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Simplicity – Thys Nikkels

'Simplicity arises when you remove all unnecessary luxury and make what’s left as beautiful as possible.’  Thys Nikkels is the CEO of Dykstra Naval Architects, a longtime collaborator of Bestevaer yachts and KM Yachtbuilders. Today he shares his thoughts on the power of simplicity of yacht designs. And in life. 

‘Things get better when you leave out the superfluous elements. But simplicity in design is not just about minimalism or “less is more”. It’s a paradox. You have to reach that point where it feels completely natural or even self-evident. And that’s perhaps the most complex and hardest thing to do. You need a constant refinement of the design and composition between both functional and aesthetic perspective.  From his office - on the grounds of the Kromhout Museum in Amsterdam - Nikkels explains his view on simplicity and nature.‘Nature is perhaps the best example of the power of simplicity. Take for instance this particular moment. I’m looking out the window and I see trees. That might sound uncomplicated, maybe even boring. But if you would look at it closely, you’d see millions of structures, miniscule atomic particle, microorganisms. Now, imagine yourself at sea. When sailing you’re surrounded by a clear view. The horizon, the sea, the sun, the moon and the starry sky at night. Calm and monotonous. But when you take the time to look at it closely you’ll realize that you’re in a hyper complex environment. Nature is defined by her connection to everything else. There I see the resemblance to simplicity. The details and the interplay between all different elements.’ 

His fascination for sailing started early. For some inexplicable reason I’ve always had a thing for boats. My parents actually had nothing to do with sailing. As a toddler I already had a book “The Ship” under my pillow at night. A booklet with all kinds of ships from different origins and times. My very first drawings were surprisingly: ships. My chalk drawings on the sidewalks were ships. And so on. I can keep on going.’  ‘When I was old enough to sail, my parents bought a small sailing boat, a Flits. I remember my father repairing the bottom of the boat in our living room. I learned to sail in that boat. Later on, we got a Laser. Now, I’ve got a Valk. Even though I love to design and join the crew of the best large (competitive) yachts during competitions, I’ve never been a competitive sailor myself. I used to fence a lot, in this sport I found a way to express my competitive side.’  

‘However, my passion for sailing has never changed in the years. Of course, sailing with large yachts - often yachts above 50 meters, sometimes up to 140 meters - with my clients is completely different then my Valk, but the essential feeling, that sense of freedom when you’re on the water remains the same.’  

‘My most beautiful sailing experience was maybe my first real sailing trip. I’ll never forget that experience. It was on the schooner Adix. Adix was the first yacht I was closely involved in during the design. It was rebuilt at the Pendennis shipyard in England. I had not been there myself during the construction so I only knew the yacht as a design on paper. The yacht went sailing in Saint Tropez. Gerard and I were invited to sail with the crew. The moment we came up to the yacht with the tender was very special. Even though I knew this yacht so well, I had never seen it in real life. Sailing the first time with such a large yacht was really an experience. The design from paper literally came to life. You feel how it moves, you hear the wind, the creaking lines. Most impressive was the power of the yacht. And the crew. Such a knowledgeable and kind crew. An experience I will never forget.’ 

The pursuit of simplicity has become increasingly leading in how Nikkels views yachts and sailing.  ‘The sense of simplicity lies in the way the yacht behaves. How it maneuvers. Its character. Suddenly it seems simple when the design, experience, nature and technology come together.’ 

 ‘Simplicity also indicates the level of preparation. The better the preparation, the more comfortable the trip. This is one of Gerard’s expertise that continues to inspire the entire team. With everything we develop, design and innovate we’re actually preparing the yacht to sail as good (and simple) as possible. This level of preparation can only be seen and felt once the yacht is sailing. Of course, the boat’s ratio, strength and size in relation to nature plays an essential role. Then you experience its ‘calmness’. 

 ‘The best yachts have the best crew. It’s incredible to experience how crewmembers on a large yacht can be attuned to each other. They understand each other perfectly without words or hand gestures. This perfection feels so easy. Almost effortless. It is impressive to see what’s actually happening in one action, The sea, the wind, the sails, technique, cutting edge skills built on many years’ experience. You feel how something totally complicated can turn into elusive simplicity.’  

Thys explains how he also strives to ‘keep things simple’ in his own way of working. ‘This inspires me on how we work together as a team at our office. Our team consists of eight dedicated and enthusiastic naval architects. We all share our ideas and constantly discuss them without getting bogged down. The office is like a large ship. One open space. No thresholds. No doors. Well, ok, we have two: the office entrance and the toilet door ;)  We created a space, in which we can all do your own thing. This means transparency and openness to each other. It keeps the atmosphere clear. That’s also simplicity to me: uncompromised honesty. Saying out loud what you feel or think. We’re all human beings.’ 

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