SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

Negotiations in Five Short Stories, Part Two

By Rik van Hemmen

Note: The Waterpomptang family is fictitious and occasionally a Waterpomptang story appears on the M&O website. Some say their adventures resemble real events, but that is just a coincidence.

This is Part 2, for Part 1 click here

 

After Truus came aboard, Marina took Froetjers out her slip and headed downriver to the Shrewsbury River Yacht Club. As members of Monmouth Boat Club, the Waterpomptangen had reciprocity, and while the bar was open every night, on two or three nights per week a guest chef would serve dinner for members and guest.

It was only a short run and still early. When Marina pulled up to the guest dock, they were the only boat there and the dock boy was waiting.

The dock boy greeted them with “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Waterpumpmumble” and took the lines.

“Hi, my Friend, we are here to misbehave a little”, Wim answered him, “Don’t be too good yourself.”

“I will try, Sir!” the dockboy answered.

The club was still quiet, with only a few members at the bar. After various hellos and pleasantries with members and the bartenders, the Waterpomptangen took their drinks and sat at one of the dinner tables. There was some clattering near the kitchen, but it was too early to order.

“Alright Opa, give us Story Five.” Will said.

“What happened to Stories One through Four?” Truus asked?

“Already been told today Oma” Marina answered.

“Well lucky me.” Truus smiled.

“OK, so here is story Five” Wim started.

While still in Rotterdam, by this time in the early seventies, I was involved in a time and materials negotiation between a shipyard and a ship owner and the two sides became hopelessly deadlocked. These are not the exact numbers, but let’s say the ship owner would offer no more than $500,000, and the shipyard would not go any lower than $1,000,000.

We tried some “split the difference” discussions, but neither side felt that could move from their BAFO. So, what now? Was the shipyard going to release the ship? Would the Owner have to post a bond? Litigation? It did not look good.

Fortunately, one of the people around the table made a suggestion (as I explained earlier suggestions are always good in negotiations), “why don’t we find a knowledgeable and trustworthy person and have him take a look at this situation, without telling him what we think the price should be or what the BAFO’s are”.

Well, finding a knowledgeable person was easy, those come a dime a dozen, trustworthy was a little more difficult. But after some reflection and discussion, the ship owner and the shipyard agreed that Mr. Scheaff in Antwerp would be a good choice, as long as it was entirely without prejudice on both sides.

As you both know, “without prejudice” is a beautiful term that solves all kinds of things in the maritime trade, and in this case it meant that we would further discuss stuff, but that we could not use it later to give each other a hard time.

Mr. Scheaff was the chief surveyor of The Salvage Association in Antwerp and at the time sort of the elder statesman in that corner of the world.

The ship owner and the shipyard jointly called Mr. Scheaff and he agreed to take a look any paperwork each side could produce and set a date for early the next week for a meeting.

The repairs had taken place in Rotterdam and Mr. Scheaff was in Antwerp so on the designated day everybody piled into each other’s cars and had a nice road trip to Antwerp.

We arrived in Mr. Scheaff’s office around eleven and everybody was offered some coffee. Mr. Scheaff was a very formal man, with silver hair and neatly trimmed goatee. He was dressed in a dark grey flannel three piece suit, complete with watch chain, and sat at the end of the table with the pile of paperwork neatly stacked in front of him.

He said: “Gentlemen, I have looked at this paperwork and already have a price in mind, but before we get into any discussions, you both have had a weekend to think about this matter. Could you do me the favor of writing your best and final offer on a piece of paper and to let me have a look at it, and please be generous”

People do a lot of things without prejudice, and the ship owner and the shipyard manager, both thought for a minute, wrote down a price, folded their piece of paper and handed them to Mr. Scheaff.

Mr. Scheaff opened the pieces of paper, stroked his goatee, and smiled: “Well gentlemen, I think we are done here and let me ask my secretary to make our reservation for lunch.”

He then pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and opened it. “When I looked at the information you had provided late last week, I came up with a price and wrote it on this piece of paper. Now I see that you, Mr. Shipyard came up with a final price of $850,000, and you Mr. Shipowner came up with $550,000. If we split the difference, we come to a price of $700,000, and this is exactly the amount I put on this piece of paper when I had reviewed the file.”

He showed the piece of paper to everybody, and everybody took a close look at the piece of paper to make sure that it really said $700,000, and it really did, and it said nothing else.

Well such a coincidence could not be fought, and the ship owner looked at the shipyard manager and the shipyard manager looked at the ship owner, and they both looked at the other people around the table and realized that certain things you cannot fight, and they agreed to settle the matter at $700,000.

The invoice was signed off and Mr. Scheaff led everybody out the office and down the street to his favorite restaurant.

The shipyard manager and the ship owner were walking together, the others were following them and Mr. Scheaff and I were walking in the back.

I was deeply puzzled, and deep down I knew that Mr. Scheaff knew something we did not know, but what?

So I asked Mr. Scheaff: “Sir, how did you know the average would be $700,000.”

And he said: “I didn’t.”

“But how did you manage to produce a piece of paper that said $700,000?”

“Oh, that is a matter of memory.”

“Memory?”

He said “Yes”, and then started reaching into his pockets and pulled out many more scraps of paper, “I had to memorize in which pocket I kept the piece of paper with $700,000 on it. You see I had $600,000 in my left vest pocket, $650,000 in my right vest pocket, $700,000 in my right coat pocket, $750,000 in my left coat pocket, $800,000 in my right pant pocket, and $850,000 in my left pant pocket. I knew as long as I wore a suit with enough pockets, and as long as my memory didn’t fail me, that I would be close to the average”

“Nice!!” Marina and Will exclaimed.

Wim grinned, “You see, it all comes down to being prepared, you don’t have to know the outcome, but in negotiations you should be prepared for every twist and turn. Oh, there is the waitress. Hi my Friend, we are quite hungry, what has the cook prepared today?”

 

Characters:

Wim (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang, originally a blacksmith, but became a Chief Engineer in the Dutch Merchant Marine (this would be Hoofdscheepswerktuigkundige Waterpomptang) and mostly sailed to the Great Lakes and the Mediterranean. No fan of the English, but loved the Scots. Referred to as Oudopa by his descendents. Passed away in 1992.

Wim Waterpomptang, President Emeritus, Watt & Fulton, Ship Surveyors and Engineers

Started as a sailing engineer at Holland America Line and then started to work for an American Ship surveying company in Rotterdam.

Transferred to the United States with his family just before the Bicentennial.

Joined Watt & Fulton in 1980 and bought the company with his son, Willem, in 1993.

Owns a 28 foot Olson Sea Skiff named “Froetjers” and drives a 1993 Dodge K car. Hates cars. Keeps his boat at the Molly Pitcher.

Nicknamed “Bolle” by his old friends (Means “round one”). Called Pa by his kids and Opa by his grandchildren.

Any stranger he meets he calls “My Friend”. Anytime somebody says something that makes no sense he says: Rotzooi! (A not too rude word for mess, mix-up or confusion)

Loves his wife Truus and bacon, hates to travel. Drinks Lairds and cold beer. Is distrustful of people that eat porridge and oatmeal for breakfast. Hates melted cheese.

Willem (Willem Fokko) Waterpomptang President Watt & Fulton, Wim’s son

Sails and iceboats. Aerospace and Ocean engineer and Professional Engineer. Is somewhat autistic and sometimes has trouble figuring out what people mean. Helped by his partners and office staff in maintaining human contact.  Nicknamed “Dutch Uncle” due to his inability to behave tactfully. Married to Anne Gardiner, fortunately of Scottish descent.

Marina (Marina Gretchen) Waterpomptang. Economist and Environmental Scientist with a Masters degree in System Engineering from Columbia.

Daughter of Willem. Works for the company as an independent consultant. Travels the world and does weird things, sometimes for W&F.

Will (Willem James) Waterpomptang

Son of Willem. Mysterious Character. Also an engineer but now works as a lawyer in mysterious acquisitions and deals. Married to Shruti a big data engineer from India.

Polara (Polara Ruth) Waterpomptang

Daughter of Willem, marine biologist, artist and environmental activist.

Watt & Fulton, an ancient ship surveying and engineering company, founded by descendants of James Watt and Robert Fulton and world renown for dealing with the thornier maritime issues.

The company used to be based in New York City, but moved to Red Bank, NJ after the Whitehall Club closed.

­­Today W&F is located across the railroad station above a packy store in the Mexican section of town.