beware of barefoot charters
To Whom It May Concern, if you are thinking about bareboat charter boat ownership and like to read:
Maui Girl started this thread in May. We have waited to post this to give the St. Vincent authorities time to respond to our written allegations of theft by fraud and customs fraud by Barefoot Yacht Charters (BYC). In February of this year, I reported our claims to the Prime Minister’s office in St. Vincent, sending several pages of supporting documents by e-mail. We requested that the Prime Minister forward our letter to the proper authorities for investigation. After I sent a second follow up e-mail, I telephoned that same office and was told by staff that the Prime Minister had received our e-mail, but it was unknown what, if any action or response might be taken. No reply has been received to date.
Before we get into the details of our experiences with BYC, we want to acknowledge that there are other owners in the Barefoot Yacht Charters fleet who are perfectly happy. One that I am familiar with, and have discussed our concerns with, is Rob Charuk. Rob maintains a wonderful web site regarding sailing, chartering, and his experience with BYC, the people of the area and many other topics of interest to potential charterers or owners. I strongly recommend his site: www.usual-suspects-sailing.com\, I think you will find it informative and especially entertaining.
Our experience with BYC:
In March of 2000, my wife and I placed a 1995 Fountain Pajot catamaran in charter service with BYC. Both parties signed BYC’s charter contract and agreement. Included in the agreement were statements that we, the owners, could request and receive copies of any invoices that applied to parts or charges for our boat.
Our first inkling that all was not well started when we were intentionally misled by BYC, via e-mail, that the cost of a new main sail we had specified and obtained a quotation for had increased by 10%, for various reasons other then the real reason; BYC had added a markup. Now markups are fine and as a former business owner, I know you must cover your expenses and make a profit or you won’t stay in business very long. The problem was the initial misrepresentation of the reason for the increased cost over the quote we had personally obtained. After several e-mails back and forth, BYC admitted there had been a markup applied, we agreed to a settlement price and to continue our relationship with BYC. But----
Then we started seeing and questioning mysterious charges and apparent over charges, along with questionable items, on our monthly statements. Later, we had to engage in exchanges of sometimes not so pleasant e-mails with Seth, to remedy the screw-ups and derelictions of duty on BYC’s part. If you are an owner, be sure you give yourself ample opportunity to observe your boat personally. Deferred maintenance can add greatly to your expenses, and also put your charterers at risk.
A very small sample of the issues we faced:
Billing by two different contractors for installing the same part, a $62.00 or $65.00, (depending on which supplier was quoting), fuel lift pump, billed at $435.28 cost to us, plus the double labor. There were many contentious e-mails from Seth, arguing that his figure was the correct price for the pump. At one point Seth wrote that “he had on his desk an invoice for $267.00 for a Yanmar pump,” although BYC’s own supplier told us the price of the pump to BYC was $62US plus freight. Then Seth started adding all the freight, customs and other charges and arrived at the magical $435.28 cost to us. See below for the “rest of the story” under “Not quite duplicate invoices.”
“Wear and tear” hull repairs BYC charged us for on our eight month old AB dink (with a five year guarantee from the manufacturer), after we gave notice of our boat leaving the BYC fleet. We later learned the RPG hull was broken, leaked when the inadequate repair failed, and it ultimately cost us $600.00 for proper repairs. It appears the dink was either in a collision or used one too many times as a 15hp “tug” for BYC. Beware, we observed BYC staff use owners’ dinks, especially the higher horse power ones, as service dinks. In our case, we observed our new, (2 hours). 15hp engine went being used wide open throttle for several minutes pushing a 40 foot mono hull beam to the wind.
Ridiculous Billing errors: One of many examples. Three different billings for three batteries that we personally saw installed in the port hull, before they got the price, type and number correct. At one point Seth, almost joyfully, thanked us for bringing the mistakes to his attention and tried to bill us for group 4s instead of the group 24s we had seen installed! Group 4s weigh about 100 lbs and sell for about $200 instead of Group 24 at 39 lbs and a reasonable price of around $60.00.
Seth’s repeated attempt to bill us for a set of speakers at over three times the list price of what was actually installed. We were billed $133.00 for the most expensive speakers in the Budget Marine catalog, not the $44.00 West Marine speakers we observed. This included statements that “no one” at BYC had installed West Marine speakers on our boat and they “never bought anything from West Marine”. Several weeks later, someone, (Mary?), took our suggestion, went to the boat and looked at the speakers. They found they were in fact, the moderately priced West Marine brand speakers. A sort of credit was issued. We wondered why such a fight over something so easy to verify?
Invoices: We asked many, many times for copies of invoices. After about one year we had received a total of 6. We continued to ask, and finally received a large package of invoices. Trouble was, there were a total of 71 sets of invoices and customs charge sheets, but only 5 matched our boat, equipment or engine brand. The other 66 referred to different brand engine parts, a ten foot shaft, drill presses, TV’s, office supplies, etc--you get the point.
Not quite duplicate invoices: Included in the above invoices were a set of identical invoices, except that one is a fax and the prices for each of the two items are half the price of the second invoice. Prior to sending these invoices, Seth had advised us, in writing, that “this one supplier nearly always furnished invoices at one half price to be presented to customs,” “so that we pay a lower stamp/customs fees on arrivial (sp).” This made us wonder, if BYC cheats the customs department, are owners also fair game?
Ironically, the “not quite duplicate invoices” were apparently the ones Seth used to justify the overcharging of the above mentioned fuel lift pump. The invoice is for a “Rebuild Yanmar fuel pump” at $267.00 each for two. On the same invoices are 6 “Rebuild Yanmar injectors”, so it appears these were for another cat. The other problem was these invoices were dated seven months before the overcharge to us.
Main anchor chain and rode: Our galvanized main anchor and chain rode were original equipment, but in good condition when put into BYC’s fleet. The galvanized main rode described as being in “fair” condition by our inspector on June 8, 2001 and about 30 days before leaving the BYC fleet, changed to “now very rusty” when he picked up the boat from BYC on June 30, 2001, just 22 days later? The inspector noted on June 8, 2001, that the main anchor was missing from the boat and was off for “painting” according to BYC staff. Now the main anchor was a galvanized anchor when I personally removed it to have it straightened in January 2001, and left it on the boat in February. I also replaced the shackle with a new galvanized shackle, as the original was starting to show some wear and rust. When we visited the boat in November of 2001, I learned what the report meant by very rusty. The anchor and chain on our boat bore no resemblance to the equipment we left on board in February. We drove to the store and $750.00+ later had a new anchor and rode. I would not ask someone to pay to charter a boat equipped with that piece of rusty junk. (We have photos). BYC disavowed any knowledge of how it got that way other then “leaving it out in the rain”.
Safety items: We were charged for windless repairs, (including a main shaft-see bent anchor mentioned above), in the fall of 2000. When we visited the boat in February of 2001, we found there were three problems with the windless that were not in evidence prior to BYC’s repairs: 1. A safety disconnect switch had been bypassed, 2. A cover was missing from one of the deck foot switches, and 3. The clutch/brake was frozen. Someone could be severely injured by the sudden and unexpected operation of the windless, especially with the missing switch cover. We informed BYC staff verbally and in writing, more then once, of these safety issues and Seth assured us they would be taken care of immediately. Not true. The clutch/brake was still frozen and the safety switch was still bypassed when the boat left BYC.
The good news about BYC: they did an excellent job of promoting the boat and keeping her busy with charters. The boat was a financial success as far as income. It was the deterioration of the boat and excessive charges, especially at the end, that bothered us. We requested in writing, but never received, 11 more invoices for items we could not verify were ever installed or even purchased by BYC, during the 90 days after we gave notice that we were leaving BYC’s fleet. In the end, BYC did credit us for some, but not all, of the items where we found discrepancies, but it took a great deal of our time and energy to identify, document, and contest them. We found several more items after the boat was removed from the fleet, e.g., the anchor and rode and dingy damage, but BYC refused to accept responsibility for these items. Life is too short, who needs this kind of aggravation?
Are we cheap nit pickers, some might question? No, the truth is we spent many extra dollars ordering upgrades, replacements and refinishing for the boat while at BYC to make her “the best in the fleet”. We were very disappointed with what we found during January/February of 2001, after less then a year with BYC. The boat was clean, but several safety defects were found and the general condition was “rundown”. We presented a detailed list of defects and safety items to Seth, who promised all would be made right. We withheld the written notice to leave BYC we had prepared at that time. After the next statement arrived it was obvious nothing had really changed and we gave the required 90 day written notice.
Are we new to boat ownership? No. I have owned several, and this cat is the smallest of the last three sail boats I have owned. I have worked on them myself, bought parts for them, paid others to work on them, broken parts on them and have a fair idea of what is what when it comes to repairs and maintenance, or the lack thereof, and what various part cost.
Do I know a lie when I see and read it? You betcha. I am a retired law enforcement officer/investigator. I am also a packrat, so I have saved and printed nearly every email and correspondence from BYC. All the proof and verifications of the allegations presented here, and lots more, are in our files. I also know what libel is and this is not it. Just the facts.
Is there a difference between business disputes and fraud? Yes. Fraud and theft by fraud is when you are over charged, charged for something you didn’t get or some entrusted item is taken from you.
Are we down on charter boat ownership and are all charter companies bad? Nope. Charterers don’t treat our boats like most owners do and things break and/or wear out faster because of increased use. We moved our boat to Horizon Yacht Charters after BYC. Is all now wonderful? Nope. Things still break mistakes happen and deferred maintenance items needed tending to. The difference is when we get an email or statement now; we are not automatically looking for the overcharge, because it isn’t there. The second difference is the boat’s general condition and maintenance level. Maintenance records, inspections and check lists are used to greatly reduce negative surprises and failures. (When our boat left BYC, our agent was told there were no maintenance records other then the statements sent to the owners). Oh, a commercial: Horizon has a great website: www.horizonyachtcharters.com/.
Are we looking for trouble or wish BYC ill? No. We wish to make it clear we hold no personal animosity for Mary Bernard. We are aware of the good things she had done for some of her employees and to improve the tourist industry of her country. We suspect that Mary may not be fully aware of the details of what we experienced. We do feel an obligation to share our experiences to inform other potential charter boat owners. A monthly statement shouldn’t be the signal for your blood pressure to go up. Are these problems unique to BYC? No. These are problems that can occur, and according to our conversations with other owners, do occur in other fleets. It pays to thoroughly investigate your charter company; we certainly learned some lessons at BYC. We hope that BYC has been able to remedy these problems. They were certainly aware of them.
Life is good and boat ownership should be also. To quote Mary from BYC in one of her last emails to us; As the Rastas say, “Peace and Love, otherwise there is no point in living”.
David Comden, owner s/v A Volonte.