If you haven’t heard of Burgess Yachts yet, get ready because the company has a knack for making waves on and off the high seas. Founded on a deep appreciation of yachting by Nigel Burgess, the renowned mariner and worldwide single-handed ocean racer, Burgess is now recognized as a global leader in the construction, charter, sale and purchase of some of the world’s finest yachts—and by far some of the largest.
With offices that span the globe, Burgess, now headed by Chief Executive Jonathan “Joff” Beckett, has a reputation to uphold as a pioneer in its industry; something they do well. Currently, the brokerage house also has a hand in constructing some of the largest “super yachts” on water and land, including the recently unveiled Azzam. At 590 feet, it’s snatched the title of largest mega yacht in the world away from Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich and his Eclipse, a mere 533 ft.
For Beckett, standing on the decks of giants is only happy coincidence, an extension of his early passion for sailing. Growing up northeast of London in the low-lying county of Norfolk, the younger Beckett’s fascination of boats propelled him to sail beyond the network of navigable rivers and lakes known as The Broads. At 23 years old he joined Burgess, bringing with him what was already a lifetime of experience in the boating industry sailing the Mediterranean, running a maritime naval academy and working as a yacht broker in Athens.
Beckett, who now divides his time between offices in Monaco, London and New York, has a British accent and—more surprisingly for a man in his stratosphere—a disarming, unassuming nature. He took the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about the super yacht industry, the Nero’s old world charm and buyer’s remorse. He also reminded me that sometimes, bigger isn’t always better.
For our clients that are obviously incredibly wealthy people, who have been hugely successful, luxury is being able to create something that is unique for them and it gives them pleasure and time with their family and friends. That’s what luxury is to our clients. Whether it’s a yacht or a house, people spend so much time working these days they really appreciate the luxury of being able to break away from that and go somewhere that is absolutely unique and created by them.
Did you always have a passion for yachts?
I would’ve been happy selling canoes or kayaks or catamarans, but I just happened to end up at the top of the industry, which has been exciting, fun and interesting.
What’s new in the mega and super yacht industries?
I would say the mega yacht industry is growing. I think the super yacht industry has struggled for the last five years and its still struggling to come out of the global financial crisis, whereas the mega yacht industry is definitely growing. When you look at the number of yachts under construction—that’s a market that’s really been explosive in the last two years.
Can you explain what the difference is between a mega yacht and super yacht?
There is no real definition. I guess what I’m saying is, when you get over the 280-300 foot mark, that is a unique market. I guess you would say that’s a mega yacht as opposed to a super yacht.
Are there any shopping tips that you would recommend for a first time buyer of these vessels?
I think it starts with not trying to do it yourself. Get an expert to help you go shopping. There are so many different types and sizes of yachts on the market for sale. You know we’ve seen it time and time again, where people think they’re being clever by doing it themselves and not engage a broker or an expert. And what they’ve done is they’ve bought the wrong boat or paid too much money for it. So I think everyone has a role to play and everyone can add value. It’s important that you select your experts carefully. But don’t try and do it yourself; there are some amazing deals out there on the market at the moment and some of them are with fantastic, high-quality pedigree yachts —and some of them are, unfortunately, with yachts that are not such good quality or not such good value for the money.
And that’s a very costly mistake I would assume.
It’s a very costly mistake. We had one client who charted a yacht from [Burgess] about five years ago, a first time charter. He loved the boat. He thought he would be clever and get in touch with the owner directly, but as it happened we had a contract with the owner. He actually ended up paying $20 million for that boat. He could have bought it for $14 million! He really screwed himself.
I’m sure it was a lovely boat, but if he found out it must have haunted him.
I think the key in this market is to make sure you get a good deal. There’s some great boats out there, but it’s not just the deal; it’s important that whatever boat you buy works for you, is suitable for you and is one that you enjoy using. As opposed to buying something cheap and having something you don’t really want.
Let’s talk mega yachts.
I don’t know whether you know but we’re involved with Azzam and our mechanical department is the oldest representatives throughout the whole construction of that vessel, which has been fascinating. She is a very fast vessel, which is very unusual for a boat of that size.
She can go over 30 knots (35 mph), right?
Correct, so that comes with all sorts of challenges just to get a vessel of that size moving through the water at that sort of speed. But the challenge is, I think, when you get up to these bigger yachts most of them will need to comply with more stringent safety and security aspects. So that classification would be more like a passenger ship!
In constructing yachts nowadays it’s almost like an arms race, where you have companies trying to out-do each other in size. Will it ever end?
[Laughs] I don’t know if I’d like to answer that question! Look, I think there is an element of that, but also an element of if you can afford it. There will always be owners looking to produce something what they consider to be the ultimate floating home. That’s what they’re trying to achieve. Of course, the bigger it gets, the more space and opulence and stability. But bigger is not always better! Just going bigger doesn’t mean its better. But it’s incredible—some of these boats that are under construction or have recently been built. It’s a phenomenon in its own right. These sort of yachts are costing $750 million, or thereabouts, to produce.
And then I’m sure the upkeep is an astronomical expense as well.
The upkeep is between $20 and $30 million a year.
You said earlier that Burgess has a hand in creating the Azzam. Are there any other mega yachts in production you can speak candidly on?
We’ve got three other yachts under construction of over 328 feet at the moment, the smallest of which is 360 feet. If you add Azzam, that is $2.2 billion of yachts under construction in that mega yacht size range.
What sets the Nero apart from other models in its class?
It’s absolutely fabulous. She’s been created as a replica of yachts of a bygone era. She’s a beautiful boat to be on board—to live and have dinner on. So everyone who is looking for the classic —most people are looking for the Rolls Royce, the Ferrari, the Bentley, the Porsche—but there are very few people who are looking for the modern classic. If you want one, the Nero is the only modern classic out there at the moment. And we just dropped the price on that boat from $81 million to $55 million. The owner wants the boat sold before Christmas. She is a fantastic buy for that sort of money.