characters and places

Cecil cannot believe his eyes. 

The places, secondary characters, and modes of transport in Anton and Cecil: Cats at Sea were mostly based on real locations, creatures and ships that might have been around in the mid-to-late 1800's.  

Below you'll find a little more about all of the personalities and elements that make up the world of Cats at Sea.


Anton, sure-footed and sensitive, is svelte, elegant, and gray as a storm cloud.  He’s a cautious cat; he likes to plan ahead.  A picky eater, he’s never developed a taste for mice, but he’ll gladly snack on crabs or herring.  Anton doesn’t share his brother’s attraction to the sea-faring life—he is a homebody at heart.  His favorite napping spot is an old blanket at the lighthouse.  He loves the sea shanties that the sailors sing, though, and the music played in the saloon in town draws him out to listen in the evenings.  One morning after a long night at the saloon, Anton’s worst fear is realized when two sailors grab him, and the next thing he knows, he’s at sea.


Beefy, black, goofy and omnivorous, Cecil is a cat with an adventurous streak and an appetite to match.  He’ll eat fish, crabs, mice, even water beetles.  He’s a willing mouser on a fishing schooner by day, and by night he watches the tall ships from the balcony of his lighthouse home.  Curious about everything and especially ships and the sea, he’s fascinated by the mysterious, enormous whales he spies far from shore.  Cecil’s a loyal brother and friend, a great cat to have on your side if you need to clear out, say, a rat-infested ship’s larder.


All white with a mask of black fur around her eyes and ears, young Gretchen is quick and clever as a thief.  After being impressed from the dock at Lunenburg, she becomes resourceful and resilient and makes a place for herself aboard a pirate ship.  She’s fond of cheese and can catch fish with her claws.  She can spot a valuable gem in a pile of pirate booty.  Gretchen has learned to be tough, but she hasn’t altogether forgotten her friends and family back home.


The harbormaster’s cat must reliably report the important news of the docks to his fellow felines, and Billy takes his job seriously.  Though he’s never been to sea and is now an elder statescat with a belly that swings like a bag of clamshells, he’s learned the ways of ships and sailors and often has good advice for the younger kits.  Old Billy may be more of a pet than an adventurer, but he can tell a brig from a barque, and he knows that impressed cats don’t often come back.


A noble mouse, Hieronymus is a loyal ally and a grand talker.  His brother was eaten by the last cat on board, making Hieronymus the only survivor of a large clan.  He is deeply wary of felines, but he and Anton manage to forge a special bond.  Hieronymous loves stargazing, telling stories about his ancestors, and munching on biscuits.  Determined and dependable, he’ll do whatever it takes, even gnaw through solid wood, to help a friend in need.

The dolphins

Leonardo and Adrianna belong to a pod of the famous Maculato, the fastest dolphins in the ocean.  They love to race the tall ships, but only during the fiercest of storms so that the competition is fair.  We made up the name Maculato, which means spotted in Italian, because these guys resemble the Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, more about which is here.  Reputed to be friendly and smart, one of their favorite things to do is to leap and play in the waves made by the bows (the pointed front) of ships.

Dave the lizard

Anton meets Dave when he's marooned on an island, and Dave teaches him how to handle the "clackers," murderous vultures who chase Anton.  Probably there would not be a lizard this size on an island in the Atlantic, but he's got some of the qualities of a Komodo dragon (found in Australia), plus of course his own awesome googly eyes and sense of humor.

The whale

Out one day on the fishing schooner, Cecil first encounters a huge whale with an eyebrow of white barnacles and a mouth as wide as a ship.  The creature spooks his fisherman friends and disappears.  But later, when the brothers are separated, the whale appears to take an interest in their travels.  What on earth and sea is he up to?  Sailing ships often met large whales in the Atlantic -- blue whales, humpbacks, right whales, and fin whales, which is what Cecil's whale is.  Here is a little more about finbacks.  They are sometimes called "the greyhound of the sea" because they swim very fast in short bursts.  We thought this was fun because clipper ships are called the same thing!


Anton and Cecil's home village is Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, where they live under the lighthouse and visit the harbor daily.  We picked Lunenburg because it was a not only a busy port hub for ships traveling between Europe and North America, but also because it was a major shipbuilding area in the 1800s.  The houses along the waterfront are brightly colored, and the fishing schooners and bigger ships sail in and out of the harbor all day long.

The ships

As there were neither cars nor airplanes available, the majestic tall ships were the primary means of moving people and goods long distances during the 19th century.  There were many different variations on these vessels -- number of masts, position of the sails, shape of the hull -- depending on their purpose.  The cat brothers traveled on a schooner, a barque, a brigantine, and a clipper during their adventures.  A good summary of the classes of tall ships can be found here, and lots more details here.  The rigging of a ship, which includes the types of sails and how they are mounted, is also fascinating and here is a great description of how it works.

Terms at Sea

Anchors aweigh!  Man the capstan!  Reef the top-gallants!  Wondering what's going on?  Click here for a handy guide as to what the nautical terms, used by the captains and crew in our story, are referring to.


The Mysterious Missing Crew

The Mary Celeste, 1861

When Anton and Hieronymus wake up one morning, they discover that the entire crew of their ship has vanished, and they must fend for themselves until help arrives.  What happened to the captain, his wife, their toddler daughter, and the rest of the sailors?  It remains a mystery to our heroes, and indeed we based the incident on one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time – the story of the Mary Celeste.  In 1872 the brigantine was found abandoned (or “derelict”) in the Atlantic Ocean, still under full sail and with no sign of piracy, mutiny, or accident.  (Some even say there were meals left uneaten and a lone cat on board, but those are likely tall tales.)  None of the crew was ever heard from again, and the mystery was never solved.  You can read more about the intriguing story here.


Sea Shanties

During the spells of boredom or stretches of repetitive, back-breaking work on board a ship, the crew often sang songs to pass the time and to make the work go smoothly.  These work songs are called shanties (or sometimes it's spelled 'chantey'), and there were many inspiring and colorful ones in the 1800's.  Though some of the shanties are a bit on the salty side, a few good examples of work songs are "Heave Away Me Johnny," and "Where Am I to Go Me Johnnies," as well as "The Fish in the Sea," the song Anton hears the sailors sing.  Another popular type of song was called a "Forecastle ballad," which the men sang in their quarters after their work was done, and these were often more thoughtful.  One of my absolute favorites of this type is called "Jamestown Homeward Bound," sung below by a group called Forebitter.  In it, the crew of the Jamestown, a mid-1800's sloop-of-war, looks forward to going home after three years of sailing all over the world.  The chorus just makes me dance!

The Jamestown, built in 1844