Who Says a Cat Can’t Love a Dolphin?

Although there are probably a lot of people out there that dislike cats for various reasons, I’ve never met a dolphin hater.  It’s hard to hate a mammal that is so friendly and so intelligent and often goes out of it’s way to try and make contact with the likes of us – the people that dump toxic things into their waters among other crimes.  Apparently even the aloof, particular cat can’t turn down a little dolphin love.  CLICK on the link or the Header to see the video.

Dolphin and Kitty Nuzzling

Dolphin and Kitty Nuzzling

I hate to use this as a ‘can’t we all get along’ moment, but I’m going to!

Peace, Love and Sailing



Learning to Live Aboard (Drips, Cat Nip, and Heeling in Slips

I never had a clear intention of living board. I heard about those people, and I even met one occasionally, but I always wondered what kind of person would do that? Are they like the people that live in old VW vans or yurts? Are they crazy minimalists with no social skills? Where do they put their shoes?

After learning to sail about six years ago, the idea of having my own boat was always present. I perused boat porn regularly, only to talk myself out of it because it wasn’t financially responsible. A sailing club afforded me the opportunity to sail without the hassles of ownership. Despite this logic, I still squirreled money away each month into a fund named ‘boat money’. Eventually the desire to own my own boat overwhelmed my logic and I decided to start searching.

In order to afford rent and moorage I decided to downsize and find a smaller place while I looked. I found a 350 sq. ft. studio, the smallest place I have lived in since college. I started to wonder how I would feel in such a small space, and if I didn’t mind it, did that mean I might be able to live on a boat. I wasn’t actually planning on doing that, of course; it was just an experiment to see if I could. My boat search criteria changed to include amenities that I thought were necessary for living aboard instead of just weekend cruises – just in case.

I found my boat shortly after the move to the studio. I had been on dozens of different boats over the last few years but most were relatively new. The boat that captured my heart was just over 40 years old, a Challenger 32. There was nothing about the exterior that grabbed my attention, but as soon as I looked inside I knew it was the right boat. She was beamier and had more headroom than any other 32’ boat I had sailed. The head was relatively roomy the boat’s size, and there was a full galley which included a brand new refrigerator. The seating around the table made visions of parties dance through my head and the windows were quite large, letting the summer sunlight light up the interior. This would be my first boat.


At first it was a novelty to stay on board for the weekend, even if I didn’t leave the marina. Before long I started dreading going back to the apartment and I started spending week nights aboard. The dilemma was that I had a 7 year old diabetic cat that had already been recently traumatized by a move. If he stayed at the apartment, I had to drive back twice a day. If I brought him to the boat, how would he fare? Would he try to escape and fall in the water? What would I do with the litter box? If I couldn’t acclimate him to the boat, then I couldn’t live there. I decided I would just use the boat as an office and a weekend escape. Gradually tools and shoes and toiletries were quietly moved to the office. That lasted about a month.

It was time to try bringing the cat aboard for a long weekend. He stayed in the back of the quarter berth for two days before finding that under the blankets in the V berth was a more desirable place to hide. Somehow I let myself get talked into sailing on the third day and I decided it would be a great test to see how he would handle it. I feared yowling and projectile vomit but was pleasantly surprised to find neither. I bought a lot of cat nip and administered it liberally. Maybe this could actually work.


Gradually the cat became more accustomed to his new surroundings and came out from under the covers. I went to the apartment once or twice a week to check mail, but I never slept there. I was able to take a trip to the San Juans without worrying about hiring a cat sitter. It was like one big extended vacation! Eventually, the actual realities of living aboard, even with the amenities of a marina, started to appear.

I had to remember to get quarters for the shower, haul my toiletries and towel in the rain, and set a timer on my phone so I didn’t run out of water while soap was still in inconvenient places. I sometimes carried bags of laundry up the dock only to find all the machines were full or the quarter machine was empty. These were then stuffed into the car to wait for another day with the hope things didn’t get smelly.

The water tanks had to be filled regularly and I didn’t actually know how long a tank would last. I had to keep track of when I’d last gone to the pump out and I feared boat smells. I read an entire book on marine sanitation which served mostly to totally freak me out. .  I spent a lot of time sniffing compartments and peering into my bilge and other creepy places looking for potential problems. I stuck flashlights in dark crevices looking for mildew. I dreamed about calcification building up in my sanitation hoses while I slept. I bought white vinegar by the gallon jug.

I found kitty litter everywhere – in the bed, in the head, and between my toes. It occurred to me that the most inconvenient parts of living aboard were hygiene related – poop, showers and laundry. Cooking was also becoming more difficult because the alcohol stove was giving me a splitting headache. This was going to be harder than I thought.

After about 6 weeks of living aboard full time, the cat and I started to settle in. I found a new litter box system that eliminated the litter tracking issue. My learning curve started. I did my first oil change and discovered batteries had water in them that needed to be checked (who knew?). I learned that Perkins’ engines leak oil, and if they don’t, you forgot to put oil in. I created a bilge tampon from spill wipes and changing it became a habit.

I mapped my thru hulls and pumps and started a maintenance log. I learned that mistaking the diesel heater switch for the water heater switch results in a big mess if you don’t catch it quickly. I gave my holding tank a high colonic every time I pumped out. The alcohol stove was replaced with propane. I was feeling more confident and more comfortable. Then winter came.

Thru Hull Diagram

Thru Hull Diagram

During the first really big rain, I discovered that my wonderful, dry old boat was not so dry. I found one, then two, then four leaks from mysterious sources along the walls. I found water dripping down the mast into the head and the bilge pump came on more regularly. The aft water tank leaked if filled all the way. A cockpit drain came loose and I could hear the waterfall into the bilge. I could barely reach the hose clamp to fix it and looked as if I had lost a cat fight once it was fixed.

A new leak sprang from a window that’s normally protected by the dodger – except in 40 knot winds during a December storm. The hatch started to drip onto the galley counter. The boat rocked and jerked and heeled in the slip despite multiple spring line variations. I performed midnight halyard management in the rain and wore earplugs to sleep. At the pinnacle of the storm I awoke to a seasick cat anointing the bed, a sweater, a shoe, a cushion, a rug and then another cushion with half digested cat food. Thank goodness he spared the easily cleaned hardwood. I administered more cat nip and wrung out sponges and towels that were catching the drips.

When the storm subsided the big chill replaced it, with docks and decks covered in a thin layer of ice. My dinghy was an ice cube tray. I shivered despite two pair of long johns, and electric heater, a diesel heater, and a cat for warmth. I lied to my mother – “Oh, it’s a little chilly, but the boat is fine….toasty, even”. There was only one thing to do…a big roaring rant, a tantrum, a fit, complete with tears, and I did it. But, I did not go back to the apartment. I had too much mopping up to do.

Suddenly, other live aboard friends, and even friends of friends started calling, texting and emailing to check on me and give advice or offer assistance. “Get snubbers for your lines”, “Get this dehumidifier”, “Get an electric throw blanket”, “Drape a towel over the companionway hatch to keep out drafts”, “Get a tarp, but get a white or grey one so you don’t look cheap”. “Have you tried catnip?” There was even an offer of a couch in someone’s home. I was overwhelmed with gratitude at this small community that reached out to help me through my first big tough spot; perhaps they heard the rant.

I still have leaks, and it’s still cold, but I’ve found some short term ways to winterize. The boat motion is much improved with snubbers and I have a toasty electric throw blanket for my feet. I’m back to the inconveniences of hygiene with a side dish of cold rain and wind. I’ll always be on the search for mildew and smells, and I’ll always be changing the bilge tampon. I will always have to fill the water tanks and pump out.

But the other side, the side that keeps me here, is being able to take my home sailing, visiting different ports and anchorages. My office has a great view and no fluorescent lights. My porch has the best sunsets and it’s pretty easy to find a place to chill your wine without using the refrigerator (even indoors!). There’s still a lot of catnip being dispensed, but the big guy is settling in nicely. He is probably more social than he ever was in a house where it was easier to hide from visitors. I still go to the apartment once a week to check mail and to look at the shoes I never wear, and wonder where they will go when the lease runs out in a few months.


My Office



As seen in Pacific Northwest Boating News: Learning to live aboard: drips, catnip and heeling in slips | Three Sheets Northwest.

Better Litter Box for the Boat

After writing the Learning to Live Aboard article for Three Sheets NW, I received several inquiries on the litter box system that I mentioned I was using on the boat.  I initially tried a top loading regular litter box and found cat litter all over the boat, in the bed, between my toes….something had to change. Tidy Cat Breeze is a litter box that uses pellets which do not clump or absorb. The pellets are cylindrical and about1/4″-1/2″ in length.


Tidy Cat Breeze System

Tidy Cat Breeze System

The bottom of the box is slatted and there is a drawer underneath that holds an absorbent pad.  The urine goes through the litter into the pad.  I change mine about every 4-5 days for one cat.  The scoop slats are designed to let the pellets fall through so the nuggets can be sifted out easily.

Tidy Cat Breeze Pellets

Tidy Cat Breeze Pellets

The pellets are changed once per month and are about $10 for a bag (3.5#) and the pads run around $1.10 per pad if you get the 10 pack (4 pads per pack).  The pellets also come in a 7# pack if you just want more at once, but it’s also slightly less expensive to buy this way. Considering that I go through about 8 pads per month, my monthly cost is $19 – similar to regular cat litter but much more convenient, and without the hassle of carry heavy new and used litter back and forth each week. Be aware that if you don’t change a pad in time, the urine will spill out of the bottom of the box.  As long as you don’t let the pad get saturated, this should not be a problem.  Every cat will be a little different – my cat is diabetic so he uses a little more than the average cat.  Just to be on the safe side, I put a waterproof mattress cover underneath.


Black Hole Mat

Black Hole Mat

I also recommend a Black Hole Mat  under the box to catch any pellets that come out of the box. It has holes about the size of the pellets and seems to catch them well and is the best litter mat I have used so far. It’s a sleeve that you open and let the filtered litter slide out.  I keep an extra pad in this space in the event of a “miss”.  These run around $45 but are much easier to clean that other types of mats I have used and are very durable. You can chose between rectangular and round shapes.

For more info on the Tidy Cat Breeze and cats on boats, check out The Boat Galley’s articles Cat Litter on a Boat and Cat Aboard!.

Editorial note: I tried the generic pads for the letterbox that Amazon suggested, and although they look similar, they are not as absorbent and I think I get a day less, which works out to 25%!  The Tidy Cat Pads are worth it.  (I have no affiliation with Tidy Cat or it’s affiliates).

The Changing of a Hanging Locker

Hanging Locker

Empty Locker Before

I was frustrated with the inability to store much of anything in the two hanging lockers that I had, and the lack of storage in general on the boat.  The shape of a hanging locker doesn’t lend itself to any item of clothing I can think of other than perhaps a miniskirt or skinny jeans, and I doubt that is what most people want to store in them.  I decided to convert the locker in my V-berth to shelves instead and see if I could recover some of that space.

Hanging Locker

Supports Installed

The first challenge was that with the curvature of the hull, nothing looked straight.  I ended up measuring down from the top and then using a level to draw lines on the walls where the shelf supports would go.  Never would I have thought that those lines were straight due to the visual tricks of the curvature and I had to trust the level.  Each of those lines were measured for the supports which were cut 1” short of the back wall and angled at 45 degrees due to the slant of the wall.  These were predrilled with a small countersink.  Once this was done they were coated in polyurethane and screwed onto the side walls where the marks had been made and the holes filled with wood filler.

Logan Helps With Patterns

Logan Helps With Patterns

The second challenge was that the back wall is the hull of the boat and curved not only top to bottom, but from forward to aft.  After starting, I discovered that one of my two “straight” walls was not straight.  Not being a geometry genius, I had to come up with something that would allow me to cut shelves with as few tries as possible.  I took a piece of scrap trim and drilled a hole the size of a pencil at one end. I used a thin piece of balsa wood about 4 inches wide as a temporary shelf, put brown wrapping paper over it and placed it on the supports. I then used my pencil “protractor” to trace the hull shape onto the paper.

Once I had the side measurements and the shape of the back, I cut the shelves. I left a one inch gap at the back for air flow. I used 1/2’ plywood for the shelves – anything thinner wasn’t going to be strong enough and thicker just took up room I could use for storage.

Hanging Locker Shelves

Cut Shelves With Rail

After a few coats of polyurethane, a small fiddle-rail, stained to match the outside of the locker was attached to the end with small brads.  The shelves sit on the supports unattached. The fit is snug enough that there’s no movement, but they can still be easily removed.  The fiddle-rail keeps containers from sliding into the door when the boat heels.

Hanging Locker Shelves

Finished Shelves

A relatively large amount of storage was gained by changing a traditional hanging locker to shelving.  This solution works well for me since I don’t really have clothes that need to be hanged.  I plan to convert the only other hanging locker as well, but will use L brackets instead of wood supports to save some steps and time.


Also in Three Sheets NW


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