Christian Garreau expected to spend the day exploring the Alaska wilderness with a friend who was visiting from France. The friend wanted to see some bears, and Garreau decided Nikolai Creek near Tustumena Lake was the perfect spot.
They traversed the lake in Garreau’s 15-foot Zodiac boat. When the men reached their destination, they greeted another boatman on shore — who, with a friend, were the only people at the other side of Tustumena Lake — and continued toward the creek. Upon returning from an hour of fishing, Garreau discovered his boat’s motor and a portable gas tank had been stolen.
They were stranded.
Theft of boat motors is a fairly common occurrence during the summer, according to a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge officer. Leaving passers-by stranded on a dangerous lake is another matter, however. The theft of Garreau’s motor is still under investigation, and it’s unknown if the theft is connected to a rash of missing boat motors in the Anchorage area.
It was Sunday about three weeks ago. Garreau said it wasn’t a typical Alaska day, as the sun shined and winds were nonexistent. The men set out with little else but the necessities: two fishing poles and a firearm for wildlife protection.
Garreau said he had visited Nikolai Creek many times. He likes the area because of its beauty, its peaceful calm. He prefers the area during the late silver run, too.
The trip began as planned, and the two friends reached Tustumena’s southwestern bank. Garreau spotted two men who had their boat anchored on the bank; one man sat in front of a campfire. Garreau exchanged pleasantries with the man who slurred his words and was probably intoxicated, Garreau said.
He remembers feeling uneasy about the men but pushed the negative thoughts aside. Garreau, of Kasilof, doesn’t think about theft a lot. He expects civility among the residents of Kenai Peninsula, for the most part, he said.
That ideal of good will toward others shattered when the boat motor was stolen. The motor, a more than decade-old Mercury 25-horsepower short shaft, was in mint condition, despite its age. The motor doesn’t concern Garreau. Abandoning two men, both in their 60s, does concern him, he said.
“This isn’t something people do, leave somebody stranded in the middle of nowhere,” Garreau said. “I’m 68, and my friend is 62, and God forbid if we would’ve had a problem out there, whatever, we could’ve easily been in trouble. It’s criminal.”
The two men spotted a single boat across the lake. They began paddling, a dangerous venture on the choppy body of water, said Joe Williams, refuge wildlife officer.
“It’s downright mean. How’d they expect them to get back?” Williams said. “People die on that lake. So, that’s the reality of it. They had to paddle back, and that’s pretty difficult from where they were.”
About a mile from their starting point, Garreau and his friend yelled, waved their arms, even fired Garreau’s weapon to attract the attention of some fishermen, who eventually spotted the distressed men and tugged their boat to the lake’s boat launch. Garreau asked around, but no one seemed to remember two men and the boat he described, he said.
As soon as Garreau had a cell phone connection, he called the authorities.
Williams said he has received reports of items stolen out of boats — gas, fishing poles, tackle — from people who visited secluded areas. A stolen engine is unusual, however.
Engines are stolen from boat launches, storage yards and people’s driveways, he said.
“We do have thefts every summer, but, again, out on the lake … the mere principle is wrong,” Williams said.
Williams contacted the Anchorage Police Department, which is investigating the theft and resale of more than 25 outboard engines that occurred between May and August of 2012 at Anchorage and Eagle River. Evidence points to a small group who may be operating a theft ring and selling the stolen motors on Craigslist or other websites, according to a Police Department press release.
The motors are mainly smaller outboards known as “kickers” or auxiliary engines. Often, they’re sold with cut wiring, cut fuel lines or other indicators of theft like scratched-out serial numbers. A male answers the ad inquiries but when the meeting takes place, usually a woman shows the outboard, claiming her boyfriend couldn’t make it, the press release says.
“I don’t know if it will tie into that, but I have been in contact with APD,” Williams said.
The refuge officer advises boaters to secure their motors. A standard bar lock may stop would-be thieves from stealing, he said.
“If people want to get stuff they’re going to, but if they have to work at it they may be deterred,” he said.
Garreau said he fears for the safety of others.
“My way of thinking is that if they did it to us, they’ll do it to somebody else.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.