Do They Think We're Stupid?May 29, 2003
The rubber snakes just about swallowed our credit cards, but we got the tube of black gold for a song
Screwed it up the first time, I had to fix it twice
(E. Quinn, Working On My Boat)
The regular reader of these pages knows that we tend to whine a lot. Our complaining gets particularly tiresome when we're in the midst of boat repairs and maintenance projects, which is pretty much all of the time. We complain about things breaking on the boat. We complain about fixing them. We complain about them breaking again. And so on. Pathetic. On her soon-to-be-released fourth CD, Eileen has a song about working on our boat. She could have devoted the entire album to the subject, but we think that would have been pushing things too far. Nobody likes a whiner.
But sometimes we can't help ourselves. Some boat repair incidents are so outrageous that even the most forgiving soul can't remain silent. Like this past week when David decided to do something about our leaky portholes and hatches. The ports and hatches on "Little Gidding" are top quality cast aluminium and will probably outlive everything else on the boat, but their neoprene gaskets need to be replaced periodically. The boat and its leaky openings are in a boatyard in Virginia. We're in Toronto. Now it just so happens that the manufacturer of our ports is also located in Toronto - in fact, only a few blocks from where we're staying. A fortuitous circumstance? Read on.
A couple of days ago, when Eileen was finishing up in the recording studio, David walked down to the small factory to pick up some gasket material. The stuff is circular in diameter and sold by the foot. Demonstrating great insight, David had measured the circumference of each port and hatch before we left the boatyard, and had even brought along a couple of inches of the material. He presented his neoprene samples to the fellow behind the counter at the factory's front office and asked for a total of 13 1/2 feet, enough for two ports and one hatch. The worker disappeared and returned a minute later with three long black rubber snakes. "How much do I owe you?" David asked the woman at the cashier's desk.
"With tax, that'll be $121," she replied.
David choked. A few years ago in Fort Lauderdale, he had paid two dollars US a foot for the stuff. He thought it was pretty expensive then. Using a little mental arithmetic he figured he was now being charged close to eight dollars Canadian per foot for the same material. The Canadian dollar isn't doing THAT badly. "You don't understand," David stuttered. "I don't want to buy a new port, I just want to buy a few feet of gasket material."
"That's what I'm charging you for. And it's already cut."
The other worker added helpfully, "And you'll need our special adhesive to apply the material. It's the only thing that works."
He produced a cartridge of something called "Silaprene". There was nothing on its label to suggest it contained large quantities of gold, or any other precious substance for that matter. "How much?" David inquired cautiously.
With a perfectly straight face, the worker replied, "Thirty dollars. And we're the only source."
David declined the adhesive, paid for the rubber snakes, and stumbled out of the office. Back home, he typed "silaprene" into the search engine on our computer. The web site for an Indiana based firm named Royal Adhesives popped up. He dialled the toll free phone number and in a minute had the name of the company's Canadian distributor, conveniently located in a Toronto suburb. Coincidentally, he had intended to visit a building supply store located in the same neighbourhood. An hour later he found himself in front of a big commercial transportation supplier.
David asked the worker in the cavernous shipping and receiving area whether there was any silaprene available. "How many boxes would you like?" the worker replied. "Just one cartridge," David said meekly.
The tube the worker returned with was identical to the one David had seen an hour before. He braced himself. "How much?"
"Well, it's a bit pricey, but it's a great product. Sticks to anything. That will be $8.85 please."
David looked at the massive truck accessories lined up on the shelves around him. "What do most people use this stuff for?" he asked.
"You use it for the panel seams in trailers. I've heard it's stronger than rivets," the worker enthused.
"Just what I need," David said gratefully, and handed him a ten dollar bill.
Everyone who owns a boat knows about the time, effort and resources needed to maintain it in reasonable condition. Boating is an expensive pastime. Despite our excessive whining, we feel that most firms in the recreational marine industry are fair. What is amazing about the incident just described is that a few companies think they can blatantly deceive their clients and get away with it. How do they expect return business? Maybe they think that we're all too rich to care. Or that we're stupid.