Empowerment paddling in Knysna

17 August 2005

The Paddle Cruiser, South Africa’s only paddle-driven ship – and the Western Cape coastal town of Knysna’s newest tourist attraction – is proving a model for black economic empowerment.

“We knew from the start that the vessel would have to be managed by a crew of highly skilled and dedicated people,” says William Smith, director of the Featherbed Company, which owns and operates the Paddle Cruiser.

“But the problem was that South Africa had never had a vessel like this one – so we had to train new people from scratch.

“We recruited and began training the boat’s managers – the men who would become its skippers – while it was still under construction,” says Smith. “Because we’re good corporate citizens, we made sure the successful candidates came from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Neither Floyd Herwels nor Stanley van Rooyen had had any maritime experience when they started with the Featherbed Company, but both have taken to life afloat with gusto.

“I applied for the job because I wanted a change from the admin work I was doing for an insurance company,” says Van Rooyen. “And I took it on because it was a challenge.

“Our training took nearly two years and earned me a Class 6 port operations license – a qualification recognised around the world.”

Van Rooyen and Herwels are now equipped to take responsibility for the safety and smooth operation of the vessel and for the comfort of its passengers. This they do at least twice a day, almost every day of the year.

The Paddle Cruiser experience
Built over a period of 18 months by Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing and launched in Cape Town in October 2003, the Paddle Cruiser was delivered to Knysna by sea.

The boat is 22.7 metres long, 7.5 metres wide in the beam and has a draft of 1.4 metres. Her propellers are powered by twin Caterpillar 3056 turbodiesel engines. Electrical energy for the paddles – the boat can make four knots on its paddles alone – is supplied by two 70kVA generators.

“The Paddle Cruiser has become a must-do attraction in Knysna,” says Featherbed marketing manager Debbie Stanley, “and a popular fine dining experience.

“A team of top chefs prepare Mediterranean style meals: a limited Tapas menu at lunch time and an extensive hot and cold Tapas buffet at dinner. The boat is becoming increasingly popular for functions, product launches and – a trend we didn’t expect – as an unusual conference venue.”

In addition to the Paddle Cruiser, the Featherbed Company operates the John Benn and Three Legs cruise boats – as well as catamaran sailing – on the Knysna lagoon, and offers visits to the Featherbed Nature Reserve at the river mouth.

SouthAfrica.info reporter