The Ship Owner
I was already interested in boating at 4 years old, I would navigate on my father’s little sailboat during summer vacations.
At 7, I started classes on an Optimist dinghy, then on a Vaurien at 9 and a Yole OK and 390 at 11, and later on a Sablière outside of Paris.
A bit later I earned my first boat, a “Fennec”, which I started to race in regattas in the St Quentin bay, near Trappes.
As it proved difficult to find regular sailing partners, I traded in my Fennec for a Laser, solo sailing dinghy for competition, which helped me perfect my sailing.
Each summer, I continued to sail with my parents on our family sailboat.
When I was 17, I was able to navigate all common sailboats and made a first step toward cruise-racing. This was about the time I’d started my first company (not truly mine); a sailing club in my High School.
After finishing secondary school, I prepared the HEC (Hautes Ecoles de Commerces) entrance exam and pursued studies at ISG (Institut Supérieur de Gestion).
This school was perfect for me as it encouraged student associations (Law of 1901) so that we could start applying management rules from the start.
So I started a small association that taught me a lot and enabled me to travel to magical destinations like: Bombay, Kathmandu, Delhi, and Bangladesh….not bad for an inexperienced 20 year old...
Following my travels I started my first entrepreneurial venture (a small company with 20k Francs in capital), with my savings and 15 000FF that my parents contributed to accrue capital.
My office was modest: 6 square meters, but I had a telephone.
It was the beginning of my entrepreneurial career, after having passed through all the standard strata !
I think I’d fallen in one of the most typical traps when starting a business, and committed all the errors possible at that time.
During that time, I continued to sail but less often due to lack of time. It was the time when, with a few friends, we’d rent a boat and head for Corsica or Greece and we still cherish those great moments today.
At 27, I wanted to do something else so I started to work in real estate. What a bad idea I had, as I struggled to survive financially throughout the real estate crash in 1990/91.
In the interim, I plunged myself into graphic-novels and I started to reread the collections that I’d kept in my library. One especially made me dream; Lucky Luke’s “Cruising up the Mississippi”, the race between Daisy Belle and Abesto D. Plower to commander Lowriver, haunted my nights.
At that moment I realized that paddle-steamers on the Seine would be fantastic. After all it was a Frenchman, Jouffroy d’Abbans, who developed the paddle-steamer principle, and wasn’t Louisiana the last French bastion for French culture in America ?
At the time, the tour promotions industry did not exist on the Seine. The only company that advertised ‘sight-seeing’ was the “bateaux-mouches”, known worldwide.
Launching a paddle-steamer on the Seine, in Paris, with a Louisiana theme, seemed to be a good idea, especially with a festive, party theme (from which Jazz was born in the New Orleans bayous).
I started by travelling to the US in search of all the paddle-steamers I could find: I returned with many documents and sketched a copy which resembled those seen in Louisiana, but adapted to pass under the bridges in Paris.
And thus was born the “Louisiana Belle” that I sought to build in a ship yard within Paris, for whom the construction was a first. I decided to confide in a local company in Paris, as I had yet to learn the ship owner trade on the Seine.
At the same time the Louisiana Belle was being built, I had a small paddle-steamer built for my personal pleasure for river-cruising. I called it the Mississippi.
The Louisiana Belle was quickly successful as it resembled nothing that existed prior in Paris, and even all over France: to get married on board a paddle-steamer, dressed as Scarlet and husband Rhett Butler, was something !
My real estate business took back all that I had gained over 10 years, I found myself with some turnover from the boat to just cover the loan, and nothing left over.
I then decided to transform the Mississippi into a passenger boat that could host corporate groups on the smallest scale….and attempt to increase revenue.
I was, at the same time, the boat’s pilot, host, disc-jockey, housekeeper and mechanic.
Thanks to this venture, I started to learn how to operate a boat company on the Seine.
With word-of-mouth, the Mississippi became more and more popular, which helped us to invest in the ‘big brother’ ship Tennessee, in 1996, in tribute to Johnny’s song.
Without means for credit with the banks, small capital risk companies heard my story and the owners loaned me the money to build the Tennessee.
Built next to “Bennevilliers, in Villeneuve-la-Garenne”, in a small, river ship yard managed by a very professional and friendly team, the Chantier Naval du Nord van Praet, the Tennessee was the perfect boat, not too big, not too small.
In the meantime, I opened headquarters literally on the banks of the Seine, at the foot of the Mirabeau Bridge, and for the first time, my company started to resemble a (small) true company.
Two years later, with the goal to improve upon seating, I began construction on the River Palace at the same ship yard. This vessel wasn’t a paddle-steamer, but a ship built around an ‘art deco’ theme with high ceilings (3.80m) and large, Bohemian crystal chandeliers.
The first River Palace client was the Court of Auditors; I can still remember as the navigation permit was delivered just the night before. Ever since, I now plan well ahead for all administrative filings.
In 2003, the Mississippi which provided loyal service for 10 years, even for corporate events, was placed on retirement. This vessel sparked other ideas to build yet another, larger, more comfortable vessel.
Finally I pursued an idea I’d had for a long time; to build a classic yacht. The attraction to the ‘super-yachts’ fascinated me for years, and I never miss a “Monaco Yacht Show”; where the wealthy boat owners seek perfection and don’t bother to asking how much it will cost.
Obviously I did not belong there: a beautiful boat is nice, a profitable boat, is better, it’s even for me, indispensible.
Solving this equation required many years of preparation. It was the Clipper Paris project that resolved my frustration.
The water launch in the Penhouët basin in Saint Nazaire, a mythical place for ship building, occurred on December 2, 2006.
During the 1920’s, my grandfather had started an interior decorating business for ships. His clients were: the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, the Compagnie de Navigation Mixte, the Compagnie Paquet, etc.
Subsequently my father and uncle took over the business.
Pursuing a career as a cruise line decorator requires artistic talent which I unfortunately did not inherit so I could not pursue this route, even if I enjoyed decorating my own fleet.
If I chose Saint-Nazaire over Istanbul, Gdansk or other destinations financially more advantageous for ship building, it was more for symbolic or nostalgic reasons; it is for this reason, and not by chance surely that I found a very professional and friendly management team at the ship yard SMCN. It was also for ethical reasons: if everyone built ships abroad, what would be left for us ?
Contrary to the other vessels in the fleet, the Clipper Paris is a planned ‘lounge-style’ atmosphere, in order to accommodate a new concept in catering, the ‘cocktail cruise’: instead of being seated at the table, guests are comfortably seated in contemporary armchairs or sofas to enjoy hors d’oeuvres which are served in small dishes.
Traditional catering is attractive in its own right, but the ‘cocktail cruise’ ensures a festive, original atmosphere and freedom of movement around the cabin and deck, weather permitting.
The Clipper Paris’ architecture has nothing in common with other boats on the Seine; having been inspired from yachts at the beginning of the 20th century, she has all the characteristics.
The yachts’ goal is to convince people to change their habits when receiving guests, which is ultimately to the guests and finally hosts’ benefit.
Following the Clipper Paris, a new challenge is on the horizon: construction of a new cruise liner France. To learn more of this project, please visit the site: www.lenouveaufrance.com