Boating was his first love, and together with his lovely wife and daughters, is likely to be his last. In this feature, Boatyard’s manager and co-owner, Nollies van der Merwe reveals some little-known gems from his childhood near Langebaan, shares his passion for boating and explains how the Boatyard has grown into the best boat storage and maintenance facility on the West Coast.
The Early Years
Nollies van der Merwe’s journey in the world of boating began in the year 1969, when his father and some friends obtained a hundred-year lease for the old whaling station at Donkergat in Saldanha Bay. One of Nollies’ earliest memories is travelling to Langebaan by boat with the other children to do the shopping for the families living in Donkergat. “They paid us a tickey (that’s 5 cents) for each bag of shopping we brought back with us” Recalls Nollies
Then in 1973, Nollies’ father started laying an underwater cable to supply Donkergat with power. Nollies laughingly remembers that he, together with the other children in the community, participated wholly in this venture.
They were smaller and quicker and had little fear of diving down into the murky darkness of the lagoon, so they became the primary workers in laying the cable. Today, this same cable is still the main power supply to the Donkergat Military Base.
Sadly, for the Van der Merwe family, just three years later, in 1976, the South African government took Donkergat back for military use and gave all resident families three months to vacate their homes. Many of the homeowners were devastated by this loss and never returned to the area. Nollies moved away with his family, first to Stilbaai, and then to live in Brackenfell, where he spent the remainder of his primary school days. However, the seed of his love for the West Coast had been planted, and when he reached adulthood, Nollies quickly returned to Langebaan and to the lagoon he had played in as a child.
Love, adulthood and Langebaan
At the age of 21, with his adult life before him, Nollies invested in his first boat, and while he spent his weeks working in the building trade, he packed his bags every Friday afternoon to spend the weekend boating with his friends in Langebaan. At 26, he married the love of his life Loraine, and together they continued to enjoy weekends on the West Coast. “Our eldest daughter grew up in Langebaan”, says Nollies. “She learnt to ride a bike here and was one of the first children ever to ride on the back of a Club Mykonos donkey”.
In 1994, Nollies and Loraine moved to Pretoria for work, but never stayed far away from Langebaan for too long. They bought a chalet at Leentjiesklip in Langebaan, kept their boat in storage in Moorreesburg, and came on holiday to Langebaan regularly. From 2007, they moored their boat in the Mykonos Marina for three months a year.
Beginnings of a great idea
Nollies explains that during their regular visits to Langebaan, dating back to the mid 1980’s, he and Loraine always noticed broken down trailer boats on the West Coast roads, with little available assistance. They also commonly saw people struggling to get their boats launched in the water, and they often chatted about how useful it would be to have a Boatyard facility in the area where boats could be stored, maintained and repaired.
In 2009, Nollies and Loraine started scouting the area for available land for a Boatyard. After several near misses, Nollies began to explore the viability of obtaining land at Club Mykonos. In February 2011 he met with the board members of Club Mykonos holding company, Trematon Capital Investments. In the midst of this meeting, as Nollies was elaborating on his passion and vision for the Boatyard, one of the decision makers started walking out of the meeting. “I thought it was all over”, says Nollies, “but then the guy turned around and said – ‘I’ve heard enough, I’m sold.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. In March 2011, a joint venture was formed between Trematon and Nollies van der Merwe, and the Boatyard was born.
Development of the Boatyard
Earth works for the Boatyard commenced just after the Easter weekend in 2011, and the official handover of the land took place that June. Building materials were difficult to come by, and 60% of all materials had to be brought in from Gauteng. In spite of these difficulties, the first phase of the Boatyard was opened in December 2011. It comprised twenty 10.5 metre garages, nine 9m garages and thirty-five 6.5 metre garages for boat storage.
During the first 18 months of operation, Nollies and Loraine ran the Boatyard entirely alone. They washed, cleaned and looked after the boats, participated in boat shows and looked after all administrative functions. In 2012, a workshop mechanic and cleaners joined them, and the team continued to expand over the following years.
Also in 2012, to offset the high building costs of the new development, the Boatyard was expanded to include a workshop for boat repairs and a shop stocking equipment and paraphernalia for boating enthusiasts.
The Boatyard Today
In December 2023, the Boatyard will have been running for twelve years and has become an integrated part of the Club Mykonos service offering. It has 258 lock-up storage units in different sizes to accommodate different storage needs. There is also safe outdoor storage.
The workshop and the Boat shop have grown to comprise 50% of the business, and the shop has the agency for numerous top brands including Suzuki, Vetus Maxwell, Mercury, Lalizas, Yanmar and Meaco. The Boatyard also works in partnership with Club Marine Insurance, offers a cleaning and launch service, obtains lagoon permits and does all COF’s (certificates of fitness) on behalf of owners.