Alien, the 5th Passenger

This is a story for which we captured no pictures.
This is a story for which I struggled to chose a title.
This is a story that developed over the last two days.

Port Maurelle was fine as an anchorage. Besides, there were kid-boats there, some of which long-standing friends of ours, and that was a huge draw. Finally, it was one of the kid’s birthday, a dear friend to Paulo and Raquel, and we couldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrating together.
But after all was said and done, Port Maurelle started to feel a bit de-ja-vou. Again, nothing wrong about it. But a bit too protected, a bit too crowded, a bit too close to the jungle and its critters – the brown and white headed bird that sat at our bow every afternoon was welcome, but the mosquitos who incessantly ate us and woke us up every night were a nuisance.
So we left. Even without any wind, we took the calculated risk of using our engine with its broken water seal. At idle speed, the intake of sea water was about tolerable. And like that we limped across the protected waters of Vava’u toward a more “raw” anchorage, to the east of the little island of Ovalau.
Now we were talking! With just the tiny island to the West, some reef to the south, and the open expanse of Vava’u to the East and North, it did feel a bit exposed. But the place was gorgeous, with a lot more oomph than Port Maurelle – exactly what we (mostly I) were looking for. Our mighty anchor bit well in the sparklingly sandy bottom, which is always a glory. And the forecast looked quite tamed for the following days. The explosion of colors all around us was an invitation for enjoyment, and we obliged. Even homeschooling was suspended that Friday, in accordance to the circumstances. The bilge was emptied of all the water we took in, and then we plunged in the colorful seas around us.
The first day at this quasi anchorage was spent as it should, doing cruiser’s stuff: swimming, checking the anchor, snorkeling at the reef, trying to capture the beauty of the place in pictures, more swimming. At dusk, I was at the forward deck watching the sunset with the kids when a large bat, really large, began to circle us. We had already seen one of these in Port Maurelle, but it was flying comfortably high. This guy was closer. But, like, really closer. Until it got too close. Many times it came and flew right between us and the forestay, within touching distance of my hands. It would approach, decelerate, and then fly carefully in its daring path. It was a bit discomforting, but highly amusing. So we stayed and watched its many fly-bys until night fell and the large, daring bat finally flew away.
The next day – that’d be yesterday – started following the same script. Until it happened.
It was about noon. I lifted some object that was lying on deck and there it was. A large, yucky, brown Centipede. All with its myriad legs and the two menacing stings protruding from the back.
Back when I was a kid, at times I would find small centipedes at the garden, and amusing they were. I would even let them crawl over my hands and chuckle at the tickle of their tiny legs on my skin. But those were different types. The specimen we found onboard yesterday was a large guy, at least 25 centimeters long, far less amusing and definitely more dangerous. These stings are known to deploy a powerful venom. Not lethal, but enough to cause a lot of pain and even paralysis.
And therein the title of this story. I first thought of “Close Encounters” given all the events with the brown white headed bird, the large daring bat and now the yucking venomous centipede. But in the end, “Alien” fit better with it, particularly the first movie, with all the mix of suspense and terror.
See, finding that centipede onboard was the same of finding a Tarantula, or a Scorpion, (imagine being informed by the Captain that a live poisonous snake sighting was confirmed onboard right at the beginning of a long-haul flight …). Luckily, it was alive but not kicking – being nocturnal animals, it was probably stunned by the glare and heat on deck – and the termination/eviction process was less complicated than I expected. What really unsettled was the fact we had been living with that thing onboard for some time. Possibly a lot of time! And that thought lingered.
Back in Tahiti, I’d seen people checking sails on the pier before moving them onboard their yachts, and the stated reason was to check for centipedes. And the last time Pesto touched land was upon our arrival here in Tonga, at the Custom’s dock. That was more than two weeks ago ! The thought of that thing lurking on deck at night – or worst, inside the cabin – nauseated me. And the kids. And I won’t even get started with the possibility that it reproduced while here …
For the rest of the day, and evening, we avoided sitting or touching things aboard, and every time we did, a thorough inspection preceded. I eventually stood in higher ground and told the kids we would have to wipe the thought out of our minds, otherwise we would get insane. And they obliged surprisingly, going to bed without hesitation.
Back on my bed, after having thoroughly checked it for centipedes, I couldn’t help but think of the event – and the centipede – again. Imagine if that thing was with us since Tahiti ! All the night passages sleeping at the cockpit. And all the starry and moon evenings that we lay on deck and share stories. Yucks ! But if these animals like humidity and shadow, why would it be on deck? And I eventually rationalized it: the centipede could not have boarded us in Tahiti or at the customs dock here in Tonga. Otherwise, we would have found it elsewhere – shady, humid places abound on a boat, the deck being the least of it. And the only known type of centipede to be amphibious has only been found in fresh water. And in Southeast Asia, still a bit far away from here. So it must have been brought onboard. But how? Referring back to the wikipedia page I browsed earlier in the evening, I remembered a picture of a bird with a centipede in its beaks. And it downed on me: the brown and white headed bird that visited us every day at Port Maurelle. Maybe it dropped its meal one day accidentally on our deck. Or perhaps the bat of the previous night. That would explain the very strange pattern of multiple fly-bys close to our foredeck the night before.
So, that is it. This became the rational story that I chose to believe in in order to keep my sanity. This morning I told it to Paulo and his careful choice of words was “Dad, this is a very satisfying story”. Satisfying indeed, and that’s the version I will tell Raquel when she wakes up, and then hopefully we will all have evicted the vicious thought of centipedes lurking inside Pesto once and for all.
I just wish I could stop wondering whether a centipede might me hidden at the back of my seat right now ….

2 Replies to “Alien, the 5th Passenger”

  1. The rationale seems quite fit to me. The multiple flybys of an insectivore is the nail in the coffin. How many times have any of us repeatedly tried to recover some item just out of reach, despite knowing deep down the futility. That’s the bat in this story.
    Of course human of all cultures are well known for anthropomorphizing! So in recognition of that I top my hat once again to “the mighty anchor”! It really is an unsung hero.

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