Odyssey at the Cross­roads


Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE -

Led by an am­bi­tious new owner, Turk­ish builder Vicem Yachts is bet­ting big on the 46IPS— and the com­pany may have a few sur­prises up its sleeve. By Daniel Hard­ing Jr.

Sit­ting in a booth in Lester’s Diner, a pop­u­lar meetup for ma­rine pro­fes­sion­als in Ft. Laud­erdale, I sipped a cup of cof­fee and glanced at the door wait­ing for Tu­ran Ozbakir, the new owner of Vicem Yachts.

Had I not Googled him be­fore our meet­ing I cer­tainly wouldn’t have pegged the young, slen­der man in jeans and V-neck T-shirt who walked in as the owner of such a pres­ti­gious com­pany. His olive skin and jet-black hair— along with a fu­ri­ously buzzing phone—be­trayed his incog­nito iden­tity.

A grad­u­ate of Ft. Laud­erdale’s Nova South- east­ern Univer­sity with a bach­e­lor’s in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­ment, and a mas­ter’s in en­trepreneur­ship, Ozbakir joined Vicem more than seven years ago. He started in cus­tomer ser­vice and then held sev­eral other po­si­tions, then spend­ing the last five years as the brand’s sales and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, be­fore be­com­ing owner ear­lier this year.

The new role is a big chal­lenge for the young Turk, but it’s one he plans to at­tack head on. That much be­came clear be­fore a menu could even be brought to the ta­ble.

“You know what I’m try­ing to do?” asked Ozbakir in an ac­cent that’s a blend of Turk­ish

My tar­get is not to build 100 boats, no way ... We’re not try­ing to build a BMW or Mercedes. Those are nice, but we’re try­ing to build a Rolls-Royce.

and English. “I’m try­ing to strengthen the base of Vicem. We have a strong tra­di­tion, yes. We just put our 162nd keel down. The suc­cess of our brand is al­ready there. My tar­get is to make sure that this suc­cess will con­tinue for an­other 25 years.”

The first ma­jor step to­ward achiev­ing that goal was re­vealed to the world days ear­lier at the Palm Beach In­ter­na­tional Boat Show in the form of the 46IPS, a boat that in one fell swoop chal­lenged the builder’s DNA to its cold-molded core.

Vicem got its start in 1991 build­ing cold-molded wooden boats, and be­came a player in the mar­ket thanks to a high level of crafts­man­ship and fine ma­hogany join­ery. Con­ven­tional, straight-shaft propul­sion has been an­other pil­lar of the builder’s strat­egy, through­out a sprawl­ing lineup rang­ing from 36 to 151 feet. Only for the builder’s Vul­can line (over 105 feet) has Vicem de­signed com­pos­ite hulls.

“Fiber­glass,” Ozbakir said, lean­ing in for em­pha­sis. “There is noth­ing wrong with wood, but the re­al­ity is there is de­mand for fiber­glass. You go onto YachtWorld to search for a boat and the de­fault set­ting is fiber­glass, you see. So if I want to stay in this busi­ness, we need to prove our­selves in that world, too.”

When asked if the move to more main­stream (read: eco­nom­i­cal) con­struc­tion meth­ods would mean more boats built, Ozk­abir shook his head and said, “My tar­get is not to build 100 boats, no way. When we raise the amount of builds we have then we jeop­ar­dize the qual­ity. We’re not try­ing to build a BMW or Mercedes. Those are nice, but we’re try­ing to build a Rolls-Royce.”

The air was still and warm. The sun was just be­gin­ning to rise be­hind a se­ries of man­sions across the chan­nel; the sound of a sin­gle drill echoed across the empty docks of the just-fin­ished Palm Beach In­ter­na­tional Boat Show. Groggy work­ers be­gan to ar­rive to box up dis­plays. I made my way to the Vicem dis­play, where a strik­ing 55 Clas­sic and the new 46IPS rested peace­fully. A few early morn­ing pleas­antries were ex­changed as the crew pre­pared the boat for our sea trial.

I walked up to the bow to catch a dock line. Lit­tle did I know that the first chal­lenge for the 46 was about to be­gin: The slip, with a long fin­ger dock to port, re­quired the cap­tain to inch the boat out with­out hit­ting the yacht in front of us; he would need to spin her in place about 270 de­grees be­fore head­ing out. In ret­ro­spect, I’m glad I didn’t know it was only the sec­ond time our cap­tain had driven the boat.

As he nudged the 46 for­ward, 1 inch at a time, I was able to grab—a lit­tle too eas­ily—the boat’s bowrail in front of us as we be­gan to spin and exit the slip. It was a rel­a­tively low-stress ma­neu­ver that was a tes­ta­ment to the mod­ern ma­neu­ver­ing ca­pac­ity of the 435-horse­power Volvo Penta IPS 600s.

I stepped back into the cock­pit, then through a three-piece slid­ing ma­hogany door into a sa­loon that is con­structed, sole to over­head, with a word I don’t use lightly— beau­ti­ful, book-matched bright­work. Where the boat isn’t solid ma­hogany, it’s a sub­stan­tial 1.8-mil­lime­ter-thick ve­neer, mean­ing that, un­like most ve­neers, it can be sanded if need be.

The lay­out is smart, and in many ways tra­di­tional, with a gen­er­ous amount of space given to the cock­pit and sa­loon. The state­rooms, while strik­ing in their own way, don’t of­fer im­mense space to walk around; they’re in­tended for sleep­ing com­fort­ably, not to be lav­ish suites where you spend ex­tended amounts of time.

Vicem of­fers the boat in a two- or three-state­room lay­out. Af­ter re­view­ing the ren­der­ings, I greatly pre­fer the two-state­room lay­out of our test boat as the three-state­room op­tion would sac­ri­fice the gal­ley for a room with a sin­gle berth. Call me self­ish, but I’d lose a friend over the abil­ity to make break­fast any day!

Af­ter ex­am­in­ing the ac­com­mo­da­tions I joined our cap­tain, Ahmed Al­varez, at the helm. We were me­an­der­ing through the nowake zone out to the in­let. Bor­row­ing the helm from Al­varez, I rel­ished the slow ride af­ter what was a cou­ple of hec­tic days at the show.

We even­tu­ally found the open ocean and a short, 2-foot chop. Spool­ing up the IPS600s I noted two things: First, thanks to the pods, she felt light and re­spon­sive; and sec­ond, her sharp en­try sliced very com­fort­ably through head seas. A “clog in the fuel line,” ac­cord­ing to Al­varez, pre­vented the 46 from reach­ing her al­leged top speed of 30 knots. In fact, we only saw 24.7 knots dur­ing two-way av­er­aged speed runs. Sightlines all around the boat were ex­cep­tional.

The only crit­i­cism I had for the 46, which has be­come a com­mon theme on shake­down tests I’ve been on, is that the draw­ers and clos­ets seemed to fly open every few min­utes, even in what was a rel­a­tively smooth ride with lit­tle pound­ing. I’m told these is­sues will be ad­dressed be­fore the boat is de­liv­ered to her owner.

At the con­clu­sion of our test, we headed back in­side the in­let so Dig­i­tal Edi­tor John Turner and I could jump ship to a Vicem 55 Clas­sic chase boat to shoot pho­tos and video.

Watch­ing the 46 slice through the wake of the 55 al­lowed me to see just how cleanly she plies the wa­ter. I missed be­ing at the helm al­most im­me­di­ately.

Ire­counted my im­pres­sions to Ozbakir when he had a rare chance to put down his phone and take a bite of his lunch. “If this line is as suc­cess­ful as I think it could be, would you con­sider mak­ing a shift away from cold-molded boats?” I asked. “I don’t think we’ll ever move away from cold-molded,” replied Ozbakir, who ad­mit­ted that build­ing wooden hulls has its chal­lenges—specif­i­cally, there aren’t as many skilled car­pen­ters wait­ing in the wings at Vicem as there once were. “Like here, peo­ple are mov­ing away from this type of work for jobs in the cities. That’s why we’re go­ing to build a type of school where the new guys work and learn from the old guys. It’ll be like a two-year univer­sity where you as­sist with a 10-month build or a 14-month build. We’ll train 12 to 20 car­pen­ters at a time. Paint and var­nish we can send peo­ple out to learn—but car­pen­try, no. Ninety per­cent of their train­ing comes from ex­pe­ri­ence. For the last 2,000 years, our car­pen­ters have been build­ing boats in the same ex­act lo­ca­tion, you see. We had huge ships built here for a long time. We need to pre­serve that.”

Be­tween his pas­sion for the brand, and a de­sire to pre­serve its her­itage while mov­ing de­sign for­ward, I found my­self re­spect­ing the young Turk. But one ques­tion—the ele­phant in the room—nagged at

me. “When con­sid­er­ing the pur­chase of a Vicem, our read­ers are go­ing to want to know, so I’m go­ing to ask, is one of your boats a good in­vest­ment, given the tur­moil we’re see­ing in your coun­try and re­gion?”

“Pol­i­tics is pol­i­tics and I’m some­one you don’t want to dis­cuss pol­i­tics with,” said Ozbakir, with a smile that im­plied he knew this ques­tion was com­ing. “As a Turk­ish cit­i­zen I will de­fend my coun­try in a po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ment. [The po­lit­i­cal cli­mate] doesn’t af­fect us at all. What’s more, in late 2016 the Turk­ish govern­ment made this rule that it will back up every Turk­ish com­pany that thinks it can com­pete in the world econ­omy. For yacht and ship­builders, the govern­ment is back­ing 75 per­cent of our in­vest­ments. How good is this?

“So yes, there is a chaos. When you turn on Fox or CNN, you think, Oh my God, this isn’t a coun­try I want to live in or even visit. But what you’re see­ing is hap­pen­ing on our bor­ders, far from Is­tan­bul. It’s like if some­thing bad is hap­pen­ing in Chicago and you call your nephew in Mi­ami to tell him, ‘Do not leave your house. Stay in­side!’ ‘What, why?’ he would ask you. ‘There’s a fight go­ing on in a bar in Chicago!’” Ozbakir laughed be­fore re­count­ing his re­cent trip to Is­tan­bul with his three young chil­dren. He went on to ex­plain that Vicem is ag­gres­sively cre­at­ing a war­ranty and con­struc­tion-in­sur­ance pol­icy for Amer­i­can buy­ers with the help of premier mar­itime lawyers in South Florida. His plan is to of­fer build cus­tomers peace of mind by al­low­ing U.S. clients to keep their in­vest­ments par­tially here in the States.

Be­fore long, Ozbakir’s phone calls hit crit­i­cal mass, so he had to re­turn to the of­fice. It was a short test, and a quick lunch, but both the 46IPS and Vicem’s am­bi­tious new leader left me with a very pos­i­tive im­pres­sion. They both may just help to write the next chap­ter in what has been noth­ing short of an odyssey for this Mid­dle East­ern builder.

As the 46IPS re­turned to Palm Beach, we saw a num­ber of su­pery­acht crews snap­ping pho­tos of the strik­ing 46IPS—and they know beau­ti­ful boats.

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