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Four arrests, one 65-foot cat

Two are charged with theft, two with trespassing, and authorities don’t know who owns the yacht

Two are charged with theft, two with trespassing, and authorities don’t know who owns the yacht

Where is Winston Churchill when you need him? What we apparently have going on in a ritzy haven on the west coast of Florida is a riddle inside an enigma that is surrounded by prevarication and seemingly impenetrable smoke screens of mystery.

What is known is this: Four men have been arrested by Sarasota, Fla., police. Two men who hail from the east Tampa suburb of Brandon were charged with stealing an unused 65-foot catamaran motoryacht from behind a house reportedly in foreclosure on the exclusive, gated island community of Bird Key, across the Intracoastal Waterway from downtown Sarasota. Despite the protestations of this nautical duo, police arrested the two and charged them with grand theft, yacht.

According to Jay Frank, of the Sarasota Police Department (SPD), the two Brandon men — Brandon is 57 miles from Bird Key — managed to get the yacht started on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. The activity did not go unnoticed by nearby Bird Key residents, who called police.

By the time SPD Capt. Eddie Howell arrived, the yacht was aground near Otter Key, 100 yards from where it had been docked.

“We pulled up and found the two men on board,” Frank said. “They couldn’t give us a good enough story as to why they were on the boat, so we arrested them.” The two got a free boat ride and were booked into the Sarasota jail. One of them, in a jailhouse interview with local media, maintained he had no idea of how the boat got on a sandbar. He had been fishing, he said, saw the boat stuck on a sandbar and went aboard to make certain the owner of the boat was not in any danger.

The other told police that he went out to the boat after being hired by the other to make repairs to it. The police didn’t buy either story.

SPD called Sea Tow to get the yacht off the bottom. Sea Tow tried but was unable to dislodge it Saturday. The tow company decided to wait for more fortuitous conditions and a higher tide.

When Sea Tow personnel returned to the grounded yacht the next day, Sunday, they found two new players aboard. They had apparently climbed aboard the vessel, which they said was “abandoned,” and claimed rights of ownership under what they said was “maritime law.”

Sea Tow called the Sarasota cops. The police, who by this time must have thought they were central characters in a “Candid Camera” hoax, arrived and asked the men to leave. According to Frank, the men were hostile and refused to leave the yacht. So Capt. Howell called for backup. Marine officer Doug Peters responded and SPD arrested these two “salvors” for trespass.

Sea Tow eventually refloated the yacht and towed it to a marina in Bradenton, where it now resides with a towing lien against it. No one knows who owns the yacht — estimated to be worth $750,000 — because it has no name, is not registered and apparently has not been registered for years.