On more than one occasion since we moved to Turkey there have been occasions when we would have been totally lost without the intervention of our neighbours, Tommy and Mehmet, so when I heard there was a lot of work to do on their family boat over the winter, I was quick to offer my assistance and collection of power tools in return.
Used for tourist trips in the summer months, the Deniz Bey sails daily from the beach at Ölüdeniz, taking up to 30 people on trips along the spectacular Anatolian coast. However, every winter, the effects of wind, sun and sea need to be redressed – which means several weeks in dry dock for sanding, varnishing and painting.
Volunteering, I imagined a few afternoons plugged into iTunes, brandishing familiar equipment acquired from my dad or – often on impulse – from DIY superstores in the UK. But despite admitted recent failings as a “proper man” in the eyes of the average Turk (Time To Man Up …) I’ll admit I was still a bit disappointed by the questioning looks that my offer inspired.
“Can you paint?” asked Mehmet.
“I think so,” I replied. “I have my own sanders and I did decorate quite a bit of our house in England myself.”
Perhaps it was the small smile from Bec – who has never quite forgotten the “Incident Of The Flooded Bathroom” back in 1995 – or maybe it was the absence of experience on boats, but Mehmet still looked doubtful.
Nevertheless, a few days ago, the call came: “Stiv? Is Mehmet. I work on boat while the weather is nice today. Can you help?”
“Of course,” I said. “I’ll get my tools out of the shed….”
“No need. I have tools. I come to get you.”
Half an hour later another new experience began. Unexpectedly, I found myself on the back of a scooter (without a helmet) being bounced savagely along a narrow mountain road en route to the boatyard in nearby Fethiye.
I’m a balding man of 53 but, nevertheless, on arrival what hair I have resembled a clown on a bad day. I also had to surreptitiously shake the cramp out of a leg before I could even begin to make my way to the dry docks.
Once there, I realised that, far from spending the day on nice, safe decks, I’d have to get used to the idea of working 20ft up on rickety planks, suspended between makeshift scaffolding mostly made up of elderly stepladders.
In short, it was hell. It takes a certain skill to wield a heavy-duty sander above your head when you have no handholds, a yawning drop beneath sucks at your heels and dust cakes the inside of your mouth and nose. I missed bits, which Mehmet had to point out before he could add a layer of varnish, and I must have been slow because there were plenty of times when he seemed to be watching and waiting.
Other boatyard workers passed beneath. There were shouted conversations with Mehmet, which seemed to end with looks in my direction and a little laughter. But, after what seemed like hours of torture which left my fingers tingling and shoulder muscles aching, it was time for a lunch-break.
It turned out even that was a challenge. If you’ve tried kokoreç then you’ll know what’s in it. If not, let’s just say I discovered sheep intestines are probably an acquired taste. Then it was back to several more hours of back-breaking work in the midst of a forest of masts and rigging, the shrill sounds of drills and sanders – and more Turkish banter.
The thing is, I loved it. I have spent most of my professional life in an office or at least in front of a keyboard, typing – but this was something completely different.
It was hard, yes. I was also aware of being a stranger in a tight-knit community which gathers in the boatyard every winter. But it was an experience – and one I have repeated more than once since.
A couple of weeks later, and now I get nods and handshakes. Indeed, the boatyard boss has shown me around and given me his card. It’s not like I’m ever going to be a professional – Turkish laws prevent that anyway – but it’s been fun helping out and should the Deniz Bey ever need me, I’d be happy to step up to the mark again.
Just don’t ask me to eat kokoreç though…