No less than five new launches at rejuvenated industry showpiece

You Can’t Keep a Good Boat Down – it’s a little-known boatbuilding song born out of years epoxy and sandwich foam innovation.

The same goes for Boat Shows, and for the Cape Town Boat Show in particular which made an impressive return following a three year leave of absence.

Anybody who visited the V&A marina on the opening day of the Boatica showpiece would surely testify to the carnival atmosphere in the City of Cape Town/BlueCape tent where industry stakeholders gathered for the Show’s  formal kickoff – a symbolic ribbon cutting to get things underway. The world has changed in the three years since the Show last took place, and yet there we all were, broad smiles instead of face masks, boats bobbing in the blue, and on the aquarium roof the same curious seagulls wondering what all the activity was about.

“While things have certainly changed, they are also back to normal,” concurred Michael Dehn in his opening address, with other speakers picking up the same theme.

“There was that ‘C word’ which caused us to have that two year break,” quipped James Vos, the City’s head of Economic Development. “But the ‘C word’ made us do things differently — the way we transact, design, do business. For me the economics of the world will change. It will re-imagine the way we work and play,” said Vos.

In fact the re-imagining is already well advanced, judging by this year’s five new boat launches which illustrate Vos’s point: not only was Covid social distancing a catalyst for boatbuilding, it created new customers and a consequent renaissance in boat design. Two of the five new boats on display this year were South Africa’s long-awaited compact catamarans, the Hopyacht 30 and the Nutshell 26. The two designs have been vying for line honours but ended up almost side-by-side at the Marina exhibition area. These boats are for boating what laptops are for computing – they make it a whole lot easier, in more ways than one. “We wanted to design a cat that was really easy to sail and to handle,” enthused Hopyacht founder Paul Tomes, who was on hand to explain the concept to a curious media contingent. “Comfort is also important. So we designed the boat around an Island Queen-sized bed.”

The Hopyacht is also fully-electric, with twin electric motors that are likely to appeal to a younger generation of digital nomads for whom diesel fumes are verboten. “We’re one of the first production boats to have this. The engines are whisper quiet, with massive lithium batteries. So far we have been running completely without Eskom,” said Tomes.

Another major Hopyacht selling point is that it was co-designed by Anton du Toit. Anton’s list of awards and accolades are longer than your average mast, but suffice to say Tomes is well pleased with the finished product.

It’s a similar story with the Nutshell 26, designed by another industry heavyweight in Phil Southwell.

Builder Dylan Soares de Melo is equally enthusiastic about his compact concept, a modular boat that can fit inside a standard container and be waiting for you at your preferred boating destination.

“I think the market is pushing towards something that is more sustainable,” said Dylan of the design concept. “Running a big boat is expensive, and we’ve created a boat that is affordable. There’s an opportunity to capture a new market of maybe non-sailors – we can reduce the barrier to entry.”

“We’ve created a boat that is affordable, super-fun, and the platform itself lends itself to a lot of different occasions. It’s something you could live on if you wanted to,” said Dylan.

Something you could most definitely live on is a brand new entry-level blue water cruiser produced by a brand new yard Supertech Yachts. Co-owners Chris and Hugo Engelbrecht were a notable addition to the boatbuilding landscape, with their Leeuwin 42 parked snugly alongside more familiar catamaran brands. Chris was quick to point out that their 43ft boat, in the water for only two days and the first of its kind, was possibly the newest boat in the world – at least for now. It is still receiving some finishing touches. “We’re almost there,” he beamed, eager to usher media aboard. “We’ve tried to do the best for what the market needs,” he said, adding that the intention was to offer a modernised and slightly more custom-version of existing production boats.

It’s a sure sign of a buoyant market if businessmen like Chris, who hails from the sugar industry, feel emboldened to try their hand at boatbuilding. A former Leopard catamaran owner and boating enthusiast for the past 40 years, he says the Supertech yard was born out of a major restoration job which kept on growing. Having set up infrastructure and gathered a team to complete the assignment, Chris and his partners figured they may as well take the next step – their own boat.

Another newcomer at this year’s Show was Maiden Voyage Industries and their flagship new custom-built 30ft power catamaran aimed at the sports fishing market. The yard itself seems to have sprung out of the blue, with fresh-faced Henry Swanepoel a welcome vein of new blood among the veteran boatbuilding crew.  Henry was still studying design four years ago, but rather than enter office servitude working for somebody else he assembled his own team and, with the help of some family financial backing, has brought a new boat to market, the Invicta. A standout feature of the Invicta is a unique kind of stepped hull that has already sailed a fair distance in the virtual waves of computer simulation.  The project, started four years ago, stalled during Covid lockdown but is now full speed ahead, the first iteration of what Henry hopes is a “new approach to the boat design industry”.

The fifth new launch was the Getaway 520, a multi-purpose utility boat sold by KZN retailers Natal Caravans & Marine. Larger-than-life Sales manager Bill Harrison marshalled his section of marina boardwalk, even when a section of boardwalk collapsed on Saturday – a rare sour note during a mostly reaffirming three-day Show.

The Show post-mortem is ongoing but there’s no doubt that the Show has finally come back to life, with talk of an expanded format next year.

All of which proves that even in uncertain times, of Twitter storms and vanishing superyachts, you’ll never keep a good Boat Show down. At least not for long.

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