The South African yachting industry contributes R1.5-billion to the country’s economy and is growing on the back of events such as the Cape2Rio presented by Maserati.


The country has become a world leader in the building of catamarans and masts and making sails. Events staged off its coast also give the local economy a boost: for example, preparing a single racing yacht for the Cape2Rio can cost in the region of R1.5-million.

Vanessa Davidson, CEO of the Marine Industry Association of South Africa, said “a recent study identified that for every R1m investment in marine manufacturing there is a multiplier effect of R2.77m”.

”The boat building industry is estimated at R1.5billion per annum contribution to GDP, with 95% of product being exported,” she said.

“Our global niche advantage is catamarans and our ability to do high-end customisation,” she added. “We also produce aluminium sailing boats and aluminium commercial craft. We are world leaders in mast building and sail making.

“We are starting to see larger catamarans being produced in South Africa, making us one of five countries in the world working in this space. Some yards focus on high performance boats and we have recently seen investment into a new racing monohull.”

Rob Sharp, managing director of David Abromowitz & Associates yacht brokers, said: “We build quality boats here and South African yards are held in high regard. At overseas boat shows the boats presented are accepted with praise and admiration. The days of SA boats being frowned upon are gone, as have the dodgy yards!”

He added: “The South African Yachting Industry is currently very buoyant and especially so in the export of yachts, and more specifically catamarans, both sail and power. The biggest player in the SA boat building field is Robertson and Caine, who build close to 200 boats annually and export close to 100% of these craft.”

“The focus of the boat building industry is in the Western Cape (12 yards concentrating on catamarans and two yards building monohull sailing yachts) with a smaller hub located in Cape St Francis (three yards building catamarans) and Knysna (also three yards building catamarans).”

“There are two major sail makers in the country, both located in the Western Cape, North Sails and Ullman Sails. Both sail lofts build sails for the local market and have large order books servicing the overseas market, mainly due to our exchange rate making it attractive for offshore buyers.”

Sharp added that mast maker Southern Spars is a foreign-owned company run by local operators: “Again, they serve both the local and foreign markets and are considered to be amongst the best in the world for craftsmanship, technical expertise and the finished product both for cruising boats and world leader race boats.”

He pointed out that sailing events in the Western Cape, and in particular Cape Town, were popular and growing in stature amongst the local sailors.

“Events like the Maserati Cape Town Race Week are gaining traction and this year will see the Cape2Rio race with a broad base of international entries making the event a truly international one. Companies such as Maserati coming on board as major sponsors is extremely encouraging and their investment in the sport will see a natural growth in numbers for the year end event and the Cape2Rio.”

Asked if there opportunities to make a career in the industry, Hylton Hale, skipper and owner of Cape2Rio yacht Vulcan, replied: “Yes, absolutely. There are many South Africans around the world plying their trade from super yachts to racing yachts. On board careers include racing navigators, boat captains, logistics managers, race crew positions, chefs/cooks, specialist helmsman (this normally happens with Olympic sailors), laminators, sail makers and riggers.”

So how expensive is it to take part in an event such as the Cape2Rio?

“This is largely dependent on the size of the boat and the team: the more racy a boat gets the more professional the team becomes, which means paying crew salaries, their accommodation, meals and flight costs,” said Hale.

“With our campaign we have employed two professional sailors, with the most important specialist being the navigator. The top navigators have years of experience as well as some form of formal education around weather, for example, a degree in meteorology. The satellite communication equipment and airtime is expensive, however it is necessary when employing the services of a top navigator.”

“Our boat Vulcan was primarily an in-shore racer and quite a bit of work had to be done to convert her to an off-shore boat. This included installing pipe-cots (beds), a water maker (desalinator), life raft, emergency equipment, extensive medical kit, crew storage bags and then some new sails for offshore racing.

“Our crew of eight with the guidance of a dietician from the Noakes Foundation, will be eating freeze dried food along with ample coffee and high protein snacks such as biltong, nuts and protein bars. As far as clothing goes, Helly Hansen has provided the wet weather gear and each crew can take along two or three tee shirts, a couple of shorts and loads of under wear for the two week passage.

“The boat and mast is also x-rayed to ensure that there are no fractures or cracks in the carbon fibre and a complete fairing of the underside is done to ensure that all the surfaces and foils are smooth. To run a Cape to Rio campaign with eight crew can cost anything up to R1.5 million,” said Hale. 

For more info on the Cape2Rio, click here.

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Sources: Cape2Rio

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Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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