The UK entrepreneur is building a new class of mid-sized expedition yachts that he hopes will encourage more yacht owners to leave traditional cruising waters behind
| 7 January 2021
In 2017, Jasper Smith founded UK yacht brand Arksen, with a mission in mind. He hopes that his brand of mid-range expedition yachts and their owners will also join together in a club that expands adventure and also serves as a fleet of citizen-science, ocean research vessels.
Most expedition yachts are superyachts and rely on huge volumes and storage capacities to enable long-range exploration with no shore support.
Smith aims to bring the joy of expedition yachting to a wider audience, with a series of yachts from 45 to 85 feet. Humphreys Yacht Design, a firm specialising in sailing yachts for nearly 50 years, designed the Arksen 85 hull to handle tough seas while offering hydrodynamic efficiency. The yacht also has considerable fresh water and fuel capacity and a projected range of 7,000 nautical miles at nine knots.
The first Arksen 85 is currently in build at the Wight Shipyard in the UK; Wight specialises in aluminium workboats and fast ferries. Smith’s ambitions go far beyond a new range of expedition boats aimed at the mid-market segment. In an interview with Asia-Pacific Boating, he made it clear that he wants to change the nature and attitude of yachting altogether.
What inspired you to start Arksen?
The inspiration for Arksen goes back many years, but I only started the project a few years ago when on a trip to the west coast of Greenland with my eldest son. Looking out over the ice sheet and seeing the scale of the landscape was of course awe-inspiring and deeply moving, but it was also distressing to see the pace of climate change. Acknowledging climate change was perhaps the starting point, but my view is that a business has a moral and commercial imperative to have sustainability, responsibility and conservation as core pillars of its strategy.
Our mission is to enable greater access to adventure.
Our mission is to enable greater access to adventure. We strive to achieve this through our products and services that provide the right platform and instil confidence in our clients to undertake their own adventures. This in turn helps to raise awareness and drive a wider and deeper understanding of the ocean ecosystem and its importance for all of us.
We will also support scientists, film makers, artists and journalists by providing them with a platform through which they can craft and tell their stories.I was also inspired to develop products with their full lifecycle in mind – from sourcing products and materials to recycling at end-of-life. There is much to do to help transition the marine sector to more sustainable approaches, but I believe we all have a part to play on this journey.
What experiences did you have with yachts, boating and yacht building prior to launching Arksen?
My love of the ocean started from a young age when my parents would often take me off on adventures into the wilderness and on to the water in small boats. I have always had a deep connection with the outdoors.
As a young man, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to skipper a 55-foot aluminium ketch from Sydney up to Alaska. If you look at that journey, there are some astonishing places along the route. The one that really sticks in my mind was when we left Japan and sailed up the coast of the Kuril Islands and into Kamchatka. It was extraordinary.
During this early part of my life, I probably spent about 10 years climbing, sailing, diving and generally doing things in and around the ocean. I strongly believe that this is what really formed my thinking around adventure and the things I would like to achieve in later life.
What made you think that building expedition yachts in the size range you’ve chosen would work commercially?
We recognised a growing demand amongst owner-operators and owners of lightly crewed vessels for cruising and more adventurous experiences away from the usual well-trodden routes. Arksen therefore set about creating a range of vessels that would give owners the capability to make these voyages.
The Adventure Syndicate is a blend of owners’ club, voyage planning and adventure concierge that allows us to help clients maximise the experience of using Arksen yachts
We also saw that there is an opportunity to support these clients with an overall after sales and support service within the Arksen ecosystem. The Adventure Syndicate is a blend of owners’ club, voyage planning and adventure concierge that allows us to help clients maximise the experience of using Arksen yachts.
Can you describe the process of hiring people and selecting suppliers/shipyard for Arksen? Was it difficult to find a designer and yard that would work on the Arksen project?
I think one of the beauties of starting a new business is that you can hire people that are motivated by change and energised by the opportunity to do so. This is what we look for in potential candidates. We’ve got a brilliant team; every individual is determined to challenge the status quo.
When we started forming Arksen, we looked for the best partners to work with to bring the project to life. We knew the vessels needed to be efficient, safe and capable, while not compromising on aesthetic appeal.
So our choice of naval architects hinged on those who would be able to meet and exceed these requirements. Using their breadth of knowledge from past powerboat and efficient sailboat hull designs, Humphreys Yacht Design were excellently placed to develop the Arksen explorer vessels.
We chose aluminium as the build material, because it is durable, repairable and can be recycled. Working with our aluminium suppliers, Hydro, we are using a new alloy, Njørdal, which has improved mechanical properties, enabling a reduction in the amount of material required.
Therefore, we needed a specialist aluminium shipyard to work on our vessels, which have to blend the commercial durability with the comforts of a superyacht. Wight Shipyard Company on the Isle of Wight, with their experience across superyacht, defence and commercial projects, was the obvious choice.
Throughout the design and build process we have been pleasantly surprised by the support for our mission to shift the marine industry towards a more sustainable future, including by our interior designers, Design Unlimited.
So far, have you had any interest from Asia-based buyers?
Yes, we have been contacted by a number of clients and brokers in the region. The capability to cruise unsupported over long distances and for significant periods of time, plus the vessel’s lower maintenance requirements, are seen as a real bonus for cruising where there is limited yachting infrastructure. Zero emissions capability and Arksen’s focus on sustainability and supporting ocean research and conservation have also attracted interest.
What are your long-term goals for Arksen?
The long-term goal for Arksen has always been about leading a change and creating a shift in ocean adventure. Be it through opening up more opportunities for people to explore the far corners of the world, in safe, capable and reliable vessels or by helping to grow the world’s largest private research capable vessel fleet.
Ultimately, it is about seeing the bigger picture, that by enabling access, raising awareness and by facilitating more adventurous expeditions we can help to drive a greater understanding and connection between humanity and the fragile ocean ecosystem.