Most people do not believe us when we tell them we live on a 40-foot boat with a 120-pound mastiff on board. Once we assure them that it is indeed true, the next question usually is, "Why don't you get a smaller dog?" Herein lies the story of why.
The quick reasons are these: We never have to worry about an eagle carrying our small "pony" off the bow of our boat in its talons. We do not have to worry about pirates boarding our vessel when we are not on board. Jumping up and onto rocky shorelines does not require any assistance from us. Our big girl needs to go to shore as often as a Pomeranian or a poodle. In fact, our dog's bladder is substantially large, of course, and can hold out for up to 12 hours in a pinch.
Another big advantage is the attention she attracts. My two sons call her a "chick magnet." My husband, Rick, and I have met many great people because of our dog! Everywhere we go people stop to ask questions about her: "What kind of dog is she?" A rare breed Italian mastiff called a cane corso. "How much does she weigh?" She is 120 pounds. "How much does she eat?!" Surprisingly, our galley helper only eats five cups of dry food per day and is forbidden human cuisine. "Is she friendly?" After she has leaned up against you for a back rub you will have the answer to that one.
We often say that our dog has more friends then we do. While walking her around a marina, people have stopped and said, "Hello, Kona," without taking any notice of me. They may have met her the day before when Rick took her for her outing—she is not easily forgotten! Once you've petted her velvet black ears and stroked her silky coat, or felt the weight of her body while petting her massive muscular form (especially if she accidentally puts her big paw on one of your feet), you wouldn't forget her either. She is a gentle giant; agile, intelligent, and extremely loveable.
Kona travels well with us, as long as the sea is not rough. When that happens, she stands in the saloon and pants. If the weather gets really bad, I usually lay down in the saloon and she then lays on top of me for reassurance, which, as I'm sure you can imagine, makes for an even more unpleasant ride.
While under way on a bright sunny day, she is happy to sit out on the bow, hang her head over the side, and watch the sea go by. If another boat passes nearby, she seems to be able to read the waves and knows when we are going to be rocked about by the passing wake. She will either quickly move back inside the boat through the pilothouse doors or crouch down low until the rocking motion has ceased.
Although I said she is able to hold on for up to 12 hours between shore leaves, there have been times when we have had to make emergency runs to shore while under way. One such time was while we were traveling north in Johnstone Strait on the British Columbia coast of Canada. We did not want to stop because the sea conditions were good and the current was with us. Instead, we deployed our tender, a 12-foot Polaris RIB with a 50hp, 4-stroke engine, which we tow behind us while under way. (As scuba divers, we need a substantial tender.) At the helm with the boat in neutral, Rick brought the tender up to the pilothouse gate on the starboard side. Kona jumped in with her lifejacket fastened and the two of them carried on to a carefully chosen beach for a quick "pit stop" on shore. Meanwhile, I continued up the strait at our usual cruising speed of 7 or 8 knots. When the shore duty was complete, dog and captain caught up to the mother ship and reboarded.
A Great Guard
We have found Kona to be a great alarm system not only for the boat, but also for us while we are hiking. One summer, as we trekked through the Sonora Island woods in British Columbia's Discovery Islands, Kona suddenly stopped with every hair on her back from the tip of her short stubby tail to the space between her two velvet ears standing straight up! She began a low throaty growl and could not be coaxed to go forward. Up until then and to date, I have not seen her behave in this way. Because of her unusual behavior, I accepted her warning and I would not advance one step farther along that trail either! We could not see or hear anything, but Kona was certainly disturbed about something—the nose knows! After five minutes of making a lot of noise and throwing sticks and rocks into the brush surrounding the area, we felt comfortable to move forward again. Kona agreed and we proceeded to the lake without further incident.
One night while peacefully at anchor at Turnbull Cove in the northern reaches of the Broughton Archipelago off Vancouver Island, Kona stood on the bow and again began her low throaty growl indicating that something was amiss. We looked to the shoreline where a black bear was turning over rocks, scavenging for delicate morsels underneath.
On another occasion at Prevost Island in Canada's Gulf Islands, she spotted a small herd of angora goats on the shoreline feasting on apple trees. The goats were standing up on their hind legs trying to reach the fruit from the higher branches; agreeably a most unusual posture, and therefore, to Kona, a potential threat. She held her head high in the air and sounded the alarm that we were in a dangerous area and kept close watch on the shoreline for the rest of the afternoon. It became even more apparent to her that she must keep this vigilant watch when she spotted two marmots scurrying along the rocks at low tide.
Her Favorite Things
Kona loves our tender, Catch-Up. She knows that boat is her ticket to high adventure and exploration. With her two front feet on the anchor locker, she positions herself in the bow. When the boat is moving fast, her ears flap back in the wind resembling the white wimple hat Sally Field wore in the movie, The Flying Nun. From this vantage point she keeps a sharp lookout for deadheads, dolphins, seals, and whales.
Booker Lagoon, off Wells Passage in the northern Broughton Archipelago, is famous for its resident dolphins that frequently "buzz" boats coming into the lagoon to frolic in their wakes. Once, as we were laying prawn traps in the lagoon, one of these dolphins playfully swam under and around our tender. Kona thought we were under attack from sea monsters below! She growled and stamped on the bottom of the boat with her front legs much the same way a polar bear will rear up on its hind legs and crash down with its weight breaking through ice or snow to seize prey hiding underneath. She stood up on the edge of the pontoons and growled and barked, becoming increasingly distressed by this dolphin "assault." We had to abandon the prawning and return her to the mother ship before we could continue our mission. She did not appreciate being left behind with such pending danger still in our midst, but we wanted to enjoy the dolphins' antics and attempt to take some photographs.
Another unexpected advantage is that Kona enjoys digging for clams. Once I crouch down and begin looking in earnest for a good clam bed, she is right beside me ready to help. If I am only busying myself picking up oysters off the beach, she will amuse herself by flipping over rocks and crunching up the tiny crabs that live under them. She will even defend us and herself from these small crabs if they stand their ground and wave their pincers at her. When this happens she crouches down with her back end in the air, growls, barks, and digs a trench with both her front feet as she backs away and tentatively takes a poke with her nose at the brave crustacean.
About two years ago, Kona learned to swim—quite by accident. She was walking out to meet my sons as they stood on a sandbar off the lovely sandy beach at Sidney Island off the southern coast of Vancouver Island. She was comfortable to go chest-deep, but suddenly found herself over her head with the boys only a few feet out of her reach. She paddled only a short distance and then was relieved not only to be back with her feet on the ground, but to be beside her two favorite boys as well.
Kona now enjoys swimming to fetch sticks, but it has to be done systematically and with a certain ceremony attached. First, we throw the stick into the water, but only as far as chest-deep. When she retrieves it and returns to shore, we have to pretend to want the stick back. We growl, crouch down, and behave like another dog attempting to steal her prey. Her hair goes up on her back in mock annoyance and much growling begins. Yet, when the command, "Out!" is spoken, she instantly drops the stick and waits to fetch it out of the water again. Each time we throw the stick a little farther out until eventually she is swimming and does not mind a bit. If we stop because we have had enough, she will whine and look at us with her big brown eyes until we throw the stick out again. Only Kona gets to decide when the game is over, and that is usually when she chews the stick up with 1,500-pounds-per-square-inch jaw power until there are only small pieces left of what once was a sizeable piece of wood.
The next day we can throw a stick out into the water thinking that she will surely swim out for it after the fun she had the day before, but she will refuse and walk away. It all has to be a build-up to the "over-her-head" condition or it is a "no go." Consequently, when admirers ask if she likes to swim, the answer is a complicated one.
We hate to leave Kona when we go kayaking or scuba diving. As soon as she sees us haul out the scuba tanks in the stern and hears the air blast out as we set up our gear, she heads for the saloon and stays out of the way.
She has perfected the "hang dog" look when we pull away from the boat and she is left behind. She has determined that the best way to get back at us for this insensitive conduct is to get up on the queen island bed in our stateroom while we are gone and settle in for a nice comfortable nap until our return. She has plenty of time to get up and away from the crime scene because she either hears the motor on the tender as we approach or the clamor we make climbing out of our kayaks before boarding the boat again. If it were not for the rumpled bed clothes, her little revenge tactic would go undetected.
The More The Merrier
People have asked us if will we choose a smaller dog in the future, and the answer is, no. A dog on board—large or small—keeps us active and moving. If we did not go to shore two or three times a day, we would likely be couch potatoes moving from one anchorage to another and getting little or no exercise. Kona goes out after breakfast for a short walk and in the afternoon we almost always hike somewhere on shore. Rick takes her out one last time after supper and before we retire for the night.
Kona loves to be with us wherever we go and we enjoy having her along. She is great company when we want to check a crab trap, hang a fishing line out, or just take a short putt around our anchorage as we watch the sun go down. She keeps us company, safe, exercised, and entertained by her wonderful personality. Who could ask for a better boating companion? So what if she takes up the same footprint as two adults standing in our boat. To that we say, "The more the merrier!"
About The Author
Carol-Ann Giroday and her husband, Rick LeBlanc, live aboard their 40-foot TransPac Eagle Pilothouse, Sea Foam, in the Fraser River at Mission, British Columbia, Canada. Carol-Ann is a learning assistance teacher and Rick is a professional engineer. With Carol-Ann as the writer and Rick as the photographer, together they make a good team. For the past 15 years, the couple has been exploring the Pacific Northwest by land, sea, and under the sea while hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving. During Christmas and Easter holidays, they cruise closer to home in the Gulf Islands and for two months during the summer they head farther afield through the Inside Passage. To learn more about their adventures, read their logs, and view photographs, visit www.writefromthesea.com.