Living on Kantele on the River Orwell was very different than living in Brighton Marina. We had moved to Woolverstone Marina at the end of the sailing season and began to get used to our new environment. The Marina was very nice – not as many facilities as Brighton – but that was OK.
Editor’s Note: See Part 3 HERE
The scenery was very rural, trees, fields with cattle, foxes and various forms of wildlife. As Christmas approached, we decided to visit Kirk’s Mom in San Francisco for ten days. We made sure we doubled up on Kantele’s mooring lines and put out extra fenders just in case the weather was bad while we were gone. We had shore power and a very safe and reliable electric oil heater (very common in England) that we left on low most of the winter. By the time we got back to the Marina after Christmas, there was snow and ice on the ground, and on the wooden piers and finger piers. It was already dark, so once we climbed aboard, we were looking forward to some hot soup and a couple of glasses of wine before falling asleep. First, we discovered that the 12v onboard power wasn’t working, but at least we had shore power. Our cooker was kerosene that provided warmth as well as cooking facilities, and we had kerosene lamps for warmth and light. But then we discovered that we didn’t seem to have any fresh water. It couldn’t have frozen because the oil heater was there to prevent that kind of thing. We decided we’d have our meal and go to bed, and figure out all the problems in the daylight.
We had a very large double berth up forward with the sail locker underneath it. About 2:00 am, I was awakened by a very strange crunching sound. Kirk, a former Marine, could sleep through anything. I sat up and peered around – at my very first move, the noise stopped. I almost thought I had imagined it. I tried to get back to sleep, but a half hour later, there was more crunch, crunch, crunch. This time I awakened Kirk and we both got out of the bunk and went into the saloon (the main living area) and the galley area. It was very cold, dark, and we couldn’t see a thing. Again, the sound stopped. It became clear that we must have some sort of animal on board, but we were too tired and cold and it was too dark to do anything about it. We assumed it was probably a rat. A short while later, we heard more crunching, and then a bang and a splash. We rushed up, and even went out on deck, and then we saw an animal swimming away. It was much too large for a rat.
In the daylight, we discovered that the boat was a mess. It became clear from discussions with the Marina people that our night visitor had been a coypu. They had invaded that part of the E. Coast and were causing significant damage to the rivers, river banks, and vegetation, and they were omnivorous, as we discovered. It had eaten through our onboard electrical wires, it had chewed through the hoses connecting our water tanks, sending 150 gallons of water into the bilge. Because Kantele was so dry, I had even stored working papers in the bilge in plastic bags, and while the plastic bags protected a lot of them, all our tax data got both soggy and chewed – a new variation on “my dog ate my homework!” We had dried food such as beans, chick peas, and pasta, in lockers in the galley. It had sampled all those. All our locker doors had panels made from rattan. They looked beautiful and also enabled good ventilation throughout the boat, and the coypu had made holes in them. But the worst problem was that, on the top of the sails in the sail locker, right underneath our bunk, was a beautiful, blue and yellow cruising chute (a type of spinnaker) with its sheets, all in a large sail bag. The coypu had chewed the sail and the sheets up to make a most comfortable nest for itself – and had filled it with food – dried food from our lockers, and dead birds. There were even bones that looked like chicken legs. And, of course, it had relieved itself over everything. We spent days cleaning up the mess and disinfecting the interior of all the lockers, the bilges, and everywhere that we could get to, squirting disinfectant where we couldn’t reach.
So how had this critter that weighs 9–20 lbs. and has a length of 16–24 inches, get on board and down below? After following its trail of food and debris, we realized that it had actually opened up a cockpit locker and climbed in that way. Our cockpit lockers had heavy wooden lids, and so we rarely locked them. Yes, there was access from the lockers into the rest of the boat, but they were only tiny openings, much too small for a person. We didn’t keep anything of value in them, so it didn’t seem much of a risk to leave them open.
At low water, the height of the rail was only a few inches above the finger pier, and so the coypu could have just stepped on board. It was probably able to get its claws under the locker lid, or even its nose if it were standing in the cockpit, and then push it up, and then it could worm its way in.
In retrospect, we realized that we didn’t have good situation awareness!
We were basically city folk, who spent a lot of time on coasts and around harbors. We were not country folk. If we had heard about coypu, we would probably never have dreamed they could do as this one did. From then on, we were much more vigilant. We had heard that rats could climb up mooring lines and get in through small holes such as those we had for various deck fittings, so we installed “rat preventers” on all our mooring lines, and we kept the cockpit lockers locked. But hey, it was all part of our new life, living aboard, and it provided us with many stories. Later, we had an adventure with a pigeon, but that’s another story.