UAE yacht builder on creating 'floating villas' for the rich in Ras Al Khaimah

Polish company Sunreef has made high-end vessels for sporting stars including tennis ace Nadal and F1 star Alonso

Yacht builders establish in Ras al Khaimah to cater for a new luxury market

Yacht builders establish in Ras al Khaimah to cater for a new luxury market
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A luxury yacht builder from Poland has begun manufacturing multimillion-dollar boats in Ras Al Khaimah, with the first vessels to ship out by the end of the year.

Sunreef Yachts has built high-end catamarans for more than two decades in its Gdansk factories, with buyers including tennis player Rafael Nadal and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.

Keen to expand beyond Europe, the company’s French founder Francis Lapp chose the UAE as the base for his first overseas shipyard two years ago.

The shipyard in Ras Al Khaimah has started production of twin-hull yachts and was formally inaugurated on Monday by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.

For the future of boating, this is the best place. This is the right place
Francis Lapp, Sunreef

More than 180 staff are employed at the site. The company aims to provide jobs to more than 600 by the end of the year.

“My vision was to make something here – to show that Ras Al Khaimah is the right place for a shipyard, to be closer to Asia and Australia,” Mr Lapp told The National.

“For the future of boating, this is the best place. I did not want to have it all in Europe. To make [vessels] in Turkey or somewhere else was also a possibility. I chose this, this is the right place.”

Crafting luxury

Mr Lapp moved from Poland, his home of 30 years, to Dubai four years ago. He now travels almost every day to the Ras Al Khaimah port to supervise the production of the spacious yachts.

“When I started in Poland in 2002, Poland was not popular for super luxury yachts, only for big ships,” he said.

“We brought luxury to Poland and now we are doing the same in Ras Al Khaimah.”

The Dh100 million ($27.2 million) shipyard will cater to a growing demand for spacious yachts. Construction is already under way on a second shipyard at the site to cope with orders worth $170 million to be delivered over the next two years.

The majority of orders come from Europe, while the company also has clients from Australia, Asia and the US.

The Ras Al Khaimah shipyard will first produce midrange 44 foot to 88 foot catamarans with solar-panelled roofs, with the vessels priced between $1.5 million and $12 million.

The luxury transatlantic 140-foot yachts built in the company’s Polish shipyard cost up to $50 million.

Luxury is seclusion

Often described as floating villas, the boats are tailor-made for each client, with features including walnut wood interiors, granite kitchen and dining areas, master suites with walk-in dressing rooms and private balconies. Storage space can also be added for jet skis and kayaks.

“Luxury is not only to show the boat in front of Bulgari hotel in Dubai,” said Mr Lapp, 66. “Luxury, too, is an island, a place where you are alone.”

He said the boats allowed celebrities and sports stars such as Alonso to steer clear of the public eye.

“He has enough of show in Formula One,” Mr Lapp said. “He wants to go someplace and not be photographed, no press, nothing, to have a nice holiday.

“That’s why people are choosing our products, our catamarans, to go to someplace where you cannot go with normal boats.”

Longer trips, further afield

The time clients spent sailing has increased over the past few years, with people extending their voyages from a matter of weeks to months.

“Now clients stay two or three months on the boat in the summer, bring their family, make a long trip,” said Mr Lapp, who has sailed with his family from Monaco to Dubai.

Polish government officials believe more companies will follow Sunreef’s example and expand operations in the UAE.

The Polish Business Council in Dubai was recently inaugurated, with more companies expected to open in the Emirates.

“I feel proud. It is a symbol of our deepening economic co-operation,” said Ignacy Niemczycki, a senior official in Poland’s Ministry of Economic Development and Technology.

“It’s the first large Polish investment in the UAE and my hope is this paves the way for others.”

UAE is home

Mr Lapp plans to move his family from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah next year, once his teenage daughter heads off to study at university.

“I love Dubai and the UAE. I feel my home is here,” he said.

He wants the shipyard in Ras Al Khaimah to be used to deliver the same vessels as the Gdansk site. “Now our clients are asking us about quality and I say, ‘Yes, for sure, the quality will be the same in Ras Al Khaimah,” he said.

“We will bring this same level of quality of Poland that we did in the last 20 years to Ras Al Khaimah. I do not want to be number two. Every morning my challenge is how – in innovation, quality - how to be number one.”

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:09 PM