We get emailed a lot about our refit and soon I’ll be putting together a ‘guide to refitting your boat abroad’. In the meantime I wanted to respond to an email I received recently asking whether it’s possible to leave the boat in the care of the yard for a complete refit, to be done in the owner’s absence.
“We have recently purchased a boat that requires a bit of a revamp. We are quite impressed with the quality of workmanship that is being displayed with the refit of your vessel, and this has led us to consider if we should not be doing something similar.
The big problem that we are encountering at home is the very expensive cost of labour for a quality finish, & due to our work commitments we are unable to be there to supervise all our desired projects for the duration of their execution.
So our question to you is: Do you believe that it would work to deliver our boat into the care of the PSS boatyard, with a list of repairs/jobs that need doing, and entrust them to complete them to the standard that we have been seeing on Esper?
List of works to be done include…”
And there follows a list similar to Esper’s refit. My response was quite blunt, which is, perhaps, why they never replied, but the answer is the same however it’s phrased: no, this is a bad idea.
You Are The Project Manager
Boatyards do not have project managers. They may have ‘facilitators’, yard managers or key personnel who make your lives a little easier but ultimately only you can manage the project. Here are a few reasons why:
A project manager does the accounts
No one is going to oversee the accounts to make sure you are within budget. You may receive regular invoices and a breakdown of materials used but they need scrutiny and monitoring. A yard manager, meanwhile, spends his/her time on the shop floor facilitating the workers and the materials. He does not have the time or the inclination to go through a meticulously filled-out and constantly changing spreadsheet. That’s your job.
It’s an administrative minefield
Whether it’s doing the accounts, paying the workers, sourcing materials or researching the internet, there is a lot of invisible work that goes on in the background. We’ve been fortunate enough that PSS provides an air-conditioned room with fast internet access where we can sit at a desk and do all of the above. They are essential to the success of the refit, but if you are not here doing it, who will? These are not things the boat yard wants to be bothered with.
Quality control is lost
Are the workers using stainless fittings or are they buying the cheap screws they use on fishing boats? Are they glueing the veneer correctly? Did they remove all the air bubbles when fibre-glassing? Did you want that hook at eye-height? Will that fitting stay in place when the boat is heeling? The list of jobs that require your input is bigger than you’ll ever anticipate and a boat yard cannot be checking the progress at every turn.
Yard workers don’t know sailing
On a number of occasions we have had to intervene on a job where the suggested solution would have come apart/fallen over/broken/gone over the side the moment we hoisted the sails. Yard workers, no matter how skilled they are and no matter how many hours they’ve spent on boats in the yard, rarely get to go out sailing. Solutions are offered for the here-and-now whilst the boat sits in the yard, but what happens when the boat heels 30 degrees and you get thrown across the saloon, grabbing onto anything you can get your hands on? Will the new saloon table collapse if you lean on it? Are there locks on the drawers? Did you want that wall panel epoxied over that crucial deck fitting? You know the answer to these questions but the skilled craftsmen who work with you may not.
The project expands
Jia, the yard manager here, occasionally has to remind us that the fifty-odd stainless jobs we’ve undertaken were never part of the original twenty we agreed. One job turns into two jobs, either because the second job is required to complete the first job, or because you get more ideas about what can be done during the refit. We exceeded our original budget by a significant amount because we were so impressed with what the yard can do vs the cost of the job. We found ourselves telling each other that we’d be silly not to get the work done now, so we’ve taken advantage of being out the water in a good yard with cheap labour. None of these extra jobs, however, were ever anticipated when we drew up our original plans.
Are they actually doing the work?
In most instances you pay a daily rate for a worker. If you are not present, how do you know how hard that worker is grafting? Is it fair that you were charged X for a job that you believe should only have cost Y? How do you know? The only way you know is to be there, monitoring the workers, building a relationship with them and ultimately trusting them to do the work. Those of you familiar with our refit will know we dropped one worker because he wasn’t pulling his weight, and that decision was only made after working alongside him for two weeks. Like anywhere in the world you get good workers and you get poor workers. Spending time with them is how you hang on to the good ones.
I’m sure there are many other reasons why you need to be present during your refit, but the above points are the main issues that spring to my mind. In my next blog post on this subject I’ll be talking more generally about cultural differences, expectations, costs and timings but I felt this subject important enough to warrant its own post.
Shortly before publishing this article I spoke to Julie of PSS about this subject. When I told her that I was writing an article about leaving a boat at PSS for them to manage her face went white. When I told her the angle of the argument she was noticeably relieved. “Can you imagine the amount of time we would have to spend emailing the owners every time we had to make a decision on which screw to use?” With only Julie and Jia at PSS qualified enough to write and respond to emails it would be left to them to manage the project. From our experience this is a full-time job and it’s not a service PSS wish to offer.
In my reply to the above-mentioned email I said I knew of no boat-yard that would undertake such a project without the owner’s presence. This may not be strictly true but the point is that you’d have to pay top Western prices to employ a qualified project manager to complete such an undertaking. If you want to take advantage of cheap, good labour in a country where most of the workers speak no English, you need to be standing over them every step of the way.
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