Theft in Bequia


Another perfect day in paradise? Well, maybe not when an iPad goes missing and the police and lawyers get involved  (published April 2018)

I was enjoying a peaceful breakfast at Wildcat’s cockpit table Wednesday morning, watching the sailboats tied up to mooring balls behind us in Bequia’s Admiral Bay harbor swing back and forth in unison in the morning breeze.  Jan and I were recovering from the weekend Bequia Music Festival, and had no plans for the day. I needed to sweat out some rum.

A navy blue SVG Coast Guard launch motored by heading for the city dock. Onboard were five CG officers/policemen and one woman with short white hair who looked a lot like a cruiser named Cori who had been onboard our boat for a 14 person happy hour a few nights ago. That was a very unusual sight. Obviously, something was wrong. I picked up the mic and called Tom and Sabrina on Honey Ryder, and told them what I had seen. Sabrina said that she would send me an email, which I opened a few minutes later.

It seems that the owner of Maria’s Internet Café had been out in the harbor going boat to boat looking for a woman pictured in security camera footage, stealing his iPad from the Café. Thirty minutes later, the SVG Coast Guard boat came alongside Hi Flite and took Cori off the boat. All of the hatches were still open onboard Hi Flite and the dinghy was still in the water. There was no sign of her husband Dale on deck.

Like Jan and me, Tom and Sabrina are cruisers willing to help other cruisers in a pinch. Wildcat and Honey Ryder teamed up last year to tow a 45-foot sailboat with engine trouble into the dock in Martinique. I picked up Tom in my dinghy and we went over to Hi Flite to see if Dale needed help.It was 9:30 am, and Dale was passed out in la la land. It took a while to wake him up and get him up on deck. Dale has back pain and the Bequia doctor had been most generous with his script book, selling Dale three different types of pain pills, telling Dale to try each one and see which one worked the best. Dale decided to short cut the scientific decision process and took all three pills at once.The pain was gone, and so was Dale.

Once Dale was up, and half dressed in the cockpit, it was clear that he did not know what was going on. He thought that Cori was at yoga. When Tom explained that the police had taken her to the police station for stealing a iPad, Dale’s response was: “Is this some kind of bad joke?”

Tom convinced Dale to get dressed, get some cash, and close up the boat so we could take him into the police station to find out what was going on. Tom and I returned to Honey Ryder to brief Sabrina on the situation. While we were there, the SVG Coast Guard launch with only one officer onboard, came along side Hi Flite to pick up Dale. The officer told Dale to bring Cori some shoes, a change of clothes and some toiletries. She was under arrest for theft and would be going to jail.

Tom and I dinghied over to the CG launch and explained to the officer that Dale was on medication and we were willing to assist him to the police station. The officer agreed with the plan and stood off while we helped get Dale organized and into our dinghy. After 15 minutes, Tom and I loaded Dale in my dinghy and were escorted to the town dinghy dock by the CG launch. A policeman and dock security man met us at the dinghy dock and escorted us through the main town street, to the police station.

I think that the entire town came out to watch the parade as if it was a walk of shame. I was beginning to have second thoughts about being involved in this ordeal. But I had a hard time believing that Cori was a crook. She and Dale fit the profile of most other cruising couples who we have met, and none of them were crooks. So, I was giving her the benefit of the doubt and going with the innocent until proven guilty theory.

Once our parade reached the Bequia police station, Tom and I stood with Dale in front of the desk police officer and spoke on Dale’s behalf. We learned that Cori had been arrested, charged with the theft and put on the 10:30 water ferry to Kingstown, St Vincent. We looked out the window and could see the ferry steaming out of the harbor. Justice moved swiftly in Bequia. Cori was headed to jail in the third world country of St. Vincent and had no idea if Dale even knew where she was.

We learned that she would be arraigned in court that day or placed in a holding cell if the court was not in session. If she pleaded guilty, she would be sentenced and probably deported. If she pleaded not guilty, she would be held in jail without bond until the trial. The officer said that the next ferry left Bequia at 1:00 pm and arrived in Kingstown at 2:00. However, we might want to find a speedboat to take us there sooner. If the court was in session, Cori might be deported by the time we arrived in St Vincent. We were also warned to be careful in Kingstown, carry all money in pockets and no valuables in backpacks.

As Tom and I escorted Dale back to the dinghy dock, I tried to think of a way to get Dale on a boat to Kingstown by himself and end our involvement in what was quickly escalating into a serious and potentially dangerous situation. We have avoided going to St. Vincent for the past five years because cruisers have been robbed and killed there. I certainly had no desire to go to the main port city of Kingstown and walk around as a mugging target.

Jan and I had seen this legal drama before in the Bahamas, when a woman we were friends with got crossways with a local Bahamian, who called the police and told them that our friend had firearms onboard her vessel. The police searched her vessel and found three firearms and 45 rounds of ammo, the possession of which are legal in the Bahamas only if you list them on your cruising permit. She had “forgotten” to do so.

In a scene reminiscent of this morning’s arrest of Cori, Jan and I watched six large police officers escort our petite blonde friend off to jail in a navy blue police boat. She was facing a number of years in Nassau jail, confiscation of her sailboat, and deportation afterwards. Jan and I were able to help her find an attorney, and get the sentence reduced to a fine and loss of weapons.

We learned three things from that ordeal: Do not do anything illegal anywhere, especially in a third world county. They can lock you up in some hell hole jail and throw away the key. If your friend gets arrested, hire the best criminal attorney in town. And, bring a big wad of cash to pay the attorney, fines and court costs.

Tom and I explained to Dale that we should hire a go-fast boat, take Cori’s change of clothes, shoes and a big wad of cash over to Kingstown to see if we could find an attorney to represent her. We could come back on the 6:00 PM ferry, assuming that we did not get mugged in Kingstown. Dale was still zoned out but shook his head yes.

We found two water taxi drivers eager to take us to St. Vincent. We chose Shawn on the taxi named Rumors. We took my dinghy to all three sailboats to collect money and four rain jackets for the rough ride offshore. While I was putting the dinghy away on Wildcat, out of the blue, a local named Mr. Kydd approached us in a grey RIB dinghy. He asked if we would like the name of an attorney in Kingstown. I thought to myself that this must be divine intervention and everyone in Bequia must know what is going on.

Mr. Kydd came onboard, called Richard William’s Law Office on his cell phone and handed me the phone. I gave the office manager Cori’s name and told her we would be there in an hour. Mr. Kydd wrote down the phone number for me along with the name and phone number of his friend who is a cab driver in St Vincent.

Before he left, Mr. Kydd looked at me and said, “When you get to Kingstown, keep your money on you, not in your backpack. Take a cab straight to William’s law office. Do not go to the police station. Do not walk through town. Be careful. If you have any trouble, call my taxi driver friend.”
Sabrina and Jan set up a text and email communication center onboard Wildcat, but I opted to leave my VHF onboard Wildcat so it wouldn’t be stolen in Kingstown. I would be out of Wildcat‘s VHF range as soon as we left Bequia.

The water between the islands of Bequia and St Vincent is open ocean with a strong current setting to the west. The winds that day were a normal 14 knots from the east. The current combined with the ocean swell created a nasty chop that sent the 22-foot plywood speedboat Rumors crashing through waves. We were soaked. Fifteen minutes into this ocean joyride I was wishing that I brought my VHF radio. I was watching the bottom of the plywood floor flex as we pounded into the swells, and wondering how we were going to call for help if the boat split opened and sank. I saw one fiberglass covered wooden stringer that had cracked long before this trip.  It was flexing at the crack. I decided to adopt the “No Problem Mon” mantra, watching the oncoming waves instead.

The driver, Shawn, yelled at me: “Where do you want to go? The customs dock?”
I replied, “No! The police station!”
Sean’s eyes widened with disbelief: “The police station?  Really?”
“Yes, Dale’s wife has been arrested. Actually we need to go to Richard Williams’ office first.”
“Oh, Richard Williams is my lawyer. He is the best. I will take you to him.”
We pulled up to the concrete fishing wharf after 30 minutes of pounding and tied up along side a fishing boat. Once on the dock, I reminded everyone to keep their money in their pockets and try not to stand out in the crowd, which was laughable for two reasons. One, we were the only three white guys in a sea of black and brown locals. And, two, Dale had packed Cori’s shoes and things in a very bright yellow waterproof pouch that screamed “steal me!” Blending into the crowd was not an option.

We ran into trouble with the security guard at the gate while trying to leave the wharf security area. We obviously were not fishermen, but 20 EC took care of that problem. Shawn looked at us and said, “Stay close to me and you will be OK” as we snaked through the sea of people in the bustling fish market, dodging people, honking vans, busses and fish carts.

Dale was falling behind. He had both arms wrapped around the bright yellow pouch like a linebacker carrying a football as he stumbled forward. I took the yellow bag from him so he could walk faster. My real plan was to fling the bag into the crowd if someone attacked us and run like hell. I kept that plan to myself.

Shawn lead us down a quieter back street searching for the right building. About the time that I was beginning to suspect that Shawn was lost, he pointed to an open doorway. At the top of the stairs, we found Mr. Williams’ office. After a five minute wait, Mr. Williams met with us in his conference room. He was an intimidatingly tall, broad shouldered black man, impeccably dressed in a dark blue suit with a white shirt, obviously ready for a courtroom appearance.
After a 30 second summary of today’s events, Mr. Williams interrupted us to ask, “Where is the girl now?”

“We do not know if she is in holding or in court.”

Mr. Williams picked up his cellphone and pressed a speed dial number for holding. “This is Richard Williams, are you holding a woman named Cori there? Caucasian. Thanks.”

He hung up and pressed the courthouse phone number. “This is Richard Williams, do you have a Caucasian woman named Cori there?Thanks.”
He stood up and announced, “She’s in court, let’s go see what is going on.”

It was raining when we exited the building. Mr. Williams led our parade through four blocks of cars and people. I felt safer this time because people in the street were waving to him and a few even said “Good morning Mr. Williams”. We had found the rock star of criminal attorneys in St. Vincent.  The front door of the courthouse was locked because court was in session. We snaked around to the back entrance of the building to a door marked “Serious Offences Court Entrance.”

The closed door to the courtroom was guarded by two guards dressed in traditional all white formal uniforms. They let Mr. Williams right in while the rest of us sat outside in chairs along the wall of the hallway. A few minutes later, Mr. Williams came out and motioned for Dale to come inside.
The guards patted him down before letting him through the door. Shawn, Tom and I entertained ourselves with tales of testifying in U.S. courthouses and wondering if we could leave and go to lunch. Tom texted a report to Sabrina and she replied that they had found the nearest U.S. Embassy, but it was on the island of Barbados.

After an hour of watching various men in handcuffs being escorted in and out of the courtroom, it was over. Court was adjourned. Mr. Williams lead Dale and Cori out of the room. They were free to go.

Mr. Williams had negotiated a plea bargain to a lesser crime of petty theft. Cori admitted stealing the iPad, paid a $400 EC fine, agreed to return the iPad to its owner and, in return, was not deported. Lawyer fees were $600 US, and transportation expenses with tips to the gate keepers totaled 750 EC.  We had found the right attorney.

Cori cried most of the way back to the speedboat, claiming that she was going to stop drinking because “I think I am a lot smarter than I really am when I am drinking.”

The trip back in the speedboat was slightly less wet, at least until it rained. To top it off, the motor started cutting out as we neared Bequia. There were long periods of time when the motor would only fast idle, then burst to life as if the fuel blockage had suddenly been solved, only to bog down again to a wallowing idle speed. I kicked myself for not bringing the VHF radio. I had no way to call for a tow if the motor quit completely. Fortunately, we finally made it back to our respective boats, soaking wet, but otherwise okay.

Later on, over sundowners, Jan and I met with Tom and Sabrina to analyze the incident in great detail. Our discussion centered around two issues:
Trust: We cruisers are generally open and trusting people. This theft was an important reminder that not all thieves live onshore. Some of them are part of the cruising community. We go to great lengths to protect ourselves from the island based thieves. We need to do a better job of identifying and protecting ourselves from crooks within our own cruising community.

Did we do the right thing in helping a thief?  We think so. We were helping two cruisers who were in real trouble. A St. Vincent jail is no place for anyone to get locked up in other than hardened criminals, murders and drug dealers. Justice was served. The iPad was returned to its rightful owner, Cori paid the fine, and Hi Flite has been “outed” within the cruising community. Tom summed it up when he said: “If I had it to do over again, I would still help them.”
That is why we like cruising with Tom and Sabrina.

George and Jan Todd are testing their marriage for the sixth season sailing in the Eastern Caribbean onboard Wildcat. George Todd has published two ebooks: Island Sailing is NOT all Rum and Bananas Vol 1: and Vol 2: containing humorous stories from sailing in The Bahamas and Caribbean which can be downloaded from iBooks, Smashwords, Kindle and most ebook sites.