One of the hardest decisions to make when we head out for a day sail, a week’s cruise or even a winter away in the Caribbean is what to do with our pets. A lot of us—Rosie and I included—consider pets to be part of the family, and it’s hard to leave them behind when we go sailing.
Some pets adapt to life afloat better than others, and that can be a matter of their personalities as much as the watery and restricted environment. Going foreign with animals can be a problem, too. Some countries, like New Zealand and Australia, do not welcome pets arriving on boats and require expensive quarantines. But, if you are devoted to your furry companions, it is possible to sail about the world with them.
Years ago, while sailing across the South Pacific on a 30-foot Tahiti ketch, we adopted a kitten in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. We named her Bean, and she became an amusing and affectionate crewmember. A month or so later, we were mooring to the quay in the Tuamotuan Atoll Takaroa when we noticed that Bean was not aboard. We mounted a search to no avail. A couple weeks later in Tahiti, we realized why Bean had jumped ship; a rat had come aboard in Takaroa and the kitten had fled instead of doing her job. Bean’s example aside, cats make great boat pets. Rats don’t.
When Rosie and I set off with our two boys to sail around the world, we decided to leave our dog behind. We would be at sea a lot and visiting many countries where dogs were either unwelcome or treated as dinner. For three years, we sailed petless, until we got to the Med, where cruising dogs were common and welcomed. In Cyprus, we adopted a little Maltese-Bichon cross that had been abandoned. We named her Bonnie—as in, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” That little dog sailed with us for two years and was a perfect shipmate. She had her own passport and loved to ride in the bow of the dinghy at high speed. And she was a great watchdog. She didn’t shed and was diligent about using the on-deck lavatory.
Small hair dogs or slightly larger Portuguese Water Dogs make good shipboard companions. But big dogs can come along, too. As we cruised across the Indian Ocean on our way to the Med, we joined up with friends Adrian and Lotti, who were sailing Moonshine from Hong Kong to The Netherlands with their German Shepherd, Fluke. He was a wonderful dog, although big for their mid-sized cruising boat. The salt environment can be hard on big fur dogs’ coats, but Fluke was not a swimmer and his masters were good about his diet and freshwater baths. He loved a run ashore, but could stay on the boat for many days on end without fretting. He had the right attitude for the adventure.
For a lot of us, pets make our boats feel more like home, and despite the hassles that can come with keeping animals afloat, we’ve always considered the tradeoff worth it. How about you? We want to share your stories and pictures of pets aboard. You can send them to our managing editor, Valerie Meffert, at firstname.lastname@example.org.