Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dec 18 update!

Well, the roller furler/reefing unit is finally on after about 8 months!  Of course its not quite complete....still need a director block at the top of the mast to prevent the halyard from winding around the forestay and the tube has only one sail slot while we ordered two!  So these items are to be addressed...soon we hope!  Also, rumour has sit our new high test anchor chain, all 300 feet of it, shipped from Washington State is now in Quadalajera and could show up here today!  Also holding my breath on that one!  But hey, its almost christmas and that's when miracles can happen!  Found someone that can repair the scratches to the hull, waiting for a quote on it.  Meanwhile cowboy Bob who caused the problem remains elusive.....also got quotes for haulout in January!  Put new vent scoop cowlings on today, brings more air down below!  Missing my first mate though....my cooking has definitely gotten rusty!  New charge controller in place and working great!  Batteries did take a beating though in going dry, maybe lost 20-30 % of their ability.  Wind generator on the way from San Diego on the good ship Tarun, along with mounting poles and brackets!  Boy do we owe those guys big time...meanwhile life crawls along in Puerto Vallarta Marina.....cool at night but sun is very hot during the day.  Almost time for cerveza and siesta.....what a life!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Home Again, Home Again!

Back on board!  Lots of scrubbing and putting back together.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mexico!

Staying in the village of Guyabitos outside of PV!  Cleaning up Toketie and getting back into cruising mode.  Stay tuned for updates!!

Friday, November 23, 2007

leavin...on a jet plane!

Dec 1, 2007 we fly back to our home in Mexico!  Toketie has been waiting patiently for us.  Her new roller furling gear untested and a new wind generator on the way!  Trying to stuff all the other bits and pieces of boat gear we've accumulated into bags to load on the plane!  Nautical Alamanac, Charly's Charts to the S Pacific, Sailing Directions, new charge controller for the solar panels, etc etc.....the goodbyes are always the hardest! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How Viking Safety ruined our cruising season!

How Viking Life-Saving Equipment ruined our cruising season!

We have learned to be ‘philosophical’ about many things that happen when you are cruising! After all, we are doing this for the challenge, right?

We survived the loss of our transmission off the outside of the Baja Peninsula. OK, no big deal, it’s a sailboat so we will just sail around to La Paz and fix it. Done! Then the bracket holding the water pump to the engine broke! OK, jack up the engine, remove the motor mount (of course the bracket is behind it), dinghy in to the little town and find a welder, replace it and align the engine. Done! Hauling the anchor we discover the exact whereabouts of the wreck fouling the bottom of the anchorage in La Cruz. OK, three hours later after circling the wreck to unwind the chain and tugging it gently, we get lucky and free it. No sweat! Have a couple of cold cervezas and carry on!

Incidents like this, where gear fails or unexpected circumstances arise, often at the most inappropriate time, though not always, is to be expected when cruising.
But having our almost new (less than a year old) Viking liferaft recalled due to a manufacturing defect in the valve that inflates it is the one that really did us in!

In the fall of 2006, Viking issued a recall on a series of their RescuYou offshore liferafts. To their credit, they went public and published the recall online and in magazines and sent letters to individuals affected by it.

In January 2007, ‘Toketie’ was anchored in the sleepy little fishing village of San Blas, Mexico when we got an email from our friends on ‘Sukanuk’ who had the same liferaft. Apparently our recall letter from Viking went to England. It seems Viking thought it would be more effective to only record one address in their customer database when we bought them together at the boat show. As we live in Canada, we received the notification months after the fact. This was to prove to be the first of many Viking inefficiencies!

After two weeks of prevarication on the part of the sales representative for the US, Karen Hansen, she must have finally realized we were not going to ‘go away’ as we kept sending emails asking her how we could resolve the situation. After all, we were in Mexico, waiting out the hurricane season and preparing to sail to Ecuador in March 2007. Not to mention the fact that we had just sailed down the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico with a liferaft that most likely would have failed us in an emergency. So finally, she handed us over to their ‘Operations Manager’ who was to help us resolve it.

Now Viking stated on their recall notice that they would replace the valve free of charge at any of their service centers. The booklet they gave us when we bought the raft indicated 10 service centers in Mexico. That was encouraging! Of course, when it came right down to it, none of them were capable of servicing the raft. It seems they had to have special ‘training’ to replace the valve. Viking provided a list of service centers capable of fixing the defective raft. Short of sailing to Ecuador with a defective raft, we were told it would have to be shipped to California or Florida in the US. The operations manager was actually very helpful at this stage, at least he was trying to get something done as opposed to the sales manager who seemed to have an unending stream of excuses to do nothing while the days turned into weeks. Mr. Rivero, the operations manager for Viking in Florida provided an account number I could use to ship the raft to him. This was progress indeed and within days, I had the raft crated and picked up by a local Mexican shipper for DHL Shipping in Tepic, the nearest shipping office. They put it on a plane and Florida had the raft within 48 hours! And they serviced it! Within a week they actually had it ready to return. Things were looking pretty good at this point. We actually thought we would get our raft back and continue cruising south.

Well, this is unfortunately where things really started to go sideways. Viking had returned the raft to DHL but after over a week and no information, I started asking again where it was. Turns out, DHL was sitting on it in a warehouse in Florida until someone in Guadalajara, Mexico authorized them to send it. Viking did nothing all this time to track the shipment and acted surprised to hear it had not gone anywhere. They told me I had to find a shipping agent in Mexico to ‘import’ the raft into the country. That turned out to be ridiculous but it took weeks and many phone calls and emails to learn this! It seems corruption is alive and well in some places and some local shipping agents or their representatives might be involved in kickback schemes. Nothing like a little financial grease to get the wheels turning it seems! In fact, for a ‘yacht in transit’ there are no duties or fees payable.

At my suggestion, Viking removed the raft from DHL, the shipper, at this point and said they would find an alternative way to send it. Now, it should be noted that a liferaft is considered hazardous cargo as it contains a gas cartridge to inflate it. In theory, it is not allowed on a plane. How DHL managed to ship it out of Mexico by plane originally is anybody’s guess but they did.

So here we were with the liferaft serviced but still in Florida and our window to cross the ocean fast approaching!

Numerous emails and phone calls to Viking in the US were ignored or met with delays and excuses. In short, we could not find out what, if anything was being done to get the raft back to us. So we decided to leave San Blas after two months anchored in a bug infested estuary and head for Puerto Vallarta, a bigger city and major shipping port in Mexico. We notified Viking and provided the address of a marina that was willing to receive the package.

Now, to keep this experience in context, even though San Blas was a lovely little fishing village and we enjoyed the town and met some wonderful people (no one mentioned in any guidebooks) there, we would never have stayed for two months. In fact we had no intention of going into the busy city of Puerto Vallarta either but we had to get our liferaft back before continuing our journey south. So we managed to get into one of the overcrowded marinas, as there was nowhere to anchor. So now we were two months behind in our cruising itinerary and paying exorbitant high season marina rates in a place we did not even want to stop! And all of this was as a direct result of the recalled Viking liferaft situation. At this stage we were getting frustrated and feeling like we were prisoners to Viking.

Meanwhile, what Mr. Rivero or Ms. Hansen were doing in Florida to help us was anybody’s guess as we could not get any meaningful information out of them other than that they were trying to find another way to ship it. She was on the road a lot of the time and he seemed to be taking time off regularly so we were not feeling like our situation was much of a priority with them. In fact, in one of his emails he referred to it as “this nightmare”! Well, if they thought it was a nightmare trying to ship a raft to Mexico, what did they think it must have been like for us? Our cruising season hijacked and prisoners to ‘any day now’ resolution!

So we decided to try the Viking head office in Denmark. Surely they would care enough to help resolve the situation. We went online and found two email addresses, one for the head office and another specifically for dealing with issues related to the recalled liferaft. This was encouraging so we composed very general, very polite (we are Canadian after all) emails and sent them to both addresses. To this day we have never received an acknowledgement or responses of any sort from Viking head office! I guess they really did not care after all!

Now maybe they called their US representatives and asked them what was going on because shortly afterwards I received an email from the operations manager saying if we did not have the raft by such and such a date, they would assume it was lost, write it off, and ship a new one. Of course, how they would ship a new one when they couldn’t get the old one back to us was another mystery. But, who were we to argue at this point. Bring it on!

We are now close to three months into our correspondence with Viking to resolve this. We no longer have a liferaft, have no idea where it might be or whether it will ever arrive in Mexico. So it was decision time for us. Do we cross the ocean without a liferaft? Buying another one in Mexico was out of the question. Even if we could find one, the cost would have been prohibitive and added to the fact that we had already spent thousands of dollars on the one Viking lost for us. Even if they did send a new one to replace it, when would it arrive?

So this was the point were we had to accept the fact that not only did we lose out on exploring some prime areas of the Mexican coast but also we were not going to be able to make our ocean crossing this season. We reluctantly and with great sadness booked a slip to store the boat for the hurricane season and arranged to fly back to Canada.

Then, of course, an email arrives with an illegible document attached from Viking. It turned out to be a scan of the weighbill from when they shipped the original raft to us. And at the same time, I contacted the Viking office in California that was supposed to have shipped the new raft to try to trace its progress. The office gave me the shipping company info and they provided flight and arrival times. Could it be we would have two liferafts after all this? Well, I managed to decipher some of the letters of a Mexican shipping company name from the illegible scanned document and searching through the yellow pages of the phone book, I found something fairly similar. With not much to lose at this point, I had the marina manager, whose Spanish was far better than mine, call them. They thought they had the liferaft in their warehouse. So we rode a bus down to the industrial part of Puerto Vallarta and discovered the shipping company had moved. With the help of friendly locals and a taxi we found the new location. The poorly scanned weigh bill document was all we had and the information on it was illegible. So I just walked back to the warehouse and started looking through the stuff piled up on the floor. Lo and behold, there was our liferaft, no crate or any packing whatsoever, just lots of brown packing tape wrapped around it. It looked the worse for wear, all scuffed up and filthy, but there was no obvious damage to the canister. How the package even got this far was a miracle. There was no way they could have known who it was meant for as both the boat name and my name were not legible. So we convinced the young girl at the desk to release it to us and loaded it into the taxi.



Back on board, we cleaned it up and removed the tape to find a hole in the bottom of the canister where it had been thrown around from trucks to warehouses. But by now, we are so relieved just to have the thing back on board that we can overlook Viking’s carelessness in shipping it back and just hope the damage to the canister is superficial and does not affect its ability to inflate if necessary.

What did we learn from all of this? Well, we had lots of patience to begin with so I don’t think we learnt anything new there! I guess the biggest lesson is that ‘stuff happens’ as the saying goes, and you have to roll with the punches and carry on. We have lost a year in our cruising plans. So we will go home and visit family and top up the cruising kitty again.

However, the final result of our dealings with Viking are that whether their product is sound or not is irrelevant when you factor in the total lack of after market support and the attitude they had towards us. They made us feel like we were the ones in the wrong here and they were being very generous in fixing the problem they created. But it was the complete lack of interpersonal or customer service skills on the part of their US representatives and the lack of any form of response to us from the head office that would not recommend purchasing any product from Viking again. Added to this, the fact that when we bought the raft, the booklet claimed a very long list of service stations all over the world. Based on our experience, we would have to question whether this was mere marketing or whether most of these service stations actually exist. The ten in Mexico were certainly not up to the job. And then there was what appeared to us as sheer incompetence on their part in simply shipping a package to us in the neighboring country. A global company like this with such a professed high profile image did not seem to have the resources to solve a simple shipping problem!

At the end of it all, I sent Viking a note outlining the impact this whole recall had on us. I copied Ms. Hansen’s boss, Keld Valentin, on it but never heard back from this person either. The frustration, the cost, the change to our cruising plans, watching all of our friends head out for the South Pacific while we stayed behind! I wanted some kind of recognition from Viking that they understood what we went through as a result of buying their product. But Ms. Hansen could not see beyond her sales figures it seemed and her curt reply basically said they had spent enough on us already. My request to them to service our liferaft two years from now, maybe in New Zealand, was met with a stony silence! It would have been a gesture on their part that would have cost them very little and gone a long way to restoring our confidence in them as a company.

We will survive (no pun) and hopefully catch up to our OCC and Blue Water Cruising friends down under next cruising season. But would I recommend Viking to anyone along the way? Not on your life!