Lost Locker
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[The Story] [Lessons Learned]
This is one incident that did not happen to me, but to my owners, so I will let them tell you this very sad story

As part of our departure preparations, we had to decide what we were going to do with everything we were not going to keep or take with us, such as furniture, books and clothes, photos and memorabilia.  For the items we were not going to keep, we placed ads in the local paper, held numerous "yard sales" and donated several items to charity.    At the end of this exercise, we were left with items that were most precious to us which included:

  • photographs of Bob and his son's backpacking trip to Alaska
  • photos of my racing trips to Bermuda
  • 100-year old family heirloom china closet
  • two 100-year old family bibles
  • Bob's great-grandfather's civil war certificate
  • Collectables and pieces of furniture that we wanted to keep, either for sentimental reasons or because they were valuable.

Since we could not find room for these on Long Passages, we secured a storage locker in the Annapolis area.  We were very careful in the selection of the locker and made sure it was climate-controlled and dry with very good security.  After finding one that met our requirements we paid for a year's rental and moved our items in.  When filling out the paperwork, we named Bob's son as an alternate point of contact with his address and telephone number.  Also, we  informed the owner that we were off to sail around the world and would be out of touch at times, but that we would always pay for a year when the rent came due.  We were confident that we had thought of everything and that our possessions would be safe and secure.  Well, we were wrong.

While sailing the lovely islands of the Caribbean,  a shipment of mail arrived with the bill for our locker, we paid it and everything was copasetic. The months went by and in March 1994 we arrived in Panama with great anticipation of our transit of the Canal. One of the last things we did before leaving Panama, was to order our mail from our service in Florida.  When it arrived in Panama, we paid the bills and on March 31st,  we were on our way across the Pacific.

After a 10-day stop in the Galapagos Islands, we made landfall in the Marquesas  30 days later (see Charred Starter),  Once in Nuka Hiva, we ordered our mail from the states.  We settled in to enjoy this incredible paradise but, after 2 weeks no mail had arrived.  OK - no problem there is nothing in there that couldn't wait.  We faxed our mail service to find out what had happened and were told that 2 packs of mail had been sent, so we waited some more when 1 of the 2 packs arrived.  A call to the main post office in Tahiti regarding the 2nd package was fruitless as our limited French made it difficult to communicate.  We felt we could wait no longer so we left for Tahiti, stopping along the way in Takaroa in the Tuamotos.  The Tahitian Fete and then weather conspired to hold us there another 14 days, as 30-35 knot winds pinned us to the concrete wharf.

The winds finally abated, switched and 4 days later on 29 July,  we arrived in Tahiti.  As you can imagine, the first thing we did was to find out if our mail had arrived and Yea! - it had.  We were very excited as getting mail is one of the biggest pleasure to cruisers - that was until we opened the package.  As we sorted through everything, we came across a bill for our storage locker, a late notice, and then a REGISTERED LETTER!  Upon reading it, we were horrified to learn that this was a notice which gave us 4 days to pay our fee or else they would AUCTION THE CONTENTS OF THE LOCKER! - the letter was dated April.  We immediately called our lawyer friend and asked him to confirm that this had actually happened and he came back with the bad news - all was gone - we had lost everything except for what we had on the boat.!  We were devastated and suddenly realized how people must feel who lose all in a flood or fire.

The following describes the chain of events which caused this to happen.
  • The locker fee came due the end of March  just as we left Panama. We had completely forgotten about it due to all the other things going on at the time.
  • In 1993, Bob's son moved from Maryland to Florida.  We had his new address and phone number, but had forgotten to provide this new information to the storage company.  So, they were unable to contact him, as he would have paid the bill for us until we were able to.
  • We arrived in the Marquesas, the end of May and spent 6 weeks  there before reaching Tahiti the end of July and finally getting all our mail.  All the notices and the registered letter languished at the mail service.  Although the mail service signed for the letter, it was placed in our stack of mail to be sent to us when they received directions from us.
  • The small print of the storage locker contract stated that  if the fee was not paid in 10 days, a late notice would be sent.  If no payment had been received within 5 days after that, a registered letter would be sent informing the customer of it's intention to auction off  the locker contents in just 4 days.   This meant that the customer would have had less than 20 days to pay the past-due rental before the contents would be auctioned by the company! 
So, by the time we had reached the Marquesas, all of our most prized belongings had been sold. What hurt the most was the realization that the things that meant the most to us, such as photos and memorabilia, were probably discarded by whomever had purchased the contents.  Our friend in Annapolis tried to recover some of our items, but the storage company refused to divulge the name of the buyer.  Through some perseverance, he found out that most of the valuable items had been sold at "flea markets," but the buyer had three items he had not yet sold, - Bob's tuxedo, one of the family bibles, and Judi's Newport-Bermuda Race souvenir plate.  These were the only items returned to us.  Altogether, more than $10,000 worth of belongings were sold for just $690.00  The money was also given to us, but it was of small consolation for what was lost, not just in monetary value, but in the memories of our past.  

Lessons Learned

  • Read all the small print in the contract before signing it.  How many times have we been told that?  If we had done this, we might have realized that, even if there was just a slight delay in receiving our mail, we would not have had enough time to respond before everything was sold.  (We were new to cruising, though, so this may not have been apparent to us.)  We may also have been able to negotiate with them to have this clause removed or altered to give us a longer time to be arrears.
  • Cruisers can be out of touch for weeks/months at a time, especially when crossing the Pacific.
  • Mail shipments get delayed or lost.  The officials in Nuka Hiva told us that Tahiti will often not send mail to there.  Although, this was not the case, this scenario could have happened earlier when we were in the Caribbean, as we often had mail shipments delayed for undetermined reasons.  Also, we tended to only  have our mail shipped to us once a month.  If we had received our mail the end of one month, and the notice sent the beginning of the next month, we would not have received the notice until the end of that month -  maybe too late to respond.  It was just luck that we received the first notice in time to pay it.
  • Name several family member and/or close friends as alternate points-of-contact.  We thought by naming just one person, we were covered, not considering that he may one day move.
  • Have the storage fee paid automatically by either credit card or direct debit from your bank account.  We wanted to do this, but the storage company was not set up to do this.  Also this would have been a major charge of about $1,000 which many cruiser credit cards may not be able to take at one hit.
  • Request the company send you the bill 60 or more days in advance.
  • Grant authority to the person handling your mail to open all registered mail and deal with it, if possible for them to do so.  We could have given that authority to our mail service and ask them to make a month or two payment on our behalf.  That would have bought us time until we received our mail  They would have probably put a message in our mail to let us know what was happening or faxed us back with this information once we made contact with them in the Marquesas.  Now, with email, communication is a lot better.  Hardly anyone was using email in 1994.  My, how things have changed!

 

This was a very painful lesson for us to learn and we hope that by telling our story, we can prevent it from happening to others.  From that time on, we'd occasionally send things to my sister and brother in Oregon, to keep for us.  But when we decided to off-load 5 boxes of stuff from the boat, we felt we could no longer continue to burden them, so on a trip to visit them in 1999, we again obtained a storage locker.
  • We now have 4 people listed as alternate points-of-contact.
  • We read the small print of the contract very carefully, and although they too have the ability to sell the locker contents, the time-frame for doing so is not so tight.
  • We requested that the storage company send us our bill 60 days in advance and, so far, they have complied.
  • We wrote on the contract that we were sailing around the world and may be out of touch at times to ensure they knew that there were extenuating circumstances if the fee was not paid on time.
  • Again, we were not able to have the fee paid automatically, but hopefully, the other contingency arrangements make that a non-issue.
  • We also did not grant authority to open our mail to our mail service, but still may do that.

Even today, we still think of some small item which we loved and then we remember - Oh yeah, it was in the storage locker and that it is gone forever!

Read on to find out what happens when a fiberglass boat hits an immoveable object

 

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