No barking allowed on this barque. That's because, for the last year and a half, the Lunenburg-based tall ship Picton Castle has been home to two little furry meowing mariners that have sailed their way around the seven seas.
The Picton Castle offers sail training to adventurous individuals from around the world, but the cats are considered permanent crew members. Ship's Cat Fiji is the senior sailor of the two. The crew found her six years ago as an eight-week-old kitten, scampering around the docks in the Fijian capital of Suva. With the help of the local humane society, they adopted her and she's been happily traveling the world with an ever-changing family.
"Oh she'll curl right up in anyone's bunk," says sail trainee Kimba Gifford, an Ottawa native. "Especially if your bunk is nice and warm and you've just fed her," he laughs.
Ship's Cat Tigress (short for Twilight Sparkle) came on board with Captain Dan Moreland and his family.
"We adopted her from S.H.A.I.D. in Bridgewater when she was just under a year old. She came with us to New Orleans to join the ship on its last world voyage," says Moreland, who Moreland is taking a break from the helm. Tigress is now happily back ashore with him and his family after the Picton Castle sailed into Lunenburg on June 14.
According to Moreland, Tigress has circumnavigated the globe at least twice. "She has licked more salt water out of her tail than most who call themselves sailors have ever seen," he says.
The Picton Castle (along with Fiji) is now in the middle of the Great Lakes, sailing with a fleet of other tall ships.
A wooden tall ship may be the perfect playground for fearless felines. Riggings, sails, masts and ropes - as well as seabirds and fish - provide endless entertainment for the cats during long stretches at sea. But they have jobs too.
Cats have been kept on ships for thousands of years. Not only do they keep vermin at bay, but they also were believed to have magical powers that could protect ships from dangerous weather. It was considered lucky if a cat approached a sailor on deck. Tigress and Fiji had no problem with that.
"Cats are excellent for crew morale" suggests Nicholas Ng, a trainee from Hong Kong. "You're far away from home, everybody's a stranger at first. It's really great to have a cat you can snuggle up with."
They even have their own "pawsports" in the form of documentation required for entry into various countries. "We keep an official record of all their ports of call and vaccinations," reports voyage coordinator Maggie Ostler. In many ports, including Lunenburg, the cats are free to take some shore leave if they like. "Tigress particularly enjoyed exploring the docks around Cape Town, South Africa," says Moreland. But they always came back.
When asked if they ever brought any "exotic" presents back on board for their ship family, the crew laughs. "Not very often. Although once a flock of little birds landed on deck while we were at sea and, well, Fiji made short work of those," recalled Gifford. Well, what good little "purrate" wouldn't defend her ship from invading avian marauders, right?
For more information on how you can sail around the world like Fiji and Tigress, you can visit their website www.picton-castle.com.