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Cape Town’s Unmatched Boat Building Talent

21 October 2020

Cape Town-based boat manufacturer Gemini Marine has propelled the city onto the world stage.

In August 2020, the world witnessed the successful splashdown of SpaceX Crew Dragon in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first splashdown in 45 years, following the joint US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975.

The event was live-streamed and watched by millions.

But it was the rigid inflatable boats (RIBs), seen racing towards the space capsule to retrieve the two astronauts after splashdown, that caught the attention of RIB manufacturers across the globe. RIBs that were built and designed in Cape Town by Gemini Marine.

“Seeing our RIBs out there was amazing,” says Gemini Marine CEO, Gerhard Neethling.

“Of course, we couldn’t say too much at the time. It was only when people saw it that they started commenting and posting screengrabs on a boating forum, called ‘RIBs Only’. People started asking who built these RIBs; some speculated that it was an American company. But we had some diehard Gemini fans on the group, one of whom was a sea rescue volunteer, who commented that the boats were Gemini RIBs built in Cape Town, South Africa.”

Gemini Marine CEO, Gerhard Neethling

Gemini’s highest achievement to date

Neethling described the opportunity to supply Elon Musk’s SpaceX with recovery boats as a privilege and the company’s “highest achievement to date”.

“Just to think that we are now being mentioned in the same sentence as SpaceX and Elon Musk; it’s quite something,” he says.

Gemini Marine started work on the project in March 2018.

“Because we were so close to it, we didn’t always realise how big this moment would be. The response was overwhelming,” says Neethling.

“People started messaging me saying, ‘that’s your boat’. Later, it appeared on one or two websites and we decided that if everyone’s talking about it, we might as well claim it.”

A proudly Cape Town business

Gemini Marine is a home-grown Cape Town enterprise, established in 1979. The company designs and manufactures the most comprehensive range of RIBs and inflatable boats for many of the world’s rescue, military and patrol entities, including the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).

According to Gemini’s website, the rounded deep ‘V’ shaped Gemini hull offers great performance, comfort and excellent handling at top speeds, especially in heavy seas, and are built using the latest technology and techniques, ensuring quality and reliability.

Gemini Marine currently has 10 authorised international distributors, spread across the world.

“Around 95% of everything we manufacture, leaves South Africa,” says Neethling.

“At the moment, Europe is an important market for us. We export into The Netherlands, France, the UK and Norway. Then, we also have a strong American dealer on the commercial side of things, who helped us get the SpaceX supply contract. We’ve also, historically, been very big in Australia. We’ve got three dealers in Australia and one in New Zealand.”

International clients

Gemini Marine clients include the UK Ministry of Defence, NSW Water Police, Royal New Zealand Navy, the United Nations, Australian Defense Force, Olympic Security, the African Union, Australian Federal Police, Australian Special Emergency Services and Singapore Special Forces, among others.

Skilled workforce

Cape Town is recognised as the largest boat-building hub in South Africa, generating over R2,3 billion in exports revenue in 2018, according to a 2019 Quantec report.

There are 40 plus shipyards in the city, including boutique boat builders who can custom build a boat with world-class artisanal craftsmanship.

About the unique skill of the craftsmen and women here, Neethling says: “The talent is outstanding.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to travel and visit quite a few factories. You won’t find people with the same passion for the job anywhere else in the world. The RIBs, boats and yachts manufactured in Cape Town are world-class and are recognised as such internationally.”

About the future of the business, Neethling says servicing existing clients was key, as well as focusing on new product development in 2021 and beyond.

Visit Gemini Marine for more info.

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