Skip to content

The Birds

We were out of Cabo San Lucas headed for Puerto Vallarta when a frigatebird came swooping in, circling, circling, gliding in a steep left bank until its wingtip nearly touched the ocean, the top of its wings black, glistening in the late afternoon sun. Now climbing, climbing higher than our mast, into the wind, higher, higher, left bank, now downwind picking up speed, faster, faster. Around and around our little sailboat. Pretty. Serene.

After a while, it was joined by another bird, then another, and soon there were four flying in ragged formation, gull wings, long pointy beak. Evil, wicked, mean and nasty. One broke formation, increased its bank and headed for our mast, and landed on our spreader. Soon, it was joined by the others. What are the frigate birds doing on our spreader? Oh shit!

Now our captain, like most captains, has a place for everything and everything in its place and bird poop has no place on his boat. Here begins the somewhat disturbing tale of the bird poop incident.

Have you ever wondered what sea gulls eat? Me neither. Too much information. Well, now I have a pretty good idea. Birds eat stinky stuff. Fish guts, squid guts, bird guts — doesn’t matter, if it stinks, they’ll eat it. When not eating stinky stuff, what do birds do? Poop. Poop stinky stuff; just like it was when it went in, only stinkier. Stinky, white frigatebird poop, all over the captain’s deck.

As all mariners know, bird poop is the most caustic, tenacious, indestructible substance known to man. Seagull poop has been known to eat through gel coat, clear coat, top coat, fiberglass and stainless steel. A fishing boat out of Bodega Bay once didn’t clean the transom after a particularly unsuccessful fishing trip and the next morning was found sunk in six feet of mud. The boat is still there, you can see for yourself.

We tried everything we could think of to get the birds off the spreader In order: banging on the shrouds with the boat hook, whipping a spare halyard at the spreader, squirting with the raw- water hose (not enough pressure), slingshot made from bungee cords (range three feet). Nothing worked.

In desperation, the captain yelled, “You frigatebirds, get off my boat!” Only it came out more like, “You freakin’ birds, get off my freakin’ boat!” Surprisingly, one of the birds left. We were inspired by this. “What makes noise? The air horn!” This kept us busy until the air horn ran out of air.

What do birds do when they’re not eating? Poop.
© 2019 Jim Willis

We’d been somewhat successful with the air horn, so only two birds remained on the spreader. The captain had another idea. “What if we tack? The mainsail should scare ‘em off the spreader.” It worked! Midnight came, end of my watch and time for the sack.

Around 2 a.m., the captain called me on deck, the wind had died, and we needed to drop the main. My job was to watch and assist if anything went wrong. All went well, some cold tea and a snack and I was off to the V-berth. The forward hatch was open, and I could dimly see something hanging down inside the hatch. I thought, “Must be a jib sheet has fouled.” I reached up through the hatch to remove the sheet and grabbed a handful of tail feathers! Oh shit!

Back up on deck: “Captain! There is a friggin’ bird on the forward hatch!”

“That’s it!” cried the captain, “Where is my boat hook?”

Now this captain’s fondness for boat hooks goes way back. Need replacement batten? Boat hook. Broken spinnaker pole? Boat hook. Need an emergency tiller? Boat hook. Sheared mast? Boat hook. There wasn’t anything onboard that couldn’t be repaired with a boat hook and some duct tape.

Gripping the boat hook like a sword, the captain yelled, “En guarde!” and lunged at the bird. The bird parried with its beak. The captain now realized his advantage was weight. The bird defiantly held fast to the boat hook. The captain, in an amazing display of mixed martial arts skill, gently picked up the bird and shook it loose over the side. “Ploop!” Problem solved.

This is amusing but I really need some sleep. Back to the V-berth, I sat on the edge of the bunk and thought, “What was the friggin’ bird doing on the forward hatch? Oh shit! I felt something wet on the mattress, turned on the light and saw a pancake-size puddle of freakin’ bird poop!

I was back on watch at 0600 and had to get some sleep. I looked around — a bucket, equal parts of Lysol, Clorox and Diesel fuel (to kill the smell) and my bunk and pillow were good to go.

Back in the sack, I remembered that I’d sat in freakin’ bird poop. Bunk’s good, what about me? Lights on, shorts off, sure enough, freakin’ bird poop on my shorts. Now what? Starboard watch navy shower — a damp paper towel — I should be good to go. But this is freakin’ bird poop, nasty stuff. Is the paper towel enough? Then I noticed a bottle of hand sanitizer hanging on the bulkhead. Perfect.

I wonder if Purell would give me royalties for a new product idea. We’ll call it butt sanitizer.


  1. Avatar
    Alex chiffy 2 years ago

    Good story Jim, thanks.

  2. Avatar
    Freek Paardenkooper 2 years ago

    Very amusing read!

Leave a Reply

Historic Schooner Struck
We were shocked to receive the news that the German pilot schooner Elbe No. 5  — which several generations of Bay Area sailors will know best as 'our' lovely Wander Bird — sank on Saturday after a collision with a commercial ship on the Elbe River near Hamburg.
We once saw a man walk on water. We were sailing back home to Lowrie in San Rafael after a long, splendid day on the Bay. As we close-reached up the channel, we saw a man . . . surfing without a wave, sail or kite. If we hadn't been keeping up on watersports trends, we may very well have thought that someone was walking on water.
Cabron Is for Sale
2013 Cookson 80 designed by Botin, Cabron is a high powered racing yacht.
Latitude Logowear
Congratulations to two winners of Latitude 38 swag. Stephen Buckingham picked up a copy of the June issue at South Beach Yacht Club at San Francisco's Pier 40 on May 31.