You Want It When?
Ty installing heater02

Ty working on the water heater in the engine room

Those of you who read our account of cruising the Greek Ionian islands learned that our Raritan 12 gallon hot water heater developed a small leak, then burst open the next day.  It was extremely hot that week, so we didn’t mind cold showers for a few days.  After things cooled off a bit, however, we couldn’t quite adjust to the rather “bracing” water.

Because the heater used 110 volts, it was hard to come by in Europe. We found one source in Athens, but they wanted 1555 euros (equivalent to $1984).  We figured it would be far cheaper to order one in the States and have it shipped to Turkey. As it turned out, it was cheaper, but whether it was worth the pain is still under debate…

Ty ordered a replacement heater through Defender for $562. We got a good deal on FEDEX shipping and were able to send the 63 pound box to the Bodrum, Turkey, marina for $161. (You mathematicians out there will note that we are now up to $723 – still a bargain compared to the Athens price.)

We arrived in Bodrum, Turkey and went straight to the marina.  It hadn’t yet arrived, but was due the next day (4 days after shipped by FEDEX). The next day we received an email notification that the box had been delivered and signed for at an office in the town of Mugla – two hours away from Bodrum.  An extremely helpful young lady in the marina office named Tiara call the FEDEX office in Istanbul to find out how we could get the box.

FEDEX Istanbul explained that in spite of what the email said, our heater was not in Mugla, but was held up in Turkish Customs in Istanbul.  After much back and forth between Tiara and FEDEX, we were told that Ty had to sign a power of attorney for an agent in Istanbul to deal with customs. He signed a piece of paper in Turkish that, for all we knew, said that Jelal the Agent could take our hot water heater and sell it for 3 camels to the highest bidder.  At any rate, Ty faxed the form and waited another day. 

The next day we learned that the faxed form was not enough.  Ty needed to take all of our boat documents to a notary in Bodrum and have a new power of attorney notarized.  Unfortunately, the notary did not speak a word of English, so Ty had to hire a translator to go with him.  Cost of notary: $53. Cost of translator:  $18. Taxi:  5.  Running total:  $799.

Ty had to take a local bus to the tax agency and obtain a tax ID number. He then paid to have all the new documents overnighted to the agent in Istanbul.  Bus: $1, Overnight papers:  $9. We’re now up to $809 for our $530 heater.

The agent in Istanbul said that it would take several days for him to work everything out. By now we had spent several nights in the marina at over $50 a night.  (We’d been told we had to be present in the marina when the package arrived and kept expecting that it WOULD arrive.  Silly us).  We left Bodrum and sailed around the local gulf for several days, enjoying peaceful nights at anchor and bracing cold showers. While we were gone, Tiara from the marina called us several times just to see how things were going. Now THAT’S customer service.

We finally got a call from the agent, Jelal, that the box would soon be ready, so we went back to Bodrum marina.  Ty tried calling FEDEX several times, but allegedly only one agent spoke English. She would only answer her phone about 30% of the time.  She finally called us while Ty was on deck. Suzanne answered the phone and was told that the total cost to release the package (custom’s fee + agent’s fee) was $1007.  Let us repeat that:  $1007.  Suzanne raised her voice and told the FEDEX lady that the price was completely unsatisfactory. Suzanne then handed the phone to Ty who said pretty much the same thing with a few different words.

This is a good time to note that all of the information we have in our cruising guides and elsewhere states that a yacht in transit (which we are) is exempt from all customs fees.

The $1007 broke down as follows: Agent’s fee: $320, Duty:  $207, Airfare to ship the box: $200, fee to take box by truck to boat: $60, fee to store box overnight: $100, fee for man to escort the box: $120 (including putting him up in a hotel overnight).

At first Ty told FEDEX what they could do with the water heater (keep it!).  Then he realized how much we had already invested in it and decided to pay their fees.  He figured we would charge the fees to VISA, then contest the fees.

By this time his frustration level had reached the boiling over point, so Suzanne sent him out to run off some stress.  While he was gone, Jelal the Agent called with information on how to wire the money to him. He would not accept a credit card.  Hmmmm…. He also stated that the boat MUST be at Bodrum marina, in the water, and we must be on board when it arrived.

Suzanne and Jelal were having trouble communicating the important bank information, so he asked if there was anyone nearby who spoke Turkish. This is when the Power Above intervened. Suzanne went on deck and called over to the man on the boat in the slip next to us. She asked if he would please write down the information Jelal gave him.  She handed him a piece of paper, pen, and the phone.  When the conversation was over, the man handed everything back to Suzanne. She used this opportunity to vent at the neighbor that we were being charged $1007 to ship a $500 heater to us.

Because Ty was out running, Suzanne went to the marina office and asked for directions to a bank from which Ty could wire the money when he got back.  She returned to the boat and was about to go below when the neighbor called out, “You know, the price that man is charging you is too heavy.” She heartily agreed.  He then pointed at our US flag and said, “You are a foreign vessel. You should not have to pay any customs.”  She agreed even more. Then he said, “I am the owner of the Delta Shipping Company. Give me that phone back.”  (Can you hear the angel music?)

Our heavenly helper was aptly named Attila.  Attila dialed Jelal, and although the conversation was in Turkish, it was clear that Attila was giving it to Jelal but good.  When he hung up, he handed the phone to Suzanne and said, “Your documents are being returned to FEDEX.”  She was wide-eyed at this point, but was still worried FEDEX would return the package to the US.  Attila then told Suzanne to call the FEDEX lady.  As previously mentioned, she selectively answered our calls.  She must have been using caller-ID, because when she didn’t answer this time, Attila used his own phone and she answered right away. Imagine that.

Suzanne listened while Attila went on and on in Turkish with the woman.  He kept hitting his hand with his fist, then he stood up and paced around while continuing to rant.  Then he sat and hit his hand some more. The only words Suzanne could make out were “$1000 dollars”, but she sat there thinking, “Yeah! You tell ‘em!” .  When he hung up, Attila said, “you may pick up your package.” “What about the fees?” “There are none,” our hero replied. He explained that Jelal and the FEDEX lady were clearly going to take our money and share it. 

By luck, we were flying to Istanbul that weekend.  Attila made several more phone calls and arranged for an English speaking shipping agent whom he trusted to meet Ty the following Monday and retrieve the package from FEDEX so that we could bring it back ourselves.

But wait.  The story’s not over yet. Monday morning, while Suzanne flew back to the States on business, Ty went with Hakan to Customs in Istanbul.  After much running around and several meetings, the final decision of a Turkish Customs officer was that they would not release the package to Ty without an agent, and that the package had to go by air. And so, once again, Ty needed to get a notarized power of attorney for the new agent.

When Ty learned that the cost of an interpreter at the notary’s office in Istanbul would be $100, he decided to go through that drill again in Bodrum, where it was cheaper.  So, he returned to Bodrum without the heater and went back to the notary the next day. The translator took pity on him and only charged $12, but the notary charged his standard $53 for his little stamp.  Ty overnighted this to Hakan with a different company for only $3. Running total: $877.

Hakan worked his magic, but Turkish Air would only ship on Mondays.  Ty got on a bus for the 40 minute ride to the airport on Monday and was there to meet the plane. Problem was, the package didn’t make it onto the plane.  Cost of wasted round trip bus and taxi rides: $22. Cost for Hakan to ship the box from Istanbul to Bodrum, even though our original FEDEX price was based on shipment all the way to Bodrum:  $88. Running total: $987.

On Tuesday we waited for confirmation that the package had arrived, then Ty rented a car to drive to the airport. (Cost, including gas and parking:  $69.  Running total:  $1056). We drove to the airport and picked up our heater.  Time to celebrate?  Not so fast.  We were required to first take the package to the customs office in Bodrum - don’t ask why.  Suzanne waited in the car while Ty carted the 63 pound box half a mile to the customs office (at the end of a pier where no cars were allowed).  Imagine her surprise when he returned empty handed.

The Bodrum Customs officer told Ty that he did not have the right paperwork and he had to go back to the airport to get it. Are you sensing our frustration?

Ty returned to the airport, where he was told – no, we’re not kidding – that the paperwork Ty had was done by hand, but that the customs service had switched to electronic paperwork the night before and his paperwork was no longer valid. (Yes, we’re serious.)

Ty returned to the boat, ready to blow something up. Luckily, Attila was still in the next slip. Ty described the situation and Attila once again took charge. He made a few calls, then went with Ty and a friend of the custom’s agent to a street corner where they met with the customs agent.  They shook hands and were told to come back in a few hours. This time, they went to the Bodrum customs office where our package was finally released from custody. You will note that the issue of hand-written vs. electronic paperwork was no longer a problem. We were told that a small gift for the customs agent might be in order…

Ty returned to the boat with the water heater and installed it himself in just under four hours.  That’s 20 hours and 3 weeks less than the time it took for the heater to get from the US to our boat. We now have hot water to wash our new gray hairs.

Hakan’s fees turned out to be $390.  With a few additional costs such as at least $20 in phone calls, the total came out to $1487 for the $530 water heater.  This does not include at least 7 nights in the marina at over $50 a night when we would have been at anchor but were told we absolutely must be in port when the box was (imminently) delivered.  This is still less than the cost of a new heater in Athens, but we’re not sure it was worth it.  We plan to lodge a serious complaint and a claim for reimbursement with FEDEX. Had they done their job, we would have had to pay none of these extra costs. It may be a hard battle, but it’s worth it because of the principles, and maybe FEDEX USA can get the hanky-panky in their Istanbul office cleaned up for future cruisers.

Ty with box02

Ty, with a smile on his face at last, shows off the precious package safely aboard Liberty.