Josh Sims sets sail with yacht restorer Pendennis.
Mike Carr quietly laments the lack of space in vintage yachts. “Refitting them does come with its technical challenges,” says the joint-managing director of Pendennis, the Falmouth-based restoration firm that specialises in classic sail and motorboats.
“Today that classic exterior still requires all the modern systems – from communications to air conditioning – that the yacht wouldn’t have had back when it was built. You need very skilled people and careful design to make it all fit.” Which Pendennis does. Certainly, if other companies are well-versed in building yachts from new, Pendennis is fast winning a reputation as the go-to expert in reviving and revamping the yachts of yesteryear, winning international awards for extensive restoration projects such as its work on classic motor yacht Malahne.
There are seven motor yachts on site right now undergoing refit work, one of them a whopping 72 metres in length. A number of Pendennis-built or restored yachts will be proving their mettle in the America’s Cup Superyacht Regatta this year, as well as projects that the yard has refitted competing in the J Class Regatta, that gathering of arguably the most beautiful, and among the rarest sailing boats ever made.
“Not many companies around the world can rebuild a yacht from very poor condition and with the same emphasis on style,” suggests Carr, who trained as a naval architect and who oversees the training of many a young apprentice, some 200 having passed through Pendennis’ yard to date. “The fact is that most other companies only look at rebuilds and refits when there’s nothing else to do.”
Indeed, Pendennis might not only be capitalising on its rare expertise – founded in 1988, 19 years ago it launched a progressive apprenticeship scheme that has given the company a competitive advantage when it comes to having the right skillset for what can be extremely delicate work – but also on the zeitgeist. Yes, its clientele have often bought a yacht they want overhauled to meet their taste or their lifestyles. But Carr senses a shift.
“My feeling is that there’s a rising interest in sympathetic yacht restoration over new builds, in keeping with the perceived value in vintage things, as we’re seeing in the car market too,” he argues. “Do you want just a big, new white yacht, or do you want a piece of nautical jewellery?
“Demand for the latter is growing because there are fewer and fewer such boats available in a condition that can be restored. Of course, you can build a new yacht to look old, which we sometimes do, but it’s not the same thing – such yachts lack the originality, the character, the stories…”
This isn’t to say new builds can’t be spectacular. One trend in this market, for example, is for glass-sided and even glass-bottomed boats. “The yachting industry is looking ever more to take cues from architecture, and using its materials for a structural role in yacht building,” as Toby Allies, the company’s sales and marketing director notes. “And that means that glass is more and more prominent, within the hull itself. It gives great visual presence for the ocean – to see out through the water if it’s clear enough.”
Functionality is another trend shaping the way such new craft look too: Allies speaks of the desire “to bring the outside inside”, which is seeing, for example, larger tenders and bigger swim platform areas, “for easier use of the toys”. “We’re seeing more and more modifications being requested to improve that water interface,” he adds, “right down to cutting aft sections off vessels”. He cites the design of Hemisphere, the world’s largest privately-owned sailing catamaran, which Pendennis built, as an example of this blurring of spaces. But such spectacle and such utility often somehow lacks charm.
Pendennis’ re-launch in March 2015 of Malahne is a demonstration of how smaller and older can, in sheer personality – and even in the age of the mega yacht – be better. The 50-metre classic motor yacht was built by Camper & Nicolsons 80 years ago this year, making it one of a very few pre-war motor yachts to have survived into the 21st century. Pendennis’ 30-month restoration is arguably one of the most ambitious seen to date, seeing the recreation of many of the yacht’s original features, including its hull shape, while modernising the workings to meet Lloyd’s Register and other maritime codes.
It’s a bit of history brought back to life: Malahne was commissioned by the chairman of the Woolworths retail empire, was owned by movie producer Sam Spiegel – who used it as a floating production office while filming Lawrence of Arabia – and was the basis of many a Hollywood A-lister party during the 1960s and 70s.
Other notable refits of international acclaim by Pendennis have included: Adela, a 55-metre schooner; Dona Amelia, a 72-metre motor yacht; and Shamrock V, one of the few remaining original J Class yachts. Right now, it’s working on the Odyssey, a 1967-built yacht that arrived at the Pendennis shipyard on the back of a barge last October. It’s a returning customer, having had its interior refitted there a decade or so ago.
While Carr argues that Pendennis’ Britishness is also now playing to the company’s benefit – both the UK’s historic reputation for engineering, and the fact that many classic yachts of that pre-war period were built in Britain, which then dominated the market – it is not resting on its laurels.
The growing demand for restoration work is seeing Pendennis expand too: it has recently completed a three-year rebuilding of its shipyard and has seen a major boost in business having constructed a 7,564sqm, non-tidal basin – effectively its own harbour. The shipyard’s direct access to the Atlantic – competitors in Germany and the Netherlands are more likely river or canal-based – is also helping draw clients.
They are loyal clients too – Pendennis is starting to build something of a reputation through its own Pendennis Cup, a regatta held every other year, initially open to those clients who had worked on their yachts with the company, but now open to all. In 2015 – appealing more to those who like a bit of sun on their spray-kissed faces – it even launched a cruising rally in St Kitts.
“We do that kind of thing first of all because it’s great fun, and we want to make it fun for our clients,” says Carr. “We want to be able to give something back to them, a way to enjoy their yachts. After all, nobody needs a yacht – it’s pure luxury.”