Boating Adventures | "Skipper the Boat Cat Gets a Second Chance" | Text and 10 Photos by Vicki Totten

Skipper and his new life vest.
Apparently, being ready to give up and actually doing so are two different things. The last time our cat Skipper was on the boat with us, he boarded other people's boats and knocked screens out of ports in order to go outside. As a result, I really thought I was ready to give up on him being a boat cat. But, everyone deserves a second chance, right? This last time, however, Skipper's second chance almost became his last chance.

Playtime on the boat.
Our week on the boat started out really well. As soon as we got out of the car, and with his leash attached to my wrist, Skipper practically ran all the way down the dock before confidently turning in at our boat and immediately jumping aboard. In the past, I would end up walking him part of the way before carrying him in order to stop him from trying to board every boat we walked past. This time he was totally focused on his destination and walked the entire length of the long dock before turning in at our boat and leaping onto our boat. Once on board, he sat impatiently waiting for me to get the companionway door unlocked so he could get inside the boat.

After I took his leash off, he then began lounging across the top of the companionway door, purring and rubbing up against the boat while playfully batting at us with his free paw every time we would pass by. He was obviously happy to be back on the boat. Or maybe he had gotten word that his boat time was at risk of coming to an end and was celebrating that we had changed our minds.

But while he may have been happy to back on the boat, his behaviors that night were a reminder of why his time on the boat had been at risk of ending. The first night it was warm enough to leave the ports open. I was careful to only leave the ones open that had screens, knowing that Skipper would just jump out if there was no screen. Around midnight, a noise woke me up. I immediately sensed something was wrong. I turned on my flashlight and began scanning the boat. Skipper was nowhere to be found. I then shined the light onto one of the ports and could see that the edge of the screen had been pulled away. I opened the companionway door, and there he was - lounging on his perch outside the door, looking down at me with what I swear was a smug look.

The harbor area and beach at night are filled with things to explore.
The next few days were fairly uneventful and he was even letting me take him for walks toward the beach. I was feeling really good about our decision to give him another shot at being our boat cat. But, apparently the universe sometimes mocks us when we get too confident.

On our third day on the boat, I fitted him with a new life vest to use when we went out sailing. Since we were at dock, I took it off just before Stan and I went out to the cockpit to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun was setting. Because Skipper had been caught exploring nearby boats a few times, I wanted to put him on a leash while we were outside. But before I could do so, he leaped onto the dock. As Stan reached to get him, Skipper quickly leaped away from him and onto the boat next to us. This was when the drama began and where we almost lost him.

In Skipper's haste to avoid being captured, he headed to the bow of the neighbor's boat he had jumped onto. What he failed to notice was that the bow of the boat was much further from the dock than where he had jumped aboard. This meant that when he attempted to jump back onto the dock, he missed. We heard a loud splash, followed by a sound I didn't know cats could make. I watched in horror as he struggled to find a way back onto dry land, all the while making a high pitched scream that could only be described as a cry for help.

While Stan ran to get the net we had purchased for just this possibility, I kept calling for Skipper to come toward me so I could pull him out. As he frantically flailed around in the water, yelping like a hurt puppy, he spotted a rubber fender to climb onto. His first attempt proved to not be a good choice, because the fender kept rolling under him, keeping him from getting his footing.

In the meantime, I kept my eyes focused on his location, just as I had been taught to do in "man overboard training. " Stan brought the net closer to where it looked like Skipper was headed but couldn't fit it between the boat and the dock. Finally, Skipper paddled under the dock and found a more forgiving fender that enabled him to dig his claws into some rope and pull himself onto the dock. Before either of us could grab him, he took off like a bear was chasing him. With a trail of water following close behind him, he bounded down the steps into the cabin of our boat before hunkering down onto the couch, looking like a drowned rat. I grabbed some towels to wrap him up in and held him until we both stopped shaking.

Soaking and scared - but safe. 

Checking for any injuries. 

This event changed Skipper.  At first he just wanted to stay inside the cabin of the boat, and seemed uncharacteristically timid about even walking onto the outside cockpit of our boat - much less attempting to jump off of it.  And when we went out sailing, he seemed perfectly content to wear his new life vest.  

Skipper's new perch.

There is so much to see at sea.

Even while sailing, it is always play time. 

Skipper wasn't the only one who changed though. While he was used to having lots of freedom when he was on our cockpit, we now began clipping his leash to his harness and then to a surface of the boat. Stan even found a way to attach the leash to an overhead pole that went across the width of the cockpit so that Skipper could go from one side of the boat to the other. Amazingly, Skipper adapted to this new norm immediately. Whenever he got tired of being outside, he would jump down to the top stair of the companionway and meow at us. That was our cue to unleash him so he could come downstairs into the cabin.

Skipper's new tether, along with a rope to keep him entertained.

In the end, I am glad we didn't give up on Skipper being a boat cat. Even though we most likely won't bring him with us each time we are on the boat, we have all made adjustments so that it can work better. Now if we could only find a way to keep him from driving us crazy with his nonstop meowing on the ride to and from the boat.

Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet?

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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