There’s something different happening in Chebilang village, about 12km from Satun in southern Thailand. There’s a 31.7m aluminium yacht approaching completion in what really appears to be the middle of nowhere. Launch date is slated for 20 November, and it’s only just around the corner.
Owner Chris Lenz, a sometime hotelier and restaurateur, has become a boat builder and project manager. It’s an interesting story that starts with Lenz building a 100ft fibreglass cat in which to cruise the world, and then cancelling the build before the first hull was finished. “Quality issues.” Then he found a 104ft aluminium hull, unfinished, in a yard in northern China, and decided to finish the job. It was a bare shell, nothing more, “and the shipyard made it very clear that I was to take it away. They were not interested in continuing with a small build.”
This proved more difficult than Lenz anticipated, and he admits that “naivety coupled with enthusiasm create a very potent – but dangerous – mixture.” After visiting yards all over southern China, and then Taiwan and even the Philippines, he was introduced to Des Kearns who was finishing a project at PSS Shipyard. The yard had a ‘can-do’ attitude – yes, they could haul the boat; yes, we could build a shed; yes, we could build offices – in short, we could build our own shipyard in their shipyard, and this is exactly what we did. There are chickens in the house and dirt on the floor. Skills are limited, but the boat has been built with attitude – the strongest glue known to man. Pain, perseverance, defeat, frustration, joy and elation are just some of the feelings that we have all been through.”
“We” is a team of eight expatriates, and around 70 local Thai workers at any one time over the last two years. Lenz admits that “the road has been hard. We didn’t just build a boat – we built storage areas, mezzanines, an accounting department, a receiving department, the lot. I took care of procurement for every component on the boat that came from outside Thailand. We got the shed bonded, and so forth. Quite literally we built a shipyard. Right down to the tools you need in one.”
“Problems? Of course there were problems! I try not to think about them as it brings back a lot of hard feelings. The first was getting the hull out of China – in the end it took a privately chartered cargo vessel. Welding proved to be difficult in the heat and humidity of coastal Thailand, and don’t even mention suppliers… never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that it would be so hard to buy things – when the world is in recession! And now, as we get near to the end of the project, I see signs of fatigue all around me. But I also see a twinkle in the eyes of the work force. They know they have done something exceptional. We are sprinting now to the finish line of the Silverlining Marathon.”
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