23 - Trial by Sea

Big suitcase in a small hatch photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-1] Interesting storage and egress challenges.

It could have been that vicious rumour: a pair of queer birds winging into town to buy a yacht at light-speed, or maybe it was something else. Nobody knows, and really, what difference does it make in the end? The point is, our quest for an escape vessel was so freakishly beyond the bell curve, the yachting lads didn't know what to make of it. Other than a killing, that is.

Between the boat's owner, the charter outfit carrying an under-performing asset, and the broker -- working on commission -- it's safe to say, there was more than one party highly motivated to get us on board and locked into the deal. That suited me just fine. It's not like we were window shopping. So, when the invitation was offered, moving aboard was plain as a pikestaff.

The Beneteau was all ready for charter. Beer chilling in the fridge, and fresh flowers on the table. I was chuffed. Not only was the apartment-hotel running up the credit cards something fierce, but we were taking action. We'd be on our way home in no time.

Elena commandeered one of the cabins for her own personal space. She hung her coat in the closet, stuck a postcard of Marmaris on the wall and placed her scuffed boots by the bunk. On the pillow sat a manky, wee teddy bear her father had given her in better times. How it got all the way to a sailboat cabin in Turkiye, is still a mystery.

Elena Vaytsel in her lair photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-2] Elena claims her own space. Everything she had left fit in that suitcase (foreground).

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The deal wasn't done, not by a long shot. Erdem sat across from me at a marina picnic table. "The next step is to remove conditions. Blah, blah, blah." I wasn't actually paying attention. A citrus tree with big, juicy oranges, provided shade, and Erdem sat there, bloody watching me peel one and take a bite. I started gasping and choking, and all he did was raise an eyebrow and tell me they were, "Decorative. Not for eating." Unconcerned with my imminent demise, he prattled on about some sort of conditions.

"Conditions! Gasp! Wheeze! What do they have to do with me?"

"Well, they are standard conditions. In the contract for your protection, and you need to remove them. You need to conduct a sea-trial and a survey to start with."

"A survey's an inspection, right?" I knew that much from estate purchases.

"That's right. A surveyor makes sure there are no defects the seller didn't know about, or forgot to mention." Erdem shuffled through yet more papers in his leather folio.

"And you said something about 'Israel' or 'seat-rails,' something like that?"

"Ah yes, the sea trial. That is like a test drive. I suggest you take the vessel out for a sea-trial before anything else."

decorative poisonous oranges photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-3] A decorative orange tree in Netsel Marina, Marmaris, Turkiye. A dangerous plant to have around Meg.

Me, take that thing out for a spin!? I knew nothing about driving a boat I couldn't paddle. Let's not even talk about getting it out of its parking space. Scenes of apocalyptic destruction flashed before my eyes. The marina in ruins! Boats going down. A flaming petrol slick. People screaming. And me, there at the helm reassuring the terrified onlookers, "Don't panic. It's only a sea-trial."

"Perhaps this afternoon is convenient?" He prodded.

"This afternoon!?" Holy kapoosta. "What about tomorrow? Yeah, that will be much better." There had to be a workaround. "Maybe there will even be some wind then. We can really put that yacht through its paces." Brilliant save!

Erdem raised his sweat-free brows.

Another flash of fiendish cleverness flew from my subconscious. "By the way, since I want to be extra careful and make sure there is nothing I miss on the sea-trial, would it be OK to hire a professional boat driver to take it out tomorrow? Perhaps there is someone you can recommend who knows this size and model?"

Marmaris, Turkiye. Gulets, old town, and castle photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-4] Marmaris from the water.

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"Alors, bonjour!" Our rent-a-skipper jumped aboard, started barking orders in French.

Crikey, was he hacked off. That aforementioned rumour had transmogrified among the unemployed charter skippers into, a pair of buyers scooping up yachts for a Russian consortium. Adding insult to injury, they were women!

Mr Congeniality looked about sixty. He was probably mid-twenties. Built like a scarecrow, five o'clock-last-week shadow and sucking on a pongy, Turkish gasper. He wasn't the epitome of ingratiating. I looked around for Erdem.

"You are Canadian? Do you not speak French? Perhaps you are deaf?" Reaching through the enormous steering wheel, he flicked plastic covers off the instruments.

"We, are, not, lea-ving, with-out, Er-dem!" My French sucks. Speaking loud and slowly with a lot of hand waving is the next best thing.

"Why not? This boat, I can sail her blind. She was to be my boat, my job. Your broker, did he not tell you? You come and buy the charter boats. Now I am without a job. Merde! Tell your boss not to do business around here."

Elena was pie-eyed at the Frenchman's theatrics.

"Nasha captain." I said in Russian. Aye, it's same word in English, Russian and French. But, can you fault me?

"Non, you are zee cap-ee-tan. I am your humble servant."

Way off in the distance I saw Erdem, strolling down the dock. I waved a frantic hurry up. He arrived with every hair in place. His tie perfectly knotted. Not even a hint of sweat. He had a brief exchange, -- OK, let's call it an argument -- with the skipper. It put an end to any further communication from the Frenchman; in English, French, Turkish or otherwise.

"Just so it's clear," I told the skipper's hunched shoulders, "I am leaving control of the yacht to you. I need to concentrate on its performance by watching and listening to its on board systems." I think I pulled it off, with aplomb.

The engine was keyed to life. Ropes were untied and we were underway. I watched, taking meticulous mental notes. Passing a fuelling dock, I asked what it cost to fill the tank. It's how I determined, our engine burned diesel.

Away from land, a fresh breeze was kicking up little, white-capped waves. Erdem and the skipper were suddenly tripping levers and cranking ropes through winches. An insanely huge mass of super heavy fabric and hardware -- the mainsail -- climbed up a track in the towering mast. It flapped like mad, spurring a look from Elena that still gives me the shivers. The skipper spat his gasper into the water, smirked at Elena and spun the wheel. The yacht veered. FOOMPH -- the huge mainsail filled with air, leaning the boat away from the wind. Elena shrieked and scrambled for something to cling to.

Heeling sailboat photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-5] Heeling (leaning) is something sailboats do when going upwind.

"Miss Meg, should we not take Miss Elena back to the dock?" Erdem yelled over the noise.

"Hell no!" I bellowed. The boat was sailing. Finally doing something I understood. It was aerodynamics in action, and I was thrilled. "She has to get used to it. Let's sail this puppy!"

Elena clammed up and stared dead ahead. The skipper, leering at me with crooked orange teeth, killed the engine. Sudden tranquillity. Just the swish of water rushing by the hull. Crikey, it was magic! Then Erdem threw some levers. A bunch of coiled up rope sizzled through cleats, and the whole boat shook as an even bigger sail up front, unfurled and filled with a colossal bang. Then, a lot more pulling, winching and yelling. Erdem and the skipper had the Beneteau seriously heeled over, and veritably flying.

Somehow, Elena survived the sea trial. She pole-vaulted to the dock before we even came to a stop. She was a case study of extreme stress, not to mention a pale shade of green.

Tying a couple of ropes to the dock, the skipper recovered his English language skills. "Your crew, she maybe is not so happy." He jumped below deck and re-emerged with our complimentary case of beer. Laughing maniacally, "Your broker, he says you are to sail the Atlantic, with her!"

"Yeah, what do I owe you?"

He jumped to the dock with our beer. "Paid in full! And, good luck, mes amies."

Entrance to Netsel marina, seen from Marmaris bay photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-6] Entrance to Netsel marina, seen from Marmaris bay.

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A survey inspection wasn't going to be easy. Of the known boat inspectors, one was in the hospital with his third or fourth heart attack; one refused to survey sailboats because of their cramped spaces; and then, there was the English alcoholic who hadn't been seen since a near-legendary bar fight a few days earlier. Blimey! All I wanted to do was to pay for the bloody boat and get the hell out of there.

"The survey, it is most important. I must insist! I am sure, so too, will your insurance company." Erdem did everything by the book. "You will not get insurance without the survey, and for crossing an ocean, insurance, it is necessary."

"I don't see why. We go down with the ship, who's going to collect? Nobody knows we're doing this or would even notice our absence. There's no lien on the boat. It's mental!"

"I will not sell to you this yacht, without a survey!" Lordy, was he persistent.

An older, Canadian woman was at the brokerage picking up some papers. "I overheard your conversation. There is an Australian man overseeing the refit of our yacht. I am not sure, but he claims to be a marine surveyor."

"Really, where?" I asked.

"He is right here in the marina. I believe he lives on a boat." She took my arm and pulled me aside. "I would not trust him. If all you need is a survey, he might be able to do it in a pinch. Please take my advice, you really do not want him doing anything but a survey."

We managed to find him -- a late to middle-aged eccentric living on a big, worn out, Turkish gulet. Erdem couldn't believe it. A professional surveyor that neither he nor his brokerage had ever heard of; and right there, in the marina. Me? I just chalked it up to serendipity. Harvey promised to undercut everyone else and do the survey right away. I liked him. He reminded me of my dear Scottish grandfather. Strangely, snatches of really course Russian were coming from somewhere on his musty, old boat. It set my teeth on edge. Harvey picked up on it. "Aw right, that's just my Russian girlfriend. She's got some people over." He grinned. "You know, I've just thought of something. Your Elena's likely missing fellow Russians. I just bet she would enjoy meeting my girlfriend."

Done with Harvey, Erdem and I wandered toward the brokerage. "It makes zero sense." I said. "Did you tell Harvey that Elena is from Russia?"

He thought for a second. Adjusted his tie. "You know, never have I seen or heard of that man before today."

Meg Aitken meets Harvey photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-7] Meg is enchanted by Harvey aboard his dilapidated ship.

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"Ahoooooy, Meggy!" It was Harvey: the boat inspector, at some undogly hour. "Come on, I have the travel-lift waiting. I'm doing your survey now. Where are the keys?"

"Keys? Check the dashboard."

"I called your broker. He's still in bed." Harvey leered. "Big night, I s'pose." He winked like he got a June bug in his eye. "Well, mate. The travel-lift is waiting. We need to go there, now!"

Elena bleated from under the covers, "Shto proisxhodit? -- What's going on?"

"We're moving the boat to the travel-something. By the way, what time is it?"

"A quarter to seven!" Harvey yelled from the helm -- that's the steering wheel. "You two, get some clothes on, before we get to the travel-lift."

Scrambling for skivvies, I yelled back, "What's a travel-lift?"

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Yacht ready for lifting from the water photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-8] The yacht under a travel-lift: a large mobile crane for taking boats in and out of the water.

A monstrosity on wheels positioned itself above the boat. It lowered a cat's cradle of nylon straps into the water, then the yacht rose into the air. Boat and gigantic machine rolled glacially over the tarmac. It was Daliesque: a sailboat floating above an asphalt sea.

Harvey cornered Elena and snatched her hand. "My, my. Wouldn't my girlfriend like to meet you!"

"Why?" Elena yanked her hand back.

"She's Russian, like you. Thought you might like some company." He said with a lopsided grin.

Elena whirled and marched off.

I love the way she suffers no fools, but by bollocks-on-a-stick, we needed Harvey. I ran to catch up with her.

"Why did you tell him I am Russian? I do not like this man! I do not know his girlfriend, and I do not want these strangers to know anything about me."

"I didn't tell him! Lenna, he's only being friendly."

"I do not trust friendly people. There is always reasons for friendly. His girlfriend is Russian! You cannot trust Russians." Elena stormed toward town.

I stood my ground.

"Sorry mate. Russian sheilas and their hot blood, aye. Strewth!" Harvey slapped me on the back.

I backed away. Looked at the dripping sailboat in slings. It looked way bigger out of the water than afloat. "How long will this survey take you?"

"Four, maybe five hours."

"Fine, get Erdem when you're done, and put it back in its parking spot." I turned and ran after Elena.

travel-lift (mobile crane) Netsel Marmaris Marina photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-9] The sailboat hangs in the travel-lift (mobile crane) above the tarmac, ready for inspection.

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Marmaris's castle coalesces out of a conglomerate of ancient Greek buildings on top of a hill. The higher up the hill, the bigger the buildings. By the time you get anywhere near the castle, everything has grown together, like a labyrinth or coral reef. That's why, when its own walls became an obstacle, we didn't know we were actually at the castle. A dead-end in the pizza-oven like heat. Elena plunked herself down on someone's front step and brooded.

Sea-glimpses between buildings revealed the bay Alexander the Great once kept his fabled fleet in. I pulled the camera from my pack and snapped a few shots.

"I cannot believe we will sail this sea." Elena waved at whatever I was shooting.

"Me too. It's beautiful!" I tried for a shot with some foreground perspective. "Ahh, why can't you believe it?"

"What do you think?" She stared down at the cobblestones. "Oh, Meg. I am so afraid. You have, at least, a little experience. To me, I have none. I have never been at the sea."

"We still have time. We can make sure we are ready." The truth is, I was starting to have doubts of my own.

Her voice softened. "I don't know what I am capable of. It scares me just to talk about it. That time when we sailed with Erdem and that Frenchman, I could do nothing. I was frozen with fear." Elena raked both hands through her hair. "Even if I wasn't afraid, I still don't know how to sail!"

Elena Vaytsel photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-10] Elena sits on someone's front step to think things out.

A troupe of profusely sweating, scarlet faced Americans huffed past with cheerful greetings. "But you can learn. We've got time before the deal on the boat closes. I'll sign you up for sailing lessons."

"You can not teach me?"

I snapped off a couple more shots. "I'd rather not. A professional will do a better job and cover stuff I might miss." Aye, it sounded plausible to me, at the time, anyway.

Elena hugged her knees. Went silent. I wondered how long before someone showed up, needing to use their front step.

Then, with something like a third-degree sunburn stripping the skin off my face, I reached down and took her hand. "Come on, it's time to go."

We started down a narrow alley of time polished, heat-shimmering cobblestones. Elena clomped beside me in her Doc Martens. Despite the heat, her hands were cold and she clung to me like she was afraid of ever letting go.

New Marmaris seen from the castle photo elenameg.com

[Image 23-11] The new part of Marmaris and the bay, as seen from the castle wall.

[[ updated Apr 23, 23:53 GMT ]]