Saturday, April 26, 2014


Someone robbed my boat last night.

I woke up at about 1:30am because I heard noises.  Someone was approaching the V-berth.  I thought one of the girls must be coming to see me - nighttime visits are not unheard of around here.  I registered that whoever it was had a flashlight, which was odd, but not impossible.
"Honey?  Are you okay out there?" I called.
Scuffle, scuffle.
As the intruder turned and started pounding up the companionway, I came fully awake and realized what was happening.  And I started screaming my head off.
"Help!  Help!  There is someone on my boat!  Please help me!"  I jumped out of my hatch and kept screaming as the man raced away down the dock.  The otherwise silent, still dock.

Nobody came.

I called the police.  I stood on deck, trying to make my voice stop shaking, trying to summon French vocabulary that I never use - to steal, to flee.

A neighbour appeared.  He and his wife heard me, and came to help.  They made me tea and sat with me while I waited for the police.  He called the marina security office, and helped me talk to the guard.  And I sat in the cockpit and shook.

I made a list of all of the cards in my wallet.  I called the bank to cancel everything.  I prayed that Skype wouldn't drop my connection until I was done.

It was 3am when I finished, and I felt like I was never going to sleep again.  But, scared or not, I couldn't just surf the internet all night.  I had to try to sleep.

Weak batteries be damned, I turned on all the lights before heading back to bed.  As though someone were still hiding in the corner.  And there, lo and behold, was my wallet, abandoned in the middle of the salon table.  All of the cash and change was gone, but everything else remained - credit cards, baby pictures, scrawled notes to myself.  And I started to laugh a little.  Of course, now that I had cancelled everything, the wallet was there all along.

Lights out.  Well, most lights out.  I went to bed with a flashlight in my hand and the 32V light burning above my bed.  Eventually I slept.  Lightly, jumping at every noise.  But it was something.

This morning I went around to talk to my neighbours.  Everyone was shocked and upset.  And 3/4 boats had woken to a noise, but when it didn't continue, they chalked it up to rowdy people and went back to sleep.  No one else had anything missing.

This is our third brush with crime on our cruising adventure.  The second time, I had my bag stolen at the beach in Cartagena.  And the first event happened only days after we bought Papillon: the outboard motor was stolen off the back deck in Florida.  So.  Although onlookers express the greatest fears for our safety when we visit developing nations, I see that we have only had issues in urban, fairly first world environments.  Interesting.

So let's talk reactions.  I have lived a very lucky life: this is my first real brush with scary crime.  And you never know how you are going to react to a situation until it happens.

My first reaction is that I am grateful the whole thing went down the way it did.  This... this... I'm having trouble choosing a family-friendly term here, so let's use "thief" and you can replace that as you like.  This thief didn't lay a finger on me or my girls.  That is 100% all I care about.  And it is frankly what scares me the most - this thief was on my boat while I was sleeping, walking around my personal space and poking through my stuff.  If things had gone differently, would I have been able to scream long and loud enough for someone to take the noise seriously?  I felt safe in the marina with neighbours a few feet away.  Now I feel like I might as well be on a thousand acres all alone.  But back to gratitude: this was the best possible outcome.  Yes, I lost some money, but nobody got hurt.  Scared, but not hurt.

So what do I do now?  What will I change?  What should I do to be safe?  More accurately, what should I do to feel safe?  Because I think safety is pretty much an illusion.  Yes, you do your best, but sometimes that tweaker is going to grab your cash.  That is the hard reality of life.

Back in the Caribbean, we came across a number of boats with guns aboard.  People hung signs from the companionway like: This boat protected by a .357 Magnum.  Now that I've been robbed, now that I've had my space violated, I have to say: I still don't want a gun aboard.  Leaving aside the constant hassle gun owners have with Customs, what would a gun have done for me last night?  When I woke up, I thought it was one of my kids.  To shoot this thief, I would had to have the gun right beside me and ready to go the moment I woke up on spec that something bad was going on.  And if he had had more sinister motives and had snuck up on me instead of rooting through my purse, could I possibly have woken up, fully understood and assessed the situation in that millisecond, put that gun in my hand and used it in time?  No.  I still don't think guns are worth the risk to my family.

Now I have to take a breath and regroup.  Decide how to balance reasonable protection versus fear.  Choose how best to fulfill my responsibilities to my kids.  Maybe I'll start with a motion detector hooked up to a light or a siren - something to scare your casual thief away.  I've already turned down the offer of a guard dog for a few nights.  And I'll think about what really needs to be done when my head is clearer.

But right now, I just want some sleep.


Anonymous said...

So glad you and the girls are safe! We agree with you that is most important. Thinking of you and hoping you feel secure and safe again soon.

Love Kate and Rich

Anonymous said...

Wish that Dad & I were there with you & the girls.

It is unsettling to think that none of your neighbors could hear your calls for help.

Thank goodness all of you are safe.
Mom & Dad

Michael Robertson said...

Geez, thanks for sharing Amy. Such good news that it was a petty thief and that you and your girls are safe. All the best and here's hoping you soon get back to normal sleep and sense of ease, Michael

Anonymous said...

Wow, that is really scary, the nerve of someone to come aboard knowing that you're there! I can't imagine what we'd do. Thankfully your all right, that's the most important part. We know how you feel as we've been victims of crime ourselves, but not someone in our house, OMG! Take care we're thinking of you guys, stay safe. John M & Karen M

Amy Schaefer said...

Thanks, everyone. We're all doing better. We've been showered with lights and alarms - everyone here is concerned for us.

Anonymous said...

Amy,So happy to hear that you and the girls are safe. Agree with your thoughts on guns and safety but a motion detector and very loud noises is a good recourse. take care, Garey and Cathy

Anonymous said...

In the Caribbean, did you come across boats with guns or did you actually come across boats with signs that said they had them? Taking guns around the Caribbean has a lot of issues and in most countries are required to be turned into local authorities while in the country (returned on departure). If someone had a gun, didn't declare it with customs and then advertised it openly, they'd be running the risk of serious legal repercussions. I think it's unlikely many actually had a gun on board, just a sign as a deterrent. It's not a bad idea, the thief does not know for sure and is probably not willing to gamble.

The companion way doors should have a locking mechanism, if not you should install one but the Swann Magnetic Window/Door alarm for $10 would be a good deal ( That thing firing off would run any thief away, wake you up and maybe alert the neighbors.