Friday, 18 September 2009

Cruising with a cat

We had two cats in Bika while living a year in Norway, before leaving for the circumnavigation. It was okay while being moored at the jetty, where the cats could come and go as they pleased. One of them even managed to catch fish and brought them proudly back to Bika. But these cats were too old to understand the concept of sailing. We had to find them another home, before leaving Norway.

We missed the cats. We started to think about a new one when passing the animal shelter in La Coruna, Spain. The vets didn’t help the cats before a new owner came along. Our coming cat, which Nina had already named Luna (even though I was still only considering a cat), was suffering from flees and worms. I better do my considering a little bit faster. I guess cats and women know their way around men.

Luna started off great, she was healthy and happy, but after some months she got moody. She seemed bored. She loved to come along in the dingy and visit other boats, but it was difficult to find a good spot to land her, and then suddenly it was too late; Luna developed a fear of being ashore.

Flying fish was her favourite food and leisure. They landed on the boat in great numbers, especially among the Cape Verde islands and across the Atlantic. Luna would hear the fish flapping, and rush to the spot.

One night in the Atlantic, it was windy and no moon, an irregular wave suddenly heeled Bika over, while Luna was on her way forward. She slipped. Luna had the harness on, as always, and we dragged her in. But the harness failed just the second before Nina was about to grab the drenched little cat. We could hear Luna meow in the dark, the sound disappeared rapidly in Bika’s wake.

We had to take down the spinnaker pole and the boom preventer, and bring Bika around to start tacking back, counting seconds on every leg. We brought out our strong halogen lamp, hoping for a reflection of Luna's eyes.

After a couple of hours we gave up. The sea was rough, and it wouldn’t really take more than one breaking wave to swallow the cat. The Atlantic suddenly seemed cold and careless. It’s not a good place to search for anything in the dark.

A year later the cat issue was up again, this time in Erie Canal, in the state of New York, where they had an animal shelter full of cats needing a new home. To make a long story short I just agreed right away, to get it over with. “Look, she got six toes!” Yeah, sure.

Nina named the cat Erie, and off we went. This time we promised each other that Erie should be brought ashore twice every day, at least while going through the lakes and waterways in Canada and USA.

We brought Erie along to our winter cabin at Tapawingo, in Alberta, Canada. The list of predators was long, but nothing could hold her back during the spring months. She wanted to be out the whole night. She survived the threat of fox, wolf, lynx, black bear, wolverine, the great horned owl, the northern goshawk, golden eagle and bald eagle.

Erie also had the cat flu, which almost killed her. But it was a coyote in Blind River, North Channel, that eventually did her in. The coyote was observed, and several domestic cats went missing in a short span of time.

Erie was a good swimmer, and she had no fear of the dingy. She could even jump into the dingy first, if she knew we were going ashore. Erie used to meow when she wanted us to come and get her, and then she would jump right back in, without any fuzz.

Cat or no cat? Me and Nina can’t agree on this. We both love cats, but I can’t stand to see a cat being bored. They prefer grass to fibreglass. Our boat is also painfully small for a cat to run around and play. Cats can’t read, I argue. Nina, on the other hand, feels that cats are better off on a small boat than in a cage at the animal shelter.

But there is no doubt that most cats can adopt quickly to the boat, if taken offshore as kittens. Most cats are surprisingly good swimmers, and might even be introduced to water early on.