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Dafka’s ‘Canine Adventures on the Briny’ by Dave Robson – Another response to Lifestyle XIII article ‘DOGS ON BOARD’, by Amanda McCracken.

December 18, 2017

This year Berthon published the Lifestyle Magazine XIII, contributed to, as always, by Berthon clients, friends and supporters. Articles ranged from cruising the Pacific in ‘Into the Deep Blue’, to the joys of cruising with canine friends in ‘Dogs on Board’, then back again in ‘The ICONIC Battersea Power Station’, and many others.

It is always our pleasure to receive feedback on these articles – if you ever feel the urge to wax lyrical on subjects we discuss, please do get in touch. brokers@berthon.co.uk.

From the owners of Dafka –

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‘I could write for ever about our lovable sea dog Dafka, a foxy red Labrador, and some of her redoubtable nautical exploits. She makes friends wherever we go and we wouldn’t dream of setting sail without her.

There is only one downside to having a dog on board and that is we never get to stop at anchor or tie up to a buoy overnight, we always aim for a harbour with pontoons, for the simple reason she has to go ashore every evening and every morning before we set off so she can do her business. At our age, messing around in dinghies is something we can happily live without, especially as getting into a little rubber boat with my wife, whose sense of balance is not the greatest, is a terrifying experience.

We keep our boat PRANA, a wonderful Contest 40s, on the Atlantic coast of France in the tiny harbour of Bourgenay, about nine miles South of Les Sables d’Olonne (famous for the start of the Vendee Globe single handed round the world yacht race), and about thirty miles North of La Rochelle (famous for lots of other reasons). It seems that nobody has ever heard of Bourgenay, and that’s the way we like it. In fact Neville Featherstone, in his invaluable book, West France Cruising Companion, describes Bourgenay as “a sleepy hollow,” which sums the place up precisely.

This makes life interesting because one of our favourite harbours to visit is St. Martin de Re, basically a moat around a citadel on the Ile de Re, which is surrounded by restaurants. It’s a tiny, very popular place and it’s not uncommon for us to be rafted six or more boats out from the pontoon.

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You would have thought it would be a nightmare for a dog to get ashore under such circumstances, but not for Dafka. We have trained her to cross from one boat to the next, passing, as etiquette demands, around the bow and not the cockpit of each boat, no matter which way round each boat is facing. As the boats in any raft are usually parked randomly facing in different directions, this usually results in her carving out a zigzag course across several decks of differing heights which takes us far longer to accomplish than her.

She is incredibly agile and energetic as she ducks and weaves under each set of guard rails, which of course are also all at differing heights, and once she starts she moves like greased lightning. She can even do it correctly in the dark with hardly a stumble. Finally, she jumps down from the last boat onto the pontoon and runs back and forth as she waits for us, wagging her tail frantically because she’s so pleased with herself.

The only time this goes pear-shaped is when someone on a boat in the raft attracts her attention, in which case she has to run up to them to say hello by licking them to death. Or even worse, if someone along the way offers her food, that will always stop her in her tracks. She’s a Labrador and Labradors never say no to food. But once the food is gone she refocuses her concentration and continues with the challenging game of crossing boats. Luckily, most French people seem to like dogs.

On the subject of food, before me moved our boat to Bourgenay we kept her in La Roche Bernard on the magnificent Vilaine river in Southern Brittany, and during one sortie we ventured into the small fishing harbour of La Turballe, which has a very limited amount of space for visitors, and not much depth, which we discovered the hard way when we tried to leave our berth the next day at low water. Here, visiting yachts moor up alongside a full length pontoon, rather than a finger, one behind another, and there is very little room for rafting.

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On the day in question, someone had left only one available space against the pontoon, which we ferry-glided into directly in front of another boat that had a dog on board, who Dafka immediately spotted. Ten minutes later we noticed our dog was missing and we looked round to see that Dafka had picked up her bowl, which was in our cockpit, in her mouth, trotted ashore with it and presented it to the lady in the cockpit of the boat tied up behind us. Dafka was very polite in not jumping aboard the other boat, and remained demurely standing on the edge of the pontoon, patiently offering her bowl.

The woman had of course got the message at once and filled Dafka’s bowl with dog food and put it down on the pontoon for her, and there she was tucking in to a tasty early dinner, or perhaps she regarded it as an hors d’ouvre.

At first we could hardly believe her audacity, but she’s so sweet and good natured, few people can refuse her. Apparently, in Dafka’s world it’s not true to say there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

Dafka is bred to be a retriever, a type of Labrador much favoured by people who hunt or shoot. We choose not to kill defenceless animals unless we’re going to eat them so we satisfy Dafka’s instincts and need for exercise when we go ashore by throwing a tennis ball for her to fetch, and then she gives it back and we throw it again. This continues non-stop for maybe half an hour.

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The Nouvelle Port at La Roche Bernard is particularly suited to this as there is a footpath with a grassy verge alongside the river that continues for quite a distance. We simply use our ball thrower to send the ball flying through the trees along the path and she chases after it with tremendous excitement, head down with her nose millimetres from the ground, looking for all the world like a very rapid vacuum cleaner on legs.

Occasionally the ball rolls or bounces into the river, whereupon Dafka takes her cue to go for a swim. This part of the river is fairly safe as its non-tidal because there is a barrage with a lock further up towards the estuary, and there are sloping grassy banks for her to clamber out, clutching the ball triumphantly between her teeth, dripping wet, wagging her tail furiously and shaking herself right in front of us, so we also get a shower.

If only we could harness it, there’s probably enough energy in that tail to provide the energy requirements of a small village!

Sometimes we take her to a beach, where she can run and chase balls for miles, and every time, sooner or later, she goes for a paddle, jumping through the surf near the shore, but never going too far. She will do that even in the winter when the air temperature is only a little above freezing point and she never seems to care how cold the water is.

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As we have got older our type of sailing has changed. We rarely do night passages nowadays – we find it too tiring and there are too many lobster pots, we never race, we just potter from one harbour to the next and if the weather’s bad or looks as if it might become so, we stay put. This is very suited to sailing with a dog, who has to go ashore every day, come rain, shine or severe gale.

In fact, sailing in France is very civilised for dog owners because you can take your pooch into almost any restaurant, café or bar that takes your fancy. This was definitely not the case in England years ago when we kept our boat in Southampton. In fact, in a restaurant in France, quite often someone fetches a bowl of water for the dog. Dafka has become very accustomed to sitting quietly under the table while we tuck into our steak frites.

My wife and I have a feeling our dog, while she’s not so keen when the boat heels, loves being with us on our boat for the simple reason that we are all together in a confined space for long periods, unlike when at home in London, so she gets far more attention than usual. In fact, she’s usually the centre of attention, and that’s just how she likes it.’

By Dave Robson.

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We think Dafka is the bee’s knees! We’re very fond of four legged friends at Berthon HQ. If you have a tale of a seafaring pup, a courageous cat, or a flotation device wearing hamster, contact listings@berthon.co.uk for a possible feature.

Fair winds and good sailing.

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