enismirdal: (Bee!14)
[personal profile] enismirdal
There was a food and drink festival being held near work this long weekend. Part of the event was dragon boat racing; my work colleagues put a team in last year, and did very well, so they decided to give it a bash again this year. So CRI popped along with the intention of staying for an hour or two, sampling some of the food at the food festival, cheering on our team, then heading home.

That wasn't what happened.

We bought ourselves reindeer burgers and settle down to watch some races. But then we noticed one of the unused dragon boats (there were 6 in total - races were between three boats, so in theory you could have three racing and three loading at any given time, keeping the turnaround quick) seemed to have a number of bees flying around it. Some were settling in a small cluster at one end. Some were flying around the other end. I knew there were a lot of spring swarms this year (our own campus bees have been running quite close to swarming recently but we've been keeping an eye on things), so wondered if a local hive was in the process of swarming.

CRI suggested we should talk to the stewards and take a closer look - it didn't look like all that many bees, and we suspected we could probably disperse them by washing down the bits of the boat where they were settling to disperse the pheromone. The steward agreed and took us down to have a look. Sure enough, the stern end of the boat only had about 20-30 bees in a little cluster. But then one of the chaps who steered the boats during races said, "Oh, no, they're actually in the end of that boat. We put some tape over the hole to try and keep them in but it hasn't worked."

Right, so it wasn't that there were bees settling on the boat. There were bees in the boat. Splashing water around wasn't going to cut it.

I called in the beekeeper who helps us with the bees on campus ("You've got to be kidding me? Bees inside a boat? Are you sure I'm not asleep and dreaming this?"), feeling bad for dragging him out on a Sunday afternoon when he'd just put his feet up after Sunday lunch. Being the lovely chap he is (and fortunately only living just around the corner), he agreed to come along and help - I knew he had a specially modified hoover to get bees out of awkward spaces without harming them, and suspected this would be the idea tool for the job. So he turned up a while later, and we had the boat towed across the marina basin away from the couple of thousand festival attendees. He and I suited up and eventually someone turned up to open the gate so we could actually access this jetty (that took a while - they key-holder was actually rowing in a race at the time and took his sweet time coming across to meet us, too...). So then CRI helped hold the boat steady(ish) while we stepped in and surveyed what was going on.

The bow of a dragon boat is sort of boxed off, providing a platform on which the drummer can sit, and that means the pointed tip is a sort of cavity. This has a large (6 in.) plug for maintenance access and a small (0.5 in.) plug for drainage. We learned that the drainage plug for this boat had gone missing, so the bees had got in through the small hole and found a lovely warm, dry, protected cavity where they could set up nest. We found a piece of wax comb the size of the palm of my hand, so they'd been living in there for some time. And the truth started to come out...

1. They'd known the plug was missing and not replaced it.
2. They'd noticed that morning when loading up the boat that something seemed a bit odd, but decided to ignore it.
3. They'd hoped the bees would just leave when they transported the boats 100 miles along a motorway. (Note: if you agitate a colony of bees, they don't disperse. They ball up more tightly. Because that's how you'd survive a storm, if you think about it.)
4. They'd used the boat in a race earlier than morning and just put tape over the hole...cos presumably if you seal bees into a space they just return through their interdimensional portal and bother you no more...? (And remember, that involved a person banging a drum sitting on top of the cavity.)
5. They only stopped using the boat when the number of bees coming in and out started to get silly.
6. They wouldn't have called a beekeeper at all if CRI and I hadn't started talking to event stewards.

So the beekeeper and I started preparing to remove the bees (meanwhile, some unimaginative announcer with access to the tannoy was commentating our activities to the whole gathering). Our work colleagues turned up...because they'd normally run 6 boats in the race final, between the 6 fastest teams. But with one boat full of bees, they'd have to run five boats only. And our work team was ranking at number 6. So they really wanted us to clear the boat... Then the beekeeper realised he needed some extra kit from home. He was perfectly prepared to drive home and fetch it...but then the event organiser appeared and said he appreciated our efforts, but the crane that would lift the boats out of the water was only booked for another hour and they didn't want to pay for a further hour's use. (They also, presumably, didn't want to pay the beekeeper's very modest call-out fee; though as he still got called out, I hope he invoices them anyway as it's probably less than 1% of the money they made from the day.) So he thanked us at length and declined to have the bees removed, announcing that he'd take the boat home with the bees still in and deal with it somehow back at base.

Beekeeper wasn't happy as he'd got his trousers soaked with river-water for no real reason, and more importantly, he hates to leave bees in dodgy locations like that - he'd prefer to see them safely settled in a hive with love and care. (And they were nice bees - not remotely aggressive, and a pretty dark colour.) I wasn't thrilled as I felt like I'd ruined his afternoon for nothing. CRI wasn't thrilled as he'd been hoping to get back home for a couple of hours' work on his thesis that afternoon. The steward wasn't thrilled because he wasn't an employee of the dragon boat company - he was a representative of a local charity and knew how much the company was making!

So we got some tea (at least at a food fair, it's easy to find tea!). It started to rain. We sat around and felt a bit unimpressed. I had some churros and chocolate sauce, which lifted my flagging spirits a bit. Our work team didn't get their final. The bees, presumably, will go back across to Hampshire and perhaps they'll persuade a local beekeeper to take them for free...or probably not, as they're in a blooming awkward place and it's not a full swarm, just a "cast" of a couple of thousand bees. I hope they don't get killed.

I guess at least it makes a good anecdote - the beekeeper said it was certainly one of the stranger places he'd encountered bees!
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