Welcome to St. Francis Marine! In the heart of St. Francis Bay, at the southern tip of South Africa, one of the best cruising catamarans in the world is built right here.
The yard is brilliantly laid out. I’ve been to a half-dozen boat yards over the years, and this one has been refined over twenty years of building boats. Work spaces have been elevated to the level of the boat’s deck, so no walking up and down stairs for the workers. There are enough covered bays to work on several stages at once. Since I’ve been here, my boat has moved over one bay, which is a bit shocking when you walk in, and the entire hull is someplace else!
Here I’m explaining the davit location and dinghy storage. Note the opening hatch marked out behind me, still to be cut out. And the gray sticky tape that protects the deck during construction. That closed hatch just in front of me is so useful. It’s a great bench for facing aft, a place to put on your shoes or watch the sun go down. But it’s also a storage locker big enough to hold dive tanks. So all your wet gear stays by the swim platform (and the dinghy, for easy loading). There’s an identical one on the other side with a fresh water shower beside it, so you can sit and rinse down, or wash off your snorkel gear before stowing it away. Brilliant.
Ventilators keep the fumes of setting resin out of the boats and out of workers’ lungs. This is me marveling at how things are coming along.
A family I’ve become friends with came over last Saturday to see the boat. People in town know these boats are built here, but rarely get a chance to see the construction process or step aboard. One lady told me how twice she’s seen a sailboat go past her window, and she lives off the highway! She was seeing them take the boat down to the harbor to be launched, with the mast rigged and everything. Just a way of life around here.
Here I am helping Kath and Andrew visualize the cabinets that will go around the window. These windows are new for this model. There are four of them that have been added, and they let in a TON of light. Being able to arrange the cabinets to how I think they’ll be used is very helpful and a lot of fun.
When Duncan talks, I listen. The man is a limitless resource of boat-building and sailing wisdom. One of the reasons I went with St. Francis Marine was his passion for these boats. It shows in their never-ending refinement and improvement, and it shows in the care he invests into each hull. If you love boats, and the boat-building process, geeking out with Duncan over design ideas and implementation is a dream. It’s been the best part of this process thus far.
Do I look stunned? I feel stunned. This is what it looks like to see a dream materialize. In fact, I remember feeling just like this back in 1995, when I stepped aboard my first sailboat. My best friend Scott and I sailed it from Baltimore to Charleston, and my life of living aboard and cruising began. This has felt like a homecoming, the entire process.
Talking about the swim platform, which has not yet been installed. It extends another 20″ or so past the end of that deck. The dinghy sits on this when underway, and it turns into a porch and deck when at anchor.
A view out over the bows. You can almost picture the trampolines and rigging.
A view back from the starboard bow. I love the new larger windows for the saloon. Those two large closed hatches in the foreground can hold sails, fenders, lines, etc. The one on the right has a compartment outboard for the propane tanks. The hatch between them is your anchor windlass and chain/rode locker. The two open holes in the deck aft of those hatches lead down into the forward cabins.
It was a little scary standing on the tip of the bow. That’s not water you’d land in, and there aren’t any railings yet. The hatch in the side of the hull there is the escape hatch. One thing I’d change, if these weren’t a part of the mold, is to turn the hatches sideways so they scoop more air at anchor.
Another view from the stern. You can see how the paddleboards use the compartment beneath the raised coaming, rather than any space beneath benches. I’d much rather have this coaming and my water toys hidden away than have a skinnier rail here and boards lashed to the lifelines.
This is my favorite modification. You can see where the cockpit used to be curved. Now they’re square. More space, and better for sitting sideways with my Kindle, reading a good book.
A peek into the bow. This will be storage, but lightly used. The bow is a watertight compartment to well above the waterline, so you could hit a container and put a hole in this area, and the boat wouldn’t sink.
The advantage of coming in person at this phase of the build has been the ability to walk through the boat with the furniture mocked up out of cardboard. You can make sure the spaces all make sense and feel just right before the furniture is built out of foam, resin, and wood. Here, I’ve gone with a nav station wide enough for two people. It will double as the boat’s office, with a printer, computer, and a rack of drawers for supplies. The settee will be shaped like a booth, so couples can face one another. It’ll be snug, but you can seat eight both here or in the cockpit. I think it’ll be just a few weeks out of the year that I have that many aboard at the same time.
I challenged Duncan to fit a paddleboard into the hull, where it would be out of the way, protected, and easily launched. He made space for two paddleboards, if you please. All with minimal sacrifice to the existing storage. You basically lose a single cubby on the inside, which was about 18″ wide and 18″ deep. That’s it. In exchange, no toys on the railings. This modification still blows me away. It’ll get a ton of use and keep the boat looking clean even while cruising.
Here’s the compartment. Before, you might keep a narrow surfboard or fishing poles in here. I’m going to add a shelf above the board so you can still put those things in there. It’ll allow you to still launch the board without having to remove stuff from on top of it. You could also put skis, a wake board, or a surfboard / skim board on the shelf. You basically have twin garages for the toys, getting them out of the way while keeping them organized.
The beginnings of the galley. You can see the cut-out for the nose of the board. It sticks in about 18″, and this is the lone cupboard lost from the modification. Just a place that held a stack of plates before. And the St. Francis 50 is drowning in cupboards and storage, so it’s not something you’ll notice.
Uncrating the Yanmar 57s.
These new engines have electric fuel control, which is supposed to mean greater efficiency and less noise. Cleaner exhaust as well. We’ll see. I wanted to go with electric drives, but I haven’t spent any time with them to make that leap. Hopefully these engines will be replaced with something like the OceanVolt system in a few years.
An engineering marvel, these engines.
A view from beneath. There will be four underwater lights in the stern, two on each side. They’ll attract fish and liven up an anchorage.
That’s it for the tour. Should have more pics from the end of my stay here in St. Francis. Every day I visit, the boat is further along.