Born close to Lake Garda, Italy, Capt. Massimo “Mafio” de Luca comes from a family of keen sailors. Up until six years ago, he split his time between deliveries, expeditions, and racing. “I never aimed to become a yacht captain, but at the end of a delivery, the owner asked me to stay,” says Capt. de Luca. He was reluctant, but the owner was persuasive, and de Luca agreed to a trial run on board. “We had so much fun and I found that making these people happy and smile was actually nice and exciting, so here I am, a yacht captain.”
In November 2019, he was invited to follow the construction of S/Y Taniwha; the 35.39-meter flagship of the Southern Wind Shipyard (SWS). She is the fourth unit of the SWS mini series of SW105 bluewater sailing yachts. Built for speed across long or shorter distances, Taniwha is designed inside and out by Nauta Design with naval architecture by Farr Yacht Design. She launched on April 18, 2021.
When de Luca arrived in Cape Town for the first time, the project had only just begun. He returned to Italy for the first COVID lockdown and was back in South Africa by October 2020. “I decided to stay there because of the boat. I didn’t want to get stuck somewhere else again. I wanted to finish the boat and come back home sailing her,” he says. “We left Cape Town on the seventh of June 2021 and we arrived in Sardinia on the ninth of July. We docked at 6 a.m. and the owners arrived an hour later — because of COVID restrictions, they had never seen the boat. My owner had tears streaming down his face.”
Taniwha sleeps eight guests in four staterooms, with five crewmembers. She offers a light configuration with an extensive sail plan and features a lifting keel with a 3.9- to 5.9-meter draft that includes a reduced bulb weight intended to finetune the balance between upwind and downwind performance. SW105 GT has a full carbon hull and Nomex and prepreg foredeck and cockpit.
“My owners are very, very green. We have no plastic bottles, we re-mineralize our water, we get rid of all the plastic before we go on board,” the captain says. “We always sail, even if we have only one knot of wind, we still sail. We only use the engine to maneuver in the harbor, and the generator for a few hours each day to charge batteries and use the watermaker.”
COVID complications aside, de Luca concludes it’s normal to have a few problems during the build process. In this case, he would have modified some systems. “But there were not so many issues and nothing major,” he says, adding, “shipyards are very good builders but not very many of them have been sailing and even if they have been sailing, they sail a different way from you and have different opinions. So it was nothing serious and there is always more than one way to do things.”
He’s pleased with the result. “Even if she is a huge yacht, she moves like a sailing boat, really nice at the helm. She’s sensitive to sail adjustments, she’s very stable, and of course she is beautiful; everyone can see she is beautiful — but that isn’t my first concern,” says de Luca. “The systems work really well, [are] very reliable, and all [throughout] the delivery trip, I had no real issues or problem; just the usual things that go wrong (everyday things). I was expecting much more trouble, especially during delivery.”
Crew accommodation consists of three double cabins (ensuite for the captain), a comfortable crew mess, and an “amazing” galley fitted with professional chef appliances, “huge” volume fridges and freezer, and a blast chiller.
He’s tempted to make a few changes, such as the repositioning of some switches and shelves, and some storage spaces that he’d use differently. “But I would like three or four meters more [in] mast and two meter[s] more in boom. Mostly for aesthetics,” he says. “I suppose the designers are probably right, of course, and the boat is balanced. But if you look at the boat from side, there is a lot of boat after the boom and from an aesthetic point of view, more boom would have been nicer. It’s just my personal opinion.”
The owner’s future plans after minor warranty work is to follow the wind and avoid the crowds. “We have no entertainment on board. Not even one speaker, nothing,” says de Luca. “They want to relax, drop the anchor, eat special food, have a quiet life in nature.
This article originally ran in the February 2022 issue of Dockwalk.