Although sailor Paul J. Thompson is deaf, he doesn't let that stop him from traveling around the world in his boat, La Chica. After all, his first mate, six-month-old Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpaws, or Skatty for short, is his ears and has become an excellent sailor in his own right.
Thompson, from Auckland, New Zealand, is the first deaf person to sail across the Southern Atlantic Ocean by himself in the 32-foot sailboat that he constructed. Someday, Thompson hopes to circumnavigate the globe, and when he does, he will have his four-legged crew member at his side.
Skatty, a Maine Coon, has become instrumental in assisting Thompson as the cat quickly understood that Thompson couldn't hear. “Without any training, Skatty has twigged that I don’t hear,” Thompson said. “He lets me know if a boat comes alongside, people are at my door (ashore) and when my phone receives text messages.”
When Thompson receives text messages, Skatty places his paw on Thompson's phone or sitting on it. If someone is at the door, the cat walks to the door to let Thompson know. Thompson also notes that "Skatty has learnt to get my attention by coming and putting his paw on my knee and I’ve learnt to get up and follow him. Which normally leads to his food bowl (empty) but often enough it’s something that I’m glad to know about.”
Skatty earned his rather prestigious sounding name due to his pedigree. Thompson purchased Skatty from a responsible breeder, Rebelpaws, and pedigreed cat registration rules state that the breeder name must be in the cat's registered name. "Skattebol" is Afrikaans for "my treasure," as Afrikaans is Thompson's second language.
While he may have a lengthy name for such a young cat, Skatty is expected to grow into the title. “When Skatty is fully grown, he should be quite a regal looking cat, and the name should fit purrfectly,” Thompson confirms.
Thompson specifically chose to have a Maine Coon as his ship's cat because of their historical association with the sea. “Maine Coons are at home around water and in this case, Skatty is a polydactyl cat, which is what ships’ cats traditionally are,” Thompson said. “The old time sailors believed that the big polydactyl paws gave them a better grip on the deck and also made them better mousers. So for me, as a sailor, it is very satisfying to have a polydactyl cat.”
Safety is a priority at sea, so Thompson has outfitted his ship to be safe for Skatty. He has rigged up after nets to prevent Skatty from falling overboard. But should Skatty end up in the water, Thompson has attached a rope ladder to the boat's stern so the cat can pull himself out of the water if needed.
The cat also has both a life jacket and a harness to keep him safe on board the boat at all times.
Skatty also has a portable refrigerator to store his food, which is raw when they stop in on land, and wet cat food pouches when they are on the water.
Thompson notes that his cat seems to love life at sea. “He thinks it’s ‘meals on wheels’ or the marine equivalent. His big ambition is to catch a seagull…but so far no luck!” says Thompson.
Although Thompson loves traveling by sea, he does admit that it's much more fulfilling having a companion on board who helps you to slow down and enjoy the little things in life.
“Having a cat on board forces you to slow down and take life at your cat’s pace. Invariably, that is a good thing as we are all far too busy rushing around. Skatty wants to know about everything and, in satisfying his curiosity, I learn to see things in a new light or from a different perspective. Also, the love of a cat is a very special and precious thing," Thompson points out.
We hope that Thompson and Skatty enjoy many other adventures at sea! You can follow their worldwide travels on Skatty's Instagram and Facebook pages. Share this incredible story with your friends and family on Facebook!