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Tales of An Adventurous Sailing Dog on the World’s Oceans

Pet Travel Tuesday

Destination: Oceans of the World

Book: A Sea Dog’s Tale: The True Story of a Small Dog on a Big Ocean (2012)

By Pamela Douglas Webster

[NOTE: WIN THIS BOOK and read more of Pamela’s thoughts about sailing dogs at Something Wagging This Way Comes.]

Sailor and adventurer Peter Muilenburg tells the story of cruising with his spirited, sailing dog in A Sea Dog’s Tale. The story takes the form of a memoir of a life well-lived. And the dog at its center provokes the storyteller and his reader to weigh the risks and rewards in leading the well-lived life.

Muilenburg spent years building a sailboat at his family’s home in the Virgin Islands, and then took off with his wife and two sons to cruise the world in their new, floating home.

Well, not quite a home. After all, they didn’t have a dog.

This is a Schipperke puppy.
A Schipperke pup, not Santos.

A fellow cruiser with a litter of Schipperke puppies convinced the young family that their boat needed a genuine boat dog. Schipperkes had been bred historically to live aboard canal barges and serve as watch dogs. For a modern-era cruiser in an iffy anchorage, a noisy alarm dog could be the difference between keeping a dinghy motor and losing it to an opportunistic thief.

Peter knew that having a dog aboard would complicate their lives. But the boating breeder made a convincing case. And besides, who can resist a puppy?

Santos soon earned his place aboard by being a good crew member. He served as watch dog, provided entertainment, and was often the first spotter of land.

But the dog was more than a crew member for the Muilenburgs. He also gave the family a way to test, justify, and reflect on their chosen lifestyle.

What was life for? Experience, love, and adventure? Or responsibility, substance, and security? It was hard to have both….The trouble is, it’s hard to assess in process. Hindsight is so much clearer.

By watching a dog’s life, maybe we could get perspective on our own–while there was still time.

Duke is cruising with his people in the San Blas islands aboard the sailboat Karma.

And what a life that dog had. Santos had so much excitement, in part, because of his family’s adventurous choices. The oceangoing Schipperke was kidnapped, fell overboard, swam in a crocodile infested river, was hit by two cars, and lived to bark about it. (Apparently cats aren’t the only animals with nine lives.) The Muilenburgs nicknamed the indomitable dog, Perrito Macho, loosely translated as “little dog with big balls.”

Besides worrying if Santos would survive his latest scrape, readers may find one other aspect of the book challenging.

Loki, the sailing dog aboard Infinity in the San Blas Islands.

Muilenburg, who trained as a historian, peppers the book with obscure references. And sailing terms are baffling to non-sailors. The reader who is not familiar with Plutarch, the Hanseatic League, and Zoroaster, or who wouldn’t know a halyard from a windlass, might want to keep a dictionary nearby.

I found the book an entertaining armchair adventure that left me thinking about risk, and about the challenge of balancing my responsibility to provide for my own dog’s safety with my desire to give her life-enriching adventures.

In the month I recently spent aboard a sailboat in Panama’s San Blas Islands, I got to meet several families who cruised with dogs (and one with a cat) aboard their sailboats. I learned of the difficulties of keeping food or fishing enough to feed a pet miles from stores. I heard the challenges of choosing routes based on where dogs would be welcome in marinas or anchorages. And anyone who has reluctantly walked a dog will relate to the challenges of providing four walks a day (following a dinghy ride to land) for a dog who simply can’t adjust to “going” on a rug on the deck of a boat.

Jack on the deck of the sailboat Gilana.

And yet, every comment about the challenges of having an animal aboard was accompanied by the admission that all the extra work was worth it for the love and enjoyment of having a beloved pet for company.

Muilenberg would obviously agree.

The family’s travels could easily have filled a book without Santos. But the sailing dog with a big heart made their boat a home. His presence made their adventures unique among volumes of sailing adventures. His spirit and love of life served as an example to his family, friends, and even those of us who only know him through this book. And that’s not a bad legacy for a little dog.

Photo credits: Schipperke is from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license. Jack on Gilana is used with permission of Laura Brasler. Other photos are provided by Michael Webster.

Disclaimer: Links to Amazon provide a handy way for you to shop, and they are also affiliate links, meaning when you do your Amazon shopping through these links, I earn a few cents. Thank you for your support.


Jessie Voigts:Diplomatic Dog of Barbados

Barbados Sunset

Destination: Barbados


Book: The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados by Winfred Peppinck



I am so happy to share a wonderful book today, The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados, written by Winfred Peppinck.

Diplomat Dog of the Barbados
Diplomatic Dog of the Barbados

The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados is a joy to read — full of life on the island of Barbados, intercultural snapshots, stories of the diplomatic life, and most importantly, the great love of a family. Rescued as a young, abused pup, the cane dog who was eventually named the Diplomatic Dog came to enjoy a life of great joy and security. He grew into such confidence and happiness that it just makes the reader smile. Often I prefer not to read books about pets, since you know the ending (sad!).  However, this one is a gem.

The book is quite humorous, and I was often laughing aloud at the images of DD swimming, running, chasing monkeys, and of course playing. The book also portrays a first-hand glimpse into the diplomatic life. Peppinck was the Australian High Commissioner to the Caribbean and he shows us a bit of the challenges and daily life – and the perks – of the job. It was quite interesting to read of the political issues of location, parties, famous people – and then relax with Winfred and Miss Wendy – and DD and Miss Lucy – when the curtain closed on the day and it was just family.

Here is an excerpt from our interview with Winfred – you can read the rest here at Wandering Educators Book Reviews.

Wandering Educators: Please tell us about your book, the Diplomatic Dog of Barbardos.

Winfred Peppinck: From 2001-2004, I was the Australian High Commissioner/Ambassador to the Caribbean, based on the beautiful island of Barbados. My partner, Wendy, and I lived in a magnificent house, set on a few acres of land, surrounded by the prestigious Sandy Lane Golf Course with views down to the Caribbean Sea. Wendy wanted to get a dog, and having had a pedigreed one during her previous marriage, she sought another German Short-Haired Pointer. I persuaded her that we should instead get a rescue dog which needed a home. She therefore found a Barbados ‘cane dog’ (a mongrel born in the sugar-cane fields of Barbados) which had been caught on one of the famous beaches, and had spent over a year in the Rescue Shelter because he was labeled “aggressive”. We think that he bit people largely because he had been abused and stoned as a puppy.  The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados is therefore the story of how this outcast was brought from the junk-yard to mix with the jet-set who were a part of diplomatic life in the Caribbean. It is an anecdotal, quirky and funny-in-parts story of Diplomatic Dog (DD for short) who lived a sort of a male, canine Eliza Doolittle life, hiding and scavenging for a living, then suddenly finding shelter, food and love in abundance, on one of the most beautiful islands on earth.

Photo of Barbados through Creative Commons

Photo of Diplomatic Dog from Wandering Educators.


It is always fun to get a glimpse of what Jessie is up to over at Wandering Educators. But don’t stop with a glimpse. Scoot on over there and see what treasures they have in store for you. Back to this particular post, do you have a favorite pet book–and does it have the sad ending Jessie has come to expect?  I’ll start with a childhood favorite, Beautiful Joe. The book is about a very ugly dog, and it does have a sad ending, but it is beautifully told.