A Fresh Wind fills Southern Wind’s Sails, the interview 2nd part
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 9:00 AM
Today we're publishing the second and last part of our interview with Southern Wind Shipyard's management team. The first part, published yesterday, can be reread by clicking here.
What do you feel are the principal characteristics or values that distinguish you from your competitors?
Andrea Micheli: I feel that the services we offer are like those you’d find in a favourite, exclusive boutique. We offer or owners solutions tailored to their needs, a kind of custom service that is offered with discretion and accompanies them throughout their experience as owners both in the shipyard and beyond in after sales services and in the SW “family” events that we create. We also believe that the value we place in our coherence is a unique characteristic. We stay true to the industrial plan that we set for ourselves: the choices we make all follow that path. Even our new catamaran project stays true to our knowhow, it’s 90’ so it’s within the size range that we specialise in. We don’t want to go off on a tangent and build a heavy displacement yacht or a pure racer. We are also coherent with our clients: once we have gone over the design brief, we work hard to make sure that it’s interpreted the way that our client wants it to be through a constant and careful monitoring of the production process until the final result is true to the specs that were in the contract.
Another characteristic that distinguishes us is that both the production and the after sales services are offered through the same company. This guarantees a continuously high level of quality. After sales service and repairs, warranty works, refit, brokerage, charter, yacht management: nothing is managed by outside contractors that can have their own set of priorities that may not be the same as ours. Just as an example, the customer care team is in constant contact with the shipyard and they travel frequently to Cape Town. This is a real benefitand gives our owners faith in our work.
Marco Alberti: We also think that we know how to listen to our owners so that we can then help guide them towards the yacht that they really want- not towards the yacht that we want them to have. Both project managers and Captains have pointed out that this is something that we know how to do well and I think this is a large added value.
Many of your owners are on their second or third yachts with you: on top of the quality of the build, what is it that keeps them coming back to the SWS family?
Andrea Micheli: I think a key factor is the rapport of mutual confidence that we have in each other. Building a yacht takes time, so with comeback owners the relationship between them and our shipyard can last decades. Over the years our owners have ever-increasing faith in us, it becomes a familiar relationship that helps them make informed decisions on constructing and managing their yachts. Think of the two yachts named Ammonite,the first a SW82 and the second a SW96,that we built for the same owner: for the second yacht we practically photocopied the contract that we used for the first. SWS style is discreet but solid, we don’t make promises, we deliver. Our owners are a community of people who share an understated personal style, a love of free-spirited spontaneity and a real passion for sailing. I guess you could say that we make real yachts for real people and truesailors.
The pandemic began just a year ago, even though it seems like a century has gone by. Andrea, you had real proof of how strong the SWS spirit is when you were leaving for Antigua for a Southern Wind Rendezvous. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Andrea Micheli: Yes, this anecdote sums it up: Italy was the first nation in the EUto have to shut down for Covid-19, and being Italians neither I nor a colleague from Customer Care were allowed to board the international flight to Antigua, even though I was arriving directly from Cape Town. At the airport we saw the owner of Aragon, a previously owned SW94’ that he had just bought a couple of months earlier. He offered to help by managing the Rendezvous himself even though we couldn’t be there to help him. So we spectated our own event from home! On top of thanking this owner, I want to take advantage of this occasion to thank Jim Schmicker of Farr Yacht Design and all of the Captains and hostesses and for the incredible amount of support that they gave us. All of this happened because we have very compact and united community of owners and Captains who, on top of all sailing SWS yachts, also share an outlook on life. They all like to spend time together at sea.
Overall, the nautical sector is holding up well under the impact of Covid-19. What are the specific difficulties that you have had to face?
Marco Alberti: The pandemic arrived in South Africa a bit later than it did in Europe, so we had the advantage of being able to learn from what was happing in Italy and in Europe. We got organised in time by doing things like working in separate shifts. The workers and unions could hardly believe it, but when we went into lockdown we already had Covid guidelinesin place. We had a total lockdown that lasted five weeks but we managed to limit the damage and got started again on the right foot with the proper safety protocols. We had information campaigns for our workforce so that they knew how to protect themselves both on and off the job; from May 2020 to now we have only had 15 cases of Covid-19 in our workforce of 250 people. We still had some problems and hold-ups with our supply chains but we managed to deliver all of the yachts that we had in construction just a couple of weeks behind schedule.
Southern Wind Shipyard, a European company with international ownership and a production base in South Africa, is multicultural. What do you think is the added value that comes with this?
Andrea Micheli: We have always been multicultural, even when Willy Persico was at the helm of the company and we were more strongly Italian and South African.Our new setup has seen us become more global with pan-European ownership and a shipyard that is a crossroads of cultures. Just our Technical Department counts employees from five different nations and they all have different specialties. The constant comparison with different cultures and different ways of doing things is our real strength and added value. On top of that, our client base is international and they find themselves working with a company that also has an open, internationally inclined aptitude that can well understand their cultural backgrounds.
The maiden voyages from Cape Town to the Med that SWS yachts undertake is very unusual: your boats are born ready for the kind of long distance navigation that many other yachts will never do. Have any owners ever asked you not to put their yachts through such demanding paces?
Marco Alberti: Since we’re based in Cape Town these maiden voyages have become our trademark. Plus, 7000 nautical miles straight off the shipyard’s dock show how seaworthy and dependable our yachts are. Out of a fleet of 56 yachts that we have built only 2 of them didn’t do this Cape Town to Genoa maiden voyage but the latest one of the two, SW96 Ammonite, had to be cargo shipped to Australia because of the pandemic and crew migrationrestrictions in Australia. I’d like to add that there’s a hidden advantage to having the shipyard based in Cape Town: when owners come down here to see their yachts under construction it’s a real break from everyday life. Building a yacht in South Africa means discovering a beautiful country that puts you in the right mind set to really enjoy the process of seeing your future yacht come to life.
As builders of blue water yachts that sail to the most remote corners of the world you must have had feedback not only on the yachts, but also on the state that the seas are currently in. We have heard about your interest in sustainability, can you tell us a bit more?
Andrea Micheli: The Southern Wind Academy, our initiative that aims to teach our owners how to sail better and how to respect the ocean, joined the One Ocean Foundation’s Charta Smeralda in 2018. The Charta outlines a code of ethics and good practices to protect the world’s oceans. We adhere to and promote its principles with our Captains and our owners. We also recently joined another sustainability project, the All Atlantic Sail for Science, a research group that is involved with the University of Cape Town and monitors the condition of plankton worldwide. There are lots of projects that monitor the ocean’s temperature, acidity, and biodiversity but we also need to monitor the bottom of the food chain, plankton. In the near future our Captains and owners will be able to take samples of the waters that they sail to, places like the South Atlantic where not very many people sail and where there is little monitoring of the water quality. Owners and crews that want to participate in this project will get a kit and instructions on how to gather and transmit the data. SWS is not just giving economic support to this initiative, we want to promote real life contributions to the research.
Looking towards the future, we have been approached in our role as builders in composite to build an ocean energy farm where the wind’s energy will be harvested to produce sustainable hydrogen from seawater. It’s a huge European project and we’re interested in it because it could really offer a new way to produce sustainable, clean energy.
Marco Alberti: I also want to add that we’re very careful about the shipyard’s carbon footprint. We believe that sailing boats that perform as well as ours do even in light wind conditions reduce the need for using fuel-powered engines. We are also offering our clients the option to install hybrid diesel-electric propulsion systems on our current range of yachts, the SW96, SW120 and the brand new SW108 Hybrid.
SWS is celebrating the 30thanniversary of its foundation, can you tell me a bit about your vision for the upcoming 30 years?
Andrea Micheli: I’ll be 73 by then and I’m counting on being able to confirm that we have followed the path and met the goals that we have set for ourselves today.