Thinking of taking your dog sailing? Put in the time to train and educate them, and you’ll have a wonderful new crew member says David White
Chloe’s first voyage was from the slip to the mooring. As always, I was more concerned about the engine stopping unexpectedly or being unable to pick up the buoy, so my wife, Jane, kept an eye on the dog. After the initial excitement of getting on board from the jetty, Chloe lay down in the cockpit, out of the way. In many ways this set the scene for the summer’s voyages around the Solent.
The first proper voyage didn’t go exactly to plan. In fact it didn’t really go at all. We spent the night on board at the mooring, but the weather was windier than expected, and we didn’t want to upset Chloe on her first trip.
The bar at Chichester harbour can be a bit lumpy in a brisk south-westerly and dogs can get seasick just like us. We decided you should introduce a dog to sailing as you would a human. This means gradually, with pleasant experiences at first, so as not to put her off. With that in mind we had breakfast, put the sails away and headed back in the dinghy.
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Second time lucky
Two weeks later on the same sort of tide, our second trip went better. The weather was warm and the wind was south-westerly Force 3. We slept on board the night before, this time dining in a dog-friendly local pub, the Maypole on Hayling Island. Afterwards, we all went out to the boat in the dinghy. We sat in the cockpit with a nightcap as the sky darkened, whilst Chloe lay on one of our laps, gnawing her chew stick until we went to bed.
The following morning I slipped the mooring buoy chain and returned to the cockpit while Jane steered us away from the buoy. Chloe sat quietly in her travel kennel in the cockpit. We started with it at the helmsman’s end under the tiller. Now, while we’re sailing, and most of the time in harbour, it sits directly in front of the companionway. Although it’s slightly in the way it does prevent us treading on her, and she can see what is going on.
During the first sail, of about four hours, Chloe sat on our laps to see over the dodgers, and moved to the cockpit seats when we tacked. Coming into Gosport she didn’t get in the way, which was gratifying. However, when I lifted her over the guardrail onto the finger pontoon she wasn’t impressed. She was wary of walking on something that she could see the water through, and I couldn’t blame her. She stopped at each joint and had to be lifted across. Had we taken her along a pontoon when she was less than six months old – the fearless stage – she might not have been so nervous.
However, I’m pleased to say that when we let her off the lead she trotted along quite happily. Perhaps she felt more in control of her own destiny.
Keeping Chloe cool
The sail back on the Sunday was calmer, and hotter. We shaded the kennel to keep the sun off, and laid out the cool mat. She still looked hot, so Jane deployed the cool jacket, which is like a chamois coat for dogs that you wet before use. This was a great success. Chloe snoozed in the shade until we’d tied up. When I took the cool jacket off, her fur was just cool, but not damp.
Chloe showed increased confidence during the dinghy trip back to shore. She is fascinated by birds, and loves to watch the waders and seabirds along the creek. Fortunately, she doesn’t bark at them.
The joy of going ashore!
Once ashore, however, she showed an unseemly joy at being on dry land again. She ran around in circles at high speed, sprinted up and down the slipway, leapt off a 4ft-high wall, in a genuine Wile E Coyote moment. She hung in the air, paws outstretched, fur and ears flowing in the wind for several moments, before landing on the concrete slip. The landing was harder than she had anticipated: no harm done, but it did slow her down for a bit.
We have been for several sailing trips since then, although never actually made it past Cowes.
We had a longer trip to Bembridge later in the season, which is dog-heaven. It is a two to three hour sail for us unless the wind is on the nose. This time we got to the boat the night before, and the next morning we took Chloe ashore at low tide. The shore under the sea wall in our creek is littered with rocks, bricks and stepping stones, but is mostly mud at low water. We were wondering how best to carry her when, with ever increasing confidence, she leapt over the transom and scampered across the black mud. Jane and I followed gingerly, and we all made it to the sea wall with varying coverages of mud, which took me back to my days on the Blackwater and Crouch.
We rinsed Chloe’s paws and belly in the dinghy, and when the tide rose further we set off. We now carry dog shampoo on board, which has proved very useful.
In the end we stayed in Bembridge for four days, our week’s holiday in the Solent curtailed by incoming weather.
On our first day we were rafted three out, and had to carry Chloe across the other boats. However, once the boats left and we were alongside the pontoon, she went back to hopping on and off under the netting.
Trips around the Solent
The remainder of the season comprised short Solent trips to Itchenor, the Folly and a return to Bembridge. We routinely take her along the sea wall before going out, and make sure she gets a walk before we set off for home.
I am beginning to suspect that Chloe, like many dogs, will never be an enthusiastic seagoer. But she will put up with nearly anything as long as she can be with us, and enjoys the reward of a nice place to visit at the other end.
So if you’re thinking you’d like a dog to take sailing, then go out and get one. Give some thought as to how he or she will fit into the boat and your lives, put in the time to train and educate them, and you’ll have a constant companion and crew member for the next decade or so.
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This feature appeared in Practical Boat Owner magazine. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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