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this is commitment

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I woke up early… really early…  checking e-mails followed by browsing through blogs and social media.   There it was, a short post from Peter Jacops asking who of his “designer friends” wanted to help him by designing an affordable boat for people with disabilities.

It hit me as sort of “This is posted for you Alex, your time has come to give something back, better take it”   So I discussed it later in the morning with my co-designer Maarten Voogd who was instantly onboard and got back to Peter telling him that we would do it, after all how long could it take to design a simple small sailing boat ?? A couple of weeks tops!

Today, we are a solid 3 years down the line and still very busy with what has become the SV14.org project, a global drive to make sailing for people with disabilities affordable and by doing so, getting the interest and number of sailors up globally, with our sights set on trying to make a difference and help getting sailing back as a sport in the Paralympic games (which it never should have stopped to be in).

Back to 2015, shortly after picking up the challenge, we had our first meeting at the Royal Cape Yacht Club in Cape Town.  Peter, who is based in Thailand was over for CE inspections on a number of yachts and we decided to ask Russel Vollmer, a former commodore of the RCYC and former Paralympic sailor to join us as we were going to need a lot of input from sailors with disabilities.

The idea was born to design a simple, but sexy looking boat, with good performance and a high level of appeal.  The boat had to be versatile to allow for 1 or 2 sailors and be able to “grow” with the sailors needs as they became more skilled and needed a more challenging and exciting boat to sail.   The famous (or notorious) “back of the cigarette box” sketch was made during this meeting, except that it was done on a notepad as no one was smoking.

One of the initial ideas established during the meeting was that the boat in its most basic form should cost no more than around US $ 3.000.  We got to this figure by looking at a number of mass-produced dinghies around that size and applying a loose estimate as to what the markups would be on such boats to get to their cost price.   

In the early design stages, it became clear that going the route of production molds and GRP construction would require the labor cost and overheads to be included which would put us over budget.   

So, the idea was born to do the design in a kit format suitable for DIY construction fitting in a standard garage or carport.  Estimates on this showed that it would be possible to get all the materials, gear, mast and sails for around $3K if the boat was home built or by volunteers, taking the labor and overheads out of the costings.

The final design was done in plywood, fully CNC cut with an elaborate book of drawings leaving nothing to the imagination of what was required and how it needed to be put together.  The complete design including the CNC cutting files was made available at no cost to whomever wanted to volunteer to build one of these boats for a person with disabilities or if they wanted to build it for themselves, making the pledge to take a person with a disability sailing with them.

The idea seemed nice enough, but being only driven on a volunteer basis at no cost there was no budget to do advertising.  A Facebook page to promote the idea was started by Peter Jacops about the design and asking people who would like to build one.   The idea we had was to see if we could build 10 prototypes around the world which we would closely follow in order to improve the kit design.   

We got really good responses on this and by 2016 we had boats under construction in America, New Zealand, Thailand and South Africa.   Thailand was the first to start building and South Africa was the first to start sailing the prototype.

By this stage we had put a lot of thought into the design and come up with a nifty tilting mechanism which would not only keep the sailors sitting upright all the time, but also move their Centre of Gravity to weather, making them effectively “hiking out” and sailing the boat in a similar manner to everyone else.  Estimates showed that by using this tilting system we could improve the stability by as much as 32%.

The design worked and so did the building kit. But uptake was slow and although it only took a professional builder less then 300 hrs to put the whole boat together from the CNC cut package, it still seemed like a big stumbling block to get many boats on the water in a relatively short time.

At the end of 2017, my co-designer in Simonis Voogd mentioned our SV14.org efforts to Weifeng Lu, one of the directors and founders of Fareast Boats in Shanghai.   Lu was very interested in the project and wanted to know more about it. So, we decided to meet with him at the Dusseldorf Boat Show in January 2018.

I flew up to Germany, not really sure what to expect. We have been working with Fareast for more than 10 years doing a number of sports boats and catamaran designs for them, but what was their interest in this charity/volunteer effort we were involved in?

During that meeting it became clear that we shared a similar philosophy, which was to give something back to society (or in their case sailing) as a “Thank you” for the successes we had enjoyed through the sport.  For us (SVD) this is a successful yacht design office and for Fareast it is a successful yacht building company which includes being the largest Optimist builder in the world.  

Fareast wanted in!  Mr. Lu (as we and the staff at the yard like to refer to him) was convinced that the he could produce the SV14 at a cost level similar to our material cost estimate thanks to his restructuring program at the yard by introducing a higher level of automation.

An agreement was reached in Shanghai in March 2018 where Fareast was going to set up a full production line and produce the first 1000 boats for SV14.org at a selling price ex yard of US.$ 3000 in its standard version (Main, Jib and 2 fixed seats.)  

At this time the idea was to make an exact replica of the SV14 as we had designed it for the DIY Kit.  However, shortly after the meeting as we were preparing the drawing pack for the yard to start the tooling, we started changing our minds about that.  Why not go the extra mile and do a full MKII update on the design, incorporating everything we had learned by now out of the trial sails and optimize the hull for production by removing those chines which were there only to make the plywood construction possible.  Another big issue which had to be dealt with was the forward deck layout. It was clear that the spinnaker had to come out of a shute forward which wasn’t incorporated in the original design (but modified on the prototype built in New Zealand).

It was agreed to delay the start of the tooling till the complete MK II update was ready.

Today, the 6th of December 2018, we are super excited as the FIRST FAREAST SV14 has come out of the mold to be ready in time to be shipped to Germany for its World Premiere at the 2019 Dusseldorf Boat Show!

It has been a long journey from reacting to a Facebook challenge to having a full production line ready to go. Is it worth it? DEFINITELY YES !!  “Are we there yet” (To quote Donkey out of Shrek) NO DEFINITELY NOT!!   But, we are on track thanks to the tremendous support of all the suppliers who believe in what we are trying to do, those volunteers around the world who have built and are building the SV14 MKI in plywood and to the many ones who have expressed their interest and desire to get a boat once it’s available.   The wait is over !!

Alex Simonis Dec 2018
For SV14.org