At last year’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, a newcomer to the U.S. superyacht market surprised the segment by taking the Best in Show award. Majesty Yachts, which is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, made its American debut with 100- and 140-foot models. The company shocked better-known U.S. and European superyacht builders by taking FLIBS’ top honor. The awards may well have provided the perfect entry into the North American market.
“The U.S. market is the largest in the world, and I think we offer a product that boaters are looking for,” says Abeer Alshaali, executive management officer of Gulf Craft, which builds Majesty Yachts. “American boaters are looking for yachts that make the pastime easy and fun.”
The Majesty 100 on display at FLIBS was hull No. 6 and was already sold, but the 140-foot trideck sister ship, which was hull No. 3, sold at the show. The purchase agreement was signed the final day.
Entering the U.S. market was a decision that was a long time coming for Majesty, which has sold yachts in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia for several decades. Alshaali says the company was waiting for the right partner; it turned out to be Greg Terraglio, who owns Sovereign Marine Group and, as of this past autumn, Majesty Yachts USA. The dealership has the exclusive rights to sell Majesty yachts in the United States and Bahamas.
“Majesty has a big presence in Dubai and Europe, like Westport and Ocean Alexander do here,” Terraglio says. “They’re a household name in the yachting business.
Alshaali says the company wanted to make sure it could offer sales and full service before entering the U.S. market. “If you want to work and maintain the client relationship, you need to offer the full package,” she says. “We feel very happy with the way Sovereign is handling the relationships with the clients.”
Ironically, Majesty traces its origins to the United States. Mohammed H. Alshaali, Abeer’s father, was a career diplomat and the UAE ambassador to the United States. Abeer grew up primarily on New York’s Long Island and in Washington, D.C. Her father had a boat the family would use on Long Island Sound. After retiring from the foreign service and returning to Dubai, Alshaali and his brothers, Abdullah and Jamal, and their friend Mohammed Hamdan, founded the Gulf Craft brand and later launched Majesty Yachts.
“They could never keep away from the sea — our whole family are pearl divers and work in marine trades,” Alshaali says. She graduated from Rice University in Houston in 1982, and while formally with Gulf Craft for just five years, she has been involved behind the scenes since her college days.
Gulf Craft started in 1982 with a 14-foot runabout and the Sport Fishing 24. Three years later, the company built the Hamoor 30 and Ambassador 24, followed by the Dolphin 31 in 1989. In 1992, Gulf Craft built its first yacht, the Adora 53. The first Majesty model, an 86-foot yacht, launched five years later.
From its UAE corporate headquarters, Gulf Craft expanded, adding a 100,000-square-foot factory in the Maldives in South Asia, where it builds recreational boats and fast transport vessels. Later, Gulf Craft opened its manufacturing facility in Umm Al Quwain, UAE. That facility has a 150-ton Travelift and launching bay. The Millennium 118, Gulf Craft’s first superyacht larger than 98 feet, was built there.
Having the facility in place allowed the company to establish Majesty Yachts in 2003. It formally turned its focus to large boats in 2011, by launching the Gulf 95 Exp explorer yacht, followed by the Majesty 135 a year later. In 2015, the company unveiled the Majesty 155 and, in 2016, received the Best Asian Motor Yacht Builder award for its Majesty launches. In 2017, Gulf Craft celebrated its 35th anniversary, and a year later, the International Superyacht Society honored chairman Mohammed Alshaali as its Business Person of the Year.
Gulf Craft builds a full spectrum of styles: Majesty yachts; Nomad explorer yachts, which range from 65 to 95 feet; Oryx sport cruisers; Silvercraft outboard-powered offshore catamarans and vee-bottoms; and a Utility series of commercial transport boats.
In addition to the Majesty line, Alshaali says she can see other Gulf Craft brands making their way to the United States. “We’re always looking for opportunities,” she says. “Oryx is perfect for the Florida coastlines. The Nomad would also be a good fit for the Northwest.”
A Different Culture
With lower labor costs, it costs Gulf Craft about 10 percent less to build a boat than its competition. The employees at Gulf Craft facilities number about 1,500, and Alshaali says most of them are from other countries. Laborers reside in dormitories, and higher-level employees rent apartments. Gulf Craft also provides housing at its Maldives facility.
“Your people, you bring them in, educate them and train them,” Alshaali says. “They become part of your extended family.”
Because the company is somewhat isolated in the UAE, Gulf Craft builds everything in-house, from the cushions to the woodwork to the stainless-steel hardware. “We are able to control our own quality,” Terraglio says. “We bring in two motors, two generators and some air conditioning units, and build the boat around that.”
All Gulf Craft yards are on the water. The Maldives factory occupies about 150,000 square feet, and the larger locations in the UAE cover about 400,000 square feet. Each yard has dry-dock facilities, and Gulf Craft will service other brands.
The company used to build about 300 boats per year, but as the boats have gotten larger, the volume has gone down to about 100. At the start of 2020, Majesty Yachts was working on hull No. 5 of the 140, which takes about a year and a half to build.
And while there are both logistical and customer challenges to importing yachts from the UAE to the United States, Terraglio says, “Once someone goes on the boat and they realize it’s built to a very high standard, the hurdles become less and less.”
Terraglio says the buyer of the Majesty 100 was contracted to purchase a competitor’s brand. “When he flew out to Dubai, he canceled and bought the 100,” he says. “The buyer of the 140 also had another yacht brand under contract.”
The Alshaalis say they build boats for real-world use, and prioritize maintaining a quality relationship with clients. “My father will take a boat out, and he will come back and say, ‘I did this, but I couldn’t do that,’ ” Alshaali says.
They’ve also added technical experts from outside the UAE, including Cristiano Gatto, the design manager at Gulf Craft, and Paul Gray, formerly of Palmer Johnson, who is chief of operations at Gulf Craft.
Moving forward, Alshaali says, the plans are to export more boats into the United States. “You can’t just sell two boats,” she says. Majesty Yachts USA is building four stock boats for FLIBS 2020, including the new Majesty 175.
“Having grown up in the U.S., I feel that the American market is looking for a manufacturer that is very transparent in how it deals with its clients,” Alshaali says. “People like to buy from boating people, and we are genuine boating people. I think we’re going to do well in the States. There are going to be many opportunities there.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.