Dan’s recent story about his dog jumping overboard reminds Technical Editor Mike Smith of the time he had to fish a feral cat from New York Harbor.
I just read your story about rescuing your dog, which reminded me of a similar experience I had related to the lack of spatial awareness of animals.
When I was captain of the Pioneer at South St. Seaport in the mid-70s, the Fulton Fish Market was still operating just a couple of blocks north of the museum. Consequently, there was a substantial population of rats around the piers, and feral cats who preyed on them. These were nasty beasts, scraggly, filthy, many missing an ear or two thanks to battles over flounder carcasses. One, maybe the nastiest of all, used to sneak onto the Pioneer and camp in the aft cabin, usually on my bunk. (The upside of this was, he kept the rats away.) Getting him to leave the cabin took aggressive behavior; sometimes I wished I had a chair and a whip.
One day we were taking the museum president, his family and a bunch of kids on a sail in the harbor. As we motored down Buttermilk Channel, somebody went below, into the forward cabin, a low-overhead, grimy hell-hole used for taking Pioneer Marine School students on twice-yearly cruises on Long Island Sound. The aforementioned cat had set up shop on a pipe berth, but bolted when the crew went below. The cat leapt up the companionway, hit the deck once and leapt for the float—which wasn’t there. All there was, was New York Harbor. The cat tried to reverse course in mid-air, to no avail, and landed in the harbor.
I looked at my mate, Carl Brown (now the playwright-in-residence at a drama center in Minneapolis); we mouthed silently at each other, “F*** the cat,” and kept on. But the kids spotted the cat overboard, started yelling, so we had to do something. I decided in a flash to use this opportunity as a man-overboard drill. I told off two deckhands to prepare to launch the yawl boat, made a security call on channel 13 to warn tugs transiting the channel that I was retrieving a crew member, and sent a volunteer below for a blanket—not because I wanted to keep the beast warm, but I thought it would be the best way to get him under control should I succeed in getting him out of the water. Akin to throwing a net over a gladiator. Carl threw the life ring—the only time in my boating career I’ve ever used one.
The tide was ripping, we were drifting sideways past the U.S.C.G. station, I was hoping not to have to launch the yawl boat to fetch the cat out from under the pilings—he was making good time toward Governor’s Island. But the cat, no dope he, spotting the life ring and altered course for it, climbed onto it and sat, awaiting rescue. I maneuvered the schooner alongside, managed to reach down and grab him without sliding overboard myself—I felt someone grabbing my belt—got a grip on the cat and swung him back over my head. Unfortunately, the person holding by belt was a NY Harbor Pilot, Capt. Huss, out for an afternoon sail, and I dropping the dripping feline directly onto his head. He let out a string of colorful language as only an experienced ship-handler can manage. The kids wrapped the relatively docile cat in a blanket, we continued on our sail, and when we got back to the dock he took off and was not seen aboard again.
Afterwards, once in a while when we were sailing out near the Verrazano Bridge, I’d often get a call on channel 13 from a ship in- or outbound—it was Capt. Huss, asking if I had any more cats that needed rescuing. I don’t think he came for any more sails.
Anyway, I’ll bet your dog was more appreciative of rescue. —Mike