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  • Writer's picturetheblacksprayhood

What's New Pussycat?

“Do NOT cross the Atlantic until you know exactly what is wrong with him,” she said. “If he stops eating then you could end up with a dead cat.”

We have spent this week recovering from our ordeal of the return to Gran Canaria in our strongest ever winds and massive waves, one of which filled up the whole cockpit and ripped our sprayhood. We made it to an anchorage outside a marina and got shelter there. Both rips - on the sail and the sprayhood turned out to be on the seam, making the repair much easier as patching wasn’t necessary. We ended up repairing the sail ourselves by hand as it wasn’t too big. We could probably have repaired the sprayhood ourselves as well, but we decided to pay a sailmaker to improve the reinforcements on it. Our contact for this was actually down to a German yacht we had met in Lanzarote seeing what had happened on the microblog on our tracker and contacting us to say that they had been given the details of an Italian sailmaker in Gran Canaria by another yacht - would we like it? Yes we would! The sailmaker did a great job and our sprayhood is now hopefully even stronger than it was before. We managed to negotiate with the marina to hop from berth to berth while the owners were away so that we could manage things a bit more easily. One of these was being able to plug in our hot knife to mains power which allows us to cut fabric without it fraying. Another was to do a big stock up - enough food to cross the Atlantic - a lot easier from a marina than bringing it all in the dinghy. Thirdly, to take Chocolate Cat to the vet more easily.

We were considering whether to still go to Cape Verde first or try to leave straight from Gran Canaria to cross the Atlantic. One of the reasons we had wanted to go to Cape Verde was because of our passports. Our visas only allow us to stay in the European Union for 90 days. This expired on 28 November. This means that we are technically illegally in Europe. Obviously we had important safety reasons for remaining in Europe - firstly the steering cables breaking and then the rip in the sail. Maritime immigration authorities are supposedly much more flexible on you outstaying your time due to reasons like this, which can also include weather conditions suitable for leaving as well. Multiple people had reassured us that it wouldn’t be an issue - in Europe. Getting our exit stamp was important though, not for Cape Verde, but for the Caribbean where they are apparently very strict about seeing your exit stamp in your passport from the previous port. In Lanzarote, the marina manager who had an English wife told us that the immigration authorities there wouldn’t stamp our passports if we had overstayed and it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. So we decided that going to Cape Verde first where we could get an entry and exit stamp that would satisfy the officials in the Caribbean would be a safer bet. As we had come back to Gran Canaria though, we thought we would chance it and see if we could get our passports stamped here instead. We jumped on two buses to the capital of Las Palmas. It took two hours to get there. We weren’t expecting any luck, but they stamped our passports. What a relief, now we had the choice of going to Cape Verde or straight onwards to the Caribbean.

We had another consideration though - Chocolate Cat. We had taken him to the vet in Lanzarote as he had been scratching his mouth, particularly after eating. The vet had diagnosed a mouth infection and given him antibiotics, painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She said to take him to a vet in 10-14 days to do further investigation to see if there was an underlying cause of the infection. Nine days later though he was still scratching. I called my friend Jaimie in the UK, who is a vet. “Do NOT cross the Atlantic until you know exactly what is wrong with him,” she said. “If he stops eating then you could end up with a dead cat.” The next day we took him to a vet in Gran Canaria. It’s the only vet I’ve ever visited where the receptionist takes their three impeccably well-behaved and stylishly dressed dogs to work and where there are two cats living in the surgery. One was a former stray who had been brought in with breathing difficulties. It turned out to be pregnant with seven kittens. All of them lived and were given away but the cat wanted to stay. The second cat was another stray who was handed in with its eyeballs hanging out. The eyeballs were reattached, but the cats is, of course blind and lives at the surgery. This cat was ridiculously friendly and jumped up into my lap to be stroked. The passion for animals was evident through the receptionist’s telling of these animals’ stories.

The vet seemed to think the problem with Chocolate was a skin allergy rather than something wrong with his teeth as he was scratching both sides of the mouth. He does have a history of skin allergies, so this is possible. She also took a sample from his ears, which he also scratches (and always has done) to see if they were infected. She gave him steroids and anti-inflammatories to treat the skin, but said if it doesn’t clear up then he would need a dental x-ray to see if the problem is in his teeth instead. We had to return the next day to get the results of the ear samples to see if he needed treatment for his ears as well. It turns out he does have an ear infection. He was also given tablets for skin allergies. He seems well in himself, his temperature was normal, his weight is stable, he’s eating well (he has a new diet of soft food) and he seems as lively as usual. However, I heeded Jaimie’s words, that cats can go downhill very quickly. We were debating whether to go to Cape Verde so that we could reassess if the skin has healed and the treatment has worked, or to take him to another vet there for investigation for his teeth before we cross the Atlantic. From there, the crossing should only take three weeks rather than four. However, the vet said that given his age - he is twelve and a half and the fact the steroids could cause a stomach upset, it would be better not to take him on a week long boat trip. I had also read that there can be problems with obtaining medicines in Cape Verde, so presumably the same can be true of vets. The vet said they would be able to tell after five days if he was responding to the skin treatment and if so, we could then leave. If not, then they would give him a dental x-ray. So we are staying at least another five days in Gran Canaria at anchor.

It’s coming up to the seven year anniversary of adopting Chocolate and his sister Suki. My stepdad’s sister Clare was moving in with her partner Richard to a flat where pets were not permitted. She was going to sneak in Suki and Chocolate’s older cousin, Rory, who was twelve, but Suki and Chocolate who were aged five and a half would have to go to a shelter if a home couldn’t be found for them. My stepdad Andy mentioned this on Christmas day. Luciano and I were both firmly in the ‘dog people’ camp, like our families, but agreed to go round and see them on Boxing Day. All three of the cats were British Exotics, with dense short fur and distinctive round faces and huge eyes. Rory was a beautiful striped cat, who was so friendly he just came straight up to us. After a bit of coaxing, Suki came to say hello too. Chocolate hid under the bed and would not come out. We were very disappointed that Rory was not one of the cats up for adoption. We weren’t too sure - as vegans we didn’t want cats bringing in half-dead wild animals or half-eaten bowls of meat lying around. We were reassured on both counts - the cats were super gentle and didn’t hunt and they only ate dried food. Suki seemed like a nice cat and out of pity we also decided to take Chocolate as well. When we tried to put them in a cardboard box to bring them home with us, Chocolate shat on Luciano’s hand. A scrawny thing and terrified, we didn’t hold out high hopes for him as a pet.

Adopting them turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made. True to her word, they don’t hunt. Chocolate blossomed into a super friendly cat with the personality of a dog, following you around the house and extremely affectionate. Suki is the adventurous one, enjoying spending time outside. We weren’t sure about whether to bring them on the boat. We were obviously worried about stress, but either way they would have stress as they would have to move to a new place with new owners if they didn’t come with us; they knew the boat and us. They are older, so were already spending less and less time outside in the garden, especially in the winter. On a boat they would have warmer weather, which cats prefer and always lots of nature to look at. Plus there are lots of nooks and crannies on a boat and places to jump. Not to mention the long history of cats on sailing ships, fulfilling the important job of protecting the ship’s supplies from pests. This suggested that cats could be well suited to life on a boat.

My friend Jaimie did a huge amount of research, which has been really helpful. You are probably wondering how we take care of the cats onboard. Firstly, the litter tray. We invested in a new type of litter tray which separates the liquids from the solids. The litter only needs to be changed once a month and it comes in much smaller bags. Basically the urine drips down into an absorbent pad on a lower tray. We really need the absorbent pads due to the rocking on the boat, but were worried about the plastic waste. Luckily we have managed to find pads made from bamboo. The litter pellets dry the solids and we discard these - overboard in toilet paper if we are at sea, or in compostable bags if we have access to the shore - eg at anchor or in a marina. The cats have their own bathroom where their litter tray lives. This new tray has meant we can carry twelve bags of litter - enough for a year without it taking up much space. We carry lots of cat food and treats - their favourite types. Cat food is easily available everywhere we have been so far, but they are quite fussy as to brand - they only eat two brands of dry food and one brand of treats so we wanted to take plenty of spares in case we couldn’t get hold of what they prefer. We got a lot of medicines from our vet, including antibiotics and painkillers in case they were to get an injury or infection at sea.

One of our concerns was about whether they would sharpen their claws on the wood in the boat. At home the legs on our kitchen table were completely scratched. Very fortunately they gravitated straight towards the carpet in the bedroom as their place to scratch. They haven’t touched the wood at all. Our boat was largely chosen based on the cats! There is a little window in the rear cabin with a ledge underneath. This is where they spend a lot of their time watching all the goings on from out of the window. As they are quite old they spend most of the daytime sleeping, but like to go out on deck at night. They have adapted well to boat life and don’t appear to get seasick. Chocolate has once been sick in choppy waves, but generally they sleep while we are on passage. Their favourite time is at anchorage as they feel secure on their boat island away from people, unlike in the marina. They patrol the boat and look out with interest at the water and their surroundings. They like looking at all the lights at night. They show no interest in leaving the boat when we are in marinas. This is reassuring as many other cats leave their boats and can get lost. I think partly this is their timid personality, which is possibly due to their breed and partly their age. Cats have excellent balance, but we fitted netting around the boat as well in case they were to fall off - also handy to catch dropped tools! We’re a little nervous about the long passage across the Atlantic. So far their longest passage has been six days. However, like us, they will get used to it and once they get to the other side, they should have a nice time at anchorage. All in all, whilst we’ve had some worries with Chocolate they have so far appeared to be minor. All the vets we’ve encountered in Portugal and the Canary Islands have seemed very competent and caring and we’ve been able to pick up extra treatments we’ve needed, such as worming prevention treatment. They’ve been amazing on the journey so far; eating well, showing interest in their surroundings and showing their loving affection - stroking their soft fur is an instant stress relief.

This week's Vlog.

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Dec 18, 2021

Oh the great delays of the sailors, pleased to hear the mascot sprayhood is fixed now. Poor Choc. As an allergy sufferer I empathise 😕 and ear infections are awful. Get well soon. Looking forward to hearing about the Atlantic crossing

Dec 18, 2021
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Hopefully you won’t have to wait too much longer to hear about the Atlantic crossing!

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