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Cats' Adventures & Travels 8
The Picton Castle (named after a real castle in Pembrokeshire, western Wales) was built in 1928 as a motorised fishing trawler operating out of South Wales. She was modern for her time, and in World War II was conscripted into the Royal Navy as a minesweeper a very dangerous occupation but she survived and after the war was used as a freighter in the North Sea and Scandinavia. In the early 1990s her captain, Daniel Moreland, was seeking a vessel that could be converted into a square-rigged barque. He came across Picton Castle, then languishing in a Norwegian fjord, and she fitted the bill.
She was taken across the Atlantic, to New York and eventually to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where she was transformed with a 2 million dollar refit 1996-97. Now she travels the world participating in worthwhile projects, trading goods, delivering educational resources to remote island schools, and acting as a sail-training vessel. Picton Castle has taken part in a number of tall-ships festivals, and during 2010-11 completed her fifth round-the-world voyage. Although Lunenburg is her usual operating base where most of her voyages begin and end, she is registered in the Pacific Cook Islands, so whenever Picton visits the island of Rarotonga it's often referred to as her home port.
The ship's cat
Naturally any self-respecting sailing ship needs a resident cat, and Chibley was holder of the post on Picton for 14 years. Her full name was Miss Chibley Bits. No, I didn't know either! apparently 'chibley bits' is an old sailors' term for little pieces of 'stuff' that are picked up on the feet from walking barefoot on a wooden deck. When you roll into and out of your bunk at the end of your watch or the start of a new one, these bits get left behind. As 'Chibs', to use her familiar name, was very small when she first came on board and remained quite small the captain came up with the name Miss Chibley Bits. She was a six-toed (polydactyl) cat.
She was rescued from an animal shelter in 1997 while very young and was ship's cat since then. She was described as 'free-range', meaning that she went where she pleased, and she was said to exert nearly as much influence on board as the captain! She would personally check out all new trainees when they came aboard, and sometimes supervised dockside sales of merchandise such as T-shirts, hats and the like inscribed Chibley the only cat with a barque. Chibley had a tendency to steal the show wherever the ship called and was a great favourite which she knew, of course!
As a free-range cat, Chibs was usually allowed ashore in port (she hated being confined to ship and would protest vehemently), and usually had that uncanny ability of ship's cats to appear again shortly before sailing time. On a couple of occasions, though, she caused mayhem and delayed departure by not reporting for duty on time, presumably having had unfinished business to attend to on shore. In 2000 even the city police of Halifax, Nova Scotia, were enlisted to search for her when she didn't return after a Parade of Sail. The ship was in the process of leaving port when Chibs was found to be absent, was turned back, and would not re-sail without her; she reappeared in her own time (after national media attention!).
A similar thing happened on another occasion, following a Tall Ships event in Bergen, Norway, when sailing time arrived and no cat had returned. Crew members wandered around the streets frantically shaking bags of cat treats, and someone turned up at the ship with a struggling and indignant tabby that was not Chibley! It transpired that a Norwegian couple had come across her in an alley, eating a cheeseburger, and thinking she was a stray had taken her home. Only when they found out from the news media about the search did they realise they had the ship's cat who, meanwhile, had had a nice cosy nap in their home! After that she always wore a collar when the ship was in port, with instructions about what to do if she was found wandering.
A cat of character
It's been said of Chibley that she didn't think she was a cat: she thought she was a sailor, and one not of inconsequential rank, either. In June 2008 Captain Moreland wrote in his log that the cat had been very talkative of late, and he thought that when she meowed at someone she was clearly articulating some specific and logical point, and quite possibly giving instructions. She would then look up with her big, soulful eyes, give a little flick of her tail and, with a final backward glance, go off to see to other business, having left her instructions to be followed. Although much loved, and affectionate in her own way, she wasn't always a great one for tummy rubs, ear scratching or cuddles; when faced with such situations she could stalk off and find something more important to do!
Round the world for the fifth time
Chibley's last major adventure began in May 2010, when Picton Castle started her fifth round-the-world voyage, expected to be the last of that kind under the command of Captain Daniel Moreland. Lasting 14 months, the ship set out from her home port of Lunenburg, then sailed westwards after passage through the Panama Canal. Picton returned to Lunenburg in mid-June 2011 after a successful voyage. Although they no longer extend as far back as Chibley's time, images from current and past voyages are posted at Picton's Flickr photostream. She can be seen a couple of times in this Picton video at YouTube.
While she was alive Chibley had full billing as a crew member of the ship, with a photograph and a bio in her own words. As this is no longer available we reproduce the last version here, for her 5th round-the-world voyage:
When the ship's in port between voyages for repairs and maintenance, there are always a few crew members around, working on projects and ensuring security, so Chibs was able to remain aboard in familiar surroundings and be looked after. Apparently Captain Moreland had tried taking her to his house while they were ashore but apart from short visits there, Chibley did not want to know!
Tragedy and a tribute
Sadly, Chibley was no longer aboard by the time the ship took part in the Tall Ships Challenge in mid-2012 and visited various ports along the American eastern seaboard. On the stormy and dark evening of 10 November 2011 in Lunenburg, as she was making her way back to the ship from Captain Moreland's house after a good meal, she was hit by a car and killed. What a tragic and bizarrely inappropriate fate for a cat that had sailed around the world five times, clocking up a total of some 250,000 miles (400,000 km) on her voyages. Fortunately her body was found and recovered shortly after the accident. A memorial service was held on 12 November, at which a number of her friends and admirers gave her a 'good send-off', and she is buried on the Lunenburg waterfront. In that way shipmates who weren't able to be at the service will be able to visit her grave and pay their respects when they come back to the port, and she has a nice view of the harbour so she can watch the ships come and go.
Captain Daniel Moreland wrote a comprehensive and touching tribute to Chibley following her death. It can be seen in his log for 11 November 2011.
Following Chibley's sad loss, a new ship's cat was needed. During Picton's 2012 summer voyage, tabby cat George was just eight weeks old when he was adopted by Chief Mate Michael Moreland in Savannah, Georgia, where he had been rescued that very same day. When he was found, little George was a street moggy, all skin and bones and big scared eyes a tiny bundle of fur with big ears and a whippet-thin tail. He has four white paws and a white nose, so he looks as if he's been caught stealing the cream.
He spent his first day on the ship just sleeping and eating. Soon his belly grew fat and round, and 'the rest of him will plump up soon enough', as Moreland put it. To start with George lived in the mate's cabin as he began learning his job as ship's cat, but it wasn't long before he was enjoying trips to the charthouse and promenades around the deck, 'accompanied by the cooing of otherwise thoroughly salty sailor girls'. He enjoyed playing with string and hiding in dark corners, like behind the desk in the office, and he also enjoyed having his face and tummy rubbed. George was pretty pleased when the crew caught fresh fish, and was always on the lookout for unattended food. He'd been providing great entertainment and was described as a 'scamp', hunting shadows and still exploring his world expanded a little more once he managed to climb the charthouse ladder, but he also spent a lot of time snoozing in the office.
In mid-August 2012 the ship returned home to Lunenberg to prepare for her next voyage to the Pacific, starting in October. Listed among a number of reasons to join the voyage was George, as he was 'Excellent for crew morale', adding that he 'already knows how to attend musters, inspect bunks and climb the sheets made fast on the mainmast.'
By May 2013 it was reported from Picton Castle that, nearing the end of his first major voyage, 'the smallest, furriest shipmate George has got his sea legs now and the movement of the ship doesn't bother him, as long as he can keep his paws dry and find people to give him his daily dose of petting. With 30 people aboard he doesn't exactly want for attention.'
During Picton Castle's 2013 visit to Australia to take part in the Tall Ships festival, strict quarantine laws meant that George could not be allowed ashore; to avoid any possibility of his 'escaping' he had to be locked up in his 'cat condo' (a converted vegetable locker) for a week. However, he was allowed to stay on board. But things were not so simple when the ship moved on with the Tall Ships in late October to its next port of call, New Zealand, where it was planned to remain for six weeks. The authorities refused to accept the 'Australian solution' and gave Picton's crew three choices: put him in quarantine ashore for the six weeks, send him home or put him to sleep. This last was unthinkable, and neither did anyone want to see him imprisoned on shore for six weeks away from his friends. It was therefore decided he would have to fly home to Canada, where he would be looked after by Captain Michael Moreland. So New Zealand Air flew him from Auckland to Vancouver, where he had a 12-hour stopover with food, fresh water and cuddles provided by a pet travel service ('Better than any stopover I ever had,' remarked one crew member wryly). From there Air Canada took him to Toronto and on to Halifax, where he was met by Capt Moreland. The whole journey lasted 36 hours. At the time, George was expected to rejoin his ship at some suitable point later in the voyage.
New ship's cats
In mid-2014 it was announced that two new feline crew members had been taken on board and, 'after a rigorous application process' they would be sharing the position of ship's kitten. Suva was grey and quite bold and adventurous, while Fiji was more ginger-coloured, and shyer. Only about six weeks old at the time and both female, they weren't sisters but got on well together. As their names suggest, they came from Fiji, one of the ship's ports of call on the 2014 voyage.
We enquired about George, and were told that he was 'enjoying life on land, sharing his time between Mike Moreland and the awesome Inglis family'. It seems he's become a landlubber!
Sadly, Suva died during 2016 we don't know the circumstances but the crew, including Suva's feline crew-mate Fiji, were said to be devastated. However, in 2018 Fiji was alive and well and was reported as having just completed her world circumnavigation under sail. She was then 4 years old and an adored member of the crew. A new youngster, Tigress (right), was taken on in April 2018 at about 6 months old; she still had to earn Fiji's full approval, but was learning from her how to be a proper ship's cat!
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Miss Chibley wrote her first children's book, assisted by Ruth Wells, who is a sailor herself and has spent time on Picton Castle. Entitled Chibley: The Cat who went to Sea (ISBN 978-1-896496-61-0), the book describes her arrival and early days on the ship, and has drawings by Doug McCabe.
Chibley's second children's book was published during 2009, again with Ruth Wells' help and with lovely illustrations by Yolanda Poplawska. It tells of Chibley's adventures around the port of Halifax, when she met Clara and Erik the Red from the Maritime Museum there. Publishers are Community Books Lockeport, Nova Scotia; ISBN 978-1-896496-69-6; available from Ruth Wells as above.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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