“Let’s get something straight right now, Rich: I don’t care if I ever do any more work for you. Do you understand? You are not a priority for me.”
Welcome, dear readers, to the third circle of Hell. It’s June 30, 2016, the Thursday before the July 4th weekend and our Sabre 42 still sits on land. I’m on the phone with our diesel guy. Between a lengthy, enduring project list and huge delays in getting Annapolis area yacht services companies to so much as reply to quote requests (let alone complete work) our late July launch date is in danger of slipping now, too. But with this call my week’s work trying to get help with the boat is about to sink to a new low.
A full month before the call, after many weeks of delays and rescheduling, my diesel mechanic had finally appeared to remove a bad starter motor. He had promised to return the next week to install a replacement and to complete a handful of other minor maintenance tasks, but had been a no show. Nor did he appear the next week. Nor the week after that. On top of all of that he hadn’t been taking nor returning phone calls. Finally, on this sunny Thursday morning I had sent a text offering to drive and meet him wherever he was working so we could communicate on scheduling a date for my motor to be put back together. That text had resulted in a return phone call, but unfortunately it wasn’t to apologize and to work on scheduling completion of the work. It was so that he could shout at and insult me for trying to reach him to get completion of his work scheduled. His diatribe continued:
“I have much bigger, more important customers than you. It’s nothing personal – it’s business. We can talk next Wednesday but I can’t schedule a fixed date. I have customers like Herrington Harbor (a large marina) that have much more important work than putting a starter motor in your sailboat. If you don’t like it, find someone else to do it. I don’t have time to hold your hand all of the time. I’m sick of it and I don’t need you.”
Evidently, this is how this mechanic operates his business: if he gets a scrap of availability he fills it with work with little customers like me, but drops the project whenever bigger, more attractive projects come along. If he can’t finish the work within weeks or even months, the impact on me is irrelevant. In this case, that meant taking my boat’s engine half way apart (the starter motor is gone and a large portion of the exhaust pipe has been resting on the cabin sole with miscellaneous other parts and pieces for a month) and then refusing to return to put it back together until it suited his schedule. The uncertainty around completion of his work had wreaked havoc with all kinds of other inter-dependent projects like getting the floor varnished.
The diesel guy’s outburst had put the cherry on top of a truly awful week for us. Days before, desperate to get some help on finding reliable, affordable service providers who could complete work some time before the entire season had passed we’d put a call out on social media and had gotten a referral from very close friends. We were introduced to a sole proprietor who quoted a very reasonable rate and could start work the next week. Woohoo! We had thought we were back on track.
Start work the new guy did, but after a few days this new relationship had gone horribly awry because the varnish work he completed on our cabin sole was very poorly done. When we – very gently and very politely – pointed out brush and lap marks in the the work (just one example of which is shown below), he became angry but offered to put on a new coat.
His next coat was actually worse than the first. He sensed my disappointment when I saw it even though I didn’t react openly. I told him it was fine and silently made a note to get another vendor to re do the work after this one was done with a handful of other small projects he was handling on deck. After I left the boat he called me and said that he sensed that I was disappointed. But rather than express his concern that I was unhappy and offer to once again rectify the work, his tone became very short, and he came out with this:
“Look I’m starting to worry that you’re not going to pay me.”
You’ve just delivered visibly lousy work, and that’s your concern?
After he calmed down a little, he offered to re varnish the floor but this time to use a spray gun instead of a brush – inside of the boat. He insisted that we tape off the interior surfaces beforehand, however. I agreed, but after an hour or so I started doing some online research during which it became very clear that no one uses spray guns inside of a boat for reasons that should be pretty much common sense: there is no way to keep overspray from coating the rest of the interior. So I texted him that I had concerns about the approach. Almost immediately my phone rang, and I was subjected to an angry diatribe about questioning his professional judgement. I tried to calm the situation:
“So you’ve done this before?”
“Well, isn’t this going to risk over spray on the other interior surfaces?”
“THAT’S WHY I NEVER DO IT!” he shouted.
“I don’t understand – then why are you recommending it now?”
Kaboom. This sent him completely over the edge. He was going to finish the varnish work he was doing on our deck teak but after that he was never going to work with us again, he declared.
“AND I WANT MY MONEY ON THURSDAY!” he shouted. “YOU ARE GOING TO PAY ME, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?”
After the call ended I texted and told him not to come back the next day. (Editor’s note: we paid him in full for the time he’d spent. But we changed the locks on the boat right after firing him. We weren’t going to sleep very well wondering what this imbalanced individual might do next. )
Baffled, that evening I looked at my wife asked rhetorically how a boat that we’d bought as a source of relaxation and joy had come to represent almost exclusively stress and upset recently. She didn’t have a very good answer for me.
Reflecting on the matter, I have a memo for the marine industry. These kinds of experiences are a sure-fire way to drive even more people away from the hobby that provides your livelihood. It’s a hobby that’s been on the decline for years and if you’d like to accelerate that trend, by all means, keep it up. Keep refusing to staff up seasonally so customers wait weeks to make your schedule. Keep quoting crazy high rates and delivering substandard work. Pad that near term profit & loss, baby. But savor the flavor while it lasts. When the totality of the boat ownership experience feels like this, more and more people will bail on the sport.
(Editor’s note: since this article was drafted, we have retained the services of a services director from a local brokerage who has been a pleasure to work with and who is diligently lining up new service providers for us. We have high hopes that he will marshal the resources we need to complete our remaining projects and help us get into the water. We are still waiting, however, as the new diesel mechanic has at least a two week wait to get us on their schedule and as of this (July 19) writing we do not have a firm date scheduled for the starter motor work despite submitting the work order 5 days ago.)