Meet Paul Thompson and his shipmate, Skatty … a pedigree polydactyl Maine Coon. Their story takes place in Auckland, New Zealand where Thompson, who has spent years building his own boat, plans to sail the world with his feline friend. Pretty remarkable under any circumstance, but even more so when we found out that Paul is completely deaf.
By training Thompson is a naval architect (small craft) and boat builder, but has spent a large portion of his working life in the IT industry as an applications developer. We were curious as to what promoted such a monumental decision. Turns out it started as a friendly bet over four years ago when Thompson’s brother-in-law one day said to him, ”Paul, you’re always talking about building a boat and going sailing, but you never do anything … I bet you a dinner at any restaurant of your choice that you will not have started building the boat by the end of this year.”
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The boat (named La Chica) is a 32 ft long steel double ended junk rigged sailing boat that Thompson claims has been described as a Land Rover of the Sea. Pretty impressive handiwork Paul!
Thompson, took it as a challenge and spent the next four and half years building his boat. He jokingly remarked, “If anybody had told me how hard it was going to be, I would have bought my bother-in-law his dinner.” On a serious note he adds, “If I didn’t do it, I’d live the rest of my life regretting it.”
Paul adopted Skatty when he was 14 weeks of age. We asked Paul about the inspiration for his cats name. Turns out Skatty’s full name is actually “Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpawz.” Skattebol (or Skatty for short) is a term of endearment and it means my darling or my treasure in Afrikaans (Paul’s second language) as well as in Dutch and Danish. Strauss was the name the breeder gave him as he was part of her Austrian litter (with a father named Van’Yar ). The breeders name is RebelPawz and under cat fancy rules you must include the breeder name as part of the registration. Thompson adds, “I wanted to pull all the pieces together in way that kept everyone happy and followed the cat fancy rules. The ‘von’ did that in an elegant manner and when Skatty is fully grown, he should be quite a regal looking cat and the name should fit purr-fectly.”
As we noted earlier, Paul is totally deaf, and Skatty is his ears. What’s quite remarkable, is that without any training, Skatty quickly understood Paul’s inability to hear, and lets him know if a boat comes alongside, if people are at his door (ashore) and whenever his phone receives text messages. He also wakes him up every morning at 5.30am on the do. Now that’s what we call a Feline First Mate! =^..^=
With a tone of true love and admiration, Thompson says, “When people come alongside, or other boats go past, as soon as that happens he’s alert, looking around, and if he knows the boat he’ll even come outside.” “For me this is wonderful, because I sit down below, and basically I’m completely oblivious to what’s happening on deck.”
Apart from the boat, Thompson takes Skatty just about everywhere, to restaurants (that allow pets), to the library, and to his office. Skatty loves people and in addition to nautical training, he is also being trained as a therapy cat as Paul plans to bring him to visit the elderly at seniors homes and hospices to share the love.
Q: How old is Skatty and how long have you had him?
Skatty is now 8 months and I’ve had him for 4 of those months.
Q: Have you decided when the ‘around-the-world’ journey will start?
Next year sometime. As I’ve not yet committed to a route, I don’t yet know exactly when we’ll start but it will either be around April if we go west about or November if we go east about.
Q: Once you start – how long do you expect the journey will take?
Depends on how many stops we make but anything from 9 months to 5 years.
Q: We’re assuming Skatty is very comfortable on board and has solid ‘sea legs’…yes?
Not yet, Skatty is still very much in learning mode but by the end of the NZ summer we should have made a sea-cat of him. 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 gotten 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.
Q: What’s the longest you’ve been out at sea with Skatty?
The longest actual nonstop time under sail has been two days to date but he has lived aboard for up to six weeks in one period.
Q: What’s your biggest concern (if any)?
Losing him over the side but it’s a risk that I have to live with.
Q: Does Skatty swim?
He does but I don’t have a photo yet and as the water is rather cold now, it will have to wait for the summer. Skatty is intensely interested in anything that is water related. If I fill a dish with water at the office, (or just the sink) he’ll happily play in it for hours on some days.
Q: Has Skatty ever fallen in accidentally?
Yes, once to date, 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. He was in the water for about 2 minutes and it was cold, it took about 2 hours of TLC & warmth for him to recover and he was somewhat subdued for the rest of the day. He was never in any danger as I was watching him all the time but some things a cat has to learn the hard way. I am now however making some changes so as to make the boat safer for him.
Paul admits that, “Having a cat on board forces you to slow down and take life at your cats pace. Invariably that is a good thing as we are all far to busy rushing around. 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.”
Following are some more wonderful photos of Skatty feeling right at home on La Chica and getting ready for his trip of a lifetime. Keep reading =>