Known for its “smart custom” performance sailing yachts, Southern Wind Shipyard turned heads earlier this year with its new cruiser-oriented model, the SW100X. CEO Marco Alberti shares the strategy behind the move and hints at exciting future projects…
When Southern Wind revealed its 30.4-metre SW100X series – with the aim to replicate “the comfort of home in a worldwide cruiser” – it was a purposeful departure from the shipyard’s usual performance-oriented boats that formed the foundations of its business. While some might struggle to perceive a pared-back sailing yacht with “less sophisticated” technical abilities as a step forward, CEO Marco Alberti asserts that the South African yard’s latest offering is precisely what has been missing from the market.
“I see room for more cruising-oriented sailing yachts,” he explained. “In the last ten years, there was a race between us and our competitors of how to raise the bar for sailing yachts above 100 feet [30 metres] in terms of the performance and technology on board.” Within that time, Southern Wind came out with its popular SW96 mini-series – currently on its fifth hull – and the slightly bigger SW105 series, both with impressive racing credentials.
“This was a good thing to encourage the evolution of technology,” Alberti said. “We introduced software to manage the hydraulics, for instance, and made a very sophisticated product, but it doesn’t appeal to everyone.”
According to Alberti, applying the yard so heavily in one area of the market meant a significant proportion of sailors had been “left behind”, who merely wished to graduate from a yacht below 24 metres to one large enough to sail around the world with equal parts reliability and style.
Enter the SW100X. The semi-custom composite series was introduced earlier this year as a departure from Southern Wind’s existing range of cruiser-racers. Instead, the yard teamed up with Farr Yacht Design and Nauta Design in a purposeful move towards the cruiser market, featuring a smaller sail plan, lighter rig, less ballast, less displacement and either a fixed or telescopic keel.
The design also stripped away many of the customisable options seen on Southern Wind’s “smart custom” yachts – a term coined by the yard to describe somewhere between a full-custom and semi-custom approach – for owners looking to purchase a more traditional sailing yacht with a streamlined delivery.
Building a platform for the SW100X series would also help Southern Wind grow its productive capacity, which is currently limited to two hulls per year. Speaking to BOATPro in Cape Town, Alberti said he expects to raise the yard’s output to three sailing yachts per year – two from the new semi-custom series and one more custom build.
But Alberti emphasised that he does not wish to begin building the SW100X on speculation and would prefer to have an owner on board the project prior to construction. Based on the positive industry response so far, following a few initial teasers sent out by the yard, he does not believe this will pose an issue.
In fact, Alberti appears so energised by the future potential of sailing yachts that he excitedly tells of the yard’s ambition to revive its venture into multi-hulled vessels, which he admits was previously ahead of its time. “Three years ago, we launched a catamaran [design] that very much resembled our DNA in terms of performance,” he said of the SWCAT90. “I thought it would attract more people from the motor yacht industry because it’s something in between them [motor and sailing yachts]. Of course, our level of quality and ability created a big gap from the production catamarans seen at the time and the market wasn’t ready yet.”
But with the industry evolving towards more eco-friendly forms of yachting, Alberti expects there will be greater demand for a catamaran that is both higher-end than current production offerings and better performing than other semi-custom options. “I believe this is a niche market for the people who love sailing, just not while leaning over at 15 degrees,” he explained.
Regarding future challenges, Alberti shared that most of the difficulties facing the yard stem from being South African, such as sourcing materials, retaining skilled employees who wish to move to Europe – to be closer to the epicentre of yachting – and navigating immigration requirements when trying to import the know-how behind such a specialised craft. To this, Alberti responds that Southern Wind is already developing schemes as a workaround.
In the meantime, the yard is moving ahead with new and ambitious projects, including the launch of its first 35-metre SW108 Hybrid sailing yacht – taking place in the next few weeks – with a second unit already in development. Southern Wind is also due to deliver the fifth hull in its SW96 series in October, following the delivery of its predecessor Nyumba in the coming weeks.