Nearing the end of the shipyard grind

ladder looking down

We’re in the back half of our stay at Phithak Shipyard (PSS) near Satun, Thailand, and it’s pretty exciting to see work progressing on Totem.

As soon as we arrived, we went through our required projects and the wish list with the yard management. Based on their estimates and some help from home, we decided to go forward… with all of it. I might have had some happy tears at the prospect of these improvements to our Totem! So the plan changed from “a couple of weeks” to as long as our visas allow, keeping an eye on the costs, and getting as much done as possible within time/budget limits.

Progress Report

It’s going OK, even if only one project is completed so far- the stanchion bases (and wow, are they gorgeous!). The must-do list is tracking well. The refrigerator box is finished except for the lids, and reconfigured into a much more usable shape (wider base, shallower depth: I’ll be less likely to end up with three different jars of olives open because I’ve lost one in the bottom). When our fiberglass specialist, Sun, finishes the refrigerator box, he’ll wrap up the remaining few steps on the water tank. They’re both made from fabricated panels with a honeycomb patterned core: strong and lightweight. And with our launch date nearing, new bottom paint will go on shortly- and meanwhile, the hull is getting sanded and prepped.

stanchion sbs
how’s that for a sexy upgrade? it’s a better design, too

Always surprises!

We dropped the rudder for a full inspection, and it took DAYS to get it off! Unfortunately, it did not pass: there was clearly significant water intrusion. Fortunately, there was no corrosion to the stainless spine and frame. Fortunately, we’re able to get it rebuilt here. The rudder shaft was also bent, a quick job to fix thanks to the machine shop capabilities in the shipyard. What might have only taken days has been a project counted in weeks, but it’s an important safety measure. Check out the expressions on the guys as it finally, finally dropped in this this four second video!


Adding to the list

We’ve decided to tackle two other long-desired projects. When we bought Totem, almost eight years ago, I swore one of the first things we would do was replace the headliner. Guess what? We’ve had the same basketweave-embossed, icky, yellowing old vinyl headliner the whole time! Until now: it is GONE…in the main cabin at least, and hopefully throughout Totem soon. In place, we’re putting up white formica. It is clean, uncluttered, and brings in wonderful light into the cabin. This makes me so happy!


We also decided to reface the galley. It was pretty well torn up already to replace the refrigerator box, and with good help and tools at PSS it seemed like the right time to just do it. The galley also has the same original 1982 yellowing Formica, and these atrocious sliders made of smoke-tinted acrylic for cabinet access. GONE. It became easier to replace the upper cabinet box than just rebuild the front. I renewed my friendship with Pinterest and scoured for ideas on what to do: I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

It is hard, hard work

Jamie is working like a dog. He’s taken one day off the whole time we’ve been here, and seems to be bleeding at least once a day. Niall has been a big help too. They do as much as they can to make the carpenters on Totem as efficient as possible.


The girls pitch in as well, ferrying laundry, keeping our remaining water tank topped up, and other daily tasks that help us keep things running more smoothly. But they’ve also picked up a different job that’s keeping them especially busy, stepping in to care for a litter of motherless kittens found in the yard. They accompanied Jia and Julie, management at the yard, to the vet for checkups when it was clear two of the kittens weren’t thriving. They now administer eyedrops, vitamins, and antibiotics two to three times a day. And then just the other day, they found two puppies who also seemed to be fending for themselves, hiding in the lumber storage area. It’s too bad Totem isn’t an ark because we’re sorely tempted to add furry crew, but it’s just not something we can do right now.


Life in the shipyard

Living aboard has gone much better than I expected. OK: it’s not all roses. We have to use toilets on shore, and nobody wants to make that trip at night. We’ve had at least three rats on board, probably others we don’t know about. I can’t imagine why they choose us over the aromatic fishing boats, and maybe that’s why they don’t all stick around. The boat is always dirty and cluttered, because we’re moving things between cabins as different spaces become work areas. There’s a massive end-of-day cleanup effort but it’s still challenging.

Mairen makes sandwiches amid the construction mess

But we’ve made some new friends, who have really brightened our stay: Jamie, of “Follow the Boat” on Esper, who is doing a major refit on his pretty boat. The British nomads on Shanti, raising their two little boys afloat. We have been treated to gorgeous fresh bread by our Swiss neighbors on the Amel A Go Go. Julie and Jia organized a barbecue one night and grilled the most delicious prawns! There are long evenings spent spinning stories over bottles of Leo in front of the yard’s convenience store while the kids play.

Jamie does weekly vlogs and brought in the Totem kids to “project manage” one week – fun for them, another neat experience. Jamie has a gift for drawing out their personalities- I love this video he made!


Being back in Thailand is wonderful. I am very fond of this village where the shipyard is located: it is a small town, where I can go to the weekly market and run into people I know. It shuts down after dark, other than the call to prayer. There isn’t a whiff of tourism. It’s peaceful and beautiful!

We spent an unforgettable night on a special Thai holiday called Loy Krathong. Jia and Julie took a group of us to dinner at just the kind of place we love: where there is no English on the menu! Afterwards, we went to the river to watch ships hand crafted from banana trunks, palm fronds and flowers, lit with candles and incense and set into the water. Lanterns are sent to the heavens as well, and with Julie and Jia’s help, had our own to send off into the sky. These are wonderful memories we’ll always keep with us.

Loy Krathong lantern
thanks to Julie for this photo of our family!

Almost finished!

Just like remodeling a house, there are times when it seems to zoom ahead and times when it feels grindingly slow. Some days feel like little has progressed, and on others, there are glimpses of transformation. But it can be frustrating: the yard is really busy, so work doesn’t always follow the timeline we expect. The stainless shop is backed up, so we have multiple stainless projects that haven’t even started: awning frame, bow roller, and a lot of reconfiguration of the stern rails and solar arch… oh, and we hoped to add to the bow pulpit also. It’s a little stressful, since it’s work we are especially keen to do, and we can’t extend for long. But we’ll do what we can, and meanwhile, it’s tremendous to see so man things starting to come together.

If you aspire to the perfect stainless solar arch you’re surely going to read this on the Sailfeed website.

13 Responses

  1. Envious of all the boatyard help — we’re in a DIY yard and between the fact that we’re not as young as we think we are and a couple of bouts of crappy weather, it’s taking longer than we had hoped. And we sympathize with Jamie’s dirt and blood . . .

    1. The help is letting us do more in less time then we could dream of doing ourselves. If only we could avoid the dirt/blood! It’s gonna be great when it’s over!

  2. I know I’ve said it before, but I am *SO* excited for you. These projects must have you giddy with anticipation of Totem’s facelift! And while it is SO nice to check off major, structural issues off the list (rudder, stantions) what a major perk to be able to give the interior some love too!!! Can’t wait to see the finished project! Keep up the good work!

  3. Very pleased for you that you got to do everything on your wish list! I’m looking forward to seeing the final results in the cabin. It’s been hard to be very motivated to get to boat projects around here lately. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. The video with the children is a testament to your superb parenting skills! They are well spoken and have a command of English few kids that age possess. Congratulations!

  5. Great video! Fantastic job keeping their beautiful skin from being burned to a crisp under the sun.

  6. Good thing the rudder is getting taken care of. You’ll be able to rest easy in your newly brightened cabin knowing all the other bits are solidified 🙂

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