Call For a Tow

Invasion of the Hummigator

By Tom Neale, 12/14/2006


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The Path of the Beast

If it was a rat, I’d much rather that it would have been an alligator. The truth is, we’re not sure what it was, but it didn’t belong walking about our decks at 5 a.m. as we were anchored in a river, well off the shore, in the wilds of Georgia.

A distinct splash, near our stern, awakened me. Our stateroom is at the stern, so I heard it well. My first groggy thought was that it might have been a porpoise come to play. They often do. But then I heard strange sounds coming from up on the deck. “It has to be a bird,” I thought. After all, what else could it be? And they often light on the boat, (particularly herons), to make a fuss and make a mess. So I thought that maybe a bird had landed on the life lines, or maybe the mizzen boom. There was a bit too much noise for that assumption. But again, it simply had to be a bird. The deck of Chez Nous is about 4.5 feet above water and nothing could swim out and climb up. I hoped. Then the scraping rattling noise grew quiet, and we heard the padding of feet as something walked along the deck. This was getting serious. But we figured we were imagining things. We had to be imagining things.

As daylight spread across the marshes, we opened the hatch and went on deck. Clearly, in the dew, were tracks of an animal. Had we accidentally picked up a stowaway cat at the last marina stop several days ago? We heard of a boat that had this experience and they had no idea as to what to do with it. Eventually we heard they pulled alongside a Coast Guard dock and put it ashore. Could we have picked up a rat at that marina? As I indicated earlier, if it were a rat that big, we were in serious trouble. I’ve seen some big rats around docks, especially in city areas. Rats are not good in any case, but especially not good on a boat. And considering the fact that we’d actually heard its footsteps and that the tracks were very large for a rat, we were thinking about sinking the boat so that it would jump ship. But, what about the splashing I’d heard. We had to consider all the facts.

We spent the day going into every conceivable space on the deck of the boat (and there are many on Chez Nous) looking for whatever it was—at least for clues. But we found no droppings, no hairs, no litter--nothing amiss. We even took the dorade vents apart to be sure nothing had squeezed into there. And always, as we searched, lurked the thought. “What if we find something? What do we do then?”

Mel hit the library. We keep a good supply of resource books aboard, including the Audubon Field Guides with descriptions of many animals and pictures of what their tracks look like. Our tracks had been made on a dewy deck and weren’t very clear, but one of the possibilities was that of a small otter. It could also have been an opossum. They swim and climb, but I’d never heard of one swimming that far out and climbing on a boat. The opossum tracks in the book looked very different than what we had on our deck. Could it have been a raccoon? The tracks on deck reminded me of the ones I’ve seen many times on mud banks at low tide.

I still couldn’t figure out how he got aboard, it that’s what it was. He could have climbed up the anchor chain, but I had heard the splash and first noises astern. Then I saw the way. Our dinghy lift/swim platform is hydraulically operated. There’s a ram but also a large moving support structure that begins just above the water line. Something must have climbed up here. That would explain how whatever it was got aboard.

About Unwanted Boat Creatures

1. We didn’t have a rat, thank heavens, but there are a few things you should know about them—and cockroaches.

2. Rats not only swim, than can swim from one boat at anchor to another and climb aboard. It happened to a friend’s boat in the Abacos once and I’ve heard of it happening to other boats.

It’s been a couple of days now. We’ve been underway every day and at anchor every night. We haven’t seen or heard any more of the creature, and we’ve seen no clues of anyone else aboard but us. We did have a few startled moments around 4 am this morning when we woke to the sound of pattering on the deck right over our bed. But it turned out to be some very heavy rain drops which I verified by peeking out the hatch. Other than that--nothing. No signs of any creatures other than us. And if something’s on your boat it’s gotta at least leave droppings—or use the head. And I haven’t noticed anything unusual using the head. So we assume that it plunged back in the water when it heard us rumbling around below. Mel says she thought she heard the anchor chain rattling, like it may have jumped off the bow.

Still curious, I called an old friend who’s a genuine low country boy (I don’t know about the “boy” part anymore, he’s almost as old as I am) and who’s also been into boating most of his life. He lives on one of the barrier islands. I told him my story and asked him what he thought it was. He didn’t hesitate a split second.

“Hummigator,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“It’s a hummigator. What’s amatter Tom, haven’t you heard of a hummigator before? Everybody knows about them down here. They’re half hummingbird and half alligator and they can fly right onto your boat if they want to. And if they do, you’d best think about leaving.”

I said that I hadn’t heard of any hummigators before, embarrassed yet one more time at my lack of knowledge.

“Oh, that’s all right, Tom, mostly they’re from around Pawley’s Island up in South Carolina, but they’ve been rumored to have been getting out and about these days. They can fly, you know, as well as swim. They can also just hover like a humming bird. How’d you like to have an alligator hovering near you?”

I thanked him for clearing up the mystery, we had a nice visit on the cell phone (it was weekend free time) and that was that.

Now, if you think that I think it was a hummigator, you don’t know me that well. You should really know that I have a lot more sense than to think that. Because I was there. And those tracks didn’t look at all like an alligator’s tracks and they sure didn’t look like bird tracks (not that I’ve ever seen a humming bird land).

I still think (kind of hope, actually) that it was a small otter. That theory suits all the known facts best. But there’s an aspect to this that I think is important.

Suppose I had gone out on deck at around 2 or 3 that morning, as I sometimes do, to, well, look around. Suppose that thing had been aboard at the time and I had seen it. Suppose it had seen me. Would it have been ticked off and scared and come after me? Would it have been just scared and jumped over? Would I have jumped over? And if I had, what would I have done if I’d found that he’d jumped over too?

Luckily, I don’t have to answer these questions. At least not yet. Because as I said, I think he’s gone. I do think he’s gone. But just in case, we’re keeping this boat closed up so tight at night that you couldn’t get a cross between a gnat and a flea down our hatches. Not to mention a hummigator.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale