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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

The Coati & The Mermaid
A ring-tailed crew member not seen before
October 31, 2023

ack in August, a mermaid showed up at the town’s free dock. A Hunter 44, SV Mischievous Mermaid was doing the coastal cruise up from Florida.

Like many cruisers, they stopped for rest at the free town dock at Hodges Street. Dee and Shannon Womack, of Denham Springs, Louisiana, lived aboard. But the most intriguing crew member was seen playing on the anchor chain and climbing up the foresail.

It looked like a raccoon … kind of. But this animal had a long, flexible nose and lighter coloring. This was Cali.

Cali is curious, and enjoys meeting new people – from the safety of her floating home. (Jean White photos)

Cali is a Coati, pronounced /kəʊˈɑːti/ or (phonetically) kow-aa-ti.

She’s a mountain Coati of Colombian descent.

But how did she come to be on a sailboat in Oriental with a couple from Louisiana? State laws and a raccoon called Tucker.

Back in Louisiana, when Shannon was the Denham Springs Police Chief, he and Dee rescued a week-old raccoon. “In Louisiana, it is 100% illegal to own a raccoon,” Shannon explained. “You cannot obtain a permit from the state of Louisiana to possess a raccoon.”

Cali the Mountain Coati sits behind Dee and shares a funny look with Shannon.

But Shannon and Dee had started taking care of the raccoon, even naming him Tucker. “We grew to love him tremendously,” he said.

Tucker was with them for 2.5 years before succumbing to an antibiotic resistant infection. But the Womacks were taken with the intelligence and mischievousness of the raccoon. “They’re like having a child.”

So the Womacks went looking for another Tucker, albeit one more Louisiana legal.

The Mischievous Mermaid at town dock #1.

Living with Tucker meant living with caution, and a bit of fear. If Tucker were confiscated by Wildlife officials, he would have been put down. “Because in Louisiana, the only answer to a socialized wild animal is euthanasia.”

With that in mind, the Womacks went looking for a raccoon … that isn’t a raccoon.

Coatis are part of the raccoon family – and Louisiana doesn’t regulate against them. They contacted a breeder and signed up to go see Cali at a breeder in Texas.

TownDock sent its second bravest crew member onboard, to capture Cali the Coati video:
During the interview, Cali investigated TownDock’s crew and camera.

Finding Cali also coincided with Shannon’s retirement from law enforcement. “Getting out of the job though, for me, was the best thing in the world, because cops tend to take a dim view of society,” he said. “Everyday you’re dealing with the worst of society.”

Shannon retired at the end of July, 2022. He and Dee picked up Cali around the same time. On December 1st, the family moved aboard their Hunter 44, bound for Key West.

“Getting out into the world without a badge and a gun on, it’s given me more hope in humanity,” Shannon said. Cali may be a contributing factor; she attracts attention wherever she goes.

“We get to meet so many people … we have 20 to 30 conversations a day, educating people about what she is.”

Dee gives Cali a treat. She’s not very fond of her leash, and little bribes go a long way.

But as fascinating and well-socialized as she is, Cali “will always be a wild animal. Period. She will react to stress, fear, just like a wild animal.”

Cali also has to be bribed to give up any treasures she finds. “She will chew you up. She’ll tell you, if you try to take a pretty away from her without bribing her with a Craisin, she’ll warn you. She’ll defend it.”

Yes. Cali can be bribed with Craisins. She also prefers a bit of lightly fried Spam for dinner.

Mermaids on the bow.

As the Womacks have traveled along the coastal southern states, they’ve been cautious about where they go and who gets to interact with Cali.

Children are completely off-limits. ‘Look, but don’t touch’ is heavily applied.

While the Womacks believe Cali won’t attack anyone, they fully acknowledge she’s a well-socialized wild animal, and maintains her defensive instincts. Safe – for Cali and the kids – is better than sorry.

And while Cali calls Mischievous Mermaid her home, she’s still somewhat afraid of it and of the water. When the sailing gets rough or they’re in blue water, Cali prefers staying below decks, coming topside to check on Dee and Shannon or to ask for food.

Mischievous Mermaid is naturally Cali’s first sailing experience. But it’s also true of the Womacks.

Cali isn’t shy, smiling & snuggling with visiting crew.

Sailing videos on YouTube had them considering a catamaran, then maybe a Beneteau. They landed on the Hunter after interacting with a broker in St. Pete – who they found through another video.

“One of the YouTube channels we were watching at the time had this young couple, significantly younger than us, that did the same thing that we did. And so their broker was also a sailing instructor.”

The Womacks looked him up, went to spend time with family in St. Petersburg, Florida where the broker / instructor is based, and learned how to sail and what to look for in a cruising vessel. He was also able to guide them to the Hunter 44 – with enough room below for a couple and an energetic young animal.

Cali is always moving – her body stills for pets, but her head stays on a swivel.

While in Key West, the Womacks had a few dragging incidents in the nighttime. They’ve resulted in restless nights at anchor for Shannon, so much so that he prefers nights at a mooring or dock.

“What you see on the blogs is not what you get.” But they’re sticking with it. Though their original plans had to change – Cali isn’t allowed in The Bahamas – they’re still planning on cruising around the coast, maybe visiting Key West again.

They have plans to return to land now and then as family events – and Dee’s job as a photographer – demand. But for now, “we’re seeing part of America we’ve never seen before.

“There are days that if you had a five dollar bill in your wallet, I’d sell you this sucker and walk away from it,” Shannon said. “But there’s other days I wouldn’t take a million dollars for it.”

Cali, Dee, and Shanon – comfy below deck.

Posted Tuesday October 31, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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