Boat Cats. Fishermen. Heaven.

28 11 2012

Some of you know my weaknesses.

Pie. Baked treats in general. Delightfully patterned socks. Pens, paper, empty notebooks waiting to be filled. Fabric. Crafty people. Books. Bread and cheese. Those one-size-fit-all stretchy gloves. Handwritten cards. Bandannas. Funky coffee shops. Bad pop music. Good tattoos. Coconut ice cream. Ravens – all of the corvids, really. Squirrels.

(Joel interjects here that I have a particular fondness for the creatures most people view as pests, “including humans.” It’s true: the outcasts have a friend in me. We recognize our own.)

And boat cats.

Regular Hooked readers know Bear, but my boat cat history dates back to 1984. My parents launched the sailboat they’d been building in the backyard, sold the vet clinic that was both home and livelihood, found a new human for our two black Labs, and packed everything else into a 40-foot van. Everything, that is, except for Yacky.

This Siamese came to us as a client. His humans brought him in for a urinary blockage, then elected to have him put to sleep, rather than pay for the treatment. “Well, if you don’t want him, can I have him?” my mom asked. Successfully flushed out, he never had a problem again.

When the Askari splashed, Yacky came with us. I suppose my parents figured we had room enough for a cat that didn’t move much. Probably the ensuing years of transience weren’t a lot of fun for Yacky – sailboat, house, broken-down motorhome, different house, new boat, dragged along with every bi-annual migration. Somehow he lived to be 18, quietly dying aboard the Willie Lee II in 1995, my mom and I both at his furry side.

Thanks to those origins, boats and cats are inextricably linked in my mind. How can you go to sea without a kitty to snuggle? Who’ll you talk to when you’re 40 miles offshore, tired of your shipmate, and not going back to land for another few weeks? Who’ll be the boat’s chief morale officer?

(In 2005, I struggled to decide if I’d continue crewing for my “brother” Marlin, or jump ship to work with Joel. A major negotiating chip was who’d be the first to get a boat cat. Those two know me awfully well.)

Someone else does, too. My friend sweet wirkman sent me a link today. “Cat Heaven Island in Japan.”   Photographer Fubirai spent over five years documenting the semi-feral felines, cared for by local fishermen. They’re stunning photos. I swooned. (After some anxiety over the spay/neuter/vaccination services. A commenter claims such a program has been in place for years, and I’m choosing to believe that’s so.)

By Fubirai, from Buzzfeed

I’d planned to spend tonight practicing for a Fisher Poets performance that’s in 15 hours, but cats on the interwebs have completely derailed me. If that happens to you periodically too, don’t miss these 50 gorgeous photos. Let me know your favorites. I’m calling 2, 4, 10, 13, 16, 20 – oh, just go see for yourself.

(Also, the story claims that the soundtrack is “optional.” If you grew up in the Eighties, it’s most definitely NOT. As sweet wirkman advised me, “play the optional soundtrack.”)

And because I just can’t help myself, here’s a video of TWO of my favorite things, together.

I know some of Hooked’s regulars have their own boat cat stories. Have at it, friends – I’d love to hear about your seafaring felines. (Joel K, I’m lookin’ at you, sir…) And because we’re about inclusivity here, ocean-going dogs are welcome, too. Who’s your vessel’s chief morale officer?



12 responses

29 11 2012
Lisa W. Rosenberg

Hi Tele, Haven’t been around a while, but I’m so glad I stopped by today. I love these stories (and photo and video), they remind me of the Fisherman Cat book I used to read my kids (I don’t remember the author). I can’t think of a better place for a cat than a boat!
My cat used to talk to the sparrows on our balcony all the time, only she’d seem so hysterical every time she saw them: “Mah-hah-hah-hah!” So funny.
Hope you are doing well,


2 12 2012

Nice timing for your visit, Lisa. I totally know the book you’re talking about, and Joel’s mom used to read it to him and his sister, too. I’m impressed with how many folks know that one.

It’s also been a while for me since I’ve visited some of my favorite blogging friends. I just learned about your fire, and am SO sorry for the losses and trauma, while deeply grateful that your family wasn’t there. I’ll be keeping you in my best thoughts through what comes next, and send hugs. Be well, my friend.

29 11 2012

My cats chirp although they are not lucky enough to be on a boat or free-roaming on an island in Japan. One is a tree cat, a climber, who talks loudly and often. The other is a fluffy stealth hunter, who never meows (except once when she meowed loudly to alert us to the fact that she was stuck).

I can’t resist but check if you’ve heard of the live kitten cam which was all over twitter ( I find it fascinating that at any given moment there are thousands of people watching this live feed of some cute kitties in a room. Nature in all its forms now seems to need to be framed on a screen for some to see it! I admit I’ve checked in to see them, although I would much prefer a live cam of boat cats or island cats!

5 12 2012

Oh man, T… I’ve not yet seen the foster kitten cam, and am going to very carefully step away from the computer here before I can click on it. I have some big projects yet to finish today, and have a pretty good idea of what a worm hole that will be for me! Thanks for providing the reward for when I get done.

“Nature in all its forms now seems to need to be framed on a screen for some to see it.” Indeed, and well said. I watched a live salmon stream cam earlier this fall, with the bears, eagles and ravens wandering in and out of the frames. That’s one of the thematic questions in my memoir: how do we exist within the wild places – in nature, in ourselves – without needing to tidy them up, sanitize them, control and contain them?

Also – nice winter redecorating on your site! I like the images as banners.

29 11 2012

These are just too great!! 25 and 45 have to be my favorites. Interesting we saw cats with the ear and tail configurations in Malaysia a few years ago, I’ve never seen any with the deformations these cats had in north america…

5 12 2012

Oh, I bet you have some great observations of cats worldwide, Elise! When Joel and I were in Tunisia, I was in love with all of the semi-feral cats – but they wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. And I think they were generally viewed as pests, nowhere near as shiny and well-fed as these beauties. Cat Heaven Island, indeed.

Hugs to you and all!

29 11 2012

Tele, that was just too much fun! I loved Bears admonitions to the crows and 50 fab cat photos (music included) were a lovely break from editing. I started picking too and then realized they were all too special. #10 though … there’s a character! There’ll be no combing that coat though – get out the shaver! How did the performance go? Video please!

5 12 2012

Happy to have provided a little distraction from editing, Patricia – and good on you that you’re at the editing stage! I’m eager to hear how your work is going. The performance was okay… A small, supportive audience (heavily salted with familiar friendly faces) and a story I hadn’t told before… Not quite as smooth as I’d like to read (something about less focused rehearsal the night before!) but a good time and my co-readers were wonderful. There *might* be video at some point – have to see if a friend’s camera caught it all.

Keep on keeping on, my friend! You’re an inspiration.

3 12 2012
Karolee Joel

Hi Tele, it was nice seeing you in person at Expo. Great story and well told!

Do you remember Spike? He came with his mom, my gf at the time. Spike wasn’t born to be a boat cat – he’d be the first to tell you that. But he was very brave about it all and provided the comfort you speak of while at sea for his mom. His mom and I were frequently at odds, a situation I take the blame for. She wasn’t a born to be a boat girl although she was more than brave about the situation.

Spike quickly got over sea sickness, although it took a good puke into my sleeping bag to cure him. After that he just burrowed into the corner of the day bunk and thought about sunny fields of grass populated by succulent mice and slowish birds. Spike never got into the raw salmon heart thing that young boat cats do, he was all about crunchy hard food and occasional snack of left over salmon.

He needed his walks when we got to port. He would go off after dark and come in some time after closing time, a little wet and tired, urge to roam sated, sometimes a little scratched up but never defeated. He always made it back to the boat in time to take off in the morning, unlike the archetypical deck hand. Even in ports new to him, Pelican and Hoonah, his nocturnal adventures never kept him from finding the boat again.

His whole world was his mom. The bond between the two was as tight as if she were his biological mother. When she was gone he was always a bit downcast and ate sparingly, and slept a lot. One fall his mom had to fly back to Sitka from Yakutat and Spike and I finished cohos alone. I could tell he wasn’t happy, he hardly snuggled, and never came close to purring. When we finally returned to Sitka and he to his mom, the spark came back to his eyes.

A few years later his mom and I parted for good. Spike is now feline history, loved in memory and greatly missed. And his mom… I wish her well.

5 12 2012

I knew I could count on you, Joel. You’re SUCH a good storyteller, anyway; focus on cats and I should’ve just invited you to write this post. There’s the engaging surface story, and then the deeper, broader reflection beneath – beautiful, poignant, and utterly gracious. Thank you.

And I do remember Spike. Sounds like he and Bear were kindred spirits (though she still wouldn’t have wanted to be friends.) No fish hearts for her, either, and her boat world existence almost completely bound to that corner of the day bunk. No interest in the deck happenings at all – which is just fine. 🙂

If you’re around Port Townsend tomorrow night, check out the Sea Shanties with Dano Quinn, 6:00 – 8:30, 620 Tyler St. Think there’ll be some familiar trollers in the audience…

4 12 2012
Eric Jordan

I asked a friend who was at fish expo this year what he thought the highlight of the show was this year. He said your poetry reading.
I just read the article about your feelings after finding the tote with a fisherman in it. As a person who is familiar with writing about trolling, my mother, Marilyn Jordan George, was an award winning author and her four part series, “Trolling Poles” written in 1946 is an Alaska Sportsman Magazine classic, I must say your writing is exceptional. The words you put together to evoke the feelings most of us experience but could never articulate the way you manage are a true gift to our fleet and all your readers. I love the contrast between the lighthearted stories about the boat cats with the previously mentioned feelings about survival.
I grew up with boat cats, my dad loved them and so did I. I had a cat named “Scout” that loved salmon hearts, but would only eat them if he snagged them on the fly with his paw. He also loved riding on the wooden poles about where the stabie was attached. He ran away in Tenakee one fall. Some of my pictures are posted on the salmon trollers forum, including one of scout on the pole.

Thank you,


5 12 2012

Many thanks, Eric – I’m always glad to hear your thoughts, and appreciate your support. Your mom’s book is one of the many on my “to-read” stack! I’m afraid that your friend was overly generous about my expo reading… Got so distracted with this fun cat stuff the night before that I didn’t prepare as well as I like to, but it was a good time and I’m glad your friend enjoyed himself. My fellow performers, Dano Quinn, Pat Dixon, and Abigail Culkin, were fantastic.

Scout sounds like quite a furry character. That pole riding would make me so nervous, but I’ve heard similar stories from Mike and Tim Quandt, about growing up on the Angelique with a fearless boat cat. I didn’t see Scout’s photo on the troll forum, but a lot of other fantastic images from your archives. Love the kids in the skiff, tied to the boat for safe keeping – and have a similar photo of myself at that age!

Hope you’re having a good winter, Eric. Thanks again, and best wishes to you and yours.

(Friends, if you’d like to see some wonderful photos of Southeast Alaskan trolling through many generations – families, boats, wildlife, remarkable scenery – please visit

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