The Wedding Planner
Posted on November 30, 2012 by Lucie Maluck, Images by Robert Hack
The head of Arabian shipyard Gulf Craft likens his job to that of a wedding planner - he makes his customers' greatest dreams come true.
Erwin Bamps came to U.A.E. ten years ago. At that time, Gulf Craft employed 200 people and sold its yachts in the United Arab Emirates – to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and occasionally to Oman or Bahrain if things were going well. But Mahammed Al Shaali, the Gulf Craft chairman, had bigger plans. “We want to become one of the largest yacht-builders in the world,” he said at the time. To make that ambition a reality would definitely require a miracle. Or that is what Bamps, newly arrived from his native Belgium, thought at the time. But he didn’t know U.A.E. very well then. Today, the shipyard employs 5,000 staff and builds as many as 500 boats a year. From small, six-meter pleasure cruisers to megayachts over 40 meters long. He will not hear of anybody describing it as mass production, however. The opposite is the case, he maintains. And this is where his first comparison comes in. Making cars is like baking cupcakes. Building yachts, on the other hand, is like making a wedding cake – and that is the business Gulf Craft is in. What is special about their yachts is that they are made to the clients’ specifications. Only two features are unalterable: all Gulf Craft yachts are made of fiberglass and they are all monohull designs. Everything else is the client’s choice, whether it’s the color of the hull, the interior fittings or the size of the swimming pool. “Other manufacturers of comparably sized yachts do not offer their clients as much choice as we do,” states Bamps with conviction. Despite that, he can still claim, “We are cheaper than our competitors in Europe.”
U.A.E. isn’t just simply a country; it is home to the whole world.
Breaking down complexity
“Seventy percent of the world is covered with water but only thirty percent of people have ever been on a boat,” he says, positively bursting with enthusiasm. So you couldn’t help but see the potential of the yacht business. And he has an idea how to convince even more people to buy a yacht. “Yachts need to be easier to operate,” he observes. He believes that up to now it has simply been too complicated to own a yacht – you need a crew and are hardly ever allowed to steer the boat yourself. “If I buy a yacht I get an instruction manual the size of a phone book; but ultimately, a yacht is nothing more than a great big toy which I want to be able to play with without having to wade through reams of instructions,” he expounds with another of his interesting comparisons.
As he does, he laughs and his voice gets louder. This is undoubtedly a man who is convinced of what he is saying. Almost silent by comparison is Mostafa Agib El Nahta. He is the Operations &Technical Manager at Gulf Craft and meets us in the engine room of a new Majesty 135. The yacht is standing there in all its magnificence, waiting to be set afloat for the first time. In a couple of days, that time will have arrived. It will be a big moment for Mostafa, because he and his team having been building the yacht for a year and a half. The most striking feature of the yacht is its golden hull, though the engines take some beating for aesthetic appeal as well – gleaming white with sparkling chrome cylinder heads. Mostafa admires them adoringly. The two mtu Series 4000s will each supply 2,580 kilowatts of propulsive power. The buyer? “Secret,” whispers Mostafa. It is a VIP is all he can reveal. He would rather talk about the fact that it is the biggest yacht Gulf Craft has ever built.
Fuel-efficiency is where mtu scores extra points. Which is important, because nothing is more tiresome than refueling.
The wedding planner
Erwin Bamps is now striding through the factory sheds. He laughs and waves to an employee in the distance. “We are the United Nations here,” he relates with a chuckle. Staff from almost 80 different countries work together here. In the front part of the building they are making a new Majesty 135, the same length and size as the one outside the shed waiting to be set afloat on the water. But this one is just having its windows fitted; there is a lot of hammering and drilling going on. Bamps is already looking forward to handing over the craft to the client. And, as ever, he is aiming to make miracles come true. The elusive “wow effect” is what he wants. “If the customer is happy, that’s great. But we want more. We want them to be delighted when they get their yacht,” he says with conviction. He points out that achieving that isn’t so easy, because most customers are not interested in the technology, only the design. “We are selling ice cream, and everyone has their own favorite flavor.” Another one of those curious metaphors. What have ice cream and yachts got to do with each other? Erwin Bamps laughs. He explains that, just like design, ice cream is a matter of taste, and selling taste is a diffcult job. “It’s funny. Our clients are interested in almost nothing but the design. And they have very precise ideas in that regard. But yacht-building is actually all about technology; for us, the design is the last part of the process.” He tells of customers who ask for a helipad on a ten-meter yacht. Or another who wanted his bathroom painted completely green. Yet another wanted the hull covered entirely in Swarovski crystals. “Sometimes I start to feel like a wedding planner,” he says with laugh. “The clients have an idea in their minds that they can’t exactly describe. So it is my job to find out what it is they have always dreamed of and build a yacht just like it,” the self-styled wedding planner elucidates.
My yacht has to be powerful, reliable and fitted with the latest equipment.