In December of 2008 we flew to the Bahamas to spend a week sailing in the Abaco Sea. We were looking forward to a week of fine sailing in fair winds, but wound up waiting for assistance that never arrived and charged for expenses that were acrued through no fault of our own.
Summary: We chartered a sailboat from Abaco Bahamas Charters for one week (Dec 22-29, 2008) and on our first day out of the home harbor (Dec 24), our engine failed. The charter company did not respond for 4 days of our repeated attempts at contact, and upon making contact, they did not send a chase boat for assistance until after the last day of our charter. Presently, the manager is completely denying our account of the events, stating that the engine trouble was a result of leaving the engine battery switch on and draining the battery. He is retaining our deposit to cover his cost for their failed attempt to tow it back to the harbour. We are stunned by this treatment and are now trying to recover the charter fee for the lost days, as per our contract agreement, and our security deposit.
December 22 -- Boarding Eclectic Lady
When Sherman returned, he collected the missing items from other boats in the charter fleet, as appears to be company policy because the dinghy also belonged to another boat (Betty Jean). He demonstrated the systems, and started the engine and commented that it sounded rough, but would be OK, He also informed us of the allowable range of sailing, which we were already aware of, and the holiday policy, which was news to us. We were told that Abaco Bahamas Charters (ABC) would not send a chase boat on Christmas and Boxing Day. Since I have never needed direct assistance on previous bareboat charters, it seem reasonable to avoid trouble on holidays.
A dry cold front had passed through Abaco that day, bringing a northern wind followed by SE winds (20-25 Kn) that were stronger than we would find comfortable on our first day sailing an unfamiliar boat. So we decided to wait 2 nights in Hope Town Harbor to see the island and buy provisions.
December 23 -- Cycling on Elbow Cay
December 24 -- Engine failure
After Sherman replaced the engine battery, we started the engine and completed our final preparations for departure. We motored through Hope Town Harbor at nearly idle to quarter speed to maintain steerage in the wind, and increased to half speed as we rounded the corner of the entrance channel. At about the second green channel buoy in, I slowly increased to about 3/4 speed, and we suddenly lost power. It sounded like a simple rundown, like a lack of fuel. We quickly dropped anchor to stop our drift, and fortunately the engine restarted with little effort. We then continued at half speed out of the channel and raised our mainsail.
On Christmas eve, the wind was SE at about 15-20, making for a comfortable reach towards Man-O-War Cay. With such a favorable wind, we needed no help from the engine. Shortly after we raised the sail and confirmed the safety of the rigging, we shut down the engine. Some tuning of the rigging seems to be needed because the main boom catches on the back stay on jibes, but otherwise all appeared sound. We proceeded under mainsail alone for an hour or so. Because of our concern about the reliability of the engine, we did not attempt to enter the harbor at Man-O-War, but were seeking good anchorage north of Dickie's Cay.
When we reached the entrance to our intended anchorage, we dropped the main and started the engine, and ran at idle speed until we lowered and secured the mainsail. Since the engine had failed as I increased beyond half speed, and since we were entering unfamiliar waters, I kept the engine speed slow. However, within 15 minutes, the engine failed. We dropped anchor immediately, and worked on getting the engine reliably running to try and pull in to a more sheltered position. Several starts-and-sputters later, we weighed anchor and made for safer water. Unfortunately, the engine failed within a few minutes and we dropped anchor again for the night in the wind and chop.
After several more attempts, the engine would not turn over, and the indicator lights were too ambiguous to diagnose the problem. Although I have several thousand miles of experience under sail, I am not a mechanic. I expected that a chase boat could be sent to find the problem, and hopefully we could continue our charter.
December 25 -- Christmas without an Engine
Since we had been informed by Sherman that we would not get help from Abaco Bahamas Charters until after Boxing Day, we decided to bring the boat to a safer anchorage for the next 2 nights. The state of the engine would make impossible to enter the Hope Town Harbor and pickup a mooring.
With the forecasted weather, our best bet appeared to be Fisher's bay at Guana Cay. There, the entrance is broad enough that, if the engine will not take us in, we would be able to sail to a secure anchorage.
So, we sailed off the anchor and ran downwind to anchor under sail as close-in as we could get in Fisher's Bay. When we arrived, we attempted Ch 16 again.
We were determined to have a pleasant Christmas, so we grilled lobster tails as the sun went down, and ate a beautiful dinner under a single, dim cabin light.
December 26 -- Moving ashore
We inquired about a guest room at Grabber's at Sunset Beach because "Eclectic Lady" had no power, and as a final system failure, her head intake stopped flowing so that we needed to use a pitcher of water to operate the head.
Fortunately, a room was available and the staff was very friendly and understanding of our situation. We were allowed to use their phone and VHF, and the Out Island Inter.Net signal was strong. The room had a refrigerator so we could store our perishable provisions, and the bed was excellent. We would up losing our provisions that required cooking because there was no stove in the rooms, but the restaurant served good food.
December 27 -- Dreaming of a chase boat
Later in the day, we sent an email to Cruiser's Net explaning our situation in more detail and informing them that the latest attempt at contacting Abaco Bahamas Charters had failed.
December 28 -- First Contact with ABC
This was a very unfortunate way to end a sailing charter. Not had we only been able to use the boat as a floating hotel before it was disabled, but we were not able to safely bring her back to her mooring. A critical problem for us with this arrangement is that we would not be present for the inspection.
We sent another email to the management, and finally received a response. Jim Montgomery suggested that we over-throttled the engine leading to failure. I responded that, because the winds were so fair, we only used the engine to leave the harbor before it first failed, then while approaching an anchorage.
We said our last farewell to "Eclectic Lady" and collected our remaining effects. We set a second anchor and cleaned her with a juice pitcher because we were not provided with a bucket and a brush. While we were there, I donned a mask and snorkel and inspected the hull. We also double checked the engine battery to be sure that it was in the "off" position and made sure that everything was as nearly in the like condition it was upon boarding as possible, but this time with clean dishes.
December 29 - January 2 -- Last days in Abaco
We did not hear anything until we returned home to Oregon and emailed an inquiry. The response from Abaco Bahamas Charters claims that the mechanical failure and does not intend to refund our lost days of the charter. They also intend to charge us for their failed attempt to tow the boat back to Hope Town. The points sum up our experiences with the charter company.
* The state of "Eclectic Lady" upon arrival: Aside from the fresh linens, the boat did not appear to have been prepared for charter. Essential equipment was missing, the battery needed replacement, and the ice box needed repair. When Sherman demonstrated the engine, he commented that it sounded rough, but we assumed that it would be OK for the charter.
* Failure of the engine: The engine first failed on exit from Hope Town Harbor. Then, after sailing with the engine off for an hour, we restarted the engine and it failed again several times until it did not start at all. If the engine battery ran down, it was because of repeated attempts to start the engine while anchoring. The engine did not fail because of a dead battery caused by our actions, the battery could not be charged because the engine failed.
* No functional means of contact was provided: Two methods were provided to contact the company, VHF 16 and a land-line number, and only the first was mentioned on our arrival. We were told by Sherman that the company monitors VHF 16, but we never got a response after we left Hope Town Harbor. A land-line number for Abaco Bahamas Charters is in the telephone directory and is provided in the Charter Agreement. This number returned a constant busy signal and was likely disconnected. Pattie Toler at Cruser's Net clarified that the listed number was for the previous management and would not work. There was no response to our emails, and we finally were able to contact the company only through Cruser's Net.
* No assistance was provided: In retrospect, I think that it is appalling that a charter company would leave their guests stranded and in distress on Christmas. If the company will not work on holidays, then they should not be chartering boats on holidays. However, we gave our verbal agreement when we were told of the policy on our first day on the boat, and were perfectly willing to wait until Dec 27th for assistance. But even after we made contact, no attempt was made to send a chase boat to assess the problems while we were present. Instead, a towing crew was sent after we left, on a day when the weather forbade towing, and the management appears to be charging us for the expense. If the problem were only the battery, then timely assistance would have saved the expense of the towing crew.
* The state of the engine battery switch upon departure: I have been obsessively turning off engine battery switches on sailboats for 25 years. As he should have, Sherman informed us that the engine needed to be isolated from the cabin circuit when not running, and we made a continual point of it. If fact, when we made our final visit to the boat, we discussed the engine battery and double checked that it was in the "off" position. Finally, as I stated above, a dead battery does not explain the engine failure that occurred several days earlier.
I do not know why Abaco Bahamas Charters, or their employees, would misrepresent the facts, unless it is a new policy to leave charters with faulty equipment, then refuse to respond until after they leave the island so that they can be charged for repairs.
We have since heard from one of our contacts in Abaco that "Eclectic Lady" had two service calls on the previous charter, one for dead battery, the other for overheating. This account is consistent with our experience on the boat, and contradicts Jim Montgomery's statements. We have sent a strong reply to the company requesting our fee refunded and deposit.
For our part, we only wished to spend our holidays sailing in beautiful islands, and pay a fair price for the opportunity. We made the best of a difficult situations, received help from many generous people in Abaco, and found time to forget the troubles and enjoy ourselves.
Patrick & Nancy Roberts
POSTSCRIPT: After we posted this report, we came in contact with several clients and owners who had escalating problems with ABC Charters for the previous years since the last managers took over. Within two months ABC Charters shut down, and rumor has it that the last manager was arrested in the US for tax evasion.