AMSTERDAM – Spring beckons and for the 396th time, Dutch boaters are wiping cobwebs off their pride-and-joys. In 1622 _ 2 years before the pilgrims landed in America _ the world’s first yacht club opened on Amsterdam’s waters. Boating for fun? Who knew?
As their East India traders, brimming with lucrative cargo, neared Holland, Dutch ship owners built ‘jachten’ _ small craft that became ‘yachts’ in English _ to chase away preying pirates. In Dutch, ‘jacht’ means hunt.
But tangling with pirates was not a daily chore. So Dutch ship owners soon were using their yachts for recreation. A boat ride on a slow Sunday with the family. Imagine that! The Netherlands became the first country to develop pleasure boating. And England became a convert in 1660 when the Dutch East India Company built the HMY Mary, Britain’s first royal yacht.
Still, it took the Dutch and the Brits until the 19th century to establish their first organized ‘yacht clubs.’
A key proponent in Holland was Prince Henry the Seafarer, brother of King William III who was evidently a stranger to brevity. He founded a yacht club “to generate and encourage more and more, the zeal and passion for the perfection of shipbuilding and everything to do with the nautical world.” The first meeting of the Royal Netherlands Yacht Club in Rotterdam was held Feb. 21, 1846. Some 20 Dutch sailing and rowing associations were founded in the 19th century. Another 350 in the20th century.
Today, 250 Dutch companies are active in yacht building. Their annual turnover is about €350 million a year. “Of these, 55 to 60 build new yachts,” says Gerwin Klok of the Netherlands Jachtbuilding Industry trade federation. (Above: Mulder Favourite 1500. Left: Aquanaut Andante 500 OC). “The remainder do repairs and maintenance.” These numbers exclude the 15 or so Dutch superyacht builders who make +30m and longer. Their turnover exceeds €2 billion a year.
Dutch builders make about 1,400 boats a year, the vast majority in steel. “Steel lends itself well for custom-building,” says Klok. “No 2 steel boats are alike. Polyester boats are made in expensive molds. A small mold can cost €70,000. You must sell at least 10 boats to recoup that cost. Large molds run to scores of thousands of euros.”