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Posted by on May 7, 2015 in Blog |

Sea dogs

S/V Learnativity, voyage to Fiji
Wednesday, May 7th, 5pm
Position 00.53S 176.20E Winds 5-10 S, course 145, boat speed 5.5 knots motoring We crossed the equator last night!

It’s quite fitting that Wayne and I met because of our dogs. We are both dog people and we each lived on a boat with our respective dogs. But my boat, Talespinner, was a little 33-foot boat that was just the right size for my little dog, Barney. He’s stocky for a Yorkie, at 12 pounds of pure muscle, but he still has short little legs. He was able to climb up and down the gentle stairs on my boat, so he had the freedom to roam the deck or come below.

The first time I sailed with Wayne, I left Barney at home with my son, Tim, and his then girlfriend, now wife, Ashley. But when I arrived in Fiji, I met Ruby – aka the Wonder Dog. She is a Spoodle, half cocker spaniel, half poodle, and while she only weighs about 2 more pounds than Barney, she is slender of body and she has long legs. And a wonder she is. Ruby is now 7 years old, and she moved on board this boat as a puppy. This boat doesn’t have stairs like my Caliber 33, it has a 4-step ladder. Not a problem for this girl – she goes up and down the steps at sea by waiting and timing it just right. When she goes swimming off the aft steps, she can climb up the swim ladder made of stainless tubing and get herself out of the water. She was trained to do her toileting on a mat on the foredeck, and whenever all shit breaks loose – as it does on a sailboat – she knows to go into one of her cubbies in the cockpit coaming to be safe and out of the way. Wayne never worries about her.

After seeing Ruby in action on this boat, I thought, “There’s no way my little guy would survive on this big boat,” and I asked my son about the possibility of keeping my little guy forever. Tim said he’d be glad to, but in my heart, I couldn’t make that final decision. I jokingly call Barney the Yorkshire Terror, but he is a “special” dog. He had fallen overboard off my boat multiple times. Whenever I take him to someone’s house or boat, he inevitably pees and embarrasses me. He gets these anxiety attacks where he obsesses about something and keeps me up all night while he attacks a door or a wall for no reason. And he goes absolutely bat shit at the sound of a vacuum. He was a rescue dog, and I don’t know what happened to him, but he has his issues.

When Wayne and I flew back to the states, and he saw Barney for the first time, he told me that it would be no problem. We’d figure out how to make Learnativity a safe home for my little guy. Of course, that made me fall even more head over heels over Wayne. There are bureaucratic problems with traveling with dogs, but Wayne has been sailing around the Pacific for eight years now, and he has mastered the paperwork. Still, when we clear in to Fiji, we will be required to post a $1500 bond for each dog. The dogs are not allowed off the boat, and if you get caught with them on shore, you could forfeit the bond. Will we still sneak them ashore on isolated beaches? Probably. The places we intend to visit in the future like Vanuatu, Micronesia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, all are fairly easy about pets on board. Having to post a bond is not so terrible as long as it is returned, and Wayne’s not had a problem with Fiji. We probably wouldn’t try to get them into Australia nor Malta nor England – or several of the other places that require a quarantine.

We flew back to the boat in Majuro last August, and Barney was introduced to his new home. At first Wayne thought Barney would be like Ruby, and we left him on deck when we went to shore. He thought I was being an overprotective mom, and he was going to get Barney to man up. Then, one day when we were returning to the boat, we saw Barney swimming at the waterline, trying to claw his way up the side of the boat, but instead sinking completely under. We’ll never know for sure how long he was in the water, but we both think he had just fallen in by running forward when he heard the sound of the dinghy and then slipping over in his excitement.

So, new rules. Barney cannot stay on deck alone. Suddenly, it was a good thing that he couldn’t climb the ladder. But over the next six months, while I wrote my new book, an amazing thing happened. Barney and Ruby became a pack (and best buddies), and with Wayne’s firm hand training him, the little guy started to shape up. Yes, there were accidents, and back sliding, but Barney was shaping up to be a helluva sea dog.

Out at Eneko Island where we liked to hang out, we would swim to shore in the late afternoon to get some exercise and walk the dogs on the beach. We have an inflatable kayak, and the dogs would ride in the kayak while we towed it. Ruby loves to get right out on the bow of the kayak, and when we’re within 100 yards of the beach, Wayne gives her permission to jump in and swim the rest of the way. For months, we tried to encourage Barney to jump too, but he just couldn’t do it. We had to grab him and drag him in, then once in, he happily swam to shore.

Then one day, Wayne gave Ruby the “Okay” command to jump and then he said “Okay” for Barney and the little guy just hurled himself into the air and landed with a great belly flop and swam to shore. “Did you see that?” Wayne said. “Our little Olympian did it!” And he’s done it over and over and every time, it brings a tightness to my throat.

But as we prepared for this passage, I was thinking, I’d just never let him on deck. I got a supply of dog pee-pee pads, and I figured I’d be holding him on my lap every waking minute. But you know what? He’s doing great. During the day, he’s on a tether in the cockpit. When the weather was rough, we put him in the helmsman’s seat, and he was quiet and comfy and looking very much like the admiral of the ship. We take him on his tether out of the cockpit, and he pees right away on the mat. It helps that Ruby usually goes first, and what male dog won’t decide to pee where the other dog just went. Then Wayne puts him on the leash and takes him for a walk around the deck and he poos on the foredeck. And the two dogs stay in the aft berth with whoever is off watch. They sleep through the night, even if we don’t.

My little terror is growing into a well-behaved and happy little sea dog, and his mom couldn’t be more proud.

Fair winds!