The boat has landed.

I am struck by what a significant part of some people’s life these four words play. I have stayed on Islands in the Pacific, where the opportunities to buy something edible shrink over a few weeks with locals nodding sagely: “boat lands Thursday” they will proclaim, Friday will be a good day to go shopping. 

I once was staying on an island in Greece where the opposite was the case. Here, each morning, the display fridge in the only hotel restaurant would be piled high with the catch of the early morning. I would salivate at the opportunities for supper, yet, as that time approached, the same display had shrunk to half a dozen miserable specimens better suited to intensive care than a menu. After a few days, one morning, I went to the fridge and tackled the owner. I pointed to a choice specimen: “that one. I want to buy that one for my dinner tonight”. He shook his head. That one was going on the boat to Piraeus later, to the market. “But I’ll buy it now!” I offered. Again, the head shook. No, they want that fish. The fish that will stay in the fridge for tonight’s meal? They can’t sell that in Piraeus. Nobody wants it.  That’s your fish.

For so many communities in so many places, the boat landing plays a special part. It has been that way for millennia. Most of us in this supermarket and motorway driven world forget about such things. 

But not wine producers.  A container of wine is around ten thousand bottles of hard work.  It’s a lot of effort and a lot of money. When we book it, routes are debated the same way football teams might be dissected in a bar. Options are agonised over. That boat will change in Singapore; who wants a container of wine sitting on a dockside in Singapore? We can protect wine with thermal blankets, but a Singapore dockside trumps any thermal blanket. We can pay for refrigerated containers, but therein lies another threat:  You can set your container to 15 degrees, but what if they forget to plug it in? Far worse are the nightmare stories of containers where the shippers failed to adjust the thermostats and sent the wine around the world at -20C, to arrive as exploded bottles of ice shards. If you make 200,000 cases of wine a year that is a headache. For a small winery like ours where every bottle is pre-sold and is irreplaceable, it is just too terrifying to contemplate. We dread ‘Reefer’ containers as those in times long past dreaded the grim reaper. 

Until the global disruptions we took these ships for granted. They came, they delivered, we received, all without further thought. But, for a couple of years now, finding a slot on a boat is more akin to the skills of the hunter-gatherer than the shipping clerk. Wine takes a back seat in the queue, rightly so. If a container of lamb or medicines can’t get a slot, then it is a serious problem. Wine isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a perishable.  As I write this I am aware that other containers of our wines are currently cast into the purgatory of global maybeness that seems to be the current norm. 

But this week, in the UK, one piece of news was good. In a world where containers are in short supply, boats in even shorter, and fuel costs the same as whiskey, having a booking on the right ship feels like tickets to a ‘Stones tour. And when that boats lands on time, without a diversion to have a 6 week holiday in Dunkirk, which is the norm all too often these days, we give thanks for the small things. The boat has landed. The shops will be replenished!