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Pukka in Paradise

How one family clawed its way to a dream.

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From July 1997 to July 1998, Stephen and Margaret Watterson and their cat Pukka took what many would consider the voyage of a lifetime. The Bay Village couple sailed their 30-foot sailboat, Witch of Endor (from the Captain Horatio Hornblower series, a favorite of Stephen's childhood), from Sandusky to the Florida Keys and back, a journey described in his book A Year in Paradise: How We Lived Our Dream.

An accomplished sailor, Watterson says he and his wife weren't always so confident on the water. They were "absolutely frightened to death -- white knuckles" during their first attempts at sailing, about 14 years ago. "The first weekend out, we did everything wrong -- wrapped the tow line, went aground, got caught in fishing nets," he laughs.

Over time, the pair gained skills, and Watterson began to imagine a trip more ambitious than regular jaunts around the Lake Erie islands. Their eventual route took them east across Lake Erie and the Erie Canal to New York, then south through the Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, and the Intracoastal Waterway to the southern tip of the continental U.S. A violent blow in the Florida Keys tested their competence mightily. Watterson struggled to control the wildly pitching boat, as Margaret wrestled both anchors up and onto the deck; neither could see or hear the other amid the screaming wind and rain.

According to the photos in the book, Pukka seems to have enjoyed the trip the most. After all, she didn't have to worry about the weather or hidden shoals. Her jobs were catching flies, hiding in paper bags, and eating leftovers from her owners' endless seafood meals. But readers who expect to see her at this Sunday's book signing will be disappointed: Watterson says the average bookstore isn't thrilled when she shows up.

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