Clash of the Quackers

The Bay Quackers tours were a big duck in a small pond until a bigger flock showed up.

Smarting, the Bay Quackers became dead set on finding out whether George Adams had been a spy. For weeks, Scannell and Wey spent long hours online trying to figure out who Adams really was, and whether there was anything illegal or scandalous about Herschend's arrival in San Francisco.

Scannell recalls searching for connections between Herschend and the American Family Association, a conservative Christian nonprofit that battles what it calls the "homosexual agenda." He also tried to find links to Herschend and other evangelical groups that might have donated to the statewide Yes on 8 anti-gay-marriage campaign. He soon learned that co-owner Jack Herschend sits on the boards of several Christian ministries, including the National Institute of Marriage, a Christian marriage counseling nonprofit that interprets the Old and New Testaments literally. Although the Herschend family has a well-documented history of donating to Republican campaigns, Scannell and Wey found no links between Herschend and San Francisco's hot-button issue — gay marriage.

Wey, a numbers man with an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management, focused on Adams' background. Performing a background check, he discovered that the Social Security number Adams had given Bay Quackers apparently belonged to someone named Depetro Veronica, who had four other aliases. Wey also found out that during the time Adams and his partner, Robert Zamberlan (who now works for Ride the Ducks), relocated from Philadelphia to San Diego, Ride the Ducks had been looking to set up shop there. Wey wondered whether Adams had been helping Ride the Ducks in San Diego. Maybe when that didn't work out, Wey surmised, Adams came to San Francisco to scout out the area and the competition.

Jake Poehls
This summer, another duck tour — Ride the Ducks — migrated to the city.
Jake Poehls
This summer, another duck tour — Ride the Ducks — migrated to the city.

If Scannell and Wey had asked Adams about all this, they might not have liked the answers. Adams insists he gave Bay Quackers his true Social Security number, and although he had been hopeful Ride the Ducks might start up in San Diego, he never worked for the company there.

Wey and Scannell still suspected foul play. They hired a private investigator, and not just any private investigator. Richard Smith, a former FBI special agent, had worked for 20 years in Soviet counterintelligence, investigating domestic and international espionage. Smith wouldn't reveal his methods, but he said that in the duck case, investigators found nothing incriminating about Ride the Ducks or Adams. "There wasn't any definitive concrete conclusion," he said. "The entity that owns Ride the Ducks had some Christian right connections, but nothing about that that led us to think it was inappropriate."

As it turned out, Wey had made a mistake when entering Adams' Social Security number. And there was no evidence to link Adams — who had worked in San Diego for Hornblower, another cruise company — to Ride the Ducks there.

That said, cracking a business espionage case is tough, according to Smith. Companies are often too smart to leave paper trails of employed spies, so evidence is hard to come by. Usually the only way to smoke it out, he said, is to perform a double-agent operation, where an agent befriends the alleged spy, gains his trust, and gets him to spill.

Smith said his team was instructed not to approach Adams. So if somebody really wanted answers, that somebody might want to consider riding Adams' duck.


SF Weekly booked passage for 11 a.m. on a recent Friday, having taken the Bay Quackers tour the previous Saturday. Even before the tour started, Captain Adams demonstrated that he was a true professional.

About thirty minutes before departure, he stood near the big white duck, chatting up passersby and inviting them on the tour. With his animated brown eyes, affable smile, and teddy-bear build, Adams was a hit with kids. Once the duck was loaded up (the dreary day produced only six passengers), he made small talk with the guests and then bounced into his captain's chair.

Adams' descriptions of historical monuments and sites were in many cases similar or identical to those on the Bay Quackers tour, and the tour followed nearly the same route. But Adams' delivery was punchier, and in between talking points, he played duck-inspired music and songs that were thematically matched to the tour. For example, after passing the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, a gift from the widow of sugar tycoon Adolph B. Spreckels (considered the original "sugar daddy"), the tour was treated to the Archies' "Sugar Sugar." Two young boys from Wales bobbed their heads contentedly to the song, and Adams — who seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself — tapped his foot.

Beyond Adams' clear superiority as a tour captain, Ride the Ducks had other advantages. New white paint glistened on the duck, where the Bay Quackers' paint was chipping. Ride the Ducks' seats were plush and comfy, while Bay Quackers' seats were stiff and ripped in some places. There were also more seats on the bigger Ride the Ducks vehicles, as the company has built its DUKWs rather than renovating old ones.

Adams is well aware of all this, and said during an interview that he prefers working for a big company that take cares of the details and employs him full-time. "I go where the money is best," he said with a shrug.

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