In Search of the Mach Turtle

A reporter tags along as a South Florida PI searches for a missing trawler in Cuba, then finishes the job by battling with the boat's owner

At first glance a trawler doesn't look like anything to get excited about. It's not one of those monolithic, 80-foot-plus motor yachts that ooze and burble down the New River all sleek lines, glistening white hulls, and black-tinted windows. Nor is it a sublime, multimasted sailboat, the kind that appears in these parts sporting an Australian flag and a tan guy polishing the teak in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.

Trawlers are more earnest than that. They're a retirement fund instead of a trust fund, years of planning instead of a lucky lotto pick, cigarettes and beer instead of cocaine and champagne. They have huge fuel tanks and economical engines. They're slow but can carry supplies for a month at sea. They're wide, bulky, and purposeful, looking very much like the commercial fishing vessels the word trawler brings to mind.

But these kinds of trawlers are not for fishing. They're for adventurous souls who want to see the world under power instead of sail. And a trawler type can get attached to his vessel, probably more so than the swaggering dandy with the Freudian complex who has the biggest, longest yacht on the water. A trawler owner is likely to be the one who took a bath in diesel fuel the last time he had to change the fuel filter himself at sea. He might have cradled a piston in his hands like a newborn when the engine had to be torn down. Perhaps he even scrubbed the barnacles off the boat when it came out of the water.

Cuba sí, Mach Turtle no: Cristobal Reinaldo (left), Dave Kellerman (center), and Brian Newton stop searching and start drinking
Bob Whitby
Cuba , Mach Turtle no: Cristobal Reinaldo (left), Dave Kellerman (center), and Brian Newton stop searching and start drinking
Owner Mike English at the wheel of the Mach Turtle before she was pinched
Owner Mike English at the wheel of the Mach Turtle before she was pinched
All my children: Designer Stephen Seaton keeps tabs on just about every boat that comes off his drawing board
Melissa Jones
All my children: Designer Stephen Seaton keeps tabs on just about every boat that comes off his drawing board
Welcome to Broward Goddamn County: When the owner won't pay, Kellerman takes the boat
Melissa Jones
Welcome to Broward Goddamn County: When the owner won't pay, Kellerman takes the boat

So a trawler owner might go a little crazy if his boat got pinched and spirited away to God knows where. He'd spend long nights pining away, a tear rolling down his cheek and onto sun-dappled photos of her at dock, fading light glistening off her ample stern. He'd naturally fear the worst: joyriders who used and abused her, a marine chop shop where she was stripped and then scuttled in the Straits of Florida, a quickie paint job and name change.

This is the story of one such purloined trawler, the Mach Turtle, a 52-foot Durbeck sporting reverse pilothouse windows and a sweet set of flopperstoppers that keeps vomit-inducing rolling under control on the high seas. At one time she was a sturdy, reliable traveling companion that was loved, even coveted, by all who knew her. She had a way of seducing people, making them do stupid things and take ridiculous risks to win her. She was the light of her designer's eye.

Almost five years ago, the Mach Turtle vanished. There were rumors she'd been seen briefly in Fort Lauderdale, that she was in the Keys, even Taiwan. So desperate was the owner to retrieve her that he dispatched a search party to Cuba on little more than a whisper that she was tied up at a Havana marina.

About a week ago, the Mach Turtle reappeared. Where she went, how she got there, and how she got back amount to an illuminating tale about the Fort Lauderdale boating world, where mendacity is as probable as honesty and a deal's never closed until the check clears the bank.


Dave Kellerman pulls a small scrap of paper, folded in half, from his wallet. On it he's crammed a lot of vital information: his passport number, address, family members to call in case of emergency, and the phone number of a Cuban contact listed only as "Hernando."

"In case I get grabbed going through customs," Kellerman says, handing over the paper. "I may be persona non grata down there. Stay ahead of me in line, and if I don't make it through, just start calling."

It's early August, and Kellerman is in the Nassau International Airport, waiting for a flight to Havana, where he plans to steal a boat from under the noses of Cuban authorities. Only now does he reveal that he's been to Cuba before -- to kidnap someone.

Kellerman is a private investigator. He was hired three years ago by a Guatemalan man to snatch the man's young daughter back from his ex-wife, who'd run to Cuba after a judge awarded custody of the child to the father in a bitter divorce. It was a pretty easy job. Kellerman simply hung around a marina in Havana in his boat for a few days, taking it in and out, ostensibly to go fishing. Normally boaters must clear customs every time they leave a marina, but after Kellerman had taken a few trips, customs agents began to wave him through. At that point the father, who was along for the grab, picked up his daughter at school, took her to Kellerman's boat, and away they went.

Cubans are prickly about this sort of thing. The father later returned to Cuba and was questioned about the kidnapping. Kellerman has no idea if his name was mentioned. He was betting that he'd never have to return to Cuba anyway. But here he is, trying to get back in. If he's detained, anyone traveling with him might also be stopped. So this bit of background is not good news. But it is typical Kellerman.

Though he's gone a bit soft around the middle, you'd never mistake Kellerman for an accountant. At the age of 36, he has 18 years' experience with the Army's 20th Special Forces Group, which is based in Fort Lauderdale and attached to the Florida National Guard. He has the fireplug build, close-cropped hair, square jaw, ramrod posture, and in-your-face demeanor that say "military," even when he's wearing Dockers and a polo shirt. He also has the jones for action that so many soldiers never seem to kick. He regularly still ships out to Central America with his unit for jungle training and "winning hearts and minds" intelligence-type stuff he can't really talk about.

That's his part-time gig. The rest of the time he operates Special Ops Associates, a Deerfield Beach investigative agency that he owns and has given the slogan "Confidential Solutions For Unconventional Problems." It sounds like dirty deeds done dirt cheap, but Kellerman operates on this side of the law. Special Ops specializes in executive protection, corporate security training, maritime security, and something called "High Value Asset Recovery." Translation: stealing back stolen boats. He works about 12 cases per year, usually only expensive boats. At his standard rate of 10 percent of the vessel's value, the cheap ones -- less than $50,000 -- aren't worth the time. To date he's never failed to locate a vessel he's been hired to find. Once, in the Bahamas, he not only found a stolen boat, he also nabbed the guy who took it. He brought them both back to the U.S.

Which is why he's standing in the Nassau airport, handing over a wallet-size version of his dossier.

In late July a Maryland resident named Mike English hired Kellerman to find and recover the Mach Turtle. They signed a contract stipulating that Kellerman gets $15,000 plus expenses if he finds the boat. A few days after getting the job, he learned through an informant in Fort Lauderdale that the boat is docked at Marina Hemingway, Havana, third canal in, next to some kind of touristy pirate ship. The plan is to "set eyes on the boat" Sunday, hop aboard early Monday morning, fix anything that needs fixing, pay outstanding harbor bills, and putter toward Nassau some 350 nautical miles away. At the Mach Turtle's cruising speed of about eight knots (roughly nine miles per hour) it'll be about a two-day trip.

Once he's back in the Bahamas, Kellerman's job will be done. He will turn the helm over to Brian Newton, a captain hired by English to pilot the boat from Nassau to Annapolis, Maryland. Newton is a ruddy-complected, red-haired professional captain who lives on a 97-year-old tug in Connecticut. He's carrying a heavy satchel full of charts and legal papers. In it are two $7500 checks bearing Kellerman's name: one to be handed over when the boat is found, the other when it's in Nassau. As it turns out, it's money Kellerman may never see.

Once we're in Cuba, we'll have to time our departure to avoid the Cuban navy gunship that goes out on regular four-hour patrols past the mouth of Marina Hemingway. And there's one other concern: Kellerman's source says someone was seen aboard the Mach Turtle recently. "Not a problem," says Kellerman, a grin on his face. "We'll just tie him up and leave him at the dock."

The plane to Havana is two hours late. The private eye and the captain pass the time in the lounge drinking Kalik beer and strategizing. "That marina is a hard place to get out of, and it's a slow fucking boat," says Kellerman. "It will take us two hours to get out into international waters."

"That doesn't mean anything, except there'll be more water under us when we sink," answers Newton, drawing on a hand-rolled cigarette.

Nassau to Havana is a popular route, and the Russian-made jetliner is full. It's also hot and cramped. The Russians have somehow managed to best their American counterparts by shoving the seats even closer together. On the plus side, there's free Cristal beer and a gorgeous Caribbean sunset outside to keep the passengers entertained.

The airport in Havana is as clean, bright, and modern as any in the United States, just smaller. International passengers wind through long hallways and down a flight of stairs before reaching customs. There you shove your passport and tourist card through a slotted glass window to an agent hunkered over a glowing computer screen in a dark booth. He punches keys and scrutinizes your documents for a few minutes, then buzzes you through a door at the far end of the booth. You pass through the metal detectors, and welcome to Cuba.

Kellerman clears customs as quickly as any of the thousands of Americans who snub Uncle Sam each year and trade with the enemy. He's not, apparently, a wanted man. Newton is detained for a few minutes by customs agents curious about his safety-orange cell phone, but he too is soon spit out the other side.

A taxi ride through the dimly lit streets of Havana -- zipping by milling pedestrians and suicidal dogs, manned guard shacks and police on every corner -- ends at the gate to Marina Hemingway. "Barco Wanderlust," Kellerman calls out to the guard, who waves the taxi by. Kellerman's source said to tell anyone who asks that he's staying on a boat called Wanderlust. So far, so good.

The marina is a walled-off city unto itself, complete with store, restaurant, and hotel. There's also a bar, the Chan Chan, which sells dark, lovely, seven-year-old Cuban rum for $2 a glass, $10.15 a bottle. A great thirst has come over the group, but Kellerman can't sit still. He drops his bags at the bar and sets off on a recon mission to "lay eyes" on the Mach Turtle. Meanwhile Newton rolls another cigarette and sits back to enjoy the soft breeze blowing in off the ocean. Though anxious to find the boat, he's not as high-strung as Kellerman. There's more than enough time to put away a few Cristals and talk about boats.

In the early '90s, Newton was a captain in Fort Lauderdale for five years, but he got sick of the backstabbing and cutthroat competition for work. "Lauderdale is full of Captain Dons and Captain Dicks who go out and buy a polo shirt with their name on it, then sit in a bar swilling beer and telling lies," he says, digging into a shrimp cocktail. "They're all over Fort Lauderdale for $75 a day."

Newton won't work for less than $300 a day. And he won't live in Florida anymore. "I sit up in New England, and I'll come down when I need to," he says. "People will call me instead of working with local captains."

Kellerman returns in 30 minutes with bad news: no boat. No need to panic yet, though. He made it around only half of the marina. After another round of Cristals, we take off to canvas the rest. It's important to keep drinking, says Kellerman, to maintain our cover. "We need two beers in each hand so we're just dumb, drunk gringos."

Electricity is a precious, expensive commodity in Cuba, so lights are cut wherever possible. It's pitch-black around the marina. More unnerving are the security guards, who have a way of popping out of bushes and concealed bunkers like night-blooming jasmine. But they're uniformly polite and unintrusive, thinking perhaps there's no need to hassle a bunch of dumb, drunk gringos.

Still no Mach Turtle.

All the bumbling and stumbling around attracts the attention of one marina guard stationed in an unlit shack near the terminus of an access road. Newton, the most fluent Spanish-speaker in the group, explains that we are looking for friends on board a boat named the Mach Turtle. The guard, trying to be helpful, returns to his shack and gets on the phone, making Kellerman very nervous. "Who the hell is he calling?" he demands of no one in particular. Communists in unlit guard shacks making midnight phone calls to persons unknown clearly goes against his training.

"Probably just the front gate," says Newton.

"This isn't good," says Kellerman. "It's midnight, we're wandering around looking for a boat. It isn't good."

Back to the Chan Chan to refresh our cover and regroup. A boozy, scrawny, middle-aged man with red hair ambles over to the table. "You guys Americans?" he asks in a thick drawl. Robert Hightower's his name. We just call him Bob.

Bob's an American ex-pat who's found the Third World ambiance and abundance of cheap prostitutes in Havana to his liking. "It don't take no cultivating," he says, "it just takes $20." Bob's either a harmless high-seas boozehound or a very well disguised CIA operative, we can't decide which. But he's buying drinks, so it really doesn't matter. After a half-dozen or so mojitos (rum, water, mint, and sugar), he hops on his Suzuki motorcycle, which he brought over strapped to the deck of his boat, and rides the 200 or so yards home at walking speed, propped up on either side by caring Cuban bartenders who make sure he gets there all right. We call it a night.

Monday dawns clear and still, an excellent day to sail, notes Newton. If we can find the boat.

Kellerman hires a jovial, rotund cabby named Cristobal Reinaldo to drive us around the marina and flash a photocopy of the Mach Turtle at anyone and everyone we can find. Nobody has seen the boat. We stop and ask a menacing-looking guy sporting dark, wraparound glasses and a ponytail. Our questions make him nervous. His demeanor makes us nervous. Nothing.

Reinaldo mentions that there are two other marinas on the north coast of Cuba at Cojimar and Varadero. It's a three-hour, 160-kilometer, $180 cab ride, but there's really no choice. The person who stole the boat may have got wind that someone was looking for it and squirreled it away somewhere else. Kellerman, ever eloquent, puts it this way: "If there's a marina on the coast, we need to check it out. Otherwise we're just here pulling our dicks, waiting for Christmas."

Cojimar turns out to be a small inlet with room for only 20 or 30 boats. The Mach Turtle is not among them. A few kilometers to the east we stop for lunch -- fresh grilled lobster on a bed of pan-seared vegetables -- and the group's mood turns foul. Kellerman and Newton are coming to the realization that they've been had. Newton thinks the boat's been sold. Kellerman thinks he's been lied to by his informant, a Fort Lauderdale boat captain named Mike McGhee. Kellerman paid McGhee $2500 for the tip. "To have someone feed me bullshit information, I've never had that happen before," he says. "I can't believe he'd be that stupid. He lives ten miles from me."

Before the lobster arrives, Kellerman is outside on the pay phone calling Hernando, his Cuban contact. He returns to the table fuming. Hernando doesn't know a thing. Hasn't seen the Mach Turtle. Has no idea who Kellerman is or what he's talking about.

"McGhee's life just took a turn for the worse," says Kellerman, hacking savagely at his lunch with a steak knife. "I guarantee it."

We continue east to Varadero for good measure, but the Mach Turtle isn't there. It's not in Cuba, and it never was.


Does Stephen Seaton remember the Mach Turtle? Silly question. Do mothers remember their children? Do artists remember their masterpieces?

Of course Seaton remembers. Her deep hull cutting a graceful, rising arc from stern to bow. Her blocky superstructure. Her twin spun-aluminum outriggers that performed double duty as stabilizers in heavy seas and as boat booms. And that pilothouse, sporting reverse glass that sloped inward from top to bottom, affording the captain a commanding view of the vessel and its progress on the mighty ocean.

"It's always been one of my favorites," says the affable Seaton between forkfuls of Cobb salad at the Bimini Boatyard restaurant. "They're all like my children."

Seaton, age 54, was a young man just starting out as a boat designer when he created the Mach Turtle in 1972. It was good enough to earn a mention in Robert Beebe's book Voyaging Under Power, considered a seminal work on recreational, open-ocean cruising. Beebe writes, "Her interior is interesting. It was designed for the owner's queen-sized double bed and the bathtub, both of which were so large the vessel had to be built around them. The forward cabin is laid out for grandchildren, with other (convertible) sleeping facilities in the saloon." Seaton also had to build a steering system around an old wheel and compass his client insisted on installing. "We had to figure out how to make the antique work with the modern," he says. "We did it. The boat has a really nice feel to it."

The Mach Turtle is one of less than a dozen Seaton-designed trawlers built by the now-defunct Durbeck boat yard in Bradenton. Seaton's Durbeck trawlers are prized to this day for their solid construction, fuel economy, and angular good looks. A professor in Tennessee recently purchased one and spent $250,000 refurbishing it, Seaton says with obvious pride.

Seaton has made a name for himself, creating hundreds of vessels from sailboats to powerboats, yachts to dinghies. He's now part owner of Peer Gynt Yachts Inc., a Fort Lauderdale boat-building company that counts some of the wealthiest people in the world among its clients. But the remarkable thing about Seaton, apart from his resemblance to a pre-booze-bloated Ernest Hemingway, is the fact that he remembers virtually every boat he's ever designed. And he knows where most of them are. People call him regularly with updates, saying they saw the such-and-such at so-and-so place just the other day.

But nobody was calling about the Mach Turtle. It was pilfered, then the news stopped. For years Seaton had no idea what had become of it. "This one just dropped off the face of the earth," he says.

Seaton designed the boat for an airline pilot who lived on board with his wife in Dinner Key for ten years. On weekends the couple would take the boat to the Bahamas. "They absolutely loved it," he recalls.

They sold the boat to John and Otilie English of Erie, Pennsylvania, in the mid-'80s. The Englishes cruised extensively in the boat, recalls son Mike, and lived aboard for long periods of time. Mike English himself spent about five years living on the boat and was enamored of it. "It's a serious offshore boat," he says. "You could take it to Bermuda from New York City, then down into the islands. It was a hell of a boat."

In 1991 Mike's parents sold the Mach Turtle to Fort Lauderdale resident Daniel Perrin for $180,000 -- $90,000 down and monthly payments of $1058.68. Perrin kept up the payments until April 1995, then stopped. He didn't return the boat, he just stopped paying for it. (Perrin did not return phone calls or respond to inquiries at his Fort Lauderdale apartment for this story.) Naturally John and Otilie English wanted their boat back. They tried unsuccessfully to have it declared stolen with Fort Lauderdale police and the Coast Guard, but neither agency would take a report. "Here's a stolen boat, the guy is located in Fort Lauderdale, and I can't get them to service a warrant," says Mike English. "They didn't want the trouble."

Mike says his mother and father were in failing health and simply gave up. "My parents were old and dying; they just didn't pursue this thing," he explains. John died in June 1996, and Otilie died in December 1998.

The Mach Turtle was still out there somewhere, perhaps even in Fort Lauderdale. But no one was looking for it.

It's not unusual for authorities to be less than enthused about finding a stolen boat. In fact in Florida it's the norm, even though the state leads the nation in boat theft. According to the most recent FBI statistics, 6538 boats were listed as stolen in Florida as of July 1998, roughly twice as many as in second-place California. But in terms of retrieving boats, there's little coordination among police agencies. If a boat is stolen in Fort Lauderdale, police in Deerfield Beach or Hollywood or anywhere else in Broward County might not know about it. And the Broward Sheriff's Office's marine patrol is primarily concerned with water safety; BSO handles stolen-boat cases through its auto-theft division. Don't count on the Florida Marine Patrol either. That agency's new mandate is to concentrate on safety and environmental infractions.

"Basically nobody in Florida gives a crap about stolen boats," says Lt. Lee Palfrey, an eight-year FMP veteran. "Nobody cares. It goes back to the old saying that, if you steal a man's horse, that was a hanging offense, but if you steal luxury goods, you're a Robin Hood. Who cares if you stole a boat? You stole from a rich person."

Palfrey himself used to work boat-theft investigations but was pulled off as the FMP was redirected by the legislature to put more effort into environmental protection. It takes a practiced eye to tell one boat from another, he says, and most of the police simply aren't trained to do it.

"This is a good time to be in the stolen-boat business," he adds.


Phone service from Cuba to the U.S. is not 100 percent reliable. It takes Kellerman several attempts to reach McGhee, the Fort Lauderdale source who led us down here in the first place. He finally connects at about 8 p.m. He has one question:

"Mike, this is Dave. What the fuck is going on? Nobody knows anything about this boat. It's never been down here."

It's a brief conversation, Kellerman shouting into the phone, McGhee sheepishly insisting the boat has to be there. Kellerman finally slams down the receiver. "I'm going to break his legs," he says. "Don't print that."

Lucky for McGhee, Kellerman can't get back to Fort Lauderdale for almost 24 hours. He has time to cool down, collect his thoughts, make a plan of action.

Our plane lands in Fort Lauderdale at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. By 5:30 a.m. Wednesday Kellerman is on surveillance detail, parked outside Perrin's Fort Lauderdale apartment. Perrin leaves his place at 8 a.m., and Kellerman follows him to the post office, then breaks off so his cover isn't blown. That afternoon McGhee ponies up a useful tidbit: Perrin used to work on a boat called the Knot Tide, which at the moment is dry-docked in Dania Beach for repairs.

A visit to the Knot Tide proves fruitful: Kellerman learns Perrin's cell phone number and also that he's leaving for Hong Kong in a week to work on another boat. He calls Perrin pretending to be interested in purchasing the Mach Turtle. Perrin agrees to meet for lunch the following day. He never shows.

More surveillance. This time Kellerman leaves a note on Perrin's windshield outlining who he is and what he wants. Perrin comes out of his apartment in the morning, reads the note, and takes off like a scared rabbit, weaving in and out of traffic on A1A, trying to lose Kellerman, who finally backs off so as not to cause an accident.

Perrin's next stop is a lawyer's office. On Thursday the lawyer calls Kellerman with good news: Perrin is ready to make a deal. He'll reveal the location of the boat if English, the owner, signs a release agreeing not to press criminal charges. Success seems close at hand, but the Mach Turtle could be anywhere from the Keys to Taiwan. "I can't wait to see where the paper leads us," says Kellerman. "I hope my mouth doesn't drop open when I find out the boat's on the moon."

English signs. Perrin comes clean. It's mid-August and the Mach Turtle is found. Not on the moon, but at Mario's Marina, 20 miles up Río Dulce, on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala.

"It's floating, but it's not in very good shape cosmetically," says Mario's owner Daphne Hartley. "We haven't touched anything as far as the mechanics."

All that's left for Kellerman to do is to pack his bags, take the next plane to Guatemala, and cruise home aboard the Mach Turtle. He'll be $15,000 richer, English will reclaim the family jewel, Perrin won't end up in trouble. A happy ending?

Not quite.

Instead of cementing an amiable working relationship between Kellerman and English, locating the Mach Turtle precipitates a major-league falling out. Like treasure hunters who unearth a fortune, the owner and the PI suddenly eye each other suspiciously. Suspicion turns to distrust, distrust to hatred, and soon they are both out for blood.

Within hours of signing the release, English claims to have found the Mach Turtle independently through a friend who happened to be in Río Dulce on a catamaran. Therefore no need to pay Kellerman. To make matters worse, English is convinced Kellerman knew all along the boat wasn't in Cuba, and that the trip was a ruse to pad the expenses. "Kellerman is trying to extort me for more money," he says.

This does not sit well with Kellerman, who has invested more than 140 hours and several thousand dollars of his own money in the case. "I get the greatest clients on the face of the earth," he says.

Kellerman decides to extract his pound of flesh via admiralty law, the brand of justice that deals with shenanigans on the high seas. Admiralty law is a branch of federal law, and its special nature is predicated on a simple fact: Boats move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, country to country. By filing a lien with the Coast Guard on the Mach Turtle in rem, or against a property, he can have it physically arrested by U.S. Marshals and held until the matter is straightened out. Providing, that is, the boat is in U.S. waters and he's willing to put up a deposit.

Which he is.

And English knows it. So a few days after signing the release, he sends another captain on a recovery mission to Guatemala. "I'm in a mad scramble to get there before someone else does," the captain says.

Kellerman toys with the idea of beating English's new captain to Guatemala and claiming the boat himself, but by now Hurricane Bret is churning up the Gulf, and the ride back would be rough at best. There's that and the fact that the Mach Turtle's mechanical condition is a big question mark after years of neglect. He decides it would be prudent to file his lien and bide his time.

It turns out to be a good call. English's new captain is beset by problems from the start. A small fire breaks out near the exhaust pipe, and the Mach Turtle has to be towed to Mexico. The captain is finally able to nurse the boat to a port somewhere close to the U.S. By late August English is downtrodden about the boat's condition. "It's totally stripped, in horrible condition, a total wreck," he says. He's also tightlipped about its location for fear that Kellerman might find it and grab it. "It's in the Carolinas," English says. "I really don't want to say any more than that."

Meanwhile in Fort Lauderdale, Kellerman works his sources. He calls friends in Georgia and Maryland to be on the lookout for the boat. And he gets a big break when he checks the Broward County court files.

It seems English is wanted in Florida on an outstanding warrant for felony grand theft. Checkmate for Kellerman. If English won't pay the fee, Kellerman will mention to the authorities in Maryland that they have a fugitive from justice living among them. He might do it even if he does collect. "I'm going to get him thrown in jail, then I'm going to visit him. And I'll look him in the eye and say, 'I told you not to fuck me over.'"

In early September a source calls and suggests Kellerman look for the Mach Turtle in West End, Grand Bahama. There's no way he's going to let a chance like this slip away. When Hurricane Floyd passes, he's on a plane to Freeport. He shows Bahamian authorities the power of attorney that English signed authorizing him to take possession of the boat the first time in Cuba -- which English never officially rescinded -- and mentions that English might be in trouble with the law. That's all the Bahamians need to hear. "They were glad to be rid of the boat," says Kellerman.

A day later -- September 19, his 37th birthday -- Kellerman motors back into Fort Lauderdale at the helm of the MachTurtle after a nine-hour ride through six-foot swells. The trip cost about $1000 in airfare, cab rides, and dock charges. Added to the original fee and other expenses he's incurred, the latest excursion brings the bill to $21,000 and change. The next day he faxes a demand for payment to English, mentioning that he knows about the warrant. "It's in Broward goddamn County now," says Kellerman. "If English wants to do business with me, he's got to come here."

English's plans are unknown. He stopped returning phone calls after Kellerman grabbed the boat.

As for the Mach Turtle, she's looking a bit rough. Her furniture has been stripped out, leaving bare floors and walls. Her paint is cracked and peeling, her woodwork is rotting in places where leaking windows have let in rain, and the back of her pilothouse is blackened from the exhaust-stack fire. She needs someone to love her again, someone to invest a few hundred hours of sweat equity and a few thousand dollars on a paint job. Mechanically she's sound, her Cummins diesel engine smooth and strong. And the view from her sloping pilothouse windows is as inspiring as it must have been 27 years ago, when she was fresh out of the boat yard. Grab that big, antique ship's wheel, and you can almost hear her whisper, "Let's sneak out of here and see the world."

Contact Bob Whitby at his e-mail address: Bob_Whitby@newtimesbpb.com

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