For 10 years, Newport Beach's Tom Tolbert didn't let a near-fatal
aneurysm prevent him from indulging in his lifelong pastime. But the
Newport Beach sailor said a "sickening" heist has temporarily
marooned him on the docks.
Tolbert, 56, is a volunteer director at Sailing Fascination, which
gives free sailing lessons to disabled people through the use of a
single J-24 sailboat. He said after he and his students returned from
a two-week break in late July, unknown vandals had thieved the boat's
6-year-old outboard motor.
The eight-horsepower Nissan engine is necessary to get the
24-foot, wheelchair-accessible "Fascination 2" boat out of the dock
and out of the Newport turning basin so Tolbert and the students can
hoist the sails, he said. It's possible to sail out of the harbor,
provided there's enough wind, but he said it would take much more
time than his two-hour lessons allow.
"Maybe they came up by boat and took the engine off that way," he
said. "Can you imagine handing a handicapped guy an oar and saying,
'Take me out to the turning basin?' I don't think so."
Ripping the motor from the program's only boat further hurts a
program designed to aid the handicapped. But Tolbert, who said he has
filed a police report, knows the program will get back on its feet
someday, which is more than he can say for some of the people he
The students -- many of whom have been diagnosed with Down's
syndrome, blindness, quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, post-polio,
learning disabilities and spinal injuries -- will have to be patient.
Tolbert, a long-term care insurance salesman, said he doubts his boat
insurance will cover much of the cost of the $2,500 motor, because he
isn't using it for business purposes. But he hopes to raise enough
money to buy a new one soon.
"Nothing is lower than stealing a motor from a boatful of
[disabled people]," he said. "Being landlocked [stinks]. Waiting for
the insurance company to do its thing is hard enough, but imagine how
the students feel. It's amazing how forward to this they look."
Before the theft, he and co-director Jack Hester made sure the
classes ran smoothly. Hester always stood in the back, ferried the
boat out of the harbor and gave some students their first driving
lessons (on any apparatus), while Tolbert focused on the sails and
Tolbert said he doesn't make any money by volunteering Tuesdays
and Saturdays but does it to empower those who have handicaps. His
Tuesday students come from local schools and hospitals, whereas his
Saturday students are usually referred to him from places such as the
"The amount of self-esteem they get by being in control of a boat
is amazing," he said. "It's a special treat. To look over and see a
student smile is a really big thing. I don't think you can actually
teach most of them everything about sailing, but their ability to
problem-solve is more enhanced. For once in their lives, they're in
Tolbert said he knows how they feel, because he's struggled over
some of the same hurdles. Formerly a Hollywood stuntman, a president
of his own software marketing company and a dedicated athlete, those
career paths were all cut short in 1994, when he suffered a ruptured
cerebellar aneurysm. His doctor told his wife, Nina, that he'd most
The condition left him 70 pounds lighter, partially paralyzed and
with slurred speech. But he also became rejuvenated when he signed up
to take classes at Sailing Fascination and later volunteered to teach
classes four days a week.
"I know how important it is for the process of recovering," he
said. "You want to be the best you can be, and this is part of that."