Friday, April 11, 2014

‘No-see-ums’ – the Bane of the Beach Braai (barbeque)

Caribbean beaches, pristine white sand framed by regal swaying palms and shallow turquoise waters, welcome sailors daily, and provide the backdrop for engine repair and general boat maintenance.

On many occasions though, boat work abandoned, spanners and hammers and grimy rags tossed aside, cruisers are enticed to drop their dinghies and head toward that beckoning shore. Promises of warm sand through the toes and wading in the tepid blue waters make the prospect irresistible. But there is an enemy lurking. A vicious and relentless monster – but you won’t see ‘um!
Our little flotilla of sailboats, mostly South African cruisers arrived in Tank Bay, Vieques the other day, after quite a bashing sail in high seas from mainland Puerto Rico. One of the boats is waiting on a boat part to be delivered (surprise surprise!) so we have a week to bide time – so why not visit all of Vieques’ beaches?!
After we’d settled and had a swim it was decided – we’d have a beach braai! Everyone busied themselves thawing sausages and chops, packing a lovely little picnic and putting the rum and cokes on ice.
The men, chests puffed up in anticipation of the age old testosterone building ritual of fire making. They rushed to the beach, secured the dinghies and went about searching for suitable firewood, and a protected spot for the fire pit, out of the wind.

One by one all the dinghies were on the beach and the evening was looking promising. What could be better than hanging with good friends on a post card pretty beach, cocktail in hand, meat on the fire.
But then, as quickly as if they’d known, there was the total onslaught. A take over to rival any rebel army. It was the 'no-see-ums' , affectionately known by scientists as ceratopogonidae.
We all began to jump and scratch and yelp uncontrollably. It was a spectacle of limbs flailing, rum splashing, cocktails tossed aside for the protection of ‘Off’. Cans were sprayed wildly as the people bounced around, but it was no use, the little invisible vermin were immune to chemical sprays and slaps and pleadings to cease. They ignored swearing and were not remotely bothered by smoke as we formed a tight cluster there, hoping it would flush them away. Instead, there we were a huddled mass of miserable bitten sods, eyes watering from chemical sprays and smoke fumes, still smacking and slapping ourselves silly.
Getting settled - already one friend is covering her head from incessant bites

And another on the right is shaking out her hair

The last photo taken - itching in full effect - Off bottle empty. Soon, mass exodus!
A rumour began, that they would all go away and this hell would end, as soon as the sun went down. So we braved on, we tried to withstand the attack in hopes of an end in sight. It was a miracle we lasted over an hour in the midst of the invisible war. The beach terrorists showed no mercy though. The sun dropped as it does, beyond the edge of the world but we were still under attack. The troops suddenly cracked. We could stand it no longer. Once the meat was cooked, it was thrown onto paper plates, stuffed into sandy bags, and the crowds made a mad dash for the water and for the safety of our respective boats.
We arrived back out of breath, as if we’d outrun a frightful enemy. I sat on the sugar scoop (back step) of Shiloh, still rubbing my scalp where they’d managed to burrow and bite, causing a lingering itch and eventually I poured myself over the side into the cool and welcoming water.
For some reason, these tiny no-see-ums are limited to one area of attack. They can’t get to us over the couple hundred meters of sea across the bay. It is the one stroke of luck we have. One thing the terrorists cannot penetrate.
I sighed a huge sigh of relief as I climbed out of the water and peered over at the moonlit beach. So, this is why we have ‘sun downers’ on our boats in these beautiful bays. It’s what preserves our image of such wonderful places. If we had to spend even one more evening on a beach, I think we’d all give up sailing completely.

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