DESCRIBING himself as “just a barefoot fisherman”, Raka Marine’s Gerhard Dreyer has come a long way since getting his first fishing permit in Grade 11.
While still managing the family business of eight chokka fishing boats, Dreyer, 32, now also imports marine engines, generators and related parts from China and Korea through the PE-based family business Raka Marine, which started less than three years ago.
The company has grown so much that it has handled 15 containers of engines in this time and now supplies to customers as far away as in Namibia.
“With the fishing industry under pressure at the moment, we supply new boat engines for a lot cheaper than fixing other makes. Sometimes people can save up to half the price.
“The business started with us looking for parts for our own boats, and finding a reliable supplier in China,” Dreyer said.
Because he has been in the fishing industry for most of his life, Dreyer says he sometimes knows when people have problems with their boats, before they even do.
The spin-off from the family’s chokka businesses now creates four permanent positions for workers who help Dreyer offload the engines from the crates.
Filling this gap in the market, Raka Marine workers respray the engines with anti-corrosive coating and fit the parts needed to make the 90kW to 750kW engines go. “So far we have had not one engine failure. We also offer a warranty on the engines,” Dreyer said.
The related parts – including alternators, electrical parts and fuel tanks – are all sourced locally from service providers and Dreyer also sells second-hand engine parts in good condition.
A lot of his Bay customers have been secured through word-of-mouth marketing, although the national marketing of the company has helped with growth countrywide. Big demand has opened up in Namibia recently.
Raka Marine also sells industrial generators of 30kW to 150 KV, as well as anchor chains which are imported from the Czech Republic.
Dreyer grew up working on his father’s chokka boats as a child. Despite being seasick in the beginning, he would spend all his school holidays working on the boats.
His father, Piet Dreyer – also known as Pietie Raka in fishing circles – was one of the pioneers who started chokka fishing in the Eastern Cape.
“He had a big boat which was painted black so that the ink of the chokka wouldn’t stain it.
“It was named Raka, after the famous Afrikaans poem by NP van Wyk Louw. We have sold the boat, but you can still see it in the PE harbour and it is still black,” Dreyer said.
The name stuck and other than Raka Marine, the Dreyers also have Raka Wines, which they make on their family farm close to Caledon in the Western Cape. Piet is involved full-time in the wine business with his wife, Elna, while Gerhard’s three other siblings also manage different parts of the wine business.
But for Gerhard, his love for the sea pushed him into a different direction. Three days after writing his last matric exam, he started as skipper of his own chokka boat, for which Piet helped him get a loan when he was still in school. “For six years I skippered my own boat. You become like a soccer team on the boat with your workers, and sleep just a metre away from the water. You meet so many interesting people and when the chokka are plentiful, it’s an indescribable rush,” Dreyer said.
Gerhard lives in Port Elizabeth with his wife, Lin-Mari, and their baby son, Pieter. – Cindy Preller