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Sunreef Reflects on Two Decades of Super Cats

As Sunreef Yachts celebrates its 20th anniversary, founder and President Francis Lapp looks at how the company’s focus on “superyacht DNA” helped it become the world leader in large, luxurious catamarans, a brand of choice for sports stars and a pioneer in green technology.

Oct 11, 2022 | By John Higginson

Sunreef’s decision to stage its 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Yacht Club de Monaco (YCM) during this year’s Monaco Yacht Show seemed fitting. After all, last year, YCM had hosted a signing ceremony between Sunreef’s President Francis Lapp and Fernando Alonso as the latter commissioned a new 60 Sunreef Eco, before Rafa Nadal and Nico Rosberg had a table-tennis showdown for the Sunreef Ambassadors’ Cup at the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show.

The Polish builder’s relationships with high-profile owners and ambassadors appears to have evolved quite naturally, although their appointments have been steadily unveiled and highlighted the builder’s rapid expansion and evolution in recent years.

Nico Rosberg and Rafa Nadal
Nico Rosberg and Rafa Nadal on the latter’s 80 Sunreef Power.

Nadal, who won his 22nd Grand Slam at this year’s French Open, had seen the Sunreef 80 sailing catamaran at the 2018 Cannes Yachting Festival, which inspired the tennis superstar to buy an 80 Sunreef Power, a model only unveiled the following year. In the summer of 2019, his order was announced by Sunreef before he joined the yard for a party at the Cannes Yachting Festival and the following summer, he received Great White in his native Mallorca.

Rosberg, a sustainability entrepreneur since retiring from F1 after winning the 2016 world title, was announced in 2020 as the ambassador for Sunreef Yachts’ Eco range of solar-power catamarans, with a particular focus on the sailing models, having tested the Sunreef 60’s ‘E’ electric version in Monaco and, more recently, the first Sunreef 80 Eco in Dubai.

Francis Lapp and Fernando Alonso
Francis Lapp with Fernando Alonso after the two-time F1 world champion signed for a Sunreef 60 Eco.

Alonso — a two-time F1 world champion and currently driving for Alpine — followed in 2021 when he ordered the first 60 Sunreef Power Eco, which will be among the first motor yacht models in the Eco range. And as if the celebrity roll call wasn’t long enough, professional explorer Mike Horn was announced this year as the ambassador of the builder’s new Explorer line of yachts, with designs already revealed for 40M and 50M models.

“We like to work closely with our ambassadors. Most of them found their way to Sunreef Yachts by simply looking for a boat that would meet their needs. The synergy we found with Fernando Alonso or Rafael Nadal is something that lets us express our brand spirit — we like competition, we are a dynamic company,” says Lapp, who was born in France and holds two passports, having obtained Polish citizenship in 2014.

Mike Horn
Mike Horn at the Sunreef facility in Poland.

“With Nico Rosberg we explore the potential of green technologies and highlight the importance of the electric revolution in yachting. Mike Horn helps us promote the Explorer range and encourages people to discover new destinations, as he’s the best person to voice that kind of message. It’s all about finding the right synergies.”

A Frenchman in Gdansk

Following particularly rapid growth in the past four years, Lapp now oversees a company with 2,000 employees split quite evenly across the company’s original facility in the historic Gdansk Shipyard and its new site further east along the Martwa Wisla river. In addition, Sunreef is currently developing a third site in the United Arab Emirates.

An electrical engineer, motorsport fan and keen rally driver, Lapp first visited Poland in 1991 to compete in an off-road championship before moving to Warsaw the following year to further his career.

Francis Lapp
Lapp is both a French and Polish citizen.

“Post-communist Poland was a country full of great opportunities,” says Lapp, now 64. “When I moved to Warsaw, my friends in France were surprised. They couldn’t understand my decision, but I knew this was my chance to evolve as Poland offered a fresh, dynamic business environment with plenty of room for growth and talented workforce.”

Lapp’s company developed electrical equipment for global brands, and later designed and installed electrical, sanitary and air-conditioning systems for large industrial facilities. He also developed an interest in sailing, first with racing catamarans, before developing a side business chartering cruising catamarans in the Indian Ocean.

As clients asked for larger, more luxurious catamarans, Lapp couldn’t find what he was looking for, so decided to build his own after recognising a gap in the pleasure boating market.

Sunreef Gdansk shipyard
Sunreef’s first shed at the Gdansk Shipyard.

“Back then, pleasure catamarans were very basic. When I bought my first power catamarans for my charter business, I realised their quality and finish could be improved. I started to ask around and searched for shipyards that could build me a customised multihull, but nobody wanted to do it, so I decided to build on my own,” he says.

“The idea from the start was to inject superyacht DNA into twin-hull yachts. I found my own market gap and introduced a new type of boat — a luxury catamaran. We started a trend.”

Lapp founded Sunreef in 2002 after finding a suitable production facility at the historic Gdansk Shipyard, where Lech Walesa — also an electrician — famously led a strike then negotiations between workers and the government in 1980, leading to the Solidarity movement and the fall of communism by 1989 before he was elected President the following year. Walesa has been a good supporter of Sunreef, appearing at the brand’s events on multiple occasions.

Sunreef Gdansk Shipyard
Sunreef organised the Pomorskie Rendez-Vous near the Gdansk Shipyard.

“After the political changes in Poland, the Gdansk Shipyard was in a difficult position with many workers being laid off,” Lapp says. “The place needed new energy and I like to think we breathed new life into the docks.”

Lapp admits building there is both ‘a privilege and a challenge’, as the pride in constructing yachts in such an historic shipyard is balanced by restrictions on modernising or upgrading the facilities due to the site’s heritage status.

“Many buildings are monuments, so we have to adapt to the existing infrastructure,” says Lapp, who decided to expand and build a new shipyard a few years ago after exhausting capacity at the Gdansk Shipyard.

First After First

In 2003, Sunreef launched its first yacht, the Sunreef 74 Che, which was the first luxury oceangoing catamaran of that size with a flybridge. Lapp proudly showed the 74-footer at the Monaco Yacht Show, where both catamarans and Polish-built luxury yachts were an unfamiliar sight.

Sunreef 102 Ipharra
In 2010, Sunreef launched the 102 Ipharra, the world’s first double-deck sailing cat.

“Launching the first Sunreef 74 was obviously a big moment,” he says. “At the time, boat building was a kind of hobby for me, but it quickly grew into a business once I realised the potential. The Sunreef 74 was the world’s first luxury sail cat and on top of that, she had a flybridge – an industry-first in the world of multihulls.”

More world firsts followed. In 2008, the company launched the 70ft power catamaran Jambo, the world’s first double-deck powercat.

Having developed 25m-plus carbon masts, Sunreef unveiled two huge models in 2010: the Sunreef 102 Ipharra, the world’s first double-deck sailing cat, and the Sunreef 114 Che, the world’s biggest sloop-rigged catamaran and what Lapp calls the company’s entry into the ‘monohull-dominated world of superyachts’.

Sunreef 114 Che
The Sunreef 114 Che was the world’s biggest sloop-rigged catamaran.

“Sunreef’s key has always been the innovative mindset. We started out by basically inventing a new type of yacht and kept innovating all the way. We were the first to come up with double-deck cats, aft garages, folding masts and so many other solutions. I think this is what distinguishes us the most.”

For about a decade from 2008-2017, Sunreef’s most popular sailing and powercat models were in the 58-74ft range, with sales to Asia including the Sunreef 70 Feng to China in 2013 and the Supreme 68 Eagle Wings and Sunreef 62 Annette delivered to Singapore in 2016 and 2017 respectively. The builder’s launches in 2017 also included the one-off Sunreef 88 Double Deck.

New Beginnings

Launched under the ‘New Beginnings’ banner, the company’s current range of sailing models was first seen in 2018 with the Sunreef 60 and Sunreef 80, before the first units of the 50 and 70 followed in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Sunreef 80
The popular Sunreef 80.

Remarkably, the Sunreef 80 has proved the most popular of the four models, underlining Lapp’s focus on large catamarans. Likewise, the 80 Sunreef Power — which premiered at Cannes in 2019 — is the most popular of the current range of powercats, which also includes 60 and 70 models. A blue-hulled, three-cabin 80 Sunreef Power for a China-based client was launched in 2020.

“I felt we needed to reassess our offer and create a whole new range of power and sail yachts, which have proved bestsellers and led to our further growth,” Lapp says. “These models are also the base of our Eco range of electric solar cats, which has been another big step forward for us.”

80 Sunreef Power
Kokomo, an 80 Sunreef Power.

It’s also worth emphasising that Sunreef’s powercats are built on different hulls to the sailing models, and are notably wider. For example, the 80 Sunreef Power is 23.95m long with a 12m beam, while the Sunreef 80 sailing model is 24.4m long and has a 11.5m beam.

Eco Future

At Cannes in 2019, the builder revealed the Sunreef 60 E electric sailing cat, as the fully-fledged Eco range was being developed behind the scenes. This groundbreaking series offers a wide range of green technology and materials that can be implemented on the existing ‘New Beginnings’ models.

Sunreef 80 Eco
Marie-Joseph, the first Sunreef 80 Eco.

The most obvious and arguably most innovative technology is the solar panels, which have been developed in-house, are less than a millimetre thick and can be curved to wrap around parts of the yacht.

As well as being used on flat surfaces like a hard top, this ‘solar skin’ can also be integrated into the hull sides, superstructure and even the mast of sailing yachts, as shown on the first Sunreef 80 Eco, Marie-Joseph, that appeared at this year’s Cannes Yachting Festival and Monaco Yacht Show. The first Sunreef 60 Eco was also launched earlier this year and began cruising this summer.

80 Sunreef Power Eco
The 80 Sunreef Power Eco.

Optional power-generating green tech includes hydrogeneration, wind turbines and high-performance kites, while the Eco range’s other highlights include lithium battery packs described by Sunreef as the lightest in the industry, an ultra-economic air-conditioning system and smart energy management. The result is silent, emission-free cruising and reduced running costs and maintenance.

The Eco range also offers the option to use sustainable materials not only for the décor and finishing materials but, with the likes of basalt fibre and linen fibre, also in the hulls, superstructures and furniture. Lapp has been overwhelmed by the response to the range.

“Most of the enquiries we get today are for Eco yachts. People realise they offer so many advantages. The environmental aspect is obvious, but Eco yachts also represent a new philosophy of enjoying time at sea. Once you try an electric yacht, you probably won’t go back to diesel engines,” he says.

60 Sunreef Power Eco
The 60 Sunreef Power Eco.

“The silence and the absence of fumes and vibrations take the cruising experience to another level. When you’re in a quiet bay, the last thing you want to hear is your genset running. In the coming years, I expect even more interest. Electric boats will become a new standard.”

Big Is Beautiful

Sunreef has also been challenging itself with the scale of its boats, launching the first 100 Sunreef Power late last year, with the yacht featuring on the cover of Yacht Style Issue 65, this year’s ‘Multihulls Issue’.

Earlier this year, the builder announced the sale of a second hull that will also feature twin 1,300hp engines but will be a bespoke version distinguished by a white hull and superstructure that includes an enclosed flybridge. The company wants to go bigger and can, as evidenced by the fact it can fit the hull of the 49M Power at the builder’s new purpose-built facility, which has dedicated halls for superyachts.

100 Sunreef power
The 100 Sunreef Power was on the cover of Issue 65 of Yacht Style.

The company has released designs for the Sunreef 100 sailing model — based on a slightly slimmer hull than the 100 Sunreef Power — and a 150ft Sunreef MM 460 Cat designed with Malcolm McKeon. More recent concepts include the Sunreef 43M as well as an Eco version of the 140ft sailing model, whose appealing features include a 50ft-plus beam and stunning three-sided ‘ocean lounge’ beach club.

Always looking ahead, Sunreef has this year revealed its plans to develop an Explorer line, following the release of 40M Explorer and 50M Explorer concepts. Billed as the ‘next generation of expedition superyachts’, Sunreef’s new Explorer series of powercats will feature a shallow draft, enormous storage capacity and vast entertainment areas.

“Nowadays, luxury is about finding that quiet spot, somewhere far away from all the crowds. It’s about truly getting to know the place you’re visiting,” Lapp says.

The 50M Sunreef Explorer
The 50M Sunreef Explorer.

“To do this, you need a safe, well-equipped yacht that will never fail, and catamarans seem to be the perfect choice for exploration. They offer inherent stability, great storage capacity and wide aft decks. Furthermore, every system is doubled because of the twin-hull structure. That’s why we came up with an entire series of Explorer yachts.”

New Facilities

Lapp says Sunreef’s in-house control over all aspects of a yacht’s production has enabled the company to quickly build and deliver its new models and subsequent production, which has helped retain clients and attract new customers.

“Because we rely on in-house work, we’re fast, so the time to market is fairly short with us,” Lapp says. “We carry out every stage of the process ourselves, so have the means to craft our ideas into reality on time and in sync with customer expectations. This is how we keep pole position.”

Sunreef shipyard
Sunreef’s new facility in Gdansk.

Sunreef has managed to accommodate its astonishing rising demand because of its new 80,000sqm riverside site that has enabled them to design and develop a purpose-built facility, a world away from the red-brick halls in the Gdansk Shipyard.

Design, engineering, production, finishing and carpentry are all handled in the brand-new facility, with the office building and the covered production facilities already covering 15,000sqm.

As well as superyacht halls big enough to build models up to 50m, the high-tech production facilities include an impressive carpentry and CNC workshop, plus a vast, brand-new paint shop with advanced technology including light, humidity and temperature control.

Sunreef shipyard
Sunreef has about 2,000 employees.

Meanwhile, the offices at the entrance to the shipyard neighbour one line of production halls and are a short walk to the other. The three-storey office building has almost a Google office vibe, with young staff in casual clothing working and conversing in an open-plan design, with big windows, sleep pods and even free fruit.

“The new facility is simply a different world. We still rely on inhouse production, but now we’ve taken it to another level with new machinery, manufacturing halls and bridge cranes. In addition, our offices and manufacturing site are interconnected, which means our engineers and designers have easy access to the production,” Lapp says.

“For the offices, we wanted to create open spaces where people can feel at ease. At the same time, there are many spots in the office where people can focus on tasks requiring silence and concentration. I believe we created a good environment where all the departments can communicate and interact easily.”

Francis Lapp in new facility
Lapp at the new facility.

Sunreef does have the ongoing challenge of sourcing workers and has had to recruit from neighbouring countries for several years. Lapp says the two shipyards are on a constant search for more staff, while there are plans to acquire more land to supplement the new Gdansk site and provide more production halls and a warehouse.

Meanwhile, Sunreef recently added Singapore-based Hong Seh Marine to its dealer network and is investing over US$27 million in its Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) site in northern UAE, its first overseas production facility and one with good access to the Gulf and Asia-Pacific countries.

“We have a growing number of enquiries coming from the Middle East, Asia and Australia,” Lapp says. “Expanding to RAK will help us build a stronger bond with those markets. In a longer perspective, we plan to build every model of the Sunreef range there, including the Eco series.”

This article first appeared on Yacht Style.

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