SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Cats Aboard

March 11, 2013

Having cats onboard a small boat is a lot like having kids aboard. You want to keep them happy, healthy, safe and entertained. The question with both cats and kids is how best to do that. When we first moved onboard, three kids and their choice of hobbies (surfing and guitars) meant we had little room for other living critters. We certainly didn't have the time to care for them in our hectic lives, even if we had found the room. But as the kids grew up and moved on, we found that we had both time and space to accommodate a pet. Or two.


TC loves to be warm

Even Izzy wears a harness on deck

Our trip to the Humane Society was supposed to end with a kitten being added to our crew. But while I was picking out the cutest (and apparently most obstinate) kitty I could find, Dave fell in love with a tiger: a large male with Siamese markings on his body and tabby stripes on his legs, tail and face. When we couldn't decide between them, we ended up compromising by bringing home two cats. Izzy was too young to have known much besides a cage before we brought him onboard. To him, life always floats, tosses you around and you get wet when you venture too far over the ever-present edge. TC was older and would probably still like to climb a tree and eat a bird (or should I say, another bird besides the one he snatched off the deck while we were offshore), but he has adjusted to life afloat fairly well.


Spill-proof bowls

The biggest obstacle to our getting a cat was always what to do with the litter box. Once the older two boys moved out we converted a third of the aft cabin to a "shed" where we stored water jugs to get them off the deck, the "baby" Bruce once we got a 44 pounder, and extra sails as we collected them. There was also room enough, we decided, for a litter box. A small word of warning: yes, cats will track litter outside their box when they leave. But if you put astroturf in front of it to collect it, an older cat who is used to grass may mistake it for such and use it accordingly. May we suggest no astroturf onboard. Because a 34-foot boat is a small space for a litter box, we decided to buy one with a cover and a swinging door. TC tolerated the cover, but he scratched at the door until he ripped it from its plastic hinges. When we ziptied it back on, he showed his displeasure by refusing to use the litter box any more. So, no astroturf and apparently no door.


Eurisko's scratching post

In an effort to reduce the smell and mess of a litter box, we use pine pellets such as Feline Pine. When those are not available (such as in Panama when our 6-month supply was exhausted), we have noticed an increase in both the smell and the tracked mess when using more traditional litter. We have heard of boaters putting the litter box outside, but our cats do not venture out in the rain and they are not allowed on deck when we daysail, so this was not an option for us. (On Walküre the litter box sans lid fits under the head sink.)

Like kids, cats need limits. When we daysail they are not allowed on deck. (The cats, not the kids.) But when we are on a passage, the hatches are all closed, it's hot and nasty below and all they want is some fresh air we do allow them on deck during the day. But, like the kids, they must wear a harnass. We bought small dog harnasses and attach them to the boat with light line. Izzy has learned to back out of his harnass, so we keep him on a short leash, within arm's reach. The harnasses give the cats the freedom to be on deck with us without our having to worry excessively about them.


Walküre's scratching pad

In the event that a cat ends up overboard at anchor (where they are allowed the run of the boat) we have a line hanging over the transom. None of us is naïve enough to truly believe that our cats will find or use it to get back onboard, but if something happened and we didn't have one we would feel bad. So it hangs in the water while we are at anchor and we pull it on deck when we sail. We have shown the cats the rope from the dinghy and they have climbed it, but I don't have a lot of faith in their memories or their ability not to panic as the current takes them away. Like the kids, we remind them, "You fall overboard, you're dead." (Sometimes, though, I think the cats listen about as well as our kids did.)

Because Izzy was so young when we got him, and because of his feisty personality, there are certain accommodations we must make. After the third time he stuck his foot in his water dish and tipped it onto the floor, we knew we had to find a solution. Since throwing him overboard was not an option, Dave built clear plastic strips exactly the height of the lip of the bowls. We connected the ends of the strips to form rings and slid the bowls into them. The plastic is perpendicular to the floor, supporting the lip of the bowls. Now Izzy cannot tip over his bowls, though he still tries. It would have been easier to buy bowls that could not be tipped over, but we had already purchased three stainless bowls, so we modified them, instead.


Izzy bringing back a cork

Cats also must be entertained. On Eurisko we wrapped the dinette table pedestal in polypropylene line. They use this as a scratching post rather than attacking the upholstery. Since there is no corresponding spot on Walküre, Dave built the cats a scratching pad instead. Similar items are available for $8, but he built ours out of recycled cardboard. He cut 50 or so strips of cardboard--be sure they're cut the right way so that when they are turned on edge the corrugation is exposed. When you stack them they should be about 12 inches thick. The strips are 16 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide to form a block of cardboard. He used a cheap wood glue, cut small notches in the corners and tied a string around the cardboard pieces to keep them together until the glue dried. We weren't sure how long their scratching block was going to last, but it's been 8 months and it's still serviceable. A little beat up, but serviceable.

And of course, like kids, cats need toys. We are lucky in that TC doesn't really know how to play. We think he was too busy trying to survive in his youth. And when Izzy was a kitten I was a bartender. He discovered wine corks early on and now bats them around, chews on them, chases them when we throw them and even returns them in a kitty version of fetch. Whatever type of toys entertain your cat, be careful with ones with long strings. A friend told us the story of how her cat wrapped the string of a toy they had left hanging for him around his neck one night. Luckily it was bungee material and he stretched it until he could scratch her to wake her up to rescue him.

Keeping cats happy, healthy, safe and entertained is the goal. These are our suggestions, but we'd love to hear how other cat owners fair with furry feline aboard. Contact us at the link above or on Facebook.

We got a lot of response to our Air Head post last week. MONDAY we'll post some of the suggestions we received. There's still time to share your experiences, too.

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