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Rat On Board

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At first light on march 6, 1999, TEKA III-OUR Knight & Carver-built 52-foot passagemaker- left the dock at Golfito, Costa Rica, with four people aboard and one four-legged stowaway taking advantage of a free passage to Panama.

The next morning I noticed droppings on one of the pilothouse cushions. A search of the main cabin turned up some more droppings. First impression after a meeting of minds between us and the couple along for the Panama Canal leg-too big for a mouse! Alex, who slept in the main cabin, claimed he had heard paper crinkling during the night. Each time, he grabbed the flashlight near his bed and shined it at the counter. Nothing! After his report, a closer inspection of the bread wrapper showed a nice hole chewed in it and crumbs scattered over the counter behind it. Then hubby Denis found that one of his fish gloves on the aft deck had been chewed on as well. Okay, get out the traps!

Three traps were prepared. A nice hunk of cheese waited in the rattrap. Two mouse traps held peanut butter to attract the varmint. All mice like peanut butter, right?

In the morning we found all three traps just as we had left them. Peanut butter not touched. Cheese stolen but trap not sprung. It must be a mouse, and one with particular tastes. On inspection, the glove had a much larger hole in it. So what do we have, a mouse or a rat?

New strategy for night No. 2. We moved the cheese to one mousetrap. In the other one, plus the rattrap, we placed a small offering of fish. He (we assumed it was a he and started calling him "Pedro") ate the fish in the big one, but did not spring it. The mousetrap with fish in it had been sprung but still had bait. While investigating the traps we kept finding droppings indicating his trail of nocturnal activity. Then we discovered a hole chewed in the teak flooring, about 1/4-inch across and almost totally through 3/4-inch teak. A short while later we located another chewed spot, this one not as deep. It had to be a big mouse if it wasn't a rat.

At this time we decided Pedro must be living on the aft deck, so that night we set traps right near his nesting area. To make sure he didn't gain access to the main cabin, we shut all windows and the door. Oops! Forgot to close the small pilothouse vent. That morning all traps remained in place, but a cluster of bananas left on the galley counter had large chunks eaten away-and only three feet away from Alex's head. This was some wily critter.

Night No. 4 we decided to try a piece of cotton ball soaked in fish sauce for one trap, cheese for another and peanut butter in the third, all placed along the trail we had deduced he used. We shut the inside cabin totally. No traps worked. He didn't find a way inside, but located the garbage sack now stowed in the bow area, nibbling through to get an apple.

Enough of this! It was WAR, us or him! The morning of Day 5 we decided to go on the offensive. The last thing we wanted to deal with was a long-term occupant, and one who could cause lots of damage with a constant need to sharpen his teeth and assuage his hunger. Having determined just where he nested, we made a plan. First, all moveable items were cleared from the aft deck. We closed off any escape holes from the aft deck to the front part of the boat by shutting the doors and taping any access near the floor. To maximize success we set the traps by the scuppers and zeroed in on the aft lazarette.

First Denis lifted off the top. One by one, he slowly removed propane tanks, a bucket of outboard engine supplies, then a large pot for cooking crab. Al stood poised with a broom handle. He looked like a Samurai warrior sporting his bandana. He intended to maneuver Pedro out of his box and knock him off the back deck into the sea. Denis worked with one hand unloading the lazarette while holding a large board in the other.

When Denis moved the last thing Pedro could hide behind or under, a cry went out: "There he is! It is a rat!"

They jabbed and stabbed at the elusive animal as he darted around inside the lazarette (45 inches long, 18 high, 18 deep). Joanne and I watched from inside the pilothouse, rooting for our guys. Pedro just kept dodging their efforts. If only we'd set up the video camera to catch the action.

In one quick movement, Pedro sprung over the top of the lazarette and high-tailed it down the aft deck port side behind some Lexan storm covers. Alex spotted him and harassed him so he could not backtrack. Pedro flew out the other end, straight toward bare-footed Denis.

"He's right there, Denis!" I screamed. Denis jumped onto the cushions in one leap. Just as quickly, he jumped back down and whacked at Pedro with his heavy stick. This caused Pedro to sway close to the rattrap, causing it to spring. The trap didn't totally nail him, unfortunately. He slid through the scupper, performed a swan dive off the boat and started swimming straight down beneath our boat.

Alex and I dashed to the bow. We didn't want Pedro to climb back up the anchor chain. Then Denis shouted, "He's surfaced back here by the swim platform!" A lone pelican stood guard on the swim deck but seemed oblivious to the activity. "Que paso, hombre!"

In only a short period of time the wind and waves carried Pedro away, his nose stuck up above water and his hind feet just a-pumping. We finally lost sight of him.

Turning our attention to putting the boat back into shape again, we threw away chewed-up towels and plastic from the lazarette storage, cloroxing the counter tops and patching the holes in the teak deck. It had been an interesting five days, and definitely an experience we hope not to repeat.

In Golfito we had chosen to tie up dockside, as Joanne's sprained foot needed medical attention. Otherwise we would have anchored out. But then I wouldn't have had a story to tell.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2002 © Dominion Enterprises (888.487.2953)