By Elisa Black-Taylor
This is an amazing story of cat survival, detailing an August 5 accident involving a couple who had restored an aft-house schooner and their two cats, who did a fine job proving that the domestic cat can swim very well in open sea well called upon to do so.
On August 5, Mark and Cynthia Schneider were out on their fishing vessel, which they dubbed the “Sea Princess.” It was the first real trip the couple had made since restoring the schooner. The family set anchor for some albacore fishing in the Pacific Ocean about 85 miles northwest of Coos Bay.
While out to sea, miles from land, something went very wrong with their engine, and there was an explosion. Mark determined later that a tiny hole in the diesel tank blew enough mist to cause a backfire, triggering an explosion.
Mark and Cynthia both have had extensive training on how to deal with emergencies. Not only had the couple taken U.S. Coast Guard training classes, they also practiced what they’d do in the event of a disaster at sea.
Although both suffered first degree burns to the face and hair, Cynthia remained calm enough to call the Coast Guard. Meanwhile Mark went below deck to check the damage. The fire suppression system on the boat had prevented the fire from spreading.
Cynthia put on her survival suit, then grabbed her purse, some jewelry and a camera and stuffed it all into a back pack. Mark came back on deck after checking the damage and announced they were sinking. Cynthia remembers Mark calling for their two cats, Jasper and Topaz. Both cats were shelter rescues who had acquired their sea legs while the boat was being restored in Winchester Bay. Jasper is a 1-year-old spotted tabby and Topaz a 4-year-old calico.
Time was running out, and the couple were unable to rescue Jasper and Topaz. Cynthia told her husband the their cat’s natural instinct would kick in when the time came.
Cynthia’s distress call was heard by Port of Bandon commissioner and fellow commercial fisherman Rick Goche, who was fishing at the time on the Peso II. The call came in at 5 p.m., and within minutes he and his brother Larry arrived and pulled the couple out of the water. Several other fishermen in the area who had seen the blast also showed up to help.
That’s when things got really interesting. Now it was time to rescue the cats. Actually, the cats kind of rescued themselves. As everyone watched the boat sink, they could see Topaz swimming towards them in the water. Jasper was still clinging to the bow of the now sinking Sea Princess.
Despite numerous attempts of Mark calling for Jasper to join them on the rescue boat, he hung on until the schooner capsized (see picture), then began swimming toward the family. Goche was able to rescue both of the cats.
Thousands of dollars of gear and about 40,000 pounds of albacore went down with the Sea Princess. Mark and Cynthia did have some insurance but not full coverage. A fund has been set up by the Newport Fishermen’s Wives to help the couple. Donations can be sent to: Newport Fishermen’s Wives, Inc., P.O. Box 971, Newport, OR 97365.
Isn’t this the most amazing cat story ever! It’s awesome how their survival instinct kicked in and saved their two little lives…
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