IJMUIDEN – Saffier Yachts delivered 58 boats in 2018. And 2019 looks good, too, says the yard that markets remarkable performance daysailers worldwide. At the 2019 HISWA Amsterdam Boat Show, it sold 6 yachts.
Owned by brothers Dennis and Dean Hennevanger, Saffier Yachts has an innate understanding of sailing. It makes half a dozen thrilling, composite-hulled models _ in classic and elegance versions _ topped by a 37ft. (11.2m) “ultimate daysailer.”
In their salad days, the brothers _ now in their 50s _ spent 8 years sailing, with their parents, on a 56ft (17m.) ketch. Their carpenter-father had built it in Australia to where he and his wife had emigrated. After Hennevanger Sr. had taken his family back to Holland, he worked at a shipbuilder’s in this North Sea port and his sons attended a maritime college.
The Saffier story is not one of a meticulous marketing strategy gone right. It is less prosaic. Sometime in the 1990s, Dennis Hennevanger, home from the sea, saw his dad work on a curious project for himself: an open cockpit keelboat for offshore sailing. Long story short: The 21ft. Saffier 6.50 _ a roomy open cockpit boat with a self-tacking jib and an optional code zero up front _ premiered at the HISWA Amsterdam Boat Show where it wowed viewers with high-quality construction and materials.
A 1999 crossing to England in 28-knot conditions led to a widely-read report in a Dutch boating magazine. “What drove us then,” remembers Hennevanger, “was not promotion of the Saffier brand, but our desire for adventure.” Still, that rocky crossing delivered name recognition. “Today, people still talk to me about that crossing,” says Hennevanger. “It was a turning point for us.”
In recent years, Saffier Yachts has upgraded its Sc-6.5 giving it a keel with a lower center of gravity for an even better righting moment.
Not everything has come up roses. A 32ft (9.7m.) cabin cruiser flopped. “A good boat, but we got the costing wrong,” says Hennevanger. “We priced it in the neighborhood of Hallberg-Rassy’s smallest craft whereas the 32 was our largest! We hardly made any money and also lacked building efficiency. Today, we build the new Saffier 6.50 in less than half the time we used to.” Also, taking on series-built cruisers was tough. And discussing the color of curtains and interiors was no joy either for Hennevanger. The yard filled 5 or so orders and began focusing on performance daysailers.
The 8m Saffier Se-26 was a big hit. “We built it with all lines leading into the cockpit which we gave a big wheel. Purists hated that wheel but many others saw the comfort in itl,” says Hennevanger. At the 2009 Boot Duesseldorf, the Se-26 won a ‘boat of the year’ award.” It can be sailed singlehandedly. The sheets, halyards, reefing lines and kicking-strap lead to winch consoles near the helmsman. Saffier had scored its international break-through. A 2nd turning point.
Launched in 2013, the Saffier Se-33, has twin cockpit wheels. Hennevanger: “We combined the comfort of the 26 with more speed.” Critics saw the 10m. Se33 as an extravagant oddity in times of recession. Saffier took it off the market, got busy with the 26.2ft. Sc-8 and in, 2015, re-introduced the Se-33. “It is a best-seller. Last December we delivered Nr. 53 in the Bahamas,” says Hennevanger.
Saffier builds in Enkhuizen and finishes its craft in IJmuiden, 40 kms (25 mi.) away, on the North Sea. “We prepare our yachts well and do a lot of pre-fab,” says Hennevanger. “All electronics, for instance, are custom-made and installation-ready.”
He also invests in transparency. Customers get a tour of the entire yard even if that means working 30 or so weekends a year. “We do our own deliveries,” says Hennevanger. “That can take a 14-hour car ride, plus red tape hurdles at borders. At the delivery point we prepare the boat for sailing, do the requisite socializing with the client. Then it’s 14 hours back on the road. And a few days later, the next delivery.”
The slickest part of the Saffier yard is the top floor mess for the workforce. “Our employees are very important to us. They must feel appreciated,” says Hennevanger. Last year he took his staff to the Belgian Formula-One race at Spa-Francorchamps.
Saffier Yachts’ current flagship is the 11.2m Se-33ft, a sailing yacht that feels like a dinghy. It has a cabin but not a traditional ‘inside’. Uniquely, the helmsman sits up front in the cockpit with access to all the trim and control lines. Upwind the boat achieves hull speed in the blink of an eye. The bowsprit can handle a huge Code 0 or a 100 m² gennaker.