Interview with Zeelander President John Slate
“He’s a boat fanatic,” Zeelander President John Slate described Dutch Owner Sietse Koopmans. An engineer by trade and heritage, Koopmans’ got an eye for design and a passion for boating. Slate said that there are experts in the sailing world, the power boat world, sportfish and motoryacht world but that “Sietse is an all-around expert—he’s owned so many yachts. He’s that into it. When we’re sleeping, he’s designing new boats and thinking about ideas to make his yachts better.”
Slate has been with Zeelander for just over a year, coming from Roscioli Yachting Center after 18 years. He was running the shipyard and had his brokerage license for nearly ten years. In this time period he was selling more boats than most brokers working full time at it. He sold one of the first Zeelanders to arrive while the company was testing the American market. He then left Roscioli to start his own business just as Zeelander was looking for someone to run their American division. It was an easy decision for Slate who had already fallen in love with this phenomenal boat.
Even with its strong Dutch background—owner, architecture, design and original builds—it’s almost as if Zeelanders were destined for the US market after their European launch. Koopmans started an extensive search for yards around the world to produce his new Zeelander 44 and future models. Serendipity brought them to Holland … Michigan where Tiaras are manufactured at S2 Yachts. (And the next town over from Holland, Michigan? Zeeland, a province in Holland, Netherlands, the boat’s namesake) The shipyard offered 900,000 square feet of space, a skilled workforce, a Dutch yacht building tradition, Dutch ancestry and a handshake deal mentality. Production commenced in 2011, and they’ll be wrapping up hull number 29 shortly. Zeelander describes the current Z44 as having “European design with American quality and convenience.”
Slate said that the partnership has been beneficial for them. “It was a good time to start building in America again, and it was great to keep the production in America at a renowned facility. It’s been cost effective, comparatively speaking from a worldwide perspective.” In addition, if a US owner needs a part, it’s only coming from Michigan and not from Italy which could take up to three weeks. “We strive to get better and better on every single hull. We drive the facility crazy with our semi-custom developments but in the end it makes a better product for the customer with every new hull launched,” Slate added.
Koopmans was driven in his design process by a few factors. He wanted a tender that could transport passengers from a large yacht to their destination without being windblown and wet with soaked luggage. He wanted a boat that owners could run themselves to enhance their privacy away from crew. In addition, Slate added, “Owners of large yachts find themselves taken away from the boating experience and rarely get to run their own yachts. Zeelander gets them back behind the driver’s seat.”
While Zeelander advertises quite a bit with beautiful, sexy models, Slate said a lot of families are attracted to the Z44. He explained, “You’ve got two beds and one of the bedrooms is tucked below the helm. Although there are fine appointments and creature comforts, the focal point would be the entertainment area above. It’s a day boat, the focus is not below, but it’s there if you want it. It’s also great that when operating it, you can sit next to and interact with people—not like a bridge boat where you’re running it from above, and everyone else is having a good time on the deck below.” He added that the Zeelander Z44 can entertain up to 15 comfortably—unheard of for a 44’.
Zeelander’s little touches have combined to create big competition for others in the market selling similar offerings thanks to the dream team of Frank Mulder and Cor D. Rover who have created a superb design inside and out on one of the best riding hulls out there. (Slate likens this to hiring Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to create a computer.) One of the first things you notice is that there are no straight lines on this vessel. All of the panels are curved and have to be hand sanded. You’ll also notice the colors, many of which have been taken from high end cars like Rolls Royce, Bentley, BMW and Mercedes. “When you look across a marina and see all of the white hulls, our boats stand out, sparkling, looking like beautiful cars on the water,” said Slate.
Other key features include Silent Line-engineered sound and vibration banishment. Owners have actually forgotten to turn the generators off they’re so quiet. Slate said that they’ve been able to cut about 80 percent of the vibration out of their boats. “We’ve also been working with Volvo to come up with a brand new motor mount. We’ve pretty much pushed them past their envelope of comfort in our quest for a ride that’s quiet and vibration-free.”
Ease of operation has also been an important design feature. With pod control, driving the boat is like playing a video game according to Slate. “I can have anyone docking a boat like an expert in a half hour. Everyone loves a boat but the idea of actual boating can be intimidating. No one wants to get behind the helm and then crash it into a dock or into a big yacht at their marina. The joystick system takes all of this away. You can feel comfortable taking it out, keeping your family safe, going to dinner and looking like an expert when docking.”
Custom interiors below include exquisite glove stitched leather, book matched veneers and raw teak floors. High tech materials alleviate the tiresome and often expensive maintenance that many other boats create. “People are surprised that the deck and cap rails are not real wood,” Slate explained. The deck is actually constructed in a time tested composite material known as Esthec.
Slate concluded, “When it comes down to it, it’s a very expensive boat to build so there is a tremendous value for the buyer. In the end, it costs more to get into some brands and then the added maintenance costs can actually drive owners out of boating all together. This is extremely frustrating to me as I come from a service background and this is how I feel one builds a brand, on servicing the customer.”
Slate says that a Zeelander buyer is a high end client with an eye for great detail and desire for something different. “I had a guy who came on board at the Newport show who had toured the competition, if you will, a bunch of square, old, blue, traditional boats. I said, ‘I guarantee you won’t forget this boat.’ We have beautiful flowing lines. If you look at the side of a Zeelander, the way it catches the sun, it’s seamless. The boat flows just sitting there. There are no hard lines to distract your eye, it’s really a work of art.”
When asked how Zeelander competes as a new brand in an industry stacked with manufacturing behemoths that have been at it a long time, Slate simply said, “We offer something new. There are beautiful boats out there with heritage and tradition, but many of the new boats coming on the market simply mimic those old ones. There’s a repetitiveness, and people have been screaming for the market to come out with something new. We respect the old guard, but we want to be in a class of our own, on the cutting edge. If we hear that it’s been done that way, we certainly won’t follow. We can’t wait to do things no one else has done before.”
Miami and the Eastern Seaboard, particularly the Northeast like Connecticut and New York, are proving to be Zeelander’s best markets. Slate attributed this to the general move of fashion, design, art and architectural trends from Europe to New York. However, Slate said it’s not an easy boat to sell because it is so very unique, appealing to a very discerning, particular clientele. “We’re just completely different in every way. You see these older boats from builders in the business for 100 years. They’re beautiful, however I want a boat that’s classy enough for the yacht club but retro enough to pull up to a hot restaurant on the water in Miami and catch eyes as well.”
When talk turned to what’s next, Slate said that expansion into Asia would be entertained. He seemed to think that Zeelander would be a great match for a market that protects itself diligently from the sun. “They can keep the roof closed and entertain in air conditioning or heat, depending on the climate. Yes, it’s a perfect boat for over there.”
Zeelander will continue to manufacturer the Z44. Slate says the size was perfect for what it was designed to do—tender out to a big boat or to shore, easily entertain friends and family and facilitate day or weekend excursions with owner independence and ease. For those wanting the same Zeelander experience but in a larger vessel and perhaps longer duration, Zeelander is debuting the 68 for the first time in the US at the Miami Yacht & Brokerage Show. They’re also hard at work on a cutting-edge, highly innovative 55 to minimize that jump between the 44 and 68.