KZN businessman Vince Potgieter is not one for sitting still

Vince Potgieter is quick to admit he is a boat builder by accident.

It happened during a casual chat with a friend who had an interest in boats and had recently acquired two boat moulds, the Tug 10 and Tug 20.

“I asked him: ‘How is the boatbuilding business going?’ And he replied, ‘Do you want it?’”

Turned out his friend was heading off sailing for five years and wanted to offload his business responsibilities.

Things got real a week later when his friend phoned to pick up the conversation. “He asked if I was seriously considering his offer.  I asked him what he wants for it.”

A deal was struck and just like that Vince was a boat builder, in addition to being a property developer, property speculator, manufacturer, and farmer.

No doubt Vince would been reluctant to take the plunge into yet another business venture were he not a fisherman with his own keen interest in boats. The Pietermaritzburg-based businessman grew up casting a fishing line into ponds wherever he could find them, and into the sea at Rocky Point on the KZN South Coast during family holidays in the local caravan park. “I used to walk for miles with fishing line in my pocket,” he recalls with more than a hint of nostalgia. “If I could find a body of water, I would try and fish in it.  Boating and fishing are just things I have always loved.”

His passion led inevitably to boat ownership, his first coming in 1992 — an original Dave Oelofsen ‘Ski Vee’ that he subsequently renovated and remodelled three times over the years. He still owns it today, thirty years later.

This early boating love affair surely explains what happened earlier this year, when overnight he acquired a boatbuilding factory, a work force, and two moulds bought years before at a judicial sale. “I employed the guys and carried on supplying the boats to wholesale customers,” he says of the initial takeover period. He also spent time in the yard to assess whether he could improve productivity. He decided he could. But first he moved the entire operation onto his farm outside Pietermaritzburg where he implemented his workplace changes.

He also decided to expand, with additional boat models. Although his two inherited moulds, the Tug 10 and Tug 20, were already well established in the local recreational fishing market, he harboured dreams of something more robust, possibly as a result of his Rocky Point adventures: “I used to go and watch the ski-boats launching there, and it was always a fantasy of mine to go deep-sea fishing and possibly become a commercial fisherman,” he concurs.

Vince now has the Tug 25, which he designed himself and launched six weeks ago. It is 30cm longer than the Tug 20 (total lengthy 4.1m), and has higher sides, a wet deck, centre console, live bait well and built-in ice box. The boat is suitable for all inland water including estuaries and harbours, but is not designed for open ocean use.

The Tug 25 marked a milestone in that it was his first build that requires a trailer. “A lot of guys have come into the boat dealers  to query the new build, and I’ve sold a couple,” he says, adding that he is also considering a 4.85 m mono hull Category D design suitable for beach launching. It could run on a single 60hp motor. “The target market for this build is the fair weather offshore fisherman/spearman not needing or wanting to proceed more than 5 nautical miles out to sea,” says Vince. “The moulds for the boat are currently being built and it should be launched early next year. The name for the build being considered is ‘Getaway 485’.

The business gained further momentum with the addition of another mould, a Getaway 520, acquired in April. It needed some work in the form of lid moulds and other tweaks, but the end result was proudly on display at the October boatica Cape Town Boat Show, with a second updated version already in advanced planning. “The lines are very futuristic,” says Vince of the model, which could also soon have a sister variety in the form of an offshore model. “That one will be a different mould to the existing Getaway. It will be designed for two outboard motors and could be launched off the beach. It will be Category C, rated up to 15 nautical miles (offshore) range.”

Clearly Vince is not one for half-measures, and this much is evident in his other business interests. His property portfolio includes a shopping complex in Greytown, an industrial complex in Estcourt, two office blocks in Joburg, and multiple apartments in Pietermaritzburg.  He is currently building a town house complex, while managing a Macadamia farm and nursery. Boatbuilding is, he points out, a labour of love, motivated more by passion than profit. At least for now. “This a hobby business for me but because of my passion I put a lot more effort and time into it than I probably should — just because I love boating so much,” he explains.

Fortunately the business overheads dropped significantly with the relocation to his farm, which offsets some of the investment: “I build out of a shed on the farm, so the overheads are the labour and material used. That is a massive advantage, and I’d hate to be stuck in a business where I have a bond or rent to pay. Thank goodness I’m not relying on the business for a living,” he adds.

Nevertheless he doesn’t intend world domination right now, preferring to consolidate the business with a view to rejuvenating the Tug and Getaway brands. As far as market penetration is concerned, it’s a case of local is lekker. For now. “At this point I don’t have the capacity to go further than KZN, mainly because of the cost of delivering boats,” says Vince. Currently the boats are distributed by Natal Power Boats in Durban, and PMB Trailer and Boat and Natal Caravans & Marine in Pietermaritzburg.

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