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Two months in a boatyard. Part 2.

I dedicate this entry to: Piotr ‘Szadzio’ Sładek and Grzesiek Kaniak – for their valuable advice on yacht repairs and maintenance. Thank you very much! I also dedicate it to all couriers and postal workers keeping the UK going throughout the lockdown. Take everything I wrote below with a pinch of salt😉

The day when in March 2020 Boris Johnson bowed to public pressure and ordered a full lockdown of the United Kingdom, everything at the boatyard stopped hour by hour.

A small quirky boat hangs sadly on the huge belts of the gantry. I suspect that the employees have left on purpose, to deter someone who would think of playing with the crane in their absence. That would make sense because one day such an idea comes into my mind when I evaluate options of how to be back on the water.

Someone has left brushes and cans under their yacht, another has left a half-painted hull. Abandoned tools are lying around. In an area that is normally busy on a daily basis, even in winter time, there is an unnatural stillness. Silence prevails. Life here is on pause and this space is filled with lonely yachts which wait in anticipation of what will happen next.

For the next few weeks, I am living within my little triangle with sides of the length of about 400 meters. On its corners we have: a yacht, a bathroom, and an ASDA supermarket. This is my world for the first twenty days of the lockdown.

sailing, żeglowanie, sailor, jachtowy sternik morski, rejs stażowy

A note appears on the glass door of the marina office. “Clyde Marina management … with great regrets … due to the epidemic … We will definitely be back! … Kind Regards.” A moment later, another one appears: “Couriers with deliveries for Mr. Bartosz Sowisło aka. of the ‘Flying Polishman’ yacht, please contact by phone …”. This handwritten, inisignificant piece of paper initiates the first of several threads into which I will share a further story.

COURIER AND DELIVERY

 A seagoing yacht does not seem to be a very complicated device. Hull, mast, engine and lots of ropes. Seemingly. In this hull there are several installations, hundreds of meters of pipes, tubes, more tubes, cables and wires, fuses, connectors, lamps, and even more lights. Handles and valves. Bolts and pulleys. Electronics and switches, even more switches, light bulbs, fittings, shackles, thimbles, bushings and only the devil himself knows what else.

It all breaks down, requires periodic repairs, replacements, polishing, cleaning, lubrication or maintenance. The fact that during the season cruises everything can be repaired with one pocket knife, adhesive tape and Sikaflex might be considered as a minor miracle. But before the season, the boat requires much more care and attention. And especially before the visit of Maritime Office – it all has to be top – notch.

Roughly 99.8% of all these parts have two things in common.

First of all: they are horrendously expensive, because they must be “for the yacht”. This means that they must have a placard with for example ‘Wheelmark’ proving compliance with some directive, issued by some Very Important Institution that takes care of the safety of sailors. If there is a part that does not seem to require approval and all related attestations, it should be ‘Marine Grade’. If it is not marine grade, the yacht is said to be sinking even before it is launched, this is according to sellers of abovementioned parts.

According to practitioners, it will at least rust, corrode, flare up, and start to leak badly before it goes completely to the dogs. I’ve got no clue how much of that is the truth, so I follow standards, and search for the ‘yacht parts’ which shortly brings me to the edge of bankruptcy.

Secondly, none of these parts, for unknown reason can be purchased in nearby ASDA, or even from the miniature DIY store inside of my magic triangle. So, you have to order them online in the shops called intriguingly: chandleries.

The name chandler, apparently, comes from ancient times when no one heard of ‘wheel mark standard attestation’ and chandleries on the British Isles sold mostly candles, apparently bought in large quantities by sailors. In the twenty-first century, a candle in chandleries is probably impossible to find. On the other hand, now you can find there tens of thousands of various useful and fun items. You need an ashtray with a picture of an anchor, two 120 Ah batteries, 20 meters of braid–on–braid rope? No problem. All of this is within easy reach of your fingertips. In the cave of Aladdin, branched into hundreds of corridors, in the abyss of the Internet.

Somehow the only chandlery in Ardrossan, a place where there are approximately 150-200 yachts at winter, went bankrupt. How it has happened must be a mystery to economists. So, whether I like it or not, I am doomed to shop online. Just to make it clear: I have never liked buying online, but it’s only in Ardrossan that I start to hate it honestly and selflessly.

The procedure for purchasing any, even the smallest, item is as follows:

sailing, żeglowanie, jachty, jachtowy sternik morski, mile building, marina ardrossan
  1. Find out what it is called in Polish
  2. Find out what it’s called in English
  3. Record every possible and impossible dimension
  4. Search for an hour until you manage to find a possible match
  5. Check and compare every possible dimension.
  6. Once I confirm this is what I am looking for…
  7. Look at the price and consider it to be some cruel joke of an overzealous capitalist
  8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you find an item that has been reasonably priced
  9. Throw into your basket and try to find other items on the same site that you may need, so that you can get everything done in one go and in one delivery
  10. Find the rest of the items you need – at an astronomical price, while concluding that chandleries in the UK have some very subtle price collusion
  11. Order, pay
  12. Wait
  13. Wait
  14. And wait a little longer, because throughout lockdown, consumption continues, all trade has moved to the Internet. Couriers, like Stakhanists in the early USSR, exceed the norms, logistic centres are red hot, the pound flows hand too hand, all to the glory of Chinese GDP growth
  15. Pick up a parcel
  16. See that either the sender made a mistake and packed the wrong thing, or … well, you accidentally ordered the wrong item. So, you have to repeat the fun from the very beginning

Receiving the package, which I so nonchalantly allowed myself to put in one sentence equivalent, is just fun by itself. On the second day, I call it “courier hunt” and start ranking who is winning at the moment. Me or the couriers. The rules are very simple: I manage to pick up the package – a point for me. Failed – point for the courier. The first day is 2: 1 for me.

What is the difficulty, you may ask?

The yacht, where I live, sleep, freeze, work and do my DIY stands in a boatyard, which is a huge paved square near the ferry harbor, from where ferries regularly sail to the Isle of Arran. I am about 400 meters from the marina office. Under normal conditions, there would always be someone sitting there. The courier would come, throw the package on the floor and you could pick it up at any time. When the office is closed… Game on!

At first, I naively believe that someone might be interested in my message hanging on the door. Unfortunately, they presume, I must have written it accidentally, or while drunk in Vietnamese. It does not arouse much interest in the suppliers and I find out via text message that ‘no one was there to receive my parcel’. Some pulley or string that I purchased could not be delivered. 1:0 for couriers.

The next package I expect is very important. It comes from Poland and inside there is an electronic equipment worth several thousand zlotys. The stakes of this sparring are boosted by the fact that the equipment is already registered with the Polish Office of Electronic Communications. Registration took about six weeks and a wheelbarrow of paperwork. So, I sit in the yacht shivering from the cold and instead of doing something useful, I start following the route of the DPD courier on their website. DPD tells you how many stops the supplier has to skip before reaching me. So, I sit down with a stopwatch, calculator, paper and pen in my hand and calculate the average for each stop. When I manage to set some values in the sweat of my brow, it turns out that it should be enough time if I leave myself when the courier is three stops away from me.

I pass a false start. I cannot predict that the guy might have vanished somewhere along the way. Maybe he’s gone to lunch, maybe he’s met a chick on Tinder, or maybe he’s just lingered on the toilet? It’s enough that my calculations turn out to be worth shit, and in the wind that separates the periosteum from the marrow, I put down roots into pavement for a good fifty minutes. But it’s already 1: 1!

A bit of a luck, almost at the same moment a gift from another courier company arrives, who I do not expect at all today. There is a small triumph and the day ends with a win.

I’ve been playing with couriers for a good two weeks. One day I experience disgraceful failures, and the next – glorious and memorable victories.

In one of the epic duels, I am forced to give up. It was a tough fight! In front of me there is quite a competitor: DHL. I decide to take him by surprise, using the DPD method. I make the reconnaissance by fight, counting the corrections in the sweat of my brow. I arrange an ambush on a bench. I have a great view of the battlefield on one side and the harbour basin on the other. I quietly check the latest tracking details – refresh the website. When it seems that I cannot lose this time, the notification says: “There was no one there, the parcel was not delivered”. Oh, you! How’s that!?! I check frantically. Where’s the error? Where’s the mistake? The message reports: a courier still two miles from Marina already knew that nobody would be there and returned to the sorting plant. Damn it.

I am launching diplomatic means. I am writing an email using the contact form. I hope that I will get a response back on the next day. How naive. How much I underestimate the adversary! Over the next four days, with the regularity of the metronome and the repeatability of mass production in the six-sigma standard, the same thing happens over and over again. The courier is delivering, but probably in an invisibility cloak. I write e-mails fiercely. I start with the polite ” would you be so kind “, then a bit more resolute ” could you “, through the naughty ” can you “, and finally the mocking ” you’ve gotta be kidding me “. And in the final act of desperation: ” wtf!!! “. AND…

I understand that I have to give up. The act of surrender is such that I have to walk to the point where I can pick up the package. Two miles one way, one of the gas stations. When I get there, it turns out that the opponent was not enough just to beat me. He still has to depress me, press my neck to the ground with his steel hand, make me beg for mercy whilst on my knees.

Yet, there it is. It has a huge green sticker with the word “HOLD” on it. Oh nibblers, I am so close! I give the number of the undelivered parcel to a Nice Lady working on the petrol station. It is correct. My name is correct as well. But, but … Nice lady has a system. The system absolutely demands a barcode that I don’t have. Me and lady stand looking for a solution. I want it … She can’t give it. I want, I want so much, with my whole being. She really can’t. How could that be, without a barcode, so indecent, so not so Christian after all, what people would say! We debate. We are brainstorming. The lady makes an unsuccessful phone call to a friend. She looks at the delivery history, she exclaims in frustration and says, “It is just some fucking nightmare” I nod my head eagerly confirming. It is what it is, but definitely not a wet dream. The nice lady finally says: “Ohhhh fuck it! Write on a piece of paper that you have picked up the package, leave your phone number and that’s gonna have to do… ”. In the end, the Scottish – Polish rebel spirit that does not bend in front of the soulless system finally prevails.

However, the most mysterious are the parcels delivered by Royal Mail. Limited traceability, so it feels like a blind fate. I buy goods that later circulate somewhere. Nobody knows exactly where. The sellers say it was delivered, but who picked it up? Certainly not me, but the living spirit of the marina. So, I bully sellers with e-mails and phone calls, but parcels dissolve into thin air, evaporate as a drop of water in the desert. It’s gone and it’s delivered, piss off. Due to the epidemiological threat, there are no signatures now, so it is not known who is picking up, but someone is picking up.

 One day I get a mysterious email. From the marina. Intrigued, I read: “In the laundry room, under the sink, middle shelf, under the garbage bags. There you will find what you are waiting for” I’m flying at breakneck speed and they are all there – to one! It turns out that there is someone in the marina and he is my silent ally. The postman has a ” safe spot ” where he quietly, probably under the cover of night, places parcels. I don’t know where the hiding place is. So secret. Perhaps behind a garbage can, perhaps in a fox hole, or perhaps a loose paving slab. It doesn’t matter, that what was supposed to reach me – it arrives.

There were still many parcel stories. On Good Friday, I took a taxi all the way to Greenock. It contained explosives, and these cannot be shipped by courier. Later, I arrange the logistics so that my packages are delivered to a small DIY store and then to a friend who lives in nearby Saltcoats. Each of these threads deserves a completely new and, I hope, interesting story. I will describe on another occasion.

The marina in the lockdown is extinct, unnaturally silent. The only thing you can hear is a megaphone repeated ad nauseam: “Coronavirus is a national emergency. Stay at home, save lives, protect the NHS. Everyone can give that, everyone can get that ”. On Thursdays at 8 p.m., two ferries sirens, their crews pounding furiously against the metal railings. This is known as ” clap for Boris ” and later ” clap for NHS””- a new practice that is born during an epidemic in the United Kingdom. All in all, only these sounds and the sounds of the outside world remind us that the cause of my struggle with couriers, loneliness and almost complete isolation is a great story that still unfolds before our eyes and which we will tell in several dozen years. Just like our grandmothers talked about the war and our parents about martial law in Poland, 1981.

Boatyard is unnaturally quiet. When there is no wind, I hear silence at night so poignant that I have not heard once in over a year in London. That’s beautiful in itself.

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Two months in a boatyard. Part one.

Journey 

National Express Night Bus 501, departing from London Victoria at around 11pm, arrives at Glasgow’s Buchanan Station normally around 7.30am. Ticket costs only a dozen or so pounds, it’s relatively independent from weather conditions, and with a bit of luck, there won’t be a two-metre-tall basketball player sitting next to you keeping you smashed against the window through the whole journey. Happened to me as well. True story.

Most of the time it’s half empty and, your trip is done in no time: you get on, you go to sleep and you wake up the next morning in Glasgow. Included there is a short break for a piss, a fag, and a coffee or whatever else one would like to do around three in the morning at some stop right in the middle of nowhere. Line 501 became my favourite means of transport connecting London and Glasgow between November and March, moving to or from the yacht in Ardrossan, I cover this route probably five times. 

This time the decision to depart from London isn’t spontaneous, I should rather say it is forced by circumstances out of my control. I had planned to visit the yacht in the last few days of March, as to give myself three weeks to prepare her for a safety inspection of the Polish Maritime Office. However, I am going earlier, due to the upcoming chaos we hear about from various news all over the world on the development of the coronavirus epidemic. 

When I learn that Israel is probably the first country in the vicinity of Europe to close its borders, and all toilet roll disappears from London’s supermarkets within two days, I begin to realize that if I want to do anything on the yacht before the season starts, I have to go to Scotland. Immediately. 

I pack quite chaotically. Taking mostly packages with various spare parts, screws, silicones and a mix of other crap. I also pack two laptops and some randomly picked out garments. The rest of my modest English belongings stays at my friend’s apartment in Canning Town, London. I already have some of my stuff on the yacht, so it will be ok. I’m on my way. 

As usual, it is calm, warm and cosy on the bus. Only disturbance to a blissful peace is one quite noisy English gentleman in his 50s. From the scrapes of his story spelled out into space, I put together that this gentleman is trying to get to Glasgow for the third time this week, but there is always something coming in his way. Usually some tricky liquor store, deceitful pub, or treacherous party. It is Thursday and the poor gentleman has not managed to get to Scotland since Monday. I close my ears to his surfacing and try to sleep, but I can’t, because… I start to suffer from a strange cough, plus I feel like I’m developing a fever. Great.

The English Odysseus, returning to his Scottish Ithaca, once again seems to be facing an obstacle. A moment later it  would turn out that, again, he’ll not be able to make it to his destination. He carries out ethnographic research. His scientific method is the direct interview,  so he begins to question all passengers about their ethnic origin. Some of them, like me for example, pretend to be deaf and simply ghost him. Some passengers are more sociable, or maybe less assertive, and willingly share where they come from. At this time Odysseus, probably overjoyed to boast about his eloquence, with amazing ease brings out from the recesses of his brain all sorts of national stereotypes, which he willingly and a loudly shares. 

Passengers quickly establish an international social committee. “Batter” is its working name, and the first and the only point of the statute is to, well, beat up Odysseus. One of the members of the committee is so eager to go about implementing the program that he forgets about the two coffees he has on the table in front of him. They glide in an exceptionally picturesque way into the aisle of the bus, splashing around with refreshingly boiling water. The co-passenger, and probably the life partner of the committee’s voluntary activist – really doesn’t like it. She pacifies her partner with an efficiency of the riot control police squad. It seems unbelievable that you can use the terms “baby” and “fucking moron” in one sentence  and in reference to one and the same person. On top of that she finishes the whole thing with a passionate kiss. As if she wasn’t already taken I’d probably propose on the spot.

Someone comes to his senses, which in this particular example mean approaching th phlegmatic driver who closes the whole topic with a few short sentences thrown to Odysseus: “That’s it buddy, You’re being racist. You need to leave the coach now” . Odysseus doesn’t even protest too much. He vanishes in the darkness of the night. Glasgow will have to wait for him. 

Disease 

It is only 10 minutes walk from Buchanan bus station to Glasgow Central Station, where the trains depart to Ardrossan. When I get to the station, I feel as if I made the route from London on my feet. My luggage weighs heavily, I’m sleepy, I’ve got a fever of about thirty-eight degrees centigrade. On top of that, it rains cats and dogs. I wait for another hour for the train. 

When I finally arrive to Ardrossan’s marina office, all I need to do is pick up the two packages that are waiting there for me. I put all my belongings on a cart and drag it to the yacht. The interior of the boat is extremely unwelcoming at the moment. It is cluttered with sails, lifebuoys, ropes and other junk. Most of the floor panels are missing since my last visit when I disassembled them to let the bilges to dry properly. I must jump from frame to frame when I move inside the salon. 

I manage to drag myself on to the nearby ASDA supermarket, where I buy a whole basket of food and a random electric kettle. I also try to buy aspirin. Shelves with medication, as well as those with rice, noodles, and of course toilet roll, are as empty as if it had been purged. The store resembles shops in the second half of eighties in Poland, which I vaguely remember from my childhood. I find a sole box of paracetamol and a bottle of some green syrup which label says All in One. I drag myself onto the yacht, lock myself in the left aft cabin, turn on the fan heater. Before I fall asleep, the boss from my London’s job calls to inform me not to come to the office on Monday under any circumstances. The company’s management made such a decision in light of the developing epidemic. Well, I was proactive for once, I did not plan on showing up on Monday anyway. When I finally drift off, it’s around 5pm

I don’t wake up until the next day. 

The following days merge into one. I am sick like a dog. I eat whatever I can get my hands on, which does not bother me too much, because I’ve got no appetite anyway. I sleep, lie down and drink tea whilst listening to the howling of the wind. I can’t cook anything, because unfortunately the gas cylinders are empty. 

I am tired of some deeply embedded cough, which seems to originate at the very bottom of my lungs. I speak to one of my friends who is a doctor, and she diagnoses me over Messenger App that based on the description of the symptoms, it sounds like I have viral bronchitis. Did I have the coronavirus at the time? I do not know, although it seems possible to me. After all, I came from a city, where you travel by metro, pressed like a dried date so obviously there was a high chance of catching something. 

These days UK was at the stage of ‘herd immunity’. At the time the only guidelines I found on the NHS (National Health Service) website were ‘If you have symptoms – isolate yourself’ and ‘don’t call 111 until five days after symptoms start’. Well, I do not call and treat myself with the obtained paracetamol, the green, nasty-tasting syrup and aspirin found on the yacht. Aspirin is maybe nine years out of date, but I’m convinced it does the best of all of these drugs. 

Apart from the cabin, which is quite warm, the rest of the yacht is some sort of an ice – box. Outside, the wind howls moving the masts and rigging of the vessels. During the few days I spend in the bunk, it’s grey, it rains every now and then. Overall feeling quite bleak. 

With bated breath I read how other countries are closing their borders and introducing increasingly stringent restrictions on incoming and outgoing traffic. I planned to offer cruises in Scotland, and later on other Western European waters, to Polish sailors. So to my ill – health adds a train of thoughts driving continuously across my brain about the success or failure of this plan. 

There is no question of doing any work on the yacht. The most important thing for me now is to somehow regain strength. Only thing I manage is to put the name and home port onto the lifebuoys and to attach the flashing lights to the new life jackets. 

On the fifth day, I am getting well enough to realise that I took my last shower six days earlier in London. But where and how to take a bath here? Can’t use marina facilities, I am feared of responsibility for infecting the entire town with a coronavirus. 

I am calling the broker that sold me the yacht back in November. Chris, who worked for Clyde Marina at the same time. I ask him about my options. At first, he is very surprised that I am still in Ardrossan, convinced that I have already returned to London. Then himself and his colleagues come up with a plan for me. They arrange my shopping, because I’m already on the crumbs for food, and then tells me: “Take the flathead screwdriver with you. When you enter the restrooms, there is a disabled toilet on the right. You can open the lock with a screwdriver. You can use it, just try to walk around in such a way that you do not have contact with other people.” 

So, I take my first shower under the cover of night, at eleven o’clock that evening. 

The next morning, I get word that the British government has declared a lockdown and that the marina will be shutting down until further notice. Buses, long-distance trains and most of the planes cease to travel across the country. I am stuck on a boat standing on hard in the boatyard.