Let me tell you about my grandpa, old man Stoner. He had so much money handed down through the family that he didn't know what to do with it. Every time I heard about his new project I just shook my head and tried not to cry. You see, he had the legendary heart of gold but in his later years he was two bottles short of a six-pack. Yup, he didn't have a lick of sense.
His investment and trust team kept him out of trouble most of the time. They kept the taxes paid, the bills taken care of and all that. However, he had full discretionary power over his money and, God help us, he spent it!
The old grown-over farm in Wisconsin that he bought and gave to the scouts was a serious good thing, but making one half for the girl scouts and one half for the boy scouts turned into a real hot potato when the holiday camp-outs rolled around. Personally, I wondered if "Be Prepared" included packing in a case of prophylactics ... Did they offer a merit badge for that?
He bought the land and put in a water sculpture and picnic park down the road in London, Ontario. That got donated to the city, but nobody wanted to take responsibility for it. Well, the first good freeze took care of that problem. Scratch one administration, too.
It just went on and on. Most of what he did looked wonderful at first bloom. It was when you knelt down to smell the flowers you realized that it had just been fertilized with fresh pig shit.
I always wondered if he did this out of whimsy or not.
I'm telling you all this to "set the mood" for what Uncle Eugene bought me.
I was well into my forties, and had accumulated over one and a quarter million dollars in day trading, frugal living and hard work. I wanted to retire and figured that I had the bucks to do it. I talked it over with Uncle Eugene while eating at a nice dinner club in downtown London.
"Eugene, I think I'm ready to pull the trigger. I'm not a machinist any more. I'm a manager of machinists which really sucks if you hate paperwork as much as I do."
"What are you going to do with yourself, Karl? You can't just stop and hang your self on the wall, waiting for something to come around. I know, I tried that. It damned near drove me nuts."
"I've been researching something completely different. I'm going to finance a big boat, maybe fifty feet long, and live on it. That way I won't be tied down to one place if I get bored. With a passport and enough cash for fuel I can pretty well call my own shots."
"Hmm. With your background you no doubt can handle the day-to-day repairs. Did you know that back in the fifties I did the same thing on a sail boat? The repairs like to drove me to distraction, but the quiet, the motion and the smells of sailing on blue water were worth it. From the sound of it you want to buy a diesel?"
I nodded. "Yup. Give me two days with the engine's manuals and I can pretty well guarantee that I can rebuild it. O'course that means I'll have to carry a decent spares kit and some tools. A steel hull shouldn't give me the blister problems that a fiberglass hull could, and I won't touch a wood hull. I'm not a carpenter."
He firmly nodded to himself, as if he'd just come to a decision. I began to sweat. "I'll look around for you, Karl. Maybe I can find something you'd be interested in." With that we departed. As usual, he paid the bill while I left the tip.
Three weeks later I was relaxing at the house, having just finished my retirement paperwork. I'd taken care of such things as obtaining personal health insurance and tuning my investment portfolio to be a bit more conservative. I'd made sure to shift a half million into a form that I could liquidate on demand. I'd found a nice three-year-old steel hulled tug boat yacht by George Daicos. It was shorter than the fifty feet that I originally wanted at forty two feet long overall but it had a generous beam of thirteen feet six inches. It was fitted in dark cherry throughout. It was wired for an auto pilot and had all the fittings laid in for a genset. All the tanks were stainless steel. At three hundred and fifty thousand dollars I thought it was a steal. I was in negotiations with the owner at the time. I still had to perform due diligence by having the ship surveyed by a professional and that would require having it dry-docked.
I heard a car horn blare out in front. I wondered who the hell was making that racket at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning. It was uncle Eugene. He was grinning from ear to ear. This did not bode well. He motioned me to take the passenger seat. "You're smiling, Eugene. That usually means somebody's in deep shit."
He looked pained. "You wound me, lad. Why, I've just done you a grand favor! Come, I'll show you." He drove us down to Port Dover on Lake Erie. There, sitting at the quay was a forty foot long grey trawler that looked about 7/8 built. What the hell?
"Lad, it's all yours! It's newly-built and ready to go!" What could I do, insult the poor guy? I thanked him very much. Then I asked him if he'd had it surveyed before handing over the cash. Nope, he'd taken the broker's word that it was one hundred percent ready to go. "Uncle, I have a suspicion that you've been taken. Let's take the cook's tour, shall we?"
I started at the wheelhouse. "There's no radio. This vessel is not even legal to take out on the water." I stuck my head out the door and looked up. "No navigation lights either." As I pulled my head back in I noticed the glass in the windows, or rather the lack of it. I took a good look. "This is only 1/4 inch thick glass. A good heavy sea will blast right through this crap." There was no radar, no GPS, nothing but a compass. The breaker rack was minimal. Where were the battery gauges? Where was the charging display? Where was the inverter? The galley boasted the smallest refrigerator that I'd ever seen short of a dormitory. There was almost no stowage in the galley. Again, all the big square windows were made of 1/4 inch thick glass. This wasn't a vessel, it was someone's idea of what a vessel looked like. It was a dock queen. We went below. The head had no separate shower--you were supposed to sit on the john and use a hand shower. That was nasty and hard to keep slime molds under control. We went amid-ships below. There were no fuel filters and but one oil filter. All the tanks were plastic. There was no genset, no battery farm, no inverter, no charger. Then I looked around. There were no fucking bilge pumps! I furiously wrote all this down as I discovered each issue. Some were simply cost-cutting measures. Some were quite dangerous and the builder could be held negligent. Some were totally illegal and immediately actionable. It was enough to get a lawyer into this, and quickly.
"Uncle, you've been screwed, blued, tattooed and abused. About now your asshole should be hurting from the treatment you just got."
He sat down with a thump and laughed. Then he roared. "Goddamit, I'm gonna buy his company just to fire his ass!"
I did my best to calm him down. "Tell you what, Let's get a good shark of a lawyer involved. Let's make shit flow uphill. Just suing the agent won't do much. We have to go after the assholes that built this piece of shit. The return from the negligence suit should keep both of us in spending money for a couple years and skin the bejesus out of the builder!"
We had to get our ducks in a row. First we needed evidence. "Let's get out of here. We need to have a licensed surveyor document all this, then have a Coast Guard inspection done, then we'll have a case. You got any pet sharks on retainer?"
"Oh, boy, do I!"
"Good. Let's get the ball rolling. First let's go find the local port authority and have this vessel put under guard to sequester the evidence. Then we'll take his advice as to finding a bonded, insured surveyor."
The port master looked like a very angry bear by the time I finished listing the defects I'd found during a quick pass-through. We had guards on the ship and a surveyor poking and prying about by noon. By three we were sitting down with the surveyor and the port master. The surveyor looked grim. "By selling this thing as seaworthy and ready to sail someone is guilty of homicidal negligence."
The port master spoke up. "That's it! That's all I need to hear, Henry, but I'll need your write-up for the provincial prosecuting attorney. I'm making a few phone calls. I can assure you that several people shall be spending at least overnight courtesy of the local constabulary."
I looked over at my uncle, snapped my fingers and said, "And that's how you skin that cat!"
Everything was spinning down to a dull roar. It was two months down the road from our little discovery. Uncle E was going to get his money back, times three. He was kind of pissed off because it meant he had more money to get rid of. I had just paid for my new ship and had signed the paperwork, received the keys and the ship's title. I'd gotten her insured and had paid for six month's lease on the slip while I got everything together. I'd had the name of the vessel changed from a numeric builder's code to "Fancy That". I was in the process of dumping the contents of my house and getting it ready for sale.
We were at the dinner club in London again and had just finished a wonderful meal. Uncle Eugene was looking at me strangely. He suddenly exhaled, reached into his jacket for a checkbook, scribbled a bit, tore it off and sailed said instrument across the table at me. "There. You obviously know much more about this field than I do. I'd like to see what ship you eventually purchase."
I picked up the check and looked at it. I blinked and looked at it again. Yup, it was for a million five. My eyebrows searched for my hairline. "You sure about this?" I squeaked out.
.... There is more of this story ...