Southern Coastline Day 181 - Rockingham to Esperance

Wednesday, Jan 20, 1999 at 01:00

ExplorOz - David & Michelle

Before leaving the Stokes Inlet we drove out to the inlet itself which we couldn't quite see from our camp site. The inlet hasn't been opened to the sea for 9 years but due to the floods experienced in Esperance a couple of weeks ago the lake flooded and the inlet is now over 100m wide. The ranger told us the fishing was on at the moment and guaranteed we'd catch silver bream. Sure enough David caught 2 small bream but tossed them back in. The Esperance area is also experiencing a strange problem with a mulie virus which is seeing literally thousands of mulies wash up on the shore - and they were even in the inlet. For some reason the virus only affects the mulies (pilchards) but no other fish or marine life.

When we finally arrived in Esperance we went straight to the dive shop to inquire about diving the wreck of the Sanko Harvest, apparently the second largest diving wreck in the world in 40m of water about 30kms offshore. Unfortunately, we have an unhappy tale to tell.

The sales pitch alluded to an all-inclusive double boat trip taking in the Sanko Harvest and a reef dive in the more sheltered islands of the Achipelago. A 2 hour surface interval would be undertaken whilst non-wreck divers would do their first dive of the day on the reef. BBQ lunch, then all divers would complete their second dives. Sounds great doesn't it? The cost for this day out would be $120 per wreck diver (with all our own gear) or $80 per reef diver. It seemed costly but their was no competitor dive shop in Esperance with which to compare. Now there's an anomoly - same trip, 2 dives but different price.

We agreed to book the dive and pay via Eftpos. It was only as the salesman had the debit card in his hand that he mentioned that lunch would cost an additional $5 and an additional steel tank $10 (total $255). The transaction was quickly processed. We then discussed the pick-up plan for the next day and learned that our steel tank "top ups" would also cost another $5 each (currently at 240 bar). We questioned the charge for a "top up" of only 5 -10 bar considering the already costly dive charter. Our reasons for requiring the top up was to ensure we got the best dive time available to us considering the upfront costs. The response to our enquiry was that "high pressure air costs more". Following this outlandish remark we discovered that we would also have to pay for post-dive airfills, making it the first time in our diving careers we would have had to pay for fills used on a paid dive. As you can imagine we let our opinions be known (without unkind words or malice of course).

With 5 tanks to consider, a "top up" and a refill would add an additional $50 to our bill of $255 for one day's diving for two people. So at $305 we calculated that diving the Sanko Harvest was out of our budget. We promptly requested a refund only minutes after the original transaction. The response to this request was an amazing "I don't know how to do that - you'll have to come back when the boss is in", but that was another 4 hours away. We walked away knowing that on principle (and budget) we regrettably, wouldn't be diving the Sanko Harvest with this dive operator. Now where is the competitor when you want them??

At the time of returning to receive our refund we did not attempt to make issue about the matter. The owner however, wanted to know details as to why we wanted the refund. We began to give our version but she had obviously heard enough of another version and soon used name calling techniques to belittle us. We were labelled "big heads" - we assume this was because at some point we'd mentioned we had a diving related business and are assistant instructors.

We tried to let our issues be heard, she was the owner after all, and explained that the add-on prices had made the trip out of our budget. She quickly implied that we were trying to get something for free (but they already had our $255 in their till). This was far from the case but unfortunately her 20 years in the diving industry has not facilitated her with sufficient customer service ability to detect genuine service dissatisfaction nor equip her with skills to sufficiently resolve conflict. I agreed with her when she suggested she had done more dives than me but I disagreed when she said that all dive shops charge for top ups and refills after paid dives.

We are still at a loss to figure out what "we the customer" did wrong here, other than to know when our budget had hit it's ceiling. Our comparisons are with the last 7 months of diving around Australia on a lengthy holiday and with many happy occasions diving the North Solitary Islands in NSW for $60 double boat dive (tanks and lunch included) to a similarly distant location.

Surely, diving customers shouldn't have to suffer chidish name calling or skeptical inuendo regarding business dealings just for questioning the extra costs. This operator should try being on the other side of the counter for a day. Our dive trip to the Sanko Harvest will be a non-event and there wasn't even the alternative of diving with another operator. So was the devil the lack of a competitor in this instance or was it the customer?

(I sent the above as a letter to the editor to Dive Log Australasia).

Neither of us was in a good mood after that but the wind was up so we went windsurfing in Esperance Bay. We rigged 4.5m and both used it as the wind was quickly dropping off. We met a few people and chatted while our gear dried before going back to our camp site at the Esperance Bay Caravan Park a few hundred metres away.

Tonight's dinner was the other 2 squid cooked with a tin of crab in a tin of tomatoes with fresh rosemary and other dried herbs and garlic on pasta. Sort of like a seafood marinara I suppose. It was very good!
David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Always working not enough travelling!
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