BOAT DOG ORIENTATION: Can Baxter Hack It Afloat?


This is Baxter, a more-or-less 2-year-old male mongrel (we suspect a Jack Russell terrier mixed with some sort of pit-bull) who came north on the Underdog Railroad from Georgia last fall. We adopted him through Alpha Dog Rescue in Lebanon, Maine, after persistent lobbying from daughter Lucy, who is passionately interested in animals. Lucy has insisted that Baxter is perfect in every way ever since we got him last October, but I have remained skeptical. Yes, he had checked most of the boxes on my own personal list of family-dog criteria (doesn’t pass waste in the house, tractable disposition, willing to share bed with dog-besotted daughter, etc.), but whenever I tried to lure him on to MiMi2, our Melonseed Skiff, as she lay tied to her dock in Portsmouth’s Back Channel, he resisted mightily and looked at me like a condemned prisoner being led to the gallows.

I didn’t press the point at the time, but I did wonder if we would ever be able to make a boat dog of Baxter. His physique and coat (dense, tautly muscled, with short hair that does not dry easily when soaked) are not especially aquatic, and it seemed clear he had never spent much if any time in or on the water during his dark time in the South. I wondered: would we have to exile Baxter to some kennel while frolicking on Lunacy during the sailing season? Or would he be able to suck it up and somehow adapt to life on a sailboat?

We conducted our first orientation this past Saturday when we took Baxter, along with Lucy and her friend Sophia, out on Lunacy for a daysail on Casco Bay. I had some thin hope that the broader, more stable platform of an inflatable dinghy would seem more reassuring to Baxter than the slimmer, tenuous form of the Melonseed, but I wasn’t very surprised when he resisted boarding the dinghy as firmly as he had MiMi2. In this case, however, we were determined to overwhelm his misgivings and simply picked him up and put him in the boat.

Baxter is not a very large dog, but he is fairly strong for his size, and ultimately it took three people to do this: one to hold the boat firmly in place, one to pick up Baxter on the dock, and another to receive him in the boat. The procedure was much the same when it came to transferring him from the dinghy to Lunacy once we got out to the mooring.

The good news was he didn’t freak out. No abject whining, trembling, or cowering. And as soon as we got him aboard Lunacy, a much larger and stabler vessel, he relaxed and quickly got the hang of moving around on his own.

Bax in cockpit

Sophia (left), Lucy (center), and Baxter (right) practice closing their eyes in convivial bliss while chilling in the cockpit


Sophia and Lucy look on while Baxter ponders the challenge of the companionway. He quickly became adept at scampering up and down the short but steep ladder

Bax in saloon

Baxter and Clare practice lounging on a settee in the saloon

It was a foggy day, with poor to middling visibility and a moderate breeze. We soon arrived at Little Chebeague Island, where we dropped anchor on the west side of Chandler Cove and enjoyed a spot of lunch. Afterwards we manhandled Baxter back into the dinghy (again with a three-person press gang) and took him ashore to enjoy the Big Boat-Dog Pay-off–getting to romp around loose in nature in a new and exciting place.

Baxter was very psyched about that, but as soon as we started wandering inland on a trail we made a disturbing discovery. Ticks! Everywhere. Crawling all over us in multiple numbers within minutes.

We beat a hasty retreat to the beach, picking the critters off us and Baxter as we went.

Little Chebeague

Tick Central in western Casco Bay for the 2016 season. I have seen this phenomenon before. Certain islands are so infested it simply isn’t worth it going there

The sail back down to Portland was relaxed and uneventful, again with a moderate breeze pulling us along, and we even saw the sun for a while when the fog peeled back for a bit.

Mooring approach

Approaching our mooring under main alone

Scanning these pix you may have noticed a new look on Lunacy’s deck. I had the deck repainted while she slumbered through the winter at Maine Yacht Center, and elected this time to try KiwiGrip paint. Tis a weird rubbery coating that can be given a very aggressive non-skid profile when applied with a special roller-brush. Last time we tried Durabak, which is actually a paint designed for truck beds. It was reasonably durable, but quickly started flaking away at the edges and also seemed to attract dirt.

Here’s hoping the KiwiGrip does better than that!


The product in question

You’ll notice too the grungy old faux-teak cork decking on the cockpit sole has been removed and replaced with Treadmaster. I also had Treadmaster installed on the cockpit seats, as traction here is critical when you are hopping quickly between cockpit and deck while sailing. Paint on the seats, I’ve found, always wears away very quickly.

Treadmaster has also been applied to the boarding area on the transom skirt and on the bow just behind the anchor roller.

New bow treatment

The bow is another high-impact area where paint can’t hang on for very long

Transom treatment

And here’s the transom skirt. The faux-teak cork in this area was impossible to keep clean due to it’s often being submerged in the incessant wakes that surge up Lunacy’s transom while she lays on her mooring in Portland Harbor. No doubt you’re wondering about the color. All I can say in my defense is I would have chosen pink, but they don’t make it anymore

The bottom line on Baxter is I think he’ll make a great boat dog once he gets comfortable climbing in and out of the dinghy. I hope that doesn’t take too long, as I’d like to take him out sailing on my own sooner rather than later. Having to recruit crew just to move the dog around would be a bother.

If anyone out there has some hot tips on acclimatizing dogs to the Suite Life On Deck, I’m all ears.

Bax on deck

Bax savors the sensation of KiwiGrip beneath his rump and paws

And while we’re on the subject of dogs, I want to point out that my colleague Kim Kavin, a successful yachting journalist herself, has recently segued on to the dog beat. I read her first dog book, Little Boy Blue, which is about the dog rescue phenomenon, while we were going through the somewhat cathartic process of adopting Baxter, and I found it both helpful and fascinating. Kim’s latest book, The Dog Merchants, has just been released and is the first follow-the-money survey of the dog industry as a whole–puppy mills, pet stores, breeders, rescue groups, et al–that has ever been published. I’m looking very forward to reading that too.

As someone who writes about boats, I can’t help noticing that Kim seems to have done much better writing about dogs than boats. Simply putting a picture of a cute dog on the cover of a book is evidently a great sales tool. It seems to evoke a Pavlovian response in readers.

For example: anyone remember this book?

Golfing for Cats

This was written by a guy who did some research and concluded that books about golf, cats, and Nazis always sell best. So he decided to go for a trifecta.

If this post goes viral I think I may have to change my marketing strategy.

Related Posts

6 Responses
  1. Tom Young

    Baxter is going to be a great boat dog by the looks of his fast progress. We’re on our 3rd Jack Russell onboard, all have been great onboard(started as puppies).

    The first thing I’d try is a nicely fitting Dog PFD. Once he gets used to it, you now have an easy handle on Baxter to get him in and out of the dinghy. The handle on the dog PFD is perfect; like picking up a 12 pack.

    Some JR’s like to swim(we have one we can’t keep out of the water). Try him out close to shore. Lower Baxter -via his handle- over the side to swim the last few yards. Pretty soon he may be circling Lunacy. At the least, he may want to get back IN the dinghy. Win-win.

  2. Dave

    Our Vizsla Ty never liked the boat. Shook like a leaf, even at dock or mooring. And he had a stable catamaran under his feet. Sadly, he is no longer with us, but that has made it easier to get out on the water. Someday I’d like a boat dog, but not just yet. Hang in there, Baxter.

  3. Charlie

    @Kim: You’re welcome. I am looking forward to reading Merchants, but first need to get through my latest installment of Knausgaard!
    @Dave: Baxter says thanks. We’ll be continuing the orientation soon.

Leave a Reply



Please enable the javascript to submit this form

Facebook Pagelike Widget


Google Ads