Oh Patches, Where Art Thou

The Incident

As Lars, Logan and I arrived back to Bueller at around 8 p.m. on Friday, March 20th, I disembarked first from Patches and tied her up with a bowline knot around the rear handle on Bueller.  The plan for the evening was a quick dinner, a few cocktails, then back out to Monti Cristi to see what nightlife we could discover. Jackie and Logan worked their magic in the kitchen while the rest of us kept them company in the galley. The evening was filled with music, laughter, and general shenanigans that are typical of any evening with the Bueller crew; but as the clock ticked to ten, the motivation for a night on the town was replaced by the exhaustion that often accompanies a day of fun in the sun. We decided to call it a night.

As I stepped out on the transom admiring the stars and conducting my normal nightly routine, the realization hit that Patches, our beloved dinghy, was no longer in the appropriate spot swaying in the current behind Bueller.  Patches was missing. 

The Search

We immediately put an APB out on the VHF...Missing Patches, a grey Duras eight-foot inflatable dinghy with a patch on the inflatable floor and 15 horses of pure Yamaha muscle on her rear. She enjoys evening rides to the beach, operates best with two to three people, but has been known to accommodates up to six, and may try to throw you off her if you try to ride her like a missile (ask Logan for more details on that one).

Feeling responsible, as I was the last one to secure Patches to Bueller, I jumped in the kayak and paddled over to one of the two neighboring boats to ask if they had seen or heard anything. They hadn't. The captain of the neighboring trawler was quick to offer to lend a hand.  He grabbed one of small fishing skiffs tied up behind his boat, threw in a 12V battery, some gas, and a massive spotlight, and we set off into the abyss to track down Patches. After two hours in the night, we called off the search, returning empty handed and disappointed to the rest of the restless crew waiting on Bueller.  

The crew and I caught a few hours of sleep, then awoke at first light to continue the slow and steady hunt with Bueller. An hour into the voyage,  Logan's keen eyes spotted a floating dinghy on the horizon. We kicked Bueller into high gear, giddy with anticipation and excitement. As we motored closer and closer, the excitement was mixed with anger as we realized Patches was not that same as we left her. The beautiful, one-year-old, $2,500 15 hp two stroke, Yamaha engine was no longer attached to her. The master lock securing the motor to the dinghy was sheered with a bold cutter and left lying on Patches' floor.

The Helping Angel 

 Trav rigging up our immensely helpful but old loaner motor

Trav rigging up our immensely helpful but old loaner motor

We returned to the anchorage with Patches in tow, only to be met by our local fixer extraordinaire, Pedro.  Pedro officially owned and operated the boat repair shop at the nautical club in Monti Cristi. To a foreign cruiser that comes to Monti Cristi Port, his role was much more. His kindness, helpfulness and assistance cannot be justly described in a few sentences in a blog post. He arranged water deliveries, drove us into town, arranged customs and immigration clearance, arranged watchmens for the boat, etc, all without asking for anything in return but for us to cover cost.  As Pedro pulled up in his fishing boat, today was no different. Pedro forwent a planned day of fishing when he overheard of our troubles on his way out. He waited at the marina for us to return to see if we needed any assistance. He brought with him a loaner 8 hp Yamaha outboard for us to use while we searched for new outboard, and told me to come into the shop when I got a chance.

Pedro escorted me to the marine police, as well as the local police, where I filed a stolen article report. The police process of filing a report could only be described as humorous. It often felt like straight out of Who Stole Third with miscommunication, misunderstanding of nautical terminology, and blatant mistakes. After two trips, I eventually left with the commandante's WhatsApp information and a police report with my name spelled wrong, despite three attempts of correcting it and reprinting the report. The commandante proceeded to WhatsApp me to ask how things are going and to request us to catch him some fish for weeks to come. He weirdly ceased communication when I requested that he focus less time on requesting fish, and more time on trying to find our engine.

Strange Encounter of a Helping Hand

With no luck in finding a suitable dinghy outboard in the coming days, we eventually were stopped by a gentleman on a motorbike who owns a local excursion shop for tourists. He told us to come by his house when we get a chance, but warned us to keep it a secret. Curious and intrigued, we headed for his house after our errands. He ushered us inside before diving into a story of how the fisherman in the village are all theives and the marine police are lazy and incompetent. He was on mission to stop it. He pulled out a folder of info on another dinghy that had been stolen, which he had helped a cruiser recover. He told us if we provide him with some type of documentation of the motor with serial number on it, he would find the engine and use the documentation to contact the national head of the marine police to have them recover our property. He assured us the engine would turn up as soon as we all left. The caveat was that we were not allowed to tell anyone, since he didn't want to be classified as the town narc. Excited with the possibility of potentially getting our engine back, although realizing it was a bit of a long shot, we provided him a copy of our bill of sale of the dinghy and engine. Unfortunately, we never heard from him that he found our engine, but the interaction was fun, if not a bit odd. I do believe he was trying to help, and would have if he could. 

The Replacement Search

 Our local Dominican, turned-Austinite, Angel.

Our local Dominican, turned-Austinite, Angel.

While initially thinking the replacement search would be quick and easy, we were soon proven wrong. The days turned to weeks, the weeks turned into more than a month before we finally found a suitably running engine. In the Domincan Republic, there are no established stores or marketplaces for new or used outboards and no Craigslist. Everybody you ask, though, knows a guy, who knows a guy, who supposedly has one for sale which turned into circles upon circles. Domincan fishing skiffs use long shaft outboards, not the required short shaft we need for our dinghy, so any potential leads quickly fizzled.  Many thanks to our buddy Angel (pictured right), a Domincan who now lives in Texas, who was visiting his home at the same time we were in the DR. He spent hours driving around the island, trying to save us from paying the "gringo" tax, and generally being an awesome guy. We really can’t thank him enough for the help.

We had a couple of opportunities in Puerto Rico to buy spare outboards off some sailors we had recently been cruising with, but each had minor issues that could require expensive maintenance down the line. In the end, we decided to pass as we had a lead on a motor from Craigslist in St. Thomas.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be a bust, and after searching for five days in St. Thomas, we were again back where we started.

Tortola Island in the BVI turned out to be the jackpot, and we found a few potential options. We ended up purchasing a 15 hp Yamaha from the dinghy shop of The Sunsail / Mooring operations, coincidentally the same operations where I first chartered two year ago and fell in love with sailing.

All is well that ends well, although a little shorter of cash in our pockets and a little more muscle on our shoulders from paddling. The important thing, though, is that Patches can finally keep up with all her friends.