There are many things that make Southern Wind yachts different, from their patented hull moulds, streamlined deck design and world-class engineering; but what truly sets these yachts apart, is the spirit of South Africa that is imbued into every hull. Cape Town may not be the first guess when it comes to the location of a superyacht shipyard, but Southern Wind was born from a sense of adventure and exploration that is absolutely elemental to the country.
In 1990 Willy Persico, Italian engineer, entrepreneur and sailor chose a shipyard in South Africa for the construction of a 72-foot Ron Holland sailing yacht. When the shipyard fell into a state of financial difficulty in 1991, he purchased the yard and rescued the project. From the moment he did so, Persico strove for excellence, bringing world-class European engineers to Africa and pioneering wet lay-up lamination techniques.
Firmly believing in the creation of fast, lightweight yachts that shared a triedand-tested DNA, Persico immediately launched into the creation of semicustom yacht series, partnering with Farr Yacht Design for the SW72 series in 1992.
The advantage he saw with the creation of semi-custom yachts was that every hull benefitted from a fully tested and engineered platform, but also offered a high level of customisation when it came to deck arrangement, sail plan, and interiors. With 10 hulls launched in 10 years, the concept took root, proving its value to the industry and has evolved today into what the yard calls its innovative ‘Smart Custom’ philosophy.
Not only did Persico champion highly engineered yachts, he also believed in the value of in-house craftsmanship and the yard quickly became one of the first yards in the world to have the full construction process take place inhouse.
In-house expertise has always enabled the yard to remain at the forefront of evolving technologies and the appointment of one of the Nauta Yachts founder Marco Alberti as technical manager, took the yard to the next level. By 2000, the yard was working with carbon fibre, in 2005 it started working with epoxy fusion and then in 2006 it pioneered its revolutionary three piece moulds for seamles lamination infusions – the brainchild of
Stefan Falcon, Head of the Lamination Department and one of the yard’s most coveted secrets.
Persico’s mentality has remained integral to this day an d in March, SYT travelled to South Africa to see the work in action, and to witness the final sea trials of its latest yacht, the 31.24-metre Nyumba.
At the yard
Situated inland on the outskirts of Cape Town, the yard has grown over the past 30 years from its original construction shed, taking over the surrounding plots and now spanning 19,800 squaremetres. Persico’s dream of uniting all stages of construction under one roof have truly been realised, with 270 employees spread between the sectors, from carpentry, fabrication, faring, upholstery, composite prefabrication, systems and carbon production, all taking place in-house. Completing two hulls per year, with an average 20 month production cycle, the yard isn’t trying to be the biggest in the game. Its focus is to build highly efficient and sea-worthy yachts – let’s not forget that every Southern Wind has to undertake the mammoth 7,500 nautical mile journey from Cape Town to the Mediterranean as their maiden voyage.
From the carpentry department upwards, materials have been selected and created to meet the demands of each specific part of the yacht. Three unique cores have been designed for the composite carpentry, with foam or paper cores laminated with marine ply skins used to reduce the weight of the joinery but retain its structural integrity, and wood cores used for load bearing sections.
Not only is the design and planning specific to the millimetre, explains Niki Jennings, one of the company Project Managers, but the carpentry team, build a replica floor plan of the entire vessel and assemble the interiors in full outside the yacht. This means both that the yacht’s interior can be fully fitted, before ever being assembled onboard the yacht, and that the work inside the hull can run in parallel with the interior construction, reducing lead times and improving efficiency. The team also conducts multiple rounds of dry fit, with the mould, deck structure and with the yacht’s interiors, so that by the time the assembly stages are reached, the fit of every element of the yacht has been thoroughly tested, revised and finalised.
Nyumba: South African Spirit
It is one thing to see images of a powerful sailing yacht under sail, it is quite another to witness the spectacle in person, against the backdrop of Table Mountain, with whales in the eyeline.
Launched in December 2022, Nyumba is Southern Wind’s first yacht to implement the yard’s innovative hybrid propulsion system that was developed in collaboration with BAE Systems. Their patented HybriGen® system is engineered to be compliant with the world’s most stringent environmental rules, with zero emissions capability and a HydroGeneration mode to recharge the 600 Volt Lithium-ion energy storage when under sail. The BAE Systems next-generation hardware provides the highest system efficiency, ensuring the vessel owner enjoys noise free zero emissions for longer. During her trials in Cape Town, the team rigorously tested the HydroGeneration system, reaching unprecedented wattage at even low speeds and exceeding even their own expectations for the performance of the system.
Believed to be the first superyacht of her size to be fitted with a high voltage hybrid system, Nyumba is the next generation of sailing yachts and the team are committed to creating a more sustainable future for their vessels.
Marco Alberti, CEO of Southern Wind, explained, “In the future, all of our yachts will be fitted with this system as standard, unless an owner specifically requests a traditional propulsion system. The system offers both greater autonomy, but also it offers the owner truly silent cruising and that is what sailing is all about.”
Not only is Nyumba an innovation powerhouse, the yacht is also a spectacle. With naval architecture by Farr and interior and exterior design by Nauta, she is a beautiful sight to behold, and her interior design truly lives up to her name Nyumba, meaning ‘Home’ in Swahili.
Having fallen in love with Africa during her build, her owners have chosen local woods and fabrics to create a warm aesthetic, reminiscent of a game reserve lodge. They will take delivery in mid-May, and will join her on the passage from Cape Town to St Helena and they look forward to enjoying a dense Mediterranean summer cruising season
The future looks bright
In 2018, Willy Persico, the founder of Southern Wind suddenly passed away. The event could have thrown the future of the yard and its yachts
into turbulent waters, if under the guidance of its management team, the shipyard had not gathered itself in the year prior to Mr Persico’s death
and looked to the future. CCO Andrea Micheli explained;
“Mr Persico desired to grant a bright sustainable future to his shipyard: we spent months really thinking about what Southern Wind needed for
the future, and to consider how we were going to continue the legacy of passion and innovation that the first 27 years had seen. We realised that
the best person to step into that future would be a Southern Wind owner, but we also realised that single ownership might limit the scope of the shipyard. We therefore approached 4 SW owners, and we were overjoyed when three exceptional people came forward as 25 percent shareholders.” Today the company’s management retains a 25 percent share and Juan Ignacio Entrecanales, the Spanish owner of SW105 Kiboko Tres is the shareholder group’s public face, with the additional stakeholders involved behind the scenes. Micheli added; “Juan Ignacio Entrecanales, is the epitome of a Southern Wind owner: he has built three yachts with us, he grew up sailing and has lots of experience on the water, be it long distance blue water cruising, or racing in top regattas. He has learned the ropes in every sense and can give potential new owners the confidence they need when they approach our shipyard.”
Today the four parties make decisions together, agreeing, as Micheli explained, 99 percent of the time, on the best future for the yard, and securing the confidence in the market that has continued to show faith in the brand, despite the loss of its patriarchal leader. In recent weeks the shipyard has unveiled its latest model, the SW100X; an all seas cruiser with racing capabilities and charter potential and with the sailing yacht
market on an upward turn, there is no doubt the model and Southern Wind have an exciting future ahead.