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When a dream becomes a nightmare

Published on May 4th, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is putting the spotlight on how companies navigate this global lockdown, and it is proving to be a particular test of the Caribbean charter industry. Following a story about Dream Yacht Charters, it brought back a nightmare experience for Paolo Sheaffer.

As famed college basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching,” and Sheaffer’s experience was during good times. Here’s a lesson to learn from when choosing your charter company:

Prior to Hurricane Irma in 2017, we booked a Catana 471 for two weeks out of St Maarten with Dream Yacht Charter (DYC), as that was the model of boat we hoped to buy when I retired from teaching.

However, about two months out, we received an email that they no longer had any 471s in their fleet, and we would be rented a Catana 50 – not the boat we hoped to learn about.

Once we arrived, DYC requires you to spend the first night of your charter aboard. No check out paperwork to get started on, no explanation of systems. You’re on your own. The next morning started quietly, but soon there was pandemonium.

Nobody came around until 9:30am, and then it was all rush-rush as we had to make the bridge in 20 minutes. We reported the dinghy was leaking, and the sail drives were low on oil, and they said that the engineer would deal with these problems, but there was no engineer!

So we left without submitting a checklist, or even having time to read halfway through it! On the dinghy, the rubber cone at aft end of pontoon tip was the leak, but there was no way to fix without specialty tools. So we put up with it. On the fourth day of our charter, they finally replaced the dinghy.

The bottom had barnacles on barnacles. On sail drives, props, etc. Our boat had exposed core below waterline on transom, A/C that tripped off at 1:00am nightly, shower valves that acquired air gaps, such that the last four days on this boat, the only shower for the eight of us was in the “captains head” in bow locker!

After speaking with DYC agent in Annapolis, she agreed to give us a different boat, a months-old Lagoon 450 without A/C. Even this boat had barnacles growing all over the bottom. Not like the Catana, but lots of barnacles.

So we thought we would preview a 471, ended up with a smelly, roached out Catana 50, and a newish Lagoon 450, neither boats we cared to demo. After this experience, I emailed an old friend who was working for DYC at the time. He told me the DYC management were always on them to spend less on repairs and make more money for the company.

We met a couple in Raiatea on a DYC monohull, and their engine kept overheating. DYC refused to give them another boat, and expected them to spend two days of their holiday back at charter base while engine was repaired. They would only start motor if a pass got hairy, or coming in to an anchorage.

Another friend from the US bought a Lagoon 52 and put it in charter service with DYC. He has horror stories. He was almost relieved that Irma totaled his boat so he could get out of DYC relationship.

I think some of their charter bases are likely better than others, but I would far rather patronize anybody than DYC.

When we were checking in, a nice Argentine man who had chartered a Lagoon 620 with his family asked for a refund for the boat WiFi that he paid for, but it never worked. He paid for fishing gear. One rod/reel; one lure. DYC base manager told the gentleman he should have reported these problems earlier and they would have fixed them. No refund.

The Argentine never raised his voice, but his anger was palpable as he told them he will never do business with them again. Come to think of it, neither have we, as DYC is not a company that prioritizes customer service.

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