It was Fin’s day today. Annual check up and shots. Yep; no leptospirosis for the Finster. Unfortunately there was an anal thermometer. Fin’s eyes went googly and she did try to sit on it briefly. It was like going full circle. The last time I took Fin to our vet’s in the UK was before we left on Quest almost four years ago. It made me remember how much of our journey was actually about Fin. How she’d cope on the boat (not too good), how she’d cope in the water (a little better), and how she’d cope health-wise on such a long voyage. The last one was not too bad. Countless inoculations, vet checks between the islands, rabies titres filled in annually – oh yeah, Fin was an expensive crew member.
She also made us friends. Friends where we didn’t expect it. There are enough sailors and enough sailing families in the Caribbean for people to go meh. But a family with a medium to large, shaggy black dog with webbed feet and a flaggy tail – well, that wasn’t something people in the Caribbean saw every day. We got to know a place not by people saying hi to us, but people saying hi to Fin.
‘Yo Fin!’ a maintenance man at Nelsons Dock in Antigua would shout out every day. An Easter church fete in Falmouth harbour. Locals are understandably pretty tight in the Caribbean. A group of little kids saved the day by falling in love with Fin. She played with them too and our girls joined in with them. It was one of those archetypal cross-cultural moments bridged by a four-legged mammal.
Then there was the dog overboard situation. Of all our sea yarns, this is probably the one we tell the most. Fin fell overboard midway between Antigua and Guadeloupe. Large seas about 2m high, strong trade-winds, bright blue water and a fish biting our line. We were heeling over already and, as Jack inspected the fishing rod, Fin inspected him inspecting the fishing rod, I took 10° of our course; enough to jolt Quest and enough for Fin to slip overboard. Jack says he looked at her and she looked back with the same expression. The ‘Oh shit,’ one.
‘We are not going to lose this dog’. I don’t know why I was so certain. She was already lagging behind and as our sails were up, we couldn’t just stop. ‘There is no way the girls will get over this,’ I thought next. That’s what backed me up. Before the girls could sink into panic, I got them to point at her. I knew someone has to be able to keep an eye on any person or animal that goes overboard. It’s one of the most important parts of the overboard protocol. And I’m no expert, I just listened to Chris Clark, our sailing instructor who could put the fear of the overboard situation into you with just a look.
‘I don’t know how you two would save each other,’ he said once. ‘I mean someone has to point and some someone has to turn the boat and if there’s just two of you in the cockpit I don’t know how you’re going to do it.’ This conundrum had been plaguing me amongst all the other things about us sailing shorthanded. I felt sure then that the girls would do this job. They did it too. They did it beautifully. They only lost sight of Fin once and that was one when Quest was turning around. And she was far by now – a tiny, distant black dot.
I wish I could have been more efficient. Instead, I completely forgot what to do. Jack already had the engine on and must’ve been a sea captain in his previous life because he was nailing it as usual. With his instructions my fumbling hands did the job and we went to collect our catch. Oh, the only thing – we still had our fishing line out and possibly the fish still stuck to the end of it. Suddenly, as we were turning, Jack realised the line might foul the propeller and shouted to me, ‘Cut the line!’ I looked at it. No time for scissors. I opened my mouth and clamped down with my canines. Since my canine was fighting for her life.
We reversed. Jack murmured to me, ‘We only have one chance. I’m gunning it in reverse in order to beat this current.’ This meant if we missed her, Quest would go over her and she’d likely get caught up in the propeller. And I couldn’t put the transom ladder down since the electricity-generating hydro-generator that doesn’t work like the company who sold it to us said it would, was blocking the ladder. So I braced myself on a tiny transom – the only thing I don’t like about Quest – and watched Fin come towards us. Oh, she was determined. When she was an arm’s-length away, a crazy, benign wave literally swept her up and plopped her down into my arms. No time to panic. No way we were losing Fin.
I finished telling the story to the vet nurse. He had the same look on his face almost everybody gets when we tell this story. It’s a kind of, ‘I didn’t realise you were so crazy,’ mixed with, ‘Wow, that is one cool dog’.
All the while, Fin had one terrified eye on the vet’s exit. Since fear is relative.