Inside The Company Building Explorer Yachts With Purpose

To label Arksen a yacht builder wouldn’t be doing the company justice. Yes, the business builds explorer vessels, which Chairman and Founder Jasper Smith describes as the “defenders of the ocean”, but the England-based business goes beyond products to promotes an adventure and purpose-focused lifestyle for its clients. It also gives back to the very thing that enables the business to exist, the ocean. A key part of the business is Arksen Philanthropy, a philanthropic foundation designed to create the infrastructure for ocean access and generate funding for marine research, legal and educational projects. Smith tells Forbes why he’s calling on the marine industry to join him and commit to generating real and lasting change.

Rachel Ingram: What is Arksen and how did the concept for the business come about?

Jasper Smith: Arksen is an adventure company. It starts from a deep commitment and passion around being outside, getting into the wilderness and being able to go to places that you may have dreamed of before. It all started 25 years ago on a journey that I did from Sydney to Alaska in a purpose-built boat. It was an epic adventure and really profound trip with extraordinary people, and the heart of Arksen is based on that journey. I thought, if you could imbue that spirit of that adventure with the values of the communities that we met and the projects that we got involved in, that would be really interesting. Arksen starts with that ethos, putting planet and purpose first. We build products and vessels and machines that give you a sense of purpose. Owning an Arksen product should be a statement of intent – to do more, to do something.

What are you doing to drive change through Arksen?

When we built the company, our approach was to set up the bedrock of our intention first. So one of the first projects we set up, before we’d even built a product, was the Arksen Foundation (now called Arksen Philanthropy), which was founded to kickstart a number of projects to help create a shift in the marine industry and refocus what it means to own a yacht. Arksen Philanthropy is made up of three core elements and is designed to create the infrastructure for ocean access and generate funding for marine research, legal and educational projects. The three core elements are the Sea Time Pledge, Yachts for Science and 10% for the ocean.

The Sea Time Pledge is where every Arksen owner is encouraged to pledge a portion of their annual sea time to scientific or educational projects. This is in part supported through the Yachts for Science (YFS) project which Arksen is also a founding partner of. YFS is a platform which brings boats and scientists together, providing vital access to the ocean to conduct vital research for the ocean recovery. The Arksen philanthropic arm founded 10 percent for the ocean, which has now grown into a global alliance of the most impactful ocean christies working to protect our most vital ecosystem. We also plan to use that to fund biodiversity projects in Africa, as well as other initiatives. So our first endeavours were around meaningful projects that are impacting people’s lives rather than selling a product.

From a product perspective, it’s about creating products that have true integrity. I’ve sailed a lot and it’s actually really hard to find a boat that is built with an offshore purpose in mind. There are lots of capable yachts in production but actually they’re built to be waterborne caravans. There is a market for that, of course, but where you’ve got a production boat that sits in a marina for 97% of its life, that’s a massive underutilization of an asset. Most sailors I know dream of sailing over the horizon, so we thought, how do we make vessels and products that are really, truly capable, that prioritise function over form while still being luxurious and keeping sustainability at the forefront of the design process?

That application of function and toughness goes through a whole raft of other products that we’re in the process of developing, some of which is non marine, because our vision for Arksen to build this adventure ecosystem that is much more than being on the water that is about, but is a lifestyle that you could lead, whether that’s climbing mountains or driving across the desert or sailing across oceans. It’s a huge project.

How has the marine industry taken to your mission?

My background was in software and games and the beauty of the gaming industry is it never sleeps – everything changes every hour of every day. The pace is extraordinary and intoxicating, but totally exhausting. It feels like the marine industry has been asleep. Whilst the whole automotive industry is completely revolutionized, the aviation industry is going through profound changes, and almost every business on Earth is being forced through transition, the marine industry sort of sleeps lazily on. Change is not something that most people in the industry have been interested to pursue, partly because it’s such a bespoke industry and it’s so fragmented that it’s actually really hard to drive change. Change is happening, but it’s happening at a per boat, per conversation level, rather than at an industry level. I want people to do more.

What are you doing in terms of utilizing green technologies at Arksen?

We’re working with a company called Praxis Automation Technology on the Arksen 85 we’re building. That’s a really interesting product from a technological point of view. That’s a full hybrid system with a 7,000-mile range on it. I think that will really push the envelope of fuel efficiency, silent running, of solar energy to to provide you zero-carbon electrical power. I think it will give you this really interesting operating window where if you want to run for hours at a time silently around the Norwegian fjords, you can absolutely do that. Or if you’re in the Antarctic or the Arctic, where there are areas where you can’t run using traditional propulsion, you’ve got that capability.

But if you are going to cross 6,500 miles across an ocean six, there is no hydrogen solution, certainly motor yachts, that would enable you to do that. So, then it just comes down to the question of, what’s the most efficient system you can build? The reason we work with Humphreys Yacht Design rather than traditional motorboat naval officer architects is that their pedigree is building race boats, therefore their understanding of efficiency and fluid dynamics has given us a really efficient hull.

I think what’s really interesting about the 85 is this blend of interesting new tech coming down the road – which is a full hybrid system, silent running, big solar arrays and real efficiency in the hull – and as a package, that gives you pretty much unlimited range and the capability to run for long periods of time without motors on at all.

Do you think the kind of travel this yacht allows is aligned with current trends?

In my mind, every sailor has a dream, and the dream is more than going to be around the corner, but quite often they don’t have the confidence, the skills, the product or the time to go and do it. I think the first three of those are changeable. So we build products that are truly capable and encourage people to go further. Communications technologies are now better than they’ve ever been, so you can be in touch anywhere. The whole Covid pandemic has really shown people that you live life once so live your best life because it won’t last forever. Now that we can work from anywhere, I think there’s this real zeitgeist moment where people are thinking, if I don’t do it now, I’m I’m never going to do it.

For us at Arksen it’s about enabling people to have these really deep experiences, through our explorer vessels, syndicate programme and Explorer’s Club. It’s about bringing to life those magical experiences. People fall in love with that – it becomes addictive. My hope is to encourage people and give them confidenceconfidence them to be a bit braver.

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