The Slovenia Times

His way - Seaway



Seaway, with its seat in Begunje, 50 kilometres north of Ljubljana, develops sailboats and powerboats. Over the past two decades, 34 boat manufacturers in 17 countries have produced more than 34,000 boats using the Seaway's plans, 21 of which were named Boat of the Year.

In 2006, the Shipman 63, Jakopin's 19-metre long sailboat made from carbon fibre, won the European Sailboat of the Year title in the category of sailboats over 14 meters. That made Seaway the first company to win the European title twice (in 2003 their Shipman 50 won the same title).

The statistics are even more impressive if we take into account the pre-Seaway years. Almost 60 thousand boats were constructed based on the design of Japec and Jernej Jakopin and their boats have won 33 Boat of the Year awards. This year's Boat of the Year is their environmentally friendly Greenline 33 Hybrid.

First a medical doctor

Japec Jakopin spent his childhood and youth in Ljubljana, relatively far from the sea to which he dedicated his life. His family environment can easily explain why he speaks eight foreign languages. His mother Gitica was a renowned writer and translator from Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages; his father, an academic and linguist, was also dedicated to languages.

Before Japec started creating boats professionally, he studied medicine. It wasn't really his choice. "My mother decided I should study medicine. I would have chosen mathematics, like my older brother Primož. I saw how little effort it took him; he got up at nine, spent evenings out... But my mother didn't share my opinion, so I went to study medicine."

He was a successful student, finishing his studies among the best in his class. He finished his medical doctorate and specialized in cardiology in Ljubljana. He lectured on physiology at the Medical Faculty in Ljubljana for a while. He was mostly interested in research work, "I was a research cardiologist and was interested in patients when something interesting was happening to them."

His medical career wasn't very long. During the 1970s and early 1980s, professional qualities had to be matched with political appropriateness in order to successfully work in one field. Japec Jakopin didn't try very hard on the latter and was blocked in his work.

"Like many Slovenian medical doctors, among whom were also top quality scientists, I could have gone to the USA. But I knew that if I went I would never come back. Nobody came back. Everyone went for two years, but then extended their residence there. So I decided not to go. The USA is great to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there."

He resigned from the Medical Faculty in Ljubljana and changed his profession completely; he started a boat business. Before that, he had a charter base on the Croatian island Krk together with Arne Hodalič (today a top photographer). "We took care of the sailboats there, repaired them ... It was a weekend job in order to make a living," he recalls.

Dedicated to the sea

Japec Jakopin loved boats and the sea even as a child. He started scuba diving when he was six (his deepest dive without weights is 45 meters); when he was 13, he went sailing for the first time.

"As a child I wished I had my own sailboat to go diving with it," he recalls. Sailing became an essential part of his life. He sailed the Mediterranean Sea; in the 1970s, he sailed across the Atlantic with Slovenian film director Karpo Godina; together with his younger brother Jernej they planned to sail around the world on their 10-metre Melody sailboat. Their plan had to be cancelled because he had resigned from his job as a lecturer and he had to make every effort to make a living entirely in his new profession.

Together with his brother Jernej, Arne Hodalič and mathematician Matjaž Prijatelj, they had been working on designing and building sailboats.

"We kept redoing the design; we made moulds, special tooling ... You had to do it all by yourself at that time and that's why you really had to know a lot about everything. We wandered around nautical exhibitions, asking a lot of questions..."

In 1983, he founded the design studio J&J together with his brother Jernej. The studio later evolved into Seaway. They started to work with Elan, the Slovenian ski manufacturer that also had a boat-building department. Japec and Jernej, who worked in Germany at the time, designed a 9.40-metre sailboat, the Elan 31. Together with the Elan 33, a somewhat upgraded and improved model, they were a sales success.

"We were in business before we knew very well what works on such a sailboat and what doesn't. We learned which pump and which motors are good, which toilet pipes prevent bad odours..." They produced 940 boats of those two models -a very large amount in the sailboat business.

The cooperation with Elan was very fruitful because the Jakopin brothers knew what kind of boats sell successfully. The cooperation ended in 1987.

In the spring of 1988, Japec went to work with the French boat manufacturer Jeanneau as a head of marketing. He stayed there for three years. "I left for Jeanneau with a heavy heart, because I had to leave my family at home. But there was plenty of action there; we developed 20 to 30 boats annually. I was a head of sales and marketing, a developer. I made decisions about which models would be developed and which omitted... I was terrified the first week there. Seeing 1,500 people and who knows how many hectares of the factory, I said to myself, 'If I blow this one, there won't be a hole in the world where I could hide.'"

The beginning of "the long march"

After three years of successful work in France, he returned home. Meanwhile, his brother Jernej had continued working on boat designs for Jeanneau and many other manufacturers. In 1990, they founded Seaway and begin with the development of boats. Jernej remained a designer, while Japec focused on marketing strategies and industrial design.

"Industrial design involves the preparation of the entire development of the product on the market, where it is exposed to competition, for a known client," explains Japec. "The role of industrial designer is much wider than people tend to think. The design and development of the product begins with market analysis. There is much important information to gather; talks with the dealers, with suppliers, buyers, representatives of the buyers. That's why we visit 10 to 15 nautical exhibitions a year, which takes me approximately two months - to walk around, observe what is going on and chat with people.

"And when you've done that for 20, 25 years, the experience gathered leads you in the right direction. You almost can't go wrong. You can't develop a boat that nobody would want because there are many preventive trials before the boat reaches the market."

In 1992, Seaway made the first design for German Bavaria, one of the leading manufacturers of the large-scale production boats. Bavaria later became the main partner of the Seaway, which continued to grow and develop. They developed powerboats and sailboats.

"My brother's and my hearts are on the sailing side. But in my opinion, there aren't two different nautical cultures, as is prevailing opinion around the world. There is only one nautical culture. And there is a lack of that culture. You either have it or not, and it doesn't matter whether you are on a sailboat or on a powerboat. There are many people who buy themselves a powerboat because they simply have the money to afford it. It goes with the status; a powerboat is a status symbol as much as the weekend house. All of his colleagues have it, he's the only one without it and that looks odd, so he buys it ..."

The Jakopin brothers' tandem approach has proved to be successful. Today, Seaway employs 250 highly skilled professionals; their success in the nautical world speaks for itself. Japec Jakopin, a youthful looking father of five children, who has worn a suit only a couple of times in his life, is not short of plans for the future. He sees the future in the further development of the boats that will be financially affordable to wider range of people and will be environmentally friendly at the same time. The Greenline 33 Hybrid, developed on the desks of the Seaway designers in 2007, is such a boat. The boat won several awards during the past few months; as well as the European Boat of the Year 2010, and in March 2010 the Swedish Ministry of Environment presented it with an environmental award.


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