Caribbean Compass May 1998
Someone Stole Our Yacht!
by Elisabeth Antras, as told to Gerdie van Oudgaarden
Gilbert Lebrun and I were very happy as we returned
to our boat, Brin d'Amour, in Puerto La Cruz without our glasses.
We had both undergone eye surgery in Caracas to have our myopia corrected.
A new world of mighty views had opened up to us. Before the operation I
had been unable to see the bow of our boat from the cockpit. Now I could
finally turn my true face to the world without a glass barrier between.
The convalescence of our eyes took time. We had to avoid stark sunlight, dust, wind and saltwater splashes. So we mostly stayed down below during the day, although it was hot. Since we stayed below most of the time we had little contact with our neighbors in Marina Americo Vespucio. I did not even cross the canal by dinghy to Centro Marino Oriente (CMO) to tell our friends about the operation, for fear that salt splashes could hurt my eyes. To make matters worse, Gilbert caught influenza.
When Gilbert recovered, we decided to treat ourselves to an inland trip to Mérida. We looked forward to cooler air, away from the dusty wind that blows in Puerto La Cruz. We wanted to see more of Venezuela with our own eyes. The decision was quickly made and we filled our backpacks. We had paid the marina in advance. We shut off the boat's fuel supply valve, put the ignition key in a drawer, grabbed our travel documents and off we went in the early morning of Sunday, March 8, to find our bus to Caracas.
A friend who was across the canal in Marina Puerto del Este later told us she had seen us leaving with our backpacks. She thinks she also saw Brin d'Amour the morning after. But the next morning our boat was gone.
Our friends at CMO were amazed we had sailed without notice. The last they knew was that Gilbert was ill. "Strange," they thought, it is not like them."
We really had a wonderful time up in Mérida. We hiked every day high up in the mountains, slept in posadas for US$10 a night, breakfast included. The city, full of students, is lively at night; people are well dressed and you don't have to watch your back up here. We decided to stay a couple of days longer, then another week. We enjoyed the gradual adaptation to the thin, cool air and could not stop taking pictures of the stunning views around us.
After 2 weeks we returned to Americo Vespucio, fully relaxed and feeling strong with a load of fresh oxygen in our blood.
Our boat was not there. Its slip was empty, Brin d'Amour nowhere in sight. Had the marina moved it?
The office staff at marina was of little help. They did not know our boat was gone. They did not know which boat we were talking about. They reproached us for not telling them when we were off the boat.
Anyway, we managed on the same day to notify the local Coast Guard station, our insurance company and the French radio net. Our neighbor, back from a charter, allowed us to stay onboard for the night.
The following morning three men from the Intelligence Division of the Coast Guard questioned us and our neighbors on the dock. The thief had apparently let the stern anchor go and had marked it with a buoy, giving the impression that the boat would be back shortly. The buoy had disappeared after a few days.
Gilbert, who speaks little English, announced the disappearance of Brin d'Amour on the local VHF cruisers net. Nervously, we waited for news of some explanation. There was none.
Across the canal, Jimmy Capriles of CMO and Asonautica immediately offered help. He called together a number of people who were involved in handling security issues for cruisers in the Puerto La Cruz area. We gave him a description of the boat, which was soon repeated on the English-speaking radio net. Italian, German, Dutch and Spanish nets followed immediately.
Then a shock a sighting by Italians at Carenero, 80 miles west of Puerto La Cruz. A boat that could not leave due to a mechanical problem. Unfortunately, the next morning proved that the sighting was not Brin d'Amour . A day later on the VHF radio cruisers' net a cruiser reported having seen Brin d'Amour in a cove in Trinidad. Inquiries were made by SSB, phone and fax to the Yacht Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago and the Trinidad Coast Guard. Alas, this was not Brin d'Amour either.
The French net had a cruiser scanning all the Trinidadian anchorages, and the efficient and cooperative Trinidad Coast Guard stopped two vessels similar to ours, but the results were negative.
Gilbert chartered a Cessna and conducted an aerial search with a cruising friend. Flying low, they not only checked boats afloat, but those stored ashore as well. The search covered all the bays and islands between Puerto La Cruz and Margarita.
The thief or thieves couldn't have used the engine for more than a mile because the fuel was shut off. Being a gaff ketch, the boat is not a real windward machine, but she is easy to handle. She must have been sailed away.
For the time being we are staying at Marina del Este, on a Gin-Fizz which belongs to cruisers we met in the Cape Verdes. This keeps us close to CMO which has become the center for any information concerning our Brin d'Amour .
We receive a lot of help from cruisers, for which we are very grateful. I want them to know that. The French honorary consul helps us deal with the paperwork for the Policia Nacional.
We are mailing flyers in six languages all over the Caribbean. Messages have gone to the Panama Canal authorities as well as to cruisers' nets in the Pacific.
Gilbert built Brin d'Amour himself over the course of 10 years in our backyard in France. Every plank and rib, deadeye and curb were built according to the detailed plans of Bombigher. Finally, 2 years ago, we sailed from Normandy. The boat is insured for market value. We have our passports, credit cards and the clothes we took to Mérida.
We are sure that, however this ends, we won't go back ashore. We are cruisers. But I have a hard time looking at other boats, especially those with exposed planking, a bowsprit and her sheerline. There is a Hans Christian with green sail covers at CMO; I have to turn my head away every time I pass her.
There are a lot of things in life we can buy if needed, but I can't bear the thought of having to get used to a different boat.
Copyright© 1998 Compass Publishing