Forward and Reverse

Crabs bigger than our pots

Crabs bigger than our pots

This dinner-spearfishing requires smaller guns, completely different techniques, and (hardest of all) it also means that I have to start pulling the trigger on fish that I wouldn’t have before.   But I’m getting used to it, and fish are regularly on the menu here on S/V NOMAD.  Speaking of the menu, I can safely say Honey is the best cook we’ve had onboard (Damo, don’t worry dude – she doesn’t have your knife skills). The fish with caper/dill sauce the other night was epic, and only outdone by a traditional Filipino pork dish last night. From an eating/drinking perspective, we’re remarkably spoiled.

The thing that has us grounded right now is completely my fault – I let someone else work on the boat. Someone else that has a long history of not doing things in a timely fashion. Another mechanic vs “mechanic” issue of sorts.

So here’s the story, I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned.

Mechanic Madness

Let’s call this mechanic Gary. Gary is a decent human being. He’s also a decent mechanic. He’s a German, but has been living in Panama long enough that he’s adopted many of the Panamanian customs: being horribly late, rarely finishing things, preferring to talk rather than work (while charging you $40/hour). Gary is also the only shop in town, which helps him get away with being a shitty businessman.

But since Gary is a decent mechanic, I decided (3 months ago) to let him do some work when I went back to the States. The goal was to remove the time-related frustration associated with Gary’s work and have things progressing on the boat while I was Stateside.

I knew Gary wouldn’t do things correctly unless I wrote it down, negotiated the price, and was very clear about the due date. So I wrote a list of all 3 tasks. Then I put a set price on all of them. Then I assigned the date. Then I had him sign it, gave him a copy, and kept one for myself. Then I paid him ½ in advance. I thought this was foolproof. Even if he didn’t finish, I would have some work done when I returned and he seemed to understand the concept of a contract. Fool me once…

I returned from the States. Gary had done two of the three tasks. I advised him of the other task – but he said he was too busy to complete it before I was leaving for San Blas. This task was fairly straightforward but it required a tool I didn’t have and I was nervous about screwing up a fairly complex (and very expensive) part of my boat: the saildrive. Both saildrives were leaking a bit of oil – I just needed to switch out a seal.

Long story short: I went to San Blas, came back, and still couldn’t get Gary to fix stuff. I chased him around, then got busy with the refit. Three weeks ago I dropped by his house (naturally, neither his business phone nor his cell phone were working) and caught him. He came out, pulled one saildrive, gave me the seal, and I went into Panama City on another wild-goose-chase for boat parts. I located, purchased, and brought the seals back to Gary. Two weeks later he finally got around to installing them.

I thought that was it.

But we had a friend visit from Panama City, and we were going to take a little break and go sail to a nearby beach where we’d spend a couple of nights. We got the engines running, unclipped from the mooring (before we should have), and I noticed that my portside engine wasn’t operating correctly. F***.

We were quickly being blown into another yacht. I figured out that the saildrive was operating in reverse (when I pushed the throttle forward, it went into reverse and vice-versa).   With that bit of knowledge I was able to get us back to the mooring and safely moored.

Then we began cursing Gary. Then Oliver showed up and we did some troubleshooting. This effectively killed my planned mini-vacation, I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t get ahold of Gary. We tried the obvious fixes, but it became obvious the fix wasn’t obvious.

Eventually I got cornered Gary. He said he couldn’t come out, he was too busy. He tried to send a minion. I told him no, that the fix wasn’t obvious. He needed to come and fix it himself. He said “Ok” but it will be a few hours. I said “No problem, but it needs to be today.” He said “Of course.”

That day Gary never showed, naturally. The next morning Gary’s minion shows up. I was sick of dealing with the situation (and a little hungover from a celebration the night before), and in a moment of weakness I let the minion onboard. The minion worked for a while, then told me he needed something back a Guido’s. Then he left. Naturally, he left all of my tools scattered about my boat and throughout my engine room.

When I went to collect my tools from the engine room, things got worse. Not only did the minion take a part of my saildrive with him, he also sheared off part of my engine control cable. Furious is an understatement.

I took the night to cool off, but went to visit Gary the next morning. Not home, at Panamarina. I went to Panamarina. I saw Gary, here’s how the conversation went:

Me: (calmly) “Hey Gary. Did Armando tell you what he did onboard my boat?”

Gary: (flippantly) “He said you guys broke some things, and that he couldn’t fix it.”  Implying it was my problem.  Implying he may or may not fix it.  Implying that he wasn’t worried about making things right.

Me: (opposite of calm)   “Armando is a f***ing liar. He broke the engine control cable, there were three people onboard when he did it. Where is that simpleton, I can’t wait to get my hands on him. I’m trying to remain patient, but this was supposed to be finished three months ago, and I have your signature on a piece of paper confirming that. You remember that? Do I need to get that contract? Months after it was supposed to be completed, you screwed it up. Then you didn’t come fix it. Then you sent that little shit Armando, after I told you not to. Then he broke my boat. Then he lied about it. You have one week. ONE WEEK.”

Gary: “One week for what?”

Me: “One week to fix this. You go buy the Teleflex cable, then you come and install it and fix my saildrive. ONE. WEEK.”

The first time I’ve actually lost my cool in Panama. Not my brightest moment, but dealing with the series of compounding failures, then the flippancy, then the lying – that would push any human being to the point of near-violence.

It’s kind of a sticky situation right now; he may very well decide to not come fix his mistake. I’ll let Gary have this Sunday to rest and relax, but starting Monday – every morning I’m going to be at his house reminding him. Every. Single. Morning.  The hope is that if I can annoy him 1/4 as much as he’s annoyed me, he’ll fix it.

I’d like to say the moral of the story is that I need to have better tools onboard and need to spend the time to do the repairs myself. Relying on other people to do these kinds of tasks isn’t working. But: some things, like this, require a specialized knowledge, or a special tool or two. And even guys with this specialized knowledge screw tasks up from time-to-time.  And contracts don’t always work.  Especially when you’re in a country where the legal system is a jumbled mess of nonsense.  Maybe the moral of the story is to never hire someone who you know is unreliable, regardless of the safeguards you think you have in place.  Even if they’re the only shop in town.

Back on the water, we’re continuing to chip away at tasks. We’re diving when we need fish. The anchorage is slowly filling up with familiar faces. The weather is cooler.   Even knowing the way boat-repairs go (3X as long, 5X as expensive) – I’m convinced we’ll be out of here soon.  Gary is the only real problem onboard right now, and he’s not even onboard – just his problems are.

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