Three weeks ago I was on a business trip through Europe, mainly to meet with my fellow Excess dealer colleagues, the sailing catamaran brand had invited us to France for a face to face meeting and a yard visit to be briefed on the new Excess 14 catamaran. Just to clarify: I wasn´t allowed to take pictures there, which is a real pity since they had shown and explained the differences of catamaran and monohull-boatbuilding with an emphasis on Lagoon vs. Excess. It would have been a great article, but, well, not this time. So, to tell a nice story at least from this trip, I thought you´d maybe interested in reading about a little detour I´ve made, a stopover in Spain.
It was the city of Alicante down South of Barcelona and Valencia. I´ve never been to this city before so I was very curious what it would be like. Winter was on retreat, I shall say this might have been the first days of 2022 for me to see the sun and a blue sky. What a relief! It was still kind of chilly but at least during daytime it was possible to go out without the thick winter jacket. Perfect! Alicante, as I learned, is a city with a long maritime tradition and the starting point of The Ocean Race, ex Whitbread around the World. One of these racers – in great shape – greets the city´s visitors on a large roundabout at the waterfront. The Ocean Race Museum, which I had no time to visit unfortunately, is open right there at the marina.
As I had only a few hours to spend that day I searched for more maritime content in Alicante and found a yard which I had previously never heard of: Astondoa. Apparently, upon researching it in the first place, I learned that this yard in fact is part of the rich history of Alicante since this brand, their people and products they´ve made are part of Alicante´s story since more than 100 years. It´s a bit embarrassing that I didn´t knew the brand, but, to my apology, Astondoa makes power boats and superyachts, which is not exactly “my” field of particular interest. Nevertheless, researching more and more into their story, I found it increasingly interesting: Family business, fourth generation now in charge, still completely family run and owned. Well, that is rare. And definitely worth a visit.
At Astilleros Astondoa of Alicante
Sales Director Jaime agreed to show around and welcomed me at the main entrance. Astondoa is situated not exactly in Alicante, it´s a nice 30 minute drive with taxi all along the nice coast line. I utilized the travel time to watch the coast, the Mediterranean, the breaking of the waves and the rugged land. The surrounding is always defining the character of things. The culture, the food, the weather and not to forget the people of a region form the DNA of what they make. I was curious how these factors define the character of Astondoa.
The yard is a big-ass place. What surprised me was the fact that the production facilities are situated literally right at the sea. Mostly with yards, to minimize cost and to comply with environmental rules, they retreat to large industrial zones in the back country where big roads and big halls help to optimize cost management. Astondoa is there right at the sea. A big, big facility with large production halls, a huge open space to move boats around, filled with finished and half-finished hulls, parts and tanks. The all-familiar smell of styrene and GRP-production blends with the salty fresh air from the Ocean.
Jaime starts the tour by opening a door to the main building hall. Hulls from 60 to 100 feet are to be seen in various stages of the production. People are busy entering the hulks with parts to fit or to assembly, others have their working stations right outside the hulls, sanding, grinding, cutting or welding parts. Although no less than 4 or 5 of these really big boats are in the midst of building right now, there is no noise, no dirt. The people, upon seeing me, shortly pause their work and greet politely with a friendly smile and a “Buenas!” It is strange for me though, since I more and more realize that for me, Spanish products up until now meant only fruit, jamon and wine. When it comes to industrial tech product, I could only say “Seat cars”. I really wasn´t aware that Spain also offers a boat brand …
Everything is done inhouse. Literally.
The world is full of wonders and with every step I take, every story Jaime tells and every workshop he shows me my respect for this venture grows. Everything Astondoa does is done inhouse. At one point we enter a steel-manufacture. A huge milling machine operated by three guys makes pieces to be used on the boats. Almost all steel-parts on a ship by Astondoa has been manufactured by skilled craftsmen of the very yard. They make the GRP-parts by themselves as well as woodworks: In one hall I can see huge tree trunks: Teak!
Astondoa makes boats from 50 to 110 feet. A 125 feet superyacht is currently in the making as well and up until some years ago the yard was also into steel-yacht building with boats much larger (helipad included). Currently, with an ever changing market and a seemingly increasing turmoil in worldwide (and especially European) politics and economics, the company re-focused its product palette and is currently offering five models. Jaime shows the complete building process from moulding, fitting of equipment to the very last step of polishing the boat for handover.
Astondoa power boats are mainly shaft driven but they also offer Volvo Penta IPS-drive solutions. I ask Jaime about the current supply chain situation. It is increasingly difficult, as for everybody else too, but the fact that the yard is sold out for the next two years anyway they can plan very well ahead. The comparatively small level of output in terms of units makes it easier for the yard to organize parts delivery and have their supply chains diversified and safe. “If you make much of the stuff you need inhouse, this also helps”, Jaime explains.
I climb into one of the massive machine rooms of a 70 feet yacht. It is still unfinished but I stand in awe right next to two massive MAN Diesels, painted white like a virgin. The engine room is elaborately insulated, not with simple foam matrasses glued to the walls, but with high-grade metal-covered sound- and fire-insulation dressings of quality. Everything is massive, like the hand rails. Gauges and valves are nicely positioned to be reached without efforts, it seems that Astondoa is not micronizing parts to safe money, but on the contrary, fits even larger parts to create a safety margin.
Big toys for big boys
After Jaime had shown me around inside the yard halls and I´ve seen the major production steps, we go outside. A massive, and I mean truly massive, travel lift crane slowly passes by, probably to pick up one of the big boats to be put to the water. Astondoa, not just manufacturing as many parts as they can inhouse, also owns and operates a whole marina including all technical equipment. They can thus plan and optimize the whole service chain around a new boat´s launch as well as welcoming “old” boats for maintenance and refit. Clever: Astondoa yard services are also available for third party clients, a nice extra business. On one dry berth I can spot a fishing vessel, next to it a kind of small communal ferry.
The whole marina, as Jaime tells me, has been built, is owned and operated by Astondoa as well. Sounds quite logical: Boats that stay here can have a berth nearby, extra money flows in from demurrage and service around the guest boats. Alongside the fitting quay three brand new Astondoa yachts are morred, all in the very last stages of their building process. We start with the “smallest”, a brand new As5 flybridge yacht. Like bees no less than 15 people humming inside and outside around the boat, polishing, fitting and correcting the last tweaks, the engine crew optimized the Diesels, the all so much needed AC unit is running and gets serviced.
I climb inside (pictures for privacy reasons of the owner not allowed) and observe for a few minutes the bustling activity of the technicians. They seem to work in pairs of two or three, largely communicating with their eyes which speaks for professionalism. One guy kneels before each part of the furniture and closely – I mean really close – looks at the parts. When he founds something, he puts on a bright yellow sticker to mark a glitch, a small scratch or some other irregularity. I don´t see too many stickers around here. “This is final inspection of interior”, Jaime explains. Good to see that Astondoa clients receive this depth of quality check. Down below in the huge cabins other staff starts to unpack the matrasses, apply the last things here and there, controlling the perfectness in every detail.
As we walk onto the next boat, a brand new 80-footer, Jaime explains: “Mister Astondoa is a working genious. He really is. His dedication to the yachts is unprecedented. I rarely see him behind his desk in his office, mostly he is down in production, spends hours with the guys actually working on the boats. His daily workload is seldom less than 10 hours.” We are nearing the big boat, freshly moored on a brand new pontoon, from the distance I can see the boat captain moving out the Passarella. “Mister Astondoa is a boat addict. Constantly checking, tweaking, changing, inventing, trying out new things. He just loves building boats. The most fascinating part is: He never goes out, and when he does, it´s only short. He is not a sailor. He just loves to build them. Every new boat is always a new chapter for him.”
A meticulous focus on details
This focus on detail, the love for the little things, the specialty of making a truly remarkable product can be seen almost everywhere I send my eyes to look at: Take this big As8 boat. Where many boat builders offer completely painted boats (which looks of course awesome), Astondoa approaches a different solution. On this As8 just the top of the boat and some other elements of it are painted. A special, metallic-effect Bronze, which looks amazing. Not the overly mondane “look at me!” effect, but an almost moderate, understating, elaborate detail. Deciding detail. Much more my kind of style.
I enter the boat right into the saloon and I am amazed by the design. Where many power boats of this size that I know try to overwhelm you with luxury, exaggerated design and lots of bling, this one is completely different. It does not scream “I am rich!”, it does not stress your eyes with Gold-applications and screeching colors. It is filled with natural light, lots of space and a really understating design approach. Not simple, but sophisticated. The amazement lies in the details.
Everything is done with an emphasis on balance. The choice of materials used inside is both rich and calming. The lines do not stress your eyes but the sum of all forms create a full picture, a rich, defying and tasteful arrangement of colors, materials and haptic sensations. And all this in full midday sunlight: How great must this all look when its dark outside and this all is illuminated according to the internal lighting concept? Although I am a sailing guy, I´d really state that if I would be a powerboater, this approach to design and interiors would be definitely much more to my taste than many of the other, more bling-oriented brands I´ve seen so far.
Baking their own carbon parts
This goes very far, I´d say it goes much farther than I´d ever seen in any of the yards I´ve ever visited. For example, the use of carbon made parts. These are not provided by an external supplier but laminated and baked by the yard itself. This means, they also own an autoclave. Inside the As8 I can witness the level of quality: Making carbon parts itself is not a big deal, but making them in a way that the visible garment is even, without glitches and in a perfect net – this is the real thing.
Standing at the big control console of the boat I take a closer look onto the carbon-made switch panel. This large part is made absolutely spotless, the net of the carbon garment is even and from highest quality. Moreover, the board has not been glossy painted by covered with a more matte seethrough paint which makes it appear even nicer. Same in the outside: The reeling of the 80-footer.
As I have seen before, Astondoa is not using prefabricated stanchions or reelings like many others (this is the reason why almost all reeling of all boats absolutely look the same), the make the large steel parts by themselves. But at the bow and stern of the yacht a nice, little but defining detail is fitted: The handrail is made of a carbon, this time glossy painted. Just a small thing but together with all the overwhelming details it sums up to form a unique character. I begin to understand what Jaime meant with “Mister Astondoa is in love with hos boats.” All these little surprises are the product of a mastermind, constantly trying to add a bit here, take away a bit there, always on the move to improve, to form, to define. These boats are a piece of art, I more and more get aware of this fact, much more than they are a simple swimming bathing platform or a loft on the sea. Astondoa, although the family´s name, for me more and more becomes synonymous with “art”.
Design features and surprises everywhere
This is why I called this article “What if…?” again. It´s my second article under this headline. The first one I wrote almost 4 years ago when I visited a similar boat yard. Cranchi of Italy, although one of the last family-owned and run business in the boating industry, had me equally excited. Back in the day I was fascinated by the dedication to technology, the absolute commitment to make the best possible product, a kind of “Industry 4.0”-approach. I get constantly reminded of this trip – although, Astondoa is completely different.
Take this bar for example. It separates the galley of the As8 from the dining area. Instead of just covering the bar with a nice furniture or fabric, they´ve added a titanium-like 3D surface that shines and kind of changes form all over the place. The nice cool colored looks transform to a nice and warm simmer when hit by internal lights. Upon touching this surface, I realize that the ultracool looks is achieved by using the heads of big bolts, or at least the looks of it. Ingenious, don´t you think?
The Captain´s chairs on the boat are covered in finest Alcantara, at least this is what I think it is. This Ultrasuede, synthetic material is equally expensive and elaborate to make like real leather, although I guess you can get real leather for your Astondoa too. The stitching of the brand´s name into the back of the headrest is spotless, I tough the well-made embroidery and it feels solid, almost like being cast. I guess it will look still this way in a 15 years period. “Do you want to see our flagship?”, Jaime asks. Well, yes, Sir!
My first time ever on an aircraft carrier … Astondoa 110!
Of course I´ve seen big ships: Having lived for many, many years in Hamburg the big-ass Post-Panamax-Class freighters of Maersk and CMA are a familiar sight. 440 meters of length and more, literal NYC block-sized behemoths of global commerce, arriving and leaving on a daily basis. But honestly, I´ve never boarded a private vessel bigger than 80 feet. This is a rare chance as over 100 feet you reach a budget line that is restricted to a very limited and very private, let´s say, circle of people. So of course, taking a close look onto what a multi-millionaire lodges like is a chance I had to take!
The Astondoa 100 and 110 are the current flagships of the line. They have an even bigger yacht in the making, a 125 feet boat, but that is not finished as of now, so for me this is the big thing. They had two of them moored next to each other and the 110 was open for me to visit. Even pictures – partially – had been allowed. You may know that I am in love with sailing yachts. Power boat´s lines do not really excite me. But, well, what shall I say? This particular one … was different.
The sheer size of 110 feet and the vastness of the boat is breathtaking. The sidewalk becomes a real deck, it takes a minute or so to walk from one end to another. The mooring lines are as thick of my arm, the clamps and winches resemble the ones used by Maersk – you won´t get these sizes at Lewmar. I cannot help myself, but somehow the James Bond theme tunes up in some corner of my head as this yacht may very well play a significant role in another movie about Her Majesty´s best agent.
Understanding the fascination of superyachts
Superyachts are not really “my” kind of thing but I can totally see why people like to spend their money on these: The level of comfort and luxury, although not all too different from what I´ve seen on the “smaller” 50 or 70 footers, is absolutely amazing. The saloon is so big that it has compartments, like a coffee-table with settee, a dedicated dining area and so forth.
I proceed onto the bridge (no pics here) which is a real big boy´s working place: A single raised chair presiding over two home-cinema-sized big screens which can show a wide array of external cameras (stern and bow for berthing for example). Lots of gauges and controls, even a joystick, bow and stern thruster controls. The bridge may very well be on a space ship taken out of Star Wars – the Boat Captain shows me around and I can see his pride. I would be proud of this working place too!
I walk to the back where on deck 4 is a flybridge open lounge area on the 100, whereas the 110 I am currently on is a closed fly-deck with a cozy lounge-arrangement. Apart from the common idea that these boats are used for excessive parties (which I can perfectly well visualize on this boat too), I can also see the owner´s family here relaxing, watching a game of football on the large flat or enjoying a concert DVD and a cold drink. It´s a different world, fascinating too, to be allowed to see it that near.
It´s the details again
We go down to the cabins. Standing in the owner´s cabin Jaime points toward some more details: “You see the leather covered parts of the walls?”, he asks. Of course I do. “Take a closer look, watch the color”, he says. And indeed: What I initially thought was a nice light-effect of the LED-lighting is in fact a special treatment of the leather. The color had been brushed away by the workers, by hand, panel by panel to create this amazing effect. It is not a game of light and shadow, but a real, physical effect.
As I walk between the cabins I begin to notice more and more of these “real” effects. What a level of elaborate handcraft this is, a documentation of sheer dedication and the love for detail. I kind of feel reminded to the Oyster 745 which I had the pleasure to roam during a boat show three years ago. The depth of details and luxury, the utilization of superior material and the urge to deliver a truly unique experience that still makes these English sailing yachts in my opinion so outstandingly precious. The same spirit can be felt aboard this yacht too.
The owners of an Astondoa yacht, of course, can choose from a wide variety of different colors, garments, fabrics and materials. Real marble fittings in the bathrooms are as well a standard, like custom made taps, furniture and wooden fittings. “Our design team is working closely with the owners. Frequent trips to the yard to see the stages of the building process of the boats are common”, Jaime informs me. I can see the point. Well, as for my own clients, I am happy to at least once show them the yard and I try hard to have this visit timed as such so that they can see their own boats on the assembly line. Of course, this here is premier league. But maybe I can learn something here to be applied at least in a minimal form to production boat building too?
Cherry on top …
I spend close to one hour aboard that ship. Especially the working areas such as the engine room are so interesting to see. It is really an absolutely different world. Power boats are so much more complex than sailboats, the level of perfection and craftmanship is top notch, especially in boats of this size. “What if …?” such a yard, like Astondoa, would be deciding to making sailboats? I know, there are brands of this level in sailboat making … but the sheer idea if thought provoking. Jaime takes me to another shed. Something special is coming up.
Astondoa is one of the world´s very, very few yards to own and operate their own prototype department. A huge – I mean really huge! – robot-worked milling machine to drill Styrofoam prototypes opens up before my eyes: “With that machine we can easily put out size 1:1 models of our yachts to see how it works in real size.”, Jaime explains. “The machine can work overnight, a 4-axis-robot drilling translates CAD ideas of Mister Astondoa into real, touchable models. We also use this machine to make our own moulds.” I can see the point: Fast, rapid prototyping, real-life sized models makes the company fast, independent and absolutely flexible.
„We are one of the very few companies to own this machine”, Jaime further explains: “When it is not in use for the yard, we rent it out to other enterprises for prototyping. This creates a nice surplus income and minimizes cost.” That is really the Cherry on Top! This fascinating yard, operating since 100 years, still in family´s hand and a new generation already on the rise. The 27 year old daughter is in her starting blocks and actively working with her dad, absorbing everything that makes up the yard, defines their products and lives within every boat, every employee and every little detail. Back in the main building, before we part, Jaime suggests a restaurant to enjoy best Jamon and sea food of Santa Pola. We shake hands, smile and I stand in awe. This was one of the most impressive yard visits and truly something very different from all the other sites I´ve seen so far.
Now, what if …?
I ask me this question all the time: What if a yard like this with a dedicated mastermind like Mister Astondoa was into sailboat making? How would a 50 feet sailing yacht with an Astondoa-like level of dedication to details be looking like? Would it be a super-Oyster? A Wally on steroids? I don´t mean the luxurious level, the playtoys for millionaires, I mean the level of craftsmanship. Thinking about it quietly, I sit down in the very restaurant Jaime had been suggesting.
I indulge myself in a great piece of handmade bread alongside a fresh olive oil. The overwhelming taste of thinly sliced Spanish ham of the finest. Fresh Gamba sauteed in oil and garlic, peeled with bare fingers, just plainly salted cause an explosion of pure taste. The main course is a grilled fish, I don´t remember its name, so fresh it was swimming up until this morning. A great wine goes alongside and a huge desert closes the feast. What a great closing act to that wonderful and perfect day! Before I leave, I read into the menue. There is a very small, almost hidden, sentence. This restaurant belongs Mister Astondoa as well. And I have to smile: What a comforting feeling to realize that apparently everything this man seems to touch is literally trimmed to absolute perfection.
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