CRUISING WITH DOGS
My wife and I sailed from Anapolis to the Bahamas and back on Raindance, our Pacific Seacraft Crealock 37. I thought it was going to be a disaster, but it turned out to be great. Here''s how we made it work for us:
We chose a boat that had enough room in the cockpit, was easy for the dogs to get forward with safety, and be able to go below without our assistance. The C-37, like most boats, has a ladder to get down below, but by removing the ladder and building large staggered steps (with good traction), and having a quarter berth next to the companionway, we had self sufficient dogs. The modification also gave us more room in the boat, a safer way to get up and down, and made engine access easier. An afternoon playing "what if we..." will go a long way to make your life easier, as other cruisers traveling with the standard ladder were always at the beck and call of their dogs.
Safety was easy. We puchaced bright nylon harnesses, which the dogs always wore. They never fell overboard, but a boat pole with a hook on it was always nearby. My wife practiced dog overboard routines until we both knew what to do. She had to fight the urge to jump overboard to "save" the dogs, and instead was only charged with throwing all the cockpit cushions overboard and to maintain contact with the swimming dog. Once we got back to the dog, we would idle the boat as close as possible, toss the dinghy overboard, and I would then get the dog into the dinghy, and ultimately back on board Raindance.
I can''t stress strongly enough that you should have an inflatable as a dingy if cruising with dogs (and kids). The stability will always set your mind at ease. Don''t worry about toenail punctures - we had an inflatable bottom, with no floorboards, and never had a problem. Another thing to look at is freeboard. Our C-37 has a low freeboard, which allowed the dogs to get into the dingy by themselves, and back onboard with just a little effort on our parts.
A final thing we did is to run netting from bow to stern. It caught me several times in big seas. Also, when in big seas, the dogs had to stay down below or in the cockpit. During anchoring or docking they also had to stay in the cockpit.
At first we always rowed the dogs to shore twice a day, no matter what the weather. This was a mistake, as the dogs only required one 3-day passage to learn that the foredeck was the new back yard. We had a saltwater deck wash pump, and it was worth its weight in gold. The teak decks didn''t mind - in fact, the teak decks were great for doggie foot traction. You might have heard horror stories about teak decks in the tropics, but our were of high quality and never leaked, never seemed to hot to walk on with bare feet, and made life easier for the dogs.
We bought one of those food shrink bag things, and spent an evening bagging up one week meal bags. We also brought canned food in case of an emergency bag leak. A real plus on many levels was the installation of a water maker - $2000 well spent. We used island water for showers (2X a day!) and dish washing, and used the water maker for drinking water for the dogs and us. I would strongly recommend that for anyone, regardless of bringing pets. You will soon learn that one of the greatest luxuries of cruising is the ability to be wastefull with water.
We had our vet prepare a dog medical kit, and got a dog medical book to help us out. We did all of the shots, blood tests, and checkups before the cruise, and prepared to follow the rules for bringing dogs into the Bahamas. When the weather was right for crossing the Gulf Stream, we didn''t have time to get the mandatory vet certificate in Miami. When we got to the Bahamas, imagration didn''t care, they just wanted the $20 fee for bringing in the dogs.
The dogs loved swimming, walks on the beach, staring at fish, and went crazy when we had dolphins at our bow. They spent most sailing time with us in the cockpit, and most motoring time at the bow on "dolphin alert."
We are not outgoing people, so having the dogs on board or in town brought people to us. Most cruisers didn''t know us as Jack and Toni from Raindance, they knew us as The Dog People. The dogs were never sea sick, never complained, always seemed to be having fun, and only had one problem. Our older Golden Retriever broke a toenail on a deck fitting that exposed the quick, but a radio call to other boaters in Georgetown in the Exuma chain of the Bahamas found a cruiser that was a vet. Between his medical kit and ours we reattached the toenail, wrapped it up, and protected her foot from water for 10 days until it had healed.
The final change was our destination. We had originally planned to sail from Seattle to the South Pacific, but we thought the long passages would be too much for the dogs. Also, most former British islands won''t let dogs get off the boat. Most former French and Dutch islands are more dog friendly, so we trucked our boat to Anapolis and settled on a shorter cruise in the Bahamas.
In summary, with the right boat, the right dogs, and the right destination, you will have a great time with your dogs, and have a richer experience for bringing them. I wish you good luck, and if you live anywhere in the West, I''d be happy to meet you with a picture album and make some recommendations for your boat.