Insect infestations are the worst part of cruising. Cruising boats travel to entirely new climates where their crews are unexperienced with the native insects. And boats make better homes for all kinds of infestations than houses do. Between these two factors most cruisers battle some sort of infestation.
We have two pieces of advice. First, do what you can to avoid having a problem. Check everything that comes aboard. We don’t allow cardboard to come aboard in the tropics, which can be a challenge. We also double seal all food, which helps to control most pests.
Second, be prepared to eradicate whatever comes aboard. Be sure to have insecticide aboard. Use it liberally at the early stages of a problem.
Thanks to our precautions with food we never had any serious trouble with those kinds of bugs. Most times that we got bananas we picked up an ant or three, but that was about it.
What we did have were bed bugs. They plagued us for years, and took a huge amount of the joy out of cruising. We did everything that we could to get rid of them, and for the longest time nothing worked. For about six months after we picked them up, we thought we had them under control with insecticide spray. Essentially we just bred insecticide resistance into them. We tried herbal remedies (Neem oil) to no effect. We set off bug bombs, and increased our dosage of insecticide. We learned that there is no way to heat a boat hot enough to kill beg bugs while the boat is in the water. We used week after week, month after month of specialized bed bug specific insecticide. The net result of all of these was that we slowly poisoned ourselves.
Things got desperate, and remained desperate way for a very long time. We had heated discussions about giving up our lifestyle as a bed bug control tactic.
Finally, we found some diatomous earth when we arrived in New Zealand this season. We’d been looking for it for years, but it is hard to find. We tracked it down at Putiputi Ra, just outside the town basin in Whangarei. (Their website is dead. Contact them at 79 Walton St Whangarei. Phone: (09) 430 0606.) We applied a couple cups of it around our bed once, and haven’t seen the bed bugs since. Frankly I’m still surprised. We must have applied almost as much weight of the active ingredients of insecticide as we did of the diatomous earth. But the bed bugs can’t move through/over/past the diatomous earth, and cut off from their food supply they’ve died out.
The main thing to do about bed bugs is to be really careful about not picking them up. Learn to identify them and the stains they leave in their habitat. This is a photo of an adult bed bug, they look like fat ants.
Bed bugs leave little dark red to black spots in their habitat. Check the corners of mattresses for them. Do not allow yourself or your luggage to come into contact with them. And if you have any doubts about having contacted them, freeze all of your clothing and luggage solid before bringing it back aboard.
So, be careful and be prepared. Don’t forget your insecticide spray and bring some diatomous earth just in case.