After a whirlwind tour of the boat’s systems, Bill and I spent yesterday unpacking and wandering around Monaco. It is freezing cold and I’m glad I packed my thermals.
Fitting all of our belongings into our tiny cabin is more complicated than I anticipated. On a boat every single square inch of space is fully utilized. There is storage under the settee, under the floor, behind the bulkhead at the foot of the bunk, and underneath it as well.
As well as being the most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept on, our double bunk is also the most ingenious. When we’re not using it, we can shove it into the hull to create a single bunk, with the slats supporting the mattress on one side, simply slotting in between the slats on the other side. The mattress, a flimsy piece of foam rubber all squashed and misshapen and less than one centimeter thick in places, pushes up the side of the hull, creating a sort of half-cocoon single bunk.
The worn mattress is going to be a huge problem. I spend the first night dreaming that I’m sleeping on rocks, and wake up with a dark bruise on each hipbone.
“We have to get a better bed. I don’t care how far down the pecking order we are.”
“Agreed,” says Bill dropping a kiss on the top of my head. “Why don’t you ask Franco if we can buy something to replace it with.”
I feel a wave of love wash over me for this man who is my partner in this adventure, despite our slightly unconventional relationship. Bill’s serious brush with prostate cancer several years ago prevents him from functioning normally down there, but it doesn’t impede my feelings. We still cuddle when we go to bed, but instead of sexual intimacy, Bill reads aloud to me from a book of his choosing. Some books I love. Others are more challenging because they are straight porn. Despite this I always enjoy the camaraderie of these moments.
Later that day we wander down the wharf and across the road to Franco’s office to chat about the bed, pick up the ship’s computers, telephones and our uniforms.
The Fortex office entrance is ominous. It’s via an anonymous door sandwiched between two shops on the main drag, and protected by a security camera and doorbell combination.
Once inside, an old marble staircase leads upwards to a shabby chic office suite on the first floor. Here Franco introduces us to the company accountant, Tonia, and his very nervous, but stunningly beautiful personal secretary, Beth. Tall, lithe and well-spoken, Beth looks like she walked straight off a fashion catwalk.
Both young women are deferential to Franco, smiling but obviously apprehensive and overly eager to please both him and us. I try to engage with them but my effort is pointless because Franco answers every question on their behalf. I think maybe it’s a European cultural thing.
Our uniforms, which we select from a suitcase in the back room of the office carrying several sizes, are white polo tops embroidered with “Caroline” on the breast pocket, and shapeless tan shorts reaching down to our knees, plus one pair each of long trousers. It seems inconceivable that in just a few short weeks it will be warm enough to wear shorts, but Brenda assures me that there are warm jackets on the boat as well.
“Is there potential to buy a new mattress for our bunk?” I ask Franco.
“No. No. What’s wrong with the old one?” he replies.
“It is too thin. I have bruises on each hip from sleeping on it.”
“Monaco is not like Australia,” he says. “It will be too expensive to buy a new mattress here. This is not something we can do.”
I’m not giving up despite Bill frantically signalling me with his eyes to drop it.
“In Australia you can buy foam mattress overlays quite cheaply. Perhaps we could get a foam mattress overlay instead of a new mattress?”
Franco looks at me from under a pair of bushy grey eyebrows. “How much do these foam overlays cost?”
I take a wild stab in the dark. “Probably less than $100 Australian dollars.”
“Then buy one in Australia and have it shipped to my office,” he says.
Bill gives me a quick approving glance and I feel quite proud of myself as I start chatting to Beth to get the office address.
Monaco is a magical country. Just two square kilometers, it is the second smallest country in the world behind the Vatican, squished by France onto the side of a cliff leading down into the ocean. Great sections of its shopping districts and narrow winding roads encroach heavily back into the rock wall of the cliff, and are all connected by multiple stairways and elevators.
After we leave the office, Bill and I stroll hand-in-hand along the spectacular Grand Prix route, the main road that leads from the multiple marinas fringing Monaco’s coastline, up into France. At one point half way up, it sweeps past a couple of imposing palatial buildings and around miniature parks (round-abouts) that are landscaped with beds of large colourful tulips in full bloom.
Further up the cliff, the roads narrow even more to wind their way through a maze of shops and office buildings that look as if they’ve been built according to architecture illustrations from a kid’s book of Grimm’s fairytales.
“You’re not in Melbourne anymore,” posts my cousin on Facebook. Cannot agree more.