The Ship’s Cat


“We got the cat to get rid of the nutria,” my fellow sailing club member told me as we stood in the floating boathouse.  He believed they were coming up through the boat slip and pooping on the deck.

“But we have otters pooping in here,” I retorted, “what good is a cat?” (As if it really mattered what was leaving us surprises.)

I discovered that some sailors believed that if a cat staked out a territory, the other critters would steer clear of our docks.  In my years at the club, I don’t ever remember Grace the cat being terribly effective at evicting fowl or mammals from our grounds, but I do have fond memories of seeing her around the docks where she still lurks today.


Unbeknownst to me, there is a long history of cats, known as ship’s cats, being invited onto ships for their mouse catching abilities.  I always assumed that along with a cat’s aversion to getting wet came a dislike of being near the water or in a boat too.  Grace proved me wrong on both counts.  She patrols the docks, ready to inspect your boat as you pull in.


On a crowded day, Grace can be hard to find, but show up in late fall or winter and she may surprise you by trotting happily down the dock to greet you, as if you are the most important visitor of the year.  If she’s in a good mood, she may even climb aboard.  I’ve always been honored to have her in my boat.  While it is tempting to take her out for a cruise, I never have.  I feared I might wear out my welcome if I trapped her away from shore.


Being cat-like (of course), Grace’s affection comes and goes, so enjoy it when you can.   She bows down to no one, save the club manager at feeding time.   She certainly seems to rule the humans there.  Does she repel nutria, otters, and geese?  I think the jury is still out on that one.

If you’re cruising along the river feeling lonesome or just curious, stop by and see Grace the amazing ship’s cat!

I also highly recommend that you click here to view the impressive photograph collection of ship’s animals from the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

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