Michel Karsenti, the owner of Ostia-based shipyards, has a very clear vision of how a complex operation such as building a boat should unfold. Canados aims to continue with haute couture construction without pursuing high production numbers
by Francesco Michienzi and Carla Pagani – photo by Gamelin
MICHEL KARSENTI IS A MAN OF MANY RESOURCES. With an open face, a sunny personality and bags of energy, he now finds himself at the helm of the legendary Canados yard near Rome. The world’s first offshore champion, then editor of Yachts magazine, this dynamic and enterprising figure has headed one of the historical yards, representative of the best Italian tradition since 2015. Before arriving at Canados, Karsenti worked for important yacht owners who asked him to coordinate the design and construction phases of their superyachts.
It is worth talking to Karsenti not only to learn about the latest news from this longstanding yard in Ostia but also to get a wide-ranging picture of the Italian and international yacht market. This forward-thinking and attentive man of the world had the opportunity to gain truly unique experience in his long career as a sportsman, aided and abetted by his origins. Karsenti was born in Cannes in 1969, in the heart of the Côte d’Azur. It’s in his blood because his father worked with boats too. In short, his is a curriculum that has been written on the water since birth.
«I started with my father, then with yachting magazines, and with races. I have learnt so much about racing in parallel with the magazines, which allowed me to see all sorts of builders, all sorts of defects, and all sort of mistakes. I have been very familiar all that time with different construction processes and approaches to the business. Moreover, with racing, I’ve always focused on the slightest detail, which makes a boat 5 miles an hour faster or slower, and on the danger that the sea represents…», he says enthusiastically.
Michel Karsenti was born on the Côte d’Azur in 1969. Firstly an Olympic champion, then an editor, boat builder and man of the world with many resources, he has clear ideas on what a boutique yard ought to be.
But why did Karsenti choose this historic yard near Rome, founded back in 1946? «When I was very young, barely fifteen years old, I went to the Genoa Boat Show. I was amazed and stunned by everything I saw there. But what struck me were the small Italian yards. Small firms that built excellent vessels with great knowledge and expertise. It was perhaps there that I first understood the real spirit of Italian production and I fell in love with it straight away», he says with amusement.
And the know-how at Canados is the real thing, the know-how of the past: artisans of yesteryear capable of looking after the details with great skill. However, this tradition does not just pertain to the yard, but also to Italy as a whole and to ancient Rome, with Karsenti being well aware of its impact, both inside and outside Canados: «The Romans achieved great things. The world would not be what it is today without their inventions. Italy possesses a unique creativity, a DNA made up of beauty that the workers at our yard carry inside them too».
Taking this typically Italian creativity into account also means being aware of the fact that some organisational models function better than others: «Since we’ve reorganised the yard, I’ve realised that it’s fundamental to give people a bit of space and flexibility, a quota of what we could describe as ‘disorganisation’ in the interests of productivity. Things might work differently elsewhere».
«It’s a great satisfaction for me to go out on the first sea test with a client. This seals a relationship of trust that is created in the yard right from the outset». Michel Karsenti
There’s not just tradition at Canados. There’s also innovation, which Karsenti has introduced in significant amounts since he started here. «We use carbon fibre and epoxy resins. Our task is always to mix the modern with the traditional».
Throughout its long history, Canados has successfully delivered more than 820 yachts to date.
The objective is to create top-quality boats. «If you want to make a luxury product, you cannot work on an industrial basis. You have to restrict production to make custom products». This is why Karsenti has a very limited production plan for the coming years. Aware that if he wants to make clients happy by offering them something truly unique, he has to work carefully, without rushing, and with extremely high-quality standards. This may also explain why many previous owners are returning to Canados: «They’re attracted by our Italian artisanal approach, which some describe as being positively influenced by somewhat Anglo-Saxon methods».
The Canados yard was founded thanks to the long experience of a group of shipwrights who established themselves on the banks of the River Tiber in the mid-1940s, where they built boats destined for the Capitaneria di Porto and other military bodies, before going on to build pleasure boats.
Karsenti believes the best form of advertising is the product itself. «I always want to give customers more than they expect. This is Canados’s aim. I prefer to build fewer boats, but to sell them at the right price, offering better quality. Meanwhile, I believe that our yachting market often makes the mistake of lowering prices too far».
What is on the horizon for Canados in the immediate future? Karsenti has no doubts: «The hybrid engine is not the right path to follow, nor is the electric engine. Based on how hybrid engines work today, huge diesel generators are required. The hydrogen engine is the right path and we’re working on this seriously at Canados».
Today Canados boats a yard occupying 80,000 m2 and has 180 employees. It builds boats between 13 and 54 metres long for 4 lines: Canados, Gladiator, Oceanic and Custom. Over the last five years, it has made investments to the tune of 3.2 million euros.
«The hybrid engine is not the right path to follow, nor is the electric engine. The hydrogen engine is the right path». Michel Karsenti
And how can we tackle the SCR challenge (the catalytic reduction that has become obligatory for all boats over 24 metres long)? «There are fewer problems in the case of large-displacement boats because there is lots of space available. For fast and small boats like ours, matters become more complex. It will certainly be necessary to rethink our models, although lots of companies today offer good solutions, with small volumes and light weights». There’s no need to panic. Canados is ready to tackle this new challenge too. With the excellence that has always distinguished it.
(Canados, haute couture – Barchemagazine.com – August 2021)