Since arriving into the Labuan Marina in Sarawak, Malaysia, one topic has continuously come up in conversations with other cruisers - beware of the rats. Rats? Yes, rats. Immediately my mind envisions a yellow-toothed rodent nibbling on the apples in our fruit basket, scurrying across our countertops, and chewing the rubber coating off the wires behind the ship’s control panel. Rats are not welcomed aboard Field Trip. Hospitality ends here. Up until this point, the varmints have kept their scrubby paws off our boat, but the sheer number of rats estimated to be roaming the docks here has me thinking that the chances of a furry stowaway are inevitable. In the first day we’re here, we see two roaming rodents. It is time to fortify Field Trip before the enemies can invade.
|“Of all horrors in the world - a rat!” Winston in the novel 1984.|
How will they get aboard? Where do we start?
|Rats are nimble little critters|
With acrobatic ease, rats can balance on mooring lines and scamper right from the docks up onto the boat. Like a network of bridges over the water, the very lines that hold us to the docks become easy access routes for invaders. I’ve also heard of rats who actually swam out to a boat from shore and climbed up the stern steps. Mercy, these guys are ruthless! There’s not much I can do to guard both the transom steps. (Aside from getting a cat on the boat, which was what the kids thought we should do!)
“Who will not feed the cats, must feed the mice and rats.” Proverb
For now, we’ll stick to blockading the lines.
A quick google search of ‘rat guards’ brings up a long list of patented solutions to this common cruiser’s dilemma. Amazon even offers a few different designs to choose from! We can’t wait for a shipment to get halfway around the world, however, so we’ll have to rely on some creative ingenuity. Each rat guard looks essentially the same - a solid disk with a line-sized hole drilled in the center. The disk is slipped onto the line and secured in place, creating a wall that the acrobat cannot get around. One guy on a boat here even went so far as to apply grease to his lines so the little critters would slip right off! For me, that sounds like too much of a mess to deal with once we undock. We’ll stick with the disk design.
DIY Rat Guards
At the local mall, the kids spot something in a toy store that just might work. A plastic, neon orange Beyblade arena. At only US$1.50 each, these seem like a reasonable solution. We purchase 6, then head back to cut them and place them on each dock line. Unfortunately, the flimsy plastic isn’t rigid enough to stand up on the line. They all kind of lean over and wobble. We just cut a slit, which proves not to be a good engineering design. In wind, the makeshift guards fly off the lines. This will not work.
On our next trip to the local Mr. DIY shop here, we find some sturdy plastic plates. These should do the trick. This time, we’ll use a dremel to drill a hole in the center and then cut a slit from one edge up to it. When we place these plates on the lines, I can already see that this will work much better. At first, we drill too big of a hole, though, and it slides down the line. Better to drill smaller and have it hold tight. Perfect. Our Field Trip is fortified. Try, rats, just you try to infiltrate our fortress.
“I don’t like rats, but there’s not much else I don’t like. The problem with rats is they have no fear of human beings, they’re loaded with foul diseases, they would run the place given half the chance...” David Attenborough
What if one of these wry fellows outsmarts our rat guards? When we leave here, we’ll be out at Pulau Tiga, a remote island offshore. There will certainly be no hardware shop there. So, we’ll need to prepare for the worst. I’ve kept my eyes open in the supermarkets and shops to find traps. The only rat defense I find initially is rat poison. I consider it for a moment and then decide against it. I’d rather not smell a decaying rat who has eaten poison and then found some hidden bilge in which to breathe its last breath. No, that won’t do.
Nowhere can I find any traps. I’d even go for the sticky pad kind at this point. Luckily, another cruiser comes to our rescue. He’s got a few extra traps on his boat that he doesn’t need. He says he used peanut butter as bait, and it worked on the first night. Other cruisers have sworn that boiled egg and even marshmallows are irresistible to rats. Alright, we are armed with three different rat lures and two brand new traps. If some sneaky rodent gets past our plates of armor and leaves any traces of himself behind - gross - he will find himself SNAPPED into oblivion. (insert evil laugh)
**Quick update** - We have stayed in the marina for five nights. All of our plates stayed on the lines, although we did end up putting clothespins in front and behind each plate to prevent it from slipping down the line. And so far??? NO RATS!! Those precious plastic plates will be tucked away to use for our future marina stays! Field Trip:1, Rats: 0. Let’s keep it that way.
Before I get too cocky and deem myself the 'E-rat-icator', let me tell you what happened while we were eating dinner in the cockpit that first night away from the marina. Mark went to the helm to check the wind speed, and discovered tiny poo pellets across the dash. Yes. The fortress had fallen. Field Trip had been infiltrated. Immediately, we armed the traps and laid out a couple of glue traps (I did end up finding some at a hardware store before we left the town) just for good measure. I shivered at the thought of what I would find stuck there in the morning. In fact, I stayed in bed just a tad bit longer the next day, hoping someone else would be the one to discover the fatality.
Alas, coffee beckoned and curiosity won out. I tentatively peeked over the helm at the glue trap we’d placed up on the dashboard. A blob of pink was stuck to the corner of it. At first, I couldn’t identify it, but at closer inspection I saw that it was the sweet, insect-eating gecko that we’d seen a few nights ago. His eyes watched me as I circled him. Poor little guy. He was the poop producer, not a rat. There was nothing I could do to peel him off of the gluey surface. His demise was certain. The kids gathered around, sad that our traps had worked. This victory is bittersweet.
It would be an honored burial at sea for Mr. Gecko. May he die peacefully on his gluey final resting place. Gone, but not forgotten. An innocent victim of our rodent battle.