Eli Orzessek is Travel's Digital Content Producer.

Sailing cat acts as deaf owner's 'ears at sea'

He's only fallen overboard accidentally once. Photo / Supplied
He's only fallen overboard accidentally once. Photo / Supplied

Auckland sailor Paul Thompson can't always hear everything around him while at sea. That's where his cat comes in.

A six-month-old ginger Maine Coon, Strauss von Skattebol of Rebelpawz - or Skatty for short - plays an important role when the pair go sailing around New Zealand.

Paul Thompson's junk 'La Chica'. Photo / Supplied
Paul Thompson's junk 'La Chica'. Photo / Supplied

"I am totally deaf and Skatty is my ears," Thompson says.

"Without any training, he has twigged that I don't hear and of his own accord he lets me know if a boat comes alongside, people are at my door and when my phone receives text messages."

Skatty with his dad Paul Thompson. Photo / Supplied
Skatty with his dad Paul Thompson. Photo / Supplied

Originally from South Africa, the 58-year-old computer programmer built his 32-foot double-ended junk La Chica himself and lives on board with Skatty in summer.

"Generally, if I'm below, he'll be below and if I'm on deck he will usually come up as well," Thompson says. "At night he normally sleeps with me, curled up in the crook of my knee."

Skatty is a polydactyl cat, meaning he was born with extra toes on each paw. It's a trait that was considered highly desirable to old-time sailors, who believed these cats were good mousers with a better grip on the deck.

"For me as sailor, it was very satisfying to have a polydactyl cat," Thompson says.

Skatty's extra toes give him a better grip on the deck. Photo / Supplied
Skatty's extra toes give him a better grip on the deck. Photo / Supplied

While cats and water don't generally mix, the Maine Coon breed is often an exception. Skatty takes the occasional swim and has only accidentally fallen overboard once.

"He was in the water for about two minutes and it was cold, it took about two hours of TLC and warmth for him to recover and he was somewhat subdued for the rest of the day.

"He was never in any danger as I was watching him all the time, but some things a cat has to learn the hard way."

He's only fallen overboard accidentally once. Photo / Supplied
He's only fallen overboard accidentally once. Photo / Supplied

Previously, Thompson sailed around the world for fifteen years with his grey tabby Tommy, an epic adventure that saw the pair cruise from South Africa to Central and South America, the USA, Mexico and Canada.

After Tommy "crossed the rainbow bridge", Paul adopted Skatty as a 14-week-old kitten with the intention of training him as a ship's cat.

When conditions get rough, Skatty sleeps under the salon table. Photo / Supplied
When conditions get rough, Skatty sleeps under the salon table. Photo / Supplied

"Having a cat onboard forces you to slow down and take life at your cat's pace," Thompson says. "Skatty wants to know about everything and in satisfying his curiosity I learn to see things in a new light or from a different perspective."

While the young cat has yet to leave New Zealand waters, a circumnavigation is planned for next year with his first overseas stop likely to be Australia.

The pair plan to embark on a circumnavigation next year. Photo / Supplied
The pair plan to embark on a circumnavigation next year. Photo / Supplied

In winter, the pair divide their time between the ship and their flat in Albany - but even on land, Skatty has an important job to do.

The friendly feline is being trained as a therapy cat and Thompson hopes to start visiting rest homes and hospices soon to "share the love".

Those interested in following Skatty's journeys can like his page on Facebook.

- nzherald.co.nz

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