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The Boat That Will not Leave

October 4th, 2017

Sinking Out of Spite

I had some more surprises this week.

I’m trying to sell my dad’s yacht, and we have a contract on it. Day before yesterday, the dockmaster at the marina called me in the morning to say an alarm was going off on the boat, and he said it looked a little low in the front. I called my house sitter and had him take a look. Water was coming up in the compartment under the floor of the forward stateroom. It wasn’t an emergency, but it needed to be attended to that day. I knew it was probably a bad bilge pump or a bad float switch.

A bilge pump is a sort of sump pump that sits in the bottom of a boat and pumps out excess water. It prevents the boat from sinking. Including backups, my dad’s boat has six pumps. A float switch is a switch that turns a pump on when water rises and lifts it.

The people at the marina pump boats in emergencies, but their minimum charge is $500, for what may be an easy 15-minute job. I wanted to avoid that.

I called Carlos (random false name), the guy who does most of the repair work on the boat, and I told him water was rising and that he needed to go to the boat. He said he would do it.

Problem solved. Right?

Next morning, the dockmaster calls me again. He says there are a thousand gallons of water in the boat. He says there is no time to wait. I call Carlos immediately and ask why he hasn’t fixed the boat. Carlos says he didn’t think it was urgent. Out come the excuses. It’s my fault for not screaming, “THE BOAT IS SINKING!”

Carlos has been working on boats for 40 years. He was in the Navy. By now, one would think he had learned that when water starts rising in a boat, you go and fix it TODAY. I’m not a boat expert, but I would have been there in five minutes, had I not moved 300 miles. Carlos didn’t even check it. That’s inexcusable. It’s flat-out incompetence. Totally irresponsible. Carlos thought it was highly professional.

I tell Carlos my dad has a submersible pump in his garage in Miami. He needs to go over and get it, to avoid the huge pumping charge. No, Carlos says. There’s too much water.

The dockmaster pumps it out, and he sends me a photo. The water never got up over the floor. There is no damage. There was probably 200 gallons of water in the boat. Carlos could have pumped it out easily with my dad’s pump. Had he felt like getting off his butt.

Carlos then installs a new pump, at $85 per hour.

It may be a little risky for Carlos to replace the seacock, but he can replace the hose very easily. He just doesn’t want to. Maybe he wants us to pay to have the boat hauled.

This is not the first bad experience we’ve had with Carlos. He routinely failed to return calls for days. He sold my dad a Furuno radar with the buttons chewed off by rats. He said it was new, and that he had stored it for a while, and the rats had gotten to it. He said he would order us new buttons. It was a steal.

I eventually asked him why the buttons hadn’t been replaced. “Oh, that’s an old radar. They don’t have parts for that any more.”

Recently, one of the toilets had a problem. Carlos fixed it. He sent a bill for $1900, on a boat he knew we were going to have to get rid of. If we had sold it with a broken head, we would have gotten exactly the same price we are getting now. The $1900 is money, literally, down the toilet.

Carlos says there’s a leaking hose up front that caused the water problem, and he can’t fix it because he can’t close the seacock to keep the water out. He said you can’t replace a hose on a stuck seacock without hauling the boat. I reminded him that he used to replace hoses and seacocks on boats sitting at docks, by having a diver go over the side and hold a toilet plunger over the holes while he worked. I guess he thought I had forgotten that. No, no; he insisted. You have to haul the boat.

Carlos is not a bad person, but he likes to find things he can fix, he seems to like avoiding hard jobs, and he is never wrong. He never says, “Wow, I blew it.”

Now I’m waiting for a $500 bill for a problem I could have fixed in half an hour with three tools and a cheap pump. I’m guessing Carlos will hit us for around $300, plus the pump. The pump should be around $75, but I have a feeling…

So figure $800, minimum.

At least I’m rid of the boat AND Carlos. I don’t dislike Carlos, but I want him out of my life, permanently. He is a financial drain and a source of unnecessary aggravation, and you can’t tell him a damned thing. You’re always wrong, and Carlos is always right, and if you alienate him by calling him on his BS, you may end up having to hire someone substantially worse.

The crazy thing is this: as boat gypsies go, Carlos is a jewel. Most don’t show up at all. They drink. They take drugs. They charge for work they didn’t do. They do unbelievably bad work. They walk off jobs. Carlos usually shows up after a few days or a couple of weeks, and most of his work is good. I guess I would actually recommend Carlos if someone asked, because his colleagues are like confused monkeys.

If you want to get stinking rich, learn how to fix boats, move to the shore, and do minimally competent work for an honest price. You will be so busy you won’t know what to do with yourself. Everyone will want to hire you.

When the dockmaster said there were a thousand gallons of water in the boat, I pictured ruined carpeting, soaked electric motors, stained and swollen paneling…the works. I’m not sure he knows how big a gallon is. I really appreciate him looking after the boat, though, because needless panic is better than letting the boat sink.

Carlos started rattling off things that needed to be fixed. I told him not to fix anything but the pump. I just want it to float until we get rid of it. The broker agrees.

I had to tell him the boat was sold. I was trying to avoid that, because he wanted to make an offer on it. We talked about it a couple of months back, and he talked the boat down. That’s fine, but he made it seem like he was trying to do us a favor, and that was a little insulting. The fact that I don’t remind you that I’m not a sucker doesn’t mean I’m not aware that you’re treating me like one. Miami people don’t understand things like that. They only understand what you spell out for them.

I was afraid he would charge more or do inferior work if he knew he wasn’t getting the boat. Now that the bilge pump is fixed, I’m afraid there may be a “This is what you get for not selling me the boat” surcharge.

The buyers want to take it to the Caymans, where they live. That’s fine, but they really need to haul it and check all the hoses and seacocks. If it starts to go down because of a bad hose, they’ll be in real trouble out there.

I’m not sure how much to babysit them. If I start nagging them about safety, they probably won’t haul the boat. They’ll probably do exactly as they please, or they’ll want me to cut the price.

Barring more surprises, I may be rid of the boat on Friday. Then they have until Halloween to move it. Then I dance in the yard, singing hallelujah. After that, I rent the slip to someone, and then I count the days until I can sell it and do a 1031 exchange on a piece of commercial real estate.

Boats are a headache. Do not buy a boat. A bass boat is fine. A canoe is fine. Anything over 20 feet will make you sorry you bought it. Anything you keep in the water will be even worse, because it will be vulnerable to storms, dock damage, theft, vandalism, and unexpected catastrophic bilge pump failure.

I’m all done with boats. A boat is like a giant tick that’s always thirsty. We haven’t used this one in years, and it’s still sucking the life out of me. Dumping it will turn it and the slip from financial drains to income producers.

We should have gotten rid of it five years ago, but my dad loved it. He spent almost every day sitting on the boat. He refused to accept reality. He would tell me we needed to go to the Bahamas. Okay, first of all, filling it in the US would have run $2200. And diesel is cheap here compared to the Bahamas. You can’t come home unless you refill it there. After that problem is dealt with, what are two old men going to do in the Bahamas by themselves? And how are they going to handle the boat alone? A boat trip is a gigantic amount of work for three or four people. For two–one of whom will not be doing anything but drinking beer–it’s a Herculean labor.

I understand why he enjoyed the boat. He didn’t do anything. He sat on the flybridge drinking one Lite beer after another. I would enjoy that, too, if it were a better beer.

Here’s what I had to do for a half-day trip off Miami:

1. Go buy bait and ice.
2. Salt the bait.
3. Rig the baits in advance.
4. Prepare the rods. Change line, tie leaders, and so on.
5. Check the oil and water in the motors and generator.
6. Check the transmission oil.
7. Make sure everything runs.
8. Check the heads and make sure they work.
9. Fill the fresh water tank and make sure the pump works.
10. Buy sunscreen, food, and beverages and load them onto the boat.
11. Get the boat running on the morning of the trip.
12. Cast off the lines.
13. Monitor my dad so he doesn’t run the boat aground on the way out of the bay.
14. Get the bait out.
15. Monitor the baits while we troll. Untangle fouled lines. Remove seaweed from lines. Replace stolen baits.
16. Teach every guest how to tie the same knot I taught them last time.
17. Teach every guest how to hook a fish.
18. Yell instructions to my dad while we fight fish, while telling the guests what not to do.
19. Deal with the inevitable mechanical, electrical, or head problems which occur because my dad doesn’t like spending money on maintenance. This may involve going into a loud, 120-degree engine room and working there for long periods.
20. Get the rods in order while we cruise back in.
21. Clean the fish.
22. Dump the excess ice and bait.
23. Clean the cooler.
24. Clean the boat.
25. Put the rods away.

For a Bahamas trip, you can add things like get the life raft certified, get the EPIRB certified, pack the entire boat with food and drinks, get the GPS ready, prepare my dad’s house, board my birds, stop the periodicals, stop the mail, make reservations for a slip in the Bahamas…it’s endless.

You can see why I got tired of it. And again, old men do not go on Bahama trips with their dads. Even if they did, my dad was not physically or mentally able to go. He would have come home in a box.

I don’t know when his dementia started kicking in, but he had extremely unrealistic ideas about the boat at least five years ago.

He still says we should get a top price for the boat, because he kept it in peak condition. I must disagree. The seacocks are a mess. The hoses need to be replaced. The furniture and mattresses are done. The carpeting is done. The engine room wiring needs to be gone through. The heads are disgusting. The fridge is rusting apart. The life raft needs to be redone. The canvas is shot. The woodwork needs professional refinishing. The hull needs painting, and it may have blisters.

It would be nice to hear him say, “The boat is a mess and we kept it way too long.” That will never happen.

By this time next week, I hope to be boat-free, and one month from now, I hope to welcome a paying tenant. Fishing was fun. Cruising to the Bahamas on your own yacht is a rare privilege. Great. That’s over now. Time to do something new that doesn’t cost $15,000 per year. I don’t want boats. I want commercial warehouses. Commercial warehouses don’t sink.

I should go outside and clear the yard of sticks so I don’t stub my toes while I dance.

5 Responses to “The Boat That Will not Leave”

  1. Mike Says:

    We had a 21 ft fishing boat. I can’t imagine the upkeep in a large boat especially in salt water all time. My late father said the two happiest days a boat owner have are the day the buy and the day they sell.

  2. Steve H. Says:

    The broker went to the boat this morning and it was filling up again. He managed to close the seacock. Not sure what I’m paying Carlos for.

  3. Lee Says:

    You *should* clear the yard of sticks. Have fun doing your war/rain/no-more-boat dance.

  4. Steve H. Says:

    I texted Carlos about the pump, just to see him confirm my low expectations. He apologized immediately, said the labor and unnecessary pump were on the house, assured me he would get it fixed TONIGHT, and said he valued my business.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Made myself laugh. He didn’t do any of those things.

    He started whining about how it was working when he left and how dangerous it was to close the seacock. He said he would go over and chase down the wiring issue, which he had already said he was going to do yesterday.

    I told him we were closing the deal tomorrow and not to worry about it.

    I shouldn’t say this, but this is Cuban craftsmanship and pride in workmanship at their best. I’ve done business with some top-notch Cuban tradesmen, and this is exactly the kind of crap they apologize for in advance and swear they won’t do. When I look for tradesmen to do work in Miami, I always try to find a non-Cuban from Broward County first. If that makes me a bad guy, well then, I’m bad.

    The amusing thing is that Carlos has no respect for Bertram Yachts, and he likes to say, “Built for Cubans, BY Cubans.”

  5. Steve H. Says:

    I got screwed out of about $500 by a Cuban pool service two weeks ago. Failed to finish cleaning the pool after Irma. Failed to follow up on their offer to give me a price on maintaining the pool. Left a garbage can full of leaves on the property. Then I got a lecture about how I didn’t call her and chase her soon enough, and she told me she didn’t want the job because the pump (maximum size for 1-1/2″ pipe, and same size it has been since 1951) wasn’t big enough for the pool.

    Told me a big stack of lies and tried to make me out to be the bad guy after I gave her almost $500 based on trust and one phone call!

    It’s nice to be gone.