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The Ship’s Cat

Over 12 years ago, Michael and I were spending a Saturday morning browsing the cat department of the Seattle Animal Shelter (always a dangerous thing to do) when this small, brown and white tabby striped kitten reached her little snowy paw out of her cage, hooked Michael’s arm with her delicate claws, looked up at him and mewed.

We named our new cat Xena and she settled into our small Fremont apartment rather well, joining our other cat Precious (who was not entirely thrilled about the new family member but soon grew fond of her anyway). Our small warrior cat proved to be quite the adventurer: we would find her clinging to the tops of doors on a regular basis and she could leap nearly five feet into the air to catch a toy birdie.

So when a few months later we moved aboard our first boat, Jenny P, Xena was in cat heaven. She took to boat life right away, loving all the fresh sea air, bird watching, cozy spots to snuggle into and nap, soaking up the rays of sun on deck, and plenty of leaping and climbing. Sure, we’ve lost her a few times (like when she ran off the night before we left for Alaska and we finally found her the next morning three docks away) and she’s gone overboard too many times to count. I’m pretty sure Xena is living her current life on credit but she’s still here with us, now aboard Wondertime and no doubt looking forward to adding more stamps to her passport.

On the other hand, we have not been so sure. Having a cat on board, and a geriatric insanely talkative one at that, is a lot more work than, well, not. You throw in two small children and you pretty much have the potential for mind-reeling chaos at any moment. There is cat litter, food, shots, vet visits to deal with. Hairballs. Yowling. There is being awakened at 5 am by a whirling snarling hissing sound up on deck, which is what happens when the neighbor cat down the dock tries to sneak aboard and Xena finds out. When we are sailing, Xena insists, without fail, that she be sitting upon a human’s lap. She is growing more and more nervous in her old age, taking to pacing the boat, yoooooowling. My pillow is her favorite place to sleep but it’s also her favorite place to clean her butt. She has invented this game which she must call Travel Around the Boat Without Stepping Upon the Floor (basically leaping from table to counter top to stairs and back again) but she is just not as agile as she once was and there are claw marks everywhere where she has tried to save herself from, gasp, touching the floor.

Besides the day to day annoyances of having a boat cat, there is also the question of what we’ll do with her when we want to travel inland in Mexico and elsewhere. It would sure be nice to not have to worry about procuring a catsitter. If she is still around when we sail to New Zealand, we are just not convinced it’s worth paying the thousands of dollars it currently costs to import a foreign cat — and likely a 15 year-old one — onto Kiwi soil.

A month or so ago we made the final decision, after hemming and hawing for months, that this time we’d be sailing cat-free. We had started talking with some friends and family members and had a couple possibilities for a nice quiet place for Xena to stay to live out her senior years. It really was the sanest, best decision.

Then just a few days ago, the girls and I were walking down the dock back to the boat after an outing. Xena came running out to meet us and started rolling at our feet on the dock in greeting. Holly leaned down to give her a hug, and in her adorable 2-1/2 year-old voice said: “I love you Xena!”

My heart darn near burst.

Well, that’s it then. We are suckers for our furry friends as always and as inconvenient as having feline crew is, Xena is part of our family and our girls simply adore her and Xena adores them. We can’t imagine not having her along. She’d be pretty upset if she found out we were heading for the sun, anyway. Mexico was always her favorite country.


  1. Deborah says:

    Love love LOVE this post! The photos are wonderful and I love the description of Xena’s onboard antics. She and Lily Winston Churchill should meet sometime. šŸ™‚

  2. gary says:

    I too have a 12 year old cat who only knows of life on board. I wonder how old age will effect him. He seems to be more content to lay around than prowl the docks anymore.
    Well good story, thank you.

  3. Matthew says:

    We have two cats aboard Sea Lass and they both love the sea life for completely different reasons. Mei-Li rarely leaves the boat and is content to nap and snuggle her day away. Zoe, on the other hand, loves to meet people. At our previous marina, she became the unofficial conceirge, greeting all who came. She had her own chair in a couple of nearby offices. Now, in Olympia, she’s well known and checks out every boat that ties up at the guest dock. Maybe I could get her on the payroll…

  4. Sonya says:

    Thank you, lovely story. My geriatric old man has been onboard for 17 years, and you are right, there are claw marks everywhere and kitty litter permanently imbedded in the head, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Gary, yes, they do slow down, but that is a lot better than wandering around Blake Island looking for that darn cat or searching through the bushes at the city dock in Winslow or fishing him out of the water with the cat overboard net. Hopefully I’ll get another few years out of him.

  5. Justin R. says:

    My cat lives aboard with me as well, and I’ve never found a good way to let him out of the cabin when I’m away, so he ends up cooped up whenever I’m out. How do you guys handle that?

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Justin! We’ve always just kept our cats locked down below when we are gone. We’ve left them for the weekend even with plenty of food/water and a clean litter box. Our kitty girls just seemed to deal with it. They did leave a lot of hairballs and puke though as evidence of their distaste for being left alone.

      Xena (now an only cat) is pretty old now, nearly 13, so she sleeps a ton anyway. I know she hated it though when she was younger and tended to roam the docks a lot to make up for it when given the opportunity (glad those days are over!)