‘Unsinkable’ Yachts Touted as Noah’s Arks by Doomsday Author
By Eric Spitznagel
Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Fans and owners of ETAP Yachting boats noticed something peculiar on the brand’s website late last year. While new ETAPs haven’t been produced, or sold commercially in the U.S., since early 2009 when the former owner of the Belgian product line declared bankruptcy, the site appeared to have been newly updated.
First there was the mood music
, “The Last Farewell” by Roger Whittaker, with lyrics about “death and darkness” and sailing into hell, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 27 issue.
Even more salient was a passage
on the home page, under the heading “How to survive 2012?” The text -- since moved to the news section -- warned of a “tidal wave” that can be escaped only if “present and future owners” of ETAP yachts work together and save enough people “to start a new civilization.”
On online yachting sites such as ETAP Owners’ Association Forum, speculation and confusion arose over what had happened. Some people wondered whether the brand’s website had been hacked.
Those who delved deeper into ETAP’s revamped Internet
pages found links to the website of Patrick Geryl, a Belgian author and doomsday proselytizer.
By Geryl’s estimation, a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field should be happening around the time the Mayan calendar ends -- on Dec. 21 this year. That would lead, in his words, to “pure unimaginable horror,” which could take the form of nuclear meltdown, volcano eruptions and -- of particular interest to ETAP owners -- flooding of biblical proportions.
Geryl’s enthusiasm for all things ETAP reads like a sales pitch
“ETAP is the only producer in the world of comfortable, unsinkable yachts,” he wrote in his book “How to Survive 2012” (Adventures Unlimited Press, 2007). Geryl, who lives in Antwerp, Belgium, says he wasn’t paid for his promotion. “I only do it because they are the best and there are no
alternatives,” he says. “This is for the survival of humanity.” He says he probably won’t be on an ETAP yacht come December. “I get very easily seasick,” he says with a laugh. He plans to ride out the apocalypse in a bunker in the Drakensberg mountain region of South Africa
Geryl’s relationship with ETAP began years ago, when he discussed the boats on TV news shows in Europe
with representatives of M.I.C. Industries NV, the Lokeren, Belgium-based technical-products maker that currently owns the ETAP brand. Toni De Pape, manager at M.I.C., says he sees nothing unusual about featuring endorsements for ETAP on its website, even if they happen to be from survivalists. While it wasn’t M.I.C.’s intention to make Geryl the spokesman for ETAP,
“whatever helps our brand is OK with us,” he says.
It’s a second chapter for the yachting brand. Founded in 1970 by a Belgian entrepreneur named Norbert Joris, ETAP was a lighting
supplier whose name means, in English
, Electro- Technical Apparatus.
ETAP became a maker of boats that won praise as being ahead of their time. They feature a hull-within-a-hull design. The gap in between the hulls is filled with a nonporous polyurethane
foam, making it almost impossible for the inner hull
to fill with water
, according to ETAP. As the company’s reputation grew, so did its ambition.
“They started making bigger and bigger boats,” says David Morris, new-boat sales manager at Tollesbury Marina in Essex, England
, and an ETAP broker for 12 years. “The volume of sales started to decrease. They just weren’t able to cover the costs.”
A German company bought ETAP in 2008 and went bankrupt the next year. M.I.C. then purchased the ETAP name, along with the factory molds and design instructions, for an undisclosed sum. Rebuilding the brand should have been easy for M.I.C., according to Morris.
“The people at M.I.C. are engineers, so they were the perfect company to manufacture boats,” he says. After years of promises and what Morris calls encouraging e-mails, M.I.C. hasn’t built any boats, he says, and he doesn’t expect the company to begin soon.
“They’ve not filled us boat dealers with any confidence at all,” he says. “It’s really quite sad what’s become of the ETAP brand.” M.I.C.’s De Pape tells a different story. “We are continuing,” he says. “Never have we thought anything about stopping.” ETAP yachts are back on the market and available throughout Europe
, and will be in the U.S. and other parts
of the world “in the next weeks or months,” he says.
‘Nothing Going On’
If the yachts are available, it isn’t information that the company has shared with many of the dealers listed on the ETAP website. Captain
Jean “John” De Keyser, owner of Yachting Vacations, a sailboat-charter operator and broker in Punta Gorda, Florida
, says he met twice with representatives of M.I.C. in Belgium, “and it doesn’t look as if there has been any progress with new construction.” M.I.C. has “nothing going on, except for that very strange website,” he says. The website may be just the beginning. After weeks of applying pressure, Geryl says he persuaded the company to use
the ETAP Yachting website as a global database for doomsday preparation.
M.I.C. agreed with him last month to post information about dozens of ports
in countries -- including Holland
-- where current
or future ETAP owners could meet. These users then could form alliances with would-be passengers to prepare for the end of the world.
“It’s not a sales pitch
to sell boats,” Geryl says. “Only the boats that have already been sold can participate.” M.I.C. plans to produce 200 to 300 yachts this year, according to De Pape. The doomsday ports
are “something for our customers that could be of interest,” he says. “ETAP Yachting has never sponsored nor is connected in any sense” to writings by Geryl, De Pape says in an e-mail. While Geryl says he received no money
from M.I.C., he doesn’t agree that the company is uninvolved with his work. He consulted with De Pape when he produced and funded an ETAP
that premiered on YouTube this month, he says. The
video promoted an “exclusive offer” from a “company dedicated
to ensuring the survival of our civilization.” “I asked what to put in it and which changes he wanted,” Geryl says.
The finished product, which features photos from the ETAP website, provides instructions for avoiding a tidal wave in late December.
“When you see the sun brightening up far more than usual, immediately set course to the open sea,” the video says. With the existing yachts, which can hold four persons in each boat, Geryl proposes to save 10,000 people. That’s “more than enough to start a new civilization,” according to the video. Asked if he believes the world will end this year, De Pape
hesitates. “I am no specialist,” De Pape says. “Even if it was 95 percent certain that the world could collapse next month, I think for myself, I would just be practical. You continue to come to work every day.” ETAP dealer De Keyser in Florida
says he isn’t holding his breath, either for the end of the world or for new ETAP boats. He has for sale
on his lot one used ETAP, which was listed at $119,000. After viewing the ETAP commercial
on YouTube, De Keyser says he is reconsidering his options. “If anyone takes this seriously, then mine is for rent for $250,000 in December.” he says. “Charter fee payable in gold ingots.”