Week 137 - Goodbye Rada

Goodbye to Rada the Lada, starting to make our farewells and Matilda is looking ship shape and shiny

Week 137 - Goodbye Rada

Goodbye to Rada the Lada, making our farewells and Matilda is looking ship shape and shiny

It was with optimism we set off Sunday morning from Skopje, North Macedonia. Rada had behaved well to date and another four hours would see us in Sofia, Bulgaria. She fired up second go (very good after an overnight, sometimes it takes three or four attemps) and we were ready to head off.

“That’s weird,” I said to Karina as we pulled out of the car park. The transmission was wobbling quite a lot at low revs with vibrations, the collection of gear shifts (all three) moving back and forward a bit. Still, although it was worse than normal, it wasn’t new and they’ve been doing that for a while. We would proceed. As we came up to our normal driving speed everything smoothed out and the movement went away.

About an hour later as we were travelling down a motorway (not Rada’s favourite way to travel to be sure), there was a huge BANG underneath the car and the vibrations increased dramatically. We looked for somewhere to pull over and a couple of kilometers down the road found a petrol station where we could park and check things out.

Looking under the car, there was nothing immediately wrong, but then I noticed oil dripping from the inside of the rear passenger wheel hub and oil sprayed all up under the arch. OK, so that wasn’t good. We debated a bit on what to do and decided to drive to a town another couple of kilometers further on. As I pulled out of the petrol station though, the wobbling in the transmission was so severe that we immediately made the call to give up. It just wasn’t safe to drive.

It was a disheartening moment. We were so close and yet so far from our goal. Still, nothing money probably couldn’t fix.

Off to the petrol station and a chat with the attendant via Google Translate and a tow truck was arranged. I spoke with the driver who spoke very good English and he explained that he was in the nearby village and for €400 he would take Rada and us across the border to Sofia. Given this was a drive of a few hundred kilometers and around 4 hours, it seemed reasonable and we didn’t have a heap of options anyway.

Twenty minutes later a lovely new tow truck arrived and in short order Rada was up on the back and off we set.

Our driver was very entertaining and full of stories that made the journey pass quickly. We learnt a lot about the kind of casual corruption that makes the Balkans tick too.

What’s interesting is that according to him, it rarely impacts foreigners. We’re talking about locals who are paid very little money (the police for example earn around €330 a month) who make ends meet by extracting €5 — €10 from every motorist they stop. It’s too hard for a police officer to “explain” to a foreigner that doesn’t speak Serbian / Macedonian and doesn’t know the “rules” that some small mechanical issue isn’t up to standards, but a small gift will make it go away, so we just get waved through.

He told us stories of the local girl from the village who’s father paid a €15,000 bribe for her to get a job with the Anti-Corruption department in the goverment! Queue great hilarity all around. Of course, once you have that job (which pays very little), it’s pretty much yours for life and there’s lots of opportunity to (more irony) collect a lot of little fees along the way for overlooking issues.

As we approached the border, €5 notes were slipped inside the passports. They didn’t come back. I asked “What would happen if you didn’t put the notes in there?”

“For you, nothing — you don’t speak the local language so it’s too hard for them, they just wave you through and wait for the next person who understands the rules. But if I didn’t put the money in? They would check every single piece of paperwork, we’d have to unload the car, they’d check the VIN numbers and they would find something wrong. €5 means that doesn’t happen,” he explained.

With the tow truck driver, somewhere in North Macedonia

Outside a small town in Bulgaria he asks “Guess how many Macedonians live in an apartment there?”

The answer it seems is 1000’s. To get a Bulgarian passport (much desired because they are in the EU and Macedonia is not) you need a job and a residence amongst other things. For €100 you can pay the local official issuing passports in the town and they will overlook the fact that everyone is living in the same apartment and presumably employed by the same employer.

Entertaining tales of corruption aside we soon arrived in Sofia and at the mechanics. It was a place I’d already been when I purchased Rada for a quick safety check and they were the official Lada dealer in Sofia, so I figured this was the place to go.

The security guard was unsure about allowing us to drop the car off so he rang the boss, a very irate woman who came down in her dressing gown from above the office (at 4.30 pm) and proceeded to tell us off in no uncertain terms.

“Who said you could just come here? You’re not allowed to do this without an appointment. We’re very busy, we may not be able to look at this car until the end of the month and besides, we may not even have the parts!”

To be fair, it sounds like parts are difficult to come by as they can no longer import them from Russia due to the various sanctions against them.

“Promise me you will never do this again!”

I laughed, “I promise I will never buy another Lada and trust me, we will never be back here again after this.”

Karina poked me in the ribs, “Be nice! She just wants you to apologise.”

“I’m very sorry, we will never do this again, but we really need some help.”

“Ok, you can leave the car here, but I can’t promise what will happen,” she said, finally placated.

And that was it. Rada was left there, we waved good bye to the tow truck driver and then headed off to our hotel. Rada was delivered to me on the back of a tow truck and she left us on the back of a tow truck. I can’t say I wasn’t warned, but I find the symetry amusing.

To wrap up the Rada the Lada story, Monday morning I had a call from the mechanics and they knew the problem and would fix it that day. Another €450 euros and she was all repaired for our Bulgarian Fixer (what, you don’t have a Bulgarian Fixer? They are very handy!) to collect and sell on our behalf. The problem? Travelling on freeways caused too much vibration and a rubber “tampon” (translation?) holding things in place and damping vibrations broke loose, which caused a little bit of secondary damage (leaking on the wheel hub), but nothing too dramatic.

All this and it’s only Sunday night!

Earlier that day a person I didn’t know had contacted me on Facebook while we were arranging Rada to be towed.

“Tim! Hi! After seeing your comment in the Montenegro group (on facebook — Tim) about traveling with dogs, I saw your blog on Medium. We’re doing the same thing you all are doing, but we are at the beginning of the process. We are in Sofia and our car arrives from Germany tomorrow evening and then we’ll register it and be off on our 2–3 year Europe adventure. I saw you will be in Sofia today and tomorrow. My boyfriend Daniel and I would love to meet up and grab a meal with you. I know your schedule is tight with dropping the car off and flying back to Montenegro. If it’s too tight, we’ll be in Tivat in two weeks and maybe we meet up there. Okay, safe driving to Sofia.” — Marjolein.

It was one of those strange six degrees of separation type moments! They’ve both finished college and have been travelling and working for the last couple of years with their dog Hugo. They are from Boulder, Colorado and both work in tech / startups.

“Oh, we have friends in the Marina from there, Sarah and Peter. Peter wrote the ‘VC for dummies’ book.”

A little later that evening after we’d headed back to the hotel “Do you mean Peter Adams? Daniel knows him — Peter was the judge of a startup competition that Daniel won.”

A quick message to Sarah and Peter and sure enough, Peter not only remembered Daniel but the event he was judging at too. It’s a strangely small world at times.

Anyway, Marjolein and Daniel were fun to spend some time with and we may catch up with them here in Tivat (they arrive this coming weekend), but if not, perhaps they join us for a few days on Matilda in Croatia.

Monday morning Karina tried to open a Bulgarian bank account for our company there, an almost success. After 45 minutes or so at the bank, we had to leave while they got approval from head office (they were uncertain about Karina being Dutch, but residing in Greece and opening an account in Bulgaria) which eventually arrived — as we had just arrived at the airport.

Then it was home to Tivat. The plane was briefly delayed out of Sofia which meant we had to hussle to make the connection in Belgrade. We had a moment of superstardom when they drove us out to the plane in a private van because the bus had already taken all the passengers.

“You must get here earlier,” admonished the very flustered gate attendant.

“Well, your flight from Bulgaria was delayed!”, we exclaimed.

“Oh, OK then…” End of conversation.

There was another bura (strong north wind) in Tivat and the plane landed in gusts up over 50 knots. It was terrifying. Probably the scariest landing that either of us have ever experienced. There was a lot of very frightened looking people on the plane and it was buffeting and bumping around so much it was making us feel sick. It was a relief to get back on the boat which was also moving, but in a way we were used to!

We went around to see Sarah and Peter (who looked after Rosie) and enjoyed a lovely lasagne meal — it’s so nice after travelling to be spoilt like that and not have to go finding food.

Tuesday and Wednesday we dived head long into boat cleaning! I started polishing the flybridge while Karina worked on finishing the stainless. We made good progress. On Tuesday night we enjoyed a dinner with Judy and Steve on Fair Isle who are also in their final throws of getting ready to leave and start the season.

It’s feeling very real now, this sense of a chapter coming to a close and Karina has been baking cupcakes to share out with some of the close friends we’ve made while we’re here. The exact date of departure is hard to pin down (weather dependant), but it’s “imminent” so we wanted to be able to say a proper goodbye even if it’s a little early, so that when we do get a window to leave, we can head off without feeling we missed our chance to make our goodbyes.

On Thursday it was Matilda’s first cruise of the season — off to the boatyard at Navar to get new the stainless steel bracket for the passerelle fitted. This was an involved process to make sure it all fitted perfectly. Basically measure, test fit in pieces, mark it up, tack weld, re-fit, remove, final weld, polish, final fit. It looks great and we now have a properly mounted bracket that’s bolted through the hull and much more stable than what we had before.

We didn’t haul out, instead we sat on their dock which was fairly rough at times as it’s not protected from passing wakes, but it was great to have Matilda being a boat again! While all this was going on, I continued to polish the boat.

Friday it was a full boat wash and more polishing, a lot of spot cleaning and also putting final bits and pieces back out completing most of the “de-winterizing”. It’s slightly frustrating that the more we clean the boat, the more we find that needs cleaning! More drinks on Friday evening, this time aboard Matilda with Mads, Alisha and Victoria.

Saturday I finished polishing the radar arch which I’d started on Friday, we put the tender back out and we are now truly ready for the season. Yes, there’s more cleaning and polishing to go, but in all the ways that count Matilda is ready to head off. We can continue to polish as we go, the tender (which was scrubbed clean before being stored) needs cleaning as water leaked into the bag and it went green with algae, but we’ll be good to go this week.

Lunch on Saturday was a meetup with some nomads from Facebook, Tiffany and Kurt and we had a great lunch sitting alongside the water. Then Saturday evening drinks and dinner aboard Yaama with Lyn and Shawn, and Vandy and Eric.

Dinner with me, Karina, Vandy, Shawn, Lyn and Eric aboard Yaama

It’s been a fairly epic week in terms of accomplishments! A few more dinners to go that we’re looking forward to. With those completed, we will have achieved what we’ve set out to do, getting ship shape, making our goodbyes and being ready to head off.

We’re ready to go!

The current plan is to wait out Wednesday (where there’s a big Marina sponsored party) and then any time from Thursday the 13th, weather permitting we are good to go! We’ll be heading to Croatia and then making our way up the cost over a few weeks to Venice. Ideally we can head off Thursday, although the weather is looking like it might be better to hang back a little, so we’ll see. Regardless we’ll be ready to make it happen and get under way with season 2023!

Until next time!

Tim & Karina

PS Polishing is thirsty work! If you’d like to make sure we stay caffeinated, https://buymeacoffee.com/matildatheboat it’s always appreciated.