The Cape of Good Hope is a sailing icon, which needs to be experienced at least once in life. I knew that down the road, I would sail around it. When the phone rang and Bruce Tedder, from the Cape Town Boat Building Initiative, invited me and Flo to Cape Town, I realized that I will see the great Cape sooner than I thought.
Who do you think is the second largest exporter of catamarans in the world ? You guessed it. South Africa. France has been holding the first spot since the mid 80’s, supplying the majority of the cruising cats and being on the forefront of multihull development. For South Africa, a land which is 10’s of thousands of miles away, lying remotely in the Southern Hemisphere, quite an achievement, especially if one considers that it is a country that had no boatbuilding industry 20 years ago, and was only sanction-free less than a decade.
The key to South Africa’s success story is the excellent construction ethic inherent in all local boat builders due to the severe weather conditions experienced off their coast. Boats are strongly built, and 90% of the boat deliveries to foreign owners are done so on their own bottoms. The fantastic growth of the catamaran sector was an astounding 120% in the last six years and has had a trickle down effect, giving further boost to other industry subcontractors – such as the spar builders, interior component manufacturers and even to yacht delivery companies. They all have needed to ‘up’ their game in terms of quality, style and innovations, in order to supply the best products and services to these world class boats builders.
The South African boat-building industry has a high degree of international credibility, and has more than doubled its exports since 1996. Boat builders have undergone an efficient industrial restructuring that has made them internationally competitive with respect to price and quality. It is not a surprise that some of South African products are highly praised and have won a number of international awards. South African boats also have a fine reputation among French or American boat designers, such as Blubay, Chris White or Morelli Melvin, who often allocate orders and refer clients to South African boat-builders.
The local boat building industry has had to keep abreast of technological advances in order to remain internationally competitive. Major advances in technology over the past few years include the development of advanced moulds and new designs, and the use of hi-tech materials such as digital pattern cutters, which are being utilized. Cutting edge construction procedures such as vacuum bagging, resin infusion and the use of advanced core materials has further improved their products durability.
Building demand has grown since 1994, with most of the orders coming in the form of exports, especially to the Caribbean, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Spain. Needless to say, the US, with an insatiable appetite for good boats, is by far the largest export destination. This is also a result of the size of the market, its many chartering opportunities, and the climate of the Caribbean.
Did You Know:
- Did you know that on any given day there are up to 10 South African catamarans at sea being delivered to new owners worldwide.
- A South African-built boat has won the ‘Boat of the Year’ Award every year in the United States from 1997 to 2003 (…although these awards are often overrated and based on a 3 hour test…)
- The Moorings, one of the largest charter companies in the world, acquire all of their sail and power catamarans from Robertson & Caine in Cape Town.
- South Africa was the recent ‘Guest of Honor’ at the enormous boat show in La Rochelle, France.
- One of the world’s top marine hydraulic experts builds canting keel systems for the French Open 60s in a workshop in Paarden Eiland.
- The HYSUCAT principle (hydrofoil supported cat) was developed and patented in South Africa at the famous University of Stellenbosch. This advanced, yet proven technology might very well be the future for power cats, as it allows more comfort speed and efficiency for any given catamaran hull.
- There is a rubber duck manufacturer in Cape Town building 54 boats per month for the US. This is almost three boats per day.
Nearly all local boat builders have invested significantly in the development and capacity expansion, including new designs, moulds and acquisition of new or larger premises.
For instance, the ‘Cat in the Box’, the unique Scape 39 that is shipped in 2 x 40ft containers, and the new Sun Tribe 28, a fold-away trailer-able day cat, are two prime examples of the high levels of innovation available from the South African boat building industry. Another builder on the forefront is Argo Boats, who in partnership with the famous makers of the worlds largest sail catamarans, Blubay of Cannes, France, have developed the ultimate 45’ powercat. The HYSUCAT principle (Hydrofoil Supported Catamaran) is the new-new thing on the world of powerboats. It is effectively a hybrid of a catamaran hull equipped with a hydrofoil system between the semi-hulls which carries a part of the crafts weight at speed.
South Africa is indeed a land far away. Transit from NY to Cape Town took us almost a day, yet experiencing the stunning countryside and meeting the local multihull builders was more than worth it. Of course watching the water drain the opposite way , sailing at over 20 knots off Table Mountain and experiencing the Cape of Good Hope was fascinating as well. The future for South Africa’s multihull community is bright indeed.
Gregor Tarjan and his wife Flo were invited to South Africa by the Cape Town Boat Building Initiative to attend the Cape Town Boat Show and help promote local multihull builders abroad. Gregor Tarjan is president of Aeroyacht a NY based company specialized in multihulls.