Guglielmo Willy Persico, aged 79, founder of Southern Wind Shipyard has passed away last weekend after a long-held concern about serious illness, kept hidden even to his closest collaborators.
Willy Persico was born in Milan in 1939 and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Naples in 1963.
In 1972, he was at the head of the crude oil procurement division of SIR, an important Italian petrochemical group, which he left in 1979 to lead the international trading activities of Cameli Petroli, where he became a partner and the vice-president.
In 1990 he became president of the Cantieri Navali Rodriguez in Messina, a company that specialized in fast ferries and hydrofoils, which had been bought by Cameli Group. A yachting and sailing enthusiast, in the same year he commissioned a 72’ sloop, which he called Aga Jari, to Ron Holland and decided to have it built by a small shipyard in Cape Town, Cen Marine.
Early in 1991, while the yachts were already under construction, Persico decided to purchase the company, which he renamed Southern Wind Shipyard. In his words, taken from an interview during the 25th anniversary of Southern Wind: “I took this decision while I was walking in my home garden: it was a crazy decision, also taking into consideration what South Africa was at that time, but I have never regretted it.”
In 1993 he left the Cameli Group to focus on his new company in South Africa.
At the beginning, the yard employed 30 people and produced only one model: a 72-footer designed by Bruce Farr. Persico aimed to build semi-custom, composite sailing yachts based on the most advanced technologies combined with traditional boatbuilding skills. In 1998, the yard increased production from one to two units per year and introduced the SW95.
In 2004, a further step of innovation was the introduction of infusion in the construction process, to build the first SW100. The yard took interest in carbon fibre/Kevlar lamination process and, in 2006, it was one of the first to adopt vacuum infusion. Investing in resources such as moulds, tools and procedures meant savings in time and cost and a superior final product in terms of quality, finish and weight.
The experience gained in building yachts of bigger size brought Persico to think that it was much better to split the hull mould in three parts rather than in two pieces: a brilliant innovative construction method, which, a few years later, has been adopted by other boatyards.
In 2008, the unexpected success of the 100-footer brought the yard a further step forward. A repeated client, who had already built two yachts with Southern Wind, ordered the third one, a 110’, which was the yard’s flagship for some years. Among the successful SW82, SW94 and SW102, Farfalla SW102 was awarded the World Superyacht Awards for her “quality and value”.
Nowadays Southern Wind employs about 300 people and builds five performance cruiser models ranging between 82 and 115 feet, in addition to custom projects. So far this year Southern Wind has launched two yachts: the first SW105 Satisfaction and the SW96 Seatius, both designed by Farr Yacht Design and Nauta Design for the general concept.
With over 40 yachts on the water, the brand celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016.