Pets Onboard

There has recently been a welcome addition to my family – Bob the West Highland Terrier, and this has led me to thinking about how he would cope onboard our boat.

Of course my first consideration was a doggy life jacket, he would definitely look adorable in need one of those.


They are available to buy in all different sizes, as well as a whole array of nautical fashion accessories for your pampered pooch.

But realistically, is taking your pet onboard really a good idea?

The answer is absolutely, I know Bob much prefers accompanying the family anywhere rather than staying at home. However, there are things to take into consideration before setting sail:

  • Just like humans, dogs and cats might take a while to find their sea legs, and sea sickness can be a problem. There are many natural remedies that can be used to ease the problem, have a browse through Adlard Coles’ Fast Fixes for your Boat for some helpful tips, or alternatively ask your vet for some advice.
  • If your dog or cat is trained to use the litter box, toilet calls should not be a problem. If not, remember to monitor what your animal is drinking and take regular trips to land to avoid accidents.
  • If the weather is sunny and hot, be sure to keep an eye on your pet. As much as animals love sunbathing, it can cause heat stroke, so try to keep them shaded and drinking plenty. Also, fibreglass boats can get extremely hot in direct sunlight, so make sure your pet doesn’t burn his/her paws.

Fast Fixes for your Boat is full of helpful tips on how to make sure your boat is pet proof

But for those of us who are more superstitious – isn’t it bad luck to take your dog or cat onboard?

The rule used to be that any animal not at home at sea was bad luck on board. According to Adlard Coles’ Don’t Shoot the Albatross by Jonathan Eyers, the rule that black cats are unlucky on land is reversed at sea, and white cats are the unlucky ones. Although a single white hair plucked from a black cat is lucky…Image

Over the years these superstitions have been proven to be untrue, with dogs and cats playing an important role in naval history.  Here are some of the most famous furry nautical heroes:

Unsinkable Sam

One of the most famous mascots of the British Royal Navy, Unsinkable Sam was the ship’s cat aboard the German battleship Bismarck. Unfortunately the ship sunk in 1941, and out of 2,200 crew only 116 survived, plus Sam. Sam was picked up by the destroyer HMS Cossack, this was also torpedoed and sunk a few months later, killing 159 of her crew. Still Sam survived. He then became the ship’s cat on the HMS Ark Royal … which was torpedoed and sunk in November of that year. Sam was rescued once again, but it was decided that it was time for Sam’s seafaring to come to an end.

Unsinkable Sam was given a new job as mouser-in-residence at the governor general of Gibraltar’s office. He eventually returned to the U.K. and lived out his years at the Home for Sailors.

This story doesn’t bode well for cats on boats, it has to be said. But then there was Simon…



Simon was the celebrated ship’s cat of HMS Amethyst. Simon was aboard the ship during the Yangtze Incident in 1949 and was wounded in the bombardment that killed 25 crew members, including the commanding officer.

Simon recovered and resumed his rat-hunting duties, as well as keeping up the crew’s morale. He was appointed to the rank of able sea cat. ‘Simon’s company and expertise as a rat-catcher were invaluable during the months we were held captive,’ said Commander Stuart Hett. ‘During a terrifying time, he helped boost the morale of many young sailors, some of whom had seen their friends killed. Simon is still remembered with great affection.’

When Simon later died of an infection, tributes poured in and his obituary appeared in The Times. He was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for bravery (the Victoria Cross for animals) and was buried with full naval honors.


ImageJudy was the ship’s dog on board HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper before and during World War II. Not only did she save the lives of many crew members when Grasshopper sank, but she was also the only dog to be registered as a prisoner-of-war when they were captured by the Japanese. It was here that Judy was adopted by Frank Williams, who shared his daily ration of rice with her. In return Judy did her utmost to protect the crew, intervening when the guards were administering punishment and alerting them to the approach of danger from guards or hostile wildlife.

When the crew were moved to Singapore Williams smuggled Judy along, training her to sit absolutely still in a rice bag. However, the ship was torpedoed and Williams was forced to push her overboard in an attempt to save her life.

Luckily Williams survived, but was unsure if his companion had been so lucky. Tales started to emerge of a dog helping crew members to floating debris as the ship sank and thankfully Williams and Judy were reunited. However, Judy had one more hardship to endure when the guards got fed up of her and sentenced her to death. She managed to survive by hiding in the jungle and hunting for food.

After the war Judy lived out the rest of her days with Williams and was awarded the Dickin Medal. Her citation reads:

‘For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness’

Williams was also awarded the PDSA White Cross of St Giles for his devotion to Judy.

Whilst I can’t see Bob dragging us to safety if our boat sank, I think the family will definitely feel better with him there, and I can’t wait to see him sat on the boat in his little life-jacket.


Bob the West Highland Terrier

A Christmas at Sea

We are excited to host a special guest blog from Sandra Clayton, author of our new book A Thousand Miles from Anywhere.

A Christmas at Sea

David and I had spent Christmas in some unusual places even before we became offshore sailors. But one of the more memorable occurred a thousand miles from land in any direction during a two-handed Atlantic crossing on a 40-foot boat.

Before we left the Canary Islands I had surreptitiously bought a Christmas card for David and while he slept in the aft cabin I sat down at the chart table to write it. He had lost a lot of sleep through bad weather during the previous few nights so I was trying to make as little noise as possible during my watch.

As I opened the card a terrible screeching sent me rushing across the bridge deck to the gas alarm. It makes that kind of noise to warn you that gas is escaping into the bilges and if you don’t do something about it fairly quickly your boat can blow up. Even as I stared at it, however, I realized the awful noise wasn’t coming from the gas alarm but the chart table I’d just left. I had unwittingly bought a “musical” card and it was shrieking “Jingle Bells” fit to wake the dead.

Despite a tumultuous sea we celebrated the day in festive style. We had a tree in the corner of the saloon, although every so often the decorations fell off as Voyager rose and fell on huge Atlantic rollers. We had cards from family and friends, collected en route, strung between the barometer and the boathook. And on Christmas Day we had as near as possible the traditional dinner, even if our plates did occasionally get away from us and the wine glasses had to be wedged to stop them falling over.

Something a three-week sea passage gives you is plenty of time for reading and among the books we had on board was A Christmas Carol. As quite often with Charles Dickens, the central theme is materialism. Two years earlier David and I had opted out of a conventional lifestyle but when I’d picked up the book I’d had no thoughts about it being relevant, only seasonal.

For Dickens, Christmas represents those qualities – generosity, kindness and compassion – which make us fully human. Accordingly, the three Spirits of Christmas reveal to Ebenezer Scrooge the kind of world he is helping to create by devoting his life to the counting house; and by consigning the poor and afflicted Tiny Tim to an early grave because he has no value on a balance sheet. Whereas the little boy’s immeasurable gift is the life-enhancing effect he has on those around him.

It is interesting how the small details that lodge in the memory tend to change with your own changing circumstances. For instance, although I’d read this book several times before I had not remembered that the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge out over a raging sea, to show him how even on an isolated lighthouse the spirit of Christmas touches the two hardened men who tend the light. Or onto a heaving ship, where every man at his station has a kinder word for his fellows than on any other day.

But then, until comparatively recently, lighthouses and raging seas had not loomed very large in my experience. Nor had the kind of selflessness of two distant yachtsmen, whose actions were conveyed to us by a third party that morning over a crackling radio receiver. The couple had turned back thirty miles in awful weather and begun towing another yachtsman whose boat had been dismasted in a squall the previous day. Out in Voyager’s cockpit that Christmas night, on watch on my own solitary stretch of a dark and heaving sea, A Christmas Carol resonated more than ever before.

And then a whale turned up. But that’s another story. In the meantime, may the spirit of the season be with you and yours and throughout the coming year. Or, as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless us, every one!”

In the late ‘90s Sandra Clayton and her husband David sold up their home and set sail in a 40-foot catamaran called Voyager.  Her third book, A Thousand Miles from Anywhere, will be published by Adlard Coles on 6 January 2013 and charts their Atlantic crossing to America via the Caribbean Islands – plus a few eventful days in the Bermuda Triangle.Christmas - DavidChristmas - Sandra