Now it seems surprising, but yachting in the Netherlands was a relatively unpopular activity back in the 19th century. With its rich tradition of sailing and shipbuilding, Holland has always been a very religious and conservative country.
Sailing was disapproved as a senseless waste of time and was considered to be the province of idle loafers.
But with the advent of progress and the development of railways and telegraph, views on the "right" spending free time began to change radically. In 1880, the term "watersport" became firmly established in the Dutch language, and the pleasureboat industry has been growing ever since.
Its development was greatly influenced by the appearance of diesel boat motors in 1894, but the real renaissance for Dutch yacht building was... World War I.
Because of its neutrality, Holland has been isolated. Not being able to travel, the Dutch took up domestic tourism by waterways, and the country's shipbuilding industry, unlike its counterparts in the UK, Germany and the United States, not burdened with military orders, joyfully began to serve this demand.
How it all began.
Small island Kaag is located on one of the canals in the center of Holland. It is connected to the "big land" by one of the smallest ferry crossings in the world - several tens of meters. In 1877, the young master Jan Akerbom purchased a boat yard on this island. She has been working since 1849, which basically allows to count down the history of one of the key enterprises in Feadship alliance from the first half of XIX century.
By the end of the 20's Akerboom & Van Lent Shipyard was even more famous for the quality of its work and the variety of boats it produced. In particular, she was one of the first to build steel boats in the 1920s, a very innovative move for the time.
Another shipyard, De VriesThe De Fries family started working later, in 1906, but had no experience in woodworking - several generations of its members worked in sawmills around Amsterdam. By 1927 the shipyard had already had three boathouses and a well-established reputation. It was best known for its boats, which were designed together with the architect Henry de Vogt..
De Voogt is another iconic name in history. Feadship. Born in 1892, Henry built his first boat at the age of 16, and already in 1913, in parallel with training as a shipbuilder at the Delft University, he opened his shipyard. His sailing boat Oranje (6.5 m), for example, won a gold medal at the 1920 Olympic Games in Ostend.
The conquest of the New World
The leading Dutch shipyards were doing fine until the Second World War came and broke off.
There was no one to buy a yacht in devastated Europe, so all eyes were on the west.
The U.S. was not affected by the war, and their economy benefited from it, so the American market was the only salvation for the Dutch. But it was impossible to go out there alone, so the leading shipyards - Akerboom, van Lent, de Vries - as well as the design bureau de Vogt and several other prominent players in the market decided to form an alliance in order to jointly bear the considerable costs of marketing and delivery of yachts across the Atlantic. This is how the name Feadship - First Export Association of Dutch SHIPbuilders - came into being. Its statutes were signed at the office of de Vogt on 19 July 1950.
It was decided that Feadship would debut in January 1951 at the New York Yacht Show, the largest and most prestigious in America. Three boats - two motor yachts from van Lent and Vis and a small sailing yacht from de Vries - were selected for participation. Henri de Vogt personally went to represent the shipyard at the booth - the success of the show depended on the fate and employment of many people.
The debut was a success: the public and specialists noted the quality of the Dutch boats' decoration as "unrivaled at the exhibition", and all three exhibits were sold on site. The order flow slowly improved, and the future could be looked at without fear. Participation in subsequent exhibitions only consolidated the success. Feadship members had previously built boats for crowned persons and celebrities - de Vogt, for example, designed the Chahsevar for the Persian Shah back in 1936. But the real furor in Holland made a personal visit to the shipyard of Henry Ford II - the car tycoon personally checked the construction of his 33-meter Santa Maria, the most expensive Feadship yacht at the time.
Of course, there would not be enough space to fully describe the history of the Feadship union and all the milestones in its path. Now it is a huge concern with offices around the world and grateful clients in the highest circles of almost all countries.
And on Kaag Island, next to the giant Royal Van Lent docks, in place of an old wooden boathouse, there is now a gastronomic restaurant called Tante Kee ("Auntie Kee") owned by the shipyard. Here, overlooking the berth with ducks, megayacht construction contracts are signed and for ordinary visitors this is a great chance to touch the history of one of the world's great yacht building names.
Published in YACHTS magazine #43.