Oldtimer sailing regattas. Wilfried Beeck is a pioneer of e-commerce. His great love, however, are classic sailing yachts - especially from the legendary twelve-class. His flagship, the "Trivia", is 80 years old and in her prime to sail to the top of the big vintage regattas.
The great passion of the entrepreneur Wilfried Beeck begins tragically.
In 1998, the Kieler, one of the three founders of the software company Intershop, was invited to Scotland by his French managing director to participate in a regatta with classic yachts. Karsten Schneider and Stephan Schambach, the other two heads of the company, are also involved. Beeck doesn't really know what's coming. He sails at home in Kiel only with his small catamaran in the fjord. But he's happy to get a little break two weeks before the IPO. Then the bad news: The initiator of the classic race, the Frenchman Éric Tabarly, goes overboard at night in the Irish Sea during the transfer of his yacht and drowns.
When the trio arrives in Scotland, there is great sorrow. But the widow of Tabarly insists that the regatta take place. And so the three men board the vintage racing yacht "Moonbeam III", a 31 metre long gaff cutter built in 1902, in perfect sailing conditions. It was a revival experience for me," Beeck recalls.
"Just fantastic sailing on such a historic, glorious boat." The entrepreneur thinks to himself: "If I can ever afford it, I want to own such a yacht." Two weeks later, he can.
Intershop goes public and is immediately valued at one billion marks. And Wilfried Beeck takes a run at it. He initially acquired a smaller eighth named "Windsbraut", built in 1939, but secretly flirted with a twelve - not as big and long as the "Moonbeam III", but in a sense the king of vintage yachts.
The classification "Zwölfer" is the result of an international survey formula (metre class) from 1906, in which sail size, length and width of the yacht, water length, draught and freeboard are included in a special formula. For the twelve, the result is - of course - twelve. The 20 meter long, elegant racing yachts have their heyday when they sail between 1958 and 1987 for the America's Cup, the most coveted of all sailing trophies.
"These are extremely sporty yachts and it's a crazy feeling when a twelve-man lies on his cheek when 30 tons go through the waves," Beeck enthuses: "There's incredible power behind it."
One year after the purchase of the "Windsbraut" he acquires his first twelve, the "Trivia". Yacht broker Peter König had called him: "In Menton on the Côte d'Azur there is a great, perfectly restored twelve. He's cheap to get." It just so happens that Beeck has to go to a conference in Cannes anyway. "Then I saw this beautiful sailor trapped between ugly white motor yachts."
Back then, before the dotcom bubble burst, it was no problem for him to "spend one to two million on a well restored boat". Finally, Intershop was valued at 14 billion euros at its peak on the stock exchange. But he hasn't been interested in pure possession for a long time. He has developed a burning passion, devouring everything he gets to read about classic yachts. "You never buy a boat, you buy a piece of history. That fascinates me."
His "Trivia", for example, was launched at Dartmouth (England) in 1937. She had been designed by Charles E. Nicholson, the first owner of the 21 meter long ship was Vernon W. MacAndrew. In the first season he was able to enjoy 13 victories, eleven second places and six third places - with 41 regatta starts the "Trivia" was the most successful boat in the 12mR class worldwide.
Her strongest competitor at that time was her sister ship "Evaine", which is now also based in Kiel. MacAndrew died in 1940 when a German magnet mine hit his yacht "Campeador", which had been converted into a patrol boat. However, the "Trivia" lived on and got new owners, in the meantime also new names. Sometimes she was at home in Norway, sometimes in the USA. In 1993 it landed on the Côte d'Azur, where it was bought by Beeck in 2000. The yacht, restored by Giorgetti & Magrini, is considered a prime example of successful restoration.
A total of about 180 copies of the Twelve were commissioned over all these years. Many came from Germany, were built for example by the Bremen shipyard Abeking & Rasmussen. Customers included the business elite of New England. In the mid-1920s, Germany was a low-wage country for these customers. Because of the favourable Dollar-Reichsmark exchange rate, they gladly ordered the labour-intensive production of the boats in Germany.
"Many of the oldest yachts are lost today," Beeck regrets. "That alone makes the market extremely small, if one can speak of one at all. "Besides, many yachts have only one owner for life who wouldn't sell his jewel for the world's money." About 25 of the old twelve-boat wooden boats are still in top condition. In addition, there are 25 to 30 yachts built especially for the America's Cup after 1958, such as those by Ted Turner, for which plastic has already been used. These boats became faster and more agile, the crew was smaller because not everything had to be done manually anymore. Otherwise, little changed.
The legendary turning point in the history of the America's Cup came in 1983 when, for the first time in 132 years, a foreign team was able to snatch the Cup from the New York Yacht Club. The skipper to whom the accident occurred was Dennis Connor. He brought the Cup back from Australia to the USA in 1987, but the history of the twelve in the America's Cup was sealed. When the New Zealanders challenged him with a giant yacht in 1989, Connor defended the Cup with a catamaran. Since then, the boat type has been changed again and again, up to today's super-fast and downright "flying" catamarans. This is another reason why the Twelve are considered the last constant factor in the construction of racing yachts.
For real vintage captains like Beeck, the early twelve wooden boats are the most exciting. In this little scene everyone knows each other personally. Everyone knows that Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli sails the "Nyala", which standard oil boss Frederick Bedford had built in 1938 as a dowry for his daughter. Or that Oliver Berking from the silver cutlery manufacturer of the same name has lavishly restored the "Sphinx".
Berking: He is so fascinated by the old ships that he founded his own shipyard nine years ago. Robbe & Berking specialises in restoring old yachts. His counterpart in the south is Josef Martin from Radolfzell on Lake Constance. He made Martin-Yachten, the parental business, a respected shipyard address over the decades with successful repairs of wooden boats. Martin trimmed the "Anitra" of Rüdiger Stihl (chainsaw empire) to a high gloss.
There is a special reason why these legendary racing yachts are rarely sold. They are the admission ticket to very special races. In July 2019 the World Cup, the official World Championship of the still very active class, will take place off Newport (Rhode Island) in the old America's Cup area. All sailing enthusiasts want to be there, of course. Meanwhile: Only those who are a member of one of the few partner sailing clubs of the New York Yacht Club - or who own a twelve - receive the coveted invitation.
The owners compete in classic races such as the Voiles de Saint-Tropez, the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in Antibes, the Régates Royales in Cannes or the Robbe & Berking Sterling Cup in Flensburg against wind, waves and opponents for placings. This racing series, officially called Road to the Worlds Waypoints (www.12mrclass.com/waypoints), runs halfway around the globe - from regattas in the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean to the east coast of the USA.
It's hard to get to the point. Many of the vintage sailors have America's Cup experience - they don't work with velvet gloves.
Beeck's crew has 16 members, mostly from the category "Friends & Family", mostly the same team: a sworn group of friends and business partners, plus young, fit people who can climb high into the mast. "The most important thing is the tactician," Beeck explains. The man at the wheel, usually the owner, i.e. himself, is not so decisive.
He had already experienced sensitive situations to the full, including two collisions - "fortunately without injuries". Because a smooth end is by no means guaranteed if two ships of 30 tons each wedge into each other. But thanks to their lead keel, the twelve can't capsize. The "Trivia" team mostly sails in the top group, won the World Championship in Cannes in 2007 and finished second behind the victorious Prada team at the recent World Championships in Barcelona. The crew won the Rolex Baltic Week in 2010 and the European Championship in Copenhagen in 2016 at their home base in Kiel. The declared goal for the World Cup in Newport is therefore of course again a place on the podium.
But Beeck's favourite race takes place before the Isle of Wight in southern England, where the America's Cup 1851 had its roots: "In the Round the Island Race on Cowes Week you sail through a narrow channel between the mainland and the island, the entrance of which is lined by steeply rising rocks, the so-called needles. This is really spectacular."
Only the island world of the Costa Smeralda on Sardinia is similarly exciting. And of course the Kiel Fjord, his home district: "Because there's always wind." For inland lakes, at least for German waters, the twelve are by the way too big. And they don't have an auxiliary motor with which you can circle into the marina. "Pure sailing," says Beeck.
But the Kieler doesn't just want to be close to the wind. He has also become a passionate collector of vintage yachts, now owning four classic yachts, two twelve and two eights. "Each has its own character, its own story."
Although the construction formula of the meter class ensures that the yachts are very comparable, he would recognize them immediately as fellow sailors even with blindfolded eyes. The technical innovations over more than 100 years have also brought about changes in the meter classes time and again: from the gaff rig of the first twelve to the hydrodynamic wing keel of the most modern twelve, all innovations in sailing can be traced.
Beeck's last coup for the time being was in 2012, when he bought the "Cintra", also a twelve, but with Gaffelrigg and thus the oldest still actively sailed twelve. The "Cintra" is considered by connoisseurs to be an outstandingly beautiful specimen of its genus. It was penned by Grand Master William Fife III and launched at his shipyard on the River Clyde in Scotland in 1909.
The yacht is almost 19 meters long and carries 221 square meters of sails. Before the First World War, it dominated the British twelve-man scene and was later considered lost until it was found in an English barn. Their restoration at the beginning of the 90s and the accompanying media music triggered a wave of enthusiasm for the old twelve. "The yacht became a prominent representative of her class in the Mediterranean, where she sailed under the Italian flag," Beeck enthuses.
In 2011, when the entrepreneur realized that the boat had been on land for two years and that the owner was ready to sell it through a Dutch broker, Beeck bought the "Cintra" at a price well below the two million euros that the well-known Italian publisher had invested in the restoration in 1990. For the repair work and a new sailing wardrobe another 80000 Euro were necessary, although the Kieler had acquired the yacht in a sail-clear condition, which does not mean much with a more than 100 years old racing machine.
There was speculation in the scene at the time as to whether a sporting competition for the largest fleet of twelve would now break out. In the Baltic Sea there are currently about 20 twelve people on the way - probably the highest density in the world.
In fact, Beeck gradually had to think about how and where his treasure trove of vintage cars was best kept. He therefore founded Trivia GmbH in 2009. Beeck's shipyard in Kiel had closed down, but he needed someone to take care of the maintenance of his yachts. So he hired an ex-employee from his shipyard.
At the same time he offered the "Trivia" for charter tours. "This covers operating costs and brings you into contact with international, interesting guests." This costs 3000 to 4500 Euro per day, customers are primarily companies who want to book incentives for top management.
The high operating costs also make the twelve-boats largely uninteresting as speculation objects. "On balance, there is practically no appreciation, but no loss. The upkeep is simply too high to generate a return even with rising purchase prices."
At the same time, the high running costs would limit demand. "There are only short spikes once in a while," Beeck explains. "For example, when Prada boss Bertelli acquired the 'Nyala' in the early 1990s, other Milanese entrepreneurs copied him. Later Wally yachts were suddenly en vogue in the Mediterranean. and we could bring them to the Baltic Sea."
A business is twelveer sailing at best for the sponsors. In the classic regattas, these are mainly Rolex, Panerai and Prada. The long-time Panerai boss Angelo Bonati, who retired in April, is a fanatical sailor who owns a classic yacht himself. "The regattas of the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge are top events," says Beeck. "The sponsors from the luxury goods industry can best convey their values of freedom and beauty." And that's what it's all about: "Getting out of everyday life, feeling the wind and waves, forgetting the office and the company completely."
Over the decades, a well-functioning network has developed which is based on the Teutonic-Nautical awareness and is lived in the Kieler Yacht-Club, the Hochseesportverband Hansa or the Norddeutscher Regatta Verein. "Status is measured by regatta wins, not boat length," says Marcus Krall, editor-in-chief of the magazine "Boote Exclusiv.
There is also no distinction between old and new money, adds Beeck. "He who owns a twelve and actively sails is one of them. The scene is relaxed, everyone is very down-to-earth. We'll stay at the hostel if there's no alternative."
However, nobody should think that he is only on the water and sailing all year round, Beeck emphasizes. "I'm only on board in selected regattas, maybe 20 days a year in total." Most of his time was spent at his company ePages.
This company was founded by Beeck in 1983 and then merged with Intershop. When the mathematician left the software company after the dotcom bubble burst in 2002, he bought the old company back and acquired the rights to one of Intershop's product lines. Today, its 120 employees with customers such as 1&1, Strato and Telekom generate a "low double-digit million turnover", primarily with license revenues for software.
ePages - this seems to be a completely different world from that of the Twelve with their 28-metre-high sailing wardrobes, for many the most elegant rigs in the history of this sport. "But the difference between a sailing yacht and a family business is not that big," he reflects. "I know they will both survive me, they will last. As an owner, I just take care of it for a while and then join the ranks of those who took care of it before and will take care of it afterwards."
Charter classic yachts.
Wilfried Beeck has six ships in charter, four twelve and two eights, including the twelve "Trivia" and "Evaine" as a match race pair - two identical twelve yachts are competing, which is particularly popular as an event for corporate customers.
Beeck started chartering in 2007 on the occasion of the America's Cup in Valencia, before he had often sailed with customers of his own company. The charter season in the Baltic Sea lasts from April to the end of September. There are regular customers for the big events like Kieler Woche, Travemünder Woche and the shipping regatta. Beeck also offers own events in Kiel, in cooperation with the hotel of the Kieler Yachtclub, where seminars can take place. The boats are directly in front, so that the participants can quickly sail for a few hours. "This also helps the twelve-man scene here," Beeck explains. "After all, I came to this passion myself as a guest on board Moonbeam III" (Info: www.trivia.de).
Author: Dr. Günter Kast