Watch out for the woodpeckers!

[ad name=”intheboatshed-post”]

Woodpecker damage to Broads yacht mast

Broads yacht Slantendicular

Damage wreaked by a confused Norfolk woodpecker; Slantendicular in flight,
photographed by Mary Moore of Moore & Moore Exposure

Joe Field of Navigators & General insurance got in touch with an oddball story late last week. It seems that a boat kept in a Norfolk Broads boatyard came under attack from a feathery predator. I’ll let the owner Steve Law tell the story:

‘On a couple of occasions during last October, on arrival at the boat at the yard we found what looked like wood chips scattered over the cover. The first time I merely brushed them off and went sailing, as you would. The second time, a week later, I became suspicious and asked the yard owner if he could shed any light. He came, looked, pondered and declared he knew nothing about it.

‘Then we competed in the end of season Downriver Race from Horning to Thurne, and pushed her quite hard. Wet decks are not something our boat Slantendicular normally suffers, but she did that day.

‘I muttered something about having to tighten the shrouds later, since they looked a little slack. Having returned to base, forgotten about the shrouds and gone back to work for the week, we returned the following weekend to find yet more woodchips on the cover, even more than before and now there were even hard varnish on one side of some of them!

‘Was it the lads in the yard having a laugh? The boss came and looked, looked again, looked up – and suddenly knew what had happened.

‘”So that’s where the woodpecker’s been hammering! We’ve heard him for a few weeks now, but every time we came to look it all went quiet. But now we know – he was up your mast all the time!”‘

‘I’d like to say thanks to Nav & Gen, who have accepted the claim and a new mast will shortly be made – they have been first class in their handling – no fuss, just accepted the story, rolled over laughing, and gave the OK!’

Navigators & General approved replacement with a new spar, as the policy covers damage caused by external accidents which means including vermin – though of course it isn’t strictly fair to call a bird such as this woodpecker by that name.

On the boat itself, Steve has this to say: ‘My boatbuilding career started with an old Enterprise dinghy, which I almost had to rebuild, and a Selway Fisher canoe I built from plans. And then I built Slantendicular from my own drawings, with much help from David Williams, who has built several Broads Cruisers and other boats. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

‘Building Slanty then took three years or 1500 hours in the garage, leading up to her launch in April 04.’

Navigators & General banner ad

5 thoughts on “Watch out for the woodpeckers!”

  1. I was under the impression that woodpeckers pecked to get at insects, or are they like many of us, suffering from 'Quixote' syndrome, or – I've been butting my head for so long that I can't get used to it when I stop…

    {from Wikipedia}; a means of communication to signal possession of territory to their rivals, and a method of locating and accessing insect larvae found under the bark or in long winding tunnels in the tree.

    …which implies that your mast may have had a secret infestation…

    What precautions have you taken to ensure that this chap does not return with his mates, 'cos on his record to date he is not a quitter; before you know it we will have woodies popping up in every traditional boatyard. Does the plastic Eagle Owl do it for Peckers or is there a new market opening up for an anti-pecker device [probably need re-branding in the USA…

  2. Surely he was just looking for a nesting site? With due defference to Steve, that wasn't the best bit of Columbian or Sitka, but started life as a roofing joist (or two). Therefore a soft, hollow wooden mast with the halyards frapped round to stop them tapping (making an excellent foothold for woody woodpecker) must have seemed like a perfect stairway to his boudoir.

  3. I'm greatful for this item as I have learnt a lot about woodpeckers in the last two days. They are a clever lot and it would be interesting to know which species it was.

    The reason that it was never seen is that they move around a trunk to be out of site, when anyone aproaches. However, it would only have been able to grip the rope wound round a mast [to prevent frapping] and I am not sure that this existed at that height.

    It is possible that it heard the internal wiring or halyard tapping inside, and mistook that for evidence of another birds nest with chicks, which they are known to raid. It also had several attempts, at different places which suggests this.

    It is a pity that the mast was not re-erected somewhere nearby so that the 'pecker could continue, and provide a local interest feature. Then we would know the full story; perhaps N&G would like to sponsor this 'pecking post.

    I will, of course, take action as I always do when N&G puts out a 'warning' bulletin. The wooden boat owners of North Kent will be duly warned.

    After the last warning about the loss of bronze propellers, I persuaded [some] members of my club to remove their props…I am still living with that and actually hoping that one of those remaining will be nicked to justify my warnings…

  4. Bob,

    Woody certainly had adequate foothold as the halyards (Jib, Peak & Throat, all with multiple purchase) were restrained by my habit of spiralling the free burgee halyard around to stop the frapping, so the whole lot was dogged down quite tight. No noise from inside as the hollow mast only had a conduit for the electric cable to the masthead light, and the conduit is bonded in place. In any event the water in the mooring is so sheltered as to be flat in all weathers (it's a one-boat sized recess closed on three sides, with only the bow facing out onto a quiet dyke, tree-lined all around).

    No bugs inside either (even homebuilt masts have standards! 🙂 and now we can see inside we have confirmed it's good bugfree wood! – I guess we have to assume it was the hollow sound and secure foothold which encouraged our friend.

    Nonetheless, the concern remains that once he's had a taste he may be skulking in the trees waiting for the boat to back in the water soon….so the current plan is to keep the halyards pulled clear of the mast, either by disconnecting and tying to the shrouds, or possible bungees to hold them away. If anyone has any (legal and morally defensible) suggestions to deter Woody I'd be grateful to hear them! (rejected so far have been electrification of the mast; lying in wait with a shotgun; setting up a bird scarer gasgun) I'm considering hoisting a few shiny CDs which may disturb the lad enough to persuade him to go elsewhere, but I'm a) not keen on the look of that, and b) getting huffy comments from neighbours who are happy for him to attend to me and leave them alone! 🙂

    I've offered the old mast to the Yard for use as a flagpole to replace the one which finally fell down a year or so ago, so if he has formed an attachment to this particular stick he may well get another chance….will keep you posted (sic) 🙂

    Steve L

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.