|Russell Vollmer and the SV14, by Liesl King.
Russell Vollmer is a long standing member of the Royal Cape Yacht Club, who has sailed most of his life. As a disabled sailor, he participated in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, competing in the Mixed 2.4mR singlehanded keelboat class. A past Commodore of RCYC, he is still very involved with the Club and in fact, as Vollmer explained, the SV14 started out life at a table at the RCYC.
Peter Jacobs, Alex Simonis and Russell Vollmer were sitting at a table on the terrace to discuss the design of a cost effective boat for people with disabilities to sail. Sailing had been dropped from the Paralympics and Jacobs, who now lives in Thailand, saw that they had similar problems to what we have in South Africa. Simply put, cost effective yachts for people with disabilities were not very easy to come by. The boats that were out there were expensive and mostly based in Europe. He put out a challenge to design a cost effective boat and Alex Simonis and his business partner Maarten Voogd volunteered to design a boat free of royalties, which keeps the price down. That was the initial concept of the boat.
Vollmer then went on a trip to Shanghai to visit Far East Yachts, the factory where some of Alex and Maarten’s boats were being built. Far East Yachts build 420s, Optimists and they also build a couple of other keelboats, one of which is the 28R, a design of Alex and Martin’s. When he returned, Demola, the boss of Far East Yachts, sent him a message suggesting that it “would be nice to have a South African team competing in the 28R Worlds in China.”
Vollmer mentioned the idea to a couple of people and in 2018 Team Magic, skippered by Malcolm Hall, not only competed in the FAREAST 28R World Championship on Fuxian Lake, Yunnan, Chin; they actually won! And the prize was none other than an SV14. The original concept for the boat was quite complex and it was going to be a home build. Peter Jacobs, Alex Simonis and Vollmer realised that in order to make inroads into world sailing, they needed a production boat. Thus Demola and her husband Lui from Far East Yachts came onboard and undertook to build the SV14. Understanding the need to keep costs down, Far East Yachts undertook to produce the basic boat at an ex-factory price of US$ 3000. Far below anybody else in the world.
“The idea is to spread sailing into countries where they don’t have unlimited bank balances. However, Germany has bought into this boat on a large scale. But we would like to get it in to more countries around us here in Africa. It is making its way into Asia and there is one or two in Eastern Europe that are starting to make inroads”, Vollmer explained.
“At the end of the day, the boat that we have at RCYC was part of the initial initiative, when I went to China, with Alex to meet Demola and her husband. I met up with them again in Hamburg at the boat show, where we launched the first production. Unfortunately, the boat that we won as a prize was difficult to get out here. Thankfully Alex managed to get sponsorship for three more SV14 boats and RCYC contributed to the cost of shipping the prize boat. That meant we could get the four boats out here in a container, which made it cost effective to ship.
“We currently have the four boats at our Inclusive Sailing Centre at the Milnerton Aquatic Club (MAC) at Rietvlei and we sail out of there. Alex and I spent quite a bit of time sailing the prototype out of Royal Cape, but the problem is on a small boat you always have to have a support boat with you and then you have to go through the harbour to get out, which is a bit of an issue”, says Vollmer. Hence the fleet is based at MAC with easy access to water that is secure and safe for people with limited mobility. Especially seeing as most of these people have never sailed before.
Vollmer is looking forward to putting the RCYC boat in the water. It now has all its branding and according to him they are ready to rock and roll. The plan is to get the RCYC Commodore, Neil Gregory and the Rear Commodore Sailing Andrew Collins down to MAC to put the boat in the water and to have them go for a sail in it. “We just have to find time in between our other sailing commitments and we have to make sure that we have safe conditions to sail these smaller boats in.
“It is a boat that should not capsize easily but every boat can capsize. During my piloting of the prototype I had quite a lot of fun testing it with Rick Nankin onboard. We broke masts, broke rudders and even capsizing the boat. We have thoroughly tested it as we have got to be prepared for all the eventualities. Alex is very sensitive about the safety of this boat. Which is understandable as we will be taking people with limited ability and who are likely to have never sailed before out on these boats. So we have to be conscious of the conditions that we take them out in.
“I am really looking forward to taking it out for the rest of the sailing season and I am pretty sure we will be sailing in winter as well. It just needs a layer or two of more clothing”, quips Vollmer. Unfortunately the four boats arrived at the end of February and mere weeks later the country was in lockdown. So it is going to take time to build up the momentum again, according to Vollmer. “We are in the midst of a rebuild and we are getting some substance to the project. We are looking at having all four boats functional very soon.”
Vollmer says he would love it if RCYC members want to get involved. They are always looking for volunteers and he invites anybody who is interested to come and have a sail with him. “I want to get people to come and experience it with me.” So the invitation is out there. If you are keen and you definitely should be, then get hold of Vollmer, head down to MAC and go for a sail!