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When Cockroaches Happen to Clean People

They might be a fact of life when living aboard in the tropics, but that doesn't make it any less maddening.

June 19, 2013
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Windtraveler- roach

“Britt, how many roaches would you say we kill a day?” I heard Scott call casually over his shoulder from the front seat of the rental minivan we were sharing with our new friends. We had just gone grocery shopping and he was talking to the husband, Luuck (pronounced Luke). Apparently the mention of “cardboard” and the common knowledge amongst boaters that it’s a vehicle for roach eggs gave Scott the go-ahead to tell our compadres about our little, er… situation. “I mean, like, two or three at least, right?” he continued with a shrug. Like it was no big deal. Like we were discussing flooring options: hardwood or wall-to-wall? Hmmmm….

What the HELL!?!?

I wanted to die right there. I mean, what was he thinking making our cockroach issue (it is NOT a problem!) public? I thought we had an understanding! It was supposed to remain our dirty little secret until we got rid of them, at which point we’d talk about our former pests much like people reminisce about the Depression Era and shudder as we recalled “the time we lived with roaches.” I mean, we are clean people. Cockroaches aren’t supposed to thrive amongst people like us. This should not be happening.

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I sat silent while I turned a lovely shade of crimson and slowly looked over to my friend Darcy in defeat, knowing full well that she would never ever come over to our veritable roach motel for a another happy hour again. Dinner? Ha! Forget about it. Bring her baby over to play with my baby? No way, Jose. It was over (not true, but still, I thought that at the time). I felt like Hester Prynne with the scarlet letter on my chest, only my “letter” was a cardboard cutout of a German cockroach, antennae and all. “Hi! I’m Brittany…oh, the cockroach on my chest? It’s nothing, really. Just ignore him…hey, where are you going?” Gross.

To add insult to injury, Scott prattled on…

“They’re small though, really tiny…” he said matter-of-factly, “… I mean – the biggest we’ve killed is no longer than three-quarters of an inch, wouldn’t you agree, Britt?” I swear to God if I had “go-go Gadget” arms I would have strangled him right then and there. But being that we were in the company of our new friends and respective children. I chuckled uncomfortably and said, “Um, honey…you do realize our friends are never going to come over again, right?” If looks could kill.

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There is no one, no one who doesn’t find cockroaches in a living space completely and utterly appalling. And rightfully so. They are synonymous with filth and squalor. Our roach problem issue has been documented before on the blog – but since we’ve been cruising, I wanted to keep hush hush about it because, frankly, I wanted to stick my head in the sand. We’ve tried the boric acid cookies, we sprinkled Borax powder liberally in nooks and crannies, we tried the motels, hotels and traps and we fogged the boat on six – yes six – occasions. Useless. Each time, the little monsters prevailed. I could almost hear their shrill, high-pitched roachy-laughter echoing from the woodwork every time a new battle tactic was attempted. “Good luck suckers!” I imagined them saying, “You know the Armageddon-style explosion that killed the dinosaurs and all life on earth as we knew it? Yeah. We survived that! Bwa-hahahaha!” they’d say. It was – is – maddening. It’s even worse because I am of the OCD variety when it comes to cleanliness and I have begun to take their presence on our boat as a personal affront. I mean, if there was a holster that could contain a roll of paper towel and a solid cleaning agent, I would wear that bad boy with pride. I clean a lot. I repeat, WE ARE NOT DIRTY PEOPLE.

And that’s not all! I’m also compulsive about how we store our food. Everything is in airtight containers, double or triple bagged and after meals there is nary a crumb for them to munch on. Unfortunately, I have learned they don’t need actual food to survive. They can happily make a meal of book-binding glue, soap, nylon stockings, grease and dried skin flakes (we will be exfoliating, family-style, on the aft deck nightly now). To make matters worse, they will even eat their own feces and dead brethren in a pickle. It is clear we will not be starving them off our boat.

I was at a loss, so I hit the world wide web. Waving the white flag and accepting the possibility that we might be living with them for a while longer, I wanted to know just how bad roaches were. Are they really as gross as everyone says? Did they really spread ebola? Was my boat indeed a cesspool? Turns out – none of these things were true. Cockroaches are actually the cats of the insect world and clean themselves fastidiously – even obsessively so. According to this article they are not as dirty as people think and the only filth they spread is the filth that they are actually living in and walk across. Therefore, if you keep a clean house (as we do), you have clean roaches (semi-happy dance). A human hand carries far more germs and bacteria than a cockroach. And your cell phone? Dirtier than a toilet seat. This news made me breathe a small sigh of relief, however temporary. They were not, in fact, going to infect my family with a flesh-eating disease. This did not make living with them any better, of course, but it was nice to know all my cleaning was not going to waste. I was actually cleaning our roaches too.

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The real problem with roaches is, from what I can gather, is their excrement. Apparently people are all sorts of allergic to their – er- deposits and this is their true claim to pesty fame. Luckily, the Meyers family shows no signs of being allergic and I have yet to see any roach poop in our living area (I look, trust me). The other down side of having roaches (and the bigger one, in my opinion) is psychological. I now see imagined roaches EVERYWHERE I look. The errant piece of fuzz that blows across the counter? A roach. That tiny crumb that fell off my toast? Roach. That little shadow I see across the galley? Roach. The coffe ground stuck to the side of the sink? Roach. The random drill hole in the wall? Roach. The stray hair caressing my back? Gah!! ROACH! I feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone whereby I see things that are not really there. I’m pretty sure I’m scarred for life in this regard and I will forever see roaches in every tiny dark shadow and little black speck that crosses my peripheral from here on out. It could be worse, I guess.

That said, we have not conceded to live peacefully amongst our persistent pests. Despite the fact that they might share my OCD nature, they still gross us out and we want them gone. We have a full-blown, real-deal exterminator coming today. He is going to spread some industrial strength cockroach-killing gel around the boat and we’re buying an extra tube of it from him for good measure. He, and several others we’ve talked to, swear this will work. We’re being cautiously optimistic. In the meantime, we’ll just keep reminding ourselves that we’re the owners of clean cockroaches because – I would like to stress – we are clean people. And yes, cockroaches can happen to clean people.

When two people, with the same life long dream of sailing around the world find each other, there’s only one thing to do… make it happen!
Scott and Brittany departed in 2010 with big plans to “see the world” from the deck of their sailboat. After sailing from Chicago to Trinidad via the “thorny path”, they are now back at it with their first baby and second boat. Check out all the juice at .

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