Meet Zeasar, the nautical Norwegian Forest Cat. Whilst we sometimes see dogs on the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, this is the first time we've met an ocean-going cat

Cats have long enjoyed a relationship with sailors; living on trading, exploration and naval ships to control vermin, but it’s not often you see them on a 47ft yacht.

Weighing in at 8kg, and covered head to toe in luxurious ginger fur, Zeasar isn’t your average ship’s cat. For a start, he’s twice as big, but he’s also about to cross the Atlantic.

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Snuggled up in the cockpit of his Beneteau Oceanis 473, the Norwegian Forest cat looks perfectly at home. Though an ancient breed adapted to withstand Scandinavian winters, Swedish-born Cesar is comfortable in the 27-degree sunshine of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

Over the next few weeks it will get even hotter as he sails southwest to the Caribbean.

Cool for cats

Long hair is actually believed to be beneficial for cats in extreme heat, preventing sunburn and trapping a layer of air within the coat to act as a buffer against soaring temperatures.

A sailing cat on a yacht

Cesar is a cuddly cat – and likes to sleep on top of his owners

Zeasar’s owners, Marie Broman and Tomas Sweijer, are busy preparing their boat Marco Polo for the ARC+, the sister event to the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which departs on Sunday for Grenada, with a stopover in Cape Verde.

“He’s very relaxed, and much easier to care for than a dog” says Tomas. “He comes on deck for a few hours each day, but if the seas are big he’ll go down below and find somewhere cosy to curl up.”

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Ship’s cat

12-year-old Zeasar has been sailing for most of his life. Tomas and Marie spend their summers in Sweden and their winters in the Mediterranean, where they first introduced Zeasar to sailing. He’s since accompanied them around Croatia, Greece and Turkey.

Marie attaches an MOB tag to Cesar’s Baltic pet lifejacket

Zeasar likes to be with his owners, often following them to a supermarket or a restaurant in the hope of being treated to some fresh prawns. He also likes to go off exploring by himself.

“He always comes back to the right boat,” says Tomas, “even if we’re moving to different ports. Cats are smart, they know where they live.”

Furry hot water bottle

At night, Zeasar prefers to sleep on Tomas and Marie’s bed, sometimes right on top of them, which Tomas says is ok in Sweden, but gets far too hot in the Canaries.

When sailing, Zeasar wears a Baltic pet lifejacket with a bluetooth activated OLAS tag. This acts as a virtual tether so that should Zeasar fall overboard, an alert will be sent to Marie’s phone stating the position he fell in.

Marie and Tomas have also attached a mat to the boat ladder so that Zeasar can scramble back in if he goes over the side.

Marie Broman and Tomas Sweiger are about to cross the Atlantic with their cat Cesar

Though Zeasar has never fallen overboard on passage, he did once get a shock in the marina whilst Marie and Tomas were coming alongside. He tried to leap for the pontoon but, still attached to his lead, fell short and landed in the water.

Fortunately, Norwegian Forest Cats are known for their long legs and strong, sturdy bodies, and Zeasar had no problem swimming back to the boat.

Top tips for sailing with a cat

So if you’re thinking of taking your cat cruising, how should you go about it? Here are Marie and Tomas’s tips

  • Buy a pet lifejacket – choose a snug-fitting design for the correct size of your cat, and ensure it has rings to attach a leash as well as a carry-handle
  • Attach an OLAS tag to the lifejacket so you’re alerted if your pet falls overboard
  • Have a long retractable leash that can be used to keep the cat in the cockpit. You can also use this to walk the cat in port (though Zeasar is free to go where he likes)
  • Don’t take a kitten or very young cat onboard – wait until they’re older and less active. When Zeasar first started sailing he jumped around a lot but he slowed down as he got older and now mostly sleeps underway
  • Take a brush. Regular grooming helps remove shed hair and prevent uncomfortable matting
  • At first only go to sea in calm weather. If possible spend a few days in port before venturing out to sea
  • Pack plenty of wet food in small tins so it doesn’t go off easily. Zeasar has 70 tins of food for his Atlantic voyage
  • Don’t forget the litter tray and change it frequently. Marie and Tomas have packed 60kg of sand for Zeasar’s toilet

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