by Scott from s/v Rubicon and ScottsSweaters.com
As hurricane Wilma approached a friend of mine said he was evacuating to Tampa, Florida. He asked that I keep an eye on his sailboat and dinghy, in case he couldn’t make it back. I noted where he parked his dinghy and suggested he leave combination locks on everything so he wouldn’t have to mail a key if access became necessary. He said he would.
Wilma came and went. His dinghy was full of water, so I jumped in and bailed it out. The sea was still too rough for me to venture out in my little dingy, so I e-mailed him asking for the combination, advising I’d heard his sailboat had washed up on the rocks. He e-mailed me the combination.
The next day, I couldn’t get the combination on the dinghy’s lock to work. Eventually, I gave-up, and motored out to his boat using my dinghy, which resulted in a much longer, rough and wet ride. Climbing into the tilted cockpit, I applied the same combination to the lock protecting his sailboat and it popped open. I took several photographs, then returned ashore to e-mail him the pictures. I also wrote that I couldn’t keep checking on his boat unless I had access to his much larger dinghy, and that the combination he’d given me was for the sailboat not the dinghy. He replied that the same combination worked for all the locks, but the dinghy’s lock often sticks and usually needs a good oiling.
The next day, I purchased a can of oil and gave the lock a good soaking. Still, it refused to open. I wrote him again, only to have him reply that the lock sometimes needed manual encouragement. I dialed in the combination and beat upon the lock, and still, it refused to open. Noting that it was locked to a metal loop bolted to the dinghy, I returned with a wrench and unbolted the loop, leaving, loop, lock and cable attached to the dock as I motored away to check on his boat. I made a mental note to suggest that in the future he run the lock to the motor, not secure it to something that can so easily be unbolted from the boat.
His was a nice dinghy, three times the size of mine, and equipped with a motor five times as powerful. I made it out to his boat easily and quickly. Then I made a trip back to my boat where I loaded-up several empty bottles to fill with drinking water and headed to the dock.
How marvelous it was to be zipping across the harbor instead of bobbing atop every little wave and fighting the current. I said to myself, this is an entirely different style of dinghying, and one that I ought to investigate for myself.
As I approached the dock, a man I’d never seen before waved me over and asked if he could ask a question. “Sure,” I said, thinking he, like many other boat owners was looking for a ride out to check on his boat following the storm. “Who told you, you could take that dinghy?” he said. “Shane did,” I replied. “Well, that’s my dinghy and I don’t know any Shane.”
Oops. Suddenly I realized why the combination hadn’t worked, despite Shane’s claims that he’d given me the correct combination. Visions of mug shots, poor food and smelly roommates danced about my mind. I thought about how I was going to explain this, and shuddered, thinking were I in his shoes I’d never believe such a story. One minute I was feeling like a Good Samaritan helping a friend, the next minute I felt like I had one foot in jail.
He was a bit angry, but seemed to understand there’d been a misunderstanding. I told him I’d stand right here if he wanted to call the police, but that I’d tell them the same story. He was kind of amazed I’d so easily been able to unhook his lock from the dinghy, and seemed to figure who would make up such a story. That, plus, I clearly wasn’t trying to hide or run from anyone and was so casually motoring around the harbor and up to the dock that were I truly a thief, I clearly wasn’t a very good one and would likely have been locked away some time ago.
However, his wife wasn’t so understanding. She got a tad loud, proclaiming, “What you’re saying is that you stole our boat.” “Well, in retrospect, I guess you’re right,” I replied. “Only at the time, I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.”
The man looked like he’d been through many an argument with her and didn’t wish to delve into another one that wasn’t of his choosing. Happy that he’d reclaimed his dinghy, he chose to end the encounter. I was glad to be free not only of the encounter but his wife as well, thinking given the choice, I’d choose jail rather a life with her.
Back to the dinghy dock, I went from boat to boat trying Shane’s combination on each secured with a combination lock. Bingo! There it was, an inflatable dinghy of the same style, color and type of engine as the one I’d ‘stolen,’ only this time the combination worked.