By Natalie Friton
For most of us, summertime means weekend escapes and beach days. But for those with have a passion for the sea, summer means month-long cruises and docking at new ports – and who says dogs can’t be sailors, too? Here is one couple’s experience bringing a joy-filled pup on board their excursion to the Bahamas.
When Barbara Boykin and Jim Brown retired just over a year ago, their vision included long-term cruising with their cat and a new puppy on board.
Though they spent many years on Chesapeake Bay on their 34-foot sailboat, Boykin found anything more than a day sail too much work, and dreamed of going on longer cruises. Finally the couple’s vision came to life with the purchase of a new, 44-foot trawler they named Ariel, and a new Boykin Spaniel puppy they named Chessie.
With their puppy in tow, the couple was ready to head south and experience cruising in the waters of Florida and the Bahamas.
Interestingly, Barbara Boykin’s lineage is tied to the original breeders of the Boykin Spaniel. After learning more about the breed, Boykin found that this pup would be the ideal companion for their retirement cruise and long after. Boykin Spaniels were bred specifically for boating and hunting, so they are not susceptible to sea sickness. And because of their short, stocky legs, they are surefooted on board. Boykins are a lightweight dogs – only about 30 pounds – making them easy to lift. After all their research on breeds suited for sea life, Chessie joined the couple, completing their vision of having a family on board their trawler.
Boykin cleverly practiced with her two new companions before their trip. To ensure things would go smoothly, she focused on how to create a harmonious life on board for Chessie and her 7-year-old cat, Merlin. She researched not just how to bring the two animals together in the family, but also how to do this on board a boat. Websites and fellow cruisers provided invaluable information and advice on everything from helping the animals acclimate to sea life, to potty training, to safety and exercise. Some of Barbara’s preparation included sleeping on the docked boat with her furry companions to get them used to being on the boat without any other distractions.
The Boykin Spaniel breed has inherent qualities that made adjusting to being on a boat quite easy, but as is to be expected, potty training received a lot of attention. Knowing Chessie would not always have access to a yard or grass area to do her business, Barbara settled on using Astroturf. The Astroturf box, kept on the stern, is fondly referred to as the “poop deck.”
The couple’s goal was always to keep life on the trawler as similar as possible to life on land for their pets. They keep lots of toys on board, and now that she is no longer a puppy, Chessie has free reign of the boat for the most part. While there are plenty of places to explore, it’s still important that Chessie gets off the boat to run. For this reason, Boykin and Brown don’t spend more than one night at anchor, and prefer to be at a dock when they’re not cruising.
The couple and their pets are content to spend several hours cruising, which is all part of the original vision. They say the engine noise lulls Chessie to sleep until they find the next pet-friendly port.
No matter how many preparations one makes, there is always the reality that accidents will happen. Boykin and Brown had to take this into consideration when bringing their furry friends aboard. They purchased life jackets for Merlin and Chessie in the event of a “worst-case scenario.”
Boykin researched what it would involve to take her animals out of the country, and spoke to her vet to make sure she had the appropriate papers and vaccinations for her furry sea-mates. She learned that traveling outside of the U.S. to the Bahamas requires microchipping.
Sure enough, all of their thorough planning and research has paid off. Boykin and Brown say that the experience of including their pets in their time aboard is simply unmatchable. Their longest cruise took them south to Charleston, S.C., and they have spent almost six months on board with their furry friends. Now they have their sights on cruising to the Bahamas.
There is no question that Chessie and Merlin complete the family picture – now all four family members can be called “seasoned sailors.”
We want to know about your boating experiences with your dogs. Let us know in the Comments area if your pup took to the boating life like Chessie did, or if you have any reservations about bringing your canine companion out to sea.
Natalie Friton is an Arnold, Md. resident who owns a new-media focused consulting firm that provides customized public relations and brand-management services to clients in the marine, travel and fitness industries. She shares an office with her husband and chocolate Lab/Pit Bull, Murphy.