Belgium’s ‘unsinkable’ yacht comes to N.J.

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The Etap 37s tours the East Coast this spring, with stops in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island

Ludwig Hoogstoel learned to sail on an Etap, a Belgian-made “unsinkable” yacht.

“They’re quite a sensation in Belgium,” says Hoogstoel, a Belgian who now lives in New Jersey.

So when Hoogstoel wanted to open a yacht dealership, he naturally contacted Etap and, last year, opened his dealership, Etap Marine. The dealership serves customers from Cape May, N.J., to Rhode Island.

Hoogstoel will be introducing the Etap to Long Island Sound boaters this spring through a series of in-water shows at local marinas. The Etap 37s will be available for public viewing April 17 and 18 at Brewer Yacht Yard in Glen Cove, N.Y.; April 24 and 25 at Brewer Yacht Haven Marina in Stamford, Conn.; May 22 and 23 at Brewer Bruce & Johnson’s Marina in Branford, Conn.; and May 29 and 30 at Bannister’s Wharf in Newport, R.I.

Etap yachts are made with double-skinned hulls, which are injected with polyurethane foam to provide buoyancy. The boat is designed to stay afloat even if it suffers serious damage, is certified unsinkable by the French Bureau Veritas and is built in accordance with Lloyd’s Quality Assurance.

To prove it is unsinkable to consumers, the company at times conducts demonstrations by flooding the boat, then setting the sails and sailing it.

Etap touts its boats as designed for cruising families whose top priority is safety. The base price for the standard model Etap 37s is $189,900. Etap also makes 21-, 24-, 26-, 32-, 34- and 39-footers.

The U.S. distributor for the boats, Dane Somers, says he discovered the yacht a few years ago. While helping a friend select a cruising yacht, the avid sailor says he was shaken up during a shakedown cruise. About halfway from Newport to Bermuda, the sailors discovered several inches of water in the boat. They couldn’t locate the source of the leak, and Somers says he was keenly aware that the boat could sink.

“Absolutely nothing prepares you for that moment,” says Somers.

The crew and yacht did make it to Bermuda and, while safely at the dock, figured out the source of the leak. But Somers, who formerly worked in the wireless phone industry, decided to delve into the boating business. He had read about Etap yachts. After visiting the plant in Belgium, he became a partner to help the company bring the yacht to the United States.

“Nobody in North America makes boats like these,” says Somers, president and founder of the Freeport, Maine-based company, Sail La Vie.

Somers first introduced the yacht at the Newport International Boat Show in 2000. He says he has been working slowly to build a dealer and client base, so he can ensure quality customer service and satisfaction. The yachts have been well-reviewed by sailing magazines. The Etap 37s was voted Cruising World’s best production cruiser 2004 and the Etap 32 was tapped by Cruising World for most innovative cruiser 2003.

The Belgian company has built some 7,000 boats since production began in 1970. Hull No. 1 is still sailing, says Somers.

Northeast boaters interested in an Etap can contact Hoogstoel at (908) 918-1886. More information about Etap yachts is also available at www.etap-usa.com, or by calling (866) 382-7872.