The carpe diem cat

The life and times of a sea­far­ing fe­line that seized the day.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY LINDSAY WRIGHT

The ad­ven­tures of a sea­far­ing fe­line that seized the day to travel the world and broaden his mind.

It was wet sea­son at River Bend Ma­rine, in Fort Laud­erdale, Florida and rain was a per­pet­ual dis­mal driz­zle. Not the spir­ited rain of the sub­trop­ics but a wind­less dump of high hu­mid­ity.

Our boat was freshly re­launched and we were ready to head north to the Arc­tic when, one morn­ing I no­ticed a damp ball of grey fur hud­dled, tightly-furled in a cor­ner of the cock­pit.

As I gin­gerly reached to­wards the kit­ten, it opened one big black eye and lifted its head slightly to meet my eye with an im­plor­ing stare. The small body shiv­ered un­con­trol­lably as I car­ried it be­low. We soon had it slurp­ing warm milk from a saucer then snug­gled deep into a blan­ket, heav­ing a con­tented, full-belly sigh.

As the fe­line waif fleshed out on a reg­u­lar diet, the dark grey stripes on his fur stood out from their light grey back­drop. I de­cided he looked like a pin-striped Ital­ian dandy and dubbed him Luigi – a name he wore for the rest of his ad­ven­tur­ous life.

There were a few prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions to him join­ing us on Elk­ouba. We had no re­frig­er­a­tion and the cat would have to, like us, eat fresh food when it was avail­able and dried or canned food when it wasn’t.

An­other prob­lem was the other end of the fe­line food chain – what to do with pussy poo? We asked other yachties who had cats on

board and they ad­vised us­ing a plas­tic lit­ter con­tainer and sand from the near­est beach, which could be emp­tied over the side af­ter use.

So, when we bid farewell to the boat­yard, our new crewmem­ber, fleshed out by reg­u­lar feed­ing and af­fec­tion, sat smugly on the fore­deck, tak­ing in the sights and smells of Fort Laud­erdale as we ne­go­ti­ated our way to the At­lantic Ocean.

We worked our way north­wards through the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way – our fe­line crew pac­ing the deck, sniff­ing the breeze, or tak­ing the sun as the scenery slid past. We fig­ured he had to have come from the sea­far­ing genes of a cat that had jumped ship in Florida.

Luigi cre­ated no prob­lems for the af­fa­ble of­fi­cer who cleared us into Canada at Shel­burne, Nova Sco­tia. By then he had been neutered and had an ‘An­i­mal Pra­tique Pass­port’ with his pho­to­graph and all his vac­ci­na­tion records, signed off by the vets who had ad­min­is­tered them.

Luigi be­haved like a sailor should – well, a neutered sailor any­way – and spent nights ashore on the ran tan all up the At­lantic seaboard. He often didn’t make it back aboard, but we soon found that if we walked around the vicin­ity and called his name he’d come bound­ing out from un­der the near­est ware­house or wher­ever he’d been sleep­ing off his noc­tur­nal ex­cesses and leap on board in time to sail.

As we sailed north, our trop­i­cal cat’s coat thick­ened to pro­tect him from the plum­met­ing tem­per­a­tures.

He proved to be a great back-up for radar and we mo­tored gin­gerly into the fog­bound har­bour at St Pierre, guided by Luigi’s nose point­ing un­err­ingly at the fish­ing wharf.

One night, as we rowed through thick New­found­land fog from a party ashore, the fa­mil­iar, plain­tive “meow” of a lonely Luigi knifed through the murk. We stroked to­wards the noise, then stopped un­til the next “meow” echoed across the wa­ter. We rowed in that di­rec­tion bump­ing into a moored fish­ing boat that loomed out of the mist. The fe­line hom­ing bea­con had come into his own and had feasted roy­ally on cod livers be­fore curl­ing con­tent­edly in front of a freshly-lit fire.

Next port of call was Ice­land, 10 days away. Luigi’s seago­ing reg­i­men con­sisted mostly of sleep­ing, eat­ing and toi­let, though he did get ex­cited about the ripe and redo­lent fin whale car­cass we sailed past.

Luigi knew what it was like to spend a long watch in the cock­pit on a cold North At­lantic night. He would cud­dle up un­der our wet weather gear like a furry belly warmer, or snooze in­side be­side the stove. There is noth­ing bet­ter for restor­ing one’s body core tem­per­a­ture than the sight of a con­tented cat asleep be­side a flick­er­ing fire. He re­sponded to be­ing stroked by our white cold fin­gers with the same con­tented purr he’d given our warm ca­resses in the trop­ics.

But as soon as land came within range of Luigi’s wildly wrin­kling nose, he’d be up and run­ning around the deck; ripe for ad­ven­ture.

We tied up to a whale chaser in Reyk­javik and soon the hard­ened whale­men were lean­ing on the bul­warks ‘miaow­ing’ loudly to at­tract Luigi’s at­ten­tion as he lolled on deck in the wa­tery, late sum­mer sun.

Af­ter a stormy pas­sage south, Luigi caught his first whiff of Scot­land and dashed around the decks, romp­ing on the can­vas dodger, as we spent the night nav­i­gat­ing

... soon the hard­ened whale­men were lean­ing on the bul­warks “miaow­ing” loudly to at­tract Luigi’s at­ten­tion ...

into Camp­bell­town. By dawn he had squir­relled him­self away among the sails where he stayed, sound asleep, while the cus­toms and quar­an­tine peo­ple were aboard.

I’m not a nat­u­ral liar so I ticked the box on the clear­ance form that asked if we had an an­i­mal aboard, but ig­nored the one which queried what sort of an­i­mal it was. So when we sailed from Camp­bell­town, Luigi had be­come a Scot­tish cat. Lach­lan maybe?

We locked into Swansea Ma­rina on the Welsh coast where he strolled the docks, sniff­ing around what­ever boat took his fancy. Chil­dren jos­tled on the pier be­side Elk­ouba to pat the cat as he lay snooz­ing in the pal­try patches of sun­shine on the side deck.

Next spring Luigi sailed north again, bound for Nor­way. Be­cause of ra­bies, car­ried by foxes that cross be­tween Amer­ica and Scan­di­navia on the win­ter ice pack, we didn’t want to take Luigi to Nor­way so he moved in with friends in Shet­land where he spent a feral sum­mer in their barn. He quickly be­came lo­cal­ly­famed as an ar­dent mouser but he seemed keen to move back aboard when we re­turned in au­tumn.

Bit­ter gale-force winds had started to sweep the north as we sailed to Stornoway, with Luigi curled up in his cus­tom­ary spot be­side the stove. He soon had the tough Scot­tish fish­er­folk wound round his lit­tle grey paws. “Och here,” they’d say and prof­fer a gut-splat­tered bucket, “I saved some livers for yer wee poossy.”

When we pulled into Dun Laoghaire, Ire­land and tied along­side a lo­cal trawler, Luigi, ever the brash Amer­i­can, bounded aboard and be­friended the two brothers who worked her. This bit of trans-at­lantic diplo­macy se­cured us a few day’s sup­ply of free floun­der.

Luigi’s next land­fall was Muros, in Spain and he seemed pleased to be back among yacht­ing folk. The so­cia­ble puss soon made him­self at home among the French, Ger­man and Span­ish yachts tied to the small wharf, mod­estly lap­ping up praise and ad­mi­ra­tion in a va­ri­ety of lan­guages.

In Madeira, our af­fa­ble Amer­i­can crew­cat wan­dered among the cruis­ing yachts, be­friend­ing who­ever took his fancy, par­tic­u­larly a Ja­panese sin­gle-han­der who even­tu­ally sailed off, de­ter­mined to find his own cat.

Back at sea, the mar­itime moggy was no slouch when it came to fresh food. At night, he’d wake from a sound sleep be­lowdecks and leap to his feet, eyes wide and ears erect.

He’d streak through the yel­low light of the kerosene lamp and re­turn sec­onds later with a fly­ing fish flap­ping in his mouth and dis­pose of it, it down to the last scale, on the cabin sole.

But, in the Caribbean, our in­domitable fe­line fi­nally fell ill. Kid­ney prob­lems were di­ag­nosed and treat­ment had to be ad­min­is­tered by a vet­eri­nar­ian ev­ery day for a week. Each morn­ing I’d gin­gerly lift his limp body, curled up in a pri­vate pain, into a plas­tic box and row him ashore. On the beach, I’d heft the box onto my head and, em­u­lat­ing the is­land ladies’ load-car­ry­ing tech­nique, walk him across is­land to the clinic.

Elk­ouba’s on board dy­nam­ics changed a bit with the ad­di­tion of our son, Alis­dair, who was born at An­guilla. Luigi took the new­comer in his stride and spent hours on watch, bat­ting at Ali’s cot as it swung back­wards and forth from its deck­head fas­ten­ings.

Our worldly lit­tle cat su­per­vised Elk­ouba’s tran­sit of the Panama Canal from the fore­deck and haugh­tily ig­nored the line han­dlers who called out “puss­puss­puss” from the lock sides to try and dis­tract him from his du­ties.

I asked at the New Zealand em­bassy in Samoa about Luigi com­ing home to New Zealand but the an­swer was an em­phatic and un­equiv­o­cal “NO.” So we set sail with heavy hearts for Pen­rhyn, in the Cook ar­chi­pel­ago. The only ve­hi­cles there were a cou­ple of mopeds and the is­land coun­cil had banned dogs – a per­fect cat habitat.

When Elk­ouba sailed out a few weeks later, Luigi watched from the Pen­rhyn’s wharf, safe in the arms of a lo­cal fam­ily. For years af­ter we re­ceived pho­to­graphs and sto­ries of his trop­i­cal life­style; mostly spent in hot pur­suit of co­conut crabs and ro­dents.

Then one day we re­ceived a let­ter to say that Luigi had died peace­fully from old age on Pen­rhyn. The event­ful life of Luigi was over.

RIP faith­ful ship­mate, in­trepid ad­ven­turer. BNZ

He’d streak through the yel­low light of the kerosene lamp and re­turn sec­onds later with a fly­ing fish flap­ping in his mouth...

TOP RIGHT Luigi joined our boat as a kit­ten. We found him – ema­ci­ated and freez­ing – curled up inElk­ouba’s cock­pit one morn­ing.

TOP RIGHT OP­PO­SITE The statue of the blind Cap­tain Cat (from Dy­lan Thomas’s ra­dio dramaat Un­der Milk Wood) Swansea Ma­rina. BOT­TOM RIGHT OP­PO­SITE The ad­ven­tur­ous cat’s first land­fall – Shel­burne in Nova Sco­tia.

FAR LEFT Luigi felt right at home tran­sit­ing the Panama Canal.LEFT Scot­land’s Stornoway Har­bour – the cat made lots of friends among the fish­er­folk.

LEFT Luigi’s favourite snack – he was in­stantly alert to a way­ward fly­ing fish land­ing on our deck.

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