Having sold Neraida 2 for a profit of thirteen thousand euro, with a Greek black captain’s hat to wear in the winter but no boat, I was quite content for a few years to be the smartest captain in the Saronic Gulf. The one with the hat, but no troublesome boat. ‘Who needs all that hassle?’ ‘Who wants to pay all that money for maintenance and boatyards?’ Well, as it happened, I did. That longing to be on the sea, to look for miles without seeing another person, was all well and good. But to gaze across the wavy sea upon the Peloponnese mountains and see exactly what the ancient Greeks saw: well, that is special. And soon that feeling was special enough to click on eBay and have a look at some boats. I’m no sailor, so it had to be a fishing boat. Fibreglass, not wooden, but something which wouldn’t ‘slap’ on the windy Mediterranean sea. Something with a big enough space aft for fishing or lunching and which didn’t cost the earth. After much searching, a nice little boat lying in Aberaeron Harbour, Wales caught my eye. A Colvic 20 footer with a Bukh 20HP diesel, she was a real candidate. So after calling the owner and making a ‘contract by description’ (which is what every eBay and Amazon transaction is in legal terms) I drove not to Ifor Williams, but to that other crowd where I paid £3,500 for a brand new 20 foot trailer. The plan was to haul the boat to the Greek Islands with my trusty Land Cruiser, launch the boat and some months later drive the empty almost new trailer back for sale in the UK. Now, having never towed anything in my life, I needed some lessons on this ‘wrong way round’ steering business. So duly qualified, one fine morning my wife and I left Edinburgh for Wales; towing the brand new but empty trailer. Well the rundown was fine and as expected, the boat conformed to the description on eBay so the visit to the local bank to sign over the price, get my receipt and all the other boat papers went smoothly. But a storm was preventing the guys in Aberaeron Harbour from craning out their boats. On the second day of delay, a local guy had the idea that as I didn’t need to be craned over the top of a supermarket into their yard, the good ship Katy M could be craned out onto my shiny new trailer which was on the quay and I could get on my way. Well, the Colvic 20s are beamy, so despite the boat being tightly strapped on she did hang over the edges a bit; which made passing big trucks on small Welsh roads a bit hairy. Then once onto major roads where I thought I was in the clear, I discovered my first miscalculation: there was no way I’d reach my expected average 50 mph because at 28 mph, the rig being higher than the Land Cruiser, the boat and trailer started to ‘snake’. Brilliant! All the way to the Greek islands at 20 odd mph. Gone were the ferry connections. Gone were the hotel reservations. Everything had changed. This was going to take some thought. Resigned to sleeping that night inside the boat in a Service Station lorry park, with bakery food, a bottle of wine and only some candles for light we bedded down just outside Dover; for a whole three hours’ sleep. To be fair, at that stage it was still fun but fifteen kilometres outside of Calais, I felt a thud when I braked; and then another. My heart raced and I really thought the boat was coming through the rear window. This was not good. Not good at all. And of course, things were about to get worse. Trailing us was a French police car which soon pulled us over. Satisfied with our papers and rigging, the young woman cop looked genuinely saddened to tell us that she nonetheless had to order us off the dual carriageway. Why? We were too slow! I tried pointing to my carefully fitted flashing lights and proper signage; arguing that French law permitted this convoy to be as slow as we liked in the ‘inside’ lane. But she simply gave me that Gaelic shrug and was having none of it. And so, bumping every time I braked, that afternoon I slowly passed an Elementary School full of excited waving children, waved my own thanks to old ladies clutching baguettes who’d stepped into doorways to let me by with one side up on their narrow pavements until I got to a sign that said ‘Road Closed’ and had to deftly reverse and try another route. I was exhausted and at this rate, we’d be months getting to our Greek island. Spotting a French police station, I decided to try my luck once more. This time, being a member of the International Bar Association helped. With the French Road Traffic laws on the screen of my phone, the desk sergeant didn’t even argue. He came out for a look at the rig and was so impressed with the lights, signage, strapping and overall care that had been taken, he issued me with an ‘inner lane permit’ to show any other officers who might pull me in. I could’ve fallen to my knees and kissed his shiny black boots. Instead I instinctively bowed, which made him chuckle. With the bumping getting worse all the time, I pulled over and rang the sellers’ head office to complain: demanding to know why they’d sold me an unsafe trailer. They couldn’t trace the sale; then they did but assured me that the trailer was in ‘perfect road going condition’ when I drove it off their premises in Edinburgh. Despite my assurances to the contrary, they claimed I’d been in an accident or mistreated the trailer in some way. They were playing the infuriating modern game of shifting every and all onus onto the customer to prove a negative: something which from Aristotle through David Hume to this day has been impossible. So I gave them one last chance to do the right thing or I’d get serious. Needless to say, they blew it. In the dealership there had been a sign saying ‘No Credit Card Payments’. But when I looked like that might be a deal breaker, the manager waived that condition explaining that the sign applied only to small sales. Back on the phone from a Service Station the last offer from the crowd who sold me the trailer, knowing I was in central France was ‘If you’d like to run it into our Edinburgh yard, somebody will take a look at it.’ Without saying goodbye, I ended the call and took the gloves off. This was going to get purple and bloody messy. I could only think of about twenty or so lawyers whom I’d trained over the years who would’ve loved to tear this crowd apart for endangering the life of their master, his wife and other road users in two countries. Now the law in England and Scotland are identical on the point that ‘All crimes are also civil wrongs’ That’s torts, to the English and delicts to the Scots. And to knowingly, recklessly or even carelessly put someone in danger on the public road is a crime. So it follows that such an outcome is also a civil wrong: for which damages are payable. Big damages! I was just lining up my chosen law firm (don’t mess with battle hardened Glasgow lawyers) when my ever-organised wife reminded me of the credit card sale. I doubt one in ten thousand people ever reads the tiny print on the back of their ‘important conditions’ when signing up for a credit card. But I do. So armed with my credit card receipt and invoice details, from a fun park in northern Italy I rang the credit card helpline knowing exactly what the procedure would be and how to play it. After seeing the pictures I’d taken and listening carefully the helpful girl in London said:
‘Yes. Oh dear, that’s very serious. We’ll be putting this one to our Arbiter.’
‘Who’s that?’ I asked innocently.
‘I can’t say exactly, but it’ll be one of our panel of London QCs.’
Smiling to myself I thanked her for her help and got to work. Like a pinball machine, if you know exactly how to play it, you can hit every multiplier on the way down and that’s just what I did with the ‘Statement’ I had to provide. I told the truth and nothing but the truth; but I used legal language which I knew would tip the QCs mind my way and lock it. Never to be tipped back the other way.
With the case now firmly in the hands of one of my learned friends in London, in the parking area of the Italian fun park, I crawled under the trailer to discover that the lock nut on the braking rod was so loose it was about to fall off the end of the threaded rod. Two 17 mil ring spanners soon got the ‘adjustment’ and ‘locking’ nuts back into position and, knowing the trailer crowd to have no defence; off I went, bumpless, with a smile on my face.
A nice sail down on the ferry from Venice to Patras later, we were on Greek soil only to find that a Greek seaman’s strike had put every ferry off. But a very long sleep and a couple of days later we were on our island. I was anti-fouling the boat on the quayside when that nice girl from London called:
‘The case has been decided in your favour. I’ve already docked the seller and refunded the £3,500 back to your wife’s card. However, that means the trailer no longer belongs to you. Legal ownership has returned to the seller. You are legally obliged to inform them in writing where they can pick up their goods. Can you do that?’
Well, knowing that we were still inside the EU and that that pesky old onus was now back on the seller, I had pleasure in saying: ‘I’ll immediately text them the precise location where they can pick up their trailer within the EU. Many thanks. Goodbye.’
I changed her name to ‘Odysseas’ after the journey we’d had. One day the owner of our island boatyard was looking at the rudder and the water line, which were fine for the Atlantic waters off Wales. ‘No good’ he pronounced pursing his lips and wagging his finger. I’d need a differently shaped rudder. The Med isn’t tidal so I’d need a long skinny rudder and not the short fat thing which was suitable for the boat going up and down on the tide and hitting stones on the bed of that Welsh estuary twice a day. He also recommended I gather two sacks full of stones and put 50 kg per side behind the Samson posts astern. With his final advice being that I not take the boat out in anything above a F6, he was satisfied with the slightly tilted-down water line and the ability to circle the boat on its length. A number of men asked me about that shiny new trailer lying on the quayside but I said nothing of any consequence. Indeed I waited precisely the necessary 90 days which EU law demands before laying a hand on the thing. But after 90 days, if not collected, the property is legally deemed abandoned; and in European law, all property must belong to someone. I of course then ‘found’ this abandoned trailer and so it legally belonged to me again. I then promptly sold it to a Greek racing driver for a fast 3,000 Euro. All things considered, the trip was a dangerous one and the sellers deserved all they got. But ultimately it was satisfying to have hauled a boat across Europe, slept ‘aboard’ for three weeks, got my £3,500 back, made 3,000 Euro and had a unique boat to play with in our tiny island harbour.
The moral of the story is ‘Be a decent merchant and don’t mess with those who know their legal rights.’