I hear a muffled whimper, then scratching. I keep my eyes closed and do my best not to move a muscle, hoping she’ll roll over and go back to bed. The odds of that happening are rarely in my favor, and they’re certainly not today. The whimpering continues.

I haven’t had to set an alarm clock in months; the newest addition to the Harding family—a 20-pound Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Salty—is ready for her walk ashore. Karen and I move in silence as we pack an early morning ditch kit: a leash, bags and her favorite green ball. The dinghy is covered with drops of dew. A couple pulls of the cord and the outboard awakens. We begin idling through the mooring field as quietly as possible.

The harbor is a sheet of glass and reflects the pinks and light oranges of sunrise. No matter how many times I experience it, the still beauty of a sunrise on the water is hard to beat. Salty jumps down from Karen’s lap and takes up her perch on the front of the dinghy. Tongue hanging out, she looks back with a Cheshire grin as if to say, “See, aren’t you glad I woke you up?”

salty

While I can’t honestly say I’m a morning person, I’ve grown quite fond of this new morning routine. I can think of no better way to start a day then a dinghy ride and a happy pup. It’s a long weekend, so after a walk and a few (dozen) rounds of fetch it’s back to the boat to regroup for the day.

Puttering through the mooring field I spot a school of snappers breaking in the distance. I grab my fishing pole and take off in pursuit. Salty hangs over the side of the tube watching excitedly as I cast. I realize what I saw was actually a school of peanut bunker that I’ll never catch. I continue casting anyway. After a while Karen takes a turn on the rod and reel with Salty falling asleep at her feet.

It was a peaceful morning, one that I remember fondly now that winter is enveloping New England.

Reflecting on the past summer—and looking forward to the adventures ahead—I’ve been thinking about the virtues of a good boat dog and why it seems man’s best friend appeals to so many boaters.

A dog has a way of accentuating a lot of the things I like best about boating. I like the peacefulness both bring. I like that both are very active in nature. I find that boaters and dogs are generally outgoing and are part of a dying breed that actually still go out of their way to meet new people.

Walking the docks with Salty, people will inevitably ask what kind of dog she is—telling them she’s a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is grounds for a long conversation, guaranteed. Such introductions have actually led me to meet a number of Power & Motoryacht readers, which has been a rewarding exercise.

Now, don’t let this cute red face fool you. Cruising with a high-energy dog is not for the faint of heart. For as many morning fishing sessions we’ve enjoyed there have been equal parts Chinese fire drills. Her propensity to jump from the dinghy onto the boat or dock has caused sudden bursts of panic.

Then there was the time she started choking on a baby tooth while I played chicken with a fat aft-cabin cruiser through a drawbridge (I lost that one). Where once an impromptu trip to the boat meant grabbing a six-pack and a couple pillows, it now requires a crate, pillow for the dog (she’s quite spoiled), water, food and, of course, that favorite green ball. We look like pack mules heading out for a weeknight on the mooring.

It’s all worth it in the end. Salty has reminded me of some important lessons. Things like: Go for more walks. Drink water. Play outside. Make new friends. And that sometimes, the best way to start a day is with a fishing pole and a good friend by your side. 

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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