Ship’s Kittens Update

By Tammy Moreland

When I found out last April in Lunenburg that we (supposedly) weren’t permitted to bring our family’s kitties, Ralphie and Tigress, on board Picton Castle for this voyage due to regulations in the Galapagos Islands (which turned out to be incorrect, after all) I was heartbroken. Not only would we be separated from our pets for over a year, but we were left scrambling to find loving foster homes for them, too. I was really bummed, Dawson was bummed, and the crew were bummed, too.  They looked forward to having the cats on board to cuddle and play with.

Having a ship’s cat has been a part of Picton Castle history since before she became a sailing vessel, starting with Micky and Ficky, acquired in Ipswich, England when the ship was being brought to North America all those years ago to be refitted as a sailing ship. Then came Chibley for the first world voyage, our most famous kitty, who sailed hundreds of thousands of miles or more through five world voyages, a European voyage, and countless tall ship events. For 15 years she pawed the decks of our beloved ship and is greatly missed to this day by those of us fortunate to sail with her. It sure was something special to come down and find her snoozing happily in your bunk, and you’d find yourself contorting your body around her just to keep her there.

Next came George, a spirited, rather feral young southern boy from Savannah, Georgia, who was lots of fun (and a little bit crazy), followed by Fiji and Suva who joined us, you guessed it, in Suva, Fiji. Tigress and Fiji sailed with us on our most recent world voyage but when 2020 hit and with no crew left onboard to care for her, Fiji went on to sail aboard the beautiful Maine windjammer, Victory Chimes, with new owner and former Picton Castle mate and relief skipper, Sam Sikkema. She, being a ship’s cat, naturally needed a ship home. And the big schooner signed on a seriously salty seagoing kitty cat, too! Fiji is still sailing with Captain Sikkema, now aboard the schooner Grace Bailey.

Yep, a ship’s cat has always been a steady constant on board our beautiful barque and to sail without one (or two) feels just wrong. Thus, I knew it wouldn’t be too long before we’d have another on board, especially since our crew had been asking for one almost since the day the ship sailed from Lunenburg. I figured maybe in Tahiti or Fiji, again, we’d find us another suitable candidate. 

However, when Rachel came to me and told me that there was an adorable little tortoiseshell kitten at the tattoo place right there in Mangareva possibly looking for a home, it definitely piqued my interest. I mean, It couldn’t hurt to check it out, right? And, indeed, when I saw her and then she fell asleep purring on my lap, I was smitten. And Roberto had no problem giving her up, either. She wasn’t his cat anyway, she had just wandered in recently, along with Riki and another kitten a few months older than them. Then my husband saw the other kitten, too, a handsome black and white tuxedo, who was/is just as sweet and affectionate and it was next to impossible to choose between the two. Ergo, voila!, we now have two ship’s kitties, appropriately named Riki and Tea after the main town of Rikitea on the island of Mangareva.

After about a week onboard, our kitties have settled in nicely. Keeping them in the superstructure in the Captain’s mess gave them a small space to adjust and to keep them safe while alongside the wharf. It didn’t take them long to realize that they would be regularly fed and so their feeding, at first quite frenzied, has calmed down considerably, although they’re quick to vocalize rather loudly when they want food. They were so hungry when we brought them onboard, and quite scrawny, that they’d eat whatever we put in front of them (pate, anyone?). Now, they seem most content with kitten kibble that, thankfully, I found in a store, and canned tuna, and have filled out considerably since that first day.  A much-needed bath made their coats nice and shiny-soft and also helped to get rid of most of the fleas, although a few still remain. We’ll get them suckers taken care of in Tahiti. Thanks to George for helping me with that chore! We didn’t have too many battle scars in the end.

They also had no trouble learning to use a litter box, despite never having seen one before (well, Tea had a few “hiccups” leading to the sacrifice of the carpet in my cabin, but Riki was a natural – it’s all good now, though). Must be a luxury for a cat to use south seas coral sand in the cat box, no?

Once we left the dock in Mangareva and went out to anchor I decided to open the door to the messroom and see what happened. Turns out Riki, who had been so desperate to get out before, suddenly realized that he didn’t want to leave the safety of his new “home”. He was happy hanging out there and crawling into the hole in the bench when he felt scared. Tea, on the other hand, while being the much smaller of the two, bravely allowed herself to be taken out into my cabin, where another kitty bed has been made on the settee, and the Captain’s cabin next door. Slowly, over the course of the week, though, they’ve both made their way out, investigating the head, the passagway and cabins, and even down into the Batcave. Mate Dustin, who lives in one of the aft cabins, came to me rather excitedly this afternoon to tell me that Riki had slept on his pillow for a spell last night, and Rachel had him curled up in her bunk in the Batcave, as well. Yup, they’re quickly learning that this here rocking house has plenty of soft places to sleep and a lot of hands to scratch heads and give them much wanted attention. And its lots of fun to hear them at night scooting up and down the companionway chasing each other and goofing off in true kitten fashion. They play-fight quite a bit, but as small as she is, Tea can give as good as she gets!

Occasionally they’ll sit on the sill of the watertight door and take a look at the much larger world outside their domain, and just today, Riki found the courage to climb the indoor charthouse stairs and explore the charthouse and office. Dirk took him out onto the quarterdeck for a look around but he wasn’t quite ready for that and quickly scooted back inside. Eventually, he found a nice sunny place to hang out and groom himself on the chart table. As his confidence grows, he comes and goes much more and shies away less and less.  Tea will come out if you carry her, but she’s not quite as comfortable, yet, to stay in this foreign world above the messroom. I’m happy about that, they’re still quite small and would easily fit through the holes in the scuppers. She is brave, not foolish, and she looks at the world through wide, serious yellow-green eyes.

Yeah, these two, lovable, sweet, playful yet circumspect little bundles of fur have, indeed, already stolen our hearts and the crew are impatient for them to be out and about mixing it up even more. I have no doubt that in no time they’ll be climbing the fife rails, playing in the sails on the quarterdeck, running wildly about the ship and having the time of their lives. So far, they’ve adapted beautifully (a good thing about street cats) and easily, with a good amount of smarts, too. Their adventure is just beginning. Stay tuned for more on the adventures of the new Picton Castle kitties.

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