SIBS 2023: New breed of owner for Spirit Yachts

Spirit Yachts says it’s noticing a marked change in its new customers, who increasingly have no sailing experience.

Karen Underwood, MD at Spirit Yachts, says: “We’ve seen a high increase in younger people who want to buy and go off sailing and come back to land three years later.

“These are clientele who have sold businesses, or done well throughout covid. They have spent their working life between 20 and 40 building a business, but now want to spend time with friends and family nurturing themselves.”

Underwood (pictured centre), speaking at Southampton International Boat Show, says the majority are couples who’ve taken stock after covid and are taking care of their mental health. Now they want to sail together and work from the yacht – which can, as she points out, fully function from anywhere.

She believes that this new type of owner is exciting for the entirety of the marine industry.

While some are fresh out of box – or sailed dinghies when they were five – Underwood doesn’t see their lack of sailing experience when they start the build process as a barrier.

Chairman Robert Gillespie (pictured seated) says that people like these find their way to Spirit because they’re concerned about diesel engines, aesthetics and are looking for sustainability. He notes that Spirit Yachts are 100 per cent recyclable. “That matters to people who are outside the industry more than people who are used to the evolution within it,” he says.

Gillespie became chair in March 2023. He’s one of a collective of Spirit owners – all passionate sailors – who bought the company from Sean McMillan when he decided to retire. This process was reported as good.

Given that each Spirit build is lengthy, most owners develop a close relationship with the company – they are already totally invested. McMillan remains a shareholder and consultant designer.

“It became clear when Sean decided to step back that the aspiration of a number of owners to invest wouldn’t happen unless someone managed the process,” Gillespie says. “It was really a question of establishing what was needed to make the business sustainable for the future. The theory of all the new shareholders is evolution not revolution. In any business, it’s important to understand known costs and have a buffer for the unknown. Spirit now has a group of passionate owner-investors, who have provided that buffer.”

Making its UK debut at the show, the 22.1m Spirit 72 is a Bermudan sloop designed for regatta racing and occasional cruising. The yacht displays long overhangs, flush decks, and curved deckhouse with integrated fan windows. Underwood says it “epitomises where we are, doing what we do best: customised sailing yachts for the owner’s criteria.”

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.