South African composites expert Dylan Soares de Melo has landed a contract to build a world class racing yacht in Cape Town. He speaks to SABBEX about the deal

SABBEX: What is your background with this type of build?

DYLAN: I started working at the company Trimarine Advanced Marine Projects while in Portugal.  We were building IRC and ORC racing yachts. The construction was very advanced – pre-preg carbon and sprint e glass — the upper limits of yacht construction, of how racing yachts are being built. It’s borderline aerospace technology – the same materials being used in aerospace and formula one but just applied differently because it’s on quite a large scale.

SABBEX: What was it like working on a project of this magnitude?

DYLAN: It was an introduction to this sort of sector of boatbuilding. What is different about it is that you need to be very precise. Weight is extremely important. Building as per the design is critical. Some leisure boats you see on water are built way off spec and the whole process is not as carefully controlled – the QC is not nearly as finicky. With this you cannot be even 1kg heavier. You can’t hide anything.

SABBEX:  A steep learning curve?  

DYLAN:  It was.  In fact it was my first intro into boatbuilding — I didn’t know any better or worse. I previously worked in offshore energy/engineering. I was working on big offshore vessels, floating platforms. That was my background. I never really understood the process of building composite boats. So from that point of view it was interesting to see the whole process.

And after building those boats I kind of understood the level they were building to — I thought it was the norm but it is isn’t, except for the big companies here. Now we’re seeing the quality required is on a par with the best yards in the world, because it has to be. For instance we are competing at the moment with a boat designed by VPLP (Design), built by Multiplast, a world leader in offshore racing yacht construction.  We need to try to compete with the leading yards in Europe, and if we want a boat to be competitive it needs to be built to spec and on time and on budget. But it is a massive opportunity.

SABBEX: How did you land this deal to build the boat here in SA?

DYLAN: It came through Andrew Thompson and Richard Bertie from Cape Racing Yachts. They needed someone dynamic and flexible, and so they have contracted myself and my team to build a boat for them. I understand the benefits of getting one of these boats out on the water.

SABBEX: And how is it going?

DYLAN: The Naval Architect has been here since March 1 – he has never been here before. He started off nervous but now he is very impressed by what he is seeing. We are motoring on. I think it is really important for the world to know we can build these boats. The build is very tight. We need to build moulds and have it shipped by the end of July.

SABBEX: Can you tell us more about the boat?

DYLAN: It is a Class 40 boat, not a one design – there is a lot of innovation for the naval architect. It is a budget offshore racing class. No carbon fibre, no foils, no canting keels. The boats are built really strong, a lot of buoyancy. The idea is to bring offshore racing to the masses. They have about 180 boats.  it’s a helleva competitive class.

There are sponsors behind the boat and professional sailors will be racing it – it is a proper campaign. The guys are pushing to win the Route du Rhum next year.

The designer is Etienne Bertrand who has designed multiple Mini 650 designs – for around 30 years. This is his first Class 40 design. He has a very good feel for yacht design. He is one of these guys who has just been racing boats since he could walk, that special breed of person who just lives sailing — he is obsessed with sailing. It is fantastic for me because I come from a design background, and he started building and designing his own boats. He has a very good feel because he sails them competitively. If he gets it right the boat has all the potential to win.

SABBEX: What does this mean for local boatbuilding and for South Africa?

DYLAN: If we produce the boat to spec and do it well, it would be huge for a South African yard – to produce a boat that wins races against the likes of Multiplast ( who build the Vende Globe boats. The guys aren’t messing about.

SABBEX: Why are the building it here and not in Europe?

DYLAN: The yards are full over there and we can compete well on cost. Cape Racing Yachts is the connection between the French and South Africa. They landed the project and have built two boats in the past, also Class 40s.

SABBEX: Are you confident you can pull it off?

DYLAN: Definitely. I have a team of ten skilled boat builders and they are really really good. I am also up-skilling five young guys — they are a bright bunch.

We want to attack this project like Europeans do. Whatever materials I need I speak to Cape Racing Yachts. The moulds need to be perfect. We have to build the boat to such a high spec. Everything is CNC’ed.

The proof is in the pudding, that is basically what it is for me.

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