There was no way of knowing when I woke yesterday morning, sitting in the cockpit with coffee in hand, that somewhere around midnight I’d be in the front seat of a police cruiser, filling out a victim’s report.
No way of guessing at all that while we strolled the sunny, family-clad beaches of Daytona in the afternoon, stopping for frosty draft beers, that somewhere near our anchorage roamed an unstable, criminal, high on drugs, whose life would soon clash with ours.
While we watched from below as ‘junior captain’ and ‘Al of Alley Cat’ were projected into the air on a massive human sling shot, screaming as they were flung above buildings and back down again in stomach churning seconds, the meth addict, beads of sweat on his clammy brow, was desperately climbing along the docks from boat to boat, back at the Halifax Harbor Marina in search of something to help him secure his next hit.
Suspecting nothing, we sat in Hog Heaven as darkness fell across Daytona, licking gooey barbecue sauce fingers after gobbling up the most melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs. Meanwhile a criminal had been reported, identified and chased from the marina to the next lot where he had stolen the wallet of a hobie cat sailor. Two police cars sped through the city streets, lights flashing, sirens blaring.
Across the city, we strolled again, the curio shops enticing us with brightly dressed mannequins all red, white and blue for the upcoming July 4th, their lights and cool air calling us in as we digested our delicious supper and headed toward the parking lot. My phone lay dormant in my bag, numerous unread messages on my facebook account from an officer of the Daytona Police Force, telling a tale we wouldn’t have believed had we read it…
But we didn’t, as it were, and as we arrived back to Shiloh in the dark I was distracted by a four legged critter, a rodent actually, specifically a RAT - that had swum from shore and managed to pull himself up onto our sugar scoop (back step). No way of knowing he was not the first intruder of the night. He scurried back and forth, shocked by my high pitched scream and desperate to escape. Eventually he made the huge jumps up the steps and disappeared somewhere on board.
We all clambered aboard, a dinghy oar in hand, ready to whack-a-rat but immediately it became apparent something else was not right. Our key was missing from it’s hiding place. The engine kill switches were pulled out and the ignition keys which we never remove were hanging down. Then we started to notice other things, like the steering wheel which was set at 90 degrees – when we always leave it centered. And then there were the numerous muddy footprints around the cockpit.
The rat became the least of our worries as we then knew someone had been on board and had tampered with the engines. And since we hadn’t dragged, we knew it was not a helpful Samaritan… ‘Junior captain’ volunteered to climb inside through his cabin hatch (since we had no keys for the front door), and check if the intruder was still onboard. He swept the place and declared that we were alone.
Once inside we noticed the most mysterious thing of all. Our nav table, laden with ipads and computers, had been cleaned off and all the gadgets set aside – not stolen! Someone had rummaged through our papers and had left a few on top. But nothing was missing.
Scratching our heads we figured we should call someone and report this, since our keys were gone and the intruder would know where to come back! We called the coast guard who called the police.
An hour later it was well past midnight and we were on shore, surrounded by police cars and a jovial group of officers who began to explain what had happened in our absence.
The ‘suspect’ had apparently been cornered after stealing someone’s wallet and he had jumped into the mud brown waters, heading straight toward Shiloh.
Once aboard he seemed to find our keys pretty quickly – time to change that hiding place! He had started the engines and tried to take off with the boat. Only in his drugged out state and most likely exhaustion from the long swim, he failed to realise he would need to get the anchor up. But the windlass trip was off and the anchor was buried in thick black mud…
Meanwhile the shore police had called the boat police and soon Shiloh was hosting a bunch of guys with guns in uniform along with a violent criminal. Fun times! And we missed it all.
The police had tried to find some way of contacting us and had gone through the documents hoping to find a phone number. Instead they found our boat cards with my blog url and they’d gone to my facebook page. So by the time we met, they knew all about our journey and how unimpressed we’d been with Titusville and Cocoa!!
They asked us to press charges and explained that the suspect was a repeat offender who would be charged with the attempted theft of our vessel. I’m suspecting this will be a serious charge.
They assured us we didn’t have to ‘stick around’ to testify or anything in person but that we would be contacted by the district attorney. We filled out the victim’s statement report and were given a case number.
And then we chatted about the nice towns further north where one of the officers was about to take his annual holiday. We got his business card and said we hoped to meet him up there on the water somewhere. We pet his German trained dog and headed back, exhausted and a bit in shock, to Shiloh.
Out of all this, what we are left with is a sincere appreciation and respect for the intelligence and initiative of the law enforcement. From our arrival in the US where customs and immigration officials came down to a fuel dock to meet us and check us in, to the level of professionalism of the officers last night, I have to say we are pleasantly surprised and grateful.
It’s not every police force that would have tried finding us through facebook or a blog! Not many officers who would have returned to the scene on the hour until they found us arriving back – eager to hand us back our keys and assure us that though something awful had happened, they had it under control.
And somewhere this morning in a dim cell sits a suspect. Salt caked clothes and perhaps a few bruises from his last attempt to resist arrest, coming down hard from his last high for a while. He’s got a lot to think about. He’s being charged with trying to steal our boat. Our lives crossed paths in such a violent and tragic way and yet we will never know him or his story. An American story.
Meanwhile we can only hope the rat fell overboard. We head onward, winding our way up the narrow channel that is the ICW, flanked on both sides with homes and boats, trailer parks and stretches of marsh and bush.
We look forward to more American stories, hopefully positive ones, and despite their efficiency, less dealings with the authorities.