A good ship’s cat can be tough to find

Soaked to the skin but safely aboard, Snookums gathers his pride after a poorly executed jump from the dinghy. Photo courtesy Annette Dixon

September 2004

By Annette Dixon
For Points East

We have always wanted a ship’s cat. It all started with Spencer, the rather aloof feline who was for many years the shipmate of Mike and Myrna Anderson aboard the windjammer Angelique, sailing with the Camden fleet.

Spencer was undoubtedly tired of the attentions of the 30 new passengers who tried to win his affection every week, so to entertain himself he decided to ingest a piece of string left on deck. The result was an emergency visit to a vet in the closest port, which happened to be my hometown. Too ill to resume the voyage, Spencer underwent extensive and very expensive surgery and then spent his convalescence with me. We became good friends; he slept on my pillow, and I was sad to see him rejoin the ship.

Not long after that, Snookums entered my life. He was a beautiful white stray who loved me unreservedly. When Phil and I decided to take our first cruise from Rhode Island to Maine aboard our old wooden trawler, the Mary Fitz, we thought there was plenty of room aboard for two people and one small cat. We were also confident that Snookums would be much happier with us than being locked up in a boarding facility.

Maybe, maybe not.

In any event, the poor thing stoically endured seasickness under way and suffered confinement below every time we tied up. The final straw came when Phil, attempting to give him the comfort of solid ground under his paws, rowed him out to a very small island. Once ashore, he did not leave Phil’s side for a moment. On the ride back, he stood at the bow of the dinghy like a little figurehead, reaching toward the trawler, desperate to get back aboard.

While still several feet from the boat, and with no possible hope of success, he launched himself toward the rail. Splash. He swam determinedly around the boat until I found the fish net and hauled him aboard. The poor woebegone cat looked at me with no small measure of reproach, and I never had the heart to take him boating again for the remainder of his 17 years with us.

Last year, we adopted Pea from the nice people at the Ark animal shelter. She has the sweetest disposition, is quite a “talker” and is altogether more mellow than her predecessor. We decided to try her as a ship’s cat during the boating season of 2003. She never did get seasick, but she cuddled up close to Phil each time we were under way. She showed no interest in exploring outside the cockpit of our Albin 25, and she never set foot on the rail.

For a 25-foot boat, the Swedish-built Albin is surprisingly roomy, with a forward salon, galley, head; center cockpit with high coamings, and a cozy aft cabin that all help to give me — and the cat — a feeling of security. We putt-putt along at a speed that makes it easy to take in all of the sights, and with a draft of only 2 feet we can explore every cove and inlet along the way.

It was in that same year that we decided to travel Downeast. After visiting several harbors, we grew confident that Pea did not have to be locked below when we stopped to take on fuel or water. Arriving in Eastport, we were both surprised at how busy it has become, with a large fleet of fishing boats and much coming and going at the docks.

The night we arrived we tied up at the town dock. As we prepared for bed it looked like rain, so we put the canvas up and instead of confining Pea below with us, where she regularly took up more than her share of the bunk, we gave her the run of the boat.

The next morning we discovered that the little escape artist had crawled underneath the canvas and made her getaway. We both walked up and down the dock, through town, around the parking lot, and among all the boats. We called her name, but we had the sinking feeling that she would never be found. She never has responded well to us calling her name or to the whistle that would always bring Snookums running. If a stowaway on a fishing boat or a hitchhiker in a vehicle, she could have been miles away.

As I set off up the street to talk to store owners and passers-by, I spotted an old warehouse and decided to take a walk around in the long grass surrounding it. Suddenly, I heard a familiar but faint meow, and there she was, hiding under the stairs and afraid to come out.

For the remainder of the cruise we hardly let her out of our sight and showered her with so much love that I am sure she would have relished the chance to get away from us again.

This year during our annual two-week cruise Pea stayed on dry land with “auntie.” I seldom forget her while we are aboard though, as there is cat litter lodged in every crevice.

When we retire, we hope to spend several months cruising every year and will need a slightly bigger boat, possibly a trawler in the 30- to 34-foot range. But the choice of boat may not be as difficult as the choice of cruising cat. Maybe our mistake has been in attempting to press-gang an adult cat. Maybe we should try a kitten next time. Perhaps we can contact Mike and Myrna to see if Spencer ever produced any progeny who might like to cruise with a middle-aged couple who intend to travel south in the slow lane.

Annette Dixon and Philip Dussault moor their boat “Snug Harbor” in East Blue Hill.