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Old 25-02-2015, 12:26   #1
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Charter Advice Requested

Hi, Iím a long time member but mostly a lurker..

Iím looking for advice (and I know itís never short on here!) and want to check my perspective on a sailing charter matter.

My inexperienced girlfriend and I ( I do have several sailing courses and have chartered multiple times ) chartered a sailboat from a small chartering company in Mexico (It has several sailboats, an RV and property for rent)

I booked a charter with them and we agreed on a date and was told to book my flights etc. Once I arranged everything, time away from work for both of us, flights, car rental, hotels etc. He said he had made a mistake and given our week away already. I had to rearrange everything for a different week. We did without complaint.

When we arrived at the dock to board our charter it was discovered the boat we had chartered had serious engine problems and the engine was inoperable (I can understand that this occurs from time to time in the charter world). They offered us a slightly larger boat that was booked for maintenance that week but we could take it out in place of the original one. There were several things that required repair or replacement they said but they could all wait. We went ahead and provisioned for the week.

During our boat orientation, their man on the ground had stated he had the boat out several weeks earlier and he warned us that the chain may not run freely. He indicated to us that we may have to give it a kick once in a while to make it run freely like he had to. He said it would work just fine then! (He said the chain was due for replacement that week as it was in bad shape).

Long story short, we arrived at our first night anchoring point, with a half hour of light left and could not drop the anchor. The chain was so rusty it would not run past the windlass, nor would it come out of its pile. It was essentially rusted into a giant rust-ball. The windlass solenoid was also inoperable and had failed (although we had tested it at the dock prior to leaving)

During our anchoring escapade we drifted into about 70í of water and even with all this weight (40í of chain and the anchor out) the chain still refused to run freely. To get it to go through the windlass, I had to crawl into the chain locker and lift the chain up while my girlfriend pulled the chain past the windlass. We finally set the anchor in 20í of water about an hour after dark. We contacted them that evening (and this was not without problems either). They said they would drive out by truck in the am and we could pick them up by the beach. They diagnosed the solenoid failure and bypassed the solenoid temporarily to operate the windlass. We had a discussion about the chain and I said it is not safe to use and stated Iím not going to use it like this. (Their man on the ground agreed it was not safe, so he offered to accompany us for the next 5 days, I gratefully declined and told him that would be like bringing my ex mother in law on my honeymoon! )

I told him that I was returning the boat back to the marina that morning (3 hours motoring time). We even discussed where to go in Mexico for the balance of the week as we would not have the boat. He suggested a place 300 kms away.

After returning to the dock and us unloading the boat and leaving the marina, the boat was apparently repaired in short order as they had the chain and solenoid available to them. They tried to contact me on my Canadian cell phone and left a message (I never turn it on in Mexico because of the $5/min roaming charges, except for emergencies). I never had a discussion with any of them about repairing the boat nor did they tell me they had chain before I left (otherwise I would have either told them to change it out before initially leaving or to bring it out by truck and install it where we discovered the problem)

The next morning, when I had access to Wi-Fi, I emailed the owner (the only way I have ever communicated with him) and confirmed I had returned the boat. I said his man on the ground in Mexico had all the details. In subsequent several emails to him I reiterated with him why I had returned the boat. The only reason I returned the boat was because the chain was a safety issue.

In these emails hereís what the owner of the boat accused me of:
  1. Getting to my anchoring place after dark and trying to set the anchor in the dark. (false)
  2. Being seasick is why I returned the boat. (false)
  3. Being dehydrated from being seasick is why I returned the boat. (false)
  4. Having my girlfriend being scared is why I returned the boat. (false)
  5. Of having a broken arm is why I returned the boat (to be fair I had previously fractured my wrist but in no way did it impact on my ability to sail. My Dr. was even debating if I should have a cast but he decided to err on the side of caution.) (false)
  6. Not liking the weather is why I returned the boat. (false)
  7. He did say that when he had chartered in the BVI previously the boat he was charting broke down and it took them 5 days to fix his boat so I shouldn't complain.
  8. He said I could have docked every night at the marina instead of anchoring out and go for day sails as that is what a lot of people do. (I never had intentions of this as we had arranged for a dive master though him for diving out in the islands)
  9. He accused me of abandoning the boat at the dock, yet I told both of his employees, included his man on the ground, that I was leaving the boat at the marina. (I told the Spanish speaking mechanic to take all of our provisions as we had no use for them anymore)

My position is that we were sent me out on a vessel with a known problem, the known problem resulted in a safety issue. With everything I know now, it would have taken an hour to replace the chain prior to my leaving. He made a judgement call not to replace it and it was subsequently proved to be the wrong call. I believe that his problems shouldn't become my problems and as such, I should be fully refunded all monies that I paid him.

I have never asked him for my provisioning costs nor for my costs to rearrange my flights etc.

He refuses to answer any emails from me nor has he even returned my fuel deposit. (Approximately 5 weeks ago)

Is my expectation of a full refund out of line?

What options do I have?
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Old 25-02-2015, 12:47   #2
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

First, go to your credit card company and if you paid via credit card,they may mediate or investigate. Then go to Mexican authorities-who knows how that might conclude? Imagine if his boats are not properly registered or he has not paid taxes??? Ask the US consulate to provide assistance. Hire a Mexican lawyer to write him a threatening letter. What does the contract say about claims or disputes or arbitration? Why not tell us who was the charter company? I wish you well....
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Old 25-02-2015, 17:20   #3
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

Sorry to hear about your problems. However, Canadian in Canada, Mexican in Mexico, money in his hands - this will be an uphill battle.

You credit card may be able to reverse the charge on "fraud" grounds.

The lesson for me is

- Charter from the biggies or take your chances
- Once the money is down make the best of it - dropping the boat off early and expecting a refund in the "third" world is asking for it

Not saying you did anything wrong at all but maybe salvaging the week by docking or figuring out how to make the windlass work out would have been less stressful.

Also keep your expectations of the boat boys/dock hands very low - They are not usually all that smart. I have found that I can talk them in to doing a lot of things I want them to do - i.e. find me a new anchor and chain.

Once again sorry about you bad experience.
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Old 25-02-2015, 17:49   #4
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

Based on your description, you were clearly in the right and the charter company in the wrong. The only question is what are you going to do?

I see a couple of options in addition to contacting the credit card company for help.

First, take all the info to a lawyer and spend lots of time and money trying to recoup your costs.

Option 2: chock it up to experience and learn from your adventure. You might invest a little of the money you save by not hiring a lawyer and take your lovely lady out for a nice meal with a nice bottle of wine and a sinful slice of chocolate cake for dessert.

I suspect option 2 will be a better investment than option one.
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Old 25-02-2015, 18:02   #5
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

Once renting a 30-something-foot sailboat for a day in Sausalito that had no winch handles 45 years ago, I decided that renting a boat beyond the most simplistic is risky and bound to be disappointing.
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Old 25-02-2015, 22:05   #6
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

Thanks for all the advice, I did take it to my credit card company and they were more than willing to look into it.. They have started a file...

I suppose that this is one of those life lesson moments, I usually let things like this pass me by except when I feel strongly about something... I do feel strongly about this.

And yes between a date with a lawyer or my gal.. I would choose my gal every time ...

I was presented with a contract down there to sign and was asked to sign it unfortunately he only had a single copy (At least I think there was only a single copy, the CC people were going to ask for a copy of it)

I reviewed my invoice for the boat, I was charged the MEX IVA tax of 16% , so it must be a registered Mexican Company, right? I can't not see him submitting his taxes as required.

Interestingly enough though, is that when I googled his email address, it came up with a different last name than what he used on the invoice for the charter, it's close but different than what his real name is. A "D" in his name was changed to a "T" and the Charter companies address is a mailbox drop in California.

I must be missing something here though..

If I find out any more I will let you all know.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
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Old 26-02-2015, 06:09   #7
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

So who is this person/company? The real benefit of a forum like this one is the ability to share information, and it seems to me that you have some information to share that could keep someone else out of trouble.

What I take away from this is, if you aren't chartering from one of the large and well-known companies, then you need to do a LOT of research up front, to make sure that whoever you are dealing with is legitimate.

Here's hoping that your credit card company sees your side of it.
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Old 26-02-2015, 07:34   #8
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

Did the boat not have a second anchor and rode (3 strand line)?
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Old 26-02-2015, 10:03   #9
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

@denverd0n, Paul Annapolis

I don't feel comfortable releasing the charter company's name without hearing back from my CC company or at least giving the company a chance to reply to this public forum. Once I get though this I would definitely feel no hesitancy in releasing the companies name with the outcome either way.

@ jkishel
Good Point, on the checklist we went through in the orientation it indicated there was a dinghy anchor, I remember that as I had found it under the galley sink! I don't recall there being a secondary anchor though.
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Old 26-02-2015, 11:43   #10
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

I'm not sure why you're communicating with the boat owner or why he's communicating with you. As I understand it, your contract was with the charter company. Charter contracts usually set a time frame for the charter co. to correct issues like this. If it takes longer than specified, some (partial) refund is due. If that is true here (apparently you no longer have a copy of the contract) I'd expect the charter co. to argue that you didn't give them ample opportunity as specified by contract to cure the problem. In fact, they seem to have replaced everything shortly after you returned the boat to the dock.
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Old 26-02-2015, 12:44   #11
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

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Originally Posted by jkishel View Post
I'm not sure why you're communicating with the boat owner or why he's communicating with you. As I understand it, your contract was with the charter company. Charter contracts usually set a time frame for the charter co. to correct issues like this. If it takes longer than specified, some (partial) refund is due. If that is true here (apparently you no longer have a copy of the contract) I'd expect the charter co. to argue that you didn't give them ample opportunity as specified by contract to cure the problem. In fact, they seem to have replaced everything shortly after you returned the boat to the dock.
Yes, I agree it is confusing.. The owner of the charter company and the owner of the boats are one and the same.

That is his argument as well; I did not give him enough time time to correct the problem. My argument is that this known problem should have been corrected before I took the vessel out if it was that easy to rectify. Or at the very least they could have offered to bring the chain/repair parts out to where I was, that would have saved me a day motoring in and out of the marina from where I was. (it was a 1/2 hour truck ride to get the parts to me and a pickup on the beach) To be fair to the owner though, this solution never arose until I thought of it several days after the event.

Waiting for equipment that is known to be faulty and hoping it won't fail in charter (especially safety equipment) is not good practice. His problems should not become my problems.

Our ultimate destination was out in the islands, this poor decision of his company would have cost me as a minimum 2 days out of 5 available sailing days. (Sunday at noon to Friday afternoon.)
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Old 26-02-2015, 12:54   #12
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

Sorry to hear that your vacation was a bust. I don't disagree with your insistence with the boat having a properly operating windlass. Admittedly, it seems that the charter company is a bit unprofessional, or, at worst, even shady. At the very least, they are obviously lousy at maintaining their fleet.

However, most charter contracts allow the charter company up to 24 hrs. to make a repair. The charter company should have been better about communicating with you their intentions, but I think they probably have a good argument that you didn't give them a reasonable chance to fix the boat.

Even a top-tier company like The Moorings (with their much advertised "Four Hour Service Guarantee") won't let you just toss them the keys if the boat is unsatisfactory after the first night, and then hand you a refund for the balance of your charter. If they can't get you back on the water, then they start talking about giving credit for future charters, but there are no full refunds if you walk away from the charter altogether.
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Old 26-02-2015, 13:17   #13
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

My only point is that the charter contract establishes the rights of the parties. If the charter co. didn't deliver the equipment and service required of them under the contract they are liable to you for damages, again as specified (and limited) by the contract. On these facts, it is difficult to see how you could be entitled to more than one or two days' refund. In my experience, how a charter company treats its boats is a good indicator of how they treat their customers.....
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Old 26-02-2015, 17:31   #14
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

In hindsight, finding customer reviews and being able to take a picture of the contract, or better yet getting it off the web or e-mailed to you ahead of time, might have helped.
And, given the way things work in off-the-beaten-track places, giving him 24 hours to fix things might have been reasonable.
And having the check-out guy demonstrate how to kick the chain out might have been another idea.
To establish some notion of service level to expect, how did pricing compare to top- and lower-tier Caribbean companies or other south-of-the-border places... Did you pay a Rolls price for a Yugo experience or vice versa?
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Old 26-02-2015, 22:08   #15
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Re: Charter Advice Requested

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Originally Posted by rgscpat View Post
In hindsight, finding customer reviews and being able to take a picture of the contract, or better yet getting it off the web or e-mailed to you ahead of time, might have helped.
And, given the way things work in off-the-beaten-track places, giving him 24 hours to fix things might have been reasonable.
And having the check-out guy demonstrate how to kick the chain out might have been another idea.
To establish some notion of service level to expect, how did pricing compare to top- and lower-tier Caribbean companies or other south-of-the-border places... Did you pay a Rolls price for a Yugo experience or vice versa?
Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing.. I wish I could even say my hindsight was 20/20..alas sometimes its not even close.

I did ask the check out guy to demonstrate the windlass and he did drop anchor, but I did not follow through with the kicking demonstration, I should have insisted!

I'm a simple traveler and a bit of an adventurer.. In the last five years I've back packed and traveled with the locals in central America several times, canoed on river trips in Canada. I enjoy just packing a bag and hopping on my motorcycle and going on a trip. Yep, I'm a Yugo kinda guy... and I paid Yugo prices.. I guess that I'm just going to have to take my lumps..

In hindsight I should have walked, the maintenance was extremely poor on the boat. The only gauge that was operable was the depth gauge, the wind indicator and knot meter were both out of commission. I think the handheld GPS was at least 12 years old, but still functionable. The engine tach had a sign on it stating not to operate the engine over 1500 rpms. None of them by themselves are detrimental to sailing, but as a whole they are indicative of the level of existing maintenance and mindset of the owner.

One other lesson I learned was that when I tried to phone the check out guy from the supplied emergency phone that they left me, I kept getting a recorded message from a Spanish women. I think, but I'm not sure, it was an advertisement for cellular service in Mexico. Not understanding Spanish I thought it was telling me that the phone was out of range or an incorrect number or some such thing. I've learned that I must always check out everything completely to understand it or at least have even the simplest and most innocuous things demonstrated to me.

I feel it's not a complete day for me if I haven't learned something that day.
I've learnt lots of lessons from this escapade so there's that.. ..
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