Boating Adventures | "The Continuing Saga of Skipper the Boat Cat" | Article and 7 Photos by Vicki Totten

Heading out for a sail.
When Kitten Proofing Fails
A kitten on a boat is similar to having a toddler on a boat. Everything is about testing limits. Skipper, our three month old kitten, is constantly testing his and our limits. Based on his behaviors, I imagine his internal dialogue to go something like this: "These are the best owners ever for giving me all of these ropes to pull on!" or maybe "If I jump from this roof top to the next and then onto the funny looking pole with material wrapped around it, what could possibly go wrong?" followed by "why does the earth start moving when I jump onto this pole?" It's a good thing cat's have nine lives, because I am pretty sure Skipper will need all of them.

This is his third time on the boat. The first was immediately after we rescued him after he ran under our car when we stopped in Cuero on our way to the boat. His response to boat life probably can't be gauged by that first visit, however since the only thing he had to compare boat life to was life on the street - so I imagine it looked pretty good to him that first time.

His second trip to the boat was after he had gotten used to being cared for by us at our house in Austin. Before bringing him back for the second boat trip, I spent a month working with him using a clicker to help him respond to the word "come" and teaching him to walk using a leash and harness. Yes, teaching a cat to walk on a leash can be done. I didn't say it could be easily done or that it necessarily always goes as planned - but we are making progress.

My goal is to keep him safe on the boat until he grows large enough to wear a cat life jacket (there really is such a thing). For now, when we go out sailing, we either put him in his little soft sided carrier, put his harness and leash on him attached to my wrist, or put him in a little front pack baby carrier. Since when we are in dock, it isn't practical to expect him to happily stay in his carrier, during his third trip on the boat we have been finding ways to "kitty proof" our boat.

Sailing is exhausting.

What were we thinking that some netting would do the trick?

Plotting his next escape route.

In response to our efforts, I am pretty certain Skipper's main goal is to show us just how lame these efforts are. The first thing we did was to buy a long poled net. We keep it near where we typically sit on the cockpit for easy access in case there is ever a need to do some kitty fishing. Our next effort was to drive into Corpus Christi and purchase what's called "lifeline netting." We then spent about 6 hours weaving the net around the lifelines on the stern of the boat in order to make it more difficult for Skipper to fall in. Once those two things were complete, we were feeling pretty good about our efforts. That lasted about a minute. Just as you can never fully anticipate the mind of a toddler and what they will "test" next, we realized we had totally failed to appreciate the creativity with which Skipper would be able to test his limits.

What good is a net around the cockpit, when your cat has discovered he can walk around to the front part of the boat, take a flying leap, and land on TOP of the cockpit cover? And as if that isn't daring enough, why not try stretching your body to also climb on top of the furled sail that happens to be on that pole that seems to move along with the wind.

Hmmm, I wonder if this thing moves? 

I watched one morning as he attempted his leap to the roof, only to miss gauge the distance and end up instead falling through the open companionway and down into the cabin after bouncing off of the steps. While it didn't seem to phase him, I am pretty certain it added to my grey hair collection.

And then there are the outside threats to safety that are difficult to plan for. The other morning Stan had me quickly put Skipper in the cabin when he spotted what at first looked like a hawk checking Skipper out from the bow next to us. It turned out to be a black crowned night heron, but we still weren't absolutely positive that Skipper didn't look like a meal to him.

I like to think that boat life will turn out to be a good fit for Skipper. He has certainly attracted the attention of the other boat owners at the harbor where we dock. I try to take him out daily for a walk on the beach, and so we have had conversations with some of the boat owners we had never met before and have heard lots of tales about other boat cats in the area.

The other evening my husband and me, with Skipper attached to my wrist on a leash, became aware of a small stray kitten who began following us. He apparently came out from under the art center when he saw the other cat nearby. When we stopped to talk with a seasoned older boater about his plans to take his boat to Guatemala, he saw the black stray kitten and immediately brought him a can of vienna sausages. By the time we left, it was clear that the kitten was most likely going to be headed to Guatemala with him.

His favorite spot. 

Having Skipper on the boat with us has certainly added excitement to our days and sometimes our nights. Sometimes he gets his days and nights confused, and after sleeping all day, he will try and pull me out of bed to come play with him. When he does sleep, however, he likes to sleep snuggled up to one of us, and in the morning is impatient for us to open up the companionway for him to head out to the cockpit where he can watch the day unfold - which happens to also be our favorite part of the day. While we sit on our devices reading the morning paper, I look up and see him sitting with his little head jutted out toward the water watching the ripples. The intensity with which he is studying the water makes me wonder if he is hoping to learn the secrets of life if he can just stay still long enough. But then, before the secrets are revealed, the moment passes, and he is bouncing toward the bow of the boat in search of some new ropes. Never a dull moment.

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat, while exploring new sailing destinations and adventures.

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