July 21, 2015

Robbed! Or why monohulls are better than catamarans

Incompetence isn’t a quality I appreciate in most people, but thankfully the thief who boarded our boat last night might want to consider keeping his day job. If he has one.

Despite traveling through some very poor countries, theft isn’t something we worry about very often. Like most cruisers, we’re aware our home can look like a floating department store to some people. So when we’re in a region is known for petty theft, we close our hatches and keep surfaces clear of easily-seen, easy-to-grab high value items like phones, cameras, tablets and cash. On occasions we even lock up the boat.
the closest locals to our boat are these guys--two baby herons
The kind of theft we tend to expect is opportunistic theft; like when our unlocked dinghy was stolen by drunks from the dinghy dock in Brisbane, or when tools were grabbed from the side deck in Mexico. What we don’t expect is to be boarded by a swimmer while we’re sleeping, have a thief enter our cabin and then rummage through our stuff. Not only is that sort of freaky—but I always assumed we’d hear if someone climbed aboard. Or that Charlie the guard cat would attack intruders, or meow or purr loudly in warning…
There aren't many signs of theft in town--just lots of signs that indicate people take fish into inappropriate locations
None of that happened though.

While Port Victoria on Mahe used to have a poor reputation, in recent years it's been pretty safe. But at some point late last night someone swam to our boat and boarded using our back steps. Then he came into the cabin (and missed the camera, laptop and tablet) but grabbed my phone, backpack and a couple of Maia’s bags. After taking the bags back into the cockpit and quickly rifling through them (finding Maia’s change purse but luckily missing my wallet—which would have been the jackpot considering I went to the bank yesterday) he took his little bit of loot, and our dinghy, and headed into the anchorage where he hit at least one other boat—grabbing a backpack and stealing a laptop and iphone from an Austrian catamaran.

Cats have a lot of great qualities (the two hulled, not the purring ones) and being easy to board and having wide open cabins are usually counted as bonuses. Except being easy to board and having wide open cabins also makes them attractive to thieves. My own informally gathered statistics seem to indicate that catamarans are hit more often than monohulls—and the fact the three boats that were robbed in this anchorage (including a French boat two weeks ago) are all cats reinforces it.

The second (that we know of) boat to be robbed last night woke up when the intruder left. He blew his airhorn (which we slept through) and then lost sight of the thief and our dinghy. This morning we were woken by a local guy who watches a couple of boats, and who noticed our dinghy wasn’t where it should be, but was instead on an empty catamaran. He and a friend brought the dinghy back to us and at that point we noticed the pile of bags in our cockpit.

A short while later the coastguard came by. It was nice to see how seriously the minor theft was taken and how mortified the locals were. Two locals helped with a search on the island beside us—with the hope the thief had stashed all our stuff for retrieval later. We also tried to call my phone—but just got voicemail. Later in the morning the Seychelles land police also came out to the boats—the locals who brought our dinghy back to us had called them and arranged for the visit. Finger printing is next. Seriously.

When we commented that is seemed like a big reaction to minor theft the police officer let us know any problem we have is a big problem--and in the Seychelles, they don't like theft.
Victoria is a peaceful moderately affluent town
In our case we were lucky. My phone was a cheap one that was due for replacing and the internet data that was on it was easily transferred to a replacement phone. Maia was bummed to lose the change purse that was given to her by dear friends in Brissie (Desire, she’s so sad…) but she was happy it only contained a little bit of money.

For the most part the theft was more of a lesson than a violation. We travel in a very trusting way—and we have no intention of changing the belief that most people we encounter are not out to get anything from us. But our belongings are equally (if not more) valuable to us as they are to potential thieves. And being an easy target is something we can easily change with a bit more diligence—especially with Comoros and Madagascar coming up.

From now on we’ll be pulling our dinghy up at night. The other cat that was boarded and robbed had their main cabin door closed, but the thief went through a window—so we’ll be closing our door and locking our hatches in their ‘ajar’ position (fortunately nights are cool here—the idea of needing bars on hatches is really unappealing). We’ve tried pressure mats before, but the cat tripped them, though we have heard some boats have had good success with motion sensors—so we’ll check out that option. Finally, we have personal alarms in the bedrooms. These are little self-activated alarms I picked up in Brisbane that I thought I could use if I heard someone board us—unfortunately I sleep better than I thought.

For those who have prepped their boats for high theft areas—any tips for us?


Unknown said...

So glad you and your family are OK and that the police and locals have been so helpful.

Unknown said...


We mounted a battery powered (AA batteries), LED motion detector light in the cockpit. We do not believe we were ever boarded at night. The motion sensitive light was nice when we returned to the boat after dark.

s/vMowzer said...

It's freaky to think of someone making it into your berth and rummaging through stuff at night... we've opted for the same precautions you've mentioned (lift and lock the dinghy, close door and hatches) and we've added some lo-tech precautions like locking a chain to the dinghy and around a stainless rail - not for the locked aspect but because it would be noisy as hell to remove. I've also toyed with just putting a line of mono-filament across the top of the steps at night a few inches off the deck. Not easily visible in the dark but would hopefully trip the intruder and therefore make a racket on the deck. Haven't added motion sensors or alarms yet, but if we have problems they may be on the list. Will be interested to read what you end up adding.

Anonymous said...

Usually the best defence is attack, and the most passive form is noise created by you (they don’t want everyone to know they are there), (or them in pain). Tacks or nails at a easy boarding point may help convince them to leave, a trip line (mono filament fishing line) is difficult to spot even in daylight, and can be rigged to activate a horn and lights, notifying the whole area to a problem.
If you really feel motivated, you can convince a swimmer to leave your boat by running a thin bare wire (stainless or copper) where they will conveniently touch it while boarding. Leave your low power inverter powered up (it will consume some standby power) and connected to the wires, one wire in the sea, one on the wire around the boat ready for them to touch. Not likely to do them much harm, guaranteed to wake them up, but will certainly make them reconsider your boat. Unfortunately if they board from a boat it will not be very effective unless you up the voltage, which can be done as well.

Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

Thanks for all the thoughts. There was another more violent boat boarding a few nights after ours. The good news is of the four boats that were robbed the thieves ended up with very little of value--so hopefully the effort isn't worth it. We've been looking for motion sensors but had no luck. I think locking up (thank goodness it's cool here at night) and trying to make it noisy to take stuff is a good idea. I like the chain on the dinghy--we have a quiet cable... I laughed at the idea of electrifying the boat--no doubt we'd end up zapping Charlie the cat...

Anonymous said...

Hi guys
Glad to hear you are all o.k.Here in Mauritius lots of people are paranoid with security and always lift their dinghy at night...we are reluctant/lazy to do so until I suppose something happens...and then it will be too late.
We are looking forward to catching up with you in Madagascar.
Hopefully it wasn't too difficult for you to refill your gas bottles?
Tomorrow we are off to Reunion
Keep safe
Evita crew

Anonymous said...

I might be totally off base here. I know that as a boater you do not want "windchimes", but have you thought of constructing a much more spaced out windchime (with empty cans) across your entry hatch? One that would clatter as someone is coming down the ladder and make enough noise to wake you up? You could make it so that it's placed at night and can be taken down in the morning, and construct it so that gentle wake doesn't affect it. Thieves would still be able to access your boat, but not the cabin.

Unknown said...

خدماتنا متميزة عن غيرنا في مجال التسريبات سربات المياه والعوزال وحل بطرق سليمة دون التدمير فعندنا في شركة ركن البيت افضل يوجد افضل الفنين الممتزين في مجال التسربات والكشف عنها بدون اي مشاكل من خلال الطاقم التي تم تدريبه في شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام فتعاملك معنا ستحصل علي خدمات متميزة

شركة كشف تسربات المياه بجدة
شركة كشف تسربات بجدة
شركة عزل خزانات بالرياض
شركة عزل اسطح بالرياض

شركة كشف تسربات بالدمام
شركة كشف تسربات بالرياض
شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالرياض
كشف تسربات المياه

Anonymous said...

I recon the next Home Alone instalment needs to be based on a boat with all these ideas!!

But crime is a serious issue. Though one needs to weigh up the risk of attack vs impeding yourself if you need to get up in the middle of the night for a dragging anchor etc.

Making yourself unattractive as a target is the best approach. Dinghy and motor raised (i liked the metal chain idea). Also a cockpit light to make a sneak attack more difficult but more functional as stopping drunken cruisers returning to their boat bumping into yours (no coloured lights or strobes please).

Calm seas