As the seventh generation at the helm of his family’s award-winning shipyard, Daan Balk has a simple philosophy. “It’s most important to do something that makes you happy,” he says. “If you do something you love, you are much more likely to become very good at it, and success will follow from there.”
The first wooden fishing smack glided down the slipway of Balk Shipyard in the small Dutch port of Elburg in 1798, the year the yard was opened by Sijbrand Balk. Since then the business has evolved, taking in new materials, larger craft and the growth of the luxury market. As Balk Shipyard approaches its 225th anniversary, it’s clear that the family’s passion for building boats – and, more recently, rebuilding and refitting luxury superyachts – remains as strong as ever.
Throughout its history, Balk has been a byword for quality and craftsmanship coupled with innovation. For over a century the shipyard was a leading supplier of wooden working boats, but in the 1930s Daan’s grandfather pioneered the construction of steel barges and small yachts, introducing new technology as part of the process.
Daan’s father, Bart Balk, modernized the shipyard and increased the company’s focus on refits and rebuilds, and Daan has continued that process, combining modern technology and handmade craftsmanship so successfully that the business outgrew its Elburg base in 2004, moving to the harbour town of Urk that same year.
“As a business it’s really important to keep reconfiguring what you do – it’s what we’ve done over the generations,” says Daan. “That process never stops; if you don’t move forward you’ll find yourself left behind, and then you miss the boat – literally!”
Today the shipyard has a wealth of cutting-edge facilities, including two refit sheds – the largest accommodating yachts up to 65 metres long – and a third hall entirely dedicated to aluminium construction.
More important than the technology is the workforce of 60 highly skilled professionals, many of whom follow in the footsteps of previous generations. “We’re a very happy team,” says Daan. “In many cases the skills and craftsmanship have been handed over from father to son, with each generation developing new skills and techniques while working in the yard. We’ve also built strong relationships with professionals in other skilled trades.”
The results have certainly been spectacular. The groundbreaking 65-metre schooner Mikhail S. Vorontsov – at the time the largest wooden sailing vessel in the world – was completed in 2015, and earned Balk Shipyard a World Superyacht Award.
Another major project was the company’s work on the 43-metre steel-and-aluminium Heesen yacht Seven Sins, a major refit which involved removing 15 metres of the bow and replacing it with an 18-metre-long section. “These are challenging and unusual adaptations,” says Daan. “When yachts like the Bravado (pictured, left) leave our premises they are often unrecognizable.”
Unsurprisingly, the quality of Balk’s craftsmanship, attention to detail and project delivery has earned it numerous honours, including a Royal Warrant in 2002. And Balk Shipyard’s future as a family business seems assured, for now at least; two of Daan’s three sons share his passion for superyacht perfection, and are ready to take Balk Shipyard into an eighth generation of success.