Home' Afloat : AFLOAT January 2016 Contents Take monthly with water January 2016 61
My record for unwittingly sharing my floating home with
native creatures over the past few decades stands at
six snakes, millions of spiders, numerous mid-ocean
visits by very weary birds, a couple of cockroach plagues and
a large rat. The latter, although possibly not a true blue Aussie
native, certainly proved to be the most intelligent of them all.
It happened at Thursday Island during a wet-season layover
when a tropical storm of unusual intensity produced continuous
lightning and deluge rain that washed everything not glued down
off the island and into the Torres Strait.
That I didn’t drag anchor during that dark and stormy night
was miraculous because the ground was, and still is, notorious
for indifferent holding. However, I must have been on a good
patch because a nearby pearling lugger was also holding fast.
While watching her through my closed porthole a huge lighting
strike backlit the lugger and starkly illuminated a nightmare
scenario of drenched rats running up her anchor chain.
I hadn’t considered the obvious probability of them washing
out with the rest of the island’s debris so I urgently ran to the
foredeck to see if any were climbing my anchor chain, and was
infinitely relieved to find they were not. But it soon became evident
that at least one had got aboard – probably ducking down the
main hatch while I was on the foredeck – because that night he
audaciously snuggled into the crook of my neck and nipped my
As I exploded off the bunk with bleeding ear in shock and
horror, he took off like a startled gazelle and for the rest of the
night I searched the boat with torch in hand and heart in mouth.
In the sultry calm of the morning, I went ashore and bought
just about every rattrap on the island plus lots of cheese for bait
then set them strategically around my yacht. During that night one
trap went off, missed the rat but gave him a free meal of cheese.
This near-death experience apparently also gave him wisdom
beyond his years because thereafter all traps were ignored and
their cheeses remained untouched.
This was my first inkling that rats might be smarter than the
average sailor because he then busied himself chewing the lower
corners off locker doors. Containing only tinned food he then,
presumably, sought sustenance elsewhere because his damaging
behaviour stopped for the next few days.
Stupidly, I thought he might have abandoned ship and that
my battle was over. Convinced he had found greener pastures,
I was shocked by his reappearance one morning sitting on the
end of my bunk, hale and hearty and looking unbearably smug.
The dreaded rat: For a while he was smarter than the average sailor.
by Alan Lucas
Having experienced my violent reaction during our first
encounter, he kept his distance then took off, apparently unwilling
to raise my ire again. Wondering what he could have possibly
found to eat, I searched the vessel from stem to stern and found
no other source of possible rat food than a burst tube of Ungvita
vitamin ‘A’ cream, which I stupidly discounted as being the source.
Continuing my illusory search for a few more hours, the
penny at last dropped with the question; “Why wouldn’t a hungry
rat eat Ungvita? ”
I smeared the medicinal cream onto a trap and nailed the
ear-nibbling rodent that night.
It’s not very edifying to be outsmarted by a rat and it’s even
more humiliating when it is compounded by one’s own dumb
My only defence was the difficulty in believing that a rodent
might actually prefer a medical cream to cheese. But despite
my damaged ego I posthumously gave the rat full credit for
so completely fooling me and grudgingly admired his dietary
adaptability under duress: His legacy is that a tube of Ungvita
has been part of my anti-rat program ever since.
As for the neighbouring pearl lugger, in the old days she might
have been scuttled in shallow water to get rid of a rat plague,
but having long since been fitted with an engine scuttling was
not an option.
However, the islanders’ system was simple and effective: The
day after the storm they moved their deck stove (that was just
an open fire in a 20 gallon drum) below decks and smoked the
rats out. In fear of their migrating en-masse to my vessel I spent
the day watching my anchor chain. h
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