The case of the stolen red canoe


It was our last full day of a family vacation on Pilgrim Lake, a small glacial kettle pond, in Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  We got up early since we had scheduled a nature explore on a pontoon boat with the MA Audubon Society.  The kids, Eli and Viv, were excited —  a boat ride and discovering shore life.  We left the house at 9:30.  The 2 hour ride was delightful; we saw some shore birds — terns, egrets, laughing and black-backed gulls, cormorants — we pulled up traps, no lobsters but crabs and a baby flounder.  Captain David, a classic Orleans salt, dropped us off on a tidal flat for an ocean explore — horseshoe crabs (a species that lived with the dinosaurs), green crabs, various clams, moon snails.  The kids gathered around our young guide to see, touch and learn about the creatures.

About 12:30 we got back to the house.  I went out on the back deck and gazed at the pond.  I blinked, our rental canoe which had been tied up to the dock, resting in the grasses,  was gone.  I ran down to the dock and, yes, no canoe.  The rope that had been tied to the bow of the boat was crudely coiled on the dock.  I scanned the lake, no sign of the canoe.  I had used the canoe the previous night.  At 5 o’clock, the wind was strong and I felt lucky getting back to the house.  But about 7 o’ clock, the lake was a a smooth sheet of glass.  A beautiful time to canoe.  A few teenage kids in the house next door were out on paddle boards.  A bit rowdy, but a  parent sat on the shore attempting to limit their antics. I canoed around the entire lake.

I know that I tied the boat to the dock when I returned.  In fact it lay behind the dock in just several inches of   water.  Even if  wasn’t tied, I doubt that it could drift away.  But it was gone.  And strangely whoever took it, left behind my rope — about six feet of 1/2 inch nylon rope.   How strange?  Was it a slap in the face, here’s your rope?

We considered several possibilities.  Someone in a boat — possible kids — took the canoe.  Was it a joy ride?  Was our canoe abandoned somewhere on the lake?  Unfortunately we had no way to fully check that hypothesis.  Did they have a car parked at the small beach across the lake from us — loading the canoe on their car?  Or maybe they were regular canoe thieves who drove up to the house, seeing no one home, loaded the canoe, life preservers and paddles on their car and then gone?  These were all possibilities.  But why had they left my rope coiled on the dock?

I called the local constabulary and outlined the situation.  My daughter, Jenny, drove to the sandy beach across the lake to see if there were any witnesses.  Officer Higgins arrived at the house on a motorcycle in about 20 minutes.  He pulled out a notepad, wrote down name, address, telephone, hours we were gone, details about the size and color of the canoe (12 feet, red).  We never noticed the brand; nor did we see the name of our rental provider, Goose Hummock, on the canoe.  I assured Higgins that the  canoe had been tied up and that it was there at 9:30 when we left for our boat trip.  I explained that the thief had left our rope coiled on the dock.  He didn’t even walk to the dock.  “Usually turn up in Town Cove,” he said.  I asked about a police report and he informed me it would be ready in several days.  Before Higgins left, Jenny returned.  No one on the beach had seen anyone load a canoe on a car or noticed any unusual activity at our dock.  Some people had been at the beach since 9 a.m.

I had read in the local paper that the English detective, Sherlock Holmes, was visiting Orleans.  He was staying at the Nauset Beach Lodge outside of town.  Could I call Holmes?  Well, it was worth a try.  For many years, I have been a Sherlock Holmes follower.  Maybe this was my chance to meet the great detective and even witness him solve the mystery of our stolen red canoe.  I looked up the number of the Nauset Beach Lodge on the Internet and dialed.  The voice at the other end of the line initially claimed that Mr.  Sherlock Holmes could not be disturbed.  I lied and said that I was Doctor Watson, a close friend and chronicler of Holmes’s many criminal investigation.  If he did not transfer me to Holmes; he would pay the piper.  I never quite understood what that meant but it worked.

Holmes said that he was resting in Cape Cod after a severe bout of depression and addiction to a 7 % solution. But he said a good mystery always helped him engage his mind and overcome these  dreadful conditions. He would visit us at Pilgrim Lake.  Holmes arrived in a 1950s dark gray studerbaker.  His dress didn’t conform to the usual Cape Cod attire — stripped woolen pants, a checkered cape and deerstalker hat.  We retired to the back deck overlooking the lake.  “Now tell me what happened,” Holmes began.  He drew from the cape a pipe and pouch of tobacco.  As I began the narrative which is recorded above, Holmes packed and lit his meerschaum pipe.  I told my story.

Holmes questioned, “Now let me be clear.  You rented the canoe from Goose Hummock on Sunday, for a week.  The following Saturday, you called Goose Hummock and asked to extend the rental.”  I responded that this was correct.  We had planned to return the canoe later today (Friday) or early tomorrow morning before the two week due date this Sunday.  “And,” said Holmes, “Let me be clear, you used the canoe last night, about 5 o’clock in strong wind and later when the lake was like a sheet of glass.”  “Yes,” I said, “It was  a beautiful evening on the water.”  Holmes continued, “You tied up the canoe, saw it this morning before you left the house.”  I assured Holmes that he had all the facts.  “And most important,” said Holmes, whoever took your canoe left your rope coiled on the dock.”  “Yes, yes,” I said.

Holmes drew on his pipe. “I think I can explain what happened?”  He asked for a pen and paper and my I-Pad (I never imagined Sherlock Holmes using an I-Pad).  “Call this number” he said a few minutes later, ” and you will find out who took your canoe.”  “Holmes, you are  amazing” I said.  He smiled and took another draw on his meersham.  “Not at all, just look at the facts. If my friend Doctor John Watson recorded this case, he would probably title it “The case of the Coiled Rope” instead of “The Case of the Stolen Red Canoe.”  I was a bit confused but I called the number, 508-255-0455.

Do you know who took our canoe?  Do you know whose number I called?  And of course, how did Holmes solve the mystery?



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