Bebe Grande was once the largest fibreglass hull in the world

A legendary South African Motor Yacht that once braved the Cape of Storms has completed her first roadtrip — up the R27 to be restored at the YachtPort facility in Saldanha.

The 56ft Bebe Grande, designed in 1955 by British superyacht specialists BCTQ (Burness Corlett Three Quays), was at one time the largest fibreglass hull in the world. She was built for South African race horse owner Jack Gerber and named after one of Gerber’s winning steeds, Bebe Grande, which came 2nd in the 1952 “2000 Guineas Race” in the UK.

The vessel has since spent much of her life ploughing the fishing grounds around Cape Town, and was a regular participant in offshore fishing competitions.  According to Brian Blackbeard, who researched the vessel’s history in preparation for the restoration, Bebe Grande was designed and outfitted with fishing in mind, and as a result made history as the first ever recreational yacht with an auto-pilot and fish finding echo sounder – at the time these were only found in fishing fleets. “These technological features added to the groundbreaking history associated with the build of this fine craft,” Blackbeard said in his refurbishment proposal. “Bebe Grande has over the years successfully participated in many South African offshore fishing competitions for yellowfin tuna and marlin and was the grandest yacht in the South African Marlin and Tuna Club fleet based out of Simon’s Town,” Blackbeard said.

Pictures of the vessel loaded onto a truck at the Port of Cape Town were widely circulated last month on social media, generating interest in the local boating community. “Saw it come past on R27 – the vehicle in front had vertical pole same height to ensure clearance of bridges,” said one commentator on the popular Cape Town Boating whatsapp group.

Blackbeard told SABBEX he initiated the restoration project himself after spotting the boat inside the Granger Bay marina: “One day I was having lunch there and saw the boat looking in a very sad state. I had seen the boat cruising around in days gone by.”

“I approached the owner and said this boat needs to be taken out of the water. There was some guy doing on-board maintenance, but I said let us do this properly. The boat hadn’t really been to sea in eight years.”

“We nursed her into Table Bay, hauled her out with a crane, and loaded her onto a truck. We now want to get the boat back as close as possible to her original condition,” Blackbeard said.

He said a proper restoration would benefit both the owner and the boatbuilding sector in general, given the vessel’s contribution to maritime and engineering history: “Bebe Grande not only represents boat building history but also provides the opportunity to showcase the fine craftsmanship used in her construction and allows the modern day craftsman and apprentices with a sterling example on which to demonstrate their skills in restoring her,” Blackbeard said.

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