At Tudor Creek in Mombasa, stunning boats are moored at the marina.
Some of these boats are made from fine mahogany wood, a tinge of leather and others are luxuriously decorated with carbon fibre — the most expensive material the builders have used to make a boat.
Mohammed Khan, who has been running the marina since 1991, has built some of these boats with his family and sold them to ‘‘wealthy Indians and Arabs of Kenyan descent.’’
‘‘We even sold a Sh10 million boat which we made from scratch here at out shed,’’ says Mr Khan whose family has been in the trade for years.
When he opened the marina, he had only one boat.
‘‘Now we have almost 35 boats, both for private owners and our own moored on the shores,” he says.
Most of their boats are sold to fishing companies. A fishing boat ranges from Sh3.5 million to Sh7.5 million. He sells about 10 fishing boats a year.
At the marina, he also has speed boats which can cost anything from Sh2.5 million used by tourists and owners who find thrill in zooming across the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, under the scorching sun.
Mr Khan’s son, Ifraz, started building boats in the 1980s. He is up and down at the boat shed, supervising and assisting the workers who are working relentlessly to ensure the boats are stable when on water.
Ifraz says the safety of the sailors is at the hands of the boat builders.
He says safety starts on the first day of making the boat and unlike other structures, one cannot compromise on quality material and perfect joinery.
“I always want to be 100 per cent present as labourers do molten fibre glass shaping, joinery, painting, furnishing and even fixing of the locomotives in the boat ‘skeleton’. A quality boat has long life on water and little complications. This will ensure the safety of our client which is our ultimate goal,” says Ifraz.
On the dry land, deep in concentration, the labourers are either refurbishing the old and broken ‘sea planes’. Some scrapping off the old paints and others painting.
Over the ages, boats have been made out of different materials, for instance, bamboo, leather, tree barks, concrete until the mid-1960s when boats made of glass-reinforced plastic, more commonly known as fibreglass, became popular, especially for recreational boats.
Ifraz says 12 years ago, he was privileged to make a Sh10 million customised boat. The boat was known as MV Funguni. He also sold boats in Egypt.
He also builds canoes, kayaks, speed, pedal and sport fishing boats. They source fibre glass materials from China and Dubai.
‘‘The fibre glass does not rot, corrode or rust. Also, it is easier to repair, it is lighter with high buoyancy,” he says.
Their newest and most fancy boat is a catamaran. Ifraz says he started making catamaran three years ago but to make a perfect one, he had to try three samples.
A catamaran costs Sh15 million and soon the marina will exhibit a gleaming one.
“This is an all-purpose boat made from fibre glass and can be customised depending on a customer’s taste. It can go up to 100 nautical miles,” he says.
“We have had few orders from rich business men. Carbon fibre is quite expensive and costs 10 times the price of fibre glass, but trust me, it is worth it.’’
A majority of ultra-high networth individuals buy motor yachts and sailing yachts befire even thinking of buying a race horse or a private jet, according to the latest Knight Frank Wealth Report.
The number of Kenyan millionaires is growing and most invest in desirable objects that bring them rich rewards in terms of personal enjoyment. There is a beauty in sailing and it is seen to be an elegant sport, but most Kenyans don’t sail or but luxury boats.
Ifaz says in a year, they sell two luxury boats.
The good thing with sailing, according the Knight Frank Wealth Report, the price and type of boat doesn’t matter when it comes to enjoying the sport.
“One of the unique aspects of the sailing community is that it doesn’t seem to matter whether you are sailing a 20-year-old Oyster around the world or spending millions on a 130feet carbon race yacht,’’ it notes.
Wealthy owners can cruise a 100-footer and then soon afterwards race a catamaran half the size, Pier Luigi Loro Piana, an Italian billionaire who started sailing at the age of 18 told the Knight Frank Wealth.
The man with an obsession with the finest fabrics owns a superyacht with bulkheads made from linen fibre instead of glass fibre. He says for him sailing and nature are totally entwined and huge passions.
The Khan family reveals a master craftsmanship that is slowly dying as buyers opt for imported boats.
‘‘Boat making industry in Kenya is sinking. The only salvation for the industry is for the locals and also the government to get fond of purchasing ‘Made-in-Kenya’ products,” Ifraz says.
To master the skill, Ifraz travels to China and South Africa to refine his art.
“It is an art. A builder has to be creative to come up with appealing designs. You also need good workers who have skills in making body works. You have to guide them in making the angles and shapes that will enable the boat look attractive and navigate easily on water,” he says.
ALSO READ: Why old ships find home in poor countries