My friend Katie gave me crabs. It was an accident.

It started with a gift: a hermit crab named Pagoo. Katie and I were strolling the beautiful beaches of Fakarava when she handed me a 3 inch long, white, cone shaped shell. It was lovely, and I put it in my backpack. Later I would add it to my zen garden on our sailboat. I had been working on a tiny zen garden where I could put my favorite South Pacific shells, sand, and a small pink cat symbolizing the kitten I loved and gave up last year, named Sherbert.

When I unpacked my bag later and removed Katie’s shell I soon found it crawling around on the table.

A hermit crab was living inside.

We see hermit crabs all over the beaches of the South Pacific. They are entertaining but I never thought of them as pets until Katie unwittingly introduced one into my home and heart. I picked up the little crab and offered it a crumb of bread. It reached out, legs and antennae wildly waving, and took the bread. It nibbled delicately as I watched, and I started to fall in love with the sweet creature. It doesn’t take much for me, I guess. I named the crab Pagoo, after a crab Brian had as a child. I placed Pagoo in my zen garden and enjoyed watching him climb around on my favorite shells.

Everything about Pagoo is so endearing. He’s a tiny crab in a big shell, which means he is really clumsy. He’s an easygoing crab who enjoys gently crawling on my hand and being hand fed.

I learned on Wikipedia hermit crabs are social and need to be with other crabs, so Katie and I went to the beach to find friends for Pagoo. We selected four crabs of different sizes, all smaller than Pagoo. Pagoo did seem happier with his new friends. I sometimes found the five crabs huddled together, and they seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

It’s fun to give them new shells to call home. I offered them a small white shell my friend Morgan gave me, and left it in the garden overnight. By morning it was occupied and the smallest shell became vacant. The crabs were upgrading.

I walked the beach looking for more new shells for my crabs. I found a peach colored shell which seemed about the right size. I placed it in the zen garden and the next morning found one of the crabs had moved into it. It was hard to tell which crab was in the new shell, but I figured it out pretty quickly.

One of Pagoo’s friends, previously in a white shell, immediately stood out as the most rambunctious and active crab. He would race around my hand trying to jump off the edge when I would hold him, and was very active in the garden as well. This compulsive crab definitely seemed to be the one inhabiting the new peach colored shell. So I named him Peachy, and soon his escape antics began.

Peachy, empowered by his new shell, was ready to explore the world. A couple nights later he escaped the garden and I found him crawling on the table the next morning.

Then, one stormy night, Peachy escaped the garden and took a three foot fall onto the floor of the salon. It was about 2 AM and I was already awake because the boat was rocking dramatically at anchor in a storm referred to as a Mara-mu. When a storm has a special name, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when it brings drama. I had just gotten up to put things away. Lying in bed again, I heard a distinctive sound, a soft clink, and I knew immediately what it was. Peachy had escaped again and this time had jumped onto the floor. That crab.

I got up and found Peachy crawling on the floor, unharmed after his big fall. I placed him back in the garden and he buried himself in the sand. Peachy seemed mad at me for the rest of the day. Peachy is not easygoing like Pagoo.

Peachy proceeded to get out almost every night, and one time he was missing for a day until Brian found him on the floor in one of our storage bunks. We devised a double wall system to keep him from getting lost in the boat again. It worked, which I’m sure displeased Peachy. But ultimately, he was the one who would most enjoy his release back into the wild, and I didn’t want him to be deprived of that and end up trapped on Magic.

The crabs have their own personalities. Peachy dreams of escape while the other crabs seem content in the garden. Pagoo is inquisitive and enjoys exploring my hand. The other crabs seem more interested in finding their way back to the garden when I pick them up. Pagoo is the only one who will take bits of food directly from my hand. And then there’s Peachy. Peachy is the wild one.

They all seem to enjoy climbing to high points, though. They are often found perched at the top of the tallest thing in their garden. I can relate so I found them a climbing wall on the beach. It’s a steep piece of coral with many handholds, or clawholds. It has routes of varying difficulty. The crabs love scaling it and sitting at the top. Some people spend a lot of money on their hermit crab hobbies, but here in the South Pacific I can find all the things the crabs need on the beach. They are the perfect sailboat pet.

My friend Nancy found natural sponges for the crabs, and gave them as a gift. They love Aunt Nancy now. I soaked a sponge in water and introduced it to the garden. The crabs enjoy sitting on it and licking the moisture from its surface. Every now and then they all crawl under it, nestle in the sand, and hide for awhile. What they are thinking, I will never know.

UPDATE: Our crabs were released on a small island in the Raiatea lagoon a few days ago. This island is tiny and can be circumnavigated in a couple minutes. We found other hermit crabs just like them, so we know they will survive. We placed a small pile of food on the beach for them, then they crawled off my hand and began immediately exploring their new home. I hope Pagoo is growing into his shell and Peachy is enjoying his freedom. Mostly, I hope they had a good time with us.

Our short term visa is over in French Polynesia, so we had to store Magic and come back to the US for 9 months. I’m already looking forward to my hermit crabs and zen garden next season on the boat.


Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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