SA boat builders triumph in US

11 April 2006

South African boat builders established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Strictly Sail section of the Miami International Boat Show in Florida in February, winning a number of awards and millions of dollars in orders.

A luxurious 23 metre Silhouette 760 catamaran built by Matrix Yachts of Killarney Gardens, Cape Town was named “star of the show” and sold for US$3.95-million.

Another South African prizewinner was Woodstock-based Robertson and Caine, which won an innovation award for its 4000 class catamarans.

For the first time, South Africa had its own pavilion at the prestigious show. Hundreds of potential customers and investors visited the pavilion which received the Best of Show award for the outstanding quality of its design and of the products exhibited.

The 12 South African exhibitors included eight boat builders displaying catamarans ranging in length from 12 to 23 metres. The builders included Matrix Yachts, Admiral Yachts, Charter Cats, Sky Blue Yachts, Royal Cape Catamarans and St Francis Marine.

The builders racked up sales during the show estimated at $13-million, with other South African exhibitors taking in another $770,000. All told, the South African firms received more than 3 500 inquiries and sales leads.

There has not been a year since 1997 when a South African boat has not earned or been nominated for one or other Boat of the Year award in the US.

The infrastructure is in place for the local industry to keep growing, especially in the Western Cape, where most of the country’s boat builders are located. There is no shortage of labour, and a new South African Boatbuilding Academy will soon be adding to the supply of skills.

Builders are also brimming with confidence. According to the latest South African Boatbuilding Industry Guide, nearly 90% of companies have made significant recent investments in developing new designs, moulds and tooling and expanding capacity.

Forward order books are healthy, with some of the larger companies reporting advance orders of between 75% and 100% of their capacity.

Opening the South Africa pavilion in Florida, New York Consul General Fikile Magubane said the exhibitors were “true examples of why we say that South Africa is alive with possibility.

“This pavilion, the boats and products on display here, and the people behind them, tell an important story about today’s South Africa.

“It’s a story of innovation, world-class engineering and design. It’s a story of competitiveness, determination and capacity to find solutions.”

Veda Raubenheimer, project coordinator for the South African Boatbuilders Business Council, said the inaugural South African Pavilion was an “overwhelming success . We look forward to a stronger presence in 2007, showcasing other South African boatbuilders and products”.

The pavilion’s sponsors included the SA Boat Builders Business Council, the Department of Trade and Industry and the South African Consulate General in New York, with support from SA Tourism, SA Airways, Wines of South Africa and the David Frost winery.