24 March 2012

Home Is Where the Cats Are

Quick recap:  We have three cats on board.  Isabel is a 12-year-old barn cat.  Tucker and Percy, half-brothers, are 8-year-old Ragdolls.  Is it an IDEAL SITUATION, having three middle-aged cats on a round-the-world cruise?  No.  But then, neither was it IDEAL to have an 11-year-old along for the ride when my parents took ME, back in the day.  Whatterya gonna do?  Ya got family, they comin'.

Tucker, His Handsome-ness
Tucker is the dog-cat.  He follows us around like a dog and loves to make friends with complete strangers.  Back in Milwaukee, he used to come with when we'd walk our old dog, Floey, around the block - plodding along the sidewalk, thud, thud, thud, with his big feet.  When Tucker was young, we tried to convince ourselves that he was an "old soul" - very wise and all-knowing.  Now we think he is a bit, shall we say, simple-minded?  Any noted mental deficiencies might have something to do with oxygen deprivation - he has a few respiratory "issues."  Sometimes he breathes like Darth Vader.  Sometimes he has violent sneezing fits and slings huge snot globs in all directions.  But we don't hold it against him.  We call Tucker our Morale Officer because he is such a lover.  In anchorages, like Marsh Harbour, dinghies circle around for a closer look when they see him on deck.  Helps us meet new people.

Queen Isabel: Hey dad, I know, why don't you pet me...NOW! 
Isabel is the cat-cat.  She acts like a CAT.  She is scared of people, except for us.  With us, she is demanding and imperious.  She is her daddy's girl, and when she wants Ean's attention, which she frequently does, she is relentless.  She is oldest and the alpha-cat, so she gets to be First Mate.  Like any good non-commissioned officer, she doesn't hesitate to let us know when we are doing something dumb.  She has 43 distinct meows and some stretch to twelve-seconds long.  Most of these catalogued meows carry clear tones of disapproval.  She also has several facial expressions that communicate various shades of "dis" - as in disapproval, disgust, dismay, disrespect.  She HATES HATES HATES the dumb boy cats, who are often the recipients of her glares.

Sweet hairless boy - Percy the Pink
Percy is our baby-cat and resident trouble-maker. Too clever for his own good.  Wants to be the alpha-cat, but can't quite swing it (yet).  Percy caused us great heartbreak when he disappeared into the wilds of Treasure Cay and didn't come back to us for 24 days.  When we found him, his coat was solidly matted and full of sand spurs.  In this picture, soon after he got shaved by the vet, he is sleeping on what we call the "electro-lap" - a low-power heating pad.  It's not quite as comfy as a human lap but more consistently available.  Percy is "on alert" - especially since his Treasure Cay Trauma - and he likes to do laps around the deck, keeping an eye on everything.  When we're underway, he studies the water moving against the hull.  He is our most observant cat, so we have made him the Chief Lookout.  MUCH more to say about Percy the Problem, but I'll leave it for another post.

Here are some specifics about cats on a cat.  (We've been asked.  So we answer.  If you are not a cat owner/lover, don't make the jump.)

Have they "adjusted" to life on the boat?
Yes, they truly have.  As much as we can tell.  What does "adjusted" mean?  We take it as a good sign, that even though we have been working in my mom's house quite a bit, they prefer to hang on the boat.  JOY is home to them.  Underway, they sleep a lot, and they like to be in their favorite spots.  Tucker and Isabel hang out under the salon table, and for Percy, we bungee open the door to our hanging locker (closet) in the master stateroom - Percy's "happy place" is the shelf where Ean keeps his underwear.  Isabel is the only one of the three who has seemed seasick on a few occasions.  She hasn't thrown up yet, but I imagine that Isabel and I will be tossing our cookies at about the same sea state.

Why do you let them off the boat?
Cats who have always been "indoor" cats would likely be satisfied without leaving their boat.  But our cats have always been "outdoor" cats, and they want to explore a bit.  I don't like to keep them locked up.  Mostly, they stay close to the boat.  If they sense danger, they run back to the boat.  Percy's adventure was caused by a combination of several factors: we were just in from our first offshore passage, a bit giddy, and we didn't pay enough attention.  When the cats first get off the boat, we usually walk with them, make sure they learn their way around a bit.  But we were distracted, we were docked near a busy bar where five BIG cats live, and we think Percy was scared off and then unable to find his way home.

What do they eat?
Same thing they did back in Milwaukee - canned and dry food.  The empty cans are a pain in the butt.  Offshore, most cruisers sink their cans, but in 12 feet of water in the Sea of Abaco that's not really an option!  We're thinking of trying the pouches of food, but they're more expensive.

What about kitty litter?
Ugh.  What a mess.  When you live in a multiple-cat household, you're supposed to have a litter box per cat.  We have tried several different solutions, but the crabbiness between Isabel and Percy definitely calls for two litter boxes in two separate places.  Tucker is laid back about sharing but he has a different "issue": the litter makes him sneeze.  Yes we have tried all types of litter.  He will pee in kitty litter, and he can get in and get out without sneezing (usually).  But he will not poop in kitty litter.  After he poops, you see, he apparently feels compelled to scratch and cover it up, but when he scratches, he sneezes...  (Now some of you are wondering why you are reading this.  Stop reading.  Go look at another post, or another blog, or CNN.)  So, managing all this complexity....  This is what's working for us right now: one small litter box in each hull (one in each of the forward cabins), and then we have another small box that has a layer of newspaper in it.  This is Tucker's poop box.  Tucker is lucky we love him so.  He poops in the box and then tries, valiantly, to cover the poop with the edge of the newspaper, which he pulls from the sides of the box.  I scoop the boxes a couple of times a day, into a brown-paper lunch bag (trying to cut down on using plastic).  I keep the brown bags in a trash bin down below, until we empty the kitchen garbage - then the brown bags go out with the kitchen trash.  We will distribute the several HUNDRED pounds of extra litter we will carry throughout all the cabins - we've found that it's much more expensive here in the Bahamas, and probably will  be unavailable other places we'll be, so when we leave the States, we will be stocked up.  Unscented litter has been especially hard to find, and of course the scented stuff makes Tucker sneeze MORE.  I tried wheat litter, because it is lighter and supposedly better for the environment, but it clumped up in the humid environment of the boat, and the cats did NOT appreciate it.

What about kitty overboard?
In port:  Cats swim.  They do not LIKE to swim.  They will use their ingenuity to get out of the water as quickly as possible.  Isabel went overboard before we even got out of Maryland.  She got in and out of the water and we didn't even know it happened - until she flew through the salon door soaking wet.  We assume she came up a swim transom - they reach right down to the water.  It's also possible that she shimmied up a piling (we were docked at the time).  Percy went overboard when he was pretty sure he could jump from an open porthole to the dock.  Not so much.  Percy's strategy for success was to keep his head high enough out of water so he could yowl his freakin' head off at an ear-piercing decibel level.  He found a ledge under the dock to jump on, but there was no dry escape route from the ledge, so he immediately jumped back into the water, howled some more, then shimmied up the nearest piling.  All this happened in the span of time it took Ean to run from one of the hulls up to the dock, at which time he plucked Percy off the piling.
At sea:  Kitties stay in at night.  We bought a "pet net," that can be attached to our rails, but we haven't installed it yet.  They are pretty careful when they're up on deck, but the one tricky spot is our sloping cabin roof.  We might just install the pet net on the rails on either side of the cabin - less chance, then, of it interfering with line-handling.  Anyway, it's on our to-do list.

Any more questions?
Want more details?  (Really?)  Advice/opinions?  Want to tell us how dumb we are? - SORRY, we already have Isabel for that.  Anyway, we love feedback and questions and comments and advice.  Be in touch!  Comment on the blog, or email to ahoy@morejoyeverywhere.com.

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The Monkey's Fist


  1. Thank you so much for this post - very helpful information! Re: the litter, do you use clumping or non-clumping clay litter?

    1. I use clumping - the non-clumping doesn't remove the urine, and therefore does not remove the smell of the urine. With non-clumping, I think I'd need to totally change out the the boxes every couple of days to get rid of the smell.

  2. I've been wondering how the cats were managing!

  3. Every once in a while Isabel has a look in her eye, and we suspect she is wondering what happened to Bartlett Ave.

  4. Have you tried the litter called Worlds Best? It is made from corn, and cured my youngest from sneezing and wheezing when covering up the do-do's as there is no dust that the clay litters have.

    1. I have! Actually, before we moved to the boat, I started using Worlds Best. I liked that it is better for the environment, and less dust, and also it doesn't WEIGH as much as clay litter! I thought we were golden - I got them all switched over with no drama, and I bought three HUGE bags when we moved aboard. It got clumpy when it sat in the humid environment. Then I couldn't scoop it clean - too many little clumps. Then the cats started to hate it. And you know what happens when cats don't like their litter : (

      I don't know if others have used this successfully in a high humidity environment - but for us, and all the drama of moving aboard and adjusting to boat life - I just went for the path of least resistance - back to the old familiar clay.