Salish Sea, Pacific Northwest
Our boat Elansa is the only vessel that lives at the dock (out of twenty slips) year round. Everyone else takes their boats out of the water in fall and doesn’t put them back in until July. So in winter, Elansa becomes the focus of interest for the resident wildlife.
We’ve long since accepted the piles of poop and crab remains on the deck, that’s to be expected. But in November when we found signs that someone fishy had been kipping on the cushion in the V berth — inside the boat — that was a bit more hospitality than we need to extend, in our opinion. Thence began our campaign to thwart the uninvited visitors.
The fishy spot was in one corner of the berth, and it indicated river otter by the size of the residue. A few of the adjacent cushions had been knocked down, what you’d expect as an otter climbed up onto the berth and scouted around. Yes we’d left the door to the cabin open, for improved ventilation (mildew grows fast in winter), figuring the canvas around the cockpit would keeps any interlopers out. Wrong.
The problem is that the canvas, which is secured to the boat with clips and zippers, is old and starting to fall apart. A secondary problem is that otters are very clever little fellows and can find ways to defeat exclusion measures. They can unhook. They can unzip. If they really want they can even tear the heavy canvas itself, although they prefer to find the weak points in the overall setup.
We took all the cushions home to launder. In the meantime we closed and latched the cabin door, and set up the trailcam to see if we could catch any activity on film.
Video of several trailcam clips below, and it includes a clip at the end I took in real time, encountering the otter in the title image. Note how differently the otter behaves when a person in present.
On our next visit, two zippers had been separated from the canvas and at least one otter had come into the cockpit. We knew it was otter by the nature of the poop piles all over the cockpit: loose and full of shell fragments. Since there hadn’t been poop inside the boat before, even though the otter had been coming and going, I got the sense this was perhaps some kind of retaliatory measure for taking away his cozy sleeping nook.
We cleaned up the poop and spent some time sewing the canvas securely to the zippers. Mr O also cut off the outside zipper pull tabs so they’d have a harder time unzipping.
The trailcam did not show an otter getting through the canvas although one clearly spends a lot of time on the boat. For some reason the motion-activated trailcam does not catch all the activity, but from all the times it was triggered, it’s notable that at no time does it show more than one otter. In other words, it’s not a party boat.
But then in December a new uninvited visitor began breaking into the cockpit. The poops that appeared scattered inside that were small and compact, like this one left on the aft deck:
Trailcam footage showed us the interloper: a mink. One of the zippers was unzipped a few inches — not enough for an otter to get through but no problem for a mink.
Video of trailcam clips in late December and January below. Video also includes a clip from the big windstorm on January 9 (this dock is in the most protected spot on the island, and even there the sea kicked up, which gives a sense of the wind that day. The storm surge nearly knocked the trailcam off the piling).
(I removed the trailcam after the storm since extreme cold was on the way and I knew that wouldn’t do the batteries any good. Then we had torrential rain, which makes the wood headwalk slippery, so I just set up the camera again a few days ago).
Either the otter is able to partially unzip on one side, or the mink is nosing it open somehow. They’re pretty small animals, and it’s surprising how tiny a space they squeeze through. My most recent attempt at deterrence is duct tape but I don’t have much hope for that. Even duct tape is no match for otters and mink. They have sharp teeth and claws, and are very resourceful.
As of a few days ago we’re still seeing mink poops inside the boat, arggh.
The only real solution of course is to get new canvas. We’d do that in a heartbeat but the closest canvas professionals are over in Friday Harbor, which means taking the canvas off the boat and hauling over to another island for them to duplicate. It’ll take them some time to construct a new custom setup. In the meantime the boat will be naked, open to the weather and wildlife. We’re thinking maybe wait to get it done in summer. Less rain and wind, and there will other boats around for the critters to use as toys and latrines!
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