On being … suspicious

By Ingrid Sapona

I’ve been a member of my sail club for over 15 years. Though the bulk of the boats are over 30 feet long, as clubs go, we’re not a particularly fancy one. To keep fees down we’re a “self-help” club, which means we have to put in 30 volunteer hours per year. We don’t have a restaurant – but during sailing season, we have a bar run by hired staff.

During the summer I’m at the club pretty regularly, but I don’t spend nearly as much time there as others. Some members use their boat like a cottage, staying overnight most weekends. And, since I’m not a regular at the bar, I miss a lot of the gossip and politics that’s typical in a club our size.

A couple Saturdays ago, we launched the boats. The days immediately before launch are busy at the club. The boats spend the winter “on the hard”, which means up on their cradles on the club grounds. Fitting 350 boats and their unwieldy steel cradles means that there are boats everywhere.

There’s a lot to do to prepare a sailboat for launching. The two-or-so weeks before launch, the club is a beehive of activity. Pretty much everyone washes the winter grime off their hull and then they wax it. Many owners apply a special paint on the keel so that underwater things – like zebra mussels and algae – don’t cling. Folks with inboard motors winterize have to flush the anti-freeze out before launch. Folks with outboard motors – like me -- usually take them off for the winter, so they need to be reattached before launch.

On launch day we bring in two cranes – with professional crane operators – but all the other work is done by teams of club members. For safety reasons, members aren’t allowed to go to their boats that day until the boat is launched. Every member is assigned a check-in time, but there’s a lot of waiting. Members are usually excited and they understand the timing isn’t exact, so they patiently wait their turn.

I was working on one of the crews near a crane and I had the chance to chat with folks as they waited.  At one point, a member standing next to me pointed to a boat that had just been launched and he said, “Where’s his motor?” I didn’t recognize the boat but the place where the outboard should have been was empty. Then he said, “I helped him put a brand new motor on yesterday!”

A couple minutes later word came round that the guy’s brand new motor was gone. I really felt for him. What a pain in the you-know-what! Most likely his insurance will pay for it – but still, a hell of a way to start the season.

Over the years, we’ve had other things stolen off boats. It often happens in the fall, right after boats are hauled and before owners have a chance to take things – like electronics and outboards – home. But, theft happens at other times too. When my Dad owned the boat, one summer our outboard was stolen off the back of the boat while it was in our slip! The police said it’s likely the thieves motored into the yacht basin at night and took the motor right off the back.

A couple days after launch I was doing some work on my mast and a few long-time members were nearby. We got to talking about how smoothly launch went and I said yes, except for the member whose motor was stolen. These members hadn’t heard about it and so I told them the story. When I finished, one quickly chimed in, “Doesn’t surprise me … we’re as much a ‘help-yourself’ club as a self-help club!”

I was shocked when he said that, and even more surprised when the others agreed. I immediately offered up an alternative explanation. Professional thieves can surely figure out when launch is, given the sudden surge in activity at the club. And, with the boats sitting on their cradles, it’s easy to scope out the new engines. Though we have a fenced-in yard, there’s open access from the waterside. It’s not hard for thieves to get in and grab one. But beyond that, if a club member were to take someone’s brand new motor and put it on their boat, it would be pretty noticeable. The group mumbled their agreement with my theory and then everyone quietly went back to what they were doing.

All the way home I thought about the fact that members would suspect that a fellow club member would steal a motor. Is that indicative of morale at the club? I’ve been around long enough to know that there are cliques and factions who complain about this, that, and the other thing, but surely most members don’t harbour such suspicions. Maybe I’m naïve, but I prefer to think that club members are looking out for each other, rather than looking to steal others’ stuff. After all, would you be a member of a club where you suspected fellow members are thieves?

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


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