Water Ways

By Ray Pendleton

Sailboats under
attack at WYC

Anewspaper headline recently declared "Arson suspected in three fires at Waikiki Yacht Club."

I'm sure the word "suspected" had to be used for legal reasons, but from my perspective, when three separate boats are discovered on fire and two others are found doused with flammable liquids -- all in one small marina -- a fire from natural causes such as equipment failure, lightning or spontaneous combustion can quickly be ruled out.

So, once we accept arson as the cause of those fires, the next question is why were those boats torched? Or, as a fire inspector might ask, what was the motive?

For those who may not be familiar with the scene of the crime, the WYC sits on a narrow band of property on the northwestern shore of the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor. The front of the clubhouse faces Ala Moana Park.

The WYC's approximately 135 boat slips extend out into the bay from five major dock ramps and there is an adjacent 130-foot wharf where boats can be temporarily moored for repairs.

At 5:52 a.m. on July 5, a fire engine responded to a report of a boat fire at the club and were directed to two adjacent 35-foot sailboats with their interiors ablaze.

The firefighters had no sooner extinguished those fires when they were alerted to smoke coming from another sailboat at the repair wharf -- some 100 yards away from the first fires -- which they also quickly put out.

Then, of course, with the emergency over, came the questions:

Why hadn't the club's roaming security guard seen what must have been a lot of suspicious activity on the docks that early in the morning?

Why had the arsonist -- or arsonists -- only picked sailboats to burn?

Had the arsonist come into the property from the street side or by boat from the water side? Or, more insidiously, from another boat in the club?

And seeking a motive only leads to additional questions:

Was it the work of adolescent pranksters, like those who defile buildings with graffiti?

Or, were the fires set to cover up the theft of expensive equipment aboard the boats?

Or, was it part of an elaborate insurance scam where a boat owner wanting to collect on his insurance, set fires on other boats to draw suspicion away from himself?

Or, were the fires started by a pyromaniac -- a person with a compulsion to set things on fire?

Or, had it been a hate-crime committed by someone with a grudge against the WYC, the individual boat owners, or yacht clubs or sailboats in general?

Or, finally, was it a combination of these motives that caused thousands of dollars damage that morning?

Of course, the answers to these questions can't be answered unless the fire inspectors and police find enough evidence to point to a suspect, or someone comes forward with information leading to an arrest.

Until that time comes, I would strongly advise boat owners everywhere to give extra attention to their vessels' security.

As long as the arsonist who attacked five boats at the WYC is walking our streets, there is a very real threat to every other boat on Oahu.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu.
His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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