Super Rat On Board

In SE Asia rats are a fact of life. We’ve seen enough of them now that we don’t even blink – including dancing around the more salubrious areas….like marinas. Until recently, though, we’ve been lucky. Three years in SE Asia and still rodent virgins.
When we lived in a house I’d never really thought of having a mouse or rat as a minor disaster. On the one or two previous occasions when we’d had a rodent visit us, we’d either put ratsak up in the ceiling or baited a trap. The mouse bit the dust. Problem solved.

But I’ve learned that they will chew through anything that takes their fancy  – like the time our friend nearly sank his boat because he hadn’t realized a rat had chewed through the wires for his electric bilge pump.

We were in Kudat, near the northernmost tip of Borneo, about to cross the Balabac Straits to Palawan in the Philippines. Anchored in a small yacht basin we were tied stern to the shore retaining wall by a 50m rope. A rat could perhaps walk along our rope, swim to our anchor chain and climb up or maybe climb in our dinghy at night and get ferried to the boat.

Tuesday night.

Our rat adventure started when Philip went to bed and heard a rustling sound coming from below him. He called me to listen and confirm. Yes. Definitely coming from under our bed.

(Our bed is basically a big box built into the pointy bit of the boat. Our mattress is about 30” off the floor so the sides of the box are about 30” high and the top is the area of a queen size bed. Under our bed is where we keep books to swap, clothes to give away, in soft luggage type bags, art materials, folders of charts we’re not using, my collection of batik sarongs and lots of other stuff that’s good to chomp – and also that we wouldn’t want to lose.)

Even so, I wasn’t worried. As a precaution we’d bought some ratsak and a couple of rat traps, which we laid that night. Hardly any time later, the trap was sprung. Success! But, no, the trap was empty. Our friend had just delicately removed the piece of banana from it. But I noticed he’d had a good go at the ratsak we’d left lying around. So I wasn’t too concerned.

But it is hard to sleep when you know there is a rat coming and going right nearby, whose every movement you can hear and who might be wreaking havoc. At one stage Philip got up and surprised the rat who took off for the back door but was stopped by our mosquito screen so did a U-turn back the full length of our saloon and down the stairs to our bedroom.

The next morning we discovered teensy bites out of half our apples, tomatoes and an avocado stored on our kitchen bench. And, on one of the dinette cushions, a little cache of sweet potato, banana and a reel of cotton I’d just bought and hadn’t put away. We were quite admiring that he could carry such large items – the piece of sweet potato was nearly as large as him. So far, not too bad. (And he had had a feed of ratsak so he didn’t have much longer…)

Wednesday night

That night, as we watched a DVD in our saloon, we saw him strolling around our kitchen benchtop (avoiding the trap and the ratsak) not 3 metres from where we were sitting! Every time Philip stood up he raced back to his hiding spot under our bed – but emerged again whenever he thought we’d got to a good bit in the movie and wouldn’t notice. (He didn’t seem to have slowed up, but it couldn’t be much longer before the ratsak started having an effect.)

We plotted to get him outside: we’d leave the back door open and go to bed. He’d race ahead of us to his spot under the bed. As we lay there above him we’d hear him creep out to the kitchen. We’d then get up and he’d run in the other direction - ie along through the saloon and outside through the back door. Worked like a charm. We shut the mosquito screen after him.

We now had him outside. We couldn’t actually see in the dark where he’d gone but it sure sounded like he was pattering around the front deck above our heads as we lay in bed listening. Pretty soon we realized that’s exactly where he was – every now and then he would peer over the edge of the hatch above our bed  and walk on its mosquito screen until one of us sooled him away. Sleep still wasn’t coming easily.

As a precaution, we had also locked all our fruit and vegetables in the shower in our bathroom – the only space we have on board that has a proper closeable door and is completely sealable.


We were getting a bit tired and cranky by Thursday morning – made worse by having an early start to try to cross the 30nm of potentially nasty Balabac Strait in the Philippines before the wind came up. No time to tidy up or worry too much about our rat. We had several hours of motoring, anchoring, plotting etc to do. So some time during the day our rat slipped back inside.

Thursday night

That night he repeated his kitchen foraging – now reduced to rooting through my spice rack, while we watched our DVD – but deliberately avoiding the rat trap and ratsak, lidfuls of which were by now spread lavishly around the boat.

After 2 hours of deep sleep (we were now too tired to notice rat movement noises) we were woken at 12.30am by the rattling of what sounded like aluminium. He’d moved to behind the stove – completely inaccessible. By poking and prodding, banging and spraying flyspray in spaces that joined to the back of the stove, Philip succeeded in flushing him out - only to return to his hidey hole under our bed.

Clearly the ratsak hadn’t worked. Clearly he was too smart for the rat trap. We were going to have to ambush him in his lair. In the middle f the night out came the spear gun (only for poking – we don’t actually know how to use it) and our netting hammock. The plan was to get him out, corner him somewhere and throw the net over him. First we blocked the spaces he was using to get out from under our bed. Next Philip hoisted the mattress up so we could get at the lid to the space below. One by one, out came all the tubs, luggage, folders, bags until the space under our bed was clear was clear.

We searched – I even crawled in - but he wasn’t there. We realized that there were small spaces interconnecting the floor beneath our bed and our shoe cupboards. The ribs and planks and V-shape that make up the sides of our timber boat mean that the built in furniture doesn’t always have a flat floor in it and little mouse size tunnels exist between ribs etc. Tiredly, we stacked all the boxes and bags back into the space beneath our bed.

At last, lying down, I looked up at the hatch above our heads – there in the mosquito screen was a ragged hole.


A short lie in the dark listening to his rustlings as he emerged from our cabin back to the kitchen where the food action was and we formulated another plan. Philip would shoo him from his other hiding spot behind the stove towards me holding a net (our hammock) over the entrance to our cabin. I’d then throw the net over him as he came down the stairs. It would have worked if he hadn’t spotted me first and scurried back towards the aft of the boat.

By now it was 2.30 am. All this had happened in the dark so we weren’t sure where he’d gone, except that we knew he was at the back of the boat and the back door was closed.

Aha! Under the saloon settee (where the spare bed base and all our extra pillows, bedding, computer printer, iron and cockpit awnings were stored.) Blocking any exit, we opened the locker from the top and one by one, lifted everything out. No sign of the rat – even when we poked our heads right into every cranny. Maybe he came out with the stuff. If so, the only place he could be was under my Chinese hat lamp. I threw a net over it just in case……

That’s exactly where he was but he escaped easily and made for the front of the boat and the safety of our (his?) cabin. This time, by pure luck, the spare bed base was across his path. Philip came so close to enveloping the rat in our spare bedclothes as he wrestled him, defeated only by the rat climbing vertically 30” up our bathroom door to get the height to scale the barrier. Then back to the cabin!

It was 4.00am. We re-baited the useless traps, crashed into bed and fell asleep, rat or no rat.

Friday night

By now we were both suffering sleep deprivation. We decided to split up. Philip lay in bed listening.  I placed our fishing net along our saloon settee to prevent him getting underneath and our netting hammock around and in front of our stove to stop him getting in and behind it. I then sat reading and waiting for him to come and get tangled.


But tonight the rat wasn’t going to play. Philip could hear him moving into our wardrobe and from my shoe locker on one side of the bed to his shoe locker on the other. Unlike his previous modus operandi, he wasn’t budging from our cabin. Defeated, I joined Philip in bed. We heard no more movement that night.

 The next morning I discovered a rat sized hole chewed into our back door mosquito screen. “Maybe he’s left the premises” I hoped.

Saturday night

By the time we went to bed we had still not heard any more rodent noises. We began to hope that the ratsak had finally worked. No sounds all night. By morning we tentatively declared our ship rat free. The rat never again emerged and I am forever grateful he ate a big dose of ratsak the first night, because I reckon he would have died of old age before we caught him.

We were lucky. Our rat didn’t manage to penetrate into our bilges and so find a little highway to all our below deck spaces and equipment. Thank heavens for the watertight bulkhead between our cabin and the engineroom where he would have found rat nirvana. We had escaped with only a lot of cleaning up, some mending and washing to do. But it’s an experience we don’t want to repeat.

There’s probably a moral to this story. Something to do with the inadequacy of human intelligence when faced with rat cunning. My only conclusion is it’s better to keep them off than try to catch them once aboard. (And use ratsak as well as traps, in case they don't work.)

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