One of South Africa's foremost boatbuilding towns, Knysna, is donating proceeds from its annual boat show to firefighters who battled a massive wildfire that destroyed over 300 homes – and several boats – in the area earlier this year.
The Knysna Antique and Classic Boat Show is a new feature on the country's maritime calendar, prompted largely by the town's proud boatbuilding history. The town lost several classic boats in a fire that besieged the town for two days in June.
Prominent boat yards in town include the Knysna Yacht Company, Current Marine and Harvey Yachts. During the June fire, one boatbuilder turned his yard into a temporary emergency centre to help distribute relief aid.
In addition to hundreds of homes and valuable infrastructure, the blaze also destroyed two wooden yachts and a wooden speedboat that were stranded on land. The speedboat was due to be exhibited at this year's boat show.
Show spokesperson Cameron Searle said fire had plagued Knysna before. “All of the three [historic] boatyards caught fire in the 1900s, some more than once, only to be rebuilt. Arson was suspected every time. Someone also tried to burn the yacht club down, but a passing yacht saw smoke coming from the outside rubbish bins in time to alert help.
“Many boats at the show were built in Knysna, either privately or in one of the boat yards, like the Thesen’s Boatyard situated on what is now Thesen Harbour Town. Knysna has a rich history of boatbuilding going back to the 1800s. Two international award-winning racing yachts were built in this boatyard, including Voortrekker and Albatross II; the latter winning the first Cape to Rio yacht race in 1971.
“Several Fairmile 'B' class submarine hunters were produced, all from wood, during the 1940s for the Royal Navy,” Searle adds. “None of these will be at the show unfortunately, but a variety of beautiful vessels will be on display and offered for sale should the fancy take you.”