• Yvonne Döbler

With the wind.

(Reading time: 5 - 9 minutes)

Boat builder. Constructing a boat is a big entrepreneurial risk for a small company. Development work consumes a lot of time and capital. And success is uncertain. For master boat builder Markus Glas it has already been worth it once. Now he's trying again.

"In principle, every boat we have developed has always had something to do with the period of my life," says Markus Glas: "Actually, I build boats from the target group for the target group".

Markus Glas is World Champion, multiple European Champion and German Champion in Dragon Sailing. He is the managing partner of Glas Bootswerft. And 61 years old today. "I have analysed what is already on the market for the target group 50 plus and what they really want. From this our light electric boat made of plastic was created. This is perfect for beautiful summer turns and the ride to dinner in the nearest club. And let's be honest: From a certain age on the tarpaulin can be a little tedious to raise. Then it's perfect to own a chic and elegant boat that can stand in the rain for a few weeks without any problems."

The boat is to cost around 130000 Euro from master hand. At the beginning of April it will be seen on Lake Starnberg. An exciting moment for the entrepreneur. Because a new development is a capital-intensive investment. Will it be worth it?

It is not the first great entrepreneurial adventure of the Glas family. Wooden models of elegantly painted boats stand on the shelves in the office in Possenhofen on Lake Starnberg. The master craftsman's certificate of the company founder - it is the grandfather of Markus Glas and is called like this and also his father Markus - hangs on the wall. Next door is one of two winter storage facilities for a total of 250 boats. "The family has had this location since 1530. We were originally fishermen and still inherit the right to fish from one generation to the next - but one of us always has to be a master of fishing."

When the company was founded in 1924, fishing was still a profitable business. The entrepreneurial focus, however, is already on the construction of small clinkered rowing boats that look a bit like Viking ships with their overlapping planks.

Markus Glas, the oldest, pays off his 13 siblings, buys back land from the fragmented family heritage and constructs new buildings: a workshop, a winter camp and boat moorings by the lake. Speaking of berths: There are waiting lists in the yacht clubs. As a rule, 4000 euros per year are due for the course. The winter storage costs extra. If you order your boat from Glas, you get one right away.

Markus Glas the second, now 86 years old, takes over at the beginning of the 1950s and complements his father's company policy with the construction of new motorboats and repairs. He also sets a world speed record with his own motorboats on inland waterways. His son, the third Mark, spent his youth sailing and in the workshop.

Markus Glas junior learns boat building, makes his master - and sails increasingly successfully in the dragon class. He becomes World Champion, five times European Champion and twelve times German Champion. "Of course, this has greatly boosted demand for our sailing boats," says Glas.

The kite is a regatta boat, the dimensions of which are specified in the competition rules. Glas therefore provides its boats with the unmistakable golden arrow with double point, which runs in the wood over the entire hull side - the shipyard's new trademark. "We have built about 200 dragons. Who sails regatta, buys the boat that goes ahead." Up to 1800 working hours are invested per wooden ship, purchase price for a regatta-capable kite made of GFK: from 90000 Euro.

But then the wind turns.

"In the past, only amateurs were on the dragon regattas and we were the best. Today, on the other hand, 80 percent of the international classes are professional sailors. They are paid to sail and train all winter in Lisbon, southern France or Dubai. They have trainers, sparring partners, a well-rehearsed crew and boats whose development costs are covered by sponsorship money. We couldn't keep up. Not as a sailor. And not as a boat builder."

Markus Glas has to come up with something completely new. And it's a chance to see something very old. "In 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm had a special class developed - the L-boat. It has an elongated hull, a very low freeboard and a high rig above it. An elegant yacht, whose dimensions and price were determined by the emperor to make the expensive sailing sport affordable for more citizens. These boats were sailed after the First World War everywhere on German lakes and later, in the 50's, especially on the Starnberger lake very actively. Only the dragon had replaced them."

Could this success story not be followed up?

"The L-boats had two serious disadvantages: they could sink - and were difficult to steer. So I thought about a modern version, a boat with bulkheads against fast sinking, which could be easily steered with a free-standing rudder blade." Glas begins to draw and builds with the engineer Klaus Röder his first self-developed boat. "At first, we just wanted to continue the L-Class. But in Düsseldorf there was an old L-boat sailor who formed a class association and prohibited the use of the name L-Boot. That's why we needed something completely new. We named our nine-meter regatta boat L95." L95, because glass lets it water in 1995.

The demand for new kites is already slightly declining when the L95 boat fills the order books again. It is a competition yacht as well as an elegant leisure boat and quickly has many fans among the sailors. What is probably also due to the fact that the boat is simply beautiful: The mahogany wood is gloss lacquered, the fittings are high quality. "People applauded the shore as we drove past."

The next new development of the shipyard followed in 2001: The 45er is a 10.5 metre long regatta boat with a large cockpit, which can also be used for leisure sports due to its ease of operation.

"They say: "I can lie on the back, it's a great bathing ladder, I don't need to do anything, because my husband can do all the sailing on his own." "Our best salespeople are therefore the women of our customers," smiles Glas. Before the purchase, however, there are detailed discussions, the result of which is usually a ten-page construction contract: "Material used, arrangement of fittings, sail size, sail number, upholstery - everything is determined, then there is no dispute afterwards". The price: 300000 Euro.

Two suppliers are building the hulls - because there is not enough space in the workshop to have the moulds for all six boat models of the shipyard in stock. The boat builders need three months to finish smaller boats. For the bigger ones, it's six months.

Some owners come by during the construction phase and have a look. "It is something special when a boat is built according to one's own ideas. Since we work by hand, special requests are still possible." They will of course be invoiced. "A small company must ensure that it has not only full order books, but also costs under control - Dominik watches over that."

Meanwhile the sons Max and Dominik, both middle 30 and master boat builder, take over the helm bit by bit. "I'm starting to give up more and more tasks. Dominik runs the commercial side, Max the workshop."

Meanwhile, says Markus Glas, a lot has changed in the shipyard. Every generation has to do it just the way it suits them. "I strengthened the new building and my sons introduced entrepreneurial structures and procedures. I was more of a shirt-sleeved guy."

This has already proven itself in the construction of the electric boat. "The progress of the project is discussed weekly and we are absolutely on schedule," says Glas. Thanks to his additional training as an electrician, Dominik can provide valuable input and competent answers to all questions about the engine. "He discusses with the buyers the advantages and disadvantages of the more expensive lithium batteries compared to the simple lead batteries. About the battery technology, which is also used in the BMW i3. Or about the engine. It's all in the bag."

Glas does not doubt that the new electric boat will arrive. On most lakes only boats with electric motors are allowed anyway and the target group is simply perfect. "We've designed exactly what the older sailors need."

But now he takes a break with the innovations. On the weekends Markus, Dominik and Max Glas will sail regattas again, meet old and new customers, advertise their sport and their boats. By the end of the season, the order books are usually full. "And besides," smiles Markus Glas, "Max must also make his master of fishing. Not that we're going to lose our fishing rights."

Oldtimer boats as an investment.

"In the boat scene, it's not the same as with cars," explains Markus Glas: "There is a classic car class, but it hardly works as a capital investment. Because the maintenance costs are simply too high for that. Every boat, for example, has to be repainted after five years. And with wooden boats, there's something to do every year." As evidence, Glas cites the example of a sailing enthusiast who had a 60s cruiser restored this year for 500,000 euros. "If he wanted to sell the boat now, he wouldn't get 200,000 euros for it." Only in the USA is there a serious scene that collects old motorboats - Hacker, Riva or Christ Craft. "These boats promise a certain value stability," says Glas, "but it is also very expensive to keep them in top condition. A business like with old cars is not to be made with oldtimers in the boat range."


Author: Yvonne Döbler

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