Boat builder teams up with Cape Town artists to produce sailing artwork

Custom-made, in-house design, wire hulls and tin sails: the latest Balance Catamaran is literally a work of art.

The world famous catamaran producer has teamed up with Cape Town artist collective Streetwires to produce arguably their most unusual vessel to date – weighing in at less than 10kg and just 4ft long, or thereabouts.

It’s a miniature wire-beaded catamaran, complete with rudder, steering wheel, and sails made out of recycled cool drink cans. It may not cross the Atlantic anytime soon, at least not on the water, but it is likely to make waves nevertheless in the beady-eyed world of African arts and crafts.

“It was the first time to make something like this,” said Streetwires shop manager Asanda Yekiso, who prior to lockdown worked with about 30 staff  in the company’s Woodstock facility. “We designed it from scratch from pictures, and it was not an easy piece to make because the client was not here. He was overseas and we communicated with him there.”

That client is Balance Catamarans, courtesy of company President Phil Berman who is a long-time admirer of the Rainbow Nation. Berman won the World Hobie Championships here back when his hair was a lot darker, and the love affair continues to this day, with two South African yards now producing Balance Catamarans – Nexus Yachts in St Francis Bay and Two Oceans Marine in Cape Town. Berman said the wire art commission was a natural fit for the proudly South African Balance Catamarans: “For me, the reason for the wire art Balance was to embrace South African culture, to provide an artist the opportunity to do something uniquely African of an African built catamaran. A celebration of Africa. They did a wonderful job,” Berman told SABBEX via email from the US.

The artwork was due to be unveiled at a much-anticipated function in Cape Town last month, only to be marooned in the Streetwires shop amidst a global coronavirus lockdown.  Yekiso said the Streetwires cat was likely to be followed by others, if only the team could return to work. Currently staff are stuck at home without the necessary materials to continue work. “Right now it is just the one, but they need some more versions,” Yekiso said. “This lockdown disturbed us.”

Founded 18 years ago Streetwires has grown from a small cottage industry in somebody’s home into the biggest wire art enterprise of its kind, able to design and produce just about anything. “Customers come up with their own ideas,” Yekiso said, adding that wedding presents were a popular commission. Beaded wire animals are the tourist favourite, ranging from tiny key rings to massive sculptures. The biggest? A life-size elephant head and 2.2m giraffe.

Balance were so impressed with the project they commissioned a video showing how it came together (watch it HERE) . It includes interviews with both Yekiso and artist Wilbert Kamupira, who described the Balance cat as one of his biggest challenges to date. “When I see a picture of this boat it was a challenge to me because it was something new that I hadn’t done before,” Kamupira said of his unusual commission. “There were lots of different parts and you have to measure the sizes because it has dimensions – length, width and height because it is difficult to come up with something proportional.”

“The biggest challenge was to make it up and come out with something where people can say, Wow, this is a nice piece,” Kamupira said.

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