Mr Miyagi balanced precariously on the edge of the new and interesting cavity which my friend Dwight and I had opened up in the floor of the pilot house. We were doing some maintenance on the big red diesel that hunkered down in that dark cave. The cat had no idea it was the source of the horrendous roar and subsequent terror that plagued him in his new life aboard Porpoise. In its quiet state it was just another of the incomprehensible objects to reconnoiter here. He stepped gingerly along the teak parquet floor keeping perfect balance on the edge like a tightrope walker and peering intently down into this whole new world of wires, pipes, metals, boxes and hidey holes of which he had been unaware until now.
“Don’t even think about it” ,
I growled in his direction as I fumbled with a drain nut underneath the governor. His impassive yellow eyes met my meaningful look as I tried to impress upon him the import of an investigation of this particular space. The big red monster under his gaze seemed innocuous enough while at rest.
” You wouldn’t like it in this hole with Mr 120 horse Ford Lehman. Believe me! A more personal encounter you don’t want!”
The tip of his tail twitched back and forth behind his inscrutable face a sign of impish and unpredictable behavior to come. He had plans of his own. The phone rang, our attentions diverted to other things and a few minutes later we slid the heavy wood engine covers back in place. It was time to get going. We had things to do. Some friends would be awaiting us at the White Rock peir at 2:00 Pm and Lyza and I were slated to take them out on the water for a couple of days an opportunity for new people to experience this amazing coast and to introduce them to Porpoise. It was always with pardonable pride that we sailed them across the Salish Sea (Georgia Strait) in such a magnificent ship on the way to visit our favorite coves and beaches. Miagi was almost always a hit playing the role of our unconventional mascot as cats are not known for partiality towards anything related to water.
It was later in that same afternoon half way across the straits when the first mild alarm went up. Lyza popped her head up the companion way while I was in the middle of a genial conversation with the guests to ask,
“John….Have you seen the cat?”
“Uhh.. No.. not for awhile…He was definitely on the boat this morning”
Well….I’ll keep looking but I haven’t seen him anywhere. You don’t think he could have been left behind in Blaine do you?”
“Naww… I doubt that…”
Miagi rarely jumped ship so I didn’t think he’d been left on shore but he did have other tricks. While on board he could disappear from sight periodically and then mysteriously reappear without us being able to discover where he had been. After performing this magic act a number of times we began to get wise to some of his secret spaces. On a boat the size of Porpoise there were myriad locations where he could be holed up..under beds, inside cupboards, behind shelves, even under floor boards. If we made the effort to search we eventually found him in some dark recess often by his luminescent eyes in the light of a flashlight. Many times we opened a clothes drawer or cupboard to find Miagi comfortably draped among the stuff wearing a smirkish smile and obviously pleased him himself. That was preferable to the times he would choose to leap suddenly out of his new hidey hole like a jack in the box to wreak havoc on our startled nerves. These sorts of shenanigans may give the impression that he actually enjoyed boat life but in truth he was rather resentful of the fact that he was basically shanghaied. He carried an underlying grudge against fate or God or to whomever or whereever a cat lays blame that he was taken from his secure home and banished to the sea.
So I wasn’t overly worried when Lyza reported the missing cat. Knowing how he hated the motor noise I figured he had just scrammed somewhere when the motor came on in Blaine and would reappear as usual.
“Don’t worry about it Darlin. He’ll come back out once we’re anchored and the motor is off.”
Lyza looked at me dubiously.
“ I don’t know. You better not have left him on shore. I think we better phone the Blaine marina in case he’s on the dock somewhere. Remember that time he ended up on Barry’s boat.”
I did remember the Barry’s boat caper when Miagi actually did jump ship and failed to return. Barry was a fellow resident of hometown White Rock who had acquired a boat almost exactly like Porpoise only it was a Formosa design. It was tied up only four slips down from our home berth at the marina. In the first days of our summer sojourn on the boat we remained tied to the dock to do various maintenance projects and Miagi after a couple of days establishing his security in the new surroundings would jump ship at night and wander around the various floats sniffing out new places . On one such venture he came back to Barry’s boat and thinking it was Porpoise, jumped aboard the look alike. Strangely finding no welcoming access to his usual comforts of bed and breakfast he finally after sniffing around found an unorthodox entry through a sky light hatch located in the top of the boat’s pilot house. If he had taken time to think about it (which I don’t think cat’s do—apparently their brains are the size of a chicken’s) he would have known that his boat didn’t have a skylight. Barry’s skylight turned out to be a cat trap. There was no exit. On this occasion after missing him for two days we sounded an alarm in the marina community. Word of the missing Miagi got around to everyone including Barry who lived at home in White Rock but there was no word of him. Eventually we had to leave him wherever he was to keep a rendezvous with friends and left the marina behind. A day after embarking we got the phone call.
“ I found your cat.”
It was Barry
“ Ohhh.. wonderful! Thank you.! Where did you find him?” …..Silence….
“ In my boat. Your dumb cat peed on one of my best shirts!’
“Geez I’m sorry Barry. We’ll get it cleaned for you. How did he end up in your boat?”
“Through the pilot house hatch. It was the only thing open. Once he was in there was absolutely no way out. He must have thought my boat was yours.”
“Wow your boat makes a really awesome cat trap. That could come in handy.”
“Yeah funny! In the future keep your cat and his pee on your own boat.”
Barry was mildly perturbed and amused simultaneously and returned the cat later that day in a mid Semiahmoo Bay transfer that could have set off some border alarms if noticed. Getting arrested for cat smuggling would have been icing on the cake of his bad soiled shirt day. Miagi, none the worse for his adventure was glad to be back on his own familiar ship. We were starting to get used to these cat capers.
So in this latest disappearance it was not beyond the realm of possibility that Miagi was left behind in Blaine skanking about the docks oblivious to the fact that his ship was gone twenty four miles away through the gulf islands where we anchored later that night with our friends.
Our guests Ron and Sue were concerned and accommodating about our missing mascot as we dropped anchor at Sidney Spit offering to shorten their trip to go back and find him. I was still a little perturbed at the nuisance and his latest disappearance. Being more inclined to letting things run their course I said,
‘Let the cat find his way. Some one will feel sorry for him at the Marina if he is there and take pity on him. (He didn’t handle missing his three squares a day with snacks in between very well and was totally incapable of foraging for himself). On the other hand Lyza is generally more interventionist.
“We’ve got to find him! We’ve got to go back.” My cavalier attitude wasn’t going down well with her and with compassionate Sue also chiming in I began to feel cornered.
“Listen he could still be on board somewhere although it is strange that the engine has been off for a couple of hours now and he hasn’t appeared. At any rate we’re not going to travel in the dark back to Blaine in search of a missing cat. We’ll just have to wait till morning and decide what to do then.”
After an enjoyable evening of sunset, wine and dinner conversation we all retired early. Life on the water with all the motion and fresh air has a narcotic effect . I lay sleepily in bed as the darkness enfolded the quiet night worrying a little over our mascot. In spite of my stout words I had to admit the affection I felt for him. This life was proving to be more arduous than we anticipated for our pet to put up with and now he might really be in some trouble. Thinking back to the beginning I had to admit to myself that even his introduction to life at sea had been traumatic.
He had basically been conscripted aboard Porpoise that spring. We couldn’t leave him home with house renters and so we decided he should become a sea cat, of course without his consent. The transition had been rough. Grabbed one day by the scruff of the neck and shoved into an undersized cat carrier he was walked to the end of White Rock pier and then balanced on the bow of our little inflatable to be transported across bumpy water and thrown unceremoniously on the deck of Porpoise along with piles of grocery boxes and luggage. There he sat for some time to contemplate the alien surroundings through the bars of his carrier, his land bound cat brain trying to make sense of the strange sounds and smells while his body tried to assimilate the sensation of the deck heaving underneath his paws. His world was definitely rocked.
Once everything was aboard we gingerly opened the door of his cage to let him out. As most cats will do in new and strange surroundings he was spooked at first, frozen in place staring wild eyed about and then flattened to a stealthy crawl along the deck he bolted for the nearest cover he could find. Cramming himself between the deck box and the main mast he stayed there trembling and glaring out at hostile surroundings periodically emitting a yowl of distress like the sound of felines squaring off at night.
Knowing the ways of cats we thought it best to leave him alone for awhile to internalize his plight. Eventually he would creep out of his cover, reconnoiter the ground and secure himself in this new world. Sure enough by that first evening aboard Miagi had duly investigated the whole ship inside and out and from stem to stern. This included even a sortie out to the very tip of the bowsprit where he balanced over the deep and obviously determined there was no way off this strange platform. It didn’t take a cat whisperer to divine the negative assessment he was making of his new living situation. Lets just say it was not positive. He discovered that on every side he was totally surrounded by his least favorite substance. Water. He could smell it and he could see it as he paced slowly up and down the deck peering down into the dark green depths where possibly a voice like Gandalf the wizard’s at the bridge of Kazad Dum rang in his ears “You shall not pass!!” The parameters of his world had shrunk dramatically by one slight of his master’s hand. He was condemned with out consultation to a moat surrounded jail. Upon further investigations he did discover there were a few consolations. Down below decks he found food, warmth, cozy soft beds, secure hiding places and a defined world where the boundaries were clear, manageable and acceptable to his territorial demands. I realize I am making some pretty big assumptions about what a cat’s thought processes are like but I bet I’m not far off.
Just when he was getting used to the situation and thought maybe he could do this, the second thing happened to ruin his disposition and confirm to his mind that his life was on a downward spiral. Suddenly out of nowhere in the middle of the day just as he was beginning to relax a deep rumbling growl commenced and grew louder and louder thundering up from somewhere deep belly of the boat. His first thought was that the floating thing he walked upon was actually alive, perhaps hungry and going to eat him. His eyes flashed green lightning and his claws scratched on the teak deck as he scrambled and fled for somewhere, anywhere to get away from this monstrous terror. Down below was not an option for the sound was more terrible there so he dove for a tiny space between ropes and bags on deck. Later he discovered a better refuge tucked behind the binnacle where he glowered out at me as I steered the ship. The great floating creature bore him along over the hated water rearing and rolling while the thundering noise just kept on for hours at a time while this whole new world crashed through the waves. His only recourse was to go to ground and quiver until the roaring stopped and the creature after making some other great rattling clanking noises (the anchor chain let out) became quiet again. It took an hour or two after the first time this happened for him to creep forth. He discovered night time was the best time as it was almost always quiet and safe. Then he would sit up in the dark his senses at their peak listening to the new and strange sounds of the ocean and its night creatures especially the sea birds. He could really come to like this part of boating but the next day the roaring ordeal began again first thing in the morning without warning for long periods of time. Soon it was clear that he better get used to it because it was all just part of his new life like it or not.
As the days of his incarceration stretched on we became increasingly aware that he was not making the necessary internal adjustments. It was evident that the normal sunny disposition of our fun loving feline was giving way to a noticeable melancholy. He was obviously suffering from a bad cattitude. We could almost hear the thoughts running through his head.
“How could my life have been subjected to such a rotten turn of events. What have I done to deserve this? What crime? Was there a God ruling over the affairs of cats or not? Why should I be the one consigned to this fate? What possessed my people to embark upon such a weird and stupid existence and why did they have to include me? I would have been perfectly willing to stay home and watch over the house for them”
As the days of his first summer went by he eventually learned to accept his lot in life going to ground when the tyrant raged and cautiously ranging the boat when he was quiet. Eventually he discovered every nook and cranny on the boat where a cat could hide and where we would find him after a run wearing an increasingly malignant expression. In the quiet times we occasionally saw the return of the happy and playful Miagi but the cloud of fear always remained in the atmosphere overshadowing any respite he might have felt in the good times. With this deterioration of his attitude continuing in the face of the daily assault on his nerves we had to become reconciled to the fact that we had become the guardians of a sour puss.
So with this background understood we return back to our anchorage with friends at Sidney spit and this latest disappearance. We fully expected after reaching the quiet of our anchorage to see him reappear out of some cupboard or locker. It was late at night by the time we wrapped up our evening conversation with Ron and Sue. The motor had been off for six or seven hours and still no Miagi. We began to think there was just no way he could still be on the boat. He had to be back in Blaine. As I lay in bed that night in the dark I was assaulted with self recriminations. I remonstrated with myself thinking I should have checked to make sure he was aboard before leaving the dock. In the bigger picture I wondered if it was a mistake to bring a full grown cat on a boat and inflict this life upon him when he had no preparation for it. He was born a barn cat not a boat cat. Maybe he would never be able to adjust.
It was 2:00 A.M. Waking out of a sound sleep I heard a knock on our stateroom door. It was our guest Sue.
“ John? Lyza? I think I’ve been hearing something up in the front of the boat. It sounds like it might be your cat! I think I heard a meow coming from somewhere but it sounds far away”
Clearing the fog of night from our minds it was surprising how quickly we made our way to the front stateroom where we gathered in a knot over the floor boards. I strained my ears to listen. Sure enough! A distant plaintive meow was just discernable emanating from below and down under the floor somewhere. I decided to pull up the little used floorboard and shined a flashlight into the bilge up forward into a dark musty space. It was a dry bilge this far forward but filthy with years of layered dust, dirt and grime. Peering up into the gloom my heart jumped for joy as a clear meow sounded in the dark matched by a pair of glowing green eyes that shone back at me from the furthest corner of the bow. Miagi made a cautious crawl in my direction where I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and hauled him out into the light. Up from the bilge he arose with a mighty smell of diesel in our nose and I held him at arms length avoiding close contact with the filthy ball of fur. There were shouts of welcome, cries of pity at his deplorable state and a lot of relieved laughter at the comedy of his situation. Our lost castaway in Blaine had been found a stowaway on the Porpoise. Transported to a table for examination we found him unscathed and fit though unwelcome in decent company until he could be given a bath.
A bath indeed was the first order of business where he discovered that what he had most feared was now come upon him. Gently lowered into a dish pan of warm water he was soaked through to his quivering skin and lathered to his twitching ears. He put up with this stoically but his face was a study of introspection. He had the look of one who has gone down into the darkest depths, met the red thunder demon face to face and lived to come back to tell about it. He’d had a first hand encounter with his worst nightmare. He’d been in the belly of the whale. This was an experience that was going to require some time to internalize. Miagi had met the monster.
Later when he was dried warmed and fed he lay on the pilot house bench perched like a sphinx over his front paws his eyes alternately closing and opening to little slits. There he stayed barely moving except to occasionally eat or use his cat box for a couple of days always returning to renew his vigil of silent contemplation. I thought the wheels were turning inside but one cant be sure with cats. Perhaps he was coming to terms with his bad attitudes or maybe he was mulling over a final mutinous solution.
While this was going on for him I had to do some thinking myself about what must have occurred the previous morning to land him in the bilge. I had to imagine what happened when Dwight and I were conversing over the engine in Blaine. He must have jumped down into the cavity to explore when we weren’t looking and then we slid the cover over the engine and Miagi at the same time. Once the covers closed over him he was trapped in the underworld of passageways that ran the length of the boat full of wires, water and fuel lines, and myriad pieces of equipment living under the floorboards. At first this would not be disturbing as he generally like being closed up into small secret spaces. It would be an opportunity to explore more deeply into his new world.
He didn’t realize that this time he was not alone. In this dark place only inches from his sensitive ears the cold steel engine block slept awaiting only a spark from the ignition key above to suddenly roar into life. As he nosed about down there in the cool quiet I can only imagine the shattering terror of that instant when I turned the key. He probably jumped straight up with a jolt crashing his head into the engine covers only to fall back into the bilge and then throw his body against the surrounding walls of the engine compartment scrambling to shove his head into any aperture that could swallow him up and away from the shrieking banshee. Squeezing his shaking bones through one hole after another he would have scratched and pawed his way forward past the sewer bladder and water pumps until finally butting up against the bowsprit plates below the anchor chain locker. There he would have stayed because he could go no further cramming himself into the most compact version of himself he could make. He stayed there frozen in fear for seventeen or eighteen long hours even after the monster became quiet and slept. I don’t think he had any seaweed wrapped round his neck but if he had known anything about Jonah he would be quoting his famous verse…. “Those who observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.”
After the long vigil in the bilge he finally ventured a plaintive meow or two crying out for help from the depths of the Miry Pit. (Psalm 42) Hearing footsteps above his people appeared with light from above to haul him forth and back into the land of the living but his trials were not yet over yet. Just when he was feeling better and comforted in the everlasting arms they carried him towards the sink and dropped him into…Yes… that’s right…Water!!… The other bane of his present existence. Talk about adding insult to injury. After this short lived fawning all over him they subject him to this rude baptism of additional tortures. As if there wasn’t enough of the hated water stuff surrounding him everywhere but his people had to go and drop him into a tub of it. After all he had been through. At least they had the decency to use water warm. What followed was an indignity of scrubbing and rubbing till his skin fairly tingled and his fur smelled like perfume.
Dried and delivered from these trials he was deposited on the soft cushions to recover. It took a couple of days to regain his equilibrium. He moved about the boat to different resting places, ate more food and gingerly walked again the perimeters of the boat. Our friends had made their goodbyes and we sailed off into our summer boat life. We were in a new quiet place with the anchor down and the motor quiet when I first noticed the change in the morning while nonchalantly peering out of the rectangular porthole of the aft head. Reaching up to close it my hand came suddenly came under attack. A lightning flash of furry paw whipped through the opening batted and grazed my fingers and disappeared. In an instant the paw reappeared claws extended clutching at the sill like the hand of a man clinging for life at the edge of a cliff. I knew in a moment what must be done. I grabbed at the paw with my right hand while plunging my left through the port where I found and tousled the furry head hidden round the corner. I narrowly avoided getting seriously scratched.
The claw then withdrew only to dart back around from behind the edge of the porthole again grasping repeatedly after my hand. I thought to myself ‘This means war!’ I knew the game well and played my part batting back at him with a feint of counter attack and ducking to an angle where I could get a glimpse of my adversary. There he was crouched and coiled his eyes glazed over with madness. In this half crazed state I knew there would be no quarter given or taken. Miagi was in the state of high dough usually only seen or heard at night when we were sometimes awakened to the thumps and thuds of him marauding around the deck after imaginary foes. Now in broad daylight this night raider had come to wreak havoc upon us and challenge the captain himself to a duel. Then with a bound and a scrape of toenails he was gone again up and over the aft cabin. From there he catapulted over top of the pilot house to the front deck where he landed with a thud, crash and clatter sending a bailing bucket flying across into the scuppers. Gaining traction again with his nails I could hear him skittering off toward the bowsprit. After a short silence the sound of a distant thundering gallop came closer and louder until a blur of tawney yellow shot past my port hole and beyond. After a prolonged silence thinking the fit had perhaps passed I poked an experimental finger out of the port hole and wiggled it provocatively only to whip it back inside knocking my elbow against the wall after a narrow escape of paw and claw. Miagi was back in fine fettle.
The following days showed the miracle cure to be lasting. He gamboled over the length and breadth of the ship perching on various high points in a leonine pose behaving as though Porpoise was now was his personal domain. Balancing along the edge of the rails he would glance down at the water with bravado as though it was of no big concern. He could handle it He even rambled along the booms resting for periods of time on the sail covers and sometimes shinnied part way up the masts when on a tear. The proprietary way he settled on every bench, bed and cushion let it be known that Porpoise was now duly conquered and considered a part of the dominions of prince Miagi.
So what is it? I thought to myself after witnessing this metamorphosis. How is it that cats and men seem to sometimes actually do better after going through things like near death experiences. I could relate to the principle of it if I thought of various circumstances in my own life. I knew I fared much better to face stormy weather above decks where I could encounter the wind and waves face to face than to cower below decks where my imagination could amplify my fears.
Miagi’s first introduction to a pacific encounter had not been good. After this traumatic experience his life changed and he actually became a pretty solid sea cat, our chosen mascot for the summers. The three of us became known as the three amigos sharing this new vagabond life together. Though pretending the uncaring independence associated with his kind Miagi as these summers wore on became a very sociable ship mate following us around to plant himself wherever we would be whether at the table for meals or in the chairs on the bow or down below watching a DVD or welcoming new guests aboard. He always preferred the company of pretty girls schmoozing his way onto their laps for a pet and a caress. Now the Porpoise is one of his favorite places to be. Once in awhile the old sour puss returns under adverse conditions especially storms and he is never really happy when the old red monster roars but he has found a way to co-exist being reconciled to his lot and makes the best of it. He knows tribulation will come but that it doesn’t last forever. The sun will go down to bring the quiet of night and it will come up again with the promise of interesting birds and fresh fish. Life is not so bad if you accept just living with the good and bad alike.
Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly,
2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.
3 For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.
4 Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple.
5 The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head.
6 I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God.
7 When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
8 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.
10 And the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
This is a chapter of the new book John and Lyza have just finished and soon to be published. It is a book about the Porpoise story called ‘Pacific Encounters’
If you would like to preorder a copy hit the contact link below to make your request in the enquiry box.