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April 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Do You Handle a Bully on the Boat?

the debate continues

from the April, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In our February issue, we featured two different itineraries on the Fiji-based liveaboard Nai'a. One of the writers almost had her trip ruined by an angry passenger we nicknamed Mac. An example: After bumping into her on a dive, Mac flipped her off and screamed "F*** you" through his regulator. Joshua, the Nai'a cruise director and divemaster, did not do a great job handling the obnoxious fellow. His reply to our writer when she complained: "This guy has been diving since the '70s, and you just can't talk to a guy like that." However, when a diver bullies another -- and to go farther, when a threatening male bullies a woman -- limits need to be set.

I expected feedback about that Nai'a review -- and I got it, from Nai'a staff, former passengers, and Undercurrent readers who had similar experiences in other places. Their range of views shows how difficult it is to manage an unruly diver -- and who should be the one to do it.

Why Can't We Be More Like Peace-Loving Fijians?

We'll start with Rob Barrel, owner of the Nai'a. He wrote, "I will not defend Mac's behavior, but it is wrong and offensive to say our cruise directors tolerated it because he pays big bucks and might leave a big tip." He said Joshua told him that he saw Mac get our writer's attention during the nasty dive, but at his distance, he couldn't tell that it was an aggressive move. Also, in response to our writer's complaints and his own observations, Joshua made several announcements to the boat about diving nice, and being aware of the coral and fellow divers. Joshua also says he talked to Mac after the finger-flipping incident to try to get him to apologize, but Mac refused to do it because he thought our writer was the one in the wrong.

"Joshua called me from the boat for advice," Barrel says. "I advised him to talk to both of them quietly to attempt to diffuse the issue, bearing in mind the other 16 passengers whose holiday would be affected if Mac went ballistic -- which was likely -- at the public humiliation of getting grounded from diving. We have had difficult passengers aboard the Nai'a over the decades, and the crew has become masters at diffusing personal conflicts using the Fijian talanoa process, defined as 'frank expression without concealment in face-to-face dialogue.' I am very sad that your writer and Mac were not able to use talanoa, and that their conflict has spilled into the pages of Undercurrent."

Ah, it would be nice if we were all peace-loving Fijians, but when you have a bullying diver who is at risk of ruining everyone's trip, it really can't be up to the two divers, who are largely strangers to each other, to be in charge of restoring their relationship without intervention from those in charge. There may have been peacekeeping efforts behind our writer's back, but she was unaware, and not told how the staff planned to handle the situation. As far as she knew, she felt threatened and was blown off.

"It's Their Job, and They Need to Do It Well"

We ran Joshua and Rob Barrel's responses by our writer. She stands by the fact that the only comment Joshua made to her about Mac was the "This guy has been diving since the 70s . . ." She says, "Joshua went on to say that such a diver is oblivious to his actions, and that he probably thought he could do no wrong based on his profession and social position, and such people do not take kindly to being told otherwise, especially by someone younger than himself. Joshua went on to say that such a diver is oblivious to his actions, and that he probably thought he could do no wrong based on his profession and social position, and such people do not take kindly to being told otherwise, especially by someone younger than himself. I offered to show him the video of the incident, but he said he didn't see it. That might have changed his mind about the problem.

"After enduring another hour of Dumb's interrupting and listening to himself talk, I let him know that I thought he was a loud-mouthed ****."

"In regards to Joshua trying to get Mac to apologize, this is the first I've heard of that. If Mac thought I was in the wrong, why did he not come to me to ask what happened? Instead, he verbally assaulted me as soon as he saw me on the boat after the incident. Joshua did tell me that he had to tell Mac to stop bad-mouthing me to other passengers, so that is something. I discussed the Mac issue with Joshua and his fellow cruise director, Amanda, many times. Yes, it can be difficult having to manage conflicting personalities, but it is their job, and they need to do it well.

"I consider myself a reasonable person who would have been fine with a calm, frank discussion about what was going on. But I did not get the feeling that Mac would have been amenable, and certainly not without someone like Joshua as a mediator. Honestly, I was scared to say too much or to confront Mac. There was a real possibility that he would go 'ballistic' on me and physically abuse me again. That is exactly why I wrote in my story: 'Now I wonder if other women on that trip, or other liveaboards, have likewise swallowed poor treatment in the name of appearing affable."

"There Is Only So Much One Can Do"

A few readers did come to the defense of Nai'a and Joshua. One is Mary Marshall (San Diego, CA), who was on that same cruise. "I was aware of some personality conflict between two divers on the other skiff, but it is a testament to Joshua's appropriate handling of the situation that it wasn't allowed to disrupt the cruise. After Mac was transferred to our boat, I didn't have any problems with him above or below the surface."

Sandra Brammeier (Palm Beach, FL) was aboard the Nai'a in March 2014, when Joshua and Amanda were making their debut as cruise directors, and says "[Spending] the kind of money required to go on the Nai'a, I wouldn't let anyone 'ruin' my trip, I'd stand up for myself. If others were having trouble with the same diver, then maybe a good tongue-lashing from one or all of them would have helped. Joshua could have talked to this guy until he turned blue for all you know. There is only so much the dive staff can do when it comes to the conduct of people onboard, and often some divers think they are 'above' the crew . . . It sounds like he moved them as far apart as possible. The Nai'a is huge, and there is plenty of space to avoid having to deal with somebody if you really wanted to . . . There is only so much one can do when two adults are acting like children, one is a bully, and the other is pouting. In this case, everyone would have probably been happy to set Mac adrift in a rowboat, but you just can't do that, you have to make the best of it." However, we must point out that our writer was not pouting. She was fearful in the face of a rude, threatening male. It is a bullying issue that a dive crew must understand and contend with.

Like some readers, Steven Webster (Carmel Valley, CA) has a conflicted view about what he would do. "Throughout my life, I have done everything possible to avoid a physical fight (mainly because I'd lose and that hurts). But if I were the person bumped and flipped-off, I would have let Mac know that if he did it again, I'd kick him in his man parts. It sounds like Joshua and Amanda tried as best they could. Again, were I on the cruise, at some point, I would have gathered the other divers together and, as a group, told Mac that if he didn't shape up, we would ask the Nai'a to ban him from future charters. I have led groups on the Nai'a annually for the last 15 years, so I have known four sets of cruise directors. They were all excellent, Joshua and Amanda among them."

Yes, Steven, Nai'a has always been a favorite of our readers, and keep in mind that the two reviews we ran in our February issue were quite positive. This was one incident, and we're highlighting it not to indict the Nai'a crew, but to point out to everyone in the industry that bullying problems should not be swept under the deck mat.

Putting Dumb and Dumber in Their Place

I'll leave you with another story, not a man bullying a woman, but of two unruly divers who nearly ruined a trip. Fortunately, this one has a happy conclusion. Tom Lopatin (Lake Hopatcong, NJ) was aboard the Nimrod for a 10-day sail from Cairns, Australia, to the northern Coral Sea, and he immediately spotted two troublemakers, brothers whom he labeled as Dumb and Dumber. "Dumb was an egomaniac, 'a legend in his own mind.'" From the get-go, he dominated every conversation at every meal, (we all sat at one large table), and constantly complained, with comments like, 'What a shitty dive that was,' to the consternation of divemaster Alan Raabe (now captain of the FeBrina in Papua New Guinea and a legend in many divers' minds), and the annoyance of the rest of the guests who didn't share his opinions.

"At dinner on the third day, after enduring another hour of Dumb's interrupting and listening to himself talk, I let him know that I thought he was a loud-mouthed **** who was ruining the trip for everyone else, that he should learn to let others speak without interruption, and that no one else shared or was interested in his negative opinions about the diving.

"Dumb barked something about resenting being spoken to in such a rude manner, and bolted to his cabin to sulk. Dumber said something about not speaking to his brother that way, and followed him. After dinner, my wife said she wasn't sure I had done the right thing, and it made me wonder if I had been too harsh on Dumb, that perhaps the incident was uncalled for.

"But the next morning, Alan thanked me for what I had done, that he had been biting his lip up until then, because Dumb was a guest. However, that after the incident, he pulled Dumb aside and said something like, 'Tom is a good lad and I won't be having you upset him like that anymore, and you better 'straighten up and fly right' for the remainder of the trip.

"When Dumb and Dumber came up for breakfast, it was as though they had been 'born again.' They were quiet, polite, no dominating conversations, or complaining about the diving. Dumb even went so far as to make duplicate copies of a video another guest had filmed of a pod of orcas we snorkeled with, and mailed them to all the guests -- including me."

--Ben Davison

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