Southern wind’s semi-custom and full-speed superyachts are made for sailors, by sailors. By Clare Mahon
WILLY PERSICO IS THE Italian engineer and entrepreneur who in 1991 founded Southern Wind Shipyard (SWS), which specialises in the construction of semi-custom superyachts in Cape Town, South Africa. We meet in Italy at the office of Pegaso, a Genovese company appointed by SWS as marketing and customer care representatives. The office is decorated with nautical memorabilia and a series of Neapolitan gouache paintings.
“I am particularly fond of a gouache of a 1750’s shipyard located near Naples, a gift from a client,” Persico says. “My father was the general manager of the same yard from 1944 to 1962. Growing up around ships I love every aspect of the sea, both above water and below. I love to sail, to dive and to swim. After I earned my degree in chemical engineering I travelled the world working in the oil business, but I never lost contact with the sea.”
In 1989, Persico decided to build his own yacht. “I bought projects by two top naval architects, one by Ron Holland and one by Bruce Farr. Holland suggested I build his design in South Africa, where he knew of a yard that did very good work.”
The builds were about halfway completed when the yard hit serious financial trouble. Persico stepped in, bought the yard and founded Southern Wind Shipyard in 1991.
“I build the kinds of yachts that I myself like. I want my yacht to be fast enough to be fun to sail, I want her to be safe and seaworthy enough so that she can travel the world, but I don’t want to sacrifice comfort,” he says. “When you consider that every Southern Wind yacht’s maiden voyage takes her from South Africa to another hemisphere, you understand why seaworthiness and durability are so important to us. By studying construction methods and materials, I think we have found a good speed-to-comfort ratio. I started using carbon fibre after I was sure it was safe and durable and we have developed an infusion method where the proportion of carbon fibre to epoxy resin is optimised.”
Southern Wind builds almost entirely in-house and every project undergoes preliminary marketing research done by Pegaso. “When we plan a new semi-custom series, first we contact a top naval architect such as Farr Yacht Design or Reichel/Pugh,” Persico says. “We have worked with Nauta Yachts for years on concepts, deck layouts and interiors.
“When Pegaso receives the client’s brief it confers with the yard and the designers and the construction of the final custom layout begins. I myself try out each new model, sailing and living aboard so that I can really ‘hear’ the yacht. That is how our innovative crew quarters aft layout was created – during a long cruise, I realised that it would be more comfortable and efficient for all if crew had access to the helms and manoeuvring areas without having to pass through the living areas.”
Southern Wind’s literature stresses that these are true blue-water performance cruisers. Their owners’ sailing logs confirm that this isn’t just a publicity hook – at least five Southern Wind yachts are doing circumnavigations of the world from the SW 95 Maya Rey, launched in 2000, to the SW 82 Feelin’ Good launched in 2013.
Sue Tweddell is Owner of the SW 93 Early Purple II. “Our maiden voyage on Early Purple II was to the Southern Wind Trophy, but we really think of this as a family boat and a second home and haven’t done any regattas since then. But we have had enormous fun,” she says.
“My husband and I are both sailors and we have found this yacht to be absolutely brilliant, a really happy marriage between a performance yacht and one where it’s nice to entertain friends.
“We keep a crew of five on rotation, four aboard, one on vacation. And we rotate guests on two to three week intervals. That way the crew is always fresh and our guests adapt to the rhythms of life on board beautifully. We crossed the Pacific in 2013 and spent quite some time in the Darwin Islands, West Timor, Flores and Komodo. Bali was also pure enjoyment and there were very few other boats. Owning this yacht is a treat that we have given ourselves after a lifetime of work.”
Southern Wind yachts are also a constant on the superyacht regatta circuit. “We hold a Southern Wind Trophy regatta every other year within the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta in Porto Cervo, Italy,” Persico says. “It’s a chance for our owners to get together and have some fun and is also an excellent opportunity to show off our yachts in a context where they shine. Our owners have raced all over the world from the Rolex Fastnet Race to the Rolex Sydney to Hobart to all the top Mediterranean and Caribbean regattas. Another Southern Wind yacht (SW 100 DS Zefiro) recently took a break from her circumnavigation to race in the King’s Cup Regatta in Thailand.”
To celebrate the shipyard’s 25th anniversary, the 13th Southern Wind Trophy moves to Capri (where the first edition took place) as part of the Rolex Capri International Regatta (May 24-28). A dozen SWS yachts are registered already.
Not everybody is born an old salt, so Pegaso founded the Southern Wind Sailing Academy. Several clients wanted to hone their skills for an important regatta, others wanted to train a crew of friends before heading out on an extended cruise. Using a fleet that includes the SW 100 Cape Arrow and smaller performance yachts like a J80 and a Vrolijk 40, top professional sailors offer classroom lessons followed by hands-on experience at sea. The “graduation ceremony” can be a baptism by fire on the regatta circuit or sailing off on your yacht with enough knowledge and experience to relax and enjoy it.
Persico wants to stay ahead of the game. “I think that our construction methods will be valid for years to come, but no project will remain contemporary for longer than five or six years,” he says. “I have always looked beyond our successful series like the 72 and the 100 to see what the future will hold; that’s why we developed the SW 82. SW 102 and SW 115 semi-custom series and some new performanceoriented projects are in the works.
“Nowadays yachts have wider sterns that make them both faster when reaching and more roomy below deck. Captive winches, carbon-fibre technology, LED lighting systems and lithium batteries have all brought changes in their own right. Being an engineer I’m fascinated by new technology, but sailing is a passion and the common ground for my relationship with Southern Wind owners. Our owners have confidence in us because they know we are like them.”