We feel like we are getting into the swing of the cruising life now.

Getting the hang of what it takes.  Getting advice from online sources and word of mouth.  Talking with other cruisers about their experiences.

There are a LOT of things that can go wrong on a boat but if you’re lucky and you have a good well-maintained boat they may not happen that often.

But then there are the wild card issues.  Things you cannot imagine ever happening to you and that you never want to ever happen. Something that strikes fear into the heart of the most seasoned sailor. Something that causes the faces of fellow yachties to drop, drain of blood and cry out “Oh No !!!!” (whilst thanking their lucky stars it isn’t their problem)

Yup…you know where I am heading here now right?

Nobody ever wants to get up on the morning and find a nectarine in the fruit bowl has been nibbled or look in the cupboard to see that a plastic storage container has had its corner chewed into tiny pieces.  Nope, Nein, Nada Net, NOOOOOOOO.

Beautiful Lispi on the town quay at sunset

Let me back up a little here.  We’d sailed over to Lipsi, yet another lovely island in the Dodecanese and come into the town quay.  Med moored as usual here – meaning anchor down and reverse to the quay with 2 lines to shore.  After reading about another rat incident in a Facebook group we cast our eyes around to see if anyone had rat protection discs on their shore lines – as these little critters can scamper along ropes and onto a boat in double quick time.  No…no signs of any such thing.

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A rat ‘discourager’ We have these now.

As we were finally in a town with a good grocery store I bought up tomatoes and onions to make chutney which need to sit in a pot sprinkled with salt overnight.  The boat smelt a bit like fresh salsa. Rick thinks this had something to do with why the rat picked our boat out of the 20 or so along the pier !

So a rat on a boat…kinda funny? Not to boat owners. Stories abound of people who come back from months off their boat to find the whole inside destroyed.  It’s not so much the food they eat or diseases they may carry but their need to keep their teeth short by gnawing away at all manner of stuff (otherwise they would have tusks apparently!). We have actually heard of boats being written off after a rat invasion. While a bit of poop around the place and chowing down on some favourite items in our snack cupboard can be tolerated, what can’t be is the thought that one could be eating away at all our wiring or making a nest inside our upholstery.

Best not to Google “What damage can a rat do to a yacht” we thought.

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After a couple of minutes of freaking out we got to work to figure out where it came from and where on the boat it could be and how to get rid of the little…well you can probably guess what I was calling it. Rick found droppings right up the bow near the stem fitting so we concluded it had climbed up the anchor chain. No kidding.  Perhaps someone else threw it off their boat and it was just swimming around the harbour looking for an escape route. But it certainly smelt the juicy nectarine and came in one of the portholes that we leave open as it’s simply too hot to leave them closed.  Onto the table for a juicy snack and then behind the chair to chew a nasty hole in our precious upholstery (I am still annoyed about this!) and then up into the cupboard behind the stove which I had left open by about an inch where it then got into my grain cupboard and started noshing on my favourite melba toasts!

It’s days were numbered after I discovered this!

But, of course, it was now daytime and it was hiding from us and sleeping off its full tummy somewhere well hidden from the demonic humans intent on murder rifling through cupboards looking for it. I started pulling everything out of all the cupboards along the starboard side of the boat, filling the table and saloon with stuff.  I kept going until there was no more poo to be found.  A bit of re-reading the hilarious rat post from the Facebook group  (not quite so hilarious now) to get ideas and Rick was off to the mini market to build our armoury. Sticky mats and plastic mousetraps.  We put the sticky mats and traps in the cupboard and we nearly caught the little …… (insert nasty swear word here for a more realistic turn of phrase).  It got stuck on the sticky mat but as we were about to open the cupboard, like a horror movie one sticky paw comes out of the gap in the louvres in the door as it does its best to yank its other 3 legs off the mat.  We were both still a bit flustered and neither of us thought to grab hold of the yucky, scratchy claw instead we just stood there looking a bit horrified. And then with a bang and clatter and scrabble of claws it was off and slithering away with its sticky little feet down the very back of the cupboard and into a tiny gap behind the cupboard lining and the hull of the boat. Major panic number 2……it had access to more of the boat and more of the wiring.

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I know rats learn fast because they are very smart…we humans hate them a lot and we haven’t managed to eradicate them yet. I knew that the sticky mat was our best chance and that we had missed the opportunity. It was heading for evening and the Italian guy next to us kept asking for updates on how we were going with ‘Mickey Mouse’ chuckling at his cleverness at having a dog on board….a blind dog. Which made us laugh but we figured they would smell it and go for a boat that smells like nectarine and tomato salsa…the one next door!

We set more traps close to the sides and corners of the cupboards as they don’t see well and use their whiskers for navigation in the dark. We went to bed and with every squeak and noise were up checking the cupboards only to find it was just the noise of the neighbours fender squeaking against our boat or the night-time noises that come when you are on a quay with close proximity to other boats.

Next morning there is nothing to show for our efforts. Well nothing but a rat who has discovered that he can get into our food cupboard further up towards the bow of the boat. Rick had pulled out the vacuum cleaner to suck up the mess and saw rat poo in the cupboard. An inventory of the cupboards showed he’d been in the linen cupboard and had eaten holes in a yoga mat and also the IT cupboard where mercifully he had just crapped and not eaten laptop cords. He ate the good crackers and chips too and was very ho-hum about the snacks we didn’t enjoy so much.

Rat had entered the cupboard on your left  (Behind the stove)and made it as far as the one on the far right

Time for the heavy artillery and a better plan. Rick left for the hardware store where he bought large plastic boxes to put the contents of the 5 now empty cupboards and a full arsenal of rat traps and poison (last resort).

The full extent of the arsenal

Step one:  Get away from Lipsi.  Off we went to the Island of Arkanghelos (we can use the benevolence of any and all archangels right about now) where we could anchor in a calm and quiet environment and hear him when he came out.

Much better for plotting a murder and hearing a rat.

Step two: Redeploy the sticky mats.  We decided that the holes between the cupboards could be blocked off to trap him into one cupboard where we had a better chance of both catching him and limiting the damage he could do.  There were rat sized holes where the cables pass through and we put up sticky mats on both sides so the only way through the holes was via the sticky mats.  We used 6 all up. We left the access to behind the cupboards open as we wanted to lure him out not block him in to die behind there.

I also used gaffer tape on all holes

Step 3:  Rat psychology.  Consult the internet to understand the behaviour and get tips from the experts. OK. Biggest piece of advice was to get them to trust the traps by disarming them and letting them feed from them several times before setting them.  And that they could live for up to a week with no food but only 48 hours with no water. In the afternoon we put inviting morsels of nectarine and cucumber in the unarmed traps which the rat tentatively sampled. So, he had been out to feed. We should repeat with unarmed traps again right? We looked at each other. Nah let’s arm them this time !! Rick was by this time threatening to use the poison he had bought (which could lead to decomposing carcass somewhere inaccessible) and was getting a crazy look in his eye from all the stress of wondering hour by hour what might be being destroyed. My best powers of persuasion were being put to the test.  I was starting to say things like…’well, you know that will be the end of this season as a rat decomposing will smell so bad we won’t be able to stay on board.’

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So just before bed we armed the traps basically ignoring the advice we thought was the most important!  Rat traps next to the walls.  Sticky mats in there with them just in case. Humane trap in there in case he wanted us to release him. All the cupboards now blocked off so all means of escape were cut off. No food except what was on the traps. Juicy nectarine and cucumber well stuck onto the traps with their skins holding them on so that it couldn’t delicately lick the food off without the trap going off. And to bed…

Screen Shot 2019-09-02 at 12.26.02 pmI’m lying in bed unable to sleep singing a little rat trapping song to myself and Rick is doing Sudoku and thinking about the sound of a little neck being snapped in a wire trap. And this is from 2 fairly compassionate animal lovers. We had been transformed by this rat into ferocious and merciless hunters! And on the stroke of midnight we hear it…a trap has gone off!  No exaggeration it actually was on the dot of midnight. We race to the cupboard.  Rick puts on gloves…no nasty rabid bites for him.  I hand him a smallish towel to catch it in just in case the trap hadn’t done the trick and I pick up an old sheet ready to stuff into the hole which leads into the space between the cupboards and the hull. I open one cupboard and Rick the next. I’m stuffing the sheet in and Ricks saying ‘Where is he?’  The trap had gone off, the cucumber was gone but there were paw prints in the sticky mat!  So, he would be having sticky feet issues.  Next cupboard opened and there he is…like a gecko stuck to the side of the cupboard, motionless.  No hesitation this time.  Rick grabs him in the towel. We yell with excitement.  Then we are up on deck and Rick is trying to break its neck but is saying it feels like bending a limp sausage. Then he’s saying I’ll throw him over and I’m going ‘NO! NO! NO!  He’ll swim around and back up our or someone else’s anchor chain.’

I’ve got the torch and we decide in loud whispers on the quiet anchorage that we need the bucket filled with water for a humane (well, as any murder can be) drowning.  Towel and all in he goes.  After a minute Rick says surely that’s enough and I say nope, another few minutes….I am having visions of it being thrown into the water only to start twitching and swim off…towards our anchor chain! And then it’s over.  He’s dead.  He’s tossed overboard and we look at him and realise he was actually quite big. We are pumped and jubilant. Ecstatic. And above all thoroughly relieved.  And not one shred of guilt. Neither of us can get to sleep we are so elated.

The cupboard where it all started and finally ended!

The next day I clean and scrub and clean some more.  And then I reorganise the shelves and change things around.  And I realise I feel more at home than prior to the rat.  We talk about it and feel like we have gone through something pretty major. That feeling of helplessness we had the whole time it was running about doing damage we couldn’t see was horrible. And the relief was so, so sweet. We love our new tiny home.  We survived, were initiated even.  Not many cruising folks meet someone who has had to deal with a rat on aboard so it’s a story that will be retold many a time of that we are sure. The boat survived with just one small hole in the upholstery.

We hope never again to go through something like this but have packed the remaining traps and pellets well away in a cupboard just in case…..

Posted by:cathmaddox

10 replies on “Every Live-Aboard Sailor’s Worst Nightmare…….Or I Smell a Rat!

  1. That was riveting reading. What a story! I just had 6 of my work colleagues in suspense and entertained for the entire commute to the staff carpark after work! They’re hooked and looking forward to your next post Cath!

  2. Oh wow! So glad you caught the little ….! Can’t think of anything worse than being in close proximity with a rat!!

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