Uninvited Guests on Board – the Beastly Kind

19 December 2008 By Kate Hubert

Every so often, you discover, to your horror, that the yacht’s invitation-only guest list has been violated. You have gatecrashers on board, or worse – stowaways.

Two-legged interlopers are usually pretty easy to find and deal with. The real problems kick in when they have four legs…or even none!

Picture the scene: The lady of the yacht (a gorgeous Herreshoff design) is taking a shower. She can hear someone crashing about in the salon and starts chatting to her husband through the door about their evening’s plans. He’s obviously too busy mixing cocktails to answer. She emerges, wrapped in a plush towel, to be confronted by someone apparently making a dacquiri…except it’s not her husband; it’s a big male macaque monkey, bright pink bottom on the galley counter, munching away on a hand of bananas. She screams, drops her towel, and screams some more; he bares his teeth and screams right back.

She finally unlocked the shower door some time later, once she heard her real husband asking her why she’d made such a mess of the galley....

That last story was from Malaysia, but you can find beastly stowaways just about anywhere. Many sailors are familiar with exhausted birds hitching a ride at sea, especially after storms. An egret once spent a couple of days on a yacht I was sailing on, strolling the decks, picking off insects; it seemed to ignore the freshwater left for it by the crew (although most birds are grateful). The ship’s cat had to be restrained until we sighted land and off the bird flew.

Of course, any ship’s cat has free reign when rodents find their way aboard. It’s not just hygiene that’s the issue; the teeth of rats and mice grow continuously – they must wear them down so they have a compulsive urge to gnaw. Electrical and communications cabling, fuel and head waste pipes are yummy as far as they’re concerned. Even a single rat can cause serious damage – an infestation could spell disaster.

The tropics are particularly ripe with wild critters. Crew learn to expect the odd monkey raid whilst on the dock. You’d think you’d be safe at anchor, except it turns out that Monitor lizards can climb up anchor chains (they love to swim). Several yachts have found a cross, confused, two-meter-long lizard with razor-sharp claws thrashing about in a cabin – eek!

The quiet ones are even worse…. At the beginning of the wet season in Thailand, the downpours wash lots of creepy crawlies out to sea. One skipper wondered why his cat was going nuts every time he went near the forepeak until he noticed the three-meter(!) python nestled on the bunk. It took a duvet cover and some serious wrestling to get it ashore.

The crew of Yanneke Too got used to calling the locals on board to identify and remove various snakes when they were moored in Phuket during the start of the Wet. On one occasion, a snake was chased into a tight spot where it disappeared between decks. The Thais assured the mate it was fine and would probably find its own way out. As they walked away down the dock, I whispered to one of them, “Ahem, wasn’t that a cobra?”

“Yes!” he said, grinning, “But only a little one….”

What uninvited guests have you discovered on board? How did you “persuade” them to leave?

Here's a little quiz for you:

Q: Why do you find remoras attached to the hull?

A) They mistake it for a whale
B) They get addicted to the antifoulant
C) They like eating scraps thrown over, head waste, barnacles etc.

The answer is C, although A is a popular theory that may have some truth in it.

Q: What’s the best thing to do if you find a snake on board?

A) Provide a dark bag, pillowcase, etc., for it to hide in, then carry it ashore
B) Catch it and kill it
C) Try to tempt it out with scraps of food, then pick it up by tail and take ashore

The answer is A. Snakes only attack if cornered – most people get bitten by trying to kill them. They will want to hide from you, so a nice dark bag is best for all! And don’t pick it up by the tail – it may turn its head and bite you!

Q: What should you check for after a time in dry dock?

A) Bird’s nests in the boom
B) Bird’s nest in the exhaust outlet
C) Ants/wasps nests below deck

The answer is all of the above although none are very dangerous – except perhaps the exhaust!

Q: How do you prevent a cockroach infestation?

A) Don’t bring any cardboard aboard – they lay their eggs on it – especially corrugated card
B) Spray surfaces with bleach/cleaner to mask their trails
C) Put Vaseline on the warps

The answer is A.

Q: How do you prevent a rodent infestation?

A) Spray extract of lion pee (commercially available)
B) Get a ship’s cat
C) Use funnels on the warps so they can’t climb up

The answer is C – they don’t seem scared by the smell of cats (whether big or small).