SOOTHING THE SAVAGE BEAST: Further Adventures of Baxter as a Boat Dog (And Some Unrelated Technical Matters)


Aug. 10/2023:  My summer sailing schedule has been chopped up by intermittent book appearances, and it certainly didn’t help that the first several weeks were unremittingly rainy, foggy, and windless. The last few weeks I’ve been more active, but my outings have been limited to only a few days at a time. Another limiting factor—now that younger child Jay has left the nest and wife Clare is still often away for work—has been the need to take the dog along with me.

I have written before of early attempts to train Baxter as a boat dog, but I never seriously persisted in this, first because he never seemed to like it much. Unlike an earlier dog of mine, a border collie mix named Dizzy, who would eagerly bound onto any boat presented to him, and then stand proudly on the bow as a hood ornament while underway, Baxter seemed merely to tolerate time spent afloat and was never that enthusiastic about it. Also, there were more people at home back then to mind him while I was away, so it was easy to punt and leave him behind.

The big problem now is that he is rather set in his ways and has become more anxious and needy as he gets older. He now, for example, is paralyzed with fear when he hears the national anthem blaring in the morning from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard across the river. Having reached the rather ripe age of nine, he really isn’t as open to new experiences as he once was. Any radical heeling or strong motion while afloat sees his tail wrapped firmly under his butt and can even provoke uncontrolled trembling. Even worse, when frightened like this, what he most wants is to stay as close to me as possible. And the last thing you need when going forward to reef the main or otherwise cope with rough conditions is to have a nervous nelly of a dog underfoot all the time.

One solution is to bring the wife along to babysit and hold the dog while sailing. This was during a weekend cruise, and this particular day was amazing, as we sailed to windward all the way from the Goslings off Harpswell down to Portland on one long closehauled board in a southeasterly breeze, squeezing through one major chokepoint and barely dodging all kinds of obstructions en route. But the wind was very puffy in a few places, and the dog freaked a bit when we heeled sharply to sudden gusts. Fortunately, he was chill hanging with Clare


When sailing alone with the dog, I’m working on training him to retreat to the forward footwell in Lunacy’s cockpit when he’s anxious or scared. It’s a low, very secure space, and it’s easy to make it comfy for him by laying out a blanket and a bowl of water. When going forward I sternly order him to stay put, and if he’s still in his pit when I get back, I give him a treat. He’s pretty susceptible to this sort of conditioning

Of course, sailing with the dog also means more trips ashore to ventilate his bladder and bowel. Not that I’ve ever minded taking the dog for walks, but in some places the mosquitoes are so bad this year, thanks to the super-wet spring and early summer, that Baxter refuses to stay ashore for very long. What works best is to take him ashore in civilized spots, with houses and roads and such, where the mosquitoes aren’t so bad.

My other big experiment this summer has been experimenting with what it’s like to rely on an electric motor to propel my dinghy. So far this has been much more enjoyable than propitiating an anxious canine.

The bits and pieces of a 3hp ePropulsion outboard I’ve been asked to test


Me and the motor in the wild. I’m actually really enjoying it. The most gratifying moment thus far came when I silently hummed by another guy in a dinghy who was struggling to get his ICE outboard started. I’ll share a much more detailed appraisal in the near future


When towing the dinghy, I leave the drive-leg, which seems quite weatherproof, on the dinghy’s transom and bring the detachable battery aboard the mothership


One annoying technical problem has been a persistently leaking connection for my Whale hot-cold deck shower unit. So far I’ve been able to get the cold-water side down to a mere trickle of a leak, but I’ve had no joy at all on the hot-water side. The female metal connector won’t thread properly onto the male plastic piece. I think the plastic threads are all mashed up. I’m happy to hear from anyone who has experience with these things. So far it looks like I can’t replace the black plastic connector without buying a whole new shower unit


The sealing washers inside the connections were swollen or badly degraded and couldn’t be reused. I tried to find replacements, but ended up having to make new ones by hand


An even bigger problem is that Lunacy’s house batteries have crashed. They work OK when receiving a charge from the solar panels, the wind generator, or the engine alternator, but they can’t carry much of a load without ongoing support. Replacement batteries will go in soon


And yeah… I’m still trying to get my useless hookah rig working again

Some other stuff I almost forgot! An osprey has once again ripped my recently replaced wind sensor from off the top of my mast. And my NKE speed sensor is so erratic the autopilot has become totally unreliable.

Such such are the joys of summer sailing!

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4 Responses
    1. Charles Doane

      Good to know. I tested a Torpedo Version 1.0 many moons ago, and it was definitely not ready for prime time. But I understand they’ve improved a lot since then. Would be curious to know in more detail why you prefer the ePropulsion unit, and which you have. Thanks!

  1. Michael Lambert

    Same as you I think. The torqueedo’s sheer pin broke if I came within a 1/4 mile of seaweed. The plug WANTED to cross thread and when it did it was impossible to get it off. The tilt latch broke and I had to hold it up with rope. I’m sure there’s more…. Btw when I get saltation down here I might try your beach spot as I’m sure the zinc is already gone. Where in particular do you go, and is it clear enough that one might not need to scout it?

    1. Charles Doane

      Re beaching the boat between Great and Little Chebeague: yes, you do need to scout it. There are places on that bar you don’t want to be when dried out. Anchor or poach a mooring in Chandler Cove, then go over in a dinghy at low tide. Take along a phone or tablet loaded with an e-chart app and mark where you want to park the boat.

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