Through several years of going to sea in a small boat with a large dog, we’ve learned that we mostly have to react to the conditions at sea for her safety and comfort. This isn’t a random statement. Sometimes it’s calm and warm enough that Quincy is just fine and doesn’t exhibit signs of stress; meaning she eats, drinks and sleeps fairly normally. But other times when conditions on the boat are more frisky, she does exhibit obvious signs of stress that we understand by now and are prepared to deal with as needed. When the boat is rocky, heeling or our myriad of winches are in action around the cockpit, Quincy isn’t a happy dog and tells us so very clearly. Obvious signs of stress on a normal passage are the ritual barking and frothing by the mouth when winches are in action and we’re putting on speed while sailing, doing what we can not to heel too much. But it’s the less obvious signs of stress that we watch the most….pacing between one side of the boat to the other, various Great Dane noises to let us know she’s displeased or a strong desire to stick her nose through our eisenglass side curtains to get vented air. Since our engine is directly under our cockpit sole, there may be occasional fumes she picks up on that we humans don’t usually smell. The other aspect of going to sea (especially for overnights or multi-day passages) that we have gained sensitivity to is her need to go to the bathroom at night, when we’re crashing and heeling due to the usual state of wind and waves directly on our bows. Since we only run one on-watch crew member per four hour shift, she often doesn’t go out at night under way to go potty. We make exceptions when she “tells” us she’s gotta go and the night is calmer (safer for us). So the on-watch crew wakes up the off-watch crew, puts on our full harness and lifejacket rigs and “takes” Quincy forward to her potty mat, where she usually does her business quickly and scoots back to the cockpit cause she’s cold. Cold is one of the other considerations that we keep in mind on passage with her, as Great Danes have a fairly thin coat of fur/hair and do get cold. In those times, we throw a blanket over her while she sleeps. The other behavior that Quincy exhibits on a regular basis at sea is that she gets up to stretch her legs ever three hours or so, switching to the cockpit cushions on the other side of the boat to see if they’re more comfortable for the tack we’re on…then getting up quickly to go back to the spot she just vacated. This game is something I watch carefully at sea, because the more often she does this cushion switch, the more uncomfortable she is. If she just lays down on one side of the boat at night and slumbers away, she’s doing well and we have a great night. If she switches sides, drinks water and tries hard to put her nose through the eisenglass curtains beside her sleeping cushions every hour or so, then she’s probably seasick a bit. We’re prepared for her to be seasick and visited a wonderful Veterinarian that we found through our favorite doggy day care and kennel resort, Camp Run-A-Mutt, Chula Vista. We have a stock of meclizine (Bonine) on board that we feed Quincy when she might be feeling nauseous or too uncomfortable, helping her to normalize and start to enjoy being at sea again. The only other concerns we have with her in the cockpit at night are when she hears things that we don’t…and wants to go out on deck to see her buddies, the dolphins. This is a “NO” from us, as it means the on-watch crew member has to worry about her on deck; we have a strict night rule that on-watch crew members don’t go on deck alone at night, so this also entails waking the sleeping crew in order to get the dog back in the cockpit. So….we just don’t let her out at night and this works for us.
Had Quincy been our first Great Dane I’m not sure we would have considered bringing her onboard a cruising sailboat, but since I lived on a cruising sailboat as a kid with a Great Dane and Quincy is our fourth large breed dog (2 Great Danes and a Mastiff), we were pretty confident we could deal with any issues that arose while cruising. We also prepped for having Quincy onboard by thinking through what issues we thought we might have and working to mitigate those issues…like wanting a boat with flat decks, a cockpit large enough for her to live in and a way to easily get her down below as needed. Our first boat didn’t have these features, so we found a boat that did…essentially buying a second boat that would support our choice of lifestyle and furry family member. I would tell folks who wanted to go cruising to think very carefully before setting off with a dog onboard, as it will limit your cruising areas, cost more money to check into some countries and complicate personal travel when you’re in said countries. We’ve been exceptionally fortunate to find wonderful kennels in La Paz, Loreto and La Cruz which afforded us opportunities to travel for short bursts of time then get back to our puppy. Hope you enjoyed this latest edition to Quincy Corner, please tune in next Sunday for her Easter Dane Post.