Boaters, like backpackers, trail runners, snowmobilers have their idiosyncrasies. This is particularly true of the growing number of boaters who cruise with their pets. There have always been a number of people – retired couples, adventurers, alternative lifestylers, renegades, who live full time on the water – many with dogs, cats, birds, turtles, guinea pigs and the like – not too dissimilar from your normal suburban subdivision.
We have noticed recently, however, a growing new breed of upscale sport fishers and luxury yacht owners who, while land based, never cruise without their pets.
It has taken us a long time of watching our marina neighbors offloading a wide variety of animals in an even wider variety of harnesses – on to docks and dinghies – to come to grips with the mindset that welcomes pets in close quarters and in conditions where the periodic potty break is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
We recently spent a week in Key West. Slipped next to our sport fisherman (not rigged to fish) was a beautifully maintained 15 year old, 52' Hatteras, decked out with outriggers, a fighting chair, and every conceivable type of fishing equipment, bearing the name "Fishtails" on the Transom.
Once docked, the owners Jay and Bonnie – successful homebuilders from Palm Beach – introduced themselves and their family. First to appear topside was Fred, the largest (70 pounds) male English Bulldog we have ever seen. Like most Bulls, his chest was massive – no neck – gigantic head, pronounced under bite – floppy tongue – short legs – a snorting, drooling, flatulent creature – a living practical joke – so ugly as to be adorable. Watching Bonnie try to heft the hopelessly uncoordinated Fred onto the deck and three feet to the dock, defies description.
The uncompromising adoration shown by Fred to his mistress and in short order to my wife, daughter and all our neighbors – quickly established Fred as a beloved one-of-a-kind icon, whose antics will form a permanent part of the Galleon marina folklore.
Following Fred a second dog of, no doubt, a mix of many different breeds – with no help from anyone, made the deck to dock leap. He was clearly a close friend and follower of Fred's and equally friendly to all concerned.
As Bonnie walked the dogs down the dock in search of a comfort station, I questioned Jay about the logistics of dealing with two dogs on a long cruise or during a day of deep-sea fishing. He laughed and asked me aboard to meet the other kids – two cats – one as large as a lynx – beautiful but intimidating even to a cat lover, and the other, small and somewhat reclusive in nature.
While Fishtails boasts three staterooms, only the owners have enough space for a double bed. The forward, or guest stateroom, was reserved solely for Fred and his friends, each of whom, according to Jay, respond differently under cruising/fishing conditions. Remarkably there was no mess, clutter or animal smells.
Jay went on to say that Fred is the perpetual extrovert whose sole interest is resting his massive head on the nearest lap – drooling on the nearest foot – or lying peacefully next to anyone on the salon sofa.
We fished on a day of heavy 4-6 foot swells, with Jay and Bonnie on their boat. We have several pictures of my teenage daughter, asleep on the sofa, with the indomitable Fred nestled in her arms.
Dog number two prefers to observe Fred and is reluctant to interfere with his action. Large cat prefers high perches underway, and small cat goes forward and waits stoically for his home to stop rocking.
It was hard even for Bonnie to be around Fred without breaking down in his garrulous but perpetually needy presence. Fred isn't capable of walking a straight line. He waddles in a way that might make you think he is old and arthritic, rather than young and in excellent health. Fred lives with two cats on a boat and shows no aggression – not even annoyance.
While we are not any closer to wanting to share our boat, the good ship Moderation, with any animal – there are times when we imagine having Fred as our guest and freely admit that during those times we develop a feeling of warmth and the need to smile and smile broadly.