Chris Despy is grizzled sailor with a white goatee and gold-rimmed glasses perched upon a thoughtful brow.

A Socratic sort, in another life he would have been a philosopher, but in this one he’s a Mr Fixit of epic proportions.

It has allowed Despy to pay the bills and live a full life.

He’s owned Barnacle Bill for a decade, a shop for yachtsmen and other interesting people.

It could be called The Old Curiosity Shop and is tucked away in an yellow building on the Victoria Embankment.

It’s on the ground floor in what is now called Margaret Mncadi Avenue, diagonally opposite the entrance to the yacht mall and just down the drag from the High Court.

UK born Despy is a process control specialist who did a five-year apprenticeship at the old Iscor plant in Newcastle.

Then he spent another 10 years as part of the teams that established steel and fuel plants at Secunda and Sasolburg.

He gained a wealth of experience in process engineering and complex systems of sensors, transmitters and calibrators.

“My trade was putting things together and tracking them.

“It was wonderful. It was the best training in the country at the time.

“Economies are built on steel: all the bridges, the machines, without steel you wouldn’t have modern logistics or manufacturing.”

While Despy was traipsing around glamorous industrial sites, his brother was minting it in the UK, selling computer games. Seduced by the allure of new things he became his brother’s man in South Africa. Alas, selling toys was no match to the stimulation of huge industrial processes.

Despy soon veered off, establishing a computer company that he found far more fulfilling for his analytical mind.

He did that for 15 years and it funded a wild motorcycling hobby that involved too many near misses. So he swapped land speed for racing hobie cats and that led to Barnacle Bill.

He hopes he’ll be there at least for another five years, completing a trifecta of three 15-year careers.

“All the things I’ve learned in engineering and IT come together here,” he says, looking up from behind an industrial sewing machine.

His beloved boxer, Bob, lifts a wary eye as his master schemes his way around an array of diverse jobs.

Despy’s surrounded by all manner of machines and materials.

He creates a symphony from the canvas and the cables, the ropes, ratchets, rods, hooks and fasteners.

Barnacle Bill could probably build anything, anywhere anytime.

Despy fixes yachts, helped with parts of Ushaka Marine World construction and does bespoke design and manufacturing for a variety of water sports.

“I’m a jack of all trades. If there’s money and it interests me, I’ll do it.”

Contact him on or on 0842087990