By Paul Austin - Dallas, Texas - USA

Stealing a Herreshoff

Now this isn’t your usual ‘heft the theft’ type of thing. I mean, no one ever knew. Certainly not my wife. If something wasn’t in her kitchen, she didn’t know it existed—that’s how she is. And the cops never knew. Their biggest case was when the doughnut shop burned down. This was my secret, my criminal past which has never come to light. I live in a quiet neighborhood, with kids and fences and bad lawns and Saturday morning talk at the hardware store. No one here ever knew I’d stolen a Herreshoff.

I saw it every day as I went to work. You see, I work at a factory on the waterfront where I run a fruit cocktail assembly line. I drive by the boat every morning, I see it in the twilight every evening. It was just there for the taking. Another man might not have seen it that way, but this kind of enlightenment doesn’t come to just anyone.

So I saw the boat, over and over. I saw every line of its flare, every shining brass turnbuckle, every white halyard, the mahogany rudder and all. It was like a longhaired girl in the 70s, just waiting to be held. And it was mine. Maybe not in this life, but was mine. I knew it, I felt it, I understood it. So the only thing left to do was to take it.

And then the day came in which, from above, the plan—the vision—the big picture descended upon me how I would have it. It was all so simple, yet profound.

At first, I posed as a secret agent for the Herreshoff Association of Foundations on his Rozinante. Standing in his cabin I said, ‘You’ll have to relinquish this ship.’

‘Why?’ he said, obviously outraged. He was a fat little shrimp with a black moustache and too much belly. Looking like that, he had no right to own a Herreshoff.

I was dressed in a black suit. ‘You must relinquish this ship because you have not kept it up to the Herreshoff standard.’ I said this looking over his head, with an air of superiority.

‘What are you jawing about? What standard? Who are you, anyway? That’s the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen. Where’d you get it, at a bowling alley bankruptcy sale? It’s got a hole in the middle of it.’

I disregarded this. ‘Your lanyards are slack. And that paper mache anchor simply will not do. Painting a smily face on the stern is the fatal flaw which cannot be tolerated in decent society. And then that pinup of Marilyn Monroe on the sail, well these things simply are not done to a Herreshoff.

‘His what? What does that mean?’

‘In case of your death.’

‘What? I didn’t know I was sick? How did you know?’

‘Sir, I am a Herreshoff agent. I know all. Now since your days are numbered, as they say, here sign this ship over to the HEIST.’

‘What’s that, some charitable organization? My wife does all the giving money away. She shops.’

‘Sir, do not be so obtuse. It refers to the Herreshoff Emergency International Ship Transaction. A highly distinguished organization for the rescue of Herreshoff yachts from falling into the hands of foreign agents and bad boat owners.’

‘Wow, foreign agents!’

‘So you understand the gravity of the situation.’

‘Absolutely. If I see any foreign agents, I’ll call you immediately.’

‘All right then. In order to keep this hush-hush, you sign the boat over to me for free so spies can’t find out. Sign this.’

‘Wait a minute. I’m no bad boat owner.’

‘Yes you are. Just look at you.’

‘Wait a minute. You’re a foreign agent, yourself.. that moustache you’re wearing is fake. I wore it last night to the Bristol Policeman’s Ball. I’m the chief of police for this fair city. You’re under arrest.’

That’s when I decided to clean out my garage. He chased me around the dropleaf table, I ran up the ladder, jumped ship and swam to the dock. He couldn’t swim, he was so chubby all he could do is bob up and down like a cork. Somewhere in the water that moustache floated. It’s probably being worn by a crab or a dock waitress.

So that didn’t work.

I had to think of something else. I racked my brain, which didn’t take long. I was in my garage when the brilliant idea hit me like a 2x4. This is what happened. I sent him a letter saying as chief of police, the Carb Harbor Café is giving him a free dinner tonight, in his honor. He need not bring any money, it’s on the house. Well, Chief of Police Ned Whittledumb swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. He went to the Café all dressed up in his police uniform, smiling proud that the community had recognized his service to the community. And he ate. And he ate, and he ate till they had to get a wheelbarrel to get him to the cashier at the front door.

Naturally he had no money.

I was standing on the dock, in a sight line between the cashier inside the café and his Herreshoff yacht out there at the end of the dock. I saw the café owner, old Lou, and Chief Ned argue pretty hard. Lou leaned over at him, Ned leaned over at Lou. They threatened, they barked, they insulted. All was going well when it happened. It was like a blessing from God. Finally Whittledumb agreed to wash dishes to work off his bill. Not the kind of thing you want going around the police station on a Monday morning, but this was Sunday night.

So while Lou rolled the wheelbarrel to the kitchen, Ned belched when the wheelbarrel hit a post. Back in the kitchen the waitresses giggling, just the time to get myself out to the dock to take command of the Herreshoff. I had a plan.

The night was dark with a fog rolling in from the state capital. The kind of fog that tells you the politicians are there working.

This was my plan. I had a duffel bag of Al Yankovic cds and a year’s supply of fruit cocktail. I was going to sail to South America, change my name and start a new life. No wife, no mortgage debts—a new name and a new me. I’d be free, with a Herreshoff under my feet in a new country. Yes! Life would be good and no one would ever know.

I ran out to take command. The fog came in more and more. Good, that would just hide the sails while I steered this beauty away. Rio here I come!

There it was, just for the taking. He named it FYXDIT, what the hell does that mean? Well, that name’s got to go. So I cast off the lines, raised the main and got off the dock. Now this fog was thicker than duck soup. In fact it made me hungry. But I had to get to South America first. So I sailed south.. South America has to be south of America, right?

Well, I was sailing right along when I just got more and more hungry. So I swerved into the shore to look for a diner. I saw the lights of this place. It looked familiar, but I guessed I had to be miles south of anywhere, so it must be some new place on the shore. I noticed a sense of being pulled toward this place, like an invisible force was pulling me to an unknown dimension. Probably some alien savage blondes in the place. A space gate to some alternative hippie universe, or something. I was drawn more and more to it.

So I lowered sail, came to this dock. It looked familiar, but that’s the way it is with these time travel portals. You think you’ve been somewhere before until you see everyone eating upside down cake through their navel. That’s when you know.

I knew I was on some really out there planet. Then I saw this weird alien running at me like I was the shish-kebob and he had the skewer. He looked strangely just like the chief of police.. wait a minute—he was the chief of police! Where am I, right back at the Carb Harbor Café? Have I just gone in a circle in the fog?

So I skedaddled it out of there like a leftist at a right handed musician’s convention.

After all, my mother didn’t raise a dummy.

Being the perceptive fellow I am, I realized that plan hadn’t worked.

But what would work?

A couple of weeks later I walked by a model ship store. I stopped to stare at the model of that famous Herreshoff Barnacle Bay 15. In a flash of insight, the key to any crime came to me. You have to get away with it. Anyone can steal the Eiffel Tower, but making the French do without looking up at it every hour they’re staring out their office window, now that’s the trick. So how do I get that nerdy owner to do without his precious Herreshoff?

The essence of the devious is to make him think his boat’s still out there when it isn’t. That way I can get away with the real enchilada while he’s at home munching on old pizza.

So I took this picture of his Herreshoff, had it blown up life size and glued to plywood, propped up at the edge of the dock. That way, when he looked out to his boat, he’d see this picture and not the real thing. Clever, ain’t it! Now I threw myself into the Greatest Theft of All Time.

Late one Friday night, after everyone was tired from playing Fid Sticks At 50 Paces and went to bed, I drove down to the dock with my 8 foot by 4 foot plywood picture of his boat. I nailed it to the dock—bronze screws of course—and waited for daylight.

I knew from my research he liked to eat at the Carb Harbor Café, breakfast every Saturday morning at 8, the same meal, Coracle Delight. This was a cheese ball with a toothpick holding up a triangular slice of Swiss cheese. Off the wind, of course.

So, hiding underneath a dory, I waited like I was Eliot Ness expecting Bonny and Clyde. Time passed slowly. Then the sun came up. The café owner’s teenaged son crowed like a rooster, since he hadn’t gone to sleep all night. He didn’t wanna see any sun, but I did. So I threw him a year’s supply of pepperoni, and he shut up pronto.

Then that fat little Whittledump came in the café, and sat by the window. Good, everything was going according to my intricate yet ingenious plan. He looked out at the plywood picture of his beloved Herreshoff, smiling at the sight. Good. I wouldn’t want him to strain any of his four or five brain cells.

So then, when he had his head down, concentrating on that cheese ball, I made my dash down the dock. Then I realized my only mistake. The dock was but 4 feet wide, so the plywood blocked the whole dock. If I jumped in the water and back up a ladder to get around, that little shrimp might hear something. I stood with ecstasy on one side of the plywood, agony behind me in the café. What to do? I thought quickly, and as usual I thought ingeniously. I ran to my car, got a drill, and got back to the plywood to drill a hole for me to slip through the plywood picture. Only one thing, one hole wasn’t enough.. I wasn’t the tadpole I used to be. I was more like a pumpkin with my navel sticking out. Nothing to do but panic.
Anyway, I drilled a hole. Then another one, and another one. He was so engrossed in that gross cheese ball, he didn’t hear anything. After a reveling night of grog and Fid Sticks At 50 Paces, these boat owners don’t hear anything Saturday morning.

So now I had several holes, pretty close together to squeeze through. I punched the holes so they opened up together. And then the unthinkable happened—some kid came by. He thought it was an arcade where you get a prize for throwing money through the hole. But he didn’t just throw a penny through, it was a ten dollar bill.

‘Now you’re talking, kid,’ I said, kinda excited. I saw that $10 through the hole laying there on the dock, waiting for me to grab it. But I couldn’t quite get my arm through enough to get it.

‘Wha’d I get for my money, mister?’ he asked looking at me like I was going to dispose of his parents for him.


‘Speak up, mister, or I’m going to the police about you.. and this contraption thing you got here. What is this.. picture with holes in it?” He said this with the most ungrateful tone you ever heard from a kid. You’d think I just served his sister to cannibals or something.

‘Well..well..I..I..’ That was me again. So, thinking swiftly as all successful thieves do, I said, ‘I tell you what. If you can squirm through there and get me that ten dollar bill, I’ll take you on a ride on my Herreshoff right there at the end of the pier.’

‘But it’s my ten dollar bill in the first place,’ this little monster said, refusing to forget the obvious.

‘It’s my Herreshoff,’ I countered like a pro.

‘No it’s not. It belongs to my Dad, there in the café. Who are you?’

Hastily I said, ‘..He’s loaned it to me for the weekend.’

‘No he didn’t. We’re going to sail down the coast this morning.’

I knew I had to act fast. ‘Tell you what, young man. I’ll give you a ten dollar bill if
you’ll fetch that ten dollar bill. Wha’d ya say?’

‘Wow! Twenty dollars, I could buy a police car for twenty dollars,’ he exclaimed.

‘Sure could. And a Rolls-Royce, at that,’ I agreed heartily.

This kid liked that. He’ll probably grow up to be mayor. So he climbed as far through the hole as far as he could get, strained but got the $10, and got back out of the hole to give it to me. He stood up straight proudly. So with a little sleight of hand I gave him the same ten he gave me. How about that?

‘But where’s my other ten,’ the little monster said, like he’d done this before.

‘You’ve got it,’ I said.

‘No, the ten you promised me.’

Well, I’d had enough of this kid. I said, ‘Tell you what. I need a favor from you and I’ll pay you for it.’

He looked at me sideways. What does a kid know, anyway? ‘What?’

I pointed through the hole in the plywood. ‘See that rope there on the dock? You get through the hole and throw the rope over the top. I’ll pay you for it.’ Well, this kid was no slacker when it came to easy money. He shot through the hole, grabbed the rope and threw it over the plywood top. From that side he said with his face at the plywood, ‘Now what?’ He reached his hand through the hole for money. This kid was no fool. But he was no genius, either.

‘Tie it to your waist and I’ll pull you over the plywood.’ He fell for it hook, line, and stinker. I took hold of the rope, tied it to my waist, and pulled the kid through the hole to my side of the plywood. That slung me over the plywood like a catapult.

Ha! Now he was stuck in the plwood hole and I had the Herreshoff to myself.

‘Hey!’ he yelled, ‘what’d you do that for? Ain’t I got your rope for you? Where’s my pay? Mommy!’ When you’re yelling through a hole in plywood, it doesn’t sound all that threatening.

I snickered. ‘Yeah, you call for your Momma. Do you a lot of good. I’m taking that Herreshoff no matter what. No sailor in the world would blame me for wanting a Herreshoff of my own. Not even your old man stuffing his face in the café. So get outta here, kid.’

‘I can’t. You got me here so get this rope offa me.’

I laughed. ‘Not on your life. You’d do something responsible. I can’t have that.’

‘So what are you going to do?’ this kid asked me. Imagine the nerve.

‘I’m stealing that Herreshoff of yours, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ So I sauntered down to the boat, cast the bowline off and raised the mainsail. That kid squirmed there, stuck in the plywood, chirping away while I planned my escape. I knew I’d head off south. I raised the jib and mizzen without a care in the world.

Now everything was going well. Except one thing. That rope. It was still around my waist and that kid’s waist. He was yelling at the café. His dad came running out, with a few other saps, syrup dripping from their mouths. It’s hard to rescue a kid when you’ve got pancakes in your mouth, always remember that.

But I didn’t notice the rope or the kid or the old guys from the café. All I knew was I had a Herreshoff, finally. After all these years, I was going to sail this beauty like there was no tomorrow. It would be heaven.

Well, not just yet. I got the Herreshoff moving, just an ease of wind will do that. Then the rope around my waist straightened taut. The rope through the hole grabbed the kid like he was a belaying pin, skimming the plywood off the dock right into the water with the kid stuck in it. He was skiing on that plywood.

They thought this was some cool game for kids. Everybody was laughing and smiling.

I thought, this might work. I might get away with this if they think it’s a fun

I heard the boy say, ‘Hi Daddy! Wheee, this is fun! Can I do it some more, please?’ His Dad and the men got in motorboats to come out to see this.

His Dad seemed to like it, too. Meanwhile, this rope was cutting into my stomach like a knife. Only one chance to get away. I’ll have to wrap the rope around one of the motorboats, pull the rope through the propellers that will cut the rope in half. It’s my only chance. It takes daring, courage, precision, and a certain amount of fun stupidity. But it might work.

Only, how? I would have to circle around while they thought this was part of the game. So I kept dragging the kid and his plywood. He was laughing his head silly. I saw the motorboats come up on us. The kid waved at them. I waved at them. Then it hit me. I turned the wheel hard to starboard. I saw the boy’s dad in one of the boats, so I headed for it. The line came as I turned, the motorboat splashed right over the rope. But it didn’t cut it in half. Instead, the rope wrapped itself around the propeller shaft like I was spinning a yo-yo. The motorboat got slung after the Herreshoff—it was coming at me too fast, too hard, too much.

Suddenly it happened—what no one could have thought. The rope yanked me out of the Herreshoff, pulling me right through the plywood with the kid and his plywood like two skiers at some trick show exhibit. Wow, this is kinda fun. I was in the hole with the kid! We were bouncing right along on top of the waves, everyone cheering, dragged along by the motorboat when it happened...

...I hit some rock in the bay, I passed out. The next thing I remember is being in the kitchen of the café, laying down on the bread table, coming to with the aid of garlic and vinegar shoved up my nose.

Where was I? Was this Hell, or what?

‘Hey mister,’ the kid said standing right there. ‘That was fun, can we do it again
next Saturday?’

I was still groggy. ‘..Do..what..?’

‘You know that skiing around on plywood skiis. It was so cool,’ he said.

‘Now, now,’ someone said who looked mean enough to be his mother, ‘we mustn’t bother the man just yet. He’s never skiid before, I’m sure.’

‘Right, never before or again,’ I said weakly. I looked around the Café for the men who’d chased me.

I tried to get myself up, but they wouldn’t let me. ‘So what happened?’ I asked.

They looked at me like I’d come back from the dead.

The kid’s mother said, ‘They’ve all gone out to try that skiing behind a Herreshoff thing you invented. You’re a hero. They’re going to take you to the Herreshoff museum so you can talk about how you invented it.’

‘They are?’ I said like I was dreaming. ‘The Herreshoff museum?’

‘Oh yes, you’re a hero. Now everyone wants to ski behind my husband’s boat and he’s charging them so much to do it, we’re going to sell our house and retire in California.’

‘But Mom, you always said, California’s not a real place,’ the kid said.

‘Well, that was when we had no money. Now that we’re rich, we’re going.’

‘Hooray,’ the kid said. ‘Can he go with us?’ meaning me.

I got up immediately and ran out of there, jumped in my car and drove off before that kid came up with any more schemes. I’ve had enough of the life of criminal derring do.

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