Reputations mean something. Subtly, they can shape your entire experience. For that reason, when I entered Capt’n Gregg’s for the first time, I felt confident that I was in for some good diving. Recommended by both Lonely Planet and a host of online resources, I felt convinced that Capt’n Gregg’s would be a professional institution with a focus on safety and fun. From the start, I ignored the small signs of pending problems. Why? Because I was blinded by reputation. Reputation which caused me to put my common sense on the back-burner and place my faith in Sabang’s own little dive shop of horrors.
The first signs of trouble occurred almost immediately. After signing up for the following day’s dive trip to Verde Island, the shop assistant took us to choose our gear. Sizing Thomas and me up, she handed us both large BCDs. Clearly, this woman had a bad eye for size.
“Umm, ma’am, I think these are a bit too large,” I suggested.
“No,” she countered insistently, “they are just right.” She yanked and tugged on the straps drawing them in to the limits. It looked like we were wearing a pair of scuba dresses.
Next, she handed us weight belts that would have been perfect for Jabba the Hutt. We both had around two feet of extra belt.
Realizing this was not going to work. We pushed and pushed until she admitted the shop was out of medium BCDs and mid-sized belts. Not cool. Rather than simply telling us this up front, she was trying to fit us into oversized equipment.
As we sat there pondering the situation, I overheard a ditsy dive master dragging the shop down further.
“Is this the broken BCD, or is it OK?” asked the dive master as he took a BCD from the rack and handed it to a customer.
“I don’t think so,” responded the assistant.
Why didn’t I immediately walk out of there? Because reputation caused me to second-guess my own instincts.
Fast forward to the dive. We had been given the wrong departure time and were rushed on to the boat. Thomas’ specially requested 15 liter tanks were not on board, so they snagged one from another customer. As Thomas was turning on his air to check his BCD, the knob on the tank popped off and could not be put back on because there was no tool box on the boat. The dive master fiddled with the tank and announced that he thought the air was on.
Were we idiots for starting a dive with a tank that “might be on?” Probably. But as luck would have it, it was not the tank that would serve to ruin our dive. As we dropped down beside the stunning Verde wall, we discovered that Thomas’ regulator was leaking air like crazy, which ended up cutting our dive time to a paltry 22 minutes. The most excruciating part was that the wall was certainly the most stunning underwater site near Puerto Galera. This was the last straw.
Back on the surface, I exploded at the dive masters for sending us down with faulty equipment. And I do mean exploded.
“I’m sorry,” responded one of the dive masters, “but today is a holiday and we didn’t have time to have it repaired.”
“What?!” I screamed as my eyes rolled back into their sockets – I was nearly catatonic with incredulity, “You knew it was broken before the dive?”
Yep, they did. For those of you who are not divers, do I need to point out that sending a customer down with malfunctioning equipment is a major no-no? Obviously, someone had forgotten to share this trivial detail with Capt’n Gregg’s. To make the situation worse, they had pulled this stunt on the Verde Island dive trip which, due to its location, is a more expensive dive site.
Fed up with Capt’n Gregg’s incompetence, we opted out of the second dive and made it clear we were not going to pay for the dive trip.
When we returned to Sabang, we asked to talk to Chuck, the owner of Capt’n Gregg’s, but apparently, he was too busy to talk to us. So we made good on our promise and refused to pay.
As if all this weren’t unprofessional enough, the following day Chuck sent his oversized Welsh goon to threaten us into paying him for the trip. Stupidly, he did this in front of a room full of witnesses. The whole mess ended up with a parade down to the police station and a discussion with members of the Barangay council (the local political leaders). We stated our case, they did not make us pay, and the entire drama came quite abruptly to an end. The Welsh goon threatened us one last time under his breath. And that was that.
Yes, good reputations have a way of going to people’s heads. Sometimes a good reputation can make you lazy. In the case of Capt’n Gregg’s, it seems to have made them negligent. We would have liked to talk to Chuck himself and gotten his side of the story. Then again, I don’t really know what he could have said to justify intentionally sending us down with faulty equipment. Reputations change. And if Capt’n Gregg’s continues to operate in this fashion, ours won’t be the only critical review on the Internet.
So, who should you dive with in Sabang?
Good question. During our stay, we walked into almost every shop in town and I can honestly say there is no obvious answer. Atlantis was clearly the most professional institution, but their prices were double those of other shops. The Lonely Planet recommended shop Octopus was disturbingly unprofessional. Big Apple Dive resort seemed equally disinterested. Tina’s was quite friendly, but we had some concerns about their equipment. Divers diving with Sabang Inn made it clear we should stay away from them. In the end, we went with Dive Dojo. Dive Dojo, which specializes in technical diving, has good equipment, reasonable prices, and a very welcoming dive shop. But the shop, which is well-intentioned, suffers from management issues while the owner Paul is in Australia. If he is in Sabang, Dive Dojo is probably your best bet.