R&M Boat Builders

Celebrating our heritage with our ocean partners: R&M Boat Builders

September is Heritage Month and what better way to celebrate this than to shine a spotlight onto some of the anchor tenants within our neighborhood. Not only have these long-standing tenants played a core role in growing with us as part of our family to build the V&A Waterfront that we see today, as ocean-facing entities, they also are at the heart of our ocean economy.

These, and others that are central to our working harbor, create jobs, contribute to skills and social development and, in many cases, are pioneering new ways in which to work sustainably and coexist with our precious oceans.

We chatted to Manuel Mendes, Founding Partner at R&M Boat Builders, and a world-class, pioneering boat builder that has been part of our neighborhood almost since its inception.

Can you tell us about how long you have been at the V&A Waterfront and how you first started operating here?

We have been based at the East Quay since 1999, just a few years after the V&A Waterfront was born. We have been here ever since and have seen many changes over the years.

I had spent many years working around the world as a professional boat builder and arrived in South Africa in 1980. The business was formed around the idea at the time to create a unique project – to build a special boat that could compete in the highest level of racing in the world, in the America’s Cup Challenge. This was a pioneering project because nothing had ever been done to this level in South Africa before and it raised the expectations of those in the global racing community who had not considered the country to be able to compete at that level, and with such small budgets.

The business was formed at East Quay to build the boat and train the crew. The yacht that was named Shosholoza, and we have been here ever since.

What sort of business do you do now?

Since we first started, we have diversified into the mega-yacht market. We have the access and facilities to work on and provide maintenance and care to boats of all sizes – from five meters to those of over 40 meters.

Do you service the South African boating industry?

Yes we do, but we also have boats coming from all over the world to be worked on here. Cape Town is now a very important port of call to boats sailing around the world. We have world class facilities and the economy makes it very viable.

Are you involved with any skills development or training programmes?

We work closely with the Izivunguvungu Sailing Project, based in Simons Town, which provides opportunities through sailing and study for disadvantaged children to work towards a secure future. The word Izivunguvungu means “strong blowing wind” and our role is to work with these kids to teach them the skills of sailing, fishing and boat maintenance, to equip them with skills they can use in the future. This is an amazing initiative, and past pupils have gone on to become Olympic sailors and world champions.

Apart from this, we work with many young people entering the boat building industry, teaching skills such as carpentry, engineering, working with fiber glass, and boat maintenance. This gives them a start in the industry, and they can then go onto specialize in certain areas after this foundation.

Can you tell us about any innovative projects you have been involved in or that are coming up?

We had a world-first in the Dry Dock at the V&A Waterfront, in that we worked on two mega-yachts side-by-side at the same time. This had never been done anywhere before.

I also work hand-in-hand with major boat yards from around South Africa to provide them services, such as offering them our berths to launch their new boats or projects. Later this year, for example, we will be working alongside Southern Wind, assisting in providing logistics to launch a new boat that will be entirely propelled by clean electricity, meaning it doesn’t use diesel and has zero emissions.

Why is it important for you to be based at the V&A Waterfront?

It is important for us to keep the waterfront as an authentic working harbor – this is what allows it to survive without becoming a sterile environment. It’s also incredibly important for this prime piece of land to be maintained as a boat yard – you cannot have a marina anywhere in the world without a boat yard stationed next to it.