Windshifts: Man or Mouse?

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Coming face-to-face with a couple of unwelcome critters. Illustration by Tom Payne

Coming face-to-face with a couple of unwelcome critters. Illustration by Tom Payne

Belhaven is a sleepy little river town in North Carolina, first settled in the mid-1800s, and is situated where Pantego Creek empties into the Pungo River. Anchoring off the Belhaven waterfront on Pantego Creek when the conditions are right is unforgettable. Sunrises and sunsets define the town’s name, which means “beautiful harbor.” But when the conditions aren’t right, anchoring can be downright uncomfortable.

While anchored on Pantego Creek last June, after two nights of bridle-bucking sleeplessness and with more bad weather coming in, my wife, Marlene, and I decided to find smoother waters. We were preparing to raise anchor on our Prout 39 catamaran, Different Drummer, and leave, when I found the critters. Uninvited, unwelcome critters.

We were anchored about a hundred yards from shore and had just returned from a trip to Belhaven’s free dinghy dock for a post office run. Years ago, most of the coastal town’s post offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and just about everything else left the waterfront and moved closer to the highways where the money is. Earlier, after we dinghied in, the first person we asked for directions was a local fisherman named Leigh (he spelled it). Leigh volunteered to “carry” us (a lovely North Carolina colloquialism) to the post office, which, of course, was closed. He then “carried” us back to the dock, apologizing the entire way because he felt personally responsible that the post office was closed. Marlene gave him our packages (presents for the grandkids) and money for postage, and we knew there was no doubt that Leigh would be waiting at the post office when it re-opened, two hours later. That’s the kind of people you meet on the waterway.

Back on the boat, Marlene was in the saloon, securing hatches and putting away potential flying objects. Even though catamarans sail flat, wakes from ego-swelled powerboaters can wreak havoc inside any 40ft boat, multihulled or not. I finished securing Lil’ Drummer (our dinghy) to the davits, and started down the sugar-scoop steps at the back of the starboard hull to check the swim ladder. On the middle step, out of the water but drenched, lay a mouse, eyes closed and apparently dead. I was shocked. We had never seen a mouse on Different Drummer, and we didn’t want one now, dead or alive.

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I leaned over to grab the tip of its tail, intending to fling it as far away as I could, but as I pinched it, the mouse came to life and scared the hell out of me. He opened the one eye that I could see and without getting up looked me straight in my eyes. His upper lip turned in a sneer, as if to say, “Hey Mac, just give me a second to catch my breath, it’s been one helluva day.” He looked exhausted and scared. I looked around for Walt Disney, then I looked for my boathook, but before I could find it the mouse jumped into the water and started swimming toward the port hull at an astonishing rate. I watched in silent amazement, he swam like a Labrador, and before I could cross the transom to the port side to ward off a boarding there, the little mouse neatly rode one of the building waves into the port sugar-scoop and onto the bottom step, out of my sight.

Then, as if shot from a cannon, the mouse flew back off the bottom step and started swimming even faster than he had before, back toward the safety of the starboard hull, where I sat watching in disbelief. Again, he caught a wave as neatly as any Outer Banks surfer, and not only landed on the bottom step, but then caught a second wave, reached the middle step, and once again, we were face-to-face. He was breathing as fast as he could and looked like he’d seen a ghost. I looked him in the eye, slapped my bare foot on the step, and shouted an emphatic “No!” like I was scolding a puppy.

The mouse gave me a dirty look and dove head first back into the growing waves on Pantego Creek. He headed toward the bow, swimming between the two hulls, swimming like his life depended on it, because it did. That was the last I saw of him.

I pondered this strange event for a minute, waiting to see if the mouse would return. When he didn’t, I crossed the transom to check the port swim ladder, part of my pre-departure routine, and I almost filled my britches. Curled around the swim ladder on the bottom step of the sugar-scoop was a 3ft-long water moccasin! No wonder Mickey was so freaked out! I was, too! As much as we didn’t want a mouse on board, we damn sure didn’t want a venomous snake.

Grabbing my boathook, I banged away on the swim ladder like a madman. The snake gave me a dirty look, much like the mouse had, uncurled itself from around the ladder and then swam away in the opposite direction to the mouse. Score one for the mammals. Today, at least.

Marlene, who also is not very high on snakes or mice, especially when it comes to having them onboard Different Drummer, came outside to see what all the banging was about. “I’ll tell you later, Sunshine,” I said, “but right now, I think we better get out of here before things start getting weird.” We started Sam and Dave, our engines, pulled up the anchor, and went to Dowry Creek Marina where the swimming pool was crystal clear, the lounge was air conditioned, and there weren’t any critters.

Did the snake chase the mouse out to Different Drummer all the way from shore? I don’t know. Did they both hitch a ride on the dinghy when we were in Belhaven? That’s a scary thought. However they got there, it was a first for us, and it hasn’t happened again. I hope it never does.
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