It is pitch black. The plane flies pretty low already. Under me I see the lights of a city slowly passing by. The wings are wobbling, the seat shaking: Pretty windy, it seems. We are approaching Izmir airport on this late Tuesday evening. A 6 hour trip from Germany via beloved Istanbul draws to an and. Although I was able to catch some sleep during this flight, I feel worn out. I shouldn´t – at last, I was able to organize this trip to Izmir and the part of me that is not tired, is actually pretty excited.
The reason for this flight is curiosity: Some two years ago, out of pure happenstance, I somehow “discovered” M.A.T. Yachts. I got more and more delighted, even excited, the more I read about this brand. Like an “insiders tip”, these thoroughbred racing-boats being virtually unknown to a wider public in Northern Europe and at the same time winning races in the Mediterranean. Designed by the best naval architects in the world, sporting a supreme reputation among people who know about them. After releasing the first images of their newly Mark Milles-designed M.A.T. 1340 and 1220 I got even more excited. So, here I was, slowly descending to Izmir, calming myself down, retreating to my hotel room and catching up with some sleep – tomorrow will be the day!
Meeting Alp Somer of M.A.T. Yachts
M.A.T. Yachts is some 30 kilometers away from Izmir city center. That´s a good half-hour Taxi-drive which, thanks to the ultra-cheap Turkish Lira right now is a no-brainer. Izmir, I read on the internet during the transfer, housed some 10 per cent of Turkey´s overall industrial production and the city alone is home to some 4.4 million people. Somehow I did have a very different idea of this town. What impresses me even today on this new morning was the strong wind, whitecaps on the blue Aegean waters right next to the waterfront-highway. The taxi suddenly drives up into the mountains and parks in front of a big blue hall. A tall man walks up to the car: Alp Somer!
Alp Somer, one of three brothers, is the face of M.A.T. Yachts. He welcomes me warmly – Turkey never fails to embarrass the average Northener by its overwhelmingly heartful culture of welcome. We proceed inside: The wind coming up into the mountains is freezingly cold: With all the overwhelming sun I forgot that we still have February, in the midst of winter. I follow Alp into his office, which is a room, very scarcely equipped and abstaining in furniture. Like the boats, I will later discover, the somewhat shy and understating character of the office mirrors the philosophy of M.A.T. Yachts. We start to talk. Alp explains where the company comes from. The other brother who specialized in construction, built this facility. Another brother, specialized in aluminium and metal-works, also provides parts for the boats. We will see later.
At M.A.T. Yachts everything is made with a purpose. When Alp explains to me what his boats are all about, he does it with highly detailed CAD-models. Being able to zoom in and out, showing the boats to each small screw and bolt, makes him able to add customizations for clients upon request, add surplus and new parts or equipment and of course provide all information about every tiny detail on his products. Pretty impressive!
Insider´s tip: Racing Machine
Also impressive is the racing palmares of M.A.T. boats in Europe and abroad. These boats are made for real racers and although some of the boats, like the 1070, do have at least a rudimental interior for providing small comforts, these boats are serious racing machines. Optimized for IRC-rating, M.A.T. yachts are frequently collecting trophies. It´s just a look onto the shelf over Alp´s working station that is filled with cups and goblets of dozens of races won or at least finished on podium. And this is just the trophies won by Alp and skippers affiliated with the yard.
When I talked to some of my sailing friends about this trip back in Germany, I was astonished how well-known the M.A.T. brand was among these guys. Anyone who knew what M.A.T. stands for and what the products were congratulated me and wished me a great trip. It seems that the fame of M.A.T. has reached the northern countries, yet, I am not aware to having seen a single boat in the Baltic so far. Well, it´s about time to change this, I´d say.
A dream coming true …
After talking a bit in the office (I sat right underneath an electric heater that was blowing hot air right onto my freezingly cold back) all of my questions had been answered so far and Alp suggested to proceed to the workshop. I jumped to my feet, excited, to finally see where and how these boats are made. We opened two doors, Alp´s office is just right next to the actual yard. And here I was, standing in the big hall. And, what can I say: It´s a “Wow!” from the heart.
Apart from the fact that the hall apparently had been constructed without budgetary constraints: Best washed out concrete, good lighting, a perfectly working air ventilation system (apparently almost no smell at all, something that is so defining for yards) and a well-kept clean environment welcomed me. No dust, no parts laying around. The workers, greeting and apparently smiling under their masks, wearing clean clothing. I made big eyes, what was I expecting? Well, worse, it seems. This level of tidiness and organization is certainly not benchmark of the industry.
I instantly recognize the still flipped hull number #1 of the latest boat by M.A.T., their 1220, designed by Mark Milles, about which I recently made another article. But as this article had been done remotely, it was a whole different story to be able to walk up to the hull, touch at it look at it from all angles. What a nice boat, exciting lines, flat hull and wide stern. She will be a beast to sail for sure. Right next to the finished hull a mould was positioned. I asked for permission to climb up, which Alp granted with pleasure. The sight was so telling.
All the boats made by M.A.T. are done adhering to the highest standards in composite boatbuilding: No hand lamination, but vacuum infusion. The boats are all foam cored which makes for incredibly stiff and durable hulls. Almost no or at least much, much less structural fittings like bulkheads or bracings are needed. I could spot the highly sophisticated internals structurally, like the integrated Carbon-fiber struts for the keel-fittings or the integrated chain plates which induce the forces from the rigging into the hull.
Everything done inhouse
Well, almost everything. Alp, too modest to run around and praising his achievements, stands right next to these marvels, explaining how it is done here at M.A.T. I don’t know if I should be more impressed by the seemingly impressive standards of production or his humbling modesty. Everything that can be done is made inhouse. In this, the yard also makes the moulds and the plugs for all parts of the boats.
We go into a separate room with climate control. All that is missing now to be almost completely independent would be an autoclave for baking the Carbon-fiber parts, Alp says, pointing to a model of the T-strut that will be part of the new M.A.T. 1220 structure to house the keel. The chamber is connected with an AC unit that can keep the temperature at a desired level as well as humidity levelled. M.A.T. can insure a constant high level of quality in its parts, no matter if they are made during Turkey´s hot summer or, like now, during a freezing period of the year.
We proceed to another shed that is cordoned off from the workshop by a thick plastic cover. Three guys with dust masks are thoroughly sanding – by hand – a deck. This is to be the plug for the vacuum-infusion of the 1220-deck. The guys are sanding, centimeter by centimeter, to erase all possible markings and the tiniest inconsistencies so that later the Gelcoat surface of the new boats may appear in all of its spotless glory: An effort, that I will be able to see and judge a few minutes later on a finished hull.
That this company does not allow for any compromise in any matter is to be seen on two M.A.T. 1070 hulls which Alp shows to me. One of them is in the process of being outfitted with sailing gear, the other is parked for fitting just after deck and hull marriage. We climb into the first one, light switched on, and I am impressed even more: Not only that I am not able to see even a tiny inconsistency from the outside: No dents, no bulges and no markings from bulkheads which are so common among production boat-hulls!
The Gelcoat surface appears in perfect shape, a wonderful sight it is! Standing in the wide cockpit I honor the layout: Six winches not just well-thought positioned to work the different lines and ropes but also to allow a crew to work the winches without hindering each other. The non-skid-surface of a M.A.T. yacht´s deck is not the usual diamond-shape or later applied sand- or glass-mixture but already part of the mould. In this, M.A.T. can guarantee for not just perfect grip but also a spotless look and quality.
I walk over the deck and can say by just the feeling of my steps and the saturated sound my steps are making that this is a very stiff and well-made surface. Kneeling down at the bow I admire another no-compromise-detail: The mighty chain plate fitting for the forestay is an absolutely gorgeous detail. Apparently Alp´s brother, who is into metal-works, did an amazing job here. This part is CNC-milled out of a solid block of stainless steel. No welding, no bending – just a massive but also beautifully made part.
Later I will check its counterpart from inside: I find not just some washers, but a finger-thick stainless-steel counter-plate. Impressive! Equally impressive as the interior of this boat, which I can admire just a few moments later. From the cockpit I take a big step over a deep coaming – another sign for the performance-oriented character of this boat – I walk down a steep entryway into the large interior of the boat. And my chin kind of falls down …
Boats as perfect as one can dream of
I´ve seen many, many boats in my “career” so far and honestly, somehow I like them all. Old boats, new yachts, classic style or modern. I love the speedy all-out racers as much as the comfortable mile-eaters. As far as they bear a mast and can hoist a piece of canvas, I can excite myself, dream me away and see the adventure in them. With M.A.T. it’s the same, but with a notch up: Coming down the entryway I enter a shiny, wide, surprisingly voluminous … cathedral. I stand in awe. Although the boat isn´t finished at all, the level of craftsmanship is absolutely stunning.
Everything is visible to be accessible for maintenance or possible repair-work. There are no fairings, no facings to hide the dirty pieces. The boat comes as simple as their product promise: Trimmed to speed, built to perfection. The Gelcoat-surface feels a lot better than on many boats I´ve seen. I know this is not possible as Gelcoat is always the same, but it feels thicker, somehow. The only wooden parts of the boat are the flaps for the stowage. There is a story to each part and I will tell it in more detail in another article, the final walkthrough of the M.A.T 1070.
No compromise with equipment the yard as to buy from suppliers. Like the seacocks in the toilet: True design valves instead of the cheap brazen ones used on most production boats. Longer lifetime, less maintenance and almost no wear. The hull windows – cat-like thin openings for allowing a little bit of natural light inside – aren´t made of Acrylic or other cheap material. M.A.T. gets their windows as real tempered security-glass from a supplier specially made.
There are surprising and fascinating detail for every new step I take and Alp doesn´t hesitate to show me the secrets, point to the interesting parts. Far too many to be cramped into this one article. After nearly an hour inside the 1070 we get back into the cockpit and I can perfectly envision myself at one of the wheels (although this boat is available with tiller-steering as well). This 35-footer is indeed the burner I thought I might be judging from the pictures I´ve seen.
As we climbed down and round the boat, I stand in awe above the shiny all-lead keel of the 1070. Look at the trailing edge, Alp says and indeed this CNC-milled piece of engineering is a another, wonderful example of the high aspiration that comes with every M.A.T.: Their keels are always full lead (almost too expensive for cruising boats), either fin or T-keel with a bomb. A stainless steel backbone inside and proprietary fixing at the boat, wait for the next article. I spent nearly 3 hours with Alp, who shows me every stage of the process. We also round the large workshop, showing me the lesser used moulds which could be re-furbished upon request. There´s also a Mini 650 prototype by M.A.T.
Racing DNA. Racing Boats. Racing Action!
It´s lunchtime. The sun is high up and if it wasn´t for mid-January and some very – unusual – low temperatures, it would have been a gorgeous day, only 15 degrees Celsius more. Alp invited me into his car and we drove some 15 minutes to the sea. We had a wonderful dinner, grilled seafood, a wide selection of tasty Meze and steaming hot fresh oven-baked bread. After this wonderful feast, we sat in his car again and drove to Alacati marina, where Alp wanted to show me something.
As we enter the marina we park in front of a M.A.T. 1080, an elder model. This one was owned by Arkas Sailing Team, a local logistics company that is proud to sponsor an own all-pro racing team. Alp says that the M.A.T. 1070 is on the heavier side of the product range “with some comforts” and that this 1080 is on the lighter side of the range: The 1080 sports a lightweight 4.something tons with more than 2 tons of ballast weight in its keel. “25 knots under Gennaker is no exception”, Alp states. And he says it with such a determined expression in his face that it leaves no doubt.
People interested in buying a M.A.T. can fly in and join a training session on either the Arkas racer or another boat stationed in Istanbul. Alp says he does not believe in boat shows nor in any of the classic selling instruments for his products. In the end, he says, it´s the boat winning races, it’s the name of the boat in the rankings that sells. Seriously, he means it. Seemingly proud of the achievements his dedicated team, his two brothers and himself have done, Alp assures me that not a single boat had ever left the yard unchecked by himself.
We part later in the early evening, not without another invitation by Alp to join him for an evening snack. What an amazing short trip, I think, laying in my hotel-bed. I stay awake virtually the whole night because I have to get up at 0400 (which will be 0200 German time). Thinking about what I have seen that day makes me instantly remember another yard visit some 5 years ago. We got a show-around in Cranchi yard at Lago di Como. Equally high standards, proprietary manufacturing, exceptional cleanliness and high standard of quality. I wrote an article about that yard visit too and named it “What if?”. Cranchi just makes power boats. I imagined what if there was a brand applying the same standards for sailboats. “What if” concludes with the statement that so far I haven´t found one. Well, here we are: I finally closed the circle. M.A.T. yachts of Izmir may be the gold-standard I was looking for so long indeed.
You may also like to read these articles as well:
Turkish Delight: The M.A.T. 1070 close-up
Talking to Alp Somer about the new M.A.T. 1340
What if? At Cranchi Yachts in Italy