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In conversation with: Fernando Nicholson & Giovanni Alessi
Camper & Nicholsons
29th October 2019

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In conversation with: Fernando Nicholson & Giovanni Alessi

In conversation with… Fernando Nicholson & Giovanni Alessi

Fernando Nicholson and Giovanni Alessi are scions of celebrated yachting and design dynasties. The Camper & Nicholsons duo agree that innovation is the key to continued success. Here the pair discuss the most pioneering yachts, plus a groundbreaking tech platform that puts power back in the hands of sailors and stakeholders alike.

ALESSI I’m eager to have this conversation with Fernando because he’s a living link to a glorious heritage. Before 1782 there was no yachting, charter or brokerage industry. His forefathers had to create it. As an Alessi I also know the importance of safeguarding a wider history.

NICHOLSON You’re correct. To stay ahead, each generation has to keep inventing. When my father George Nicholson was 20 years old, my grandfather told him to go to the South of France to source repair work for our shipyard in Gosport. The problem was that my father liked the Cote d’Azur more than 1950s Britain. So he stayed and created the overseas brokerage industry from scratch from a small office on La Croisette in Cannes. Soon his clients grew to include Persian kings, Arabian royalty and the like.

ALESSI So you started at Camper & Nicholsons at a young age?

NICHOLSON Maybe six years old! I would go around the marinas in Antibes, Monaco and Cannes to look at yacht sterns and sails. From the age of 11 my father and I used to visit Benetti in Viareggio, then drive another 10 hours to the Adriatic to see other luxury yachts being built. You understand the sentiment towards the company only suddenly. Like when I was eating dinner at Ancona’s Grand Hotel Passetto. A shipyard owner came over and embraced my father and told him how great he was. I thought it was pretty embarrassing!

ALESSI But were you also proud?

NICHOLSON OK, I wanted the earth to eat me up, but I was also proud. The idea of custodianship, or guarding the company for future generations, was always there. For example, one of our young brokers, Jean-Marie Recamier, used to take me windsurfing in the South of France. Now fifty years after starting work, this gentleman remains in Cannes as our outstanding Senior Sales Broker. Matching heritage with innovation is the Camper & Nicholsons way.

ALESSI That statement is truer than ever, because the information age is moving so fast. Right now I believe the science exists to make yachting better, but its uptake in our industry has been slow. For me that’s like owning a Ferrari but only using first and second gears. Right now information from all these stakeholders is managed in a haphazard way, including Word documents, email archives, handwritten notes and Instagram marketing posts.

NICHOLSON You’re right. Little of this data links up or is collaborated.

ALESSI Then let me offer you a glimpse of how technology can empower all industry stakeholders: owners, brokers, captains, shipyards and guests. Now imagine you are a luxury yacht owner. Perhaps you’d like to distil all the information about client feedback, purser expenses or fuel usage into one platform. Or imagine you are a yacht manufacturer. Perhaps you’d like to receive projections about what guests are looking to charter next year, then filter that data into your design. We don’t want the industry to experience disruption - that’s a negative word - we want to better embrace the exciting years ahead. Thankfully Camper & Nicholsons have the biggest database in the industry. After all, they’ve been collecting intelligence since Fernando’s great-great grandfather’s day.

NICHOLSON Actually, my great-great-great grandfather! The data-led technology sounds so useful though. As a broker I maintain a relationship with my clients through email and WhatsApp as well as face-to-face. Yet I wish I had every detail on the yacht we’re discussing funnelled into one source. Like who were the yacht’s previous brokers, what is the unique history of the boat, or which marinas has she moored in. Preferably on a mobile device so I can share it securely with interested parties. Or imagine you are a potential client, lying on a beach in St Barths. Thanks to Giovanni, you will soon have the tools in your hand to understand who built the boat, when it’s available for charter, or how long it might take to manufacture something similar. The same data would also tell a yacht owner how much the boat is costing him or her in real time. It’s trailblazing stuff.

ALESSI It’s you guys who are leading this revolution. Brokers, owners and guests are requesting this information from the bottom up. Right now we are the only yachting company with software engineers working in a dedicated tech hub to design such a platform. However, I’d like to clear up a misconception that this technology would automate. It won’t, because the yachting industry is all about ‘people’. In your case it’s the reputation of a broker, and their company to which the sale has been entrusted, that sells a boat. My extra layer of information allows you to market a yacht with irrefutable data.

NICHOLSON At the same time technology is changing the quality of life onboard. Thanks to zero speed stabilisers we’ve been able to change the shape of the hull and the width of the beam. For example, I was the first broker to introduce clients to a plumb bow on a 55m boat called Forever One. This enabled tenders to be garaged on the front of the yacht. So guests can dive right into the water the moment she anchors, rather than waiting an hour for the crew to unload the toys.

ALESSI That yacht has a Riva tender too. A great Italian design!

Thanks to Giovanni, you will soon have the tools in your hand to understand who built the boat, when it’s available for charter, or how long it might take to manufacture something similar.

NICHOLSON This level of personal design is found in all Camper & Nicholsons yachts. Using Forever One as an example, Horacio Bozzo the naval architect visited my clients’ homes in Spain, Mexico and the United States. Bozzo understood how they lived, worked and entertained, before planning the yacht accordingly. Also, cruising has changed entirely. Yachting used to be the South of France, where you’d eat in a fancy restaurant and see who was sitting next to you. Forever One has sailed through the Kiel Canal to the Swedish coast. She has even moored by London’s Tower Bridge.

ALESSI That’s really something because innovating is risky. As my family will tell you, breaking the mould is a long process. You go through many no’s until you get a yes.

NICHOLSON I know it! My father broke the mould of classic yachts because decades ago it was hard to make a big boat look beautiful. He made some early Feadships alongside Jon Bannenberg, the godfather of modern yacht design. Now our biggest superyachts look like works of art, and you can understand all the demands that have gone into them.

ALESSI I agree that many design breakthroughs are client led. Consider the people who charter or commission a Camper & Nicholsons yacht. They are among the most successful and influential people on the planet. Each one becomes a source of inspiration because of their demands. For example, several of these individuals pushed Camper & Nicholsons to pioneer America’s Cup challenger yachts. That’s why they remain the industry leaders to this day.

Modern navigation equipment is so competent that paper charts are becoming obsolete, especially as the digital versions are updated to include fishing grounds, shipwrecks or shifting shoals.

NICHOLSON However, you have to be careful that technology doesn’t eat you. We must ensure that designers make end-user items simple. I think that AIS is a brilliant device because it empowers, not confuses. It allows owners to know exactly where, and how fast, their yacht is travelling via a remote app. Also, modern navigation equipment is so competent that paper charts are becoming obsolete, especially as the digital versions are updated to include fishing grounds, shipwrecks or shifting shoals. But rest assured, our esteemed clients will never be guinea pigs. Our staff will be the first to test the technology. Only when it works perfectly, will we share it.

ALESSI In ten years’ time many other facets of the industry will have changed. For my generation, protection of the ocean is important. For the next generation it’s pivotal. Our forthcoming tech solutions will tell, for example, a charter party in Indonesia which species are protected, or how they can assist in certain marine areas. Camper & Nicholsons already have yachts for charter, many with minimal environmental footprints, to explore Greenland, East Africa and Polynesia.

NICHOLSON Destinations are becoming more yacht-friendly too. Last year I cruised the Norwegian fjords. We experienced fabulous seafood and friendly welcomes. However, I also sailed there 15 years ago and it was unbearable. There was nowhere to anchor, only rough commercial ports to moor in. Here’s another example. I have a 46m Cheoy Lee yacht for sale called Qing, designed by Ron Holland. Her owner sailed through South East Asia for two years delivering precious items and educational materials to islanders. He just came back to Florida for a refit and now he’s sailing back. Technology combined with a will to explore are introducing new destinations like this.

ALESSI I think right now yachting is returning to its core beliefs. Correct me if I’m wrong Fernando, but original Camper & Nicholsons customers commissioned yachts in order to explore new worlds, sail farther or seek adventure. I feel the company is navigating back to its roots.

NICHOLSON But to sail ahead of the pack, we have to keep pioneering right?

ALESSI These days we can buy anything on the Internet. The only successful companies now are those who fulfil a unique experience, like Camper & Nicholsons.

NICHOLSON You’re right. The yachting business will never be about the bottom line because it’s about making people’s dreams come true. We invented the industry in 1782. Let’s sail to new horizons, and have fun along the way.