The Blue View - Rebuilding the Instrument Box

finished instrument box For the most part, we have been quite pleased with the quality of the tradesmen here in Durban. We have found a good sailmaker, canvas and upholstery man, machinist, and welder. Several friends have also had good experiences with engine mechanics and electrical repairmen.  With the South African rand as soft as it is, the prices here have been very reasonable, especially when compared to the cost of the same things in Australia. Thus, beyond all the needed repairs that are getting done, we are taking advantage of the opportunity by replacing a few things that are nearing or at their expiration date - our old, battered staysail, our patched and re-patched dodger and bimini, and the worn and stained upholstery in the saloon, to name a few.

One item that was in definite need of work was the cockpit teak box that holds the engine instruments. This box was built and installed by the previous owner, and wasn't all that great to look at when new. Now, after 15-20 years of abuse from the wind, rain and sea spray, it was looking pretty sad. I had been meaning to rebuild it myself for quite awhile, but it had never made it to the top of the list.

We also have a beautiful piece of teak on which our cockpit nav instruments are mounted. One of the older instruments mounted on it has died, and the hole it fits in is bigger than anything we can find to replace it. I can't think of a way to patch or cover the old hole that will look good, so I will have to replace it as well.

closeup of instrument box

One afternoon, a young guy named Kyle stopped by. When he gave me his card and mentioned his forte was marine carpentry, I thought I'd see about replacing the instrument box and the teak for the nav instruments. His rate was R250/hour - about $25/hour - which is on the high side of what qualified people charge here. He looked at the instrument box and said he thought all the wood could be salvaged. He could dismantle the box, sand the parts down, seal everything in epoxy, and reassemble it all. Then either he or I could refinish it. He thought the whole thing would take maybe 4-5 hours. $125 was getting close to my threshold of pain, but I thought I'd give him a shot. As to the teak for the instruments, Kyle said teak was expensive and hard to come by, but he could probably find a lighter piece of mahogany for R250-R300 ($25-$30) or so. That sounded good, so Kyle headed off with the teak box.

He came back a few days later with an armful of wood. He said he wasn't able to salvage most of the teak box after all, so he bought some marine plywood to replace it. It was only R750 ($75). Ouch! His time estimate was also a little off - he was up to five hours already and was about half done. Another ouch! But the good news was that he was able to find some nice teak, which he was able to buy for only R2800 ($280)!! He showed me a very used piece of teak, complete with several layers of peeling varnish and half a dozen old screw holes. I think, with some effort, it could have been made to work and might have even looked good, and had it been $25, I might have been okay with it. But $280?!

215 dollar instrument box

Obviously, Kyle and I had some communication issues. We parted ways at this point. I paid him for his time and materials on the box ($215), and completed it myself. It actually didn't turn out too badly. And Kyle kept his fine piece of teak.