Last November, while most people were sitting around the table with friends and family digging into a Thanksgiving turkey, I was putting my bags down in a little bungalow overlooking Knysna Lagoon on South Africa’s southern shore. I had arrived in South Africa for a whirlwind tour of the boatbuilding scene in the region, which boasts a seemingly endless amount of multihull builders, each with their own niche in the market.
First up—Knysna Yacht Company (knysnayachtco.com). Company founder and CEO Kevin Fouche picked me up the morning after my arrival and we headed to the factory, a quick jaunt up the hill from the harbor. Knysna Yacht is a boutique builder that builds about four of their Knysna 500s a year. Like many of the builders in the region, the boats are semi-custom—they build the boat so it is a sound cruiser and everything that goes in between those bulkheads is, for the most part, up to you.
After touring the factory, we headed to the marina and jumped onboard a Knysna 500 for a quick sail. The wind was a little heavy for full sail in the lagoon so we mainly motored our way out to the infamous Knysna Heads, a notorious area where the lagoon meets the ocean, the bottom of which is laden with lord knows how many boats who have met their maker trying to skirt the area’s often heavy seas.
After our sail I hopped in a car and headed out to St. Francis Bay, bedded down for the night, and got ready for another day of boatyards. The next morning I met up with Dylan and Ryan from Tag yachts (tagyachts.com) and we headed down to the harbor to tour the Tag 60, an impressive vessel.
Tag builds performance-based cruisers that don’t leaving one wanting for creature comforts. The 60 that we toured reportedly will cruise comfortably around 24-25 knots and carries 154 square-meters of main sail on a fully carbon rotating wing mast. While right now you’ll only see Tag 60s cruising about, there are big things coming from this builder.
When I was there they had the molds out for the new Tag 50 that they’re building, and there are plans for a 72-footer once they finish the move to their new, larger facility in Port Elizabeth, the biggest city in the area, later this spring. (Due to the restrictions of the harbor in St. Francis Bay, a 60-footer is the biggest boat they can launch in the area.) Keep your eye on Tag, they’ve got some interesting stuff coming down the line.
After my time with Tag I made my way down the road the St. Francis Marine (stfrancismarine.com) and met with one of the elder statesmen of the South African boatbuilding scene—Duncan Lethbridge. Duncan has been pumping boats out of his facility for nearly 30 years, first building a 44-footer and now building the St. Francis 50.
Duncan’s story of how St. Francis Marine began is actually a fairly common one in the South African boatbuilding scene—he wanted to take the family cruising so he built a boat for himself and took it around to the local yacht clubs before setting sail with his family. People would ask him about the boat and if he could build them one, and eventually, St. Francis Marine was born. Currently hull number 20 of the St. Francis 50 is in build. Duncan can build approximately 3 boats a year, with 99-percent of the boats that going into the U.S. market.
After a pleasant tour of the waterways of St. Francis Bay courtesy of Duncan, we headed to the Nexus Yachts (balancecatamarans.com), which is now the yard building the Balance line of catamarans. When I was there, construction of hull number 2 of the Balance 526 was under way.
Nexus was founded by Mark, Roger and Jonathan Paarman and John Henrick along with naval architect Anthony Key, who drew the design for their first expeditionary catamaran—the Nexus 600. The first Nexus 600 (now the Balance 601) was launched in 2009, with two more shortly following. Phillip Berman, president of the Multihull Company and one of the driving forces behind Balance Catamarans, learned about the Nexus 600 project and liked what he saw. After meeting up with the Nexus founders at the Annapolis Boat Show in 2010, Balance catamarans formerly came about in 2012, with the decision to rebrand the existing Nexus models under the Balance umbrella and produce the new Balance 526.
After a lovely evening and a South African Braai (pronounced “Bry,” it is a South African barbecue, and it is delicious) with the folks from the Nexus yard, it was off to the airport and over to Cape Town to continue the tour. I hadn’t even checked into my hotel when I met with Fiona and Peter Wehrley of Matrix Yachts (matrix-yachts.com) at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, so I tossed my bags in the back of the car and we headed out to the factory.
Fiona and Peter Wehrley lived in the Caribbean for five years chartering and sailing before heading back to South Africa to build a boat for themselves. They ended up selling it and lo and behold, a company was born. They mainly build 76ft daysailers, and custom and semi custom boats with a focus on crewed boats.
They just started a 60ft carbon build. They build basically one boat a year, but they’re big boats. They’re not just pretty to look at either, a Matrix 760 holds the record from Cape Town to Miami, making the passage in 29 days.
Next morning started bright and early as Rudi Pretorius, founder and CEO of Maverick Yachts (maverickyachts.co.za), picked me up at my hotel and we made our way out to the factory. Maverick builds a 40-footer and a 44-footer, same hull, the only difference being the swim platform and boarding area.
Thinking I had already seen plenty of raw fiberglass and dusty shop floors, after a quick spin around the factory we jumped back into the car and headed out to Gordon’s Bay and hopped onboard a Maverick 44 for a sail. A lovely cruise around False Bay gave me a good feel for the boat, South African sailing, and was not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Next up was a meeting with Mark Delany of Two Oceans Marine (2oceans.co.za). Two Oceans builds two fully custom boats a year with a focus on the 60ft to 80ft market. They are currently building a 72ft and 60ft sailboat. They are also building a fully carbon 60ft high performance cat. In addition to the custom jobs, they build small fishing boats for the local South African fishing community, helping to diversify their market, steady money from the fishing boats, larger money from the custom boats.
After touring around the shop with Mark, it was back in the car and out to the Phoenix Marine yard, where the company is now building the Xquisite line of catamarans (xquisiteyachts.com). The first Xquisite X5 was under construction when I toured the facility, and it looks to be a promising boat with a lot of unique features. The company will soon be moving to a new facility a little bit down the road from where they’re currently located. They have a new facility will allow them to build approximately 10 boats a year, five sail and five power.
My last full day in South Africa started out with a trip down to the waterfront to meet hull number one of the new Balance 526, which had splashed just a week prior.
On the 526 there was a lot of thought put into the design of the helm station—one of the most notable is the helm. The wheel has the ability to shift upward, so that the helmsman can steer from the upper helm seat when he wants the wind in his hair, or can be lowered so the helmsman can steer when he wants to get out of the weather. The boat has an in-boom furling system and a Jeffa steering system. There is carbon reinforcement on all of the heavy load sections and it is cored beneath the water line with a Corecell foam core.
This is just a brief revisiting to my tour of the South African boatbuilding community. Look for a full feature on my trip in the upcoming summer issue of Multihull Sailor.