The call went out via e-mail on March 7 from a marine surveying company based in Hamburg, Germany, on behalf of an insurance company and yacht owner: be on the look-out for a Norwegian Lagoon 380 Premium reported missing between February 27 and March 3 from its mooring in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas. Pamela Wilson, broker for St. Thomas-based Cool Cat Charters, received the Email on March 17 and immediately passed it on to her captain, Kristopher Burton, who runs the 48-foot term charter catamaran, Sweetest Thing. Bingo. Vessel found a short ten days after it was first reported missing.
"My 78-year-old mom was visiting from Wyoming and I read Pamela's Email to her and my wife as we sat on the back of our boat in Elephant Bay, off Water Island," says Captain Burton. "We looked at the picture and then looked over at the boat anchored a short ways in front of us. My mom picked up on it immediately and said it looked identical to the yacht reported missing."
Captain Burton jumped in his dinghy, motored over to the unoccupied yacht and, sure enough, a crude rendition of a new name in small lettering barely obscured the true name of the vessel, Namaste. Likewise, the registration numbers had been ripped off, but again visible enough in the impression left behind. Finally, a call to the insurance company confirmed the vessel's hull number matched with the missing yacht. The German company's Caribbean surveyor in Tortola, the Department of Planning & Natural Resources and U.S. Coast Guard were all appropriately notified and by afternoon the missing vessel was secured.
"I think this shows the power of e-mail," says Wilson. "Ten years ago this wouldn't have been possible. Now it's easy to get the word out fast when a vessel goes missing and the marine community is a tight knit one."
Burton agrees. "We all look out for one another. Whether it's the safety of one another's boats or even when a boat starts dragging on its mooring. I've never known someone to sit there and let it happen."
For their efforts, Wilson and Burton split a reward of $7500.
Vessels going missing in the Caribbean are far from an everyday occurrence. But should this occur, owners should notify their insurance company immediately. The insurance company can initiate a search within the global marine community that ripples out far and wide electronically. In addition, key theft prevention measures include securing the vessel, stowing expensive equipment out of plain view and having an on-location person to watch over the vessel while owners are away for an extended time.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.