I’m between boats at the moment, pets as well. All in the name of efficiency, I said, while we packed and discarded and hauled what was left into a new home. We moved off a mountain and down, down to a river. Ironically, now we have a water view, but no boat with which to tread over our new neighbor.
My boating experiences were separate from the pets we spoiled in our homes. Dogs. Always dogs. Big and small. Always affectionate, each in their own way, but land-lubbers all, except one.
I don’t think Chester knew he was a sailor until I shanghaied him aboard when there was no other alternative. A middle-aged rescue Springer Spaniel, he displayed the typical Springer personality; boundless energy and curiosity and an unflagging love for his home and his people that earned him the nickname Velcro dog. He tolerated water sports and joined us splashing in lake and sea, but I could tell he did it for our sake, not his.
Then, when no dog-sitter option left us unwitting partners, I seized a moment to hoist a sail and took Chester with me because he had nowhere else to go. I expected trouble. A Springer wants to run and there’s little room on a twenty-seven foot sailboat for running. After a walk to empty his bilge we stood on the finger and stared at the strange arrangement below us. Ropes, blocks and tackle, rigging, mast and boom, portholes. The sight was not dog friendly.
“Come on, Chester,” I said, lifting and depositing him in the cockpit. “It’s not that bad.”
He resisted. The smells foreign. The sounds strange and unfriendly. The feel under his paws unsteady. The sun beat down with no relief. He sniffed the strange doggy Personal Flotation Device I strapped around him with disgust and tried to shake it off with no success.
Chester surveyed his new circumstances from stem to stern and pronounced the place unacceptable. Seagulls laughed at him. He whined back and looked at me, eyes wide, panting and drooling in the heat. “Get me off this thing,” he said.
I dropped him in the cabin with water and dog treats. “Get used to it, boy,” I replied.
The sound of my ancient Volvo Penta diesel motor calmed him down. While I rigged the sails, I would sneak a look in the cabin and found Chester, eyes shut, curled on a bunk in a tight corner, tail tucked under him, waiting for his fate.
When I pushed away from the slip he lifted his head. A puff of a breeze crossed the boat as we made our way out of the marina catching his attention. He sniffed and stirred.
“Wanna come topside?” I asked. A light swell rocked us as we approached the end of the harbor and I raised the mainsail.
Chester jumped off the bunk and looked at me from the bottom of the passageway in his bright yellow PFD. “Yes,” he said.
The breeze picked up as we came about at the breakwater and Chester’s ears flapped with approval, his eyes glued straight ahead, tongue out, ass down on the seat across from me, happy as a clam.
That’s how I like to remember Chester as I look at sails dancing in the river below our new house.