Saturday, December 18, 2010


Will was gone in a flash and I was left with a boat which needed lots of work. I had a slip in Marina Vallarta located next to the sports/fishing/piano/tourist bar Chappy's. Most of the time I felt like I was trapped in some sort of Mexican Margaritaville. Once I finally found a way to get internet on the boat I fell into a daily routine. I would wake up fairly early and listen to the daily Cruiser's Radio Net on VHF Channel 22. I would drink two cups of coffee and have some breakfast and begin the day's projects. I would start working and not really stop for a breath until Chappy's resident piano/guitar vocalist had entered his rock set at around 8 pm with a nightly “Come on baby light my fire” sung in jazzy Mexican off tempo. My mind was completely clear during these days, I was focused only on the tasks at hand. The first task was the head. I had stupidly stored it for 18 months full of salt water, which had now formed a crust over every inner valve and surface. The pump handle would not budge at all. I tore it down to its simplest parts, discovered how it worked, and put it back together again, clean and functioning. This took almost one day. The next project was to manufacture a replacement Monitor windvane servo rudder. This is the small rudder that trails behind the boat and provides the power for the windvane to steer the boat on its own on a steady course. The servo rudder fell off halfway down the coast last week. A new one is $500, so I'll go with this jury rigged one for now. It's made with random pieces of stainless steel and plexiglass bolted and epoxied into the the old tube. It is horribly ugly. I think it will be strong enough for a few thousand miles on the ocean but we'll see how well it can steer the boat in constantly varying conditions. The next project was to discover why Sula's main transverse bulkhead was tearing loose from its fastening to the side of the hull and loudly cracking and creeping sideways with every roll to a big wave. On the way south it was a difficult noise to sleep through, with the thought that maybe the next wave would be the one to tear it completely loose and thoughts of “how important is that bulkhead?” running through my head. The theory that I've developed is that the cause of the bulkhead loosening was Sula being stored in the Sonoran desert for more than 2 years. All the moisture has now been sucked out of the wood and wood shrinks with low humidity. The boat however, being fiberglass, stayed the same size and something had to give. This was a major undertaking and I spent many hours just poking around, trying to imagine the forces on her structure and how my repairs would change things. But I knew I had to do something for the time being and so I set about to reattaching the bulkhead to the hull. I injected epoxy into the bulkhead tabbing where it was noisily tearing loose and also heavily screwed and epoxied the bulkhead to a fiberglass beam that is directly beneath it but no longer touching the bulkhead. Sula is so strongly built that I do not fear any real structural failures, and so far since the repair the bulkhead has been quiet, unmoving and seemingly strong. I spent more days changing the oil in Sula's old Westerbeke 21 hp diesel. I changed the fuel filter, and for the first time figured out how to drain the old transmission fluid, using a mirror to look underneath the engine to see the hidden drain bolt. The 'Gulper' manual bilge pump would also no longer pump and so I spent a day taking it down to its individual parts, finding corrosion and eaten Aluminum, also due to being stored for so long with a gullet full of salt water. New flapper valves and a healthy dose of epoxy to jury rig the failed metal plate brought the pump back to life after a day of swearing, contortion, and bloody knuckles.
These were all important projects and each one brought Sula closer to a condition that I would feel comfortable sailing her in for an extended period of time far from safe harbors. But no matter how long my workdays, there always seemed to be more work to do and the day of Sara's arrival approached quickly. I had been sleeping soundly every night in a small berth, exhausted by the day. Then one night 2 days before Sara was to arrive, I found that I couldn't sleep. I was thinking too much and imagining noises around the boat. Just as I was finally falling into slumber, I had a terrible, almost physically real dream. Some kind of animal fell out of thin air onto my leg! I could feel the animal struggling and thrashing around, and I attempted to throw this nighttime visitor off of me from beneath the blanket. When finally fully awake, I turned on lights and looked around only to find there was nothing there. Had it been a snake? A giant spider? A rodent? Or only a dream? I convinced myself that it was only a dream, and if the animal had been real, it was surely gone now. The next day all was calm. The workday went well and there was no sign of any intruder. Then, late in the afternoon I found a small area of chewed up food in the quarter berth. A clear sign of a rodent visitor. Why didn't I make my way directly to the store for traps? Well, optimism can be strange. I convinced myself that he had surely seen that the boat was not a good source of food and he would move on to another boat. That night I went to bed hopeful that he was just a casual visitor and had departed for less populated boats. I slept for only a hour before being awoken by a horrible racket. Not only had he not departed, but his boldness had increased 4-fold. He was now making more noise than ever and sampling every scrap of food he could find. He easily made his way into every compartment. I had to face the truth. I had rats. And the idea that he would depart of his own accord now seemed utterly laughable. I had been a fool. And now Sara would arrive later that day not to a Yacht of Luxury and Relaxation, but one of Pestilence and Unrest. A sour note to begin a honeymoon! So now its 4 am and I can't sleep and Sara arrives in a few hours and there is a noisy, hungry, rat having his way with Sula's interior. I need help. Google helps, a bit. I'm set on the right track. No poison says Google. It doesn't work, and if it does it may leave a smelly carcass, rotting inaccessible in the bilge. No glue traps. They don't work and are cruel if they do. Old fashioned spring-traps are the way to go. Cheap, effective, quick, and reusable. So I'm off to Wal-Mart in a taxi. Its open 24hrs? Yes. But, closed anyway. Welcome to Mexico. The next megastore? Open. Poison? Tons! Glue traps? A whole section! Ratoneras? (spring traps) Nope. Who knows why, but the one item I do want, the one that works, they don't have. So, having come all the way, I reluctantly buy 4 glue traps and head home. All four are soon baited with Nutella, and put into the rat's favorite places. I'm finally exhausted enough to sleep at this point and with the help of earplugs and distancing myself from the action up in the v-berth, I get a few hours of sleep. The next morning, upon inspection, the glue traps reveal a snapshot of the rat's night in paradise. Each of the 4 traps has been visited. Each lump of succulent hazelnut butter has been sampled, and each glue trap tells the same story, a happy rat wandered this way and calmly marched across the deadly glue as if it were a red carpet. There is not a single sign of struggle or discomfort! Panic is slowly setting in. Sara lands in a few hours! The boat is a disaster, completely torn apart, and has Rats. And there is no way to stop their nightly rampages. I quickly organize things as best I can to make Sula appear the very 'boat-which-does-not-have-rats' and make my way to Wal Mart. The store might be destroying the world, but at least it has everything. But it turns out, not Ratoneras! OMG. I'm going to lose it. So its another bus and a walk to HomeDepot before I finally spy the beautiful, simple, and deadly, Ratonera. I get two of the giant sewer rat sized ones and head quickly for the airport, wrapping my prize in 6 bags to hide the fact that I'm greeting my finance with not the most romantic gift upon arrival in Paradise. Its lovely to see Sara, we drop her bags at the boat and then I take her out to lunch to break the news. She deals with the situation much better than I. She's not perturbed a bit, which is a relief, but when we go to sleep onboard that night the battle begins anew. Both Ratoneras are baited with the same Nutela that worked so well with the glue traps, and I'm snug in bed expectantly waiting for the most beautiful sound in the world. But, there is nothing. No sound of good old American spring steel hammering down with final judgment. There is only the sound of the now extremely bold and well fed Rat. He is chewing happily, inexplicably, on the top of a bottle of vegetable oil, not 7 inches from a delicious Nutela baited Ratonera. He is bolder now too. When I shine my mega-bright 7 LED Flashlight on his dinner he doesn't even run as before. He's learned there's nothing to fear onboard this boat. Sara begs me to calm down and just come back to bed but there's no way I can sleep. Disgust in my rat catching abilities makes it impossible to think of sleep, let alone the cacophony of sounds coming from Mr. Rat's explorations that I'm powerless to stop. So. I scare him away to his darkest hideout and re-bait the traps. The 'experts' on the internet say it sometimes takes 2 days to catch one in a trap. The rats have to 'accept' the new trap and its scent as part of their world. And make sure you wear gloves so you don't get your scent on the trap! I throw all that out the window. I want this MF'er tonight! And Sara has brought Parmesan cheese. Hard, smelly, oily cheese that will fit nicely on the trigger with a few small zip ties to hold it snuggly in place. I re-set the traps in his favorite place, just next to the cooking oil bottle (that is now leaking out and sounds like a snare drum with every bite.) For almost an hour I pretend to sleep and listen to his scampering, cavorting, savoring, sampling and hors'derving around the boat. I can't take it anymore and pull myself out of the coffin like v-berth yet again. Sara implores me to just let it go. “Let him eat! We'll worry about it tomorrow!” But I can't be stopped, and I inspect the useless traps. To my absolute horror my worst fears are on display. There, with absolute certainty, is the Parmesan cheese, still zip tied to the trigger, but now half eaten! I'm beside myself. This rat is supernatural, a rodent devil! Or I'm the worst hunter in Mexico? Upon closer inspection I see the flaw in my workmanship. Just like how my other boat maintenance projects have taught me to breakdown and understand why something isn't working, I do the same with the Ratonera and I see it after some puzzling. My zip tie has come in contact with the hold-back wire, and made the trap a secure dining place for my enemy. Its time to readjust, like a fisherman changing lures, I'm going to give this bastard exactly what he wants.... vegetable oil! I tear off a little section of paper towel and roll it up, wedging it firmly under the tab on the trigger, then soak it in the same oil he's been happily chewing through plastic to get to for hours. If he wants this oil so much I'll give it to him. I put both traps right in the middle of the floor, right were I've seen him run every time from his hideout to the food. Next to the traps I put the bottle of oil he's been so desperate for. It CANT be true that a rat is smarter than a man! this point I really don't know. But. In just a few minutes of fake sleep my patience is rewarded with probably the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. Not 7 minutes after returning to bed, he's sprung a trap! I bound out of bed in a few seconds, and I'm not sorry a bit to see that he has had his final meal aboard Sula. The Ratonera has done its job with the utmost dispatch, no mess and quick. I drop him over the side, triumphant, jubilant, and for the next few days I find its easier than ever to smile. Even a few days later when I'm thinking with despair, “We just had a collision!?” Well, its not that big of a deal, at least we don't have rats!

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