Dispatch #3 - Sailing family grieves loss of pet
We’ve been slowly making our way down Lake Champlain after leaving Canada for New York State. It wasn’t Nova Scotia, and we weren’t on the ocean, but I couldn’t help breaking into a rousing (from my perspective, anyway) rendition of Farewell to Nova Scotia as we waved goodbye to Canada for at least the next three years.
At Plattsburgh we experienced our first really uncomfortable night at anchor, with the boat rolling unpleasantly for most of the night. The kids didn’t notice it, but Herbert and I both woke up repeatedly, worrying about whether we had dragged our anchor.
Wanting to get out as early as possible, we set off early on an intemperately cold morning and found that the wind, blowing at 30 knots, made our progress slower and wetter than we expected. As Northern Magic bucked and rolled, beating into the waves, whoever was on deck was drenched every fourth or fifth wave by freezing cold spray.
Normally, one-metre waves wouldn’t faze us. However, these ones, sharp and close together, did. Every time we ploughed off the top of a big wave and buried our bow into the next one, our two huge masts, which are lashed rather precariously to our decks, shifted ominously back and forth. The last thing we needed was to lose our spars in the middle of Lake Champlain, so we sought refuge in a small harbour and winched them down more securely before continuing.
The going between Plattsburgh and Burlington was especially rough, and I baked a big batch of Aunt Linda’s Excellent Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies in celebration of an important milestone - the first official bout of seasickness, experienced simultaneously by Michael and Christopher.
Happily, the weather improved and we ended up having a beautiful, bracing day crossing Lake Champlain. It was a much-needed upbeat ending to a week that mainly will be remembered with sadness.
When we decided to make the trip, we knew that we would face and overcome many times of hardship, but we didn’t expect the first one to happen so soon, for we have lost our wonderful little cat, Fluffy.
We had already undergone months of soul-searching and agonizing over the question of whether to bring Fluffy on the trip. Although cats are common enough on long-distance cruising boats, there were a million logical reasons not to bring her: the danger of her running off or being washed overboard, quarantine problems; the space we would need to store her food; and of course, the question of her litter.
Yet we all loved the little cat we had rescued from abandonment two years ago, and we just couldn’t bear to give her up. There also seemed to be something healthy about the children having a little furry friend with which to share their good and bad times. In particular for Michael, who was having the most trouble parting from his friends, and who was most attached to this affectionate little grey ball of fur, bringing Fluffy seemed to be the right solution. Somehow, we just couldn’t rip Michael away from everything he loved. So the decision was made, unmade and remade a score of times, before Fluffy finally became our ship’s cat.
Fluffy appeared to love living aboard and spent most of her time below decks purring and hiding in little cupboards. She rarely left the interior of the boat, usually only going on deck in the evening, and then not for long.
She was an indoor cat, and unaccustomed to the outdoors, something we thought would help keep her close to the boat. We were sadly wrong.
In Saint-Denis, Quebec, she disappeared from our boat one evening while we were tied up at the high concrete wall of the public dock. We searched for her for two and a half days, biking, jogging and walking throughout the town calling her name and showing her picture to strangers.
But Fluffy had disappeared without a trace. Finally the terrible moment arrived when we had to face the fact that we were going to leave without her. We went for one last long walk, plaintively calling out her name every few feet, but it was in vain.
Tearfully, we gave up the search, boarded our boat, and cast off, the children still hopefully scanning the shoreline with binoculars and occasional desperate shouts of "I think I see her!"
Once off, I made a big batch of popcorn and broke into my secret supply of Magic Cards in an attempt to get the children’s minds off their loss. But many tears have been shed, and each child has spent time gazing longingly at a picture of Fluffy taken just before we moved onto the boat. Herbert and I each lost a night’s sleep in anguish over Fluffy’s probable fate and the pain this has brought to our children.
We have all prayed for our little friend in the hope that she is still alive and has found a nice farm where she can live, or perhaps that someone will still contact us through the address tag she wore or the notice we left at a depanneur.
But as we left her behind and headed for the Chambly locks and onward to Lake Champlain, it was with tremendous sadness that our ultimately selfish decision to bring her was possibly made at the cost of her life.
As Jonathan wrote a few days later in a letter to his grandma and grandpa in Calgary, "We left without Fluffy, but with a lot of grief."