May 9, 2017

Charlie the cat: Circumnavigator* extraordinaire

I’m not sure how many cats have sailed around the world—my guess is not that many. Even Charlie the cat gets a “*flew across the Pacific” added to his official circumnavigation certificate because of the way we opted to import him onto Australia.

But now that all of us (including Charlie!) are back home in Vancouver on solid land here’s a recap of having him aboard.

Usually people want to know if he’s still with us (yes!), what sailing with a cat is like, what documents he needs and how we manage to care for him. If pets aren’t your thing—skip this post. But if you wonder what it’s like to sail around the world from a feline perspective, read on.

Between Charlie and Travis the cat we’ve crossed two oceans, sailed over 40,000 miles and had pets on board in over 30 different countries. Which means we’ve been clearing cats in and out of countries and looking for (but not necessarily finding) cat food and kitty litter in a lot of interesting places.


Both our cats came aboard at young ages. We found Travis as a starving kitten in Mexico and he never really became a tame cat. He dove overboard to catch fish over 35 times (and required rescuing), sneaked out on deck during bad weather to catch flying fish, helped himself to our guest’s rum drinks, once stowed away on another boat for a holiday, broke into numerous boats, marred a good number of paint and varnish jobs and gave us the reputation of being the worst pet owners ever.

Charlie came aboard at a year old and completely redeemed our pet-raising credibility. He was nice to visitors, was a great night watch companion, didn’t realize he could actually get off the boat and roam the docks at marinas until our last stop in La Cruz, was never that fussy about food or had medical problems.

It may seem counter-intuitive—but for sailing cats, nervous home bodies may make the better companions.

Care and Feeding of Fluffy

Unlike North America—with its wide variety of pet food choices, cats in the rest of the world seem to subsist on Whiskas or Purina (and whatever they catch and kill for themselves). Charlie had a bad experience with a bag of Whiskas going moldy—so he mostly ate Purina.

A couple of times I tried to stock up on healthier (less filler) options—but be aware in the hot humid environment aboard a boat, even sealed bags of food don’t keep that well.

Charlie ate lots of fresh fish when it was available and, unlike 20-years ago when Travis was aboard, we found kitty litter often enough that we never ran out. Typically though we bought enough food and kitty litter to last until we would reach to a country where we knew we could get more.

One thing that did surprise us (which shouldn’t have) was how much more water Charlie drank. Especially when we had sailed into the Southern Hemisphere but some odd biological signal told Charlie it was time to grow his winter coat in October—he was really thirsty then.

Sea Sick Cats and Other Perils

In most respects Charlie is a great boat cat. He’s super cautious—so unlike Travis the cat we’ve never found him on the foredeck trying to catch flying fish while we were underway. And he only learned about visiting other boats when we got to La Cruz (bad kitty). He did catch a couple of bats over the years—which made us glad we kept his rabies up to date. But he never showed any interest in rum drinks or beating up our guests—including officials, which we think is good.

The only thing that Charlie the cat did that concerned us was get seasick on the first day of a passage. So when we head out—he doesn’t get breakfast. And if he looks sad and starts to pant or drool we get a rag handy. Other than that he’s pleasant to have around—he’s sweet and cuddly and moderately playful. For those who knew Travis—we think of Charlie as our reward for having given him a good home.

Clearing In to Foreign Countries

Charlie was micro chipped and given a big fat file of impressive looking paperwork when we imported him into Australia. We covered what was involved in bringing Charlie into Oz in another post—so this is more general. Most places don’t really care about Charlie. We don’t hide him away—but we only bring him up if we’re asked directly if we have a pet onboard. Then we pass along his paperwork for perusal.

One complication we’ve found is that while countries may want up to date medical records it’s hard to find places to take pets to get their vaccines updated without potentially exposing them to other pets with illnesses you don’t want to encounter. He did see vets in Australia and South Africa for updates. But for most countries just the volume and official-ness of the paper was enough and even though we got him his updated vaccines and a health certificate in Mexico neither the US nor Canada seemed concerned.

Shedding and General Hassle

Charlie was an excellent boat cat—and other than the Australia importation bit he was affordable to have aboard. For reasons known only the universe Charlie shed way more than the extremely fluffy Travis. Part of it may have been he never did manage to sort out his winter/summer coat schedule and seemed to always try and grow a winter coat at funny times. The result though was our boat often seemed hairy inside. But, if you like pets you learn to tolerate it.

We also found that it was pretty easy to find him pet sitters when we wanted to go places (lots of sailors crave kitty time). He does fairly well on his own for up to two nights. But in hotter weather is was important to have someone checking the boat’s temperature and making sure he had enough water.

For the record it turns out Charlie is also an excellent road tripper. He loved the hotel rooms on the trip up to Canada and was pretty patient with his box time. Let me know what else you like to know!


Anonymous said...

Oh, my gosh, I'm just starting to gush over this story, and it's over!
There is so much more to mine, maybe let Maia write part 2!
In all seriousness, thanks for the post. If only Charlie could speak for himself...

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