Don't ask why, just savor victory

CONSUMING INTERESTS

Your Money

October 23, 2007|By DAN THANH DANG

Every week, we attempt to use the power of the press to get to the nitty-gritty of consumers' problems.

Often, we find truth and resolution. Occasionally, we find truth and no resolution.

This week, we're just dizzy.

It began with a complaint from Mark Everett, a 43-year- old systems engineer from Perry Hall, that his Carolina Skiff was being held hostage.

About a year ago, Everett said, he paid $23,000 for the 23-foot boat from Beacon Light Marina in Bowleys Quarters. At the end of July, Everett took the boat to the Outer Banks for a week-long fishing trip. When he pulled the vessel out to trail it back home, a 3-foot crack in the hull smiled menacingly back at him.

"It was basically brand new," Everett said. "I had less than 100 hours on the boat. ... The dealer looked at it and said they'd never seen anything like this before. They contacted the manufacturer and Carolina Skiff said they'd replace it, no problem."

Carolina Skiff hauled Everett's boat back to its Georgia headquarters. There, the hull was examined and replaced.

Things were going swimmingly, it seemed.

But by September, Everett had yet to see bow or stern. Carolina Skiff, Everett said, told him several times that his boat was ready but no delivery truck was heading his way. By early October, when he called me, he said he couldn't get a straight answer.

"I've been calling them twice a week on average," Everett said. "I don't know what's going on. You leave messages, you don't get calls back. It's gotten to the point where it's laughable. I've missed out on half the boating season."

Here's where things get hinky.

Everett said he knew that Carolina Skiff's warranty clearly makes the boat owner responsible for shipping costs. Yet, Everett claims that the company offered to waive all shipping costs when they agreed to fix his boat.

Everett reckoned it was a smart move by a smart company trying to keep a customer happy.

So he said he was surprised when delivery of his boat got delayed and then Carolina Skiff told him to come pick it up. He said he was never told that pick-up would be his responsibility.

"They told me I had to drive to Waycross, Georgia, to come get it," Everett said. Even with an offer to pay his mileage, Everett said no to driving nearly 762 miles each way.

Don't condemn Carolina Skiff, said Robert Sass. He blamed Everett and Beacon Light.

"We believe there was a misunderstanding on Mr. Everett's part," said Sass, a marketing director for Carolina Skiff. "Nobody told him the shipping charge was waived."

"Our normal warranty policy is that we don't cover shipping costs," Sass said. "We told him we would pay him to come and get his boat. Gas, food, hotel room, the works. He refused."

Fuel costs and other expenses made it too costly to ship just one boat back to Maryland, Sass said. He said Everett was told that to ease the shipping burden for everyone, Carolina Skiff would ship Everett's boat back if and when a shipment of boats was already heading the same way. There was no load going to Maryland during the time in question, Sass said.

Beacon Light had its own boat at the Waycross site getting warranty work, so it should have retrieved its boat and its customer's boat, Sass said.

If anything, Sass said, Carolina Skiff should be given credit for replacing Everett's boat for free.

"The problem with his boat was not a structural problem," Sass said. "We gave him the benefit of the doubt. Even with the crack in the boat, the boat could have been fixed. We basically gave him a brand new boat. A newer model. He made out pretty well in all this."

Don't pat Carolina Skiff on the back, Beacon Light says, because it was their fault for promising to cover shipping charges.

"We were practically begging them, `Pretty please with sugar on top,' to get the boat back," said Chris Pine, Beacon Light service manager. "The problem is on their end. It's their responsibility."

Shipping a boat back should cost about $2,000, Pine said.

Initially, Pine said, Carolina Skiff told the marina that the Everett boat would be back within a month. But as Beacon Light kept calling about an estimated ship date, Pine said they were told Everett's boat wasn't done.

"Then we were told it would be here in a week," Pine said. "Then they said they didn't have a truckload coming up to ship the boat up here. It went on and on for weeks."

"It wasn't just Mark's boat that was tied up," Pine said. "We had a boat down there, too, that needed warranty work. We haven't been able to get our boat back."

Excuse me while I nurse my migraine.

Are you wondering why Carolina Skiff would behave so admirably and then drop the ball? Why Everett would get an exception on shipping costs? Why Beacon Light didn't just pay to ship its boat and Everett's boat back?

Me, too.

But before I could wade through the muck, Pine from Beacon Light told me he purchased five new boats from Carolina Skiff just to get the marina's boat and Everett's boat back. Beacon Light was planning on purchasing the new boats down the road, but moved the buy up to resolve Everett's dilemma.

Problem solved. The shipment arrived late last week.

What's the truth here? Frankly, I don't have a clue. Is there some lesson to impart to other consumers? Again, sorry.

Everett isn't wasting any more time asking why. He reunited with his boat Friday. By Sunday, he was cruising the bay and breathing crisp, salt air.

Maybe he has the right attitude: Savor victory even if you can't understand the path it took to get there.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@baltsun .com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at baltimoresun.com/consuming.

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