Father and son in tussle over luxury boat
Lawsuits fly as pair vie for control of charter catamaran worth millions
A costly wrangle between a father and his son over a luxury sailing boat has left the younger man all at sea.
Cape Town businessman Peter Wehrley and his son Mark only communicate through lawyers following months of legal salvos.
The object at the centre of the battle - which Mark said had cost him hundreds of thousands of rands in legal fees - is a multimillion-rand catamaran chartered by the well-heeled for pleasure cruises off the Atlantic Seaboard.
The family drama is playing out publicly in the High Court in Cape Town after mediation failed.The catamaran, a Mirage 760 billed as "the largest day sail charter vessel in South Africa", counts the chief justices of Southern African Development Community countries and US televangelist TD Jakes among those who have toasted the views from its deck.
The vessel, which operates from the V&A Waterfront, was run by Mark, who has his skipper's ticket, and his wife, Tara, for almost two years. But as its client base expanded, so did the family rift.
A security guard kept a watchful eye on the couple on Thursday following a judgment this week restraining Mark from boarding the Mirage and interdicting him from "receiving income from the yacht's business".
According to Peter, who is the MD of Cape boat-building company Matrix Yachts, tensions reached boiling point in July when Mark, the technical director, diverted the income of the charter business to his own company's bank account. Peter hauled his son to court, leading to this week's interdict.
Peter said he founded the yacht company with his wife Fiona - Mark's stepmother - in 2001, and that they personally financed it. They employed Mark three years later.
Peter's affidavit details an uneasy relationship with his son. "Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that Mark (unlike us) wanted the yacht to be far more luxuriously appointed than the standard Mirage 760," he said.Heated exchanges
"That caused Mark and I to have many heated and unpleasant exchanges and the yacht wound up being about R4-million over budget, which negatively affected its financial viability.
"It cost approximately R13-million to construct the yacht, and a further R1-million to establish it as a charter yacht.
"Mark did not contribute any money towards these costs. Mark then took it upon himself to operate the yacht full time and against my wishes."
Peter accused Mark, who he said had drawn a gross monthly salary of more than R70,000, of using the company's South African Revenue Service code and bank account to export "private good value without permission".
But Mark hit back with his own lawsuit, declaring that "all rights, title and interest in and to the vessel and the charter business vest in him".
He claimed the agreement between him and his father was that he would buy the vessel and pay back construction costs with money generated through the charter business. Mark said his father had reneged on the agreement because he wanted to sell the vessel, for R17-million.
He also accused his father and stepmother of manipulating the company's finances in order to avoid tax.
The court is yet to hear Mark's application, but in papers he said: "I was shocked to see that there were multiple charges being passed on to me which had nothing whatsoever to do with the cost of the vessel, such as the cost of a one-month holiday in Australia for my father and stepmother, directors' fees for my father and stepmother and parts for my father's aeroplane."
Not a pleasant matter
Mark described the impasse as "devastating" during an interview with the Sunday Times this week.
"For a son to sue his father is just mind-boggling, to be honest. If you asked me a year ago if this would ever happen I would have told you: 'You are crazy,'" he said.
"I have no other form of income, I've got two children and a wife. I am not destitute, but I am not far from it. My next option is to sell my house and emigrate.