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Francis Lapp: The (sun) king of solar-electric Yachts
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Francis Lapp: The (sun) king of solar-electric Yachts

Sunreef 80 Eco

Solar cells are becoming increasingly important not only on land but also in the world's oceans. More and more shipyards are developing solar-electric boats that glide quietly and emission-free across the seas. Francis Lapp, a pioneer in this field, is the founder and CEO of Sunreef Yachts, a shipyard specializing in the construction of customized, luxury sailing and motor catamarans. His course is Green Innovation on the Deep Blue Seas.

Francis Lapp has revolutionized the maritime industry with his unwavering commitment to sustainability and innovation. From his base in Poland, the Alsatian-French electrical engineer has transformed the concept of eco-friendly shipping and set the industry on a course where luxury and responsible design come together. His unique approach has led to the construction of boats that are not just superficially equipped with a few solar panels, but are based on fundamental propulsion through advanced solar charging systems, steering the entire industry towards zero-emission boating.

The journey towards sustainable luxury has not been without its challenges. It required intensive research, constant experimentation with solar cells and unwavering determination. Lapp's dedication bore fruit in the form of the “Sunreef 80 Eco”, a solar-electric powered sailing catamaran that is far more than just a boat – it embodies a powerful message of environmentally conscious luxury. The “Sunreef 80 Eco” is equipped with a revolutionary “solar skin” system, hydrogen generators and state-of-the-art batteries and has been christened “Marie-Joseph” – a touching tribute to Lapp's parents. This catamaran is proof of how Lapp brings innovation into harmony with nature.

Lapp's work is recognized beyond the maritime industry. Celebrities like Spanish racing driver Fernando Alonso and Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal have chosen “Sunreef Yachts” for their cruises. They are both enthusiasts about the mix of sustainability and uncompromising luxury. In addition, the “Marie-Joseph” catamaran has won awards at prestigious events such as the “YCM Explorer Awards” organized by “La Belle Classe Superyachts” under the presidency of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of the “Yacht Club de Monaco”. Here, Lapp's masterpiece secured the prize in the “Technology & Innovation” category and impressed the jury with its ecologically orientated innovations.

As Sunreef Yachts sets its sights on global expansion with a new venture in Dubai, the world is watching as Lapp continues to chart a course towards a greener, more innovative future. His story as a pioneer in environmental protection and technological progress is an excellent source of inspiration for many. Despite initial disinterest from the boating industry, Lapp's perseverance and vision have prevailed and set new standards in the industry, leading us into a future where sustainability and luxury sail in harmony.

We had the privilege of having an in-depth conversation with Francis Lapp.

Francis Lapp and Rafa Nadal
Rafael Nadal and Francis Lapp


Francis Lapp: The Interview

How did you feel presenting the world's first luxury catamaran at the Monaco Yacht Show twenty years ago, especially when initial interest seemed limited?

A great sense of enthusiasm was coming but quickly replaced by disappointment. Visitors were not used to seeing a multihull in a super yacht hub. Nobody believed a catamaran could be a luxury yacht, and numerous people doubted Poland’s capacity to deliver top quality. We barely had any visits on board. This was not any start.


Did that initial response at the Monaco Yacht Show influence any subsequent design or business decisions for Sunreef Yachts?

The main decision was to prove my point. I knew I had an innovative luxury product and that it would, at some point, breakthrough. One of my critical decisions at the time was to not only promote my product but also to promote Poland as a country and as a manufacturer of luxury goods. Poland has a great and rich history of boat building and some excellent craftsmanship, but many people at the time were unaware of this. I devised the idea to promote the Polish luxury sector with a series of Sunreef lifestyle events. I also collaborated with the country’s former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lech Walesa – an icon with a special bond with the Gdańsk shipyard.


How gratifying was it for Sunreef Yachts and for you personally to receive recognition from the YCM Explorer Awards after such humble beginnings?

Sunreef Yachts has come a long way from its beginnings. Over twenty years ago, we were an ambitious small team with no recognition, only a vision and an exceptional yacht. Today's Monaco showcases are entirely different – we exhibit our yachts in front of the Monaco Yacht Club and were honoured to host HSH Prince Albert II on board. We know Monaco’s in-depth engagement in pushing innovation forward and appreciate the opportunity to showcase our yachts there. The YCM Explorer Awards were a special moment for me and our entire team. This ceremony puts a particular focus on sustainability and helps us spread the positive message that we have.

Sunreef 80 Eco
Sunreef 80 Eco

Naming the Sunreef 80 Eco after your parents is a touching gesture. Can you share what inspired this personal touch?

Without my parents, I would not be where I am today. I grew up in a very modest environment, and my parents taught me the value of hard work. The name of this yacht is a tribute to them and a way to thank them. Both were on board a couple of times and enjoyed the experience.


What makes the ‘solar skin' system unique, and how do you envision its role in future maritime designs?

It’s an industry first. The idea started with a dream to create a solar mast but quickly grew to something much more ambitious. We are now the only shipyard in the world to use this technology. We can produce massive amounts of clean power and designed this solution ourselves. It is unique not only because of its energy efficiency and ultralight weight. It also makes solar tech visually appealing and part of the yacht design. In the future, we will see more and more electric yachts, and solar power will continue to grow in importance. If we can draw clean power from the elements, we should make every effort to make it happen. This technology is the future.


The Marie-Joseph has been displayed at prestigious events like the Cannes Yachting Festival and the Dubai International Boat Show. How have these showcases influenced Sunreef's global presence?

Numerous people don’t realize that tomorrow’s technology is already available. Being able to showcase the 80 at some of the biggest shows out there is an opportunity to promote a new boating philosophy by presenting a futuristic product to large audiences. It’s the most efficient way to speak to your customers and make them realise they can be part of today's energy transition.

Sunreef 80 Eco “Marie-Joseph” with her owner, Fernando Alonso

The Sunreef 60 Eco and the Explorer and Ultima lines show a broad range of offerings. How does Sunreef ensure consistent quality and innovation across yacht sizes and functionalities?

We have an extensive range of yachts. We believe that multihull architecture can be successfully applied to many types of crafts. This is why we offer both sail and power catamarans, explorers, fast hybrid cats and superyachts. Innovation has always been a key factor for us. I think it’s fair to say we invented the luxury catamaran, and it’s also fair to say we reinvented it several times. It’s all about constantly challenging yourself regularly. We have a big team and put a lot of focus on in-house design and build. This philosophy helps us maintain the highest levels of quality.


The YCM Explorer Awards emphasize eco-responsibility. How does Sunreef Yachts align its goals with this growing emphasis on sustainability in the yachting industry?

When you analyse Sunreef’s journey, you will quickly notice that it is centred around luxury and energy efficiency. Over two decades ago we chose the most efficient yacht architecture, used to create a luxury yacht and then, kept on looking for more and more sustainability. Today, many shipyards claim they will introduce sustainable technologies to their offer. Sunreef is already using these and spearheading the change in the industry.


How do you envision the balance of luxury and sustainability in yachting evolving in the next decade?

We should see more and more people moving from classic super yachts to more sustainable crafts. More and more people are beginning to see that owning a sustainable yacht does not have to lead to compromising on luxury. The whole industry will invest a lot of effort into sustainability.

Sunreef 80 Eco
Sunreef 80 Eco

With the Sunreef 80 Eco making such a significant impact, are there plans to collaborate with other organizations or events to promote sustainable yachting practices further?

We are trying to spread the word about electric yachting in every way possible. We take part in forums and panel discussions across the globe. Likewise, we also host events on board our yachts to let people discover Sunreef Yachts Eco. Furthermore, we will keep touring the world, participating in boat shows and engaging in other activities. Moreover, we support the explorer Mike Horn in his latest expedition, “What’s Left”.


Can you give us a hint about what's next for Sunreef Yachts, especially in the realm of eco-responsibility and technological innovation?

We are currently building two 43-meter electric superyachts, which are our greatest challenge. I eagerly await their launch, as they will thoroughly change the superyacht experience.


How do you keep yourself and the Sunreef team inspired to constantly push the boundaries of yacht design and eco-innovation?

I think works both ways. I draw motivation from my team and also motivate my team. We are a big dynamic working environment, where trust and talent are key. We debate a lot and there is good communication between the departments.

80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too
The interiors 80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too

How did your experience as a 4×4 race driver shape your perspective on design and technology?

My 4×4 experience sparked a curiosity and the will to build. I used to race in buggies of my design and construction. I am naturally interested in designing and crafting machines and adapting them to a given environment.


What prompted your transition from race car driving to yacht design? Are there any parallels?

Racing is a passion, but yacht building is my profession. Yacht building started as an experiment, a hobby, but it quickly became a lifelong adventure.

80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too
80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too

How do you manage the stress and demands of leading a company and being at the forefront of innovation?

I stay motivated because I know I have a role to play in yachting and that there are plenty of talented people around me.


And, finally, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t get discouraged by failures. Learn from them. Understand that failure is an integral part of the entrepreneurial journey; it's not a sign of weakness but rather an opportunity for growth and learning. Each setback presents a chance to refine your approach, identify areas for improvement, and ultimately evolve into a stronger, more resilient entrepreneur. Analyze what went wrong, extract valuable lessons from the experience, and use that knowledge to adapt your strategies. Remember that some of the most successful businesses have risen from the ashes of initial failures.


Sunreef 80 EcoSunreef 80 EcoSunreef 80 EcoSunreef_80_Eco80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too80 Sunreef Power Eco Athena Too80-Sunreef-Power-Eco-Athena-Too


Sunreef Yachts website


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Last Updated on March 21, 2024 by Editorial Team


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