How easy is it for pets to adapt to life on board? Jonty pearce ponders the possibilities


Sadly, we are down to one cat. Liver cancer claimed Archie, our ‘outdoor cat’ in November, and Puffball, our ‘Indoor Cat’ has ruled the roost since. Carol is desperate to get her a companion – be it feline, canine, or even a rabbit (!?) – but is being held back by the common sense necessary to adapt to the lifestyle change that next year’s retirement will bring. When I do hang up my stethoscope, we relish the idea of freedom, travel and sailing. And what are pets but tethers to the humdrum world of home? I know that there are kennels for dogs, catteries for, well, cats, and warrens for rabbits. But we care and love our pets too much to wish to sentence them to any significant term in these institutions. Cat sitters or visiting feeders are all very well and may be fine short term, but can be an imposition on family and friends as well as being boring for the stay at home pet, though Puffball seems to spend her life sleeping. Come to think of it, so does the Indoor Dragon. But let’s not go there.

So I am holding firm to Puffball being a solo cat, and, as she is an indoor cat, we have hit on the potential of her becoming a Boat Cat. We are fortunate in that we have found she travels well – initially with 40 minute trips to the Eye Vet, and then on trial weekends away. Yes, we are weaning her gently along the path we wish her to take. Many trainers have been driven to drink trying to herd cats, but comparatively Puffball is of an amiable and compliant nature. We have found it best to provide a litter tray on the car floor and not confine her to a cat cage. She settles comfortably on the back seat and does what she and Carol do best.

We have now twice brought her to a remote country cottage an hour and a half from home, where she shows minimal interest in the outside world, preferring her litter tray to the hidden corners of the garden, and very quickly establishing control of the corner of the sofa closest to the log burner. She is a happy cat.

She has also braved the three hour journey down to Neyland for a weekend aboard Aurial. Again, she soon commandeered a safe, warm corner and settled carefree to yet another 40 winks. We did not allow her on deck unsupervised, though she showed no interest in exploring up top in the foul weather we endured. I have not yet researched cat life jackets, nor considered whether she would accept such a garment. Being a cat the style would, of course, be pivotal. I suspect she would refuse to wear it, and would prefer the below decks security when on the move. I have read of cats joyfully at home in the rigging, but each to their own.

Our other option is to source a sea dog. Such a mutt would either need regular shore comfort breaks or would have to become astro-turf friendly. A life jacket would hopefully be more acceptable, and swimming might become something more than accidental. I understand that some marinas are not dog friendly, but they would generally be the sort of place that I would not feel at home – we prefer anchoring in wild places and only touch base in marinas where necessary.

Whether Puffball will become an Able SeaCat remains to be seen, but it is an option worth exploring. I fear that, if successful, Puffball might not end up on her own, but boat friendly cats that travel well probably need to be trained up from kitten-hood. And what if the Indoor Dragon falls in love with a hydrophobic carsick kitten? I might be sailing solo…

Jonty Pearce