Setting the Record straight about the Great Escape

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Posted by Erik Wade on October 14, 2005 at 16:50:09:

On August 28th, Sports Chalet charted the Great Escape to Farnsworth Banks. Since this failed trip, there has been a lot of talk concerning a number of problems and complaints that apparently were never voiced to the Capt. As one of the divers on the boat that day, I would like to express what I experienced simply to ensure that everyone, including the Capt. Realize that there were some issues that took place.

I was aboard the boat with my father, and two good friends. None of us had ever been to Farnsworth Banks so we had tons of video equipment and photo equipment with us. Everyone on the boat was in good spirits but the mood quickly changed when a pair of divers decided to argue relentlessly with the Sports Chalet Divemaster about something. As I wasn’t in the conversation, I won’t elaborate…however, soon Tim, the Capt. Joined into the discussion and ordered them to leave to which he had a deckhand help them off the boat. This said, the mood on the boat took a turn for the worse.

Finally underway, a little late due to the removal of a couple of divers, the boat made its way to what we thought was Farnsworth Banks. Since my tank was low on air and I didn’t have time to get a fill before hand, I asked a deckhand if he could give me a fill. It was at this point I was told the deckhand would have to charge me unless there were at least 6 persons who needed a fill. Slightly confused as to why it made any difference or why he would charge me if filled only my tank but not if there were 5 others, I said whatever you feel you need to do so long as I have air for the first dive.

I would like to also say that at no point was anyone informed of any weather conditions, nor the possibility of a change in destinations while we were at the dock. If we were told what the conditions appeared to be, my group of four would have gladly rescheduled as we didn’t have any interest in diving Catalina that day.

We never made it to Farnsworth Banks, and in fact, we didn’t even make our way around the northern tip of Catalina to take a look at the conditions. We simply made a direct heading to Two Harbors and or first dive spot, Bird Rock. I can say that he motored around a bit to figure out where he wanted to anchor, but I didn’t ever see us get anywhere close to the tip to glance at what the west side of the island looked like. Someone announced that due to weather conditions they had to scrap Farnsworth and we were going to have our first dive at Bird Rock. I was told that other people were later being told that we made our way around to confirm the weather conditions to which I can completely deny ever happening. We seemed to make a direct route to Two Harbors.

After the wave of disappointment everyone geared up and dropped in to dive our first spot. Once underwater, I began to notice a bit of a headache and some nausea and thought that either the food didn’t settle well, or it might be a lack of a good nights sleep. Both symptoms got worse as time progressed and I was glad to call an end to the first dive. On the boat, I smelled the air and it had a foul paint-like smell to it which I failed to notice prior to the first dive. I told the deckhand and the Sports Chalet Divemaster about it to which they said they would take care of it.

We stayed at the same spot for a second dive and before entering the dive I checked the air to which the smell was now a little stronger. I again told the deckhand and found that another person, a young female diver, also was complaining about the air and its foul smell and taste. We were both told that it is fine and that it was a new filter and that might cause the smell. As a Divemaster myself, I disagreed with his assessment, but decided that I would just deal with it to see if I had the same symptoms, and I was rather upset at the idea to pay that much and only get one crappy dive.

Again I dove and again the same symptoms returned. I could only tolerate a short time before I called it and surfaced again. This time however, I found there to be more people complaining about the air and its taste and smell. Of course the DM continued to express that the air seemed fine to him but I added my own issues to add weight to the groups as I have now tried to dive twice with 2 air fills to everyone else’s one.

As the boat moved to Eagle Reef, one of my favorite spots, I decided to dive regardless of the air so that I could get some video and I would just put up with the headache and nausea for a little while so that I could shoot some video. I was only able to stay down for a short while before I had to give up and surface though. Finally, after having enough, I packed my gear up, cleaned up and threw up.

Everyone I spoke to on the boat also called an end to the dive because they too had headaches and felt nauseous. The problems I encountered were certainly not unique. Though I was recently told that there were no complaints from anyone after the fact, I believe it may be better to say that no one chose to complain after they left the boat. I would guess that most felt they complained while they were on the boat and nothing changed. I would also be willing to bet that others like myself would likely not charter the Great Escape again as a result of that dive.

My issues are that apparently Tim had little to no intention of ever making his way to Farnsworth Banks. Whether he decided not to go before the “Weather Report”, of after, you would have to ask him. I am upset that rather than give everyone the choice while on the docks if anyone wanted to go or not based on the “Weather Reports”, Tim gave us no option and simply chose for us. Above that, neither the deckhands nor the Divemaster showed any concern regarding the air even though I personally heard 7 people complain directly to the Divemaster and at least 4 to the deckhand that I saw. Regardless who may make what claim, no one can support the idea that the air wasn’t bad, nor that the boat never made its way to even look at the conditions…I am a witness to both.

I later took my tank to Sports Chalet as it was their charter, and had 3 people check the air for themselves. Each person, without knowing where I got the fill, or that it was their charter, claimed that it was the worst air they had ever encountered. They quickly downplayed their answer when I told them it was one of their charters and they performed a free visual and air fill as a result. However, I never was offered anything for the failed trip to Farnsworth Banks. I truly doubt that I will ever set foot aboard the Great Escape again unless it was a free trip out to where we were supposed to go in the first place. I certainly wouldn’t pay to go somewhere again on that boat after the miserable time I had.

I have heard a number of people talk about how more of the Great Escape charters which are destined for various points all seemingly end up at Catalina, and I also know that Tim has offered his own interpretation to the circumstances. I have nothing against Tim or any of the persons he has aboard. Everyone is entitled to a bad day, however, if there is any truth to the Great Escapes destination being determined by Tim’s mood, then I wonder why anyone would pay the extra cost for bland food, attitude and ego for the crew, and possible bad air to dive with. Since I did bring my video camera, I do have much of it on video if anyone feels like challenging me, and I did notice that the camera was running when I talked to the DM and deckhand about the air at least on one occasion.

Erik Wade

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