Cats onboard

camarat-160701Mike Camarata
You often hear about, or see, dogs on boats. There is a TV ad for boating featuring dogs on boats. But no cats. A decade ago, a pot-bellied pig corresponded with Points East. But never a cat. Perhaps cats, knowing they are superior creatures, don’t feel the need to tout their cruising lifestyle.

The cat I serve as staff for wants this to change.

Dogs – being clumsy and well, not too bright (according to my cat) – are often visible on boat decks or tugging on a leash ashore. Not so much with cats. Cats are often below, out of sight, so when they walk about on deck it’s a bit unusual and they attract attention, which, of course, they ignore. Cats are just naturally cooler. Or indifferent. It’s hard to tell. Cats also know what a great deal they have aboard a boat and rarely go ashore.

Cats who own a weekend boat owner or vacation-cruise-type boater do not always come down to the boat from their home so are not seen on boats. Cats who own a cruising or live-aboard-vessel owner are aboard but, again, are not necessarily seen either. I recently went by dinghy over to a fellow cruiser in an ICW anchorage to see if we knew them from somewhere or had common acquaintances. They were from Falmouth, Maine, and their boat looked familiar, but we didn’t know each other.

The ship’s cat came out to check out my bona fides and bunter me, and suddenly the cat’s staff and I had something in common and something to talk about. Buntering, by the way, is when a cat bumps its head against your hand, leg or other parts of your body. It’s about acceptance, friendliness, bonding and/or possession. Possession of you, by the superior creature (the cat).

I recently visited a cat named George aboard the monohull s/v Beauty who wanted nothing to do with the stranger visiting his domain. He doesn’t like newcomers and goes and hides for the duration. He has full range of the boat if it’s not under way, but will only jump off when he gets to his home dock. While under way he’s got a space by the cockpit mainsail winch, or he goes below to bury himself into secure spot. George was the only cat I interviewed who also had a dirt-based home.

I had a visit to the sail catamaran El Camino and met Mork and Mindy, two 15-year-old Siamese cats. Mindy immediately came over to me purring and bumping against me. She climbed on me demanding the attention I was giving to conversation with her staff, Syd and Michelle. It was five or 10 minutes before Mork came over to get attention for himself. Mork and Mindy roam aboard freely, as the boat has netting all around, but one time Mindy was heard crying from a nearby anchored vessel and no one could tell how she got there since she wasn’t wet.  Mork and Mindy do not use standard litter to take care of business. They use the Breeze System. This is a grate with pellets on top and an absorption pad below. You need to pick up solid waste daily and change the pad every few days to avoid odors.

On our first trip south, I met a couple of Siamese cats who did not use litter at all. They went ashore twice a day to play and take care of business. They also loved to swim off the beach. We were anchored near their boat when I heard a call for help. A dinghy was drifting away with two cats aboard, and someone retrieved them before we could. Their staff member, a long-time cruiser, told me she was positive she had the dinghy tied correctly.  The dink had been tied all day. Her only guess was the cats jumped in the dinghy and untied it to head to shore. The problem was, they did not yet know how to start the outboard. Or row.

Cleo, the cat who commands our vessel, is somewhere in the middle of the previously mentioned felines. She is shy, but will come out when guests become familiar. She will also walk the deck freely and won’t run if someone cruises by. She is reluctant to go in the dinghy, but, after a while, stands up to keep an eye on the scenery, the birds, manatees or dolphins. Under way she has her spot in a corner of the cockpit, but on a night passage she has to go below.

One time, while five miles off the coast of New Jersey on a middle-of-the-night-watch, she got up and walked out to the bow to keep an eye on the night. She stayed out there until the change of watch. Now the rule is cats below at night. At all other times, she roams anywhere. Her favorite spot is under the mainsail cover, sometimes way down into the sail.

Cleo is also a living temperature gauge. When it is warm or hot she sleeps solo in the main cabin or in one of our other cabins. When it’s cool she sleeps next to me. When it starts getting colder she sleeps on me. When it gets very cold she sleeps on my wife’s head. What else are staff for?

There are fewer cats on boats, but their number is larger than it seems. You just have to look. Or stop by and say hello to strangers. The cat may come out to say hello, too. Piggy Sue, the aforementioned pot-bellied pig, cruised with us for 18 years before passing on, and we knew the percentage of pigs on boats was really low.

Michael Camarata and his wife and co-captain Carol Zipke are full-time liveaboard cruisers, mostly snowbirds, whose home is the 44-foot catamaran, Infinite Improbability. They have been boating for about 35 years, and, Mike says, “no longer do we own any dirt-based property. They are both Senior Navigators and Past Commanders of the Waterbury (Conn.) Power Squadron of the USPS.