They sell everything from anchors to thimbles and IMHO are one of the few joys of shopping

Galvanised shackles, odd bits of rope and paint, anchors and thimbles – for a den of invaluable but specialised items you need a certain kind of chandlery. I don’t mean the ones that you find round marinas, which are more like boutiques or supermarkets, filled with brightly lit sections of carefully ordered books and high end clothing.

I mean the old-fashioned chandlers, sometimes a bit dusty and disordered, rammed with stock ranging from state-of-the-art to objects that could be carbon-dated to the days of whalers and clipper ships. You could spend hours hunting round this dying breed of marine emporium uncovering things you never expected: an oiled sou’wester, perhaps, scrimshaw, the odd harpoon, maybe boxes of oakum nestling alongside the soft shackles and antifouling.

These are the places you could send some someone to buy tartan paint or a fog locker and they might actually return with them.

There’s a special joy in visiting those chandleries, just as there is in poking about in a secondhand bookshop or a reclamation yard.

There are fewer and fewer of them around, though, but happily they tend to exist still in the places they are needed most. While looking through some photos, I found this one taken in Duncan Sweet’s Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services in Horta, Azores, a place to which sailors in transit scurry in a state of panic hoping to locate an obscure spare, often successfully.

I’d taken quite a few of this quirky and efficient chandlery and repair shop. Duncan and his staff seem to sell everything from flags to Azores tea, buckets to boots. You get the idea from this photo, but the object that really caught my eye was the giant elephant foot-sized engine piston.

From a ship maybe? A massive one. Steam ship?

No, says Duncan. Not from a ship’s engine, he tells me but ‘an orphan from the power generating plant in Horta, offered by a friend who thought it would become a conversation piece, which it has!’

But you never know, one day it could be the very component someone’s looking for.