When it comes to dealing with fluid molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, the Dutch have water down cold. The small low-lying nation-state that is The Netherlands leads the world in many marine-oriented categories. It is the global master of large-scale flood management and wetlands maintenance projects, like the Zuiderzee or Delta Works. The Dutch crush it in water-generated power and industrial energy applications. And closer to our floating world, the Dutch yacht design and engineering economy is filled with storied operations like Royal Huisman, Dykstra Design and Hoek Design.
Studying these great outfits work is one of the humbling parts of our jobs.
But here’s the funny macroeconomic thing: The marine engineering dominance of the Dutch is so entrenched that few stop to wonder why. On the face of it — purely by the numbers — the Netherland’s lead in naval engineering is incomprehensible. Yes, the country is one of the most densely populated on earth: 17 million people really do live in an area the size of about Connecticut. And 50 percent of that land is below sea level. They master water because they have to do. The Dutch exploits its elegantly-engineered economy to smooth out the brutalities of the global business cycle.
But are any of those ideas unique in a world filled with hostile semi-aquatic terrain and centralized state managed economies? Not really.
Low-lying densely-populated metropolises like Calcutta, Shanghai, Ho Chi Min City — not to mention Miami, New York City and San Diego — all have managed flood-risk for centuries. Most dwarf the Dutch in terms of total population. Yet none come close to competing with the Dutch for marine engineering, civil engineering or power creation.
Actually, through most of history the flooding the Dutch deal with has led not to industriousness. But decadence. New Orleans and Venice, Italy set the global standard for party towns. Not engineering.
Facebook’s Dutch Take
How do the Dutch do it? We put up a simple Facebook post asking our most-awesome followers what they thought. It become one of our most popular posts. We received some amazing ideas. We cut them down. Here are the most interesting.
Frank Hertel I toured Dutch yards in 1995, what amazed me was the high level of specialized sub yards. For example, one yard only does Aluminum, no carpentry, no fit out. Another only does wood interiors. Another only electronics, another only rigging. The way they managed hand offs and their accuracy managing the overall process was amazing. That was over 20 years ago, I can only image how far they have gotten since
James Dreyer Having been involved in large motoryacht builds at Feadship and Oceanco, Frank really has hit the nail on the head for the super-yacht market. The yards outsource a majority of the work. And each uses their own hull building facility. The yard run by a small team of project managers, engineers and the like, while managing specialist contractors who operate in more than one yard, to keep their incomes steady. In contrast, I look at my home country of New Zealand. We build (built, rather) beautiful boats and really pushed the boundaries with innovation, but yards doing everything in house was what ultimately killed the industry at home. It certainly wasn’t the cost of labor. When the order book thins out, you cannot afford to keep on all those specialists, that building a large high end yacht requires. What a stressful work environment knowing that the next build might be your last. Alloy, Fitzroy, Cooksons and more have all closed shop in recent years despite our outstanding govt funded marine industry.
Donan Raven … Where yachting was a royal import in the UK and chiefly a wealthy pasttime in the US, in the Netherlands marine carpenters, joiners and now laminators all have their own canalsloep. It is cultural, in their blood, something that comes to mind before a holiday home, and the wealth of historical types in the country give them more reasons to search their past to build the next thing. The Dutch are also open minded so they have done well at building historical foreign types too, like reviving the British cutter.
We liked how Monika Ficjan summed it up: “The Dutch, are also good with bicycle.”
New Dutch Courage.
But could it be this simple. The Dutch don’t worry. About their global rivals. Or failure. Our their sense of what others think of their designs. Our sense is, they simply start, give a project their all. And then let the business fates decide. Who else in this business, anywhere on earth, can say that?
They seem to be drunk on that freedom, if you think about it. It’s a spin on the notion of “Dutch Courage” that swaps out gin for vision.
And it is not far from the truth.