I don’t have a photo for this boat story today, but I do want to tell you this one. It’s the tale of how I took a stand against something ugly in the boat and won. Here goes:
Tomorrow I am going to dive back into fixing up the boat, but today I wanted to document something that has already happened, but was such a bear to do on the boat that I’d like to talk about it. It was like running a nauseating gauntlet of some kind, like the boat and the universe and maybe my dad were testing me to see how determined I was to fix up this boat.
The fact that I did this, that I won this round and kept going, is something I’m proud of, and I kind of want someone to bear witness to this with me. So that’s why I’m telling you.
A few months ago, shortly after I decided that I was not going to sell the boat and was going to commit to finish our restoration job and get her in the water, I went on board Passage, currently sitting on a trailer in a barn locally, and looked around. After seeing her up close again and seeing all the incredible work my dad did (and his brother, which is a whole nother saga) I resolved to give it a go.
But the place to start was clearly in the cabin, with a job that I had tackled in part over the years the boat had sat in the barn, but it always seemed to be undone as soon as I did it.
It has to do with mice. Damned awful, dirty, ubiquitous, uncaring, sometimes seemingly magical – mice.
The boat was littered with mouse droppings and reeked of mouse urine inside. Ugh. A revolting job that had to be taken care of before I could really do anything else.
If you know me you know housecleaning is not my favorite thing, And that I love a children’s book called Wind in the Willows. In it is that famous quote, uttered by one of the animal characters, the Water Rat, talking about why he loves his little boat so.
He says, “There is simply nothing so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Part of me had this idyllic vision of me puttering about on Passage in the barn, lovingly messing about, putting her back together. A girl and her boat story. But this, this was not messing about, not puttering, not enjoying my self reliance in taking on this project. This was a goddamned mess, one that was potentially downright dangerous, and there was no around, only through.
I had cleaned up Passage before inside, cleaning up mouse droppings, learning and making mistakes as I went. I learned that cleaning up after mice in a barn is a relentless process, and that they are everywhere. I learned that some household cleaners you use in your bathroom should not be sprayed on paint, because it will ruin the finish, and then you have to sand and paint again.
I’ve had run-ins with rodents in the boat before. The most memorable, a few years ago now, was when I was alone in the barn on the boat, and I lifted up a loose floorboard. Underneath it, in the bilge, was a rat. A very, very (did I say very?) big rat. I froze. This thing was big enough to talk to. The rat froze too and we regarded one another in a moment that is preserved for all time in my memory. Then it did a poignant thing: it raised its paws over its head like it was protecting itself from being hit. I’m sure it figured I was going to kill it.
I don’t like to kill things, and I’m kind of a loopy animal lover. Rats, for good or ill, are sadly included in that group, being living things. So on the spur of the moment, not knowing what else to do, and not being able to see myself beating it to death right there, I said out loud, to the rat, “I’m going to leave the boat now. I’ll give you half an hour. You better be gone when I get back, or else.” And I climbed up into the cockpit and went up to the house for exactly 30 minutes.
When I came back, the rat was gone. I never saw it again.
My relationship with the mice more recently, however, did not go as well.
I’ll cut to the chase here, about a really messy smelly, disgusting job that I hope never to do again. I wore a jumpsuit, cheap sneakers, a respirator and rubber gloves. I would come home from the boat, strip off my clothes and a shoes, throw them in the washing machine with bleach and take a shower, before I did anything else or touched anything else in the house.
I did my research on how to clean a boat infested with mice and here’s what ultimately worked: Gentle soap to remove mouse urine strains and generally clean all surfaces, followed by spraying everything down with a bleach solution, then Nature’s Miracle. To repel the mice, I tried everything: car deodorizing cards (those things that look like trees that you hang from your rear view mirror), dryer sheets, and finally, electronic high frequency beepers that supposedly bother the mice and keep them away. I also systematically sealed up every opening in the boat that I thought they could get into. I learned that mice can flatten themselves almost like a credit card and sneak into gaps anywhere. I finally gave in, and went against my animal loving instincts – I set trap after trap and kept catching one mouse after another.
People would ask me how was I doing, and I’d say, and said numerous times, in a too giddy manner: I think I got it all. I think I got it all. I’m almost done. Then I would find more. And then more.
Mouse nests, droppings, dried pools of urine on bunks, I kept cleaning and they kept coming back. Then I realized there was one place in the entire boat I had not looked at. It was fateful.
I pried up small, tight floorboards that opened up into the bilge (hatches that had not been removed since I first bought the boat in the very bottom of the boat on top of the keel). They were so tight that I was sure no mice had been in there.
And what I found was the most disgusting thing I had come across so far: the bilges were filled to the floorboards with this brown mulch like substance must have been a combination of mouse droppings, nesting material, and urine. It was dense, it was wet and it was utterly gross.
So I scooped it out, literally buckets of it. Then I cleaned the boat again. Soap, bleach, Nature’s Miracle. I left hatches off, cabinets open and bunk storage open to the air. I put in the electronic beepers and left it for awhile, because I was busy with other things and had to stay away from the boat a bit.
When I came back – hallelujah. No mice, no mice droppings. No new mess. So I think I can cautiously say I won this round. It took me over a month of working daily to get it under control. I’m sure if I don’t get the damn boat out of the barn soon it will start again. But if it does – I’m ready for those little f-ers. Sorry for the profanity, but if you had been in my place in this situation – you’d have been swearing up a storm too. I did my dad proud in that department.
Takeaway: when cleaning a boat, look everywhere,. Even places where you think nothing can get in. Then check again. And diluted bleach, soap and Natures’ Miracle are good tools. And those high pitched beepers really seem to work, at least with these mice. Fingers crossed.
This coming week I go back to tackle more that needs to be done. Deep breaths. By the time I am done with this project, I hope to know this boat very, very well.