“Stop scratching!” I’m pleading with my 3 year-old daughter who has a cluster of red welts on both her calves. Yes, the cruising life is an extraordinary one, packed with fulfilling encounters and adventures. However, today I am bemoaning the unwanted company that we experience from time to time – the bugs.

Sometimes it’s mosquitos, persisting through any screens or nets we put up to stop them. You could be enjoying a lovely tropical siesta down below when suddenly the high, tinny whine sounds in your ear. By then I find that they’ve already bitten me so I try to spot one, squatting fat and bloated with my blood on the wall somewhere, and smack it in retaliation. Then we discovered geckos are common in parts of the tropics and decided to coax them onto the boat to catch mosquitos in a desperate attempt to save ourselves from more bites.


But at least you can usually see mosquitos, albeit mostly when it’s too late to save yourself from their nip. Far worse are the local varieties of sandflies or midges; in Costa Rica they called them “chitras” and in Mexico they were known as “jejenes”. But more often than not they’re simply referred to as “no-see-‘ums” because you generally won’t see or catch them in the act of nibbling you. Instead you will feel a slight itch on your skin and your hand will casually find it’s source and then, before you know it, you’ll be red raw from scratching away at the bites which rapidly seem to have got everywhere. It’s got to the point that we now skip certain anchorages altogether if they turn out to be rife for biting beasties; there are just too many places that we could be more comfortable in. Rimmed by mangroves and an offshore breeze? No thank you, we’ll sail elsewhere.


Still, at least a certain amount of sun-bronzed tone to our otherwise pallid English flesh hides the worst of the nibble marks. Plus, there are other uninvited guests that are not quite so straightforward a fix. We had friends who had an infestation of cockroaches on board; large, plump, glossy ones that would scuttle out from under boxes or crates whenever they moved things around. They were dock neighbours of ours and it wasn’t unusual to hear a loud shriek followed by lots of thumping noises as they tried to dispatch the culprit. But, no matter what repellents, bug bombs or remedies they used, they were never able to fully eradicate them.


Sometimes it takes some detective work to figure out just what sort of pests you have. When we first arrived in the Caribbean we gorged on all the local exotic fruits and stuffed the boat full of them. But soon we found that we were waking up to find little holes made in their skin and trails of fruit peel littered around the saloon. It turned out that some tiny swallows were flitting their way into the boat through a half open portlight and feasting on our bulging fruit hammocks. 6 months later, on an island off the coast of Panama, the same thing happened again with some papayas. This time we couldn’t quite figure out how any small birds were getting in and there were none swooping around outside. Then we awoke to the frantic sound of beating wings and found a rather confused fruit bat flying above our bed.


But at least the bats and birds only eat fruit and would leave us alone. There are frustrating times when the air is hot and still, you’ve lost your onshore breeze, when it feels as though you get no relief from the chomping bugs. And, if it seems like a refreshing break to jump off the boat into the cool clear water of the anchorage for a bit of breathing space, you might be wise to reconsider. I’ll never forget the lovely lagoon that we decided to do a spot of afternoon skinny dipping in only to be greeted by a cloud of tiny, almost transparent jellyfish causing countless tingles and prickles and a rash of red bumps to our skin.


So now I’m on the hunt to smack the life out of the biting flies that caused the itchy, angry, blisters that my little girl is scrabbling at. As I clumsily thwack and wallop my way around the cabin I wonder whatever happened to the geckos and I resolve to pick up anchor and move on today to a spot that doesn’t bug us quite so much.