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SABBEX Boating Industry Awards | Celebrating Champions

by Ingrid Hale
Boat Show

The annual SABBEX Boating Industry Awards took place with much fanfare. In its fourth year, and following a brief hiatus due to the Covid lockdown, the South African Boat Builders Annual Industry Awards Dinner has now firmly established itself as the industry’s premier event. Vanessa Davidson reports on an evening filled with honour, festivity, pride, and camaraderie for the 260 attendees.

A champions mindset

For the 2024 event, SABBEX embraced the theme ‘We Are The Champions’ inspired by the spirit and triumph of our Bokke’s World Cup victory last year. That rugby win epitomized the resolve, resilience, and unbreakable spirit of the South African nation. These same qualities were celebrated at this year’s boat building awards.

Held at Cape Town’s Kelvin Grove Club in the Ballroom, the venue was decorated in a nautical theme by the talented Kathryn Frew of BlueCape.

Before the awards event, SABBEX hosted its first-ever supplier exhibition, featuring Ullman Sails, Jo Fensham Yacht Upholstery, and Fused Composite Designs. These exhibitors seized the opportunity to showcase their latest products, developments, and plans to the attending boat builders. Situated in the pre-drinks area, the room quickly buzzed with industry insiders and rising stars. As champagne and beer flowed, conversations reached a lively pitch, and everyone embraced the chance to connect socially.

MC for the evening was SABBEX’s very own Thina Qutywa in an elegant traditional Xhosa evening dress followed by a welcome by Alderman James Vos, who once again cemented the City of Cape Town’s support for the boat building and boating sector.

An icon in the industry

The key note address speaker was David Abromowitz who needs no introduction in the South African boating world.

Dave, affectionately known as Abro, entertained the attendees with a humorous and nostalgic journey taking us through the history of the South African boat building industry. Starting in 1957 with his marriage to his beautiful wife Cheryl, Abro recounted the early days of the Royal Cape Yacht Club, the inaugural Cape to Rio Race in 1971, and the beginnings of Central Boating on Bree Street. He highlighted key figures such as Nigel Clack and Keith Bellamy and the origins of mast making in South Africa.

Abro’s admiration for Fuad Jacobs and the founding of Jacobs Bros, a renowned bespoke aluminium boat builder, was evident. He captivated the younger employees of Robertson and Caine with stories of the company’s humble beginnings and its impressive growth. The history of the NSRI and the establishment of Gemini Marine earned warm applause from the audience, and Abro’s reflections on the early days of North Sails were equally engaging.

He also reminisced about the early days of Southern Wind Shipyard and Willy Persico’s dedication to South Africa. The mention of Berties Landing in the V&A Waterfront prompted many older attendees to check if they were recognizable in the nostalgic photos displayed on the screen.

Worthy winners

Vanessa Davidson, announced the awards saying, “This year we received 95 champion nominations, testament to the incredible people in our industry. Our judging panel this year comprised Tich Mitchell, Warren Fraser, Andre Blaine, Pete Shaw, Craig Garrow, Bruce Tedder and Thina Qutywa”.

In the words of one of the judges ‘There are so many worthy nominees that it almost seems a shame to have to choose winners in some of these categories.”

Vanessa added, “There were many close calls and tough decisions to make to choose 10 winners from the 95 nominations”.

Nominations and winners

Service Excellence:

Acknowledging individuals providing exceptional services within the sector, ensuring customer satisfaction and industry advancement.

Special Mention: Roger Paarman, Nexus Yachts

Winner of Service Excellence: Kirby Arendse, Manex & Power Marine

“Kirby serves as the primary point of contact for all sales and support inquiries at Manex. Taking on the challenge of understanding customers’ needs and preferences, Kirby has adeptly navigated the task of delivering exactly what they require.”

Marketing and Promotion

This accolade recognises individuals, teams, or organisations that have demonstrated creativity, innovation, and effectiveness in their marketing campaigns, initiatives, or strategies.

Winner of Marketing and Promotion: Kirsten Veenstra

“Kirsten brings a unique blend of passion, knowledge, and professionalism to the marketing landscape of our sector. Kirsten’s  innovative marketing initiatives, unwavering dedication to the maritime and boatbuilding sectors, and her genuine passion for the industry are her calling card.”

Component Champions

Recognising individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and innovation in the component manufacturing sector.

Special Mention: Wilhelm Botha, Fused Composite Design and Terrence Jonkers, Hammer Yachts

Winning Champion of Components: Sakhumzi Lindani, Fused Composite Design

“His exemplary leadership and gentle demeanor seamlessly align a team of 10 technicians. By leading through example. His ability to balance authority with empathy makes him a respected and admired leader.”

Skills Development and Training

Acknowledging exemplary trainers and mentors who demonstrate unwavering commitment to training and skill development. These individuals are recognized for their exceptional dedication to nurturing talent, improving capabilities, and championing continuous learning within the industry.

Winner Skills Development and Training: Lucille Hills, Ullman Sails

“Lucille has successfully upskilled many young men by moving them into various training positions. Passionate about her work, Lucille prefers to be hands-on rather than confined to an office. “

Product Innovation

Recognising individuals with pioneering solutions that have reshaped the industry and created positive commercial impact with their innovative solutions.

Winner for Product Innovation: Yann Dabbadie

“Yann’s innovative approach has also positively impacted the yard commercially. Yann’s leadership in pioneering hybrid superyacht innovation is exceptional.”

Design Excellence

This award celebrates individuals or teams who have demonstrated exceptional creativity, innovation, and technical expertise in boat design. This category recognises excellence in any aspect of boat design, showcasing the ingenuity and talent driving the evolution of maritime technology

Special Mention: Anthony Key, Robertson and Caine

Winner for Design Excellence: Sean van Rensburg

“His technical skills, leadership qualities, and commitment to excellence have been instrumental in the success of numerous projects. We are thrilled to announce the promotion of Sean to the position of General Manager, Engineer & Designer, effective this month.”

Women in Maritime Excellence

Celebrating the achievements of women who have excelled in various roles within the blue economy sector, breaking barriers and inspiring others.

Special Mention: Marista van Zyl, Voyage Yachts (Not in attendance)

Winner Woman in Maritime Excellence: Vivian Ferreira, Central Boating

“She learned everything about boat parts and knows every product code in the store. She also knows everyone by their first names and nicknames. In addition to her work, Vivian helps her community by running a soup kitchen for kids in need.”

Youth Rising Star

Recognising a young individual (under 30) who has demonstrated exceptional promise and innovation in the blue economy sector.

Special Mention: Rachel England, Ullman Sails and Stuart Forrest R&C and Ismael Saunders R&C

Winner Youth Rising Star: Nicholus Hlatshwayo, Robertson and Caine

“Since joining R&C, Nick has consistently demonstrated exceptional skill and dedication in the field of data analytics. Nick’s contributions have been instrumental in driving our success. We are proud to have him as a part of the R&C team.”

Hero Leaders

Acknowledging visionary leaders who have played a crucial role in supporting and advancing the boatbuilding and ocean economy sector.

Hero Leader Winner: Kay Oldenburg

“An unwavering commitment to quality, and an eye for aesthetics. He has become indispensable in almost every aspect of the Voyage business.”

Legend of the Sea

Honouring individuals with a distinguished and enduring impact on the industry, showcasing a lifetime of outstanding contributions


Patrick Skinner, R&C

Peter Dean, Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing

Marco Alberti, Southern Wind Shipyard

Jonathan Paarman, Nexus Yachts

Geoff Fish, Nexus Yachts

Tony Strut, Ullman Sails

Johann Spies, Robertson and Caine

Andrew Edwards, R&C

Kay Oldenburg, Voyage Yachts

Clinton Jones, Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing

Special Mention: Peter Dean, Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing

Winner – Legend of the Sea: Jonathan Paarman, Nexus Yachts

“His fusion of design acumen and composite knowledge has left an indelible mark on the industry. His achievements underscore his unwavering dedication to craftsmanship and exploration, inspiring countless enthusiasts and professionals alike.”

The Chairman’s Award – new category award (discretionary) 

Presented by the chairman of SABBEX, Bruce Tedder,  this prestigious award honours outstanding colleagues who have demonstrated exceptional commitment and passion for the South African boating industry.

“This award celebrates these champions whose positive contributions have significantly advanced the industry, setting new standards and inspiring future generations. We salute you. The recipients this year and into the future might not be boatbuilders or manufacturers, nor sailmakers or sailors. They could be lawyers, accountants or the SABBEX auditors that have been at our side for the past 23 years. They are local heroes who have shown commitment and dedication to help us grow our sector into the global powerhouse that it is now”.

Bruce announced the special Chairmans awards, presented by Veda Raubenheimen (Pretorius), who was the first ever SABBEX employee.

There were 3 recipients for 2024. Some may be larger than life and in your face and others fly under the radar. But the common thread is the trust, credibility, commitment and passion for growing our leisure boating sector.

Mike Giles

“He’s a Springbok sailor, Americas Cup sailor. Been there done that for 40 years. Hugely respected worldwide and talented and experienced as a Crew Boss, Project Manager, Boat Captain. But what really makes him a worthy recipient of a Chairmans Award this year is his unwavering belief and commitment to the SA Boatbuilding sector”.

He convinced American millionaire Peter Johnstone of J Boat fame to set up the Gunboat facility in Cape Town.  “I remember meeting with him and Peter Johnstone back then, must be 20 years ago with Zac de Beer who was pitching to build the Gunboats. They instead set up a brand new facility investing big bucks into our sector, building a new factory, bringing new build techniques, for light and super strong high speed performance sailing catamarans”.

More recently he was again a major driving force in getting the Cape 31 project brought to Cape Town with seed funding from his friend and sailing buddy, Lord Irving Laidlaw. And in between he has had many project management roles at some of our local builders, big boat builds, helping new owners to build their dream boat. Mentoring, teaching, advising. Delivering projects on time and on budget. Hundreds of millions of Rands of investment directed and driven to South Africa. “A champion. We thank you”.

Mike Daries: Kult Creative 

“We met 28 years ago in his tiny cottage studio in Woodstock. He created all the design and branding for our Robben Island Ferries, MAKANA and AUTSHUMATO as well as for the CAPE of GOOD HOPE, the ferry that ran from Simonstown to Cape Point and Seal Island in False Bay. Then about 23 years ago he started working with SABBEX when SABBEX was founded by myself and Anders Aeroe from WESGRO”.

As a graphic designer with his one-man studio he designed the first logo and branding for SABBEX. Since then he’s done many boatbuilders guides, Membership decals, boat-show stands at La Rochelle and Miami from start to finish, awards and accolade certificates.

“He is a national treasure, an absolute champion who has done so much for our sector. I am also very proud to have him as a great friend”.

Dave Abromowitz 

He’s the father, the grandfather, some would say, and the godfather of the Leisure Boating sector in SA. My own mentor in so many ways.

“I am extremely proud to honor the person who was an integral and crucial element in our sector, getting us from ‘’backyard builders’’ to “absolute world class”. Devoting the past 55 plus years of his life to actively developing and encouraging many of us in the room tonight to aim higher, dream bigger and make things happen. He’s a real Champion.

A special mention

To a standing ovation, Bruce acknowledged Thina Qutywa, Executive Manager of SABBEX for the last five years of dedication. Thina is leaving SABBEX in August to take up a fully-funded scholarship to the World Maritime University in Malmo Sweden to study Maritime Energy Management.

“Thina has been an absolute champion running SABBEX for the last 5 years. She has taken SABBEX up quite a few notches in all regards. Membership is up by more than 20% under her watch. She has established a much closer and more aligned relationship with the DTIC that took many hours to achieve with trust, commitment to delivering on our business plan and service excellence. Thina is so good at getting members to pay their annual fees she gets some of them to pay twice!”

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