Bosun the Wonder Dog

Stuart Ballantyne spins a tall tale about his own special dogs - Bosun 1, 2 and 3.

Bosun the Wonder Dog

According to that famous Scandinavian Philosopher, Hagar the Horrible, “A man without a boat is not a happy man”.

He is right, and I cannot begin to understand the sorrow of people who don’t have a boat.

According to another unknown wise man, “a dog is a man’s best friend", so to my undeveloped brain, I thought that a man with a boat and a dog would be deliriously happy.

I had a boat, and in pursuit of the other piece of the happiness jigsaw, I ended up at the lost dog's home in East Geelong.

The dog, a retriever cross, gave me “the look” in the same way my first girlfriend picked me up, and the deal was done.

Sit here, I told Bosun, on the foredeck of my small timber Trimaran on the day of the club sail pass.

He was okay until he noticed a nice female dog on another vessel, did a “Forrest Gump”, and walked off the side of the boat.

Hauling someone back on board is difficult enough, but a hairy, waterlogged dog about a metre below the deck line was very heavy, and I couldn’t get him back on board. So I put a bit of rope under him and “parbuckled” him back on board.

Not a pretty sight, but effective.

A year later, I was teaching Bosun the finer things about boats at a sandy beach mooring with my yacht bow into the beach.

He was a smart dog and could do basic tricks for a chocolate biscuit. But then, so could I, according to the same old girlfriend.

Walking back to the boat one morning, I was confronted by “Kiwi Pete”, who owned the boat beside me.

This guy had a loud voice and knew everything about marine, and he would make up what he didn’t know.

Instead of telling you what gearbox ratio was attached to his main engine, he would tell you how to reassemble the gearbox. If only New Zealand had TV’s.

Where have you been?” Kiwi Pete yelled in a loud voice

Bosun and I have been at his elocution lessons”, I responded

What?” he replied quizzically.

I take Bosun to elocution lessons every Tuesday so he can speak English correctly.

Don’t be absurd”, the doubting Pete said

Bosun,” I said, looking at him in the eye, “what’s the weather forecast for southeast Tasmania?”

RUFF!” Bosun barked. “See Pete, he says Rough

Give me a break,” says Pete

Bosun,” said I, “This doubting Kiwi is ignoring your many talents; tell him what is the last thing you put on a house when you are building it!!”

ROOF!” barked Bosun, “see Pete, he says Roof”, I said

Pete the Kiwi went below, sliding the hatch behind him and shaking his head in disbelief, muttering obscenities.

Bosun looked at me and said, “I should have said chimney dad, Heh?

Many years later, Bosun the 3rd was decidedly dopey. This dog would eat pegs that fell off the clothesline or any inanimate object that could fit in his mouth.

The vet tells me that excessive in-breeding causes much stupidity, which explains some of the people I’ve met.

Where in maritime history, you might ask, have dogs anything to do with the sea?

Ship’s cats are mentioned many times, but as we all know, cats are unreliable, unfriendly, disdainful of their keepers, cowardly and of little use except for chasing the odd mouse or rat.

Real men don’t keep cats or eat quiche! And sailors are real men, so where are the seafaring dogs?

In Europe, the remarkable Portuguese Water Dog was developed centuries ago along the Algarve coast in Portugal. These web-toed dogs were taught to herd fish into nets, retrieve lost tackle and broken nets, and act as couriers from ship to ship and shore.

These indispensable and inexpensive crew members also grabbed fish that leapt out of nets and, in bad weather, acted as living foghorns. The Portuguese Water Dog is also a fine hunting retriever.

These dogs were closely guarded and were little known outside of Portugal until the 20th Century, although the breed is more than seven hundred years old.

But the real talent of a dog is barking to keep away intruders.

The biggest consistent boat intruders, of course, are seagulls and birdlife who perch on top of masts and rigging and crap all over the deck, much to the annoyance of all boat owners.

Plastic owls, voodoo dolls, effigies of bank managers and the like that you can buy in chandleries to hang on your mast have been unsuccessful in scaring away these repeat offending birds. So, a talented dog could be a good solution.

Fishermen who are reading this particular publication only have to work a calculator for 2 minutes to figure out that replacing the bosun and deckhands with dogs is indeed a handy way to improve the vessel's profitability.

These fishing boat owners could then, over a quiet beer with friends, honestly confess that the crew had gone to the dogs.

Of course, some accountant-type owners may be even more frugal and believe that there should be no crew at all.

Going the final step of getting rid of the dog, you may see him making dog-like noises at the birds on the mast.

Yes, he has finally gone barking mad.

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