Naval architect Anton du Toit is making more than his fair share of waves in up-market yacht design, partly due to an acclaimed working partnership with US veteran boatbuilder Phil Berman (Balance Catamarans) and South Africa’s Nexus Yachts. This joint venture recently produced their second Balance 526, which featured on the cover of Multihulls Magazine.
MIASA caught up with Du Toit at his Cape Town studio to ask him about his latest boat.
MIASA: Were you setting out for a new look with the Balance 526?
Anton: We wanted to carry on (Balance) family look through into the new boat. The hull is a little bit different – a finer hull. Obviously it has a different contemporary bow and we’ve modernised the transom. We just sharpened everything up and made it a bit more sleek.
MIASA: To what extent do you yourself dictate the design?
ANTON: It depends on who the client is and what boat we ‘re doing. You get given a commission and you’ve got to look at what the client prefers. You can’t be pedantic about it and push your ideas. We don’t work like that. We work with both the client and the boatyard to come up with something that works for everybody. And not just the styling but everything on the boat. That has been our success – working with people.
MIASA: What about if a client wants something completely unusual?
ANTON: You have to be careful that you’re not steered too far away from reality or what is practical. When the time comes you just have to open your mouth and say, for instance, that this is not going to work, and maybe we should try something else.
MIASA: To what do you attribute the success of the Balance 526?
ANTON: A lot of credit has to go to Phil Berman and the Paarmans (Nexus). It is actually a very nice design, modern, classic contemporary. You get some designs that go too far out on the left field. It’s fine if you design a custom boat for somebody and they are not particularly worried about resale value. But if it is for the market you have to be very careful how you design a boat to fit in to the market, so that it can actually sell. I don’t believe in designing something that if you look at it in two years time you say ‘Did I actually do that?’ It must be a progression. Progressing is what design is all about.
MIASA: Would you say the Balance 526 is a new boat?
ANTON: It’s the way we’ve done it that is new. We’ve made it totally practical to steer with the helm down or up (the so-called Versa Helm). Between Phil Berman, Jonathan Paarman and ourselves we’ve managed to come up with a reasonable solution that works and is practical. People always want to be comfortable and have the best of both worlds. I suppose it is like having a convertible car: one minute you can be with the roof off and then if the weather gets inclement you just push the button and the roof is up.
MIASA: The boat is remarkably light. How do you manage the weight vs payload issue?
ANTON: You have to make a compromise somewhere. You try and push that compromise as far as you can. People want full width, double berth, and they want to be able to walk down the side of the berth. To do that you have to have a certain width of hull, especially on a smaller boat. When we did the hull for the Balance, everything we looked at was about getting the performance we thought we needed for a boat like this and the payload we wanted to carry.
MIASA: Was it very long process? How much time did it take?
ANTON: From the time we got the go ahead it was less than three months until we were building the hull…
MIASA: Does South Africa have a reputation for building tough boats?
ANTON: I feel that South Africans always produce boats that are fairly strong, something practical and reliable. A lot of the time the market wants that. Perhaps it stems from our history of being close the sea and making boats, where your livelihood depended on the strength of your boat. It’s a difficult thing to put your finger on. In general South Africans produce boats that are stronger than in other countries. Our fine standard of finish is maybe not quite as good because we don’t have a very long tradition of yacht-building. But we’re getting there.
MIASA: Would you say the SA luxury boatbuilding sector is doing better than before, particularly when it comes to cruising catamarans? It would seem this sector is growing market share.
ANTON: Yes, I think it also depends on the boatyard as well and how they deal with people and work with people. You have to build a reputation and that takes time. If you look at Southern Wind, they have a culture there of how they work and how they deal with people. It is fantastic. And Robertson & Caine, Two Oceans Marine and Nexus Yachts as well. It took them a lot of time to get where they are. But there are boatyards that struggle too.
I believe it is all about connections as well. It’s who you know and how you present yourself to the industry and to people.