Odyssey at the Crossroads
VICEM—LED BY A YOUNG, AMBITIOUS NEW OWNER— BLENDS TRADITION WITH INNOVATION IN THE NEW 46IPS. BY DANIEL HARDING JR.
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.