140 years of the world around Royal Huisman


140 years of the world around Royal Huisman

In the great theatre of global history, 140 years may appear to be no more than the closing lines of a single act. But extraordinary changes have taken place since one Jan Jans Huisman began boatbuilding in 1884.

In the 19th century, Western Europe was in an almost constant state of war, fought on foot or on horseback. Land travel relied on the same modes of transportation, but the railroads were advancing and at sea, steamships were slowly gaining dominance over sail. In the northern provinces of the Netherlands, communications were poor, food and medicine were scarce, the very landscape open to the ravages of the North Sea.

140 years later – two world wars, the automobile, television, the aero plane, space travel, penicillin, computers, weapons of mass destruction, the internet and countless other developments have transformed life beyond all recognition.

Even sailboats and their sails are built from exotic new materials and employ systems that enable two people to handle a yacht that would once have required ten. At least the elemental experience of being at one with the sea remains unchanged and undiminished.


Above: the magnificent Gloucester schooners Borkumriff IV and Meteor leave parallel wakes in the Mediterranean during an exhibition challenge in 2007.

Left: in 1903, as the Huisman shipyard approached its twentieth anniversary, the Wright Brothers achieved the first successful powered flight. The Wright Flyer covered 33.6m / 120ft in twelve seconds.


In the same year that Jan Jans Huisman set up his boatbuilding business in the Netherlands, the foundation stone for the Statue of Liberty was laid at Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. At this time, all immigrants had to register their arrival in the United States at the adjacent Ellis Island. More than a century later, descendants of those immigrants would commission yachts at the Huisman shipyard.


The retired sailing ship captain Joshua Slocum completed a four-year solo circumnavigation in the yawl Spray. His extraordinary feat has inspired yachtsmen and women ever since, creating a following wind for yachting in general and for ocean passage making and exploration in particular – the very essence of sailing that attracts adventurous owners to Royal Huisman yachts in the present day.


The United States took control of the Panama Canal Project, having paid $40 million to the French consortium that owned the enterprise. The massive construction task took another ten years to complete, even though material equivalent in volume to the entire Channel Tunnel (between the United Kingdom and France) was excavated every three months.

The Panama Canal made the allure of the Pacific more accessible to cruising yachts because they no longer had to confront Cape Horn. It is estimated that Huisman-built yachts have made in excess of seventy transits of the Canal as well as multiple roundings of the Great Capes.


With renewed impetus the devastating effects of the Great Storm of 1916, Cornelis Lely’s Zuiderzee Act was passed. It sought to protect the Netherlands from North Sea flooding and increase food supplies by creating new farmland. Ultimately it would mean the demise of the Zuiderzee fishing port of Vollenhove, which was the nearest access to the sea for the Huisman yard at Ronduite.


The 1920s and 1930s witnessed the “golden age” of the Universal Rule and J-Class racing, in which wealthy individuals dueled with very large yachts and even larger crews for the prestige of America’s Cup selection. In 1920, Henry Walter’s Herreshoff-designed Resolute defeated Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock IV, designed by Charles E. Nicholson, by three wins to two.

In 2009, a strong revival of the J-Class era was underway: Royal Huisman restored the J-Class Endeavour in 1989 and, in 2009, launched a modern recreation of Endeavour II named Hanuman. At the 2009 Newport Bucket Hanuman bested a modern replica of her old rival, Ranger.

In 2022 there are nine superb J-Class yachts on the water – restorations as well as recreations – offering a racing spectacle far larger and more dramatic than ever previously witnessed – even in the “golden age”!


The 32-kilometre / 20-mile dyke Afsluitdijk was finally completed, enclosing the dangerous, shallow Zuiderzee and, at last, providing protection against the storm surges that had wreaked havoc for centuries. As a result, Vollenhove ceased to be viable as a fishing port, but the decision taken by the first Wolter Huisman and his sons Jan and Jacob to focus on leisure sailing craft was fully vindicated by the creation of the IJsselmeer: a perfect cruising ground for their new yachts.


Robert Watt patented radio direction finding (RDF), now known as radar, in 1938. It played an important part in the Allies’ war effort in 1939–1945 and has contributed to safer and more accurate navigation ever since. Radar soon became a vital navigational tool for commercial, as well as military, shipping and aviation. Eventually the bulky and power-hungry equipment was developed into a lighter, more compact format for use on leisure yachts; it was first fitted to a Huisman yacht in the 1970s.

In more recent times, new technology has enabled radar to be interfaced with charts and other information on one display screen.


The completion of the Noordoostpolder created 480 km² / 185 mi² of new land between Ronduite, Vollenhove and the IJsselmeer. This was excellent news for the farmers who would work the fertile soil but did little for Ronduite as a location for the Huisman boatyard.

(On a more positive note, without the Noordoostpolder, photographers could never have captured such stunning images, in more recent years, of Royal Huisman yachts being towed to sea on a canal that runs through fields of flowers.)


Under Nazi occupation, brothers Jan and Jacob Huisman struggled to keep the business going in a shed attached to the back of their house. All the other sheds were flooded as a result of the occupier’s strategy of raising water levels to thwart enemy invasion. Thousands of Dutch people starved during the Hongerwinter (Hunger Winter) of 1944–1945; of the many occasions over the years when the Huisman story might have stopped short, this was perhaps the most acute.


The successful launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union took the rest of the world off guard. As a mark of how far the Russians had advanced in the “space race” – with all its implications for military supremacy during the Cold War years – Sputnik 1 redefined the agenda, leading directly to a new race to be first to place a man in space, and then on the moon.

But the benefits of satellite technology have been with us ever since, one manifestation being the satellite communication domes that can be seen fitted to the rig of every modern Royal Huisman yacht.


The launch of Apollo 11 and the almost unbelievable news of the moon landing will surely be ranked by many as one of the most significant events in world history. By comparison, the launch of the 18m / 60ft Sparkman & Stephens design Running Tide in 1969 may be of minimal significance; nevertheless, the year is remembered by the Huisman team as the one in which it built its first yacht in Vollenhove: a special moment in the shipyard’s history.


The 1970s witnessed the birth of modern computing. A key driving force of the technological tsunami that followed was the development of the microprocessor. The Intel 4004 was the first commercially available microprocessor, made possible by the new silicon gate technology that allowed the integration of more transistors, and achieved a far faster speed.

Without the microprocessor, the extraordinarily complex monitoring, alarm and control systems accessible via touch-screen control panels on Royal Huisman yachts today would not exist. On a more prosaic note, 1971 was also the year that Huisman acquired its first photocopier!


The first “Whitbread”, a 27,000-mile round-the-world race for fully crewed yachts, generated enormous international interest in 1973–1974. There had never before been a yacht race of such magnitude and toughness. It was won by Ramon Carlin of Spain on Sayula, inspiring Dutchman Cornelis van Rietschoten to enter – and win – both the second and third races with the Huisman-built yachts, Flyer and Flyer II. From 2001–2019 the “Whitbread” continued in a new guise as the Volvo Ocean Race, finally becoming The Ocean Race for IMOCA Open 60s from 2020 onwards.


The Summer Olympic Games were staged in Los Angeles, USA, but were boycotted by the USSR and the Soviet Block.

Elsewhere in the world, one podium position that was unaffected by international politics was Wolter Huisman’s step up to receive the accolade of the Royal Warrant in honor of his shipyard’s 100 years’ contribution to Dutch shipbuilding.


Seven large sailing yachts competed in the first Nantucket (later Newport) Bucket, a very informal competition organized over a few rums by three yacht captains, including Roger Janes of the 25m / 82ft Huisman-built Volador.

Superyacht regattas have grown in size, frequency and popularity ever since, with the addition of the St. Barth’s Bucket, Superyacht Cup and many other fixtures in which owners can test to the full the performance of yachts built by Royal Huisman and other yards in great sailing conditions and in a spirit of friendly rivalry.


The fall of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin paved the way for accelerated economic and political co-operation throughout Western Europe and the growth of free trade within an expanding European Union. All these factors, together with the end of the Cold War era, contributed to rapidly increasing global prosperity.

A by-product of this economic growth was the dramatic development of the international superyacht industry in the years ahead.


GPS, the global navigation satellite system, was made fully operational in April 1995 for civilian as well as military users. GPS has transformed the safety and accuracy of navigation at sea and offers all kinds of benefits. For example, interfaced with other data inputs and operational controls, it allows sophisticated yachts, such as Royal Huisman’s Ethereal and Twizzle, to maintain a geostationary position over a fragile coral reef instead of anchoring.


If anything epitomizes the first decade of the twenty-first century it is the explosive penetration of high technology into every area of daily life. The iPhone, first released in mid-2007, not only symbolizes the coming together of many different applications into one incredibly compact unit, it also depicts the way that technologies now cascade from one arena of life to another.

iPhone touchscreen technology was first employed on a Royal Huisman yacht in 2008, and the transfer of such technologies to the operation of custom yachts has proven to become routine in the years that have followed.


The Paris Climate Accords is an international treaty on climate change, which covers climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance to keep the rise in global mean temperature to well below 2°C / 3.6°F and to reduce emissions as soon as possible to reach net-zero by the middle of the 21st century.

In parallel, superyacht owners and the Royal Huisman team see it as their responsibility to push the boundaries and possibilities of innovation to consistently improve energy efficiency. The aim is to reduce environmental impact and limit the use of valuable natural resources – while also reducing running costs. Highly knowledgeable owners such as Bill Joy joined forces with the shipyard team, providing valuable input and encouragement to take big steps towards the delivery of ever-increasing efficiency onboard the world’s first hybrid superyacht (Ethereal, launched by Royal Huisman in 2008).

The hybrid technology onboard the NextGEN ketch, Elfje, focusses on supplying power via variable speed, variable output, variable fuel-consuming generators backed up by a “peak shaving” power storage bank and energy management system.

“On board with Bill Joy. New frontiers pioneer and owner of Ethereal…” Continue reading: news > inhuis stories & updates [link]

More recently, the owners of earlier yachts such as Foftein (1999) and Juliet (1993) have commissioned Royal Huisman’s Huisfit team to transform their vessels into state-of-the-art superyachts with hybrid technology, ready to sail into a greener future with the potential to access the new marine Emission Control Areas.


Left: Ethereal and Juliet


“As Royal Huisman innovations tend to be well ahead of the curve, it is easy to see how a 58m / 190ft milestone project named Ethereal might be overlooked just a few years later…” Continue reading: news > inhuis stories & updates [link]

Onboard experiences of the new hybrid propulsion and energy system. Read the article “Captain’s review of hybrid by Huisfit”: news> inhuis stories & updates [link]

And as a climax, the 85m New World Sloop, Royal Huisman Project 410 will be very energy efficient and a ‘revolutionary’ step into the future for superyachts. The innovative technology Royal Huisman will use qualifies for the new Lloyd’s “Hybrid Power” certificate as the yacht will be capable of regenerating energy during sailing and a huge 2-megawatt battery bank facilitates silent and fumeless propulsion. Also, it ensures ultimate comfort with maximum redundancy and sustainability [link].

Of course, the greater part of the superyacht fleet is not (yet) powered by sails, despite the fact that wind propulsion will always beat energy consumption onboard motor yachts (even when great reductions in their fuel consumption and other efficiency gains are achieved).

As probably the only shipyard that has been building sailing vessels consistently for over 140 years, the Royal Huisman team offers the benefits of an immense accumulation of experience and expertise. Owners with a keen interest in energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact – as well as the opportunity to embrace the sheer joy of sailing – will increasingly be drawn to sailing yachts built by Royal Huisman:

An attractive alternative to motor yachts and likely, the best “smart” alternative!


Home of the world’s finest custom yachts


Founded in 1884 Royal Huisman has evolved from “local builder of wooden workboats” to being the multiple award-winning creator of some of the finest superyachts in the world: a brief overview of the shipyard’s heritage: discover > our heritage [link].


Over the years, the shipyard team developed many smart solutions and several of these became industry-trendsetters: discover > innovation [link]


An overview: yachts > delivered yachts > All Huisman craft since 1884 [link].


“Parallel Tracks” was first published in the book “Royal Huisman 125 years The Spirit of Individuality”.