Phuket Means Boat Work

Well, we are finally back in the water after an arduous December of sitting up on stilts in a hot and dusty parking lot. I yanked out all the seacocks and through-hulls and we have twelve of them. A seacock is a large, heavy bronze valve that keeps the ocean out of the boat.

Quite important. Ours our ball valves and the engine, generator, refrigerator, air con, sinks, toilets, etc., all need one. They had never been serviced and two were frozen so I couldn’t open nor close them. Of course these weren’t for the air con or fridge but both were for the toilet discharge hose…

To get these puppies out was an exercise in hell itself. First I had to buy a large pipe wrench (easy) then I had to crawl into tiny spaces made for stowing a T-shirt or two, not my six foot 185 pound frame. No matter, with no air con and sitting on the hard in the tropics the temperature on board was always 90+ degrees and such profuse sweating on my part made me slippery and I probably now weigh only 175.

After removing the seacocks I had to disassemble them which required several trips to a machine shop. Next I had to clean them which required going over them with a bronze wire brush on a power drill for days and days and days getting covered in flecks of shit. Then I had the ball inside each of them re-chromed. And finally I had to throw three out – two were heavily corroded and I bent another trying to get it out.

(Bending a seacock requires something like the force of three elephants pulling in unison. It was either that seacock or me and it gave in first). I had brought two seacocks over from the US and we were able to “make” another here out of brass which is not as good as bronze but will still last for years. Feeling as if I had just stepped out of the shower with clean cocks and chromed balls it was time to put everything back again. That took two days. But now all seacocks (remember we have twelve of them and five different sizes!) work perfectly and the boat is much, much safer.

During the cock and balls fiasco we also had many workers on the boat. Nai and Toe had their men aboard sawing and hammering away for the entire month with the sawdust ankle deep on the floor. It was quite interesting working with the Thais, none of whom spoke a word of English. These guys were in different parts of the boat working on different things every day.

It would be quiet for a while then one of them would sing out in a loud voice a line to some sappy Thai pop song. Just one line. Just full volume. Then silence again for a few minutes until someone else sung out again but a different line from a different song. And so it went. I also had welders, upholsterers, the propane stove guy, the canvas guy and numerous sundry others coming and going while I was hanging upside down in some locker soaking wet playing with a very large wrench and using ripe language on occasion.

As always, Nai and Toe did an excellent job: lowering the V-berth, raising the pilot berth, changing my engine access configuration, making a new dorade and mirror frames. The most interesting part is the engine access. Our boat, like most others, had a stupid design flaw. To get at the front of the engine you have to remove a large, heavy wooden ladder and a large, heavy wooden door.

At the best of times when the boat is steady and tied to a dock this is a pain and dangerous but when pitching around at sea it could be suicidal. Well one day several months ago in Langkawi while tied to a dock, that stupid door fell and almost decapitated my big toe. The scales fell from my eyes and I had a revelation: buy some explosives and blow the whole thing up while videotaping it so I can watch it again and again.

Then I had another idea, put the ladder on hinges so it can swing up and attach to hooks on the ceiling and cut the big door in half from top to bottom so it can open up like a refrigerator. Hey! It works. Now it is a snap to get at the engine and safe too. I’ll save the dynamite for another time.

After months of discussion we also bought a new dinghy. This is an important decision, much like buying the family car. You use the dinghy daily at anchor for going to and from shore. The one we had was an Avon rollup in fair condition but all roll up dinghies have one characteristic in common – they suck! The idea on paper is good, you roll the thing up, stuff it in a bag and stow the bag when you go to sea or do not need the dinghy for a while.

But having had one on Galileo, I can tell you they don’t move through the water any better than a cardboard box and have a tendency to let every wave on board for a party. After Galileo we decided (well, I had to promise Ariel) to get a RIB, a rigid inflatable boat, or a hard bottom, which are drier, faster and more maneuverable. Now that we have a bigger boat, stowage on deck for a hard dinghy will be no problem. That decision left us with three choices, buy used, buy new and pay shipping and customs fees, or buy a “Hansboat.”

Hans is a very large German fellow who makes dinghies here and positively towers over the Thais. He has lived in Phuket for 15 years, has a Thai wife and two kids and has started a dinghy building business. Hans’ family back in Hamburg have been making rubber dinghy accessories for generations and he is picking up the family trade after a short stint at DSB back home.

DSB is a well known manufacturer of rubber craft used by the German military. We did a lot of research on dinghies and Hans and after talking to him over a period of several weeks we decided we would go with what he had to offer. My friends back home are all either owners of SUVs or looking to buy one of those things to park in front of Starbucks, we, on the other hand, are now proud owners of a 3.1 meter “Hansboat.

” This sucker is ten and a half feet long and comes with all the bells and whistles; covers, locking oars, a pump and wheels. Wheels? Yup, these aren’t just any wheels but they are made in Italy and when you come to a beach you snap the wheels in the down position and pull the dinghy high up on the beach. (We did decide to forego the optional ABS system on the wheels). Considering the dinghy fully loaded with outboard will weigh in at around 300+ pounds and Ariel weighs in at only around 110….. I think the wheels will be a good idea.

Like most grand plans our boat refit has suffered somewhat from mission creep and we are doing all kinds of things that can be done cheaply and well in Phuket but are not absolutely necessary for us to float. Into this category I would put upholstery. Our upholstery on board was a rather worn but still garish maroon that belonged more at a Karaoke lounge than in our home. After much discussion, and this was mainly due to Ariel’s insistence, “we” decided to go with leather, water buffalo hide, to be more precise.

We had seen the work done on other boats like Transit and Long Passages and were intrigued. Real leather is cool in the tropics, wears and looks great. To date most cruisers have had their re-upholstery work done by another husband and wife team, Jin and Pong. We thought we would do the same and found their shop downtown and talked to them about doing the entire boat. We made an appointment for them to come and see the boat so they could measure everything and give us a quotation. Standard stuff.

Well, the first time they stood us up and didn’t even call. Sure, this ain’t New York, I’ll give them another chance. Jin, the woman and only English speaker, called the next day to apologize and make another appointment for the following day. We were there, they weren’t. They stood us up again and again didn’t even call us on the cell phone. If this is the way they treat me before they get my money imagine what will happen if we hire them.

So I called her and explained to her that we were not happy with them and I fired them on the spot. Other cruisers have had similar stories so we can’t really recommend them to those coming behind us. After much looking we have found the next up and coming group: Sitak. They actually have a real furniture store in town and are beginning to work on boats. The husband and wife team are very sincere and speak a little English.

We were immediately charmed and after several meetings on and off the boat we have given all our business to them and they are in the process of doing a wonderful job for us. I think once the word gets out, and we are making sure it does, Sitak will have more business on yachts than they know what to do with. Reputation is everything, too bad for the others.

“Mr. Sitak,” or Saksit going by his real name, was on board the other day delivering some cushions and told us that the big salon cushions would have to have a seam running down the midpoint from top to bottom. Not too sure how this would look I asked him if we could avoid that and he replied in the negative.

I asked why and we could see him struggle with how to explain this to us in English when he finally hit upon it and said, “Mister Derek, the cow is not so long!” We are enjoying working with them and they will be doing our new curtains as well (!). I think the work on our floating home will only end when we leave the marina and throw the phone overboard.