Bill Akin readily acknowledges that his problem involves a matter of principle, not money. To savor his story, you need a sense of the absurd.

More than a decade ago, an inflatable 12-foot boat was stolen from his San Jose yard. Now the semiretired contractor thinks he has a clue where it is. But he's stranded on the shoals of bureaucracy.

The Avon-built boat, ideal for reservoirs, white-water or even the ocean, cost him $400 when he bought it in 1997. A man who likes to fix things, Akin put another $400 into it before the boat was stolen as he left it leaning against a fence at his Topeka Avenue home.

Fast-forward to Oct. 9 this year, when Akin, 58, got a "Request for Vessel Record Information" from the DMV. It turns out that a man named John Sanchez Jr. -- hometown unknown -- has Akin's boat and is now trying to register it in his own name.

Sanchez, who told the DMV that the boat was given to him in 2003 by a man for whom he had done work, needed the name of the last registered owner.

This irked Akin, because he had not parted with the inflatable vessel willingly. So he called the DMV investigations office, which referred him to the police. He went down to the San Jose Police Department, where, he says, he was told that he could not report the theft after so long.

Theft report

Akin insists that he indeed did report the theft lo those many years ago -- and remembers being told by an officer that because the boat was not on a trailer, it could not be considered a vehicle or vessel theft.

"Evidently, the officer had not bothered to file an incident report," he says, "as no record of the crime could be found in police records."

A police spokeswoman, Sgt. Heather Randol, wasn't able to find a record of the theft. She points out that reports of stolen boats entered into the state database are retained for only four years. (And there may be a lesson here: If you report a theft, get a case number. It's a receipt.)

Akin says the cops told him he had to go to civil court. So he visited his local DMV office, where he obtained a "courtesy stop" notice to freeze matters temporarily. After more jockeying with the bureaucracy, all he really needed was the address of John Sanchez Jr.

Many Sanchezes

Alas, it wasn't forthcoming. "They're not going to release it to me," says Akin, who still has some of the parts from his stolen boat. "Two representatives from the DMV told me there's no way I'm going to get his information." (Our public-records database shows there are 16 John Sanchez Jr.'s in San Jose alone.)

Meanwhile, a DMV spokeswoman, Jan Mendoza, told me that if a police report were on file with the DMV, the record would show it. "Since we didn't have that information on file, we had no way to know it was stolen," she said.

Courtesy notice

When the "courtesy stop" expires after 60 days, Akin says, there's a very good chance that John Sanchez Jr. will be able to register the vessel himself. He sums it up this way:

"Some guy named John is in possession of a boat which was stolen from me. Both the SJPD and the DMV have advised me that I must file a civil court action, but I have been denied the contact information that would be essential to move in that direction."

It reminds me of what the Cheshire Cat told Alice in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" when she said she didn't want to go around with mad people. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

In both senses of the word.

Contact Scott Herhold at 408-275-0917 or sherhold@mercurynews.com. Twitter.com/scottherhold.