South Africa’s first amphibious ‘Waterfront Duck’ bus set to make a splash in Cape Town – Keith Lindsay

South Africa will soon welcome its first amphibious ‘Waterfront Duck’ bus at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.The attraction is the brainchild of Keith Lindsay, who shared with Biznews the regulatory challenges he faced to get all his ‘ducks in a row.’ Inspired by a similar tour in Boston, Lindsay commissioned a custom-built boat from Windsor in the UK. The Waterfront Duck boat is not planning to brave the Cape waves, its tours will stick to the confines of the harbour wall and would focus on the history and marine ecology of the area. If all regulatory hurdles are overcome, the Waterfront Duck will take to the water in July. Should the launch go swimmingly, Lindsay hopes to add more boats to his growing fleet.

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Extended transcript of the interview  

Linda van Tilburg (00:01.238)

South Africa will soon have its first amphibious tourist attraction in the form of a bus or a boat that will take to the road and the sea in Cape Town and it’s called the Waterfront Duck. And joining me in the Bosnews studio is Keith Lindsay, the founder and co-owner of the Waterfront Duck to tell us all about that. Hi Keith, and thank you for joining us.

Keith Lindsay (00:50.943)

It’s an absolute pleasure, Linda. Thanks for having me.

Linda van Tilburg (00:54.646)

Tell us more about your Waterfront duck.

Keith Lindsay (00:58.175)

Well, it’s a story I tell often, but in 2008 I was in the USA with my family visiting my brother and one of the most iconic experiences to do there is to drive the Boston Duck. Believe it or not, they have 36 of these vehicles running around Boston, leaving from three different points and we just absolutely loved it. 

For me and most of whether you are three years old or eight years old, it was just fantastic.

So, it’s the same around the world. You do a little short tour by road first, and then you have this great transition moment as you go into the water and you do a bit of a water tour and what struck me was it could be applicable to anywhere. We have an interesting city and an interesting body of water which I found was the case all over the world.

What better place for that is Cape Town? That was 16 years ago and it sounds corny, but I had to get my ducks in a row before it became a reality. Raising kids, building and selling a business with my partner and so at the grand old age of 60, I thought it would just be a wonderful thing to bring to Cape Town. 

But of course, as one can imagine it’s a regulatory minefield. That’s been the hardest part. Not only do you have to have it registered as a boat, but also as a road-going passenger bus. So, what’s taken most of the time over the years, is getting through the regulatory hoops and also finding a safe vehicle. All of the original Duck tours use repurposed World War II landing craft, actually called the General Motors DUKW, which is where the Duck name came from and they’ve had a bit of bad press around the world. So, this is actually, you can see it in the background, is not a repurposed World War II vehicle. It’s a completely modern safe vehicle.

It’s been built under the auspices of the UK MCA, which is the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the UK. I’ve been working with SAMSA, which is our very own South African Maritime Safety Authority here to get it passed. They’ve been strict, but very helpful. And then, of course, there’s a parallel process for the road as well. You know, the NRCS, which governs the quality of things that go on the road. So, it’s been a process in a nutshell.

Linda van Tilburg (03:53.718)

How long has it taken?

Keith Lindsay (03:56.063)

Since we got serious with it, about four years, I would say. Four years from the first outreach to the manufacturer. It was custom-built for us to order. There’s a great company in the UK, in the shadow of Windsor Castle, based in Windsor, called SeaHorse Amphibious and they build amphibious tourist vessels and they built this one. It arrived about a month ago. It’s undergoing all the regulatory processes to enable us to work here. We have a second one on order and that should arrive in about February. So, we’re pretty excited.

Linda van Tilburg (04:41.142)

If you think of the Thames, that’s a body of water that’s pretty calm, but Cape Town’s is not. We’ve got the South Easter, the Cape Doctor, and we’ve got waves. So, what are the challenges that you have to overcome?

Keith Lindsay (04:59.231)

Obviously, safety is paramount. Our tour encompasses a short tour into town, with a great spoken guide with content that we’ve developed specifically for this tour and then the water part of it, we don’t go out the confines of the harbour wall at all. 

Just within the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront area, we’ve got a lot to see. So, we do the V&A Marina, which gives us a view of the aquarium and lots of great-looking boats. We go under the Bascule Bridge and into the Alfred and Victoria marinas there. But we don’t go out of the confines of that area at all for safety reasons. There’s so much to see here, we don’t really need to go out to sea at all. In fact, we’re not allowed to. It’s a category R vessel, but we believe that in itself is a great tour.

Linda van Tilburg (06:11.094)

So when are you launching the first one?

Keith Lindsay (06:14.975)

We’ve got the 31st of July pencilled in to start trading. We’ll have a soft launch if we get through the regulatory hoops. We’re pretty much, I would say, 75 % of the way here, both for the road and for the water. So, we’re pretty confident of making that date. But if we manage to, as I say, tick all the regulatory boxes before then, we’ll start trading. But our big launch is the 30th of July.

Linda van Tilburg (06:43.382)

And are you already selling tickets for it?

Keith Lindsay (06:46.015)

No, we thought we wouldn’t disappoint just in case we have to delay. But as soon as we know that all the boxes are ticked and we’ve got our certification, we’ll go live on our website. We built a fantastic ticketing kiosk, which will also sell apparel and memorabilia right in front of the Silo Hotel and of course on our website as well.

Linda van Tilburg (07:17.174)

What are the safety measures that you have to think about in launching this? Because you mentioned you can’t go out, you’re not going out of the harbour.

Keith Lindsay (07:27.359)

Well, whatever safety measures are required for a boat, interestingly, there’s no such thing as amphibious legislation. It has to be dual-certified as a vehicle and then certified as a boat. So behind me, I don’t know if you can see through the plastic windows there, but it’s got life jackets for everybody. It has an anchor. It has a VHF radio. 

It has everything that a boat would need and in fact all due credit to SAMHSA, they’ve made us do that and we’re very happy to comply. The boat itself is unlike the World War II repurposed vessels which is just one watertight compartment. Our vessel has nine watertight compartments each with automatic bilge pumps., all the modern safety features that a boat would have.

As I said, there’s no such thing as amphibious. You just have to tick both boxes.

Linda van Tilburg (08:32.726)

So take us on a ride with your boat and tell us what you see. Are you going to come across seals?

Keith Lindsay (08:40.671)

We’ve had a script developed by Cape Town historian Jim Hislop, and it’s the quirky history of Cape Town. When I started looking at it, I realised there are so many things in Cape Town. I am a lifelong Capetonian and there are so many things we don’t know. The story of the Penny Ferry. Everybody goes to the Gallows Hill Traffic Department. But why is it called Gallows Hill? Green Point Common and Green Point Park – there’s so much history there and we think for foreigners and locals alike there’s so much to learn. And why is it called Strand Street? Why is it called Waterkant Street? It is because that’s where the water was and it’s only when you live that history in a fun entertaining way that it comes alive whether you’re local or a foreigner.

We then come into the water and then just in front of the Cape Grace Hotel, we go down a slipway into the water and while history is still important, we take on a slight marine eco theme there. That part of the script was developed by Brett Gladsby, who does the marine and eco-walking tour on the waterfront. But we talk about how they’ve managed to, in a very advanced way, have this coexistence between a tourist destination and a working harbour, but still be very mindful of the marine ecology and the bird life and everything else. Again, we believe it’s really interesting whether you’re local or a foreigner. 

The whole tour is encapsulated in about an hour, depending on traffic, of course, but departing and then returning to our kiosk or ticketing station in front of the Silo Hotel. So, we think it’s a great day out whether you’re on a school tour or you’re a foreigner or just looking for something to entertain your kids with.

Linda van Tilburg (10:54.134)

So,  you said you’ve already ordered a second one. What are your expansion plans?

Keith Lindsay (11:00.223)

They are eye-wateringly expensive. So, we’ve bought one and we thought we’d have a second one just in case we have a breakdown so that we’ve got some continuity in business. But in truth, we’re hoping it’s super, super successful. If we feel we have long queues and frustrated customers who can’t book a ticket;

we’ll order a third and if that goes well we’ll order a fourth. But to be honest we don’t really know. My wife calls me the eternal optimist but for now, we’ve got two.

Linda van Tilburg (11:42.102)

Keith Lindsay, good luck with your launch and we will look out for it. It’s yellow and very obvious on the waterfront. Thank you so much.

Keith Lindsay (11:50.047)

It’s an absolute pleasure and if you’re back in town you must come to pay us a visit.

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