We recently arrived at one of our favorite, idyllic anchor spots. It’s a spot that is sheltered from wind and has reliable stretches of warm dry weather–perfect for varnishing. Our arrival this year was about a week too soon because the temperatures have been way too hot (upper 90’s F with a couple days over 100F) for either sanding or varnishing. As a result, we have spent time on the computers interspersed with two or three leaps overboard into the very pleasant 78F water to cool off. Night time temperatures cool off nicely, but Beryl has been a real complainer–her thick Norwegian Forrest cat fur being just too much for the local conditions and she has never been one for swimming.
The first sign of real trouble was a huge dragon fly that I had earlier admired on the fore-deck was later covered in and being consumed by ants. I threw the carcass overboard and hosed down the deck and regretted not taking a picture of the big dragon fly before its demise. Then Brenda noticed some ants down below one evening, and more the next evening. Brenda remarked that a visiting friend, Milly, had mentioned ant problems on their boat last year. The pieces were beginning to click together. We wondered where the ants could be coming from. In the light of day, there were no ants on any shore lines. Ants can’t swim, so we wondered if a few were dropping from the over hanging tree limbs or being carried by the wind. We didn’t yet realize that the ants on Milly’s and our boat were no ordinary ants.
The two mile stretch of water on either side of where we anchor is a posted 5 mile-per-hour (mph) no wake zone to protect the embankments. It is one of just a few areas in the California Sacramento Delta that still has large trees lining the banks and excessive wakes erode the soil around tree roots and leads to fallen trees. During our varnish-fest stay here, we feel we are doing a great public service by giving speed boats another reason to slow down to something near the posted 5 mph limit; the drivers may not be literate because before and after passing us, many are going closer to 50 mph and throwing out huge wakes. But, where the speed limit signs don’t work, a sense of courteous behavior sometimes does.
The waterway is a little wider where we anchor, but it is important to keep Mahdee near the embankment so that she is out of the way of passing boats. Further, to ensure that wind or wakes of law breaking boaters (without even a sense of what’s courteous) don’t throw Mahdee onto the rocky embankment, we usually have four lines holding us in position; the bow anchor, a stern anchor, a bow shore line and a stern shore line. It takes a little effort to get everything right, but with two of us on board we can get secured pretty fast and we sleep well at night.
Our friend Milly sails solo and so I volunteer to run the shore lines for her boat when she visits and anchors nearby. This year, when we were tying up Mahdee, I recognized the tree trunk from a previous visit, but initially thought it was a tree that I had once tied Mahdee to. The appearance of ants was a clue that perhaps this was the tree trunk that I had tied Milly to last year.
Then Brenda developed a nasty painful blistery welt and I remarked that I hadn’t seen such a welt since we lived in Texas and had fire ants in the yard and eventually the house too–a nightmare. We thought that fire ants couldn’t be this far north in California. I remembered seeing that they had been seen and reported in the LA/San Diego areas, but they couldn’t be this far north near San Francisco and Sacramento–could they?
Some online searching revealed that fire ants love a drought and that the current California drought has enabled the northward spread of these awful creatures. California has classified fire ants as an invasive species and they are so destructive that some jurisdictions will quarantine an area, but fighting the spread of aggressive fire ants is a losing proposition. It was clear that not only were we once again in fire ant country, we had tied up right next to a big nest of them and they were in our virtual back yard–there goes the neighborhood.
In the video–a hint of things to come: I’m securing the shore line in entirely the wrong spot. The high crotch in a big tree seen towards the end of the video ultimately ended up being our safe-from-all shore anchor spot.
Shore anchor from Schooner People on Vimeo.
It was after dark and Beryl’s water bowl was swarming with ants and Beryl was clearly very distressed. I went outside with a flashlight and discovered that the bow shore-line was now twice its normal one inch diameter, thick and brown with an awe-inspiring invading army–now I was distressed too. We went to general quarters and locked down the boat. Our goal was to make it until morning when the ants would go into hiding from the heat and we could see well enough to reposition the shore line away from any fire ant nests.
Brenda prepared a bowl of boric acid and I sprayed and washed the deck and lines to knock off as many ants as possible. We left a dry segment of line where it came aboard the boat and coated that with powdered boric acid. We surrounded Beryl’s water bowl with more powdered boric acid and put her food bowl in a moat using a baking pan of water. Poor Beryl spent a miserable night in the heat and confused about how to flip her dry food out of the moated bowl and onto the floor which she does before eating each morsel. She whined and complained all night so that Brenda could hardly sleep and in the morning the moat around the food bowl was full of soggy uneatable cat food. I was worried that while sleeping, I would roll over onto a string of these biting ants and be covered in painful welts. No one aboard Mahdee was happy.
First order of business the next morning was to relocate the bow shore line. Fortunately, the wind was blowing from Mahdee’s stern. I untied Mahdee from the tree trunk and was very careful not to disturb the sleeping ants in the now obvious nest. This stretch of slough has lots of trees to choose from so I picked the biggest tree and put the line way above ground level.
We are still left with a huge, but diminishing number of ants on the boat which are now cut off from their home nest. As we find them, we are killing and washing them overboard using the deck/anchor wash-down. With relaxed security measures, Beryl is returning to her happy normal self and so are the humans.
In keeping with current events, I am now doing periodic “border patrols” to ensure our shore lines are not breached again and Brenda knows why Milly hasn’t been back to visit this year–she is reluctant to accept my misguided helpful actions of tying her boat up to a fire ant nest. The following morning, during a patrol I found the deck covered in black and white grit–another mysterious first. It turns out that a middle of the night wind-shift carried ash and soot from the devastating wildfires and coated our decks. We realized that the same drought that has enabled the fire ants to move here is also enabling horrific fires–a real double whammy for the area.