An 82-foot (25-meter) Californian luxury yacht owner was shocked on Monday to glimpse the vessel on a television newscast beached and bobbing in the surf 20 miles (32 km) down the Pacific Coast from its Sausalito berth.
Two men and a woman found aboard the yacht and first thought by authorities to be in need of rescue were arrested on suspicion of stealing the vessel after its owner called authorities to report that the yacht he was seeing on TV was his.
Police say the accused thieves took the boat from its Sausalito anchorage north of the Golden Gate Bridge before dawn and sailed the vessel to the seaside town of Pacifica, south of San Francisco, where it washed up on a popular surfing beach.
Pacifica Police Captain Joe Spanheimer said the suspects, Leslie Gardner, 63, Dario Mira, 54, and Lisa Modawell, 56, appeared to have intended to take the Darling on a longer trip.
Sheriffs deputies riding jet skies, a Coast Guard vessel and helicopter surrounded the sailboat, but the three repeatedly rebuffed their offers of assistance, he said.
Authorities ultimately coaxed the three off the yacht, and they were arrested after the boat's owner, John Fruth, who had watched the drama unfold on TV, called to report that the boat in question belonged to him and was stolen, police said.
"He was seeing the news media coverage of a vessel that had run aground," Sausalito police Sergeant Bill Fraass said. "The individuals did not want assistance from the Coast Guard but were stuck on a vessel that could go nowhere."
The boat, which had been stripped of its main sail, is reportedly valued at $4 million, sleeps up to six people in three staterooms and is available for charter at $5,000 a day.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that authorities found beer and pizza aboard the boat and that its three occupants had grown queasy as the waves on the beach bounced them around.
Richard Spindler, publisher of sailing newsletter Latitude 38, joked about the caper in a column.
"We can imagine there might be one person dumb enough to think they could steal a very large and expensive blue-hulled yacht and get away with it - where are you going to hide with something so conspicuous?" he wrote. "But three people that stupid in one place?" (Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)