Interview - Harry Naidoo
Harry Naidoo is a born and bred Natalian, having been born in Durban in 1937, which makes him a fit and energetic 71 years young! His zest for life, he says, is driven by his passion for boats and boat building, which he has pursued for as long as he can remember.
He first started work as a shop fitter and served his apprenticeship in shop fitting (and as a machinist) and this was to be his occupation for the next twelve years. In 1970 he joined a company owned by Gus Gerrado called Ace Craft in Gale Street, Durban and this was his introduction to the world of boat building.
Ace Craft and their range of sea glider boats were the bench mark against which many deep sea fishing boats were measured in the past. In the early days these Ace Craft boats were built entirely of wood, so the craftsmanship had to be perfect, and believe me, it was!
The company was subsequently taken over by Clive Olivier, who was known in fishing circles, and it was under Clive that Harry started designing fibreglass boats. Wooden boats were being phased out as they were very labour-intensive and took too long to build for clients who were in a hurry to go fishing!
By now the factory had moved to larger premises in Pinetown and had changed ownership again. Under fishing personality Ivan Clerk, Harry then started working on the first Cobra Cat 480, together with well known Mush Nicholls. Mush in turn handed over the Ace Craft reigns to Theo Meyer who moved his factory into Austral Marine's premises which are owned by Don Jarret.
Meanwhile Harry, who had moved along with every new owner and built his fair share of ski boats, stayed at the Austral premises for some four years.
He then started building kit boats, in which Geoff Barnes of Mallards Boating took an interest. In 1989 he left Ace Craft to walk into a new beginning with Geoff in an empty factory in College Lane in Durban. It was here that the first of the Swift 165 waterski boats was designed and went into production. By the time Mallards moved to their current Pinetown premises, they were bursting at the seams. Harry was in charge of overall production and worked both in a supervisory position and physically on the boats. He was involved from 1989 to 2003 in assisting and designing the now countrywide and well-known Swift and the Swift Classic ranges. So from the original, Cobra Cats 525, 585 , 700 and 900 were developed.
Following a spinal operation and illness, Harry left Mallards, and after recuperation found sitting at home too boring. He then designed the Allegro bowrider, which had a new and very different look to the many other bowriders available due to its higher sides, big windscreen, width and self draining deck.
He teamed up with Dayalan Naidoo and Gavin Moodley to start Ace Boating, which is now situated off North Coast Road in Durban. After the Allegro, they designed and built the Ace Jazz, which is ideal for general purpose and entry level boating. This cathedral-hull boat is perfect for harbours, dams, rivers and estauries for skiing, entertaining and fishing.
Harry's new baby is the Ace Glider 530 Cat. She's almost ready for launching and many ski boaters will appreciate her fine lines and many features. A boat review of the 530 is expected to be done for the January issue for the Leisure Boating. She will be powered by twin 75ELPTO Mercury motors, although 60 Big Foots should work well too.
Ace Boating, of which he is a co-director, also builds a range of boats for Dean Levy's Boating International.
Harry has no regrets about the path his boating life has taken, and he's made many friends and contacts over the years. Building and designing is still coursing strongly through his veins, and he is looking forward to future develoments. There are plans afoot to move the Ace factory,so they're now eyeing bigger sites in order to accomodate their exciting expansion.
Sadly, Harry lost his wife fifteen years ago after 35 years of marriage, but he has five sons who are all qualifed in different fields and are avid supporters of their father's love of boats. He has no thoughts of slowing down, so we can look forward to many exciting innovations from Harry and the Ace team in the years ahead.