Two French sailors disappear…along with a brand new boat worth a quarter million dollars.
It seemed like a routine incident at the time. A car heading towa. There were two men in the front seat and two in the back. Corporal Al Belanger, a security officer at a nearby naval base, made the stop:
And again, there was no reply. Balanger recalls that one of the men in the back seat suddenly spoke a few words in a foreign language. Only then did the driver produce a passport. After checking the ID, Balanger decided not to give the driver a ticket for speeding:
While reading his newspaper the next morning, Officer Belanger was startled to find photos of the two men he had seen in the front seat of the car. According to the paper, they were French sailors who were supposedly missing at sea. They had recently been the focus of an intense search by the United States Coast Guard.
The article identified the men as 37-year old Yves Emmanuel Pain and 24-year old Laurent Hernas. They had been hired to deliver a new sailboat to its new owners.
The vessel was a state of the art Antigua catamaran worth nearly a quarter-million dollars. It was outfitted with high-tech radar, a satellite tracking unit, and electronic navigation equipment…the most sophisticated craft of its kind. The Antigua’s unique construction made it “unsinkable” and virtually undetectable to radar. It was a perfect vessel for transporting weapons or drugs.
The two sailors had embarked on a 2,500-mile voyage from Annapolis, Maryland, to the island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies. They planned to sail down the Chesapeake Bay, around Cape Hatteras, then parallel the East Coast before heading to Guadeloupe.
But the Antiqua failed to arrive on schedule and the Coast Guard was notified. Lt. Commander Jim Howe directed the search team:
The Coast Guard discovered that the Antigua had been sighted a number of times, but not on the open sea. The boat was spotted several miles off course in what is known as the Intracoastal Waterway. The Waterway is a protected inland passage that stretches thousands of miles, from New England through Florida. Nobody can explain what the boat was doing there.
Two of Yves Emmanuel’s friends flew from France to South Carolina to launch their own investigation. They began by retracing the catamaran’s route. Their first stop was a bridge, 90 miles north of Charleston. There, they talked to a bridge tender, who remembered seeing the two sailors on the Antigua catamaran. But the tender had seen something else…there had been a third man on the boat.
The mysterious “third passenger” was sighted by at least five different witnesses along the Waterway. Each reported that the man did not seem threatening — leading to rumors that perhaps one, or both, of the Frenchmen had been involved in stealing the boat. But, their families and friends don’t accept that theory. They argued that the third man might have commandeered the boat and forced the two Frenchmen to sail it.
Were the French sailors held against their will? Were they with their captors when officer Balanger stopped the speeding car near the marina? Or did the two crewmen fool everyone…and make off with prize worth nearly a quarter-million dollars?