By Ames K Swartsfager, AP, (Aboard “Sea Song”)
I am not entirely sure why I am standing on our swim ladder, with a boat pole in my hand, at two in the morning at a dock on Lake Union in Seattle, Washington.
I brought our 42’ Glassply Trawler, Sea Song, into the lake to have a new genset installed. Since we live aboard in Olympia, we stayed with the boat. Things went well until the afternoon of the second day, then I got into a conversation with a man on the dock. He was old and wrinkled. A Greek fisherman’s hat was perched on the back his shaggy grey hair and a smile peeked from between a great mustache and a long tobacco stained beard.
“The lake has a lot of traffic Sundays,” I said. The boats crossing the lake had made our boat rock so much that my wife and I felt seasick.
“Yes, it does,” the man replied, hitching up his pants to just under his overlapping belly. “It’s a beautiful and interesting lake. You know, we have a lot of muskrats here.”
“Muskrats?” I asked. We had just moved to the northwest from Texas and although I have never seen a muskrat, I knew it was some sort of animal.
“Muskrats?” My wife, who had been listening, stuck her head out the porthole and queried.
“Oh yes,” the dock lounger said. “Heck, one sank a 38’ boat just two weeks ago.”
“How could that happen?” It was inconceivable to me that a small furry animal (maybe it’s really a large animal, I thought) could sink a huge boat.
“Well,” he spit a wad of used chewing tobacco at the water, but it missed and hit the dock. “The fact is that these varmints like to make their homes in exhaust pipes. That’s right. They just swim up and crawl in. There is plenty of room to nest and raise a family. On top of that, they love to eat the rubber in the exhaust pipe. Eventually water enters the boat and down she goes.”
“What if someone starts the engine?” My wife’s eyes widened as her mind filled with pictures of muskrats attempting to sink boats.
“Well then ma’am, I guess one could see them flying out the tail pipe.” He chuckled. “Quite a sight, that.”
Soon the old gentleman left, and I returned to some brass polishing. I knew what was coming. I could tell when I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, and saw her mouth screwing up as it generally does when she is thinking hard.
My wife is the safety expert on our boat. She makes OSHA look like kindergarten play: “Do we have a good enough anchor line? Put on you life jacket. Make sure the dingy is tied up.” I hear commands like these all time, and most of the time she is right, but . . .
“Did you hear what he said?” she asked me in her Commodore’s voice.
“Sure, Hon,” I replied and started shining the brass harder so she would know that I was engaged in really important work and should not be disturbed.
“We need to do something. I mean, they could sink our boat right here at the dock.”
“The old man was joking.” I polished even harder.
“I don’t think so. We’ll have to keep a Muskrat Watch.”
“What’s a ‘Muskrat Watch’?” I was going to have to give up and deal with the problem.
“You know, it’s like an anchor watch.”
The discussion lasted for several hours and that’s how I ended up on “Muskrat Watch” with a boat pole in my hand. There are two things I would like to know: (1) was the man putting me on? And (2) what the heck does a Muskrat look like anyway!
Word count: 851