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Tern, Tern, Tern - Life Aboard

by Robert Betts (Age: 70)
copyright 06-13-2001


Age Rating: 7 +

(This is my column for Time Out Magazine for this month. I am a regular monthly columnist for "Time Out" Often the content is relevent only to the Florida Keys but I believe you'll enjoy this one)


Many wonder just what is it like to live on a boat at anchor. Well, usually it is quite calm and peaceful. For necessary ventilation, I prop the front hatch open with a 20 oz coke bottle to get some airflow through the boat. Without benefit of air conditioning it can get quite “toasty” during midday in southern Florida. Usually there is some breeze and if hatches are open, the flow makes it quite tolerable.

Today however there seems to be a storm brewing. The impending storm lifted the hatch sufficiently that the coke bottle was blown inward and the hatch just slammed down with a resounding thud… my heavy weather predictor.

One would imagine that on a boat, vermin and pests are simply not a problem. Not true. Some peculiar variety of black fly, which looks for all the world like a regular house fly has lately decided that “Sailboat” is his new nesting grounds. One would not be bad but they have invited all their “friends.” They are annoying when they land on you but worse yet these detestable “critters” bite.

I am told it has to do with the crab traps which are being pulled and cleaned here. Every year at this time, there is a new invasion.

Florida summers also present another problem pest and that is “Our State Bird,” more commonly known as the mosquito. These delightful creatures also enjoy supping on your blood. I have tried the various remedies including citronella candles (which actually seem to be a delectable treat for mosquitoes) to various oily and disgusting lotions.

There is one remedy which truly does work and that is mosquito coils. These not only drive them away but one can actually enjoy listening to their high-pitched death-throes as they join the non-living. Dying mosquitoes is music to this boater’s ears.

This is considerably better than losing it and blasting away with the shotgun, which is not a terribly good idea when one realizes that the most important thing for a boat to do is float.

The negative is that one breathes these fumes. The long-term health effects are likely quite unknown, although it does state on the package not to be burned in confined spaces. (like boats) However it simply comes to a choice of: do I limit my lifespan and perhaps die of some weird cancer or do I scratch myself to death and eventually lose it and get committed?

Over the past few days I have witnessed yet one more invasion. I suspect it is nature’s way of trying to balance itself. Unfortunately Nature seems to have less luck with balancing itself than our legislators with their unreachable goal of a balanced budget.

And what is the latest pest? A rather tiny traveler who bounces back and forth between the poles, known as the arctic tern. While I can certainly be amazed by immense distances this chickadee-sized bird travels, I am forced to regard him as yet another pest. He is a rather tiny, black-capped bird which is quite capable of producing seemingly unlimited quantities of “guano” Did they come to eat the flies and mosquitoes? Hmmm… Since they dive into the water to catch small minnows and carry these quite proudly to my decks to add to their… other substances… I rather doubt they have much appetite for flies or mosquitoes.

At the moment my decks look rather like someone had a keg of pepper and dumped it. What to do? Well, the solar panels have to be cleaned since their output does drop severely. One also can pray for the unpredictable Florida summer rains. Clean the decks? A fruitless chore since they will continue until they decide it is time to move on to whichever pole they are headed to.

I happen to be a night person and am not worth a darn until I’ve had at least three cups of coffee from my snoopy cup that I’ve had literally forever. The offensive little creatures also have the audacity to be cheerful in the morning, waking me with a disgusting chorus of cheerful chirps. Again, like the mosquitoes and flies, they have invited all their friends.

And what is the solution? Is there a solution? I have noted that quite a few boats have owls. Owls? These are of the decoy variety, not living creatures. Made of plastic and suitably painted they resemble the real thing. Owls are vicious predators and will attack and eat small birds and other creatures. The concept is that smaller birds like terns will spot the decoy and shun the area thinking it real.

Those who imagine that living aboard is easy or free are quite mistaken. There are always “little” expenses which just seem to grow and grow. Small things which are considered “necessities” by land-people are known as luxuries aboard. Refrigeration is one of these items. Beyond the expense of the “special” refrigerator is the power required to run it. Power aboard is precious and costly. I use 4 solar panels which keep up nicely with my basic needs. However if I run the computer very much, they just can’t keep up and I have to fire up my gas-generator.

I can hear your adding machine going so I’ll just summarize. About $4000 to put refrigeration on a boat. Depending on what is used to “fuel” it, the monthly can be anywhere from $0 to about $50. So this “camper eats dried foods, canned foods and occasionally eats out.

But when you hear a dolphin blow right next to your hull, see a multi-colored sunset which paints the entire sky from horizon to horizon in glowing oranges, vibrant reds and interspaces that with blues and purples to make an artist faint dead away, it is all quite worth it.






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        08-30-2004     Kevin (Buddy) Ales        

Such pesky creatures they seem x,x. But yes, the sunsets, and hearing the dolphins must be worth it. Refridgeration is also a luxury to the common camper, like myself. I know how you feel!

        02-03-2003     Giulio Iacobini        

Bob you're a true sailor artist ...

        10-06-2001     Betty Eskdale        

Where are the dragonflies? They eat mosquitoes and are pretty to boot. An owl may be a good idea, maybe you could get a real one to live with you, he could be our co mascot. He would eat almost any pest I bet and be fun company. We have tiny bush owls in Canada, hard to find and becoming extinct it seems. I have seen them, pretty as can be.

        04-01-2001     Mary -BrytEyz- Ball        

The rewards are worth the price, eh? Sounds beautiful. :) Got any pics? *grin*




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