The Very Expensive Swim

Posted in: Featured, The Ships Cat on Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

It was a normal night, eating dinner watching the telly. We hadn’t thought it odd that Fluffy wasn’t with us, as some of his favourite spots to curl up are at the stern of the boat where we can’t see him. Suddenly our neighbour Christine was racing down the dock towards Tygress calling my name in obvious distress. I got up on deck totally unaware of how drastically our night was about to change.

“I found him swimming in the water, I don’t think he’s going to make it” she said has she handed me a small, soaking and very limp bundle of fur.

“I don’t think he’s going to make it” Christine repeated as I was coming to the jarring relisation that the small, soaking and very limp bundle of fur was our precious boy. He’d gotten out while I was up having a shower and I didn’t even realise (we were to later learn that he had figured out he could climb the screen door). Christine’s concern was palpable and despite the whirlwind of emotions I was flung into it touched me that she was just as concerned for our boy as we were. She had saved him.

Christine had, through the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time, heard splashing in the dark and went to grab a torch so she could see what it was. When she realised what was in the water,  it was her quick thinking and her quick actions that had saved him. He had barely enough strength left to climb the life buoy thrown to him. Had Christine not been outside doing her washing Fluff’s old body would have very soon tired, his little head dropping below the water more and more and he would’ve drowned a lonely death full of struggle and fear, in the dark. We’d never have seen him again. The thought is almost too much to bear.

“Ben, quick! He’s gone in, I think he’s going to die’ I called through the door as I fumbled for a towel in the cockpit. He’s so light and thin, oh my God he’s so limp. “We’ve got to get him to the vet now”. Ben dropped everything, nothing was turned off, the boat didn’t get closed up and Fluffy was bundled up in my arms and we raced through the marina to the car. It was the longest that walk has ever felt. It was long enough for the grief, the shock, the guilt and chest wracking sobs to hit. I was a wreck. I sobbed all the way to the vet, all the fear, shame, guilt and love came pouring out. Shame because how could we have not known he was in the water? How could we have not heard him? Guilt because we weren’t there to save him. Fear that we were going to lose him. So much fear.

It's a hard life!

It’s a hard life!

For some people pets are just that, pets, animals that they look after, feed and water and go through all the motions. But for the lucky ones, they’re so much more. They’re friends, our companions, furry parts of our hearts that run around outside our bodies. We are the lucky ones. Fluffy has been with us since just after Ben and I met and we knew forever was going to be a thing, that’s more than 13 years ago. There has only ever been three weeks of just Ben and Sarah because on the fourth week we brought him home from the RSPCA and everyday since we’ve woken to his furry face. I don’t know what it’s like to be us without him. And the fact that we might soon find out was terrifying.

We got to the vets just after another car pulled in and out jumped another woman with a bundled towel cradled in her arms. The desire to run to the door ahead of her was strong, but I resisted. The state I was in was all the staff needed to know and we were taken through immediately. I had to put him down on the bench, but I couldn’t let him go, they coaxed him away from me and pulled back the towel so they could have a look at him.  They took his temperature in a rather undignified manner, listened to his chest and got him wrapped up in something that might have been called a bear hug. Basically it’s just a piece of heated flexible piping they wrap him in. We were told he had hypothermia but was otherwise okay, no water on his lungs and a strong heartbeat. What followed was one of the worst experiences I’ve had as a pet parent at the vets. “How long was he in the water?” we’re not sure. “When did he go in the water?” we don’t know. “You didn’t know he was in the water?” we didn’t even know he was outside. They were necessary questions but boy did they really ram home the shame and guilt. More tears.

They kept him on fluids overnight and put him in a humidifier to bring his body temperature up.  They told us to go home and to call in two hours for an update but he should be fine. It was hard to leave him but he was already starting to behave more like himself. Tygress felt so empty when we got home without him. Cold dinners were left uneaten, the telly stayed off and we sat and worried about all the what ifs. What if he doesn’t come home? How can we live on this boat without him? What if it’s all my fault?. But when we phoned throughout the next 12 hours they told us that he was alert and very talkative and doing well for a cat his age that had gone through the ordeal that he did. We picked him up the following evening and never has a cat been more cuddled.

So what have we learnt from all of this? First, despite being over 19 years old he can still scale screen doors so we need to pull the companionway hatch lid closed fully when leaving the boat. The thrill night time exploration still calls to him. Second, we need to have something in the water for him to climb should this ever happen again, either a towel or a thick line. The thought of his terror while swimming around unable to get out makes me so sad. Third, how completely unprepared I am for losing him and just how lucky he is to be alive.  I don’t think Christine fully understands what a service she did for us that night and how deeply and forever grateful we are. To this day she still walks past looking to see him on deck and always asks after him when we see each other on the dock.

A few days after and he's sleeping blissfully on my yoga mat. Note the shaved little leg.

A few days after and he’s sleeping blissfully on my yoga mat. Note the shaved little leg.



The Ships Cat

Posted in: The Ships Cat on Monday, September 3rd, 2012

It is thought that cats have sailed the oceans with man since the time of the Ancient Egyptians. It is known they have served faithfully as companions, good luck charms, pest control and adorable furry mascots for naval men throughout history.  They were often much loved and respected members of the crew, as evidenced by those given their own little hammocks, their own little uniforms and in some cases military decoration for their faithful service.

When I began reading about the history of ships cats I had no idea of the many endearingly quirky  characters and stories that would make up that history.

Pooli in her service uniform

Like that of Pooli who served aboard a US attack transport during WWII.  She’s a veteran who earned three service ribbons and four battle stars, here she is proving she can still get into her old uniform at the grand age of 15.

Or there’s the story of Emmy who was the ship’s cat on the RMS Empress of Ireland. She was a ginger tabby cat who never missed a voyage. That was until May 28, 1914, when somewhat portentously  Emmy tried to escape the ship. She would not return and the Empress left without her. It is said that she was last seen on the roof of the shed at Pier 27 watching the ship depart Quebec City. Eerily, early the next morning the Empress collided with another vessel while steaming through fog at the mouth of the St. Lawrence river and sank quickly, claiming over 1,000 souls.

Convoy in his hammock

Or that of Convoy, the ship’s cat aboard HMS Hermione, so named because of the many times he sailed with the ship on convoy escort duties. Convoy was listed in the ship’s book and was issued with a full kit, including a tiny hammock where he would sleep. Sadly he made the ultimate sacrifice along with 87 of his crew mates, when the Hermione was torpedoed and sunk on 16 June 1942 by a German u-boat.

Nor did I know of the epic feats of endurance and survival that many ships cats went through.

Particularly that of Unsinkable Sam, previously known as Oscar, was originally the ship’s cat of the German battleship Bismarck. When she was sunk on 27 May 1941, only 116 out of a crew of over 2,200 survived. Luckily, Oscar was one of them and he was picked up by the destroyer HMS CossackCossack herself went on to be torpedoed and sunk only a few months later, on 24 October, killing 159 of her crew, but again, Oscar survived to be rescued. 

He dutifully went on to become the ship’s cat of HMS Ark Royal but alas, she too was torpedoed and sunk in November that year, the poor kitty just couldn’t catch a break.  Again, cashing in another of his 9 lives, Oscar was rescued, by this time it was decided for the best he would transferred to a home on land. By now known as Unsinkable Sam, he was promoted to the high rank of mouse-catcher in the Governor General of Gibraltar’s office buildings. He eventually returned to the UK to spend the remainder of his lives at a ‘Home for Sailors’.

And how could I not mention Matthew Flinders famous and loyal cat Trim, who was the first cat to circumnavigate Australia.  And whose words better to use than those of Matthew Flinders himself;

“To the memory of Trim, the best and most illustrious of his Race, the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures. He made a Tour of the Globe, and a voyage to Australia, which he circumnavigated; and was ever the delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers. Returning to Europe in 1803, he was shipwrecked in the Great Equinoxial Ocean; This danger escaped, he sought refuge and assistance at the Isle of France, where he was made prisoner, contrary to the laws of Justice, of Humanity, and of French National Faith; and where, alas! He terminated his useful career; by an untimely death, being devoured by the Catophago of that island. Many a time have I beheld his little merriment′s with delight, and his superior intelligence with surprise: Never will his life be seen again! Trim was born in the Southern Indian Ocean, in the Year 1799, and perished as above at the Isle of France in 1804.”

While our ships cat may not end up circumnavigating the world or being torpedoed by Germans or be detained by the French and eaten by savages, our beloved Fluffy will take to the seas like so many of his kind before him and live a grand ‘ol seafaring life.

And that seafaring life began on a cold winters night when he made a stealthy trip through the marina in his familiar cage hidden under a leopard print blanket (no reason not to be stylish).  Management have agreed to turn a blind eye to his feline presence in order to secure our business.  Cats are usually frowned upon in marinas, as irresponsible owners have in the past let their cats out during the night to roam free over other peoples boats, peeing on canvas, ropes and decking.  But when they saw how resolute we were about having our furry crew member with us they relented and agreed to let him stay.

In response to their generosity we are committed to being the most responsible pet parents there are.  Fluffy is generally confined to inside the boat, but the last few weeks he has ventured more and more out into the cockpit, and climbed up on the spray dodgers, and most likely onto the solar panels if we let him.

That was over two months ago and it’s been a pleasure to watch him explore and adapt to his new home.  Every cupboard opened needed a walk through inspection and every surface is a new place to sit, walk over or jump off.

First Mate Fluffy

Inspecting the port side saloon storage cupboards.

Finding a spot for his food and water bowls where they don’t get stepped in is an ongoing problem.  He has the habit of pulling food out of his bowl onto the floor to eat, not a good habit to have when our flooring is a crappy old piece of carpet (until we can afford to redo the floors with this http://www.vinylteakboatfloors.com.au/).

Then there is the litter tray. On land Fluffy had a cat door because I hate litter trays.  But with him aboard there’s no avoiding having a litter tray, which thankfully he’s pretty good at using.  I say pretty good instead of great because he has had a few accidents.  It’s never a good sign though when he goes and sits on the top step near the fresh air after a visit to the tray, it’s usually the signal that he’s dropped a bomb and it’s all hands to their stations to deal with the threat.  And let me tell you that rank has it’s privileges when it comes to bomb disposal.  It’s not unusual to find me red of face, with my head swathed in a large scarf (for want of a full face gas mask), rubber gloves up to the elbow loudly proclaiming to the cat while scooping poop that if he drops another bomb he’ll be berlie for the bream quicker than you can say RSPCA.

But the horror of it all is forgotten the next adorable cuddle he gives me, he can certainly turn on the charm when he wants.  And like all cats he lets you know when he’s not happy. There’s been a few times that if it wasn’t for his patches of white fur or the tinkle of the bell on his stylish diamonte collar we’d never have found him hiding up the stern of the boat (or heard him up on deck when I may or may not have locked him out).

Inspired by my reading I have decided to attempt making a little hammock of his own, because a) it’d look super cute and b) now that i’ve thought of it I need to know If i can do it.  Hopefully if I succeed it will provide a safe place for him to chill either up on deck on a sunny day or down below when we’re under way.

He hasn’t had a taste of sailing yet, so we don’t know how he’ll react to the motion of the boat.  I hope he doesn’t get sea sick as I have read that some cats can and I’d hate for him to suffer because of our selfish need to have him with us.  But with that being said he’s our third amigo and we think he’s at his happiest with us.  He’s a gentle natured, loving kitty and our boat wouldn’t be a home without him.

One of his new favourite spots, on top of the washing machine peeking through the stairs

We’d love to hear about/from other sailors who sail with their pets and how they cope with day to day life aboard. Plus any tips and suggestions you may have for living with pets on the water.