In the conclusion to our series of articles about SY Esper’s complete refit in Thailand for Sailing Today, we set out the costs for the whole project.
Suspended in a cradle in the narrow slip at PSS Boatyard, Esper had little protection from the midday broiling sun. The smiles on the faces of our dockside friends and workers melted as we all waited for Jamie to work out how to make Esper’s new depth sounder talk to the newly-installed B&G navigation system.
“RTFM!” some wag shouted.
No-one was quite sure how much of the river lay under our keel. It was high tide, and we only had half an hour left of slack water to safely navigate out of the jagged slipway. We had seen a few yachts try to reverse out when the current ran fast and most came a cropper, occasionally doing some nasty damage to their shiny new topsides.
Just one year and one month ago we began what felt like the longest refit in history. Our original intention had been to remove the leaking teak deck, tend to the osmosis problem and do a little tidy-up below decks. A three month project, we were advised. Despite eight years of cruising from Turkey to Malaysia, we knew we were novices when it comes to this level of technical work. We had no idea how long it would take to grind the hull by hand for osmosis treatment, or build a cabinet, or the huge amount of work it takes to prepare a recently denuded teak deck for paint. So we believed what we were told. After the first month Jamie revised the deadline to six months, and pretty soon after that he reckoned it would be a year.
To be fair, we did keep adding extra jobs, like new guard rails, a swimming platform, davits, new teak cockpit and rear boxes, rubbing strake, toe rail, new saloon table, new teak floor, new headlining etc. And, of course, remodelling the interior.
A few weeks before launching, over two hundred deck fittings were aligned and replaced, and the masts and rigging were fitted back. It was a long and fiddly process overseen by Jamie who had painstakingly taken photographs and made notes on every square foot of the deck before anything was removed.
The depth sounder’s reading flared into view.
“OK, let’s go!” said Jamie.
As the cradle slid further along its track into the water, SY Esper floated free. Lines were thrown and cameras on land and in the water winked at each other. Someone set off some firecrackers as a sign of good luck. Everyone waved and cheered.
We were back.
REFITTING IN IN THAILAND
Working in Thailand can have its complications. Apart from the obvious language barrier (our Thai is restricted to ordering food and drink) we were there during the military coup and curfew.
“Don’t worry about that,” said Jia, the yard manager, “it’s only when the banks close that we’ll know there is a real problem.”
The banks didn’t close, and apart from a stronger police and military presence in nearby Satun, things carried on as usual in this backwater of southern Thailand.
Then there were the days when we would turn up at the yard to discover everything closed.
“Makha Bucha Day!” someone would explain. Thailand has an abundance of public holidays, both religious and secular, most of which the yard ignored. Workers were free to decide if they wanted to observe them, but often only made that decision on the day.
The biggest complication was coming to grips with a very different culture from our own. In Thailand the most shameful thing you can do is lose your temper. Once you raise your voice the game is over and no-one will respect you again. The default setting when things go wrong in the land of a thousand smiles is to laugh. Many yachties come from fast-paced backgrounds, where they have worked hard to make the leap to living full time on a boat. Most of us have been used to giving orders in the workplace and when things go wrong we get irritated, venting our frustration with harsh words. We certainly expect some kind of compensation for late and inferior work. In Thailand time moves slower and deadlines can be more elastic. If something goes wrong, instead of hunting for a culprit to blame they just go ahead and fix the fault. And charge you for it.
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Before arriving here we had spent a few years in countries which do not share the ‘western’ concept of time management. In India, when someone was hours or even days late we stopped getting annoyed and learned to accept it as normal practice. Our Indian friends explained it happens to everyone. During the refit we saw many yachts come and go, and it was usually possible to work out who would have a bad time of it. Those who had been sailing for years and spent a lot of time in similar places, got on with the workers. They made no unattainable demands and when things didn’t quite go to plan, explained how to put it right. Then there were new boat owners, perhaps they had just set out from somewhere like Australia. Angry red faces would appear from their boats as workers walked off the job.
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The biggest lesson we learned is that if you are going to have work done on your boat, the best project manager is you. This is certainly true of Thailand where sometimes even the simplest instruction can get misinterpreted. Unless you are on site minor problems can grow into something much worse. We witnessed boats which had been left by the owner for work which were left unattended for days or even weeks at a time.
One of us was in the boatyard every day, usually both of us. We began each morning with a round up of what had happened the previous day, and a plan for each worker for that day. This didn’t take long, around 20 minutes by the time we had spoken to each team. Throughout the day we would go back to check, sometimes with an ice cream or snack for everyone. And for a lot of the time we were working on or under the boat too.
Paying bonuses did not work for us. When we were particularly pleased with a finished job we gave each worker a bonus in their pay packet. This usually resulted in them taking the following day off to spend it! If we did it again, we would only pay bonuses at the end of a job.
Armed with the knowledge we have gained, we would always try to negotiate a fixed price for job where possible. Parts of the project went on for much longer than we planned and resulted in higher labour costs than we expected. Unfortunately, no-one likes to give a job price in Thailand…
It’s a great way to get to know the country and its people. We embraced the opportunity and regarded it as a unique cultural and practical learning experience. We made some long-lasting local friends and learned more about Thai culture in the boatyard than in any of the prettier places we sailed to over the following years.
We should have overhauled the twenty-seven year old engine, instead of just cleaning and servicing it. Eighteen months later, after failing starter motors, disintegrating hoses etc, it seized. We ended up spending six months in a marina waiting for a new one. An expensive mistake.
NOTE ON PRICES
- All figures are in GBP
- The refit took place from 2014-2015 so prices may have increased.
- All PSS costs are listed on the PSS website
- At the time labour charges varied between £6 – £12 per day
- Hardstanding 3720
- Tent hire 1500
- storage 1000
- Crane hire 240
- Haul out 200
- SUBTOTAL: 6660
Including topsides, masts, booms, spinnaker pole, spreaders and various deck fittings.
- Labour: 6400 (we negotiated a labour fee for the whole job of £6000, but paid an additional £400 when the paint boss ran out of money towards the end of the project)
- Materials: 4725 (including Awlgrip topcoat and primer, high build, jotamastic, microballoons, as well as items like masks, respirators, gloves, paint suits, sandpaper etc)
- SUBTOTAL: 11125
DECK FITTINGS REMOVED AND REPLACED
- Labour and materials: 1700
- SUBTOTAL: 1700
Including osmosis treatment and antifouling
- Labour: 2000
- Materials: 3000
- SUBTOTAL: 5000
This was the biggest part of the job, with carpenters working on the remodelling below deck as well as being a big part of the on deck team. We had between one and three carpenters working on the project most days. Includes total refit of interior including new teak floor, cockpit, toe rail and rubbing strake as well as further exterior carpentry and fitting.
Pong taught his boys their skills as soon as they could hold a chisel…and we dedicated this special video to them:
- Labour: 11,500
- Materials: 5000
ELECTRICS AND ELECTRONICS
- Labour: 1000 (negotiated fee for whole job)
- Materials: 9000 (including all B&G products, cables, lights, switches, sockets etc.)
- SUBTOTAL: 10000
- Labour and materials: 4000
- SUBTOTAL: 4000
MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS AND LABOUR
- project management 1300
- varnishing 4000
- some plumbing 50
- general cleaning 150
- engine and shaft 500
- upholstery 500
- SUBTOTAL: 6500
SUMMARY OF COSTS
- Boatyard: 6660
- Painting: 11125
- Deck fittings removed and replaced: 1700
- Hull: 5000
- Carpentry: 16,500
- Electrics and electronics: 10000
- Stainless work: 4000
- Miscellaneous materials and labour: 6500
GRAND TOTAL: £61,485
There are day to day living expenses to consider over such a long period of time. We had to stay off the boat for the majority of the project, and stored most of our possessions in a container. In Satun, our one bedroom bungalow in 2014 was around £80 per month. Two scooters were around £30 per month. Food, usually cooked on the side of the road, is good and inexpensive, around £1.20 per meal. You can really save on living costs in Thailand.
WAS IT WORTH IT?
When we limped into Malaysia, SY Esper was in pretty bad shape. Equipment needed replacing and she leaked like a sieve. We had three options:
- Sell her, relocate to the Med and buy another boat.
- Keep her, and get the work done in Thailand.
- Give up cruising, cut our losses and put her up for sale. That was never going to happen…
We looked into Esper’s value and realised we would not achieve anything like the price we needed for another boat. We would have to mortgage our flat for a cheaper boat that would probably never tick all our boxes in the way the Oyster 435 does. Inevitably we would have to spend a lot to get a secondhand boat to the spec we want for world cruising. Whichever way we added up the sums, option 1 did not make sense. Option 2 would be expensive, and we would still have to mortgage our flat, but we would be able to keep the boat we love. We reckoned that with cost of living, labour and haul out rates being much cheaper than Europe, we would be able to get Esper in the best condition possible.
Had we stuck to our original budget and plan, the final cost would have been a good 30-40% lower. But since we had full access to workers capable of refitting every corner of Esper in the boatyard, we decided it would be sensible to do as much as possible there, rather than piecemeal in new yards across the world over the next few years. So we spent all the money we had, and chose the best fittings we could afford.
SY Esper is now in better condition than when we bought her in 2005. So yes, it was worth it for us. But we realise it might not be everyone’s choice.
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