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Man’s best friend goes boating

Michael Peters

Sightlines - April 2017

Water Dog

Water Dog

Man’s best friend goes boating.

According to my thinking, people can pretty much be divided into two groups: Those that love dogs and those that don’t like much of anything. If you don’t like dogs, you may want to skip ahead to something more interesting, like an article about bilge pumps or bottom paint, because you won’t relate to anything I have to say here. 

I love dogs and have many memories that only they and I share. By a pretty large margin the best dog I ever had was Pasho, a medium-sized German shepherd, whose muscles rippled from running the hills of Catalina. With his floppy ears, beady eyes, and long nose he had a distinct resemblance to Spiro Agnew, our vice president at the time. He would chase a stick for hours on end and could catch a fast-pitched tennis ball from 10 feet away. He would also climb a near-vertical 8-foot ladder to a playground slide on command. He was a superior athlete and a great water dog.

Pasho was my constant companion during my year as caretaker at Gallagher’s Cove in 1972. He would take trips to Avalon with me in the camp’s 14-foot winter skiff, the Northeaster, and would sit obediently in the boat for hours while I did my errands. On the ride back to the camp, I would stop the boat in front of the cove and get him all excited so he would jump overboard. After several roundy-rounds in the boat, he would go up to the tip of the bow and stand, perfectly balanced with all four feet placed tightly together, then take a grand leap to the water and swim ashore. As the winter wore on, I would go through this routine farther and farther from shore, until he would have to swim a couple of hundred yards to the beach. He loved it and so did I. By the end of spring I would just stop the boat and he would immediately go to the bow for his spectacular dive. Best water dog I ever had.

In the early 1990s we got Moby and Shammy, two yellow labs from the same litter. Our first water trip with them was on a canoe on the Myaka River. The two of them swam most of the way, only getting back in the canoe when we spotted alligators. They both loved to swim, but for some odd reason were afraid to go near our 25-footer Villam when we kept the boat docked at Marina Jack’s. They would spread their legs on the wooden dock in a death grip in fear of going on the boat. When we moved to Siesta Key and kept Villam at the dock behind our house, something instinctive must have taken over, because we could hardly keep them off the boat. If Moby was missing, we would usually find him sleeping in the cuddy cabin. But most of all, it was Shammy who loved the boat. She would jump up on the engine box as we ran along and put her front feet on the gunwale, with her face into the wind, banking into turns as we ran. She kept surfing the waves from the stern of Villam until the end of her 16 years.

We currently have Scupper, our five-year-old, 115-pound golden retriever, with the courage of the cowardly lion. Scup has huge webbed feet and is quite a good swimmer, but is a bit of a reluctant boater. He only joins us because he doesn’t want to be left behind, and spends most of his time under my feet on the cockpit sole. He is a bit of a disappointment as he lacks the passion for boats shared by his predecessors. My very desire for a goldie can be dated back to the iconic photograph of a Hinckley Picnic Boat with her owner gazing at his beautiful boat with his golden retriever by his side. As I tell people, “I couldn’t afford the boat, so I got the dog instead.” Scupper is not so keen on boating, but throw him a tennis ball and he will swim forever to retrieve it. 

There may be another dog in our lives someday, and if so, it will surely be a water dog, with big webbed feet and the love for water in his soul. Perhaps a 200-pound Newfoundland, or maybe just a floppy-eared German shepherd like Pasho. After all, he was the best water dog of them all.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.