Cat Tales - Three Quick Stories

While in Salvador, Brazil we ran into a fellow American named Dan Jelsema. Dan left Michigan thirteen years ago. He was in a 20 foot boat and was sixteen years old at the time. Dan told us several interesting stories over a few beers. Here are three of them:


When Dan arrived in Hout Bay, South Africa his wallet was pretty thin, but he had a friend. This friend did what he could to help Dan out, but eventually got him kicked out of the marina. The friend was his cat. It seems the cat understood Dan's situation and became quite an accomplished thief, picking up bits of food from other boats and local shops and bringing them back to Dan's boat. The extra food was a welcome addition to Dan's diet. One time it showed up with a whole roasted chicken, still in the foil lined bag. The regular disappearance of food eventually caused quite an uproar in the marina. Dan and a few other friends who were in the know kept quiet while people speculated that it might be rats stealing the food. Then one day the cat was caught red handed, and the mystery was over. While some might be willing to overlook the minor crimes of a well intentioned feline, the marina manager was not one of these people. It seems that there was all ready bad blood between the two. The cat had a dislike for this particular person and had made a habit of using his boat as a litter box, so there was no mercy. Dan and the cat were kicked out of the marina. They tied up along the fishing boats in the harbor. Of course moving the boat a hundred feet did little to discourage the cat, who continued to supplement Dan's diet until Dan picked up some work. Once Dan's fortunes improved, the cat took off. I guess she figured her work was done. Most of the people in the marina were happy when the food stopped disappearing. The marina manager, on the other hand, was still upset. It seems that he still found regular "gifts" on his deck.


The old cat had been hanging around the Simonstown marina for years and years. Sometimes when an animal does not belong to anyone in particular, it seems to belong to everyone. Such was the case with this cat. Then one day he made the mistake of entering a large aluminum mast laying on its side in the marina work yard. Going in must have been pretty easy, but once it reached the top there was nowhere left to go. Soon it's loud meows attracted a crowd. There was a lot of head scratching but no obvious, easy way to get the cat out. A day went by. People started passing food and water thought the small spaces where the main and jib halyards pass over their sheaves. While the cat was stuck, it seemed that it was not in immediate danger of dying. A couple more days passed. Someone suggested cutting the end off the mast, but the owner of the mast was dead set against that solution. Despite increasing pressure, he stood firm. After a few more days the television crew was on the scene. The town rallied, but still no solution was found. Then the navy stepped in. Simonstown is the home port for the South African navy. The right people pushed the right buttons, and soon a crane was on the scene. The mast was lifted by the top. The skilled crane operator jerked it up and down while seamen with a old bed mattress tried to stay below the open bottom of the swinging mast. After a half hour of valiant effort the crew gave up in despair. The cat remained in the mast, and it seemed more hopeless than ever. The mast was lowered back in it's original position. Then a marina workman, the old guy who did all the shit jobs, quietly suggested rolling the mast over. It was lying with the spreaders horizontal to the ground. He told them to turn it so the spreaders were up and down. Nobody could see how this would help, but it was easy to do and there were no other suggestions, so they gave it a try. A few seconds later the cat backed out of the bottom of the mast. A cheer rose up as the cat dashed for a safe hiding place, not to be seen again for several days.

Oh, you want to know why the old guy's suggestion worked? Well there is a compression post in the mast between the two spreaders. The cat could not turn around, and it was not possible for it to crawl backwards over this. A cat's hind legs just don't work that way. Once the mast was rotated so that the compression post when up and down, the cat was able to squeeze by.


Dan was sailing single-handed into Kingston harbor. Anyone who knows the place knows it can be tricky in the best of conditions. The numerous reefs have claimed more than their fair share of boats, and these were not the best of conditions. The weather was fine, but the engine wasn't working. Well, it was a sailboat, so who needs a motor, right? Oh, the rudder was busted too. That made it a little bit more interesting, demanding total concentration and a fair amount of sailing skill. A little luck wouldn't hurt either. Well, at least he wasn't alone. He had his cat along for company. That counts for something. Then suddenly all hell broke loose. There was a fishing lure hanging on the stern lifeline. It had been there for weeks, but the little cat had decided that this was the time to attack it and was now a blur of claws and fur with one of the hooks caught in his mouth. With reefs all round, the boat drifting, and the sails flapping, surgery was performed on a most uncooperative patient. In the end the cat was very unhappy but not permanently damaged, the scratches on Dan's arms did not get infected and healed pretty quickly, and the boat ended up safely tied up in the harbor. I bet that first post passage beer tasted pretty good.