Each year, yachting celebrates hundreds of successful launches and new contracts. Between champagne cracking across the bows to commemorate christenings and inaugural cruises, there’s a lot to celebrate. However, the yachting community simultaneously loses some extraordinary individuals year after year. This year was no different. Here, we ring the proverbial eight bells for the superyacht owners and influential figures who died in 2023. (If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, “eight bells” refers to a longtime maritime tradition. Centuries ago, a ship’s bell would ring eight times at the end of a crewmember’s watch duty. It has become synonymous with the death of a sailor, too.)
Just days ago, the legendary Frits de Voogt, who designed hundreds of Feadships over four decades, died at the age of 96. He ran the De Voogt Naval Architects studio from 1958, taking over from his father, until 1995. Despite retirement in the 1990s, though, he attended esesntially every single subsequent superyacht launch at both the Van Lent and De Vries shipyards. He also attended the 10th Feadship Heritage Fleet rendezvous this past June, receiving honors and accolades from the gathered yacht owners.
Henk de Vries, a current Feadship director, considered him “the glue that managed the individuals.” In fact, De Vries added, “the decisions he made, he made for the good of all.” As humble as he was talented, the designer simply stated, “We may have been three families (de Vries, Van Lent, and de Voogt), but we were of one mind,” crediting his father for a firm foundation.
Frits de Voogt passed away in his native Haarlem. In paying tribute to him, Feadship called him “the grand master of De Voogt Naval Architects for decades.” It further added, “The designs were unique and are still the basis of today’s Feadship yachts.:
ALEXANDER DREYFOOS, SUPERYACHT OWNER
During childhood summers in upstate New York, Alexander Dreyfoos fell in love with boating. “I had a little 14-foot runabout with a 3.5-hp engine that I used around our camp, fishing and running errands,” he told us for our 2016 Leadership Series profile. As an adult, meanwhile, he owned progressively larger boats and yachts, including two Burger superyachts and a Feadship. There was just one problem: His wife suffered from terrible seasickness. Thankfully, he learned that SWATH vessels, with submarine-like twin hulls, could handle significant swells without pitching or rolling. Abeking & Rasmussen had built many of them and arranged for a test ride. “Renate was able to sit through the ride, reading and knitting without a hint of seasickness,” Dreyfoos recalled. “I was convinced.”
He commissioned the famous SWATH yacht Sea Cloud as a result. “I thought it was so much more important to have a vessel that we could travel the world on without anyone getting seasick, than having that conventional-looking yacht,” he added. “It has truly proven itself to be an expedition yacht.” Indeed. He and his family cruised upwards of 100,000 miles aboard Sea Cloud in less than a decade.
Dreyfoos died in May 2023 at the age of 91. Undoubtedly, he will go down in history as one of the most significant superyacht owners and influential figures, rolled into one.
LISA NICHOLSON, NELSON’S DOCKYARD RESTORATION
If you’ve ever cruised to Antigua, surely, you’ve visited the famous Nelson’s Dockyard. The British Royal Navy used the harbor and the land, the latter as the Old Naval Dockyard, from the 18th century to 1889. Unfortunately, it fell into significant disrepair after that. Lisa Nicholson and her husband Desmond were instrumental in restoring the buildings and attracting regattas and individual yacht owners. The site reopened as Nelson’s Dockyard in 1962. She and her husband additionally established the Admiral’s Inn there, a hotel that still operates today.
In 2022, the National Parks Authority recognized Lisa Nicholson as a Community Anchor. A proclamation read, “Together with her late husband Desmond, Lisa contributed tirelessly in making Antigua the mecca of yachting in the Caribbean.” Without question, her spirit, drive, and love of Antigua touched many superyacht owners and influential figures
JAN-ERIK NYFELT, BALTIC YACHTS
Among superyacht owners and influential figures, it’s hard to beat Jan-Erik Nyfelt. Despite retirement, Nyfelt still remained eagerly active in the goings on at Baltic Yachts, the shipyard he co-founded half a century ago. He learned the craft of boatbuilding at his father’s side as a young man. Furthermore, he went on to learn drafting, plus calculating weights and other important factors. With Baltic Yachts, Nyfelt had a strategic hand in the yard’s overall development. For instance, he helped usher in carbon fiber rudder shafts for cruising. He also was instrumental in the Finnish shipyard using vacuum bagging for big components. Both became yard practices in the late 1970s, far earlier than many boatbuilders around the world.
Baltic Yachts shared the news of the passing of Jan-Erik “Janne” Nyfelt in February. Although it didn’t indicate his age, it did say he died in January.
Happily, though, two subsequent generations of his family still work at Baltic Yachts.
GIUSEPPE TARANTO, THE ITALIAN SEA GROUP
Giuseppe Taranto was vice chairman of The Italian Sea Group at the time of his passing in February. He had been suffering from an undisclosed disease for about a year. While he had a 13-year career in yachting, he got his start in other luxury industries, including leather goods.
Coincidentally, that stint in the leather industry overlapped the career timeline of a person who would become instrumental to his yachting success. Taranto worked for the Natuzzi Group from 1994 to 2003. Notably, Giovanni Costantino, the founder and CEO of The Italian Sea Group, also worked for the Natuzzi Group. Specifically, he joined it in 1997, leaving in 2008 to start his own company. His company acquired the Tecnomar shipyard in 2009—where Taranto happened to be general manager that same year. Taranto then went on to become the yard’s managing director. Once Costantino’s company bought the Admiral yard in 2011 and NCA Refit in 2012, destiny took over. Taranto served as vice chairman of The Italian Sea Group from 2016 until his death.
Although The Italian Sea Group didn’t mention Taranto’s age, some media reports indicate he was born in 1969.