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.
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:
- Find out what it is called in Polish
- Find out what it’s called in English
- Record every possible and impossible dimension
- Search for an hour until you manage to find a possible match
- Check and compare every possible dimension.
- Once I confirm this is what I am looking for…
- Look at the price and consider it to be some cruel joke of an overzealous capitalist
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you find an item that has been reasonably priced
- 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
- 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
- Order, pay
- 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
- Pick up a parcel
- 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.