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September 2002 Vol. 17, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Divers Stiffed as LCD Leaves Little Cayman

from the September, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Like many Undercurrent readers, Wilt Nelson of Leesburg, Florida, had been aboard the Little Cayman Diver II and had a great time. So after the ten-passenger live-aboard changed hands last year, Nelson had no qualms about booking it again with six friends to dive Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Now he wishes he hadnt.

Unbeknownst to Nelson, new LCDII owner Bob de Gouveia, a diving entrepreneur from South Africa, had moved the boat to Grand Cayman in April after the LCD dock got ruined in storms last October. The small boat wasnt up to taking diver passengers between the islands, so he changed itineraries to the waters off Grand Cayman without informing his prepaid guests. Nelson only learned of the change shortly before their May 19 departure date.

He and his friends had no interest in diving Grand Cayman. They called and e-mailed de Gouveia to see what could be done. Three days before their departure, de Gouveia canceled the trip and said he would refund everyone. Because they had nonrefundable airline tickets, Nelsons friends switched their booking into Little Cayman Beach Resort through the Reef and Rainforest travel agency of Sausalito, CA, which had put them on the LCDII. Nelson, who had paid his money directly to de Gouveia, had to pony up an additional $1400 for the resort. Upon his return he made several attempts to contact de Gouveia for his refund, but his inquiries went unanswered.

At this point, Reef and Rainforest had paid both de Gouveia and the Little Cayman Beach resort, on word from de Gouveia that he would refund the money. He said his capital was tied up outside the country, but would make the $9000 refund to Reef and Rainforest shortly.

We spoke with de Gouveia in July, who assured us that his partner was in New York arranging for a transfer of funds that very day. That was about the last time Nelson got a check is in the mail phone message. Of course, that check never arrived. At the end of August, de Gouveia told us he was expecting a wire transfer that very day and he would pay back everyone and outfit a new dive boat. So far, neither Nelson nor Reef and Rainforest has gotten refunds. De Gouveias credibility is shot, and Wilt Nelson is pursuing legal remedies.

Undercurrent has heard from other divers who prepaid trips and, after getting the same runaround, are out tens of thousands of dollars. Most booked the boat directly, so they dont have a standup travel agency like Reef and Rainforest to go to bat for them.

The LCDII Web site (www.bracdiver.com/index.cfm) now acknowledges that the boat is out of service. Although the Web site talks bravely of negotiating with a number of vessels to replace the LCDII, de Gouveia admitted to Undercurrent, I may do nothing if Caribbean bookings dont pick up in the wake of the post-9/11 travel slowdown.

In todays environment, as travel agent commissions are cut to the bone, travelers are being encouraged to book directly over the Internet. Nevertheless, just because a resort or live-aboard has a slick looking Web site, thats no reason to assume its a substantial or honest outfit even if youve done business there before, as Wilt Nelson discovered. Things change and desperate operators may resort to desperate measures, such as taking deposits for bookings they cant fulfill. More than ever, its crucial to deal with operators you know you can trust either through recent recommendations from your friends, or through reputable travel wholesalers or agencies that will stand behind their bookings.

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