26 - Trial by Sea
It could have been that a couple of chicks blowing into town, buying a yacht virtually sight unseen, planning to cross the planet non-stop, without knowing how to sail, was so freakishly beyond the bell-curve, the yachting boys 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 a no-brainer.
The Beneteau was all ready for charter. Beer chilling in the fridge. 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, something she'd never had until then. 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 scruffy, little teddy bear her father had given her in better times. How it got all the way to a sailboat cabin in Turkey is a mystery to me. Elena, had nothing left but what she could carry. I swear, she can break my heart a million ways to Tuesday.
* * *
The deal wasn't done, not by a long shot. There are forms, fees, lawyers, surveys, conditions, registration, taxes, insurance; Erdem's list went on and on. I was in for the mother of all migraines if I got even some of the way though all that.
Across from me at a marina picnic table, Erdem was saying, "Next step is to remove conditions. Blah, blah, blah." A citrus tree with big, juicy oranges, provided shade. Erdem watched 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 by 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 buying real estate.
"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."
Me, take that thing out for a spin!? I was sweating bullets thinking of a way out that didn't involve telling Erdem, 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 fuel slick. People screaming... and me, there at the helm reassuring the terrified onlookers that, "It's okay. It's only a sea-trial."
"Oh yes, the sea-trial," I stalled. "Well, what time works for you?"
"Perhaps this afternoon is convenient?"
"This afternoon!?" Holy, freaking kapoosta. "What about tomorrow? Yeah, that will be much better." There had to be a work-around. "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 okay to hire a professional boat driver to take it out tomorrow? Perhaps there is someone you can recommend who knows this size and model?"
* * *
Alors, bonjour!" Our rent-a-skipper jumped aboard, started barking orders in French.
Krikey, was he hacked off. Apparently, a rumor spread among the unemployed charter skippers; a pair of buyers in town, scooping up yachts for a Russian consortium. And topping it off, they were women!
Mr. Congeniality looked sixty. He was probably mid-twenties. Built like a scarecrow, five o'clock-last-week shadow and sucking on a pongy, Turkish cigarette. 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 around the comically oversized steering wheel, he flicked plastic covers off the instruments.
"We, are, not, lea-ving, with-out, Er-dem!" My French sucks. Speaking loud and slow 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. Erdem, did he not tell you? You come and buy the charter boats, and now I am without a job. Merde! Tell your boss not to do business around here."
Elena emerged from below, wide-eyed at the Frenchman's theatrics.
"Nasha captain." I told her, in Russian. Yeah, yeah, yeah... same word in English, Russian and French. Whoops.
"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, -- okay, 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 onboard systems." I think I pulled it off, slick-as-snot.
The engine was keyed to life. Ropes were untied and we were underway. I observed everything, taking meticulous mental notes. Passing a fueling dock, I asked what it cost to fill the tank. That way I determined our engine burned diesel.
A fresh breeze picked up away from land. Erdem and the skipper started tripping levers and cranking ropes through winches. An insanely huge mass of super heavy fabric and hardware -- the mainsail -- climbed up a slot in the towering mast. When it started flapping like crazy, Elena gave me a look that still gives me the shivers. The skipper spat his cigarette 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.
Erdem signaled the skipper to steer back into the wind. The boat leveled out, but the big mainsail flapped violently. "Miss Meg, should we not take Miss Elena back to the dock?" He 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. Turn on back and let's sail this puppy!"
Elena clammed up and stared dead ahead. Erdem hauled rope. The skipper, leering at me with crooked orange teeth, spun the wheel. Wind filled the mainsail and the yacht accelerated and leaned away from it. Someone killed the engine. Sudden tranquility. Just the swish of water rushing by the hull. Krikey, it was magic! Then Erdem threw some levers, releasing a bunch of coiled up rope. The whole boat shook as an even bigger sail up front unfurled and filled with a colossal bang. 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 reemerged with our complimentary case of beer, laughing maniacally. "Your broker, he says you are to sail the Atlantic... with her!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah... What do I owe you?"
He jumped to the dock, beer under one arm. "Paid in full... and, good luck, mes amies."
* * *
A survey wasn't going to be easy. Of the professional boat inspectors the brokerage used, 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 before. Krikey! All I wanted to do was to pay for the damn boat and get the hell going.
"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 even going to miss us. There's no lien on the boat. It's stupid!"
"I will not sell to you this yacht without a survey!" Boy, 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 actually found him -- a late to middle-aged eccentric living on a humongous, worn out, Turkish gulet. Erdem couldn't believe it. A professional surveyor that neither he nor his brokerage had ever heard of. Harvey promised to undercut everyone else and do the survey right away. I liked him. He reminded me of my dear Scottish grandfather. Only weirdness was snatches of really course Russian 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 chuntered. "That man, the surveyor. Did you tell Harvey that Elena is from Russia?"
He thought for a second. Adjusted his tie. "You know, never have I seen, heard of, or spoken to that man before."
* * *
"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 bed. "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, "By the way, what's a travel-lift?"
* * *
A monstrosity on huge wheels positioned itself above the boat. It lowered a cat's-cradle of nylon straps into the water, then the yacht rose, dripping, from the sea. 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 damn it, 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 don't 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, but you know how those Russians can be." 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.
* * *
Marmaris's castle, perched on top of a hill, coalesces out of a conglomerate of ancient Greek buildings. The higher up the hill, the bigger the buildings. By the time you get anywhere near the castle everything has grown together, like one immense labyrinth or coral reef. That's why we didn't know we had actually gotten to the castle when it's own walls became an obstacle. 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."
"But we have to leave Turkey and there's nowhere else to go."
"I know that. It is why Marmaris is the end of the road for me."
"The end of the road is the beginning of the sea, Lenna. 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 know we have no choice, but Meg, I don't know what I am capable of. It scares me just to talk about it here on land. 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!"
A troupe of profusely sweating, scarlet faced Brits 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." It sounded plausible.
Elena hugged her knees. Went silent. I wondered how long before someone wanted to use their front step.
Finally, with something like a third-degree sunburn ravaging my nose, I reached down, took her hand. "It's time to go."
We started down a narrow cart-passage of time polished, heat-shimmering cobblestones. Elena clomped beside me in her Doc Martens. Her hand was cold, even in the searing heat, and she held on like she was afraid of letting go.
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