Cheaper Teak?

23 Sep

If you've been following world events, you know that the evil military junta in Myanmar, AKA Burma, is finally easing its grip. They've held free elections, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi met with Obama a few days ago, and is urging the US to further ease sanctions. This is great for the cause of freedom and the long-suffering Burmese people, but what does it mean for us sailors?

If you've ever priced teak, it's enough to give you night sweats. Once I went to my local hardwoods dealer and gave him a list of teak lumber I needed to finish off the interior of a 35-foot sailboat…not an all teak interior, mind you, just trim and accents. The dealer gave me back a quote for $2300…for a bundle of sticks! I learned quickly that long stuff, eight to fourteen feet, gets really expensive. "Shorts," boards five feet or less, can go pretty cheap, like $20-$40 per board foot. For all of my teak needs, I've learned to make everything out of pieces less than five feet long.

Teak is plantation grown all over the world now. Plantation trees reach maturity at about thirty years, then can be made into patio furniture. But the really good stuff still comes from Burma: big logs, tight-grained, heavy. This is what many of us have on our boats, and we need it! It may be an environmental catastrophe to harvest these old growth teak trees, but it's the only wood that works on boats: Grips great, rot-proof, lasts forever, beautiful.

During the years of the military junta, the US and most Western nations imposed trade embargoes on Burma/Myanmar, so Burmese teak had to come via China, and the price was sky high. If the US eases sanctions will we go back to importing direct, and will the price drop?

Secluded bay on uninhabited island in the Mergui Archipelago

A free Myanmar might also mean easier access to the Mergui Archipelago, hundreds of islands that stretch north from the Thai border. I got to cruise the Merguis on my friend Ray's Swan 65 back in 2004. It took Ray six months to get the permits, and we had to have an "observer" aboard with us for our whole cruise, but the islands were uninhabited and spectacular.



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