San Francisco sailor Todd Tholke noticed something peculiar in the middle of the night on September 30. The French catamaran Energy, one of the boats competing in the America's Cup World Series in the San Francisco Bay, had snapped its mooring, drifted out to sea and washed up on the rocks of nearby Treasure Island.
Tholke sprang to action, captained his 14-foot Boston Whaler into the water, towed the racing boat back to the marina and handed it over to the French team.
"We are grateful for the way this ended and for the help of a good samaritan at Treasure Island who spotted the boat and secured it before handing it back to us," wrote the team in a press release about the incident.
Tholke was hailed a hero and was offered a guest racer spot.
And then he and his attorney demanded an excess of $200,000 from the team.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Tholke and his attorney, John Edgcomb, invoked the Blackwall law that grants "a salvor of imperiled maritime property on navigable waters a monetary award from the owner."
According to the law, Tholke may be entitled to a handsome sum to be determined by the court, but estimated by Edgcomb to be "in excess of $200,000."
The French team was thus presented with a warrant from the U.S. District Court to "arrest" the boat. According to the Chronicle, the team was "surprised and disappointed," and the issue is likely headed to court.
The news couldn't come at a worse time for the French team, which is already struggling financially. In a post cleverly titled "Welcome to America," international sailing blog Vsail Info called the claim "absurd" before detailing the team's financial troubles. Indeed, the French team's owners were unable to secure necessary sponsorship to build the 72-foot boat necessary to compete in next year's America's Cup.
"They are surviving until the end of the 2012-13 America's Cup World Series on a very tight budget," wrote Vsail. "I strongly doubt they have the excess cash to pay $200,000 for Tholke's 'award.' I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read the story."
But however seemingly absurd the claim may be, the Chronicle reported that "there's been virtually no progress in informal negotiations," and a vigorous legal battle is expected.
Welcome to America, indeed.
Check out photos from the America's Cup World Series and other recent San Francisco events in our slideshow below: