South African Catamaran Boat Building & Our African Safari


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We had the opportunity to visit South Africa recently to see our family, visit a few catamaran manufacturers and catch up with some South African clients. But first we took a quick detour and visited the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in Zambia. It is the largest waterfall in the world and measures more than a 5,500ft wide and a more than 350ft drop.

We were there during the rainy season and the noise of the Falls is deafening while the spray and mist from the falling water can rise to a height of over 400 meters. We saw it in all is thundering glory and that is why the local tribes used to call the waterfall Mosi-o-Tunya – “The smoke that thunders”. It is simply spectacular!

We then made our way to Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. It is situated against the Botswana border close to the Kalahari Desert, about a half hour from where I (Estelle) grew up. Madikwe is a little known hidden gem with 750km2 of pristine land and it offers not only 60+ different large mammal species but you are almost guaranteed to get sightings of the Big 5 (elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, leopard, lion).

Needless to say, we had a great time and enjoyed the wonder of these wild animals in the African bush. We also got to visit a game sanctuary where these animals are rehabilitated and we were allowed controlled interactions with the animals. Both are spectacular places and was truly amazing even for us, who grew up with it in our backyard as youngsters!

Cape Town Harbour & Boat Building

After a great visit in Johannesburg with our family, we set off to Cape Town, latitude: 33° 55′ South and longitude: 18° 25′ East. It is here where we first started our sailing journey. We visited all our old sailing haunts like Houtbay Yacht Club and Royal Cape Yacht Club, among other places.

table mountain seen from cape town south africa

Cape Town Harbor is ultimately where we launched our first cruising boat, a Bruce Roberts 45 monohull in 1992 and then again our first Island Spirit catamaran in 2004 to go cruising.

Cape Town boat building industry

The South African coastline is a most treacherous place in bad weather but it is truly beautiful. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at Cape Point on the southernmost point of South Africa and for centuries, the Cape of Good Hope has provided a safe harbor for sailors. It was first named “Cape of Storms” by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1486.

colorful tablecloth in south africa

Cape Town is a fascinating, beautiful and vibrant city. Table Mountain looms over the city and when the clouds settle over the mountain like a tablecloth, the locals know that a storm is ready to set in and the boats all run for cover to one of the safe harbors around the coast. The scenery is dramatic and romantic and the people, South African culture and cuisine are as colorful as a rainbow. There is no place like it! For anyone who hasn’t been, we highly recommend a visit!

Cape Town Harbor

Sailing off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope is definitely on every sailors bucket list, something we all want to experience at least once in a lifetime. We have set off from Cape Town Harbor (picture above) twice, once going east to Madagascar, East Africa, Red Sea and on to the Mediterranean and once sailing west to Saint Helena and on to America. These two voyages totalled nearly 20,000NM.

The South African Boat Building Industry

While in Cape Town we visited a few of the South African Catamaran factories. We needed to get a better feel for the industry in general since South Africa has become a world leader in catamaran building, masts and sails according to SABBEX, the South African Boatbuilders Export Council. The South Africans build about 25% of the cruising catamarans in the world. The biggest player being Robertson and Caine who build close to 200 boats annually. The hub of the boat building industry is in the Western Cape with about 12+ yards and a smaller hub located in Cape St Francis and Knysna. The “artisan” or “boutique” builders like, Xquisite, Knysna Yachts, Balanace or Matrix build 4 -12 boats a year.

These “boutique” builders are typically family businesses, handcrafting custom boats with highly skilled staff and accomplished sailors. Many builders have stood the test of time like St Francis, Knysna, Royal Cape and Voyage and then there are the newer designs like Maverick, Nexus, Scape, Tag, and Vision. There is no place else with such a variety of different catamarans, all designed to sail well in their tempestuous native waters. These multihull builders all co-exist and in fact work side-by-side, striving to firmly establish South African boats on the international market.

The Moorings And Robertson & Caine Catamarans

Robertson & Caine is the biggest boat builder with four manufacturing facilities in Cape Town. They produce catamarans exclusively distributed by Leopard Catamarans, once owned by the world’s leading marine leisure business, TUI Marine. As previously reported, Sunsail, Moorings and Leopard Catamarans was offloaded by TUI to KKR, a leading global investment firm. Word on the street is that Moorings will be closing seven charter bases and by the end of the year there will be no more “company owned” yachts in the charter fleets.

Leopard catamarans

This does not bode well for Leopard / Robertson & Caine and indeed for the entire South African boat building industry. As it is, they are selling their catamarans at very discounted prices, i.e. the Leopard 40 was discounted this week from $515,000 to $399,000 USD. This is one example of several such discounted deals. These boats are the best buys out there and maybe they are simply getting rid of stock. But, according to insiders, if it doesn’t change, it may be unsustainable in the long term.

Even though the smaller South African builders are doing really well, some of them are a little uneasy about this news. If R&C pulls back on production, many people may be affected and boat building in S.A. may face an uphill battle. However, catamaran sales are very buoyant at the moment and we expect R&C to overcome this obstacle and continue to produce great catamarans.

St Francis Bay, A Major Boat Building Hub

Two Oceans Marine M60 Catamaran

Phil Berman, of the Multihull Co. commissioned yacht designer Anton du Toit to design and Nexus Yachts of St. Francis Bay to build the Balance 526 performance-cruising catamaran. They are doing well and have won several awards on the international stage. Several other manufacturers also hail from that area like the Nexus, St. Francis and Knysna Yachts, owned by Kevin Fouche. These guys have full order books of 8-12 boats each and are doing the industry proud in South Africa.

Xquisite Yachts & Phoenix Marine

We also met with Colin Etheridge and his team at the Phoenix Marine yard, where the company is building Xquisite catamarans. Tamas Hamor created the Xquisite from the now defunct Dean Catamaran, a vast improvement on the previous boat. We were excited to sell the first Xquisite X5 in the U.S. and during our visit, hull #5 was nearing launch date in Cape Town Harbor.

This catamaran is in a league of it’s own and has received numerous awards, the most innovative catamaran 2017, an incredible feat in a very crowded field. They are gearing up to build approximately 10 boats a year, five sail and five power. We also voted the Xquisite X5 one of our five favorite cruising catamarans for 2016.

Two Oceans Marine launch 60ft Catamaran

Balance catamarans

Mark Delaney from Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing graciously hosted us and showed us around his plant. They build two to three custom boats a year with a focus on the 60ft to 80ft market. They are also one of few that build large power catamarans, commercial and recreational fishing boats. When we were there they had just launched a fully-carbon 60ft high-performance cat.

The Future Of South African Boat Builders

The South African Boat Building Industry is robust and their pricing, quality and durability make them very competitive on the international market. South African sailing and boat building industry is credibly impressive and definitely holds it’s own internationally.

Here are some interesting facts about South Africa that you may not know!

Read these great articles about the South African Catamaran Builders of South Africa

 *Picture courtesy Balance Catamarans


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