Soon, another rash of break-ins — a marina, a hardware store, an inn, several restaurants, the supermarket, even a bank — took place and stopped only when another boat went missing. The bandit had slipped aboard a 30-foot Maxweld catamaran used by a whale-watch operation. Starting the diesel proved trickier than he thought, so Colt jumped off and boarded the next boat in line, a 26-foot Harbercraft. The keys were in the boat. He pulled out of the short waterway known as “The Ditch” and into open water on a moonless, snotty night.
Like most of today’s teens, Colt was more than adept at computers, and he liked video games like Grand Theft Auto. Operating a GPS chart plotter was no problem. But the San Juans are no millpond. A painstaking count of all the islands, islets, seal haul-outs and godforsaken rocks in San Juan County comes to 743. At high tide, though, only 428 of them are visible. And then there are the deadheads, the innumerable ex-trees that have escaped logging booms and tugs and roam free in the waters like wooden icebergs.
Colt, though, figured out how to run a boat at night, or else he was extremely lucky. The GPS recorded his track as he rounded the sheer cliffs of Point Doughty and headed down President Channel. He skirted the treacherously beautiful Wasp Islands and steered southeast for Friday Harbor. At the dock, he jumped off and let the $100,000 boat float away.
Back on Orcas, deputies had nicknamed the daring thief the “Barefoot Bandit” because they kept finding bare footprints at crime scenes, and saw him creeping around shoeless in two surveillance videos. A still frame of his face sent to regional law enforcement finally came back with a positive hit from Island County. They told the San Juan County sheriff, “We’re afraid you have a Colton Harris-Moore problem.”
Colt spent a few days on San Juan Island and then stole an airplane to get back to Orcas. He returned to The Ditch and rummaged around the cockpit of a Cruisers Yacht 2870 Express until he found the keys hidden inside a storage hatch. Colt ran this boat at night too, grounding it off Point Roberts, a U.S. exclave that dangles into Boundary Bay.
Orcas residents let out a collective sigh when Colt took his rapidly growing outlaw fame (Facebook pages dedicated to him eventually attracted 100,000 fans) on a law-breaking tour of British Columbia. The relief, however, proved short-lived.