Hauling in Thailand: part 3- lessons learned

Fishing boat
The combination of low costs and skilled labor makes Southeast Asia is an appealing region for boat refits. Phithak Shipyard was all that and more. We learned a few things, and will give ourselves a few pats on the back- but there are a couple of things we’d change if we could do it again.
With 20/20 hindsight, what did we do right?
Painting totem
  • Doing prep work before arrival (could never have met our timeline otherwise)
  • Having materials we’d need on board (less left to chance, no delays in sourcing)
  • Clear expectations set with the yard for timing and needs (they were conscious and helpful with our desire to meet a deadline)
  • Advance orientation to Thai haul outs in general, and Satun in particular (thanks to great info from the crews of Larissa and Infini, and Yawarra’s helpful notes on Noonsite)
  • Working alongside hired staff (good teamwork, any questions quickly resolved)

What would we do differently?
  • Take greater advantage of the craftsmen available (even on a tight timeline, we could have taken on more work: we underestimated the skill set and machinery at the yard)
  • Get a better understanding in advance of materials was available at the shipyard or in Satun (we could have ordered more appropriate bottom paint through them at a fair price)
We were told that there would be good services and skills available in Satun, but we didn’t fully appreciate it until we were there. If we had, we would have tackled more projects, even on a short timeline. As it was we added in pulling our propeller shaft for a check and replacing the cutlass bearing, but other wish list projects that could have been coordinated include replacing the old water tanks (fine, but aging, and prudent to deal with before they are an issue), possibly stainless work, even upholstery- something we’ll have to do soon anyway.

The shipyard
fiberglass roving, available by the meter

Just how much of a bargain is hauling in Thailand? Every yard is different, but for a general comparison, it was eye opening to share notes on costs with a friend in Australia. PSS posts current rates on their web site: for Totem, at 47’, the haul was about $350 two way plus about $17/day. Our haul plus hardstand fees totalled around $485. By comparison, for a similarly sized boat, our friend in Oz quoted haul/splash at $537, plus a whopping $80/day to be on the hardstand- if you want a ladder, that’s another $17.80/day (the trestle planks are extra, too). Add in a few levies and fees, and the basics that were $485 in Satun would run over $1700 in Australia.

The view from the deck

That’s all before we got to any material costs or hired labor, but this only widens the gap. Shipyard labor in Australia was quoted to start at $68/hour and increase sharply from there. The Thai shipyard charges $19/day  for sanding assistance to prep the bottom. Skilled labor is more, but not that much more.

Cruisers on a budget, this economy arbitrage helps us get things done. We go without when costs are high, and do what we can when they’re affordable- whether it’s work on the boat, or a dinner on shore. Are we taking advantage or bringing opportunity?

Whatever it is, we’re enjoying the ride. Besides, a great experience at PSS was about far more than just being a good value.

It was the mix of interesting, friendly, and colorful personalities that inhabited the yard: as varied as their boats, from the traditional Polynesian modeled catamaran to a glossy power cruiser.

Sailboat bows

It was a pretty riverfront, hiding behind the dusty main road and the hulks of ships in the yard.

Fishing boat

It was the yard dogs that the kids couldn’t love up enough.

Shipyard dogs

OK, me too…

Shipyard dogs
It was being well looked after by the staff and management, from making sure our arrival went smoothly to sending us off with a bang, literally, as yard-supplied firecrackers were lit to scared bad spirits off Totem as we slid down the slipway rails to the river.
Firecrackers for the launch!
One of our readers recently pointed me to the blog of a family who is taking a year off to travel by caravan around Europe. One of the authors themes is the kindness of strangers, and reading it today, I realize how much of our great experience at PSS was built on that same theme: open kindness, given without expectation. From the guys who wouldn’t let us pay for beers as we chewed the shipyard fat that first night, to the office staff who offered to loan me their motorcycles to run errands in town (I declined, I’m a menace on the road), to the yard manager who ran around town to source the material for our cutlass bearing, to the slices of life shared with a radiant smile by the Burmese woman who cleaned up under Totem. 
And, yes, to a shiny new bottom and some very solid new through hulls.

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12 Responses to Hauling in Thailand: part 3- lessons learned

  1. Keith December 14, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    Sounds like even your haul-out gave you fond cruising memories!

    • Behan Gifford December 14, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

      It’s true, Keith! And these just scratch the surface. It was a really interesting place, and a great introduction to Thailand.

  2. Tyler Hoppenfeld December 14, 2013 at 2:46 am #

    I know it’s just side-note, and not the main point of your piece, but as an economist I can’t let the question about taking advantage vs bringing opportunity go without an answer. $19 a day goes a long way in a lot of the world; economists and your shipyard workers alike agree that rich people showing up with cash, work to be done, and a respectful attitude towards local people does a world of good for those you hire.

    Not only that, the money you bring gets traded around again and again, helping the area grow its economy and build more infrastructure and better businesses. You can rest assured that by showing up with cash and a job, you’re helping to develop the region, and put food on the table for local workers.

    • Behan Gifford December 15, 2013 at 12:03 am #

      Tyler, thank you for sharing the POV of an economist! It’s true. These guys aren’t getting all of $19/day (not sure what the yard’s cut is?), but they are happy for the work and great to work with. I guess it’s just my twinge of guilt at being, as you say, a rich person. Even if I don’t see myself that way, there’s no denying the relative gap, or the fact that I won the life lottery of being born with a wealth of opportunities. In situations like this, we all won. The boatyards back in Australia or the US, not so much.

  3. Jean and Jerry January 17, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    Thanks for the great info on this boatyard. One question I have is are you able to stay onboard while on the slips & are there shower /toilet facilities? I have heard this is not possible but there is some cheap accommodation nearby? Congratulations on a great blog. For us as fellow cruisers it is both enjoyable & informative. Jean & Jerry Davis Yacht Tigress Too

    • Behan Gifford January 17, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

      It’s ok to stay on board. The shower/toilet facilities are rustic but clean. It is hardstand only, no in water slips. Most people with longer term haulout get a place on shore, but then you will need a motorbike also as they are not walking distance. Glad you enjoy the blog, thank you!

  4. Anonymous February 21, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Just discovered our blog and enjoyed it. Have a question for you. We had a refit at Boat Lagoon 12 years ago during our circumnavigation. How does this boat yard stack up with Boat Lagoon. Are the prices comparable or better. And how is the workmanship?
    Keep up the good work
    Cheers
    Terry and Elaine

    • Behan Gifford February 28, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

      Hi Terry and Elaine- the advantage of Boat Lagoon (in Phuket, not Krabi) is that chandleries in Phuket are well stocked. Satun can meet a startling variety of needs, but it’s ultimately oriented towards commercial vessels and not cruising yachts. As far as prices, everything we’ve heard indicates Boat Lagoon is considerably higher, and no longer the excellent value that it was in years gone by. I’m not qualified to compare workmanship as we have no B.L. experience, but we were very happy with the level at Satun.

  5. Anonymous March 4, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    This is much better than our experience in Boat Lagoon. Whilst Boat Lagoon is a bit more upmarket theft from our contractors of paint, materials and tools did not go unnoticed on an almost daily basis.
    The educational standard of the workers who did not speak English was poor to say the least.
    We had workers from different companies break into our boat, on one occasion I found two mechanics having opened a hatch on my boat to enter and do repairs on my motor, Wrong boat guys and why not wait for the owner to let you in anyway? I complained bitterly to the company but think it fell on deaf ears.
    Workers were often left unsupervised for hours on end which left us with a result of minor jobs becoming major repair jobs (some of which were unable to be rectified such as a rudder sanded completely flat on one side by an ambitious worker) Anti slip on the deck being ground off so the deck had to be remoulded etc etc.
    A paint job that left so much over spray that we had to have the whole top sanded and repainted. An interior which had to have some minor woodwork and carpentry done turned into a disaster area. Our interior was left with drips of epoxy everywhere, and the quality of the carpentry that would not be suitable for a pallet maker never mind somebody trying to make tables etc for the interior of a yacht. IN any case at the end of the day our carpenter never finished any of his work and walked off our job to work with a fellow Thai worker.
    Whilst we never dreamed that the anticipated 6 weeks on the hard would turn into a nine month horror story as tradesmen came and went. Workers spent weeks sanding, filling and sanding and filling the same spots over and over on our hull until it became so wavy they had to use boards to sand the hull straight and start all over again- more materials, more labour costs and of course more time at the marina. At the end of the day our boat was out of shape so much it took over a week of filling and reglassing to bring it back even close to its original shape.
    The tradesmen left our boat in such a mess from day one we had to rent an apartment adding to the cost, on some days there was no electricity, so no work, on other days boats alongside were being painted so no work, on other days the yard wanted to move our boat so no work. We had to wait two weeks to get out of the marina and after nine months of sheer hell we pulled out and refuse to ever go back to Boat Lagoon.
    We had electrical work done on an Air Conditioner only to find at the end of the day that we were charged for a whole lot of unnecessary work we never authorised.
    We stored our fuel from the boat in the storage sheds on the Marina grounds in Jerry cans and were told we could not then move it back to our boat and they wanted us to dispose of it in their own drums as they alleged we brought our fuel from outside and they wanted us to only purchase their fuel..no amount of reasoning with management would let us bring our 100 or so litres of diesel back in. Especially since we had spent around $9000 on hardstand fees for the nine months and about $7000 on an Apartment at the Marina on top of that. Do not forget to add the cost of labourers etc and theft of materials etc. Oh yes and if you think Security care about the Thai workers and contractors driving in and out of the marina with stolen material in their utes, think again.. the Marina told us it was a Police matter not something the Marina managed..Unfortunately we saw no police patrolling the marina and theft of propellers, Anodes and stainless steel was rife when we were there.
    If we ever haul out again we will only do jobs which we are capable of doing ourselves.
    Mind you we have heard nothing but praises about some other yards sch as Satun so our experience is just to let you know that all boatyards in Thailand are not the same.

    • Behan Gifford March 6, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

      WOW- that’s just stunning. I can believe it, unfortunately. We recently heard of a boat in Phuket who had their painting contractor abandon the project, taking all their bottom paint! Sorry you had such a bad experience.

  6. Bob Phillips April 28, 2016 at 2:23 am #

    I’m contemplating getting my boat hauled at Satun. I remember Totem while I was in Mexico. We use to talk on the morning net. Unfortunately Crescendo had to head back to Washington State because my wife’s illness progressed to a point she had to go home. Alzheimers. I’m in Langkawi, Malaysia with Crescendo. I’m finding mooring rates ridiculous in this area . It was cheaper in Washington. Phuket with new regulations leaves you with the thought that they don’t want yachts now unless you are a super yacht. Thai government has shot themselves in the foot a few times and now no one wants to put up with there nonsense and regulations.

    How are the kids ? Still full of the devil, I hope. They are good kids.

    Bob Phillips. SV/Crescendo

    • Behan April 28, 2016 at 7:00 am #

      Hi Bob- good to hear you are still cruising! Yeah, we just anchored in Langkawi…and at least in Thailand there seemed to be a generous disconnect between regulations and officials. But at some point, systems/training will catch up. Hopefully common sense will, too! The kids are great- thank you. 🙂

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