Ok, if you follow us on Facebook, by now you have surely seen our boat dog and boat cat. Their full names are as follows: our cat, a little grey Manx, is properly called Professor Tweek Stubbs, and our dog is a black lab-pit-mastiff mutt called Giles McCoy.
The story of our animal acquisition is gradual, but in hindsight was an inevitability. Originally, Sky and I strongly resisted the crews’ (and our own) pleas to get a boat dog. We had opted not to get any boat animals because although Southern Wind is big enough for animals not to be cramped, we were worried about quarantines and immigration. However, we talked to a lot of other cruising sailors who had little trouble—and at worst, in some places the animals might have to stay onboard—which in a 76-foot vessel with air conditioning (while we slog clinical equipment ashore in tropical heat) might be the nicer option! We had to get travel health certificates for them, like the pet passports I got for my Irish cats when I brought them back to California (thanks mom for looking after them!).
While mulling over that news, we visited the local VFW and met a veteran named Bert. Bert told us about a member of their VFW that he wished we had been able to meet—Dr. Giles McCoy. Dr. McCoy had passed away a few months before we got to Florida, and had recently told his story at the Palm Coast VFW.
Giles McCoy had been a young serviceman in WWII trying to get home after fighting on Peleilu—unfortunately, the ship he rode back to the states was the Indianapolis. This ship, immortalized in the long monologue given by Quint, the old sea captain in the movie Jaws, was torpedoed and hundreds of men were eaten by sharks as they floated in the water, day after day until 317 survivors were rescued.
Giles McCoy made a bargain with god while he was in the water. He said that if he was spared, he would do something with his life and become a doctor. He lived, became a doctor, and opened one of the first free clinics in the area. As Sky and I left the VFW, I said, ‘Giles McCoy—what a great name.’ And Sky said ‘That would be a great name for a boat dog.’ And that was the moment I think we subconsciously changed our minds (read ‘gave in’). We thought it would be a fitting tribute to Dr. McCoy, and hopefully bring us some good luck in naming our dog after a survivor.
We figured on getting the youngest puppy we could so it would adjust to life on the boat and lots of new people, and maybe something about 35 pounds—big enough to be sturdy enough to handle the voyage, but small enough that we could carry it. So we went to the human society, but they mostly had lots and lots of grown pit bulls. As we were leaving, they told us ‘Now, we do have one really young puppy, and though he might get to be a TEENY bit bigger than you are looking for, maybe you’d like to meet him’ (a classic ploy that we fell for). So they brought us into a room, and they brought in this goofy black puppy, and Sky knelt down and said ‘Are you going to be our boat dog?’ And he ran across the room and threw his arms around Sky’s neck and I said to the volunteer watching ‘I guess we’ll take him.’ He is going to be over 120 pounds…his webbed paws are HUGE and just keep getting better. At 7 months old he is close to 70 pounds.
The cat was an accident—I don’t know what happened, somehow I ended up adopting a one month old grey kitten on the way out. No, ‘I said those things, I did those things…’ I know what happened. I was idly looking at the kittens in their glass cages, and one cat-alone in his litter-reached out and tried to play with me through the glass as I walked by. And I made the mistake of asking to hold him, and he and Giles met each other and they seemed ok, and Giles and little No-Name came home and met the crew.
Tweek had been named Stubbs while he had been fostered, but that didn’t quite fit—so after a few nameless days of his weirdness, his name just became clear. He is a strange one—Giles is Sky and Noah’s dog, and Tweek is mine and Claudia’s. Tweek likes to attack your calves as you walk sleepily across a dark room—he’ll leg tackle you and bit you, then run away, then run back and start nuzzling you. It’s like ‘I love you I love you I love so much I want to cut you open and wear your skin’—kind of a crazy love. And he likes to jump around as though he is getting electric shocks.
Giles is like a big goofy harbor seal (look at that face!). It turns out he is the perfect boat dog—he is allergic to grass (of course, right?) and gets a rash just from playing in it. I keep forgetting he is only a puppy because he is so huge, but then he looks at me and his little infant face is clear. Sky and Noah are doing an awesome job training him—he is a big gentle giant, but one night I went into Sky’s darkened room quietly to see if she was awake and he raised a growl that raised the hair on the back of my neck until he saw it was me. It gives me a lot of confidence to know that this huge, highly visible dog will be walking around the decks while we are voyaging.
He is a big softie (only a puppy after all)—he and Tweek believe they are brothers because they both came to us together, and they are the only two four-footed members of the crew. They play together, which is cute because Tweek taught Giles to play and used to bat his nose—until Giles started batting his paw at Tweek and bowling Tweek head over heels. Still, Tweek enjoys stalking Giles tail, cleaning his face, and chewing on his ears, and Giles enjoys chasing the much faster and more agile Tweak and trying to drool all over him.
And we love those two. We taught Giles to swim (when we first put him in the pool he sank like a stone but he can do it now), got a life jacket for Tweek, and are talking to Autotether about getting transponders for Tweak and Giles so if they fall overboard we will immediately know, but we are also netting the underside of our rails and covering all crawl spaces—I bet we mourn Tweek’s death 20 times unnecessarily when he stays hidden onboard and comes strolling back out days later, but I’m going to seal it up as best I can! Giles and Tweek have been growing up with all of us, so they are fully socialized—they mope when there are few people in the house (13 of us here has been our max) and rejoice when we are here.
It will be the adventure of a lifetime for a dog and cat and on long passages, or cooped up in the boat in inclement weather, having Giles and Tweek onboard is going to help keep us sane. Already they are a great comfort during the challenges and obstacles we have had to overcome, and there will be many, many more.