It’s late afternoon in the mangroves of the Fraser Coast. The day has been bright and the air warm but the sun is getting low now and July evenings cool off quickly around here.
I’m trying to find a sailboat that’s moored here.
Our campervan is parked at the end of a track well above the tideline with Willow inside finishing off her afternoon cat naps. I walk down to the small mangrove beach and look out over the estuary. The tide is out and the mud flats extend to the other side of the bay with estuarine creeks carving channels through it as they snake their way inland.
In less than an hour the flood-tide will inundate the bay once again but for now, over yonder, two figures walk towards me on the edge of the creek. From a hundred metres away I wave exuberantly to signal my arrival but it seems I have already been spotted, and from the bushes ahead I hear a bellowing meow – then another.
Emerging from the mangrove undergrowth is a little face with sparkling yellow eyes and for a moment I’m surprised the sound came from such a precious thing. I kneel down and with an outstretched arm the white tabby cat walks over, sniffs my hand, then runs down a trail to join his humans – it seems they sent ahead their welcoming crew.
The four of us have now convened on the trail and introduce ourselves.
His nickname’s Coy, he’ll come running and stand just off you, Shipwreck tells me. Shipwreck places Miow Miow over his shoulder.
What do you think, do you want to come out to the boat? Asks Bec.
As we walk, the creek channels are now burgeoning and water spills out over the mudflats. Miow Miow watches as his playground starts to disappear and he makes his passage carefully past the emergent tide on the way back to his floating home.
Alas, the tide has beat us and the little swashbuckler gets his paws wet. Though it is of no great concern for a cat that was raised on the seas. An army of soldier crabs marches seaward but Miow Miow leaves them well alone, for they are not worth his bother.
The SSSV Jezebel
Shipwreck is now an old hand at motor-free sailing, having proved himself up and down the coast of Mexico. A philosophy in itself, born of nostalgia for ancient sailing techniques and self-responsibility.
The scarlet hull of the 23′ SSSV Jezebel stands proud of the incoming tide when we arrive. Stabilising legs have been employed to maintain its level in any tide. They have had the boat for 5 years now since purchasing it in Airlie Beach. The two had cycled up from Brisbane before deciding that they wanted to make Airlie their home for a while, and a boat was the perfect way to do just that.
I ask what the first two S’s stand for.
Sexy and Sultry, Shipwreck replies.
Of course. The Sexy, Sultry Sailing Vessel Jezebel. Before I get a tour there is a special place they want to show me first.
Miow Miow’s attention is drawn to a rope at the end of the kayak, pouncing and pawing at the frayed end as Bec moves it into position. As the water continues to come in and land becomes scarce, Miow Miow jumps on, unable to decide exactly which kayak he wishes to ride on.
Bec and Shipwreck paddle ahead as the water rushes up the channel. I nurse my camera bag between my legs and start paddling, stabilising myself so not to lose my gear. Miow Miow bounces from each end of their kayak before settling on the bow, paws overhanging. I see the fulfilled expression on his face and his whiskers in the salty breeze as he slow blinks to nothing in particular.
Across the estuary some locals are casting their lines hoping to catch a feast, but their voices are fading. We paddle a short way up the creek, to just the sound of paddles in water and the occasional bellowing meow.
We turn into another creek and all of a sudden my kayak spins. I’ve just paddled into an eddy and I grab my camera bag as I turn, quickly stabilising myself. As we approach our landing Miow Miow prepares to disembark, leaping over the bow of the kayak onto dry land.
As I see the courage of this intrepid kitty it is hard to believe he is only 9 months old.
Up on the bank Miow Miow is quick to jump onto the old picnic table next to a rope swing as Bec, Shipwreck, and I talk.
We got him from this lady in Rocky [Rockhampton] who was giving him away. He just looked really rambunctious and fun in his photo. So that was it, Bec tells me.
Though, any concerns they had about how the 2 month old Miow Miow would adapt to boat life were eased that night when the little sailor-to-be explored his new home, had good feed, then proceeded to curl up on the bench.
Miow Miow jumps down from the table and explores the area, sniffing at grasses and listening to the birds that are always out of his reach. He walks with a distinctive gait, a limp that Shipwreck tells me he has had since birth.
We didn’t notice at first because we were on the boat, Bec adds. Though after a visit to the vet, the limp remains a mystery but doesn’t seem to inhibit his running, climbing, and even swimming.
As we step down from the bank and organise the kayaks for our departure Miow Miow darts down from the tree he is climbing and jumps aboard.
Home is where you sail it
Back at the SSSV Jezebel we pull the kayaks along side and get aboard. The tide is now high, the mud flats are just a memory, and the Jezebel floats once again. Miow Miow is placed onboard, but not before having his paws dunked in the water by Shipwreck to wash the mangrove sand away.
Miow Miow does a lap of the deck to ensure everything is in order, sniffs at the rigging, then jumps up onto the folded main sail.
Life is peaceful in the mangroves. A life governed not by clocks and hours but of tides and moon cycles. Earlier, they were island hopping further North, searching for that perfect coral cay or sandbar to spend a week or two.
From the cabin a clatter draws his attention inside and he jumps down the ladder below deck. Bec is organising some things in the kitchen and Miow Miow knows this is where the good treats are kept – well the ones that are no longer swimming.
The cabin of the 23′ Jezebel is tight with a small benched sitting and cooking area leading to a bed in the bow. The kitchen has a sink and a two hob stove with all adornment of spices along its walls and fresh produce hanging in nets.
Miow Miow lands himself on the kitchen bench, grabs a dried herring in his mouth and darts back on deck. He holds his prize firmly between his teeth as he growls at anyone who nears him as if to say, this is my treat and you’d better stay back!
His growl would be frightening if it wasn’t so endearing and utterly adorable, yet I do stay back. In seconds Miow Miow finishes his fish and is back to his normal, loving self.
Catch of the day
On the days they are moored they’ll catch fish in the shallows. As soon as Miow Miow hears the clinking and unraveling of the net he springs into action, often cutting his nap-time short – for he knows there is a feast ahead.
Miow Miow will eagerly wait for Shipwreck to pull the net in, his paws in the water and sand between his toe beans. Often he will be unsatisfied with the speed at which Shipwreck brings the net ashore and will jump at it, clawing and pawing at the catch as he directs a succulent fish into his mouth.
Then you can count on hearing Miow Miow’s trademark growl as he takes his windfall up the beach to tuck in – the herring, garfish, or whatever the catch of the day may be.
As the sunset finishes its show and the stars come out we take the kayaks to a little beach near where our campervan is parked.
Everyone comes up see the van for a quick tour and for a moment Miow Miow meets Willow as she looks inquisitively outside at this salty sea cat.
Back at the beach we cook sausages on a fire accompanied with potatoes, corn, and onions, and we chat into the evening.
I hear a familiar growling sound as Shipwreck runs over to the kayak where our food is kept. I look over to see Miow Miow with a whole sausage in his mouth as he darts past his human and takes off up the beach to devour it. What a sneaky cat – you win this one Miow Miow.
Tomorrow, Shipwreck, Bec, and Miow Miow will navigate out of the mangroves and onto their next adventure – where ever that may be – with the little cat with a limp that found his sea legs and a whole lot of love from his adoring humans.
And as they sail down the coast, one thing you can count on is that Miow Miow will be sitting at the bow with his paws over the edge and the wind in his whiskers – the furry figurehead of the SSSV Jezebel.
* * *
Wow! What a cat, and what a life! Who’s thinking about buying a boat now? I sure am. I wonder how Willow would enjoy life on the seas?
If you want to see more of Miow Miow’s adventures on the SSSV Jezebel check out his Instragram: @jezebels_cat
To learn more about Shipwreck and Bec’s adventures on the high seas visit their website: https://www.shipwrecking.org/