Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Havana Sandpaper Wars: You Should Put a Screw in That

Cinco de Mayo, 2010
Elizabeth City, NC

Due to "the Cuban Way" I was unable to change the oil in Meredith today.  It all started with the salon floor in \Meredith.  I will explain.

The Budget Committee had been in a funk over her damaged cabin sole ever since a wayward mechanic in Beaufort bounced our old Westerbeke diesel off it several times while removing said old diesel. (the quart of dirty engine lube oil he somehow spilled in our refrigerator was an unnecessary additional insult).

At Hemingway Marina the BC found her saviour: Indio, a man of self described expertise in the refinishing of cabin soles. Indio's discovered his talent on salon floors just seconds after I refused his offer to work on our toe rail. Lucky for him, eh?
Nelson was not well liked by me.  That Indio was Nelson's man and so bathed in the same dim light of disapproval with which I held the loathesome slug Nelson was of little consequence to the Budget Committee. When it came to the cabin sole I had, by a year's failure to take action, lost the right of comment.

Indio examined the cabin sole with the BC. He oohed, and he aaaahed and he tsk, tsk'd. He assured the Budget Committee she had a beautiful floor and when he was done it would be "perfecto".

The BC was hooked. I was sunk.

The price for the job was set at $30 CUC a day for 8 days of total job time. I made that $240 CUC.

Of course I was using standard Arabic decimal arithmetic.

In Cuba the job price would be $240 CUC plus $100 CUC for the marina plus $20 CUC for Nelson.  For Nelson?

Oh, yes explained Indio, the payment was necessary to make things work. "It is the juice" I said. "The jugo". My spanish skills had soared in only 2 weeks.

"Yes" responded Indio. "It is the juice because it starts the meal". No, I thought to myself. It is what he squeezes out of you.

As he prepared himself to leave Indio made his final financial demand of the day. Holding his varnish can aloft he tapped it and announced the can was empty. He needed $25CUC to buy a new can.

With the BC watching I paid Indio his $25 CUC. It was the BC's birthday. What could I do?

Next morning Indio was on site at 8 a.m. ready for work. It developed that overnight Indio had discovered he was not only out of varnish but also out of paint thinner.

Paint thinner is priced like gold in Cuba and Indio needed $12 CUC for 1 litre. I pointed out that paint thinner cost $3 a litre. Woe overtook poor suffering Indio's face.

Voyager C, a Canadian boat moored just ahead of us hada been watching the proceedings. Enjoying himself immensely at my expense Bill on Voyager C. produced nearly a whole quart of mineral spirits.  It had a big price sticker on it. "$3.50" it read.

I returned to Indio with the thinner. Oddly Indio was not happy to get the paint thinner. Not hearly as happy I suppose as he would have been to get $12 CUC.

Before we left Indio also borrowed my sander and sandpaper. And my extension cord.  It would be too much work to do by hand, you see, and Indio had no sander.

The sandpaper was very nice stuff coated in aluminum oxide distinguishable by its bright white surface. It worked very well.

Indio agreed he would have the cabin sole totally sanded by the time we returned from Havana that day. On the bus into town the BC and I made a joke out of our shakedown. We were getting a full length show for our investment.

When we returned to the marina the first day we found Indio finishing up a coat of varnish on a few small access covers from the cabin sole. The work appeared to be of good quality.

Two of the access covers were broken Indio informed us.  He had taken them to the "carpenter" for repair. $5 CUC was the price and the carpenter must be paid immediately.

No work had been done on the cabin sole. None. We expressed our concern to Indio. He assured us he would have the entire floor sanded the next day.

Next day we left for Havana before Indio arrived hoping to avoid any further opportunities for Indio to vaccuum money from our wallets.  That night, the second night of work, we returned to find the cabin sole had still not been touched. We were forthright in expressing our displeasure.

Day 3 saw Indio ask for money to pay the carpenter to remove our table top so he could reach the cabin sole under the table more easily. I removed it in front of him. It did not take my expert Spanish skills for Indio to determine the total disgust with which I viewed his antics. We left Indio with firm instructions to have the floor sanded by evening.

End of day 3 brought a very small amount of work accomplished on our cabin sole. The floor of the Vberth and of the head had been sanded and first coat of varnish applied. The salon anbd galley were untouched. The BC was happy and I held my piece. For about 20 minutes.

Before Indio left for the day I had occasion to walk past the Amel Mango tied up behind Meredith. The Amel is a very expensive boat. This one was owned by a german couple who, since our arrival at Hemingway had done nothing but look at us with their noses wrinkled as if they were in the presence of a bad odour.

They were having work done on their Amel. The cockpit seats were being sanded furiously by a young Cuban workman. In his hands was a bright yellow sander. My sander. On that sander was a sheet of my sandpaper, easily distinguished by its white colour.

My boat was not being worked on because Nelson needed my equipment to finish a job on the Amel.

I sought out Nelson.

The upshot of it all was that Indio and the guy working on the Amel ran over to apologize to the Budget Committee and me. They were very sorry. It would not happen again. Indio would do our floors next day.

This thing was sour.

That night the boys on Aibel chastised me for inappropriate behaviour. Chris, the Marxist Leninist son of a well to do Nova Scotia lawyer, informed me I was trying to exert power over the working class by denying them access to the means of production. Liam and Dan, on finding out it had been my intention to give the sander to Indio at the end of the job, wondered why, if I was giving the sander to Indio anyway it mattered at all what he did with it today.

It almost worked. For the rest of that evening and overnight I wrestled with the idea that I had behaved inappropriately. I tried really really hard to see it their way.

By morning I realized that all that had happened was that the rotten bastards had stolen my sander, delayed the work on my boat so they could make a quicker buck from unlikeable German twits who almost certainly had their own damn sander.

The Cubans were wrong.

Next morning Indio was very apologetic. I took him to the boat, picked up the sander and extension cord and handed them to him. "A gift" I informed him. 

However, I informed Indio, our boat would leave in 5 days and if he did not show he could get the job done then he could go home right now. The floor would be sanded by our return or he could take his new sander and bugger off right then.

The pace of work on Meredith picked up.  (Indio did indeed get the floor sanded and all 8 coats of varnish applied in the time allotted. The floor looks good).

Next day I again walked past the Amel. The Cuban worker was hard at it sanding the German cockpit seats. When he set his sander down I could not help but notice it was wearing a sheet of my Aluminum Oxide sandpaper.  Not that I had donated any sandpaper to anyone.

The Budget Committee thought I had overreacted on the whole sander thing.  Her tone changed on the last day when, as Indio was leaving, he ran back to the Guarda station and got a knife. He jogged the knife over to the BC and handed her back her bread knife. "It's the Cuban way" said Indio "they needed one and you had one so I lent it to them".

It dawned on the Budget Committee that Indio had gone through every drawer on the boat. Everything we owned had been catalogued and plundered by the Cubans, parcelled out  by Indio to anyone on the dock who needed anything. 

I thought this turnabout was sort of funny until minutes after the return of the bread knife another Cuban worker approached me. "I am installing a through hull" said the Cuban. "I need some 3M 5200 and I noticed you had some. Could I borrow it?"

My one tube of 5200 was hidden in the bottom of our "job bucket", a big container with parts needed to finish numerous jobs. It had been there for 6 years.  No one coujld have "noticed" it without ransacking my boat.

I lent the tube of 5200 to the guy. I just did not care anymore.

He returned it two hours later. The top had been split in two.

"I broke the top" I was informed by the Cuban. "You should put a screw in it to stop it from drying up on you".

The story would have ended there except that today, in Elizabeth City, I went to change the oil on Meredith. For this job I use a drill pump and my deWalt rechargeable drill to pump the used oil out of the engine. When I connected the rig and pulled the trigger on the drill I discovered the battery was dead. I installed the other battery which I knew was fully charged.  It too was dead.

Let me be perfectly blunt. These Cubans were thieves. Their conduct is not the product of their economic system.  Each of them has their own personal property and it is not shared with the community at large.  No "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" in this workers' paradise.  They will ransack your possessions. They will take and use everything you own.  Worse they will hand it out to anyone.

You do not get it all back. I continue to find small tools missing - tools not likely to be noticed right away:  the second smaller pliers, the nut driver I use for hose clamps, my special ultra sharp knife.
I will never allow another Cuban worker on my boat.\\

My experience with Cuban officials has been so very positive: Roland the doctor, Jose Vila Danger the customs man.  These officials are proud competent people and represent their country well in difficult conditions.  The average man we have met on the street is not of this calibre.  Not even close.

No comments:

Post a Comment