Monday, July 4, 2016

Piper the Salty Dog

One of the things about our cruising plans that's made me a bit worried is how well our dog Piper will adapt to life on a sailboat. He's still a pup at 20 months old and has a bit of a nervous disposition. In some ways he acts like an abused shelter dog, though we've had him since eight weeks old and have never hit him. There's not really any rhyme or reason to what sets him off. He's fine with thunderstorms and fireworks but bicycles absolutely terrify him. He was ok in our Pacer airplane but until fairly recently would quiver violently on car rides if the windows were up. He warms to some strangers immediately, barks fiercely at others, and cowers to others. Large crowds turn him into a quivering mess, except at the dog park where he acts like the mayor. He hates baths with a passion but is perfectly happy to splash around in a lake and is a really good swimmer. He's been on fishing boats and pontoons and seemed to enjoy himself, but that's a lot different than a heeling sailboat bashing upwind. I figured he'd eventually adapt, but worried that it might take a while and he'd be terrified in the meantime.

While Dawn was off sailing in Puget Sound last week, my friend Chris Warrington invited me down to Lake Pepin to sail on his Hunter 31, Simple Pleasures, and suggested I bring Piper along for a little acclimatization time. Our mutual friend Lance Yesdnil was in town for captain upgrade training at Compass Airlines and happened to have the day off, so I picked him up on my way out of town. I know Lance and Chris through a former coworker of mine, Andy Peterson; the three of them used to own a Bristol 29.9 based out of Puerto Rico for several years. They brought "Yolo" to the Interline Regatta in the BVI in 2013, and I helped crew on the overnight passage back to PR. Sadly, she was later dismasted near Culebra with Andy and his father on board; they were lucky to cut away the rig before the wreckage holed the hull, but subsequently sold the boat. Chris already owned Simple Pleasures at the time; he had bought her on the Gulf coast as a cheap wreck in the wake of 2004's Hurricane Ivan, trucked her home, and fixed her up. She's been plying the waters of Lake Pepin (a wide dammed portion of the Mississippi River that forms the border between southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin) ever since.

After arriving at Chris' lakeside home and taking the tour, we threw Piper into the aluminum tender, cruised out to Simple Pleasures' mooring, and hoisted Piper aboard. Immediately he set about checking out every square foot abovedecks. Even after we motored out into the chop, and even once we set sail, Piper continued moving around the boat quite a bit. He definitely has a tough time sitting still, especially in a new environment. That said, he never showed the least sign of jitters. As we tacked out to the east side of the lake, the wind picked up to 10-15 knots with occasional gusts up to about 18, and Piper didn't seem to mind the boat heeling and pitching through the waves in the least. I got a little concerned that he kept coming back to the cockpit via the low side...Simple Pleasures has lifelines and a toe rail, but it's definitely not as secure as going over the high side of the tall coach roof. At one point I saw a gust line coming across the water while we were close hauled and Piper was on the low side. I luffed up a bit but we still heeled and Piper momentarily lost his footing; I thought we might have a "dog overboard" situation. He caught himself on the toerail and regained his balance, and after that only went to and from the bow via the high side. Smart dog.

We were out for a good five or six hours and Piper really seemed to enjoy it. He eventually settled down and didn't go back and forth on the boat as much, and instead found a secure spot to gaze out over the water. He didn't show any inclination to jump in, which is something he's done from a fishing boat before so that was a bit of a concern. He didn't care much to go down the companionway ladder, but we taught him how to climb up it and let him roam the salon and lay in the v-berth for a bit. Overall I thought it was a great introduction to sailing for him, and a bit of a load off my mind. Windbird has much more open deck space that I think Piper will enjoy roaming; the boat also has netting around the lifelines and stern rails, as the current owners have young grandkids who often visited aboard. I think the companionway ladder will be too tall and steep for Piper to negotiate on his own, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as I think we'll prefer to control his movements between deck and cabin. Getting in and out of the dinghy might be interesting. We are planning to get Piper an inflatable pet PFD, which will also serve as a harness to keep him clipped into the cockpit in rambunctious conditions. The one other thing that's on our mind is teaching him to go potty on a square of carpet lashed to the deck, for while on passage or when conditions don't make it feasible to land him ashore. All part of the adventure!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, so good to hear that Piper did good. Great pictures Sam! Love your smile there with Piper!