'Bad sailor' not guilty of boat theft

$10,000 sailboat damaged, $6,500 salvage fee claimed

Defense attorney Michael Snape successfully argued on Tuesday that there was no case to answer for Robert Paul Yann Savoie, who had been charged with theft of the 25-foot sailboat Sea Fever on Nov. 9, 2014. The boat was valued at less than $10,000. 

Mr. Snape submitted that the Crown had to show that Savoie, 43, was acting dishonestly and his intention was to permanently deprive the owner of the boat. He said the Crown had not established these ingredients of theft, so the case should stop. 

Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson conceded, and Magistrate Adam Roberts dismissed the charge, saying, “The court cannot speculate what would have happened if Mr. Savoie had not been such a bad sailor.” 

Savoie, a Canadian citizen, previously told another court that he had permission to take the boat on a trial sail because he was interested in buying it. He said he got caught in a storm and drifted for three days, that he sent a signal, and the U.S. Coast Guard rescued him. 

After the Crown opened its case on Tuesday, the boat owner, Leonard Vega, said in his evidence via video link that he had seen the damage to the boat. It was in the possession of a fishing boat owner who towed it back to Cayman and was requesting a $6,500 salvage fee. 

In his no-case submission, Mr. Snape pointed to evidence from Crown witnesses. A friend of the boat’s owner had gone with Savoie for a sail in the North Sound and did not consider him to be very proficient. There were suspicions that Savoie was headed to Panama to join his wife, but Mr. Snape questioned whether it was realistic that a man who was not a proficient sailor would try to go 750 miles on his own in the open seas; plus, he didn’t have a passport. 

Emails between Savoie and the boat owner show the owner saying on Oct. 16, “You can take it out for a test sail at your leisure.” An email on Oct. 19 says, “I can have someone go with you or you can take it out yourself.” The problem for the Crown was that Savoie had been granted such wide permission – to take the boat out at his leisure and by himself, Mr. Snape said. 

The magistrate asked about an email in which Mr. Vega says, “Just let me know when you want to take it out.”  

Mr. Snape replied that Savoie did send notice on the morning of Nov. 9 before he left, although Mr. Vega indicated he did not see such an email until days later. 

Savoie told police he intended to have a “real trial” of the boat by taking a three-day trip to the Brac. That was not possible because of the direction of the wind, so he decided to go out about 60 miles and then turn around. He agreed he was going in the direction of Panama, “but I was not going to Panama.” 

Mr. Ferguson said one of the Crown’s problems was that, “We do not know exactly where he was when he was rescued.” A suspicious circumstance was Savoie’s removal of the boat from its mooring in Savannah/Newlands before his trip. He said he did so “to not disturb others around” as he prepared for his trip. 

On Nov. 15, after he had been returned to Cayman and had a discussion with Mr. Vega, the boat owner sent him an email: “Paul, I want to be clear. The boat is in your possession and you are responsible … The boat will be returned Nov. 18 in the same condition.” Savoie replied, “I agree to those terms.” 

Police asked why Savoie did not tell Mr. Vega what had happened to the boat. He replied, “I didn’t know what to say … I didn’t know what to tell him.” 

Mr. Snape pointed out that Savoie was not charged with being dishonest on Nov. 15; he was charged with being dishonest on Nov. 9. 

After the theft charge was dismissed, Mr. Ferguson withdrew a charge of failing to surrender to custody. 

Savoie had been bailed by police after he was transported back to Cayman. Because he was found not to be residing at the address he gave police, and did not report to the police station as required, he had been remanded in custody since December. 

There was also some question of Savoie’s legal status on the island, since his visitor’s visa had expired on Dec. 14. 

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