From the December 2019 issue of 48° North. The grinchiest of pooches, Barfy the Boat Dog, might burst your yuletide bubble… or not.

This twinkly, tinsel-draped, hull-decking holiday can jingle all the way to hell, as far as I’m concerned. The life of a boat dog is tough enough without the extra close-talking and smooches from my nog-drunk humans while you try to put felt reindeer antlers on my tired old head. Ho- ho- hold it right there. I’ll tell you whose breath stinks, and it ain’t mine. No sir, this holiday hound doesn’t think much of your Christmas business.

If I hear one more human bemoan turning the clocks back an hour, I swear. At least you all get to see out the portlights. My existence on the cabin sole is literally below sea level. It’s dark down here at any time of year. Sure I’ll admit, I miss the sunlight for our morning and evening walks. That doesn’t make your whining any more becoming.

And don’t get me started about the rain. You think I don’t notice the lengths you go to to protect yourselves from it? All the layers and jackets and umbrellas… “Old Barfy’s so lucky, he’s already wearing his coat.” Phooey. Ready for insult to injury? Sure, we both have to walk up the dock to do our business. Same, same, right? Come on. I try to ignore your impatient expression from underneath that disgusting Buddy The Elf umbrella while I do my thing on whatever tiny patch of grass I’m able to find. Well picture this: while you’re taking your sweet time responding to nature’s call in the comfort of the dry, heated marina facilities, I have to sit in nature’s deluge, tied to the post just sitting on the cold, wet concrete waiting for you to wrap it up already. You’re lucky I don’t bite your hand when you come out of there looking so smug.   

You humans have your transition-to-winter complaints, but you know you love it. I know you do, anyway. You ever hear how happy a human gets when they talk about Soup Season? Where’s my soup? Oh, more kibble? Thanks. I heard you putting on Bing Crosby ten full days before Thanksgiving. Your glee is palpable on the day you pull a dozen ugly Christmas sweaters and four, count them four, Santa hats out of storage? We both know you’re going to no more than two holiday parties this year. But the rosy hue in your cheeks gives it away. Now that it’s actually December, you might as well be a four-year-old in line to meet that chubby imposter at the mall.

Normally, I love it every bit as much as you do when we actually untie the lines and go for a sail—nothing makes me wag more. But there is one major exception: the dreaded Christmas Cruise. How many misadventures will it take before you wisen-up? How many sopping-wet frozen-fingered skittering-clawed near-misses? I’ve been against it for years. Even if it went smoothly, something about going sailing with you when you’re so damn jolly just brings out the Grinch in me.

I submit to the jury my testimony from the ill-fated Christmas Cruise of ‘14. I know, I know, we got off on the wrong foot that day. That platter of lefse you figured Susan must have brought in to share with her coworkers… Yep, my teeth are gonna rot. Sorry not sorry, I’m an animal. What I don’t understand is why I have to endure the choruses of “bad dog!” like that. Do parents of human children stand shaking a finger and howling “bad Jimmy” in the scariest deep voice every time the kid pukes in one little shoe? But I digress.

There we were: me barking at seagulls to distract myself from your stupid hats as we rounded the breakwater bound for Kingston. We readied the sails to hoist while WARM 1-oh-whatever radio cheerily drowned out the sound of wind and water I actually enjoy. I uncleated the mainsheet like a good dog while Susan turned the boat into the considerable wind waves and you waddled toward the mast.

Still feeling a tad green from my treat feast, I saw it unfold in slow-motion. With the main made, a freighter wake bounced perpendicular to the waves and slapped the hull at its beam just as you bent over to grab your mug while stepping down off the cabin-top, graceful as hippo on ice skates. Sliding toward the toe rail, you spun around, teetering out of balance ready to topple face first into the brine. There you swayed, certain to swim, with one hind paw against the varnished cap rail and the other thrust aside like a lazy karate kick—an unsuccessful attempt to regain equilibrium—all the while flailing your arms and sending hot holiday toddy flying like a December downpour. “Oop, Frank! You’re crazy!” Susan chortled.

In that moment, I thought about letting you try your luck at the breast stroke, just for bringing me on this brainless boat ride. But I reluctantly jumped up and snagged the velcro at the cuff of your festive green foulies, narrowly missing your swinging boot, and pulled just enough for you to stay on the boat. One thing I’ll never understand: looking mortality straight in the face, how were you still whistling “Up on the Housetop” along with Alvin and the insufferable Chipmunks as they blared through the cockpit speakers?

In ‘16, it was the darkest December debacle after a most garish start. That was the year you tried to run your gaudy mast-topping light display through the inverter and drained every amp of battery power before we even reached Port Madison, forgetting to isolate a starter battery along the way. We were going to have to Wassail our boat onto the mooring under sail or try our luck with the rocks, until you thankfully caught a rare air of prudence. Did it feel good to rouse the tow boat driver in that deluge, to interrupt his fireside cocoa hour? Do you have any idea how many bully sticks you could have bought me if you didn’t have to pay for that rescue? If this isn’t the stuff of Bleak Midwinter, I don’t know what is.

Remember in ‘17 when you thought I was too sick to join you for the Christmas Cruise? How I parked my furry tail on every walk and made you drag me around until the skin on my face was so bunched up I could have been mistaken for a Shar-pei? I didn’t eat for almost a week trying to validate that little ruse. Actually, that was the year you tried to grow a Mo-Vember mustache, and thought you’d just “try it out for a while longer.” Yeesh, the sight of that sickening stubble on your upper lip alone made me invoke my namesake more than a few times; so maybe my illness wasn’t a complete fiction.

Nonetheless, I thought I had solved the puzzle, finally figured out how to cancel the excruciating excursion. But did you call it off to nurse me back to health in winter warmth at the dock? No, you coddled and fawned, and then picked me right up and left me on the neighboring Bayliner with the Swansons and that terrifying barbarian Pretty Kitty. I bark at her, sure. But the scars she’s left me with are forever.

I moped about my powerboat prison, keeping a low profile with the feline, as I watched you provision with cookies and peppermint bark and figgy pudding. And really? Again with that hideous lamp that looks like a human hind leg? When I heard our engine turn over, I sniffed for familiar exhaust. All I got—cat piss. I wagered anything would be better than your dumb, merry cruise, but as you pulled out of the slip and Pretty Kitty came and perched ominously above me, I could see the writing on the wall. I’d made a huge mistake.

And tell me you haven’t blocked out last year. The Raccoon Incident at Blake Island. No, they don’t hibernate, genius. And yes, they are interested in your jello mould. I suppose I should feel responsible that you decided I should have some exercise and demanded we all go for a hike? It’s typically up to those with opposable thumbs to make sure that the hatches are locked. Well, Rocky Raccoon destroyed our saloon. I got to celebrate Christmas Eve in the damp cockpit while you two dingdongs sang out-of-tune carols as you tried to clean up that impossible mess. Joy joy joy! How was that fun to you? Oh, right. Schnapps. You never share, you know that?

Well, I’ve got a foolproof pooch plan to positively ruin this year’s yuletide nightmare. We both know that you haven’t sailed off the dock since you stopped racing a decade ago and, even then, it was on some sporty little number, not this full-keel hog. So, all I have to do is disable the trusty Volvo diesel. It was tempting to try to tinkle in your oil reservoir, but I don’t want to kill our sailing dreams forever, just while you’re in your annual Clark Griswold phase. It might be easiest to slink in and close the seacock for the cooling water and overheat the engine, but even a dolt like you would check that when the temperature alarm goes. So, I believe it’s got to be the batteries. I just need to get in there and snag a cable and tug, tug TUG…

Wait. Just a minute there, George Bailey. Why do I hear the
glow-plug buzzer. What are we starting the engine for? It couldn’t be. Do I smell peppermint? No, no I’m not a “cute Christmas canine!” What day is it…? NOOOOOO! Bah, humbug.   

Barfy the Boat Dog is a fictional character. Any resemblance to real-life humans or animals is purely coincidental. Unless it’s not. It’s probably about you.