Hard-knock situations suffered by others are instructive to outdoor fanatics.
We pore over avalanche incident reports, climbing journals and paddler chat rooms to help set our next course based on where others went wrong – or right.
Hence, this tale of a well-prepared Spokane Valley whitewater boater, even though it doesn’t take place on the water.
“I’d lived in the (Pasadena Park) neighborhood since 1991 and always had boats around the yard,” said Paul Delaney, a senior member and buoyant force in the Northwest Whitewater Association.
“Boats seem to follow me like stray animals,” he said. “There’s always one around.”
But alarmingly almost exactly two years ago, one was not around.
“I’d had my raft down at the Spokane Convention and Visitor Bureau for a show-and-tell, so it was all spiffed up,” he said. “I brought it home on the trailer and parked it in the driveway.
“Boaters are always doing that. We come home dead tired after a trip and leave the boat out to deal with it the next day. Besides, our street was all torn up for sewer construction. You couldn’t even drive through. The average punk out doing damage on a Friday night wasn’t going to mess around in there.”
However, the next morning, he thought his buddies were playing a joke. The raft was missing.
“But when I checked the trailer and saw that the straps had been cut, I knew it had been stolen.”
He looked up and down the Spokane River and alerted his rafting buddies. He filed a police report and sent out a poster and description of the raft to all the river boating groups he could contact.
“I knew I had a chance of getting this boat back because it was unusual,” he said.
The 15-foot SOTAR raft, worth nearly $5,000 new, was built around 1993 for an Eco-Challenge race.
“It was one of only about 50 that had been made in a tan color,” he said, noting that the typical consumer boats come in more pleasing colors such as blue, red or yellow.
Delaney learned this because, like many boaters, he wanted to know all he could about his new child.
He corresponded with the manufacturer and collected the details.
He also learned the raft’s white floor indicated it had been replaced by the manufacturer before he bought it from another local boater.
Furthermore, it had one unusual quarter-size patch at one end.
“I was sick about losing the boat,” he said.
Not that he was boatless. Like all fanatics, Delaney has more than one boat, including the sporty cataraft model he wields through the frothing whitewater of the Lochsa, Middle Fork Salmon, Tieton and other rapid transit destinations.
The SOTAR had been his cushy limo. A special occasion boat.
“I’d taken Mayor Diana Wilhite and some of her officials down the upper Spokane River in that boat to help her understand boater concerns over the Barker Bridge project,” he said.
Losing a boat is a little like losing a faithful dog. Delaney got over it, but the loss was still gnawing at him last week when one of his whitewater pals, Larry Johnson, said he thought he’d spotted the stolen boat for sale on Craigslist – the Internet site that’s become a clearing house for criminal activity.
Some of the information in the ad didn’t make sense. “The guy didn’t know what he had,” Delaney said.
Nor did he appear to be clearing the bar of whitewater rafting’s intellectual standards.
“The ad said, ‘I’m suffering a financial Holocaust. Must cell’ – duh.”
But it was the word “tan” in the description that caught Delaney’s eye.
“Actually, it was Larry who really got after it,” he said. “He went and took a look and was sure it was my boat.”
By the time Delaney drove up and pretended to be interested in buying the raft, the seller came over and said it had been sold.
“Turns out Larry had told the guy he wanted the boat and was going to the bank to get $2,000 cash,” Delaney recalled.
Cash talks, especially to crooks.
That bought Delaney time to contact the Spokane Police, who were able to respond quickly.
Here’s the lesson.
The police would not have been able to do anything at that point to recover the boat if Delaney had simply given them the story about the theft, the unusual color and floor, the patch – and even the serial number.
The clincher was that Delaney had kept all the paperwork.
He had the serial number, photos, correspondence with the manufacturer commenting on the uniqueness of the boat. And he was able to get the original bill of sale and a copy of the canceled check he’d written to the local boater who’d sold it to him.
“Within 10 minutes of giving the police all of that, the boat was on my trailer and I was heading home,” he said.
The tan SOTAR will be launched on its homecoming voyage Friday, around 5:30 p.m., just downstream from the Meenach Bridge during the NWWA’s weekly TGIF float through the Bowl and Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail.
“It will be a sweet run,” Delaney said.