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Cruising with Pets in the Caribbean

Pets – dogs, cats and even birds – can make wonderful cruising or charter crew. But before you cast off with a furred or feathered friend on board, there are key points to consider. Here’s good advice from a few pet-loving sailors.

First, pick the right pet for your sailing situation.

“Size is a major consideration,” says Joan Conover, cruising station coordinator for the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) who sails aboard the Morgan OI 511, Growltiger, with her family. “While we have had Labradors for years, we enjoy a smaller dog and the smaller ‘environmental footprint’, meaning the food plus the pee and poo.”

Linda Knowles, who cruises aboard the Jeanneau 54, Sapphire, with husband Bill and ten-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Brie, from New England to the Caribbean, agrees. “My husband likes big dogs and I favor small. But when we decided to go cruising we looked for a breed that would be small in size with a big personality.”

Sometimes it’s the pets that pick their owners, says Chris Allison, who with wife Kelly, charter their Gulfstar 54 Motor Sailor, Verna Breeze, out of the U.S. Virgin Islands, with cats Pete and Zoro aboard.  “We met Zoro, then a six-week-old male kitten that was playing with bottle caps and generally looking for a home, when we did some cruising and ended up in the marina at Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela.”

Allison says that cats are for the most part easier than dogs. “Cats are a lot more self-sufficient, a little less obvious, and more adept overall at moving around on the boat. On the other hand there is still nothing like the unconditional love of a dog. So everything is a trade-off. However, it is my opinion that young animals probably adapt better to the lifestyle.”

Yet, John Gould and Heidi Wheeler, who charter the 50-foot Beneteau Sloop, Antillean, out of the U.S. Virgin Islands, have a bird on board. “We have our Smee (a native Trinidadian parrot) onboard in a space that is 20x20x20-inches,” says Gould.”

Secondly, consider the practicalities. One of these is ‘boat-breaking’.

Rich and Lisa Cassarino, who charter their Lagoon 57, Priorities, out of the British Virgin Islands, with Golden Retriever, Reggie, were one of many who have puzzled over this situation. “We started cruising down from Rhode Island and tried everything to get Reggie to go,” explains Rich Cassarino. “We tried puppy pads, Astroturf and even a coiled rope in the corner that someone recommended and he ended up holding it for two-and-a-half days. That’s why we don’t take him offshore anymore. On charter, we just dinghy ashore in the morning and afternoon.”

The Knowles tried all the same tricks until what clicked with Brie was going on the bow where her ‘necessaries’ are just washed off. “We have tight-weave mesh netting that runs around the boat as high as the first life line,” Linda explains. “You hardly see it, but it’s Brie’s security blanket when she needs to run up to the bow and we’re underway.”

All cats need is a litter box and they’re ready to go, says Verna Breeze’s Allison. “We move it from cabin to cabin and they always find it. A few other boats we know have trained their cats to use the head.”

The second practicality is ‘clearing-in’ if you’re traveling to foreign ports.

“Do not try to go under the radar,” says Antillean’s Wheeler. “If caught, it will only make life harder for other pet lovers.”

Health certificates from vets, implanted microchips, vaccinations and fees may all be required. However, this can depend on whether you’re ‘importing’ a pet or are considered ‘in transit’.

Third and finally, consider your pet’s crew position. Raleigh, a Cuban-bred Havanese, who sailed with owners Jacquelyn and Robert Watt, from Alaska to Seattle on their 40ft boat, Shadowfax, is trained to retrieve for Jacquelyn who sails with two hip replacements, a fused back and severe arthritis in both hands.

“Raleigh helps me down below to put toys and shoes away on command,” Jacquelyn says. “His line pulling is a new skill ... he will place lines in my hand if I ask.”

Smee’s job on Antillean is to put on a show with his acrobatics and chattering. He calls out in his parrot-like language to passing boats asking for coffee and biscuits.

Finally, pets like Sapphire’s Brie deliver pure friendship.

“We pulled into The Bight in Norman Island and people on a boat next to us yelled over ‘Hi Brie’,” says Knowles. “Then we went to the Bitter End, to the Chesapeake and here in New England and we hear the same thing from other boaters. Brie’s so popular that she has more Facebook friends than my husband and he works at the Herreshoff Museum.”

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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