In the summer of 2019, we travelled in our 26′ Grampian sailboat Mistress from Maple Bay to Desolation Sound. This trip was our first time voyaging to this remote part of the B.C. coast.
While we travelled with another BCA “buddy boat”, we also had companionship on board. With us on this journey was Artemus, a ten-year-old orange and white Manx cat that we had adopted in May only two months prior. Artemus had accompanied us on previous short sailing trips so we were comfortable with bringing him on this extended voyage.
A Bid for Freedom
Initially, all was well with our sea-faring adventure, but eleven days into this summer trip, Artemus decided he’d had enough of boats and water. While we, in our dinghies, were admiring Cassel Falls tumbling into the clear ocean waters of Teakerne Arm, West Redonda Island, Artemus leaped off Mistress, swam the twenty feet to shore, clambered up the rock face, and disappeared into the forest of this largely uninhabited island.
Why would a cat, an animal not known for its love of water, do such a thing? Well, eight days prior as we sailed northwest across Malaspina Strait toward Texada island, being fairly inexperienced sailors, we had a bit of excitement. As we approached the eastern shore of Texada, intending to jibe and head northward, we found ourselves carrying too much sail in a freshening wind. We tried to jibe several times, but each time the weather helm overpowered our efforts. We then attempted to tack through the wind, but then the jib would back and push our bow back toward the approaching rocky shore, with the rail in the water. At one point, Bethanny asked, “What are we going to do?” I replied, “I am thinking” – we both thought, “Well, think faster!” We got the engine started, and with Bethanny at the tiller, I clambered out to the bow to haul the jib down while she brought the nose into the wind.
So, crisis averted, but all this pitching and rolling had caused our refrigerator chest and a couple of other items to come loose and clatter in the cabin, terrorizing poor Artemus so thoroughly that he had peed on our bed. We surmise that with the boat stern-tied in Teakerne, he thought, “I didn’t sign up for this,” and judged that this was his best chance to regain the shore!
Our friend Michael happened to look back at our boats at just the right moment to see Artemus dive off the stern of Mistress. Hurriedly, we rowed our dinghies to a dock close by to “rescue” him. I fully expected to find him ashore, hastily licking himself dry. He had something different in mind. After many hours of calling him and scouring the headland in every direction, he was nowhere to be found.
I thought Artemus might return when all was quiet in the night, so I spent the night on shore. I didn’t have a sleeping bag but went armed with a tarp and cat food and I endured the mice and mosquitoes — all to no avail — no cat. The next day we continued our search, but eventually had to resume the journey with our friends. We left a “Lost Cat” poster – hoping against hope that someone might come along after us to view the waterfall and rescue our friend.
Subsequently we caught up with our travelling companions, visiting several beautiful harbours and anchorages, but always in our mind was the thought of our friend we had left behind. What was he doing? Had he found shelter? Was he cold and hungry?
Four days along, as we were on the brink of leaving the area for the journey south, we decided we must return for another search. On arriving back in Teakerne Arm we set anchor near where we had last seen him. Next to us was another sailboat; their first words to us were, “Thirteen years ago, we lost our cat here; four days later we came back to try and find him.” Was this a cat Bermuda triangle?
We searched all that day and into the next, hiking through dense bush and to the top of the mountain but with no success. Once again, we had to leave. We had tried as diligently as we could to find our friend, but we could not stay. He was in our minds every moment as we sailed south.
Jump forward two months (into October). We had not forgotten Artemus. We still thought of him often and wondered if he had survived. We comforted ourselves with thoughts that there were mice he could hunt, while hoping that there were no cougars or bears on the island.
A Hopeful Sighting
Cold weather was beginning to set in, but we still didn’t give up hope. Then surprise: a text message arrived from a man named Scott Francis, out of Courtenay. While looking for deer with his buddy, he had spotted Artemus a mile and a half south along the coast from where he had jumped ship. Scott thought, “This is strange. This looks like a house cat — all the way out here?”
To add to what seemed like a miracle, Scott happened to go ashore to look at the waterfall before heading home and there he saw our poster: “That looks like the cat we saw back at the landing!” After all, how many ginger and white cats might you come across in the wilderness?
Being a kind sort, he headed back to where they had seen Artemus and, calling him by name, tried to coax him in. Artemus was too skittish, so Scott left five cans of cat food behind.
Afterwards, Scott contacted us; we now knew Artemus was still alive, and armed with the GPS coordinates from Scott, we might find him! But this beautiful area is remote, only accessible by boat and is a long way in a sailboat. I contacted our good friend Michael and said, “I know it’s a big ask, but would you be willing to loan me your power boat so we can go and look for him?” Quite amazingly, he said yes with no hesitation at all.
We had hoped to get underway immediately, but the weather report was calling for high winds. Not something you want to contend with in an eighteen-foot aluminum boat. We impatiently waited two days, then trailered the vessel to the most northern place accessible by road: Lund. We planned to stay there in the night and run up in the power boat at first light, search where he had been seen, return before dark, and do it all again until we found him or it became clear that he was lost to us.
That night the temperature dropped below zero, so we knew Artemus probably wouldn’t have much time left in that cold weather. Arriving at a small dilapidated dock just south of where he had last been seen, we tied up, readied our packs with food and water, and loaded our GPS with the coordinates – we were all ready for a long day’s hike.
Forty feet from the ramp leading to where he’d been seen, I thought, “we don’t know where he is so I might as well try calling.” I called three times and then heard an answering “meow.” I walked maybe another 50 feet and saw Artemus. He was cautious initially, but he approached me as I kept talking softly to him. I gave him some dry cat food, which he devoured.
Artemus had lost 40% of his body weight and, given his way, he would have bolted down all food in sight, but we initially had to ration: one teaspoon of high-nutrition cat food every half-hour so as not to overload his organs.
Now, nearly three years later as I write this, Artemus sleeps contentedly beside me on my desk, curled up in my fleece. He has regained his weight and confidence to venture outside. I wish we could understand everything he has been through in those two months and nine days that he had to fend for himself. I think he has had enough of living the life of a wild animal.
CHEK News published a great summary of our story along with a lovely photo of our reunion.