Projects seem to multiply like rabbits in the brush when it comes to preparing a boat you are unfamiliar with for an offshore passage. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with a boat that has laid nearly dormant for a year, in our case a 1965 Sparkman and Stephens-designed Chris Craft Sail Yacht. Five days of boat projects flew by as we prepared for what would end up being a three-day trip from Daytona to Charleston, SC recently. A cleaning that would have made Martha Stewart proud gave way to an archeological sifting through the previous owner's belongings, and multiple trips to the trash can. Old epoxy, bottom paint, and other toxic products worthy of a Superfund site needed to find a good home somewhere else. There were several rounds of wrestling with an old engine hose and replacing it, followed by a climb to the top of the mast to replace standing rigging.
Long periods of time were expended slithering into the recess of lazerettes to reroute new propane hose—to say nothing of riding around Daytona while seeking out parts in a borrowed pickup and surviving the speedway mentality of many of its drivers. While there is nothing like realizing the boat of your dreams, the challenges of pre-purchase agreements, financing arrangements, finding insurance, and having the boat hauled and surveyed had lasted several months. With the details now completed and behind us, we were ready to cast off and start our northward journey.
But not before stowing a load of diesel and tacitly accepting the fact that the port water tank seemed to be leaking slightly. Provisions had to be bought, the dinghy had to be loaded on, charts purchased, the weather consulted and re-consulted—you get the idea, sailing off into the sunset brings more work with it than most landlubber romanticized versions. Owning a boat is, at the very least, a two-person project, and it helps if those two people are half-crazed workaholics with a dash of the immortal in them.
So when we started the engine to warm it up, checking to see that water was coming out of the exhaust, and began taking away the spider's web of docklines that held the boat in place during the absence of an owner, there was momentum that was difficult contain. Charleston was that way, north, and the journey was about to begin. So the gecko I spied scurrying across the deck of the boat should have served as a warning of larger animals further up the food chain to come. While he proved relatively easy to catch (he seemed to recognize his mistake and clambered onto my arm—or perhaps it had a clairvoyance I lacked), often in boating situations the about-to-be-surprised are given some foreshadowing of what lies ahead.
The tide was ebbing, pinning the boat to the dock, and with a large powerboat attached to the end of the dock, there was little room to maneuver between us and it. There was both coordinated and free form heaving on the stern line and some pushing on the bow, the boat spun off the dock and lo and behold our journey had begun. We waved, buoyed by the fact we were free from shore and its demands.
The channel markers began their procession, the engine churned merrily along, life was good. I sorted docklines and fenders while my better half piloted us north. I began tying up the dinghy sail bag, when something—a yellow and green three foot snake sunning itself—caught my eye. Screaming and simultaneously retreating I made it back to the cockpit saying the only thing my adrenaline-charged brain, which had defaulted to its neanderthal parts and could only muster: "SNNNNNNAAAAAAAAAKKKKKKEEE!!.There' s 8&**#*$@ snake up there!!" I informed my likewise screaming crew mate.
"Shut the ports, shut the ports!" she implored, once again proving when it comes to dealing with slithering things, women have an advanced crisis management gene.
There was little to delay me. If the snake were to make it down below, forget it. Who knows where it could have gone, hidden, only to emerge during brief feeding cameos in the night.
|"This was beginning to look too easy. I suddenly had control over my slithering adversary. But it was an all too brief moment. "|
"Throw it overboard," came as more than a suggestion, but by then the snake—and it was a beautiful creature, vibrant yellows and greens—had disappeared. A brief debate on whether all snakes could swim ensued. One party maintained they could. The other maintained they couldn't. In the meanwhile the snake was doing what snakes do best, slithering around unseen.
How to capture a snake? In a flash of not exactly genius I remembered a tupperware container holding screws, ran to the aft cabin, hastily emptied it, and took it back to the snake. Luckily, a piece of foam had been left in the centerboard trunk, designed to keep water from shooting up in the centerboard trunk when underway with an outboard, and the snake was essentially cornered. I carefully placed the tupperware on top of the centerboard trunk. It wasn't easy, but I managed to flip that part of the dinghy over and began shaking it. A few pine needles started falling into the tupperware. A few more. Where was the snake? Some more shaking. Finally, it fell out, roused from whatever state of transcendental bliss it had previously known. There was a small gap in the dinghy's hull and where the tupperware wouldn't reach, and with bliss over and escape on its mind, the snake was ready to make a run for it. Quickly I introduced the lid of the tupperware, and before the snake or myself knew it, I had the snake under wraps, and a feeling of relief and triumph found only in the euphoria of man over animal washed over me.
We quickly transitioned from the neanderthal back to the domestic, named the snake ‘Snakey', drilled air holes in the top, and set it in a safe place. Ground rules were quickly established—Snakey was not to go down below. Snakey's cage was additionally well duct taped to ensure he wouldn't be going anywhere, till we were ready to release him. We anchored out that night, and the next day dropped Snakey off at a marina, prompting puzzled looks from the dockhand when I asked him if there was a good place to release a snake.
Keeping Critters Off
Birds are relatively harmless, but can make their home in the ends of booms and masts when boats are on the hard. Stuffing foam or whatever else might be handy to block birds for making nests in your vessel's spars can keep them keeping on in search of more suitable habitat.
Cockroaches are a cruiser's nightmare, and many a sailor has battled these resiliant insects. Keeping cardboard and paperbags off the boat will keep egg casings that are sometimes found in these paper products from getting aboard. If you do find yourself battling cockroaches, know that a case-by-case squish fest is the least effective and messiest technique to get rid of them. Mix boric acid with honey or jam and set this out in small trays made out of aluminum foil. Disperse the trays throughout the boat and repeat as necessary. Sooner or later you'll be cockroach free.
Finally, it's always a good policy to give anything a little grungy looking a thorough freshwater rinse with the hose before it—and any surprises—make its way aboard.