The Ships' Cats Who Lapped and Mapped the World
Philippa Sandall (Author),
Ad Long (Illustrator)
The Experiment, 2018, 256 pp, HC, $14.95
Thoroughly entertaining and informative, Seafurrers is a history of the cats that accompanied the sailors who traveled the seas. Originally brought on to the ships to eradicate vermin, these cats also played a pivotal role in keeping sailors company and were considered shipmates. There are many tales, some tall and some true, of ship's captains stopping or turning a vessel around in order to save an unlucky feline who had slipped overboard.
Seafurrers is narrated by Bart the cat, with help from "his scribe" Phillipa Sandall. Pulling information from letters, memoirs and newspapers Bart adds his own views and commentary from the feline perspective. Illustrations and photographs add to the fun and the book as a whole is great for anyone with an interest in the history of sailing.
Seafurrers is broken into four parts, Mousers and More, Mates, Misadventures, and Mascots. Each chapter (referred to by Bart as an incident) usually begins with an anecdote written either by a shipmate in a journal, a poem, song or newspaper article about a cat adventure. The chapter will also include some history of sailing, from the 1400's to the 1970's. For good measure, Sandall includes arcane facts and the origin and definition of seafaring language in highlighted asides.
Being an animal lover I was naturally drawn to this book and enjoyed the cat stories the most. However the history aspect was also enjoyable, Sandall writes with humor and has a knack for picking out funny quotes, for instance about Christopher Columbus : "As an unknown and unkind critic aptly put it 'When he started out he didn't know where he was going. When he got to the New World he didn't know where he was. And when he got back to Spain he didn't know where he had been.'"
The stars of the book are, of course, the cats. Some are more famous then others, for example Mrs. Chippers who sailed with Ernest Shackleton and Trim who sailed with Matthew Flinders. However all the stories of these brave felines prove how important they were in protecting provisions and providing comfort to the seamen. But not just any cat will do. It has to be a savvy animal who can adjust to sea life.
According to Captain Dyason a ship master of 27 years "Sea cats are a race in themselves. A landlubber cat would not how to take care of itself in a rough sea...The seafaring cat is no joke...they often change ships, but seldom give up the sea for land". I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of the sea, and the adventures of the sea cats that lived on the ships.