embarking on any new project. The restoration of my 1942 tugboat was great fun. I like to be hands-on, and am not afraid of making my hands dirty. Somehow this philosophy affects my relationship with the people in the shipyard. They know I understand their problems from my own experiences, and thus it makes communication between us easier.
Megayacht News: Moonen yachts have a reputation of globetrotting. Is there anywhere in the world they have not been seen?
Emile Bilterijst: Probably only Antarctica and the North Pole.
Megayacht News: Where do you think the next generation of yacht owner will come from?
Emile Bilterijst: Wherever the money is! Being on the water is relaxing that all over the world and eventually every nation discovers this as a fantastic way to escape from the crowd. In some areas boating is more in the genes than in others, but if there is the money around to buy boating will happen eventually. For this reason its my opinion that the Far East and South America will become the next big markets.
MYN: What can you tell us about your new investor?
Emile Bilterijst: Building a yacht is an emotion-driven process and has nothing to do with rationale. The same, and may be even more, could be said about investing in a shipyard. It is a difficult game with relative high risks and relative low revenues. So it is important for any investor that somehow he realizes it is not simply because of the potential profits, but it is much more about the passion. Having said that, it is important to run the company as a business and not as a hobby! Our new investor has built three Moonen yachts here since 2004. The first was just 84 feet lon,g the second larger at 97 feet, and now the latest, a 42-meter, is a fully custom yacht which he has called Sofia, which was also the name of the first two. He is passionate about his yachts and about Moonen, but at the same time understands the yard should be run as a business. He leaves the day-to-day business to the management, but provides the necessary funds and guarantees to make it happen.
Megayacht News: Moonen is not a member of SYBAss. Is this a situation of your own choosing?
Emile Bilterijst: Actually Moonen Shipyards was one of the founders of the SYBAss group. The original idea was to combine the efforts of several top-quality yards as they organized an event in Moscow designed to reach into the Russian market. We needed a vehicle to organize those practical and financial marketing issues and decided it would be worthwhile to form an association of superyacht builders. Later the group decided that to be a member, a yard should have built at least two yachts of 40 meters and bigger. Our biggest yacht to that date was 38 meters. In spite of Lürssen and several other significant yacht builders supporting our membership, the majority was of the opinion that no exception should be made for us. Although I did not like it at the time, I do understand the thinking behind it.