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10 Years Cruising with a Ship’s Cat

You know you want it...

Mocka Jumbies and Rum...

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In 2008 Christian and I decided that cruising was the best way to see the world–especially the remote corners we were interested in. We had never sailed before (but read lots of books about it) when we flew to Mallorca to take over our newly bought “Pitufa”, a Sparkman & Stephens 41. Our cat Leeloo came along as cabin luggage to tackle her new job as a ship’s cat. The job description included “pest control” and “fish tasting”– just her thing. She added “general supervision of all projects” to her tasks and soon became the admiral of Pitufa.

Taking our Pitufa across the Med to her new port in Croatia was the first sailing experience for the three of us. 1,300 nautical miles in three meant a steep learning curve and fortunately we all found our sea legs and sea paws. From then on Leeloo accompanied us whenever we went sailing. Many people bring the family dog along for sailing trips, but leave their cats alone at home (or worse, dump them in an animal shelter before the holidays). Cats are less bulky than dogs, easier to handle and smell much nicer when wet–if more people tried taking their tiny tiger along there might be many more happy ship’s cats around!

Always pretty
Always pretty

In 2011 we set out from Europe towards the horizon. We sailed across the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic and explored the Caribbean for a while, before taking Pitufa through the Panama Canal and on to the Pacific. Leeloo never enjoyed passages very much, but she braved rough weather with us and kept us entertained during long night watches. She loved arriving just as much as we do, marveled at big cities and busy anchorages and lazily lounged on deck in remote places. Each one of our days started with a sunbathing and play-time ritual on deck and ended with the cat between us on the sofa. We got to spend more time with our cat then most other pet-owners ever can. Leeloo was happy to have her people around for most of the day and excitedly welcomed us back home whenever we had ventured ashore (even if we had only been gone for half an hour).

The Ugly Aspects of the Seemingly Perfect Paradise

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Beachwalk in Kuna Yala
Beachwalk in Kuna Yala

Our little princess died last March at the age of 21 and the boat feels empty without her. We miss you, Leeloo.

Here are 10 tips for those who consider adding some feline fun, joy and love to their boat:

A netting all around the boat from the toe rail up to the lower life lines keeps velveted paws from sliding over board. Leeloo didn’t fall a single time in 10 years… A thick rope dangling from deck or from the sugar scoop into the water is another safety measure. Throwing cats into the water to teach them to climb up again is unnecessary, practicing from the dingy is just as instructive and less traumatizing.

What to Know about Transient Slip Space in the Caribbean

Ogling the big city Cartagena
Ogling the big city Cartagena

Clearing into new countries was never a problem with an international pet vaccination passport throughout Europe and the Caribbean. In the Pacific area things get more complicated, but most islands accept pets as long as they ‘remain on board’. Check for additional requirements before heading out towards your next destination!

Cats need to eat grass for their digestion, a tiny lawn in a flower pot’s enough.

We installed a cat flap in the lower washboard, so Leeloo wasn’t confined under deck when we were not at home.

High quality cat food is not available in all places, so stock up whenever you can. 

Providing a cat toilet with a high rim keeps the litter from spilling all over the boat. Sand from beaches is an alternative, but check for bugs and hermit crabs.

Velvet paws have sharp claws! Unfinished wooden boards are great for a feline work-out and keep the furniture safe from scratching attacks.

Carry a feline pharmacy with basic meds and stay in touch with a vet: always double-check before using human medication for your cat (it is more easily available in many places, but can be poisonous for cats).

7 Day Charter Itinerary in St. Maarten / St. Martin – St. Barths – Anguilla

Cats love cardboard boxes
Cats love cardboard boxes

Cardboard boxes are cozy places for a cat nap at anchor and great sea berths on rough passages!

Keep the tiger entertained. Leeloo wanted to participate in each and every project and maintenance on Pitufa, had her paws on each workpiece and her snub nose in every locker. A boat lacks some excitement (no trees, hopefully no mice), so it’s up to the human crew to provide additional entertainment.

Check out our blog www.pitufa.at for more info about our journey, cruising guides and photo galleries.

7 Day Charter Itinerary in the U.S. Virgin Islands

On Velvet Paws Towards the Horizon
A book about the 21 years our far-traveled cat explored the world with us. It features funny anecdotes, 101 cute color photos and some good advice for people who consider going sailing with cats.

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Birgit Hackl
Birgit Hacklhttp://www.pitufa.at
Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer and ship’s cat Leeloo have been exploring the world on their yacht Pitufa since 2011. Visit their blog: www.pitufa.at

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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