Friday, July 24, 2009

The Rumor Mill

Sereia got hauled yesterday, and it all went fine. Watching your yacht getting lifted out of the water by perfect strangers is always a bit nerve-racking, rather like how it feels to watch your child getting sedated by a doctor. In this case, it would be a dodgy-looking doctor, with a scraggly beard and a wild look in his eye, driving a giant bulldozer. But he treated our princess just fine. She’s up on blocks, scrubbed and ready for her surgery.

I mention this because when I logged on to my email account later that day, I had several messages from a concerned fellow cruiser. The gist of them was something like this: THAT YARD YOU’RE AT IS RUN BY A THIEVING GYPSY WHO’S GONNA OVERCHARGE YOUR ASS AND HOLD YOUR BOAT HOSTAGE TILL YOU PAY AND PAY AND PAY.

Naturally, this struck fear into my heart. I nearly texted Peter right away, and asked him to push Sereia back into the water himself if he had to, and sail away. But then I reconsidered.

Rumors get spread around the cruising community quicker than swine flu in a Mexican kindergarten. For a group of people that chooses to live such a crazy lifestyle, liveaboard sailors are surprisingly fearful. Remember, these are folks who cross oceans in Clorox bottles. You’d think we’d have balls made of stainless steel. And yet, we worry and fret, worry and fret, until it’s a wonder we don’t come down with swine flu ourselves.

Sometimes, being a paranoid neurotic can make you a better sailor. Peter is convinced that every system aboard Sereia is constantly on the verge of rusting out, breaking, or blowing up—and most of the time, he’s right. If he weren’t such a conservative sailor, we never would have come so far, so safely. Sereia would have caught fire long ago, blown sky-high by a toxic combination of propane gas, electrical sparks, and rum.

But then there’s the other kind of worrying. The kind where a fellow cruiser puts down his beer and leans in over the table, and tells you: “Mexico’s FULL of thieves, and the officials are ALL corrupt. Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile. All they’re after is your wallet.” Or: “New Zealand customs officials are out for blood. They’ll take ALL your food, and ALL your carvings, and ALL your woven baskets. You’ll be left with NOTHING once they’re done with you.” Or: “I know a guy who knows a guy who got cheated at that boatyard, so watch your back.”

The problem with this kind of fretting isn’t just that it’s often exaggerated, or just plain wrong. It sets up an expectation that can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we left our boat for a couple of days in Acapulco, Peter and I didn’t tell anyone in the harbor we were going—we were too scared that all the local thieves would take that as a cue to clean out our boat. While we were gone, Sereia dragged anchor and smashed into two fishing vessels. That never would have happened if we’d just relaxed and asked someone nicely to look after our boat for us.

And when Peter checked into New Zealand, the customs agents who came aboard were nothing but charming and reasonable. Not only did they let us keep all our native art, some of which was made of filthy rawhide, but they were so busy chatting merrily with Peter that they forgot to confiscate half our food.

If you walk into a port captain’s office expecting to be cheated, you’ll come off as suspicious and hostile—which is a great way to incur an “attitude tax.” I know this, because as a naturally unpleasant person, I’ve incurred lots of them. Peter, however, has been coaching me on how to behave like a pleasant human being, and this has garnered us much better results with officialdom.

I don’t have time to be scared of rumors. I’m much too busy with real fears, like the fact that I haven’t seen a porcini mushroom since I’ve been in New Zealand, and I'm going into risotto withdrawal. I’m getting so desperate, I might have to bribe a customs official to get me some.

Only… damn. You just can’t bribe them here, like you could in good ol’ Mexico.

Here's a movie of Rei-Rei getting bulldozed around:

1 comment:

  1. So what yard, and why?

    There's plenty of boatyards where you are, how about giving us an update and the pros and cons of winter hauling in Whangarei.