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Dinghy Walkabout

Dinghy Walkabout

It was game night on Gémeaux and fun as usual except the girls lost…as usual it seems these days. Tomorrow would be an early start for a long day of sailing so we decided against another chance to reclaim victory. We bid farewell to our friends and escorted the four of them to the swim step where we gingerly place them in their dark dinghy, careful not to land them in the drink. But wait—where’s the dinghy!? A sinking feeling settles in our gut as though we’ve returned to our car only to find an empty space on the street. Did the car roll away? Was it stolen? Did I actually drive tonight? As high winds continued whipping through the bay, we knew instantly what had happened. The knot had come loose and the wind stole the dinghy.

There was no handy curb or cul-de-sac to stop the runaway vehicle—only an endless body of water that faded into a dark, moonless night. We immediately dispatched a search party in our dinghy and remained optimistic that Allen and Mike would return shortly with the runaway. The rest of us waited onboard certain that each dim chaos of flashlight beams meant a discovery. But as minutes ticked by, hope turned to concern for our captains blindly motoring through shallow waters of the surrounding reef. They returned drenched from wind-blown waves and sadly, empty-handed.

It was a sleepless night–Allen’s mind busily sorting through all the possibilities for retrieving the dinghy. At daybreak the next day, he launched our dinghy and floated quietly while his mathematical wit calculated that the missing dinghy would drift about 1 knot in a southwest direction. With gps coordinates in hand, he phoned a local air charter company. After much coercing, Allen secured a pilot to do an aerial search. Brilliant! We notified the police and the coast guard and called the local store owner who seemed to know everyone on South Caicos island. Surely, someone would find the dinghy. We pulled up our anchors and for the next several hours, sat with binoculars affixed to our faces. Scanning the horizon for a 10-foot grey craft amidst 2-3 foot wind chop in 20 knot winds was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but while riding a bucking bronco. Still, optimism remained high and we excitedly held our breath each time we saw a glimpse of grey, only to discover it was yet another white cap on the busy surf.

“The airforce is here!” Allen radioed Mike, as a low-flying aircraft buzzed us. Allen and the pilot exchanged text messages while we remained within cell service and later by satellite phone as we motored further and further away from land. “If the dinghy is here, I’ll find it,” the pilot said with a determination that said we had the right guy for the job. We watched the plane circle around and around the targeted area and we jumped to attention each time a message came in, waiting for the good news. “I can see sharks and rays but no dinghy. I’m really sorry—I was sure I would spot it.” Even the pilot was disappointed. Damn.

By this time, we figured the little dinghy was well on its way to Cuba and we hoped it would change the life of some poor fisherman making a living in a rowboat. As we continued to mourn its loss, our friends began making plans to procure a new craft. After all, unless you want to swim to shore each time you anchor, a dinghy in this life is essential. Another sleepless night as Allen’s brain turned a different direction—how to get a dinghy in the remote Turks and Caicos Islands where there are no marine stores? We could buy one from a Florida dealer and have it shipped. How many weeks would that take? Maybe we should just look locally for a used dinghy to get by until we reach Florida in April? Insomnia extended across the marina where Mike and Ronna contemplated the various options and complexities. By morning, phones were abuzz with calls to the insurance company and different freight carriers. A new dinghy was available in Florida! And there’s a freighter leaving tomorrow! But wait—how do we get a 150-pound piece of freight delivered to the ship? And how do we get it off the ship through Customs once it’s here? And, we’ve only got the dinghy—we still need a motor. How we wished for a local West Marine on the island.

While Mike and Allen continued to work out the details of wiring money and hiring Customs agents, Ronna and I decided this underwater mecca of Turks and Caicos required some exploration. We set out with a local dive company, making two dives along the reef wall that drops thousands of feet just off the coast. I know I’m supposed to tell you that we lamented leaving the boys behind and had no fun at all on our dives. Well, let’s just say we gave Provo Turtle Divers a 5-star rating and ticked off a bunch of critters from our must-see list.

We returned to the marina just after noon to find Mike flush with anger and Allen on a heated phone call. An hour earlier, while we were swimming alongside reef sharks, Allen received a phone call from his pilot buddy asking to verify the details of the dinghy. Turns out the dinghy was just listed As Found on a Facebook page. Minutes earlier, Mike had completed the wire transfer for the new dinghy. Ruh roh Scooby. The pilot relayed the contact information to Allen and wished us luck in negotiating the dinghy’s return. His  expertise, apparently, was only in the air .

Invigorated with new optimism, Allen dialed the phone while Mike stood by. Allen’s first mistake was trying to inquire if THEIR dinghy had been found. Immediately, Allen was told, “This is MY dinghy and you will not talk to me like that!” Allen quickly avoided any further use of personal pronouns and patiently tried to return the conversation to a normal rate of speed. They could have the dinghy for $3,000 but only if they came immediately—there’s another buyer in the wings. Allen asked if they could come at 4pm. An exasperated no.“I have to pick up my daughter from school.” Oh good, now children are involved. “You can have the dinghy back for $2,700,” the guy negotiated with himself, “but you have to come now.” Allen remained on the phone, clarifying directions to a backyard or maybe an abandoned gas station, stalling for time to think through the next step in the unfolding crime.

Speaking of which, this does feel like a crime—shouldn’t we call the police? Upon learning that indeed selling someone’s own property back to them or to someone else is against the law, an official sting operation was launched. Now under the direction of the Turks and Caicos police force, Mike and Allen set off for the agreed-upon drop point at the gas station. Once contact is established with the potential criminal, they were to phone the police and leave the phone turned on until the swat team entered the scene from the back alley. And we’re afraid of pirates at sea?!

Our captains approached the gas station. Have I mentioned, by the way, that they drive on the left side of the road in Turks and Caicos, as though there wasn’t enough stress completing the mission. Four people are sitting on a wall drinking beer. Awesome—it’s a Corona commercial! But wait, there are four of them and only two of us. There was no mention of bringing along muscle. Just at that moment…trumpets blared and the police appeared. I like to think it was a scene from The Dukes of Hazard where the police car screeched in on two wheels.

Now why’d you have to go get the police involved? Tempers flared, backup was called, Mike and Allen watched from the sidelines while a confrontation ensued about salvage law. Two of the muscle drinking beer on the wall chimed in, professing expertise in the law and demanding that the dinghy in question did indeed belong to its new owner. Actually no. Just because you find something doesn’t mean it’s yours. Ask Judge Judy. It gives you the right to ask for salvage fees, but not title to the item in question. Salvage fees are determined and awarded by the court. Mike’s legal ears perked up when banter started about going down to the station and getting lawyers involved. Think I’ll represent myself, thank you very much. In the end and because there was a daughter who still needed to be picked up from school, the group decided that $1,000 would be a reasonable finder’s fee. On second thought, let’s make it $500. No need to get lawyers involved.

The criminal caravan pulled out of the gas station and drove down dirt roads and through backyards until the little dinghy came into sight. Mike’s heart sang with joy—just momentarily, however, as he noticed his precious dinghy was inches away from two barking dogs eager to rip from their chains and gnaw on some good hyperlon rubber. Wouldn’t that just make the perfect fairy tale ending? Instead, Mike found a little love in his heart and bought everyone sodas when he went to the ATM to secure the cash. Allen stayed behind to work on the evolving friendship. Really I think he was dumbfounded that his drift calculations didn’t lead us first to the dinghy and he wanted to know precisely where it ultimately landed. Turns out Allen’s mental acuity is in tact and we just missed spotting it by a ½ mile. As the story unfolded, Allen learned that the dinghy had been discovered on a local fishing expedition…fishing for fish that is, not for dinghys. The fisherman tied the dinghy to his boat and continued his expedition for fish. The crowning moment was learning that while he continued to fish, the painter knot slipped AGAIN and the dinghy drifted away AGAIN! Not to be outwitted, the fisherman recovered the dinghy for a second time, tied a different knot, and towed it back to the island, where he transported it to his backyard on a boat trailer.

Hang on…one critical component remains in this tale of tales—how to transport the 250lb dinghy and its motor from a backyard to the sea? No hide nor hair of a towing vehicle or trailer in the backyard and frankly, Allen’s new bff was done with this operation and wanted only his finder’s fee. So, while Mike was away emptying his bank account, the police officer rung up everyone she knew who owns a truck. Allen, meanwhile, stood on the side of the road flagging down innocent souls who just happen to drive by in a pickup truck. The police officer won the prize by connecting with a landscape contractor who of course owns a pickup and agreed to swing by at precisely the same moment that Mike was returning from the ATM. Mike later told us that he couldn’t navigate the narrow lane back to the infamous backyard because there was a truck transporting an entire forest blocking the road. The landscaper completed his day job delivering six full-size palm trees and eventually returned with an empty truck bed to become a dinghy transporter.

Ronna and I finally got involved in the sting operation when Allen called us for help securing the marina crane. Oddly enough, we had just been wondering what that big blue rectangular thingee was. We hunted down the dockhand and asked if he would please be ever so kind as to engage the crane to lift our poor little dinghy, did you hear by the way that we found it??!!, back in the water. “Uh yeah, I can do that,” he responded slowly, glancing at his watch, certain that his workday was ending in 42 minutes when the clock struck 5. “I can do it tomorrow.” Ummm…we really need it to happen today. Our menfolk will be here any minute. It will be quick. It will be easy. We’ll help. Well maybe that last comment didn’t help our cause.

Minutes before the workday ended, the little dinghy hung from the air ready to return to the sea. Oh please don’t drop it now after everything we’ve been through. It splashed happily and safely back into the water and the crowd cheered.

Reunited, and it feels so good
Reunited ‘cause we understood
There’s one perfect fit…

and Exodus and their dinghy rejoiced in the reunion and lived happily ever after. Now…how to cancel that wire transfer for a new dinghy?

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6 Comments

  1. That’s a good story!

  2. Laughter on a cold Sunday morning in Atlanta!

  3. This saga just put me right with you this sunny, nippy Sunday afternoon in Savannah G.A!…..every twist and turn with so much adventure and hope! You could NOT make this up, Shiera! Photos of it all would be “sailing full tilt” aka icing on the cake…but your writing is so beautifully descriptive that I saw it all😀 love and miss you…keep the great adventures and photos coming Gemeaux⛵️

  4. What an adventure!! Thank you for sharing all the wild fun!

  5. Oh my God! Now I understand why we didn’t have time on the phone call for the full story. Geez Louise! I have so many questions: 1) how did the guy who “found” the dinghy transport it overland to his backyard? 2)I don’t understand this sentence “The crowning moment was learning that in the process of bringing the dinghy back to the island, the painter knot slipped AGAIN and the dinghy drifted away AGAIN!” Bringing it back to what island? Wasn’t it already ON the island and your boats were anchored off the shore of that island? And how could the dinghy drift away if it was still on land? 3) And, yes, how did Mike unravel the purchase of the new dinghy?

    • Okay smarty pants-those were good catches. It was intentional to protect the innocent (or not so innocent) by omitting names. But in doing so, I knew there would be some missing details. Stand by for some editing:)

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