Great Escape, our view

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Posted by Randall and Whitten on April 12, 2008 at 20:40:25:

Jeff Williams, I remember you writing about this before some years ago. My Wife and I have been long time customers of Great Escape going back to Labor Day weekend of 1998. I would like to provide everyone another point of view and ask some questions.
I have been on the Great Escape 5 times in my three years of diving. Here are my 5 trips.
1. Catalina in 2005. We were late leave Long Beach and did not get to Catalina until 12pm. Tim and someone else was fixing something down below. I do not remember what it was, but I do remember some divers say that we are going very slow. We got in two dives and came home. When asked about a partial refund, we were told that the boat still had to use diesel to get to Catalina. No refund.
Heard from two others that were with you that day, and three others that were not but still remember the event, that the trip you are referring to was not on Great Escape but in fact the Pacific Star (a small fire below their deck delayed departure). Because the trip was not on Great Escape, the refund point you make is fruitless. It is of no matter though since that trip was believed to have been Sport Chaletís anyways. Sport Chalet is the one to provide a refund and not the boat itself, but you have to ask them for it every time.
2. Santa Barbara try number 1. We get to the Great Escape the night before and told we were not going to SBI. We would leave for Catalina in the morning. Reason.. weather. The Pacific Star was able to get to Santa Barbara the night without any problems. And, you would think I would get $20 back since we went to Catalina instead of SBI, right? Nope.
I think it was Captain Tim himself that pointed out that there is a difference between getting to Santa Barbara Island from Santa Monica Bay and Long Beach. I am not a charter boat captain, but by looking at a chart I see a different angle of approach for each boat. If there was a high westerly wind and swell chop, Great Escape would be heading almost straight into mess at a course of 240 or so. The Pacific Star would take the trip at a more southerly angle, roughly a course of about 210. The 30 degree increase of compass angle is enough to cause one captain and boat to make the rough trip, and the other to decide beating up the customers isnít worth it if they get seasick or canít sleep.
Iíd wager that this trip was a Sport Chalet or other shop trip or dive club as well. If the boat didnít get to its intended island, then usually the boat will adjust the price to the shop and not to the customer directly. The adjustment request should be between the shop or charter and the diver. The times we never made our island and ended up at Catalina, the Great Escape open boat trips have always adjusted the price to a Catalina trip price.
3. Santa Barbara try number 2. So, we left for SBI at 1am. Where did we end up at? Catalina. Why? Too choppy. Tim said other boats at Santa Barbara were turning back. We asked what other boats and he refused to say. We asked because it did not seem legit. When I got home that night and looked up the other boats schedules, no one went to SBI.
It is probably true that no other dive boat was scheduled to go there, but did you ever consider that the captain was in radio contact with chartered fishing boats that were already out and coming back, or had themselves already diverted towards Catalina for the same reasons? Did you hear the NOAA radio reports of the outer island buoys reporting gale force plus winds 4 miles off Catalinaís west end with a swell of 10-12 every 6-8? Not that I know for sure that were the conditions that day, but I have seen such with the inside channel being much calmer.
4. San Clemente. Okay.. Good trip. With Ken Kurtis's group. Better than the SOB's from SC.
Congrats that one was a good trip for you. Was it the same captain and crew for that trip as well? It sounds like you finally caught a break in regards to you not getting to one of the outer islands.
5. Santa Barbara try number 3. Now, I knew we were not going to to make it because the weather sucked that week. So, we left for Catalina at 8am. We get to the break water and he turns around. He did not announce it or anything. The divemaster from the group had to find out what was going on. He came down and said we are not going to make it today.
Can you explain more as to why this was a problem for you? If you knew you were not going to make it before you left the dock, give the captain some credit for at least trying. The boat probably fed you breakfast and most definitely burned fuel in giving it a try. The boat also still had to pay the crew a probably pro-rated wage. Did you get your money back for that day? Probably so. Did you even once consider what the boat spent to make that try? They lost money for that day. I donít know of any captain who is hell bent on not trying when itís safely feasible. In fact, Iíve been on trips that should have been cancelled for high bad weather and high swell that were not. The boats want to make the trips go and get paid. If they donít run, they donít get paid. Iím sorry, I just donít see a reason for any boat not run if itís safely possible. They are in business to provide scuba diving trips.
What was the reason you brought up no. 5 anyways? Was it because the captain didnít come to you personally and give you advanced notice he was cancelling the trip? If so, you sound very self-centered in your expectations there my friend. Many captains will make decisions about cancelling a trip for many reasons without consulting with the dive master in advance. You need to understand that dive masters are not God on boat trips. They do not tell the captains what to do. They have little, input if any, as to if a trip is cancelled or not. That call to go or not go is solely the captainís decision. Just realized if you are a seasoned and experienced boat diver and you see the boat turning back to port, itís a solid bet the trip is cancelled anyway. Why would you need to know in advance?
To address the other post here where it is said that the captain will not talk to customers and that the friendly dive boat captain is a thing of the past, I think you have all taken what he wrote out of context. He was referring to what he does in regards to deciding if a trip is cancelled or not. Since he is the only person ultimately responsible for the safety and comfort of the divers while on the boat according to the Coast Guard, he needs to make prompt and decisive decisions without a mob mentality trying to serve their own goals by not considering all facts in making such decisions. Only the captain has these facts at hand and itís his professional expertise that condense into his final decision.
My experience is that Great Escape leaves for Catalina trips at 7:00 not 8:00. Itís never mattered if itís a cancelled outside island trip or not. In fact I am told they prefer to leave even earlier than 7:00 so long as everyone is on board. Maybe you were thinking about yet another boat?
Also on the great escape, the is mold through out the bunks. On the Trip to San Clemente, I slept in the galley. The food really sucks. Dried out hamburgers, running eggs, soggy bacon.
Iíve been diving Great Escape a lot more in the last 6 years and I have never seen mold. We had a stateroom once that had a minor water leak from the deck, but that was repaired by the next time I dove with them. Did you know that salt water doesnít cause mold or rot anyway?
I only had a hamburger once on the Great Escape. I was told it was by request of the people who had the 3 day tip booked to serve hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch the last day. From what I remember they were not dried out. The breakfasts and dinners I have had on the boat have all been above quality for a fishing or dive boat in LA. I really like their custom made to order omelets. I donít remember seeing bacon for their breakfasts in many years. Itís very possible they have served bacon on trips we were not on.
Needless to say, I am done with them.
Thatís your own personal decision, good luck with that.
Weíre not and hereís why. They at least try to make these outside island trips more often than other dive boats. Thatís probably going to start declining though since in the past decade, fuel costs have jumped from .60 a gallon to 4.00 a gallon at the dock. For my little 28 footer fuel has gone from $72 to $480 to fill it up. Those big dive boats burn much more fuel per hour with their massive twin engines and generators. Iím guessing that a big boat uses around 40 gallons an hour average to run for one day. Not sure how much fuel they hold, but to pay that fuel bill at the end of the month with prices as high as they are must be a tough nut to crack for any dive boat owner. Food costs have increased substantially as well and that adds to the price of a trip. Everything any dive boat does is for your scuba diving experience. It must be very hard to keep their prices as low as possible while still turning a business profit.
My two favorite boats.. The Pacific Star and the Lois Ann in San Diego. What makes the Lois Ann great? The crew. The boat

What? No bullet points for the Pacific Star? Well I like them as well. I like the Lois Ann too, but I think I had a better time on it when Captain Woody ran the trips.

What I would like to know now is have you ever made it to Santa Barbara Island? I made it 5 times this last year and 3 of those times were on the Great Escape. One trip I tried was cancelled due to high winds and swells.

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