South African Paul Thompson is totally deaf. While sailing La Chica, his 32-foot double ended junk, he relies on Skatty, his beloved Maine Coon cat, to be his ears.
“I am totally deaf, and Skatty is my ears. Without any training, he has twigged that I don’t hear and of his own accord he lets me know if a boat comes alongside, people are at my door ( when ashore) and when my phone receives text messages,” explains Paul Thompson.
The South African is currently living in Auckland, New Zealand and is planning to circumnavigate with Skatty next year.
The pair divide their time between living on board Thompson’s 32-foot steel double ended junk rigged sailing boat, La Chica, and his office, where there is a small flat.
The computer programmer and boat builder says Skatty, who’s full name is Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpawz, is still learning about living on board.
Luckily, the ginger and white Maine Coon is finding his “sea paws” and has only fallen overboard once!
“I was expecting it as he had insisted on going out on the bumpkin and so I was on hand and ready to rescue him,” said Thompson.
“He was in the water for about two minutes and it was cold; it took about two hours of TLC and warmth for him to recover and he was somewhat subdued for the rest of the day,” he added.
Thompson admits that there is still a long way to go to make Skatty a true “sea cat”.
“Skatty is still very much in learning mode, but by the end of the New Zealand summer, we should have made a sea cat of him,” insists Thompson.
“To date, he has only been out sailing twice. The first time for two weeks and just recently we returned from six weeks of sailing. He has got to the point that he is happy onboard the boat, but not yet to the point that he is totally unbothered about actually being under sail.”
He says Maine Coons are at home around water and reveals Skatty has a life at sea in his blood.
“Skatty is a polydactyl cat (extra toes on each paw) which is what ship’s cat traditionally are. The old time sailors believed that the big polydactyl paws gave them a better grip on the deck and also made them better mousers. So for me as a sailor, it was very satisfying to have a polydactyl cat,” says Thompson.
While sailing, Skatty wears his own special harness as he “still needs protecting from his own impulsive self”, although Thompson says this will change once his feline companion becomes more used to sailing.
Skatty has his own life vest for rough weather, and usually “finds the most comfortable spot on the boat (generally under the salon table) and goes to sleep”.
He normally sleeps with Thompson and on deck, likes to sit on the solar panels as “they keep his bottom warm”.
A two-inch diametre rope is also trailed astern for him when La Chica is at anchor.
Thompson has plenty of experience with having a boat cat.
Before Skatty, he had Tommy, a grey tabby male, for 19 years.
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“I took Tommy in when his owner’s ( a former Netherlands Ambassador to South Africa ) ended their posting in South Africa and were going home to the Netherlands. They thought he’d be happier in South Africa than in Holland,” explained Thompson.
“As it turned out, he only spent the first three years of his life in South Africa, for the remaining 15 years he spent sailing with me and we were anywhere but in South Africa,” he notes.
Like Skatty, Tommy acted as Thompson’s ears at sea, although he never wore a harness and had the run of the boat.
The 59-year-old, who became deaf at the age of two from a childhood illness, believes most cats are “perfectly content” at sea or at anchor
He also believes it is therapeutic for sailors.
“Having a cat onboard forces you to slow down and take life at your cat’s pace. Invariably that is a good thing as we are all far to busy rushing around,” notes Thompson.
“Skatty wants to know about everything and in satisfying his curiosity, I learn to see things in a new light or from a different perspective. Also, the love of a cat is a very special and precious thing. Once earned it is forever, but you do have to earn it.”