“The Guest” that wouldn’t leaveApr 29, 2016
The interior of Bill Morris’ boat Saltaire where an unwanted guest roamed with seeming impunity.
To the editor: Sometimes when you’re voyaging around the world, you pick up unwanted riders. It was in the Tuamotus in the Pacific that my Cal 30 Saltaire acquired a particularly unwanted crewmember.
“What’s that scratching sound?”
“Wha-what?” Marilu rubbed her eyes in the dim light of a dock lamp glaring through a V-berth porthole.
“There, there it is again,” I said quizzically. “It sounds like a tiny hacksaw.”
“Maybe some little creature climbed aboard while we were in town,” Marilu theorized.
“Or while we were sleeping. Maybe it’s one of the fenders rubbing against the dock. Oh well, let’s get back to sleep.”
Saltaire lay side-tied to the tiny loading dock in the town of Niutahi, Apataki Atoll, in the western Tuamotus. We had spent four days taking in the coral reefs and small-town island culture, and trading for South Seas pearls. This had been one of the highlights of our sail from Panama en route to Tahiti and points west. The voyage had been pure pleasure, and we just knew that nothing, nothing could mar the bliss we shared on this adventure.
CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH.
“I hear it again,” I grumbled, raising my head. “And that definitely isn’t a dock fender.” I flipped the cabin light on, looking aft, and a blur of fur shot across the galley countertop and vanished. “Oh no, we’ve got a visitor.”
“What happened?” Marilu propped herself up on one elbow.
“I think we have a rat.”
“A rat!” Marilu yelled. “How can I sleep with some nasty rodent running across my face?”
“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “We have a mousetrap, somewhere.”
“Look,” I peered into her worried brown eyes, “I’ll find it tomorrow. It’s a three-day sail to Tahiti, and we’ll be rid of this vermin before then.”
SCRAPE, SCRAPE, SCRAPE.
“There it is again!” Marilu trembled. We got up and we pulled out all the drawers, and I yanked the lid from the food hold.
“Look at this,” I held up a small plastic package leaking chunks of ramen noodles and powdered flavoring. “This guy doesn’t waste time.”
“And look here,” Marilu held up a partially shredded, half-empty tube of Neosporin. “Oh great, now we have a disease-resistant super rat.”
Our eyes met in bewilderment and disbelief. Marilu dropped the plastic tube and slowly sat down, shaking her head. With resignation, we spent the night trying to sleep, cringing to the scrapes, scratches and chews of the little beast.
We cleared port next afternoon and Saltaire surfed down gentle following seas, the wind vane self-steering aiming us straight for Tahiti. As the sun fell, we prepared for attack.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her. “Now is our chance to fight back.” The brass trip wire of the mousetrap, baited with a chunk of baguette, glowed a pale deathly yellow in the waning light. “This’ll get the little beast,” I smiled viciously.
“I don’t know,” Marilu frowned with worry. “That looks awfully small for a full-grown rat.”
“Trust me, this will get him. By morning, we’ll be laughing over this little episode,” I punched the air confidently, retreating to my seat outside the companionway.
SCRATCH, SCRATCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH.
I jumped into the cabin and opened the food hold. “What the hell?”
“The trap’s gone! What kind of beast is this? That little bastard must die!” I barked, my bold words filling me with determination to commit the ultimate act of violence against the furry little intruder.
“Don’t say that!” Marilu warned. “In the Philippines, we call a rat something nice, like ‘The Guest,’ so it won’t do anything bad to us. If you insult a rat, he will do something bad to you.”
“You must be kidding,” I tried to control my irritation. “I’m not superstitious.”
“Oh yeah? You’ll see.”
The night dragged on, the intermittent gnaws, scratches, chomps and chews grating against our sanity.
With the rising sun, I opened a galley drawer to find a clean dishtowel, which was folded next to my driver’s license and a stack of business cards. And there, right there on top of the mugshot on my license, was a soft, damp, brown beret perfectly curved over the top of my pate.
“This arrogant little bastard pooped on my head!”
“I told you!” Marilu fell back on the settee, laughing uncontrollably. “Ha ha ha, I told you!”
“Go ahead and laugh,” I mumbled, angry and frustrated. “When we get to Tahiti, this monster will pay.”
From the port captain’s office in Papeete, we made a beeline straight to the supermarché to buy a box of poison-laced rat food, which we scattered liberally around the cabin.
“At least this is a more humane way to deal with this little problem,” Marilu pronounced, giving me a hard stare.
“Oh certainly, we wouldn’t want to cause any undue pain for The Guest. Sheesh.”
We celebrated our certain victory with a romantic evening stroll through the streets of Tahiti, stopping at a trendy bistro for cocktails. On our return to Saltaire, we opened the companionway and froze. Every speck of poisoned rat food had vanished.
“Wha, wha, what the hell?” my voice shook.
CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH.
“I thought you put out the rat poison,” Marilu studied the cabin in disbelief.
“I did,” my teeth clenched until they nearly cracked. “This is no ordinary rat. This is the rat from hell, an unkillable rat — Ratsputin!”
A simple device, the largest commercially available rat trap in Tahiti, a guillotine baited with a fresh chunk of baguette slathered with soft Camembert fromage, awaited Ratsputin in the food hold the following night.
I jumped from the berth, ripped open the hold, and incredibly, with the gray steel arm across the rat’s neck, he stared at me defiantly with one eye, still breathing and wriggling — still alive! I pulled on a sailing glove, grabbed the devil’s tail and flung him and the trap into the pitch-black harbor. For a long moment, the beast swam furiously in circles, fighting to stay afloat. But at last his long whiskers dipped below the glimmering ink surface. Wide shadowy circles faded around the spot where he sank, and I couldn’t help but admiring the little demon. Boy, if I could fight like that … sheesh. “Bonsoir, Ratsputin.”
—Bill Morris circumnavigated aboard his Cal 30 Saltaire. His wife Marilu accompanied on a few legs of the trip.