Leaving Antigua, W. I.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Squirrel's Tale (Apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer)

This little story is an excerpt from Dungda de Islan’.  Almost everyone I know who has read the book mentioned how much they enjoyed the Squirrel's Tale.  I hope that you do, as well.

October, 2004
Leaving the Chesapeake Bay, Caribbean bound

We had just turned into the Patuxent River after motoring down from Annapolis on a calm, crisp fall day.  Leslie took a stroll on the foredeck to escape the droning of the diesel, and came back to the cockpit to report that there was a squirrel on the bowsprit.  Hallucinations are not unusual among sailors, so at first, I just played along with her, figuring it would subside in time.  As her irritation with me increased, I decided that I should go forward and see for myself, just to keep peace.  Surely enough, when I got to the bow, I was greeted by a squirrel.  He was sitting up on the anchor platform looking back at me, and he appeared to be quite pleased with the accommodations we provided aboard Play Actor.

My first reaction was pleasure at the idea of a mascot, but then I recalled how much damage squirrels did in the attic of the house where I grew up.  As cute as they can be, they are still rodents, with a penchant for chewing holes in wood (lots of that on Play Actor) and making nests in all sorts of places where you'd rather they didn't.  The bagged sails came to mind.

We puzzled over how he had gotten aboard.  We had been at anchor for the whole summer.  The boat had not touched shore for months, so we could only conclude that he swam out on a calm night and climbed the anchor chain.  So, after a few minutes of reflection, we decided the squirrel had to go.  I went back up to the foredeck and unlimbered the high pressure washdown hose, taking careful aim at the varmint.  He was still poised in the same spot on the anchor platform.  He sidestepped the blast as gracefully as a prizefighter might slip an opponent's punch, and smiled at me, clearly enjoying this game.  After a few minutes, the foredeck, the sail bags, and I were drenched, and the squirrel was still sitting up on the anchor platform, watching calmly to see what I would do next.

I went back aft and rummaged in a locker until I found a two-foot long piece of 1 inch aluminum tubing, left over from some forgotten project.  Armed with the tube, I went forward again and confronted our unwelcome guest.  After a couple of swipes, he scurried aft along the port gunwale, all the way back to the cockpit, where Leslie stood at the helm, calmly steering the boat while offering helpful advice along the lines of, "Hit him with the tube!  He's coming this way."  I guess he figured she represented a safe haven of some sort, because he ran up her left arm and perched on her shoulder, waiting for me, grinning at me as if he knew I couldn't take a swing at him without braining Leslie.

I poked him with the end of the tube, and he ran across the back of her neck to her right shoulder, down her right arm, jumped to the starboard gunwale, and ran back to the bowsprit with me in hot pursuit.  He sat up there panting, awaiting my arrival, still grinning at me.  When I got there, he decided on another lap, back to the cockpit, across the imperturbable Leslie, and forward again.  After several rounds, I realized that all my years of long-distance running were paying off, finally.  The squirrel was a sprinter.  He was winded, slowing down perceptibly.  A few minutes later, he gave up, let me tap him on the head with my trusty tube, and dropped into the water.

I had the sensation of being watched, at this point.  I looked over my shoulder to see a large trawler yacht about 100 feet off our starboard side with two women on the foredeck, pointing at me and convulsed with laughter.  One was holding a camera with a telephoto lens, so I may hear from the SPCA, or the Game Warden.  Who knows?


  1. I read the squirrel story to my husband who laughed and sympathized. He has his own battles with squirrels here in the hills.

  2. I'll bet he does! They're fun to watch, but the little rascals can be destructive. Used to like 'em fired, with grits and gravy, when I was in school.

  3. Wow, we've had frogs, toads, geckos, crabs and some mighty big spiders, but never a squirrel. We have a cat, but I'm not sure she'd could take a squirrel in a fight.

    1. I'd think the cat's very presence would keep a squirrel from coming aboard. Still puzzled by how it got there, although we have seen them swimming. Friends had a similar (and less amusing) experience with a good-sized rat that apparently swam out and climbed the chain in St. Martin last year. It actually set up housekeeping in the anchor locker, and eventually gnawed through the bulkhead in search of food.