Like most soon-to-be cruisers and fellow dog owners, I fantasized about life on the boat with woman’s best friend. I pictured cruising the waterways with my faithful companion, his ears flapping in the wind as he stood on the bowsprit looking down at the dolphins in the bow wave, or running ahead of me along tropical beaches at sunset. Then reality hit. My husband, Brian, and I became full-time cruisers in October 2014, and when a dog like Phinneus is in your life, the fantasy starts to become more like a bad dream.
Phinneus is a 15-year-old dapple dachshund, a pampered momma’s boy. He has long-term medical issues that require him to eat a venison-based diet. And then there is his relationship with my husband, Brian, who is not a dog person.
There are days on Scout, our Pearson Invicta yawl, when all I do is referee between Brian and Phinneus. Phinneus always wants to be where Brian is (or will be shortly) usually getting in Brian’s way. If Brian is getting ready to set or weigh the anchor, Phinneus is on the chain or bow roller or windlass. If Brian is trying to go up or down the companionway, yep, Phin is right there to trip him. And I can’t even begin to count the number of times a cup of coffee or sundowner has been spilled by a certain dachshund trying to maneuver around a certain husband. By contrast, our other dog Pickles, a Chihuahua mix, is an angel.
Up until September 30, 2014, Phinneus was a true-blue land dweller, and then it was time to move everyone on board. Scout was now sporting safety netting along the lifelines, artificial turf on the foredeck, a foldable crate under our V-berth and five bags of Phinneus’s prescription venison diet.
The easiest part of the transition was potty training, which is most cruisers’ biggest concern. Phin urinates on the boat without a problem, and of course, if Brian goes up to drop the anchor, there is a good chance Phin will follow him forward and promptly poop. Yes, you should think the worst-case scenario when this happens, and no, Brian is not happy stepping in it.
As the first few weeks passed on our journey, Phin wanted to be wherever I was. He would repeatedly make the 6ft leap from the bridgedeck into the saloon, thinking I would always be there to catch him. Guess what? The time I wasn’t there, he landed on his shoulder, and we headed off to one of the many veterinarian appointments we would make over the next 18 months. He was sentenced to cage rest with a hairline fracture, not an easy thing to do on a sailboat, but we made it happen.
By the third week of December, we had made it to Miami, the weather was warm and we were ready to get some beach time in. We took the dogs ashore on a little island at the entrance to Marine Stadium to enjoy a little R&R. How much trouble could a dog get into in 10 minutes on a deserted island?
Two days later, we were enjoying a cup of coffee on deck when Brian asked what happened up on the bow of the boat. Phinneus had vomited everywhere, and by the end of the day, he was lethargic. He didn’t even want to go in the dinghy for a ride ashore. This was when we were introduced to Miami Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Service.
We had just decided our boat should have a watermaker if we were going to the Bahamas and beyond. Brian had done the research, and we were ready to order the $4,000 desalinator before we left for the islands. Then the emergency center called. An ultrasound had detected a foreign object in Phinneus’s belly and yes, surgery was necessary. The estimate for this adventure was—you guessed it—$4,000! Brian made sure that I knew I would be responsible for getting water wherever we were in the islands, I gave the OK for the surgery, and a 3in baby coconut was removed from Phinneus. At this point, Phinneus’s nickname became “The Watermaker.” In fact, last winter in Marathon, a couple we had met earlier couldn’t remember Phinneus’s actual name, but knew him as The Watermaker.
One day we were sailing off Cat Island in the Bahamas, and I caught a fish. The dogs were put below while Brian cleaned the fish and then the decks. The slop bucket was put near the stern. When the dogs were brought back on deck, Phinneus smelled food. He went crazy, circling the deck trying to figure out if he could sample this snack. The next thing we knew, he put his front paws on the bucket and somehow was catapulted into the water.
It was blowing 20 knots, and we could barely see over the next wave. We searched for about 10 minutes without any luck. At this point, I was hysterical and Brian was trying to come to grips with telling me we probably would not find Phinneus. All of a sudden I saw him three waves away, swimming his heart out. I was able to scoop him up with the fish net, so the story had a happy ending—but it could have been just the opposite. Brian summed it up best in his Facebook post that night: “My best guess is Neptune knew what kind of dog he was and spit him back at us.”
It has been an interesting journey for all of us, but even after all of his misadventures, I wouldn’t change the past three years with Phinneus as part of our canine crew. He still makes me smile, gives great hugs and is the best cuddler when the sea conditions are bad and I am stressed out. If you run into us along the waterways, don’t ask Brian if he would change the status of our canine crew—he would have a very lengthy reply for you! But dogs have added adventure to our travels, and isn’t that what all cruisers want in life?
Photos by Tara Flanagan