Buy a quality cruiser and project manage your own refit. Rupert Holmes advises on how to avoid the pitfalls
Have you ever hankered after a top-quality yacht, fitted out to your own requirements, but discounted the idea on the basis of cost? If so, it may be worth looking into buying one with the intention of carrying out a yacht refit and project managing the work yourself.
While many owners of larger craft hand refit work to a single yard that becomes responsible for the entire process, it can also be viable to manage a refit on a biggish boat yourself. One of the most common motivations for owners to do so is to get to know their boat and its systems better – we even came across one person who had bought a new boat with a very basic level of equipment and then fitted the equipment needed for long-distance sailing themselves for this very reason. Another popular reason is the potential for cost savings.
On the downside, even if you’re not hands-on in terms of actually doing the work, the project management aspect will be time-consuming. In addition, if things go wrong you won’t have the benefit of the knowledge base of a big yard, which is likely to have figured out solutions to similar problems encountered in the past. But it can still pay dividends.
The refit of Sea Flute
David Pedley bought his 2003 Oyster 56, Sea Flute, in Palma, Mallorca in early 2014 and brought her to the UK for a refit that he project managed himself.
“Although I could have bought a newer boat with similar equipment, it would have been a compromise,” he says, “Now I have an excellent boat that’s set up exactly as I want it, with top-quality gear, and I’m delighted with the result.”
Having completed the refit in just eight weeks, his plan is to return to the Mediterranean in the spring of 2015, before setting off on a circumnavigation in 2017 with the Oyster World Rally.
Work done included hull renovation (including a deep cut and compound polish, plus skeg repairs), an extensive overhaul to the teak deck, a new suit of Dolphin Sails in a heavy-duty DYS Dyneema double taffeta laminate and replacement of most running rigging. On the electrical front, there were repairs and modifications to the electrical system, plus new chartplotters, Raymarine CHIRP downvision sonar, radar and VHF systems. The engine was also serviced and a new bow thruster fitted.
Initially, one of Pedley’s motivations for project managing the refit was that none of the yards he approached – two large operations in Palma, plus Oyster’s Southampton Yacht Services – was able to accommodate the refit within a timescale that would enable the boat to be used in 2014.
As well as minimising the loss of sailing time, Pedley believes in retrospect that his greater input helped to reduce costs. “I saved quite a lot by getting quotes from different contractors and being able to negotiate on price,” he says.
Around 90 per cent of the work was contracted out to three different companies. “My main time input was in organising that, getting quotes and so on – I was working at least one day per week on the project,” he explains.
The long lead time on the project, which was an inevitable factor of the delivery home, meant Pedley was able to give contractors three or four months’ notice, so they had plenty of time to schedule the work.
“It would have been nice to have done it earlier, so that we wouldn’t have missed as much of the sailing season,” he says, “but we were constrained by the earliest realistic dates to bring the boat across Biscay.”
The boat had already been surveyed in Palma and, before leaving, the engine was serviced, the rig checked and the masthead wind sensor replaced. However, as is often the case with refits, not everything went according to plan and the total cost amounted to roughly double what Pedley originally expected to spend.
In particular, the deck required considerably more work than anticipated. In the boat’s previous ownership, the deck had been enthusiastically cleaned, with the result that once work started it became apparent that there was insufficient depth remaining for new caulking to be applied. The channels between the planks on the entire deck had to be routed deeper – a very labour-intensive task. There were also smaller problems with wiring and electronics, which were discovered on the delivery back to the UK.
Given the problems he encountered, would Pedley undertake a similar project again, and what advice does he have for other owners?
“I would definitely do it again and in a very similar way, but I would spend a lot more time investigating each job beforehand,” he says. “The problem is that if you discover additional problems during a refit, you’re beholden to the contractor and you’re not in a position to negotiate on the price for the extra work.
“At the outset you also have to be absolutely certain of what you want to end up with. Then you’re in a position to give contractors a very clear specification. You also have to make sure their quotes are comprehensive – I had several that appeared to be cheaper, but were short-cutting work that I wanted done, like installing new wiring and removing the existing wires.”
In terms of choosing contractors, Pedley says: “The deck was the main priority, so I specifically looked for a timber specialist and commissioned Robert Leach-Lewis of Blue Chip Marine, who did a superb job. I was impressed by his constant communication, including lots of photos throughout the work.”
For the electronics Pedley visited three companies to talk through specifications in detail, selecting companies that worked with a number of different manufacturers, so that he would be getting impartial advice. Key criteria he looked for included companies that would use their own employees for the installation, rather than contracting the work to a third party, and firms with sufficient flexibility to work around the other parts of the refit.
In the end Pedley went with Port Solent-based Marine Electronics Installations, which he had also used on his previous Oyster.
See also the refitting of Zest, the author’s partner’s boat
Do’s and don’ts
- Don’t underestimate how long it takes to source the parts you need, whether it’s nuts and bolts or big-ticket items, this can absorb a huge amount of time.
- Don’t be daunted by unexpected problems – you’re bound to come across some. What matters is the way you deal with them and that you have a sensible contingency in your budget.
- Don’t procrastinate on making decisions.
- Don’t assume that undertaking every refit task yourself will save money – there are some areas in which specialists with the right tools and experience will work ten times faster than you can.
- Do identify the most likely bottlenecks in the work programme as early as possible.
- Do expect the refit to be a lot more expensive and time-consuming than your initial estimates.
- Do order essential parts as early as possible – the many different individual items that make up a yacht’s inventory are often sold in surprisingly small numbers. Even manufacturers now often hold only small stock levels and it’s not unknown for them to run out until the next batch is manufactured.
- Do focus on the boat’s structure and key systems – you have to get these aspects right.
- Do introduce redundancy of essential systems – this will maximise the boat’s overall reliability.
Hints and tips
- Be organised and plan as far ahead as possible.
- Allow a generous contingency of both time and budget.
- If carrying out a large proportion of the work yourself, a container store/workshop near the boat will help keep you organised and speed progress.
- Remember that spring is the busiest time of year for everyone working in the marine trades. If you’re refitting at this time of year, try to commission the work well in advance and minimise adding extra jobs to the list. Even if your contractor is able to absorb the extra work, if you’re effectively asking them to put in lots of overtime hours, the labour rate may reflect this.
This is an extract from a feature in Yachting World January 2015