A Gentle Roaring

A Gentle Roaring

When I stepped outside there was a gentle roaring in the air. All the ditches and the nearby creek were running madly. The West side of Vancouver Island had received over 220mm of rain in twenty-four hours; here on the East side we’d only endured a little over 100mm. Roads and bridges are washed out. Rivers and streams are over their banks. An idiot kayaker drowned. It is sunny at the moment, more rain and snow are in the forecast.

“If I pretend I can’t see you…? Blue Herons are a favourite bird, aloof, wary, self-reliant and a wonder to see in flight. Folks often describe them as looking like Pterodactyls.

And so the year seeped into February, still wet, still winter. Wet news is no news any more.

Between storms. At the head of Oyster Bay inland from Ladysmith.

A friend in Sweden e-mailed to say the temperature there was – 26°C and there was so much snow it was being piled in the town square. I couldn’t bring myself to e-mailing him a photo of snow drops emerging in the local woods. There was a time when enduring, and even enjoying, cold and snow was a manly thing for me but the romance now eludes me..

Nanaimo river raging. A spring cleaning and why the crabbing is so good in the river estuary.

All that rain, for the moment, has passed. The interior of the province continues to deal with heaps of snow and the ski hills are doing wonderfully. Spring is slowly creeping back. For the last three mornings, we’ve actually had a sunrise, little buds and tiny flowers are poking their noses out. Yesterday I watched a hummingbird try to scavenge a meagre breakfast from the flowers on a hazelnut tree behind my fence. Life has been so dull there’s not much else to write about except the weather. Little projects on ‘Seafire’ continue but the old saw about “when you have the time you don’t have the money” is certainly true.

Home on the range. This home made range has guided yachters safely into the rocky entrance of Pirates I’ve come and gone, there has never been anyone home.Cove. In all the decades

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and so to give my wife a well-deserved break I’m out on the boat; alone. I know I wouldn’t want to be house-bound with the likes of me so here I am boat-bound with the old bugger hisself. Ostensibly, I’m out here to harvest some prawns. I made one set today and brought one up. Yes, one spotted prawn. I ate it.

A small meal, very hard-earned. The two perch were in the trap, dead already, they’ll make good bait.

There’s a gale warning up but for the moment it is tensely calm. I’m anchored in a few feet of water in Pirates Cove near the north end of the Gulf Islands. It is one of those ‘World Famous’ cruising destinations which is jammed with yachts for many months of the year. Tonight I am blissfully alone, just me and the raccoons ashore. One other yacht is tucked into a far corner, stern line rigged ashore, just as the ‘book’ demands.

They’re close on a lee shore. If the forecast proves itself and their anchor pulls in the thin mud there…..they’ll be screwed.

In the morning I’ll see which part of the weather forecast is correct and make my decisions from there. I always feel complete and at home when aboard any boat, especially my old friend ‘Seafire,’ but retrieving a prawn set alone in rough water is especially challenging. Not only do you have to be able to find your floats, you need to manoeuvre the boat and hook the line aboard without getting it tangled in the boat’s propeller. Then you need to bring all the line and the traps aboard. Thank the gods for my electric windlass. If you use a big, bright float it is easy to find but in high wind and large seas big floats tend to sail off with your gear. So you need to have everything anchored adequately which means more weight to haul up. High visibility also makes it easy pickings for prawn pirates and there are plenty out there. Bastards! There are low-lives who will take your set; traps, floats, prawns and all. The cost of new floats, 400’ to 500’ of line, weights, traps and bait is easily a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately in these southern waters you need to stay within sight of your floats for a few hours while the traps “soak.” Hopefully you can catch a fish or two while you wait. I am one of the world’s worst fisherman so I can offer no advice on that subject.

The high price in the store of fresh seafood is breath-taking but still much cheaper than the cost of getting it yourself. There are also all the multiple costs of the boat itself. And, for perspective, it is worth noting that there are millions of people out there at this moment who would love to be able to experience this sort of problem. Instead it’s couscous again… if they’re lucky!

Tony, this view’s for you, wherever you are in the Caribbean.

This photo of Mount Baker is taken from my favourite anchorage at Kendrick Island. The mountain is 88 miles away. It towers over much of Puget sound and much of the Southern Strait of Georgia. It is visible over a tremendous radius and distance. This frame was taken with a 100-300 Sony zoom lense, hand-held on the foredeck of ‘Seafire.’ Not bad huh? (The summit is 5089 ft./1551 m. above Sea Level)

Thursday morning arrives as a “No hurry” sort of day. The low clouds hurtle past the writhing tree tops. There’s no point in wrestling with prawn gear until the wind settles down. I can find enough trouble without looking for it. My neighbour leaves. The sloop is a large neo-look-at-me shining black phallus. It is loaded with short dark-eyed folks who penguin about on deck in bulky cruising suits. They come close alongside as they depart. I stay inside. There is a lively debate on the foredeck as several crew peruse a fluttering chart. The boat veers toward the wrong side of the buoy in the narrow shallow channel. I brace myself and notice their home port is marked as Seattle although a Canadian ensign cracks in the wind. At the last moment they swerve into the correct channel and mercifully disappear around the point. I unpucker.

A local hazelnut orchard in full bloom.

Nutflower!

I have often lamented the droning rhetoric of CBC Radio, especially in regions where it is the only sound on the airwaves. Here, where the sky is bulging with radio signals, I’m listening to CBC Radio 2. which seems to have been reformatted. They play music, a good eclectic mix. Last night I listened to a wonderful mix on a four hour program called “After Dark.” Go figure!

Finally!

Now that I’ve consumed an entire pot of bilge bitters seadog coffee it’s time to vibrate my way into the remains of the day. By the time I had washed the breakfast dishes the surf was up in this anchorage which is usually a millpond. There is a brisk Norwester blowing into the open end of the cove.

Condo Peckmore.
Folks like to make the owls from bits of fir bark.

The end of the second day finds me anchored in my favourite spot on the south coast, Kendrick Island. It lays on the south side of Gabriola Pass which separates Valdez and Gabriola Islands. The view is spectacular, especially with the crystalline clear air which comes with the cold northwest wind. I look up at Mount Baker, miles away across the Strait Of Georgia. There are no shore lights here. Now that night has fallen the stars throb brilliantly. I am refreshed simply to be here.

Gull Gotha.
Nobody ever makes a bird house for seagulls.

I made one set today in the relatively sheltered waters of Trincomali Channel. Recovering the traps took over an hour. With a rising wind blowing against the boat and nasty steep seas it was a challenge but I would be damned to give it up. “Give me my prawns or giv e me death!” There are enough for a meal, hard-won tasty. I’m writing in the main cabin back lit with two oil lanterns. At the moment the radio is playing a program called “Reclaimed.” It throbs with global indigenous hip-hop and punk rock. So much Hey hey, hey hey. Some of this neo-native music is brilliant. Kudos! It IS warm and fuzzy in here tonight.

If the wind continues tomorrow, I’ll leave the prawns in peace and head back to the marina. It’s time to get ready for my gig at Fisher Poets in Astoria next week. There’s no wind, yet. But a bright red sunrise shows it’s sullen colour for a few minutes and the forecast is utterly confusing with wind to come from all directions. I give up; it is time to head home, for now.

Red sky in the morning, it is time to give it up and go home.

Here are two quotes from Annie Proulx’s latest book, thick and well worth the read.

And who could count the new inventions and occupations? Colleges emerged from raw ideas; daring men invented river flatboats to penetrate the wilderness; shipmasters, not content with trade or passengers, began to pursue whales for the costly and fine oil; teacups finally had handles, an effete fad that Nicolaus thought would soon die out. And that fellow Franklin’s inventions: the lightening rods, which had saved hundreds of churches and houses from destruction, and the stove, which encased fire safely. It was an exciting time to live.”

Nothing in the natural world, no forest, no river, no insect nor leaf has any intrinsic value to men. All is worthless, utterly dispensable unless we discover some benefit for ourselves in it – even the most ardent forest lover thinks this way. Men behave as overlords. They decide what will flourish and what will die. I believe that humankind is evolving into a terrible new species and I am sorry that I am one of them.”

… Charley Duke Breitsprecher

Both quotes from ‘BARKSKINS’ by Annie Proulx

Jewels of dawn.

Hove To

“Lantern lantern burning bright
who is out on the ocean
this stormy night?”
It only took me seven years to get around to repairing this lovely old storm lantern. It works brilliantly. Ha!

First you cut a hole. It seems that everything you do on a boat involves drilling yet another hole. This is where a new fuel vent goes in the cockpit coaming. It is well over an inch thick.
The boat is massively built.

Job Done

New and improved.

EEECH! The old vent hoes sees the light of day after 37 years. It was a battle to extract it.

Any little bit of light is a treasure.

Ah, the light!

 Hove to” is a nautical expression that deals with a situation at sea, especially for a sailing vessel. After putting a sail “aback” which means that sail is now wind-filled so that it sets backwards across the deck of the boat, one sets the helm downwind so that the boat lies gently off the wind and slowly drifts leeward. The wake of the boat drifting sideways acts as a breakwater to advancing seas. This manoeuvre is used when conditions are too stormy and unsafe to hold your intended course and/or when the crew is to weary to stand a watch and requires a rest. I’ve used it a few times and it is an amazing experience. The boats sits easily, almost as if at a dock, while the ocean rages all around you. One can sleep, cook a meal, make repairs, do some writing and chart work and generally prepare to set the right sails and steer a course when conditions ease. It is important to know where you are and be aware of any land mass or rocks lying downwind of your drift.

At the moment, I’m hove-to. It is mid-winter, the wind and rain are incessant. I am not complaining; I vividly recall last winter up in the real rainforest at Shearwater. This winter seems to be especially wet, the interior of the province is heaped with snow; local ski resorts have received over 100cm of snow in one night. I can’t imagine what things are like in the ‘Great Wet North.’ My next projects on ‘Seafire’ require a few dry hours so here I sit, house-bound, waiting for a break. Fisher Poets (fisherpoets.org) is coming up. I’m working on new material for that, as well as sorting through my archives. Good grief! There are over twenty-five years of serious writing. Yes, I know, it’s time to get published and that is a story in itself.

Beauty in the wet.

It is also a time for reading. That is an eternal obligation of the writer, to read. Not only to enforce a healthy degree of humility, but to stimulate new ideas. The current tome on my night table is ‘Bark Skins’ by Annie Proulx. I am not in the business of selling anyone’s books, but Annie Proulx is one of my favourite writers and literary inspirations. ‘Bark Skins’ is the quintessential novel, all 713 pages. It draws the reader forward in a magnificent yarn covering centuries and dissects environmental, gender and racial issues brilliantly. If you aren’t familiar with this Nobel-winning author, I dare you to read it, or any of Proulx’s other works. You’ll discover a fantastic mind. End of book plug.

In the sunlight above the Cowichan Valley looking Sou’eastward over Saltspring Island.

Driving up a mountain in search of the sun.

Despite a forecast today for snow, we were blessed with a sunny afternoon. I worked like crazy and finished the next project: new fuel tank vents. It may sound mediocre, but it is a job which has been on my list since i bought the boat seven years ago. It is important not to allow water to get into your fuel tanks, especially seawater. Engines require clean, fresh fuel and contaminated fuel will cause devilish problems, especially at the worst possible time. My old tank vents were in the transom where it was both possible to inhale seawater and also to spew fuel directly into the ocean. The tanks have been slow to fill, which is usually a venting problem. Often I would have diesel fuel burp back out of the filler pipe which caused a great mess. One drop of fuel into the ocean looks as if the ‘Exxon Valdez’ has run aground again and that is not politically correct.

I installed two new vents about forty centimetres higher than the old ones and now face onto the side decks close to the filler pipe. I can now monitor what’s going on when I am fuelling the boat. If the vents do leak it will be aboard the boat and onto a fuel-absorbent pad. I also replaced the hose between the tank and the new vent with correct, and very expensive, fuel-grade hose. The new hose is half the length of the old one which, I discovered, was heater hose that drooped below the level of the tank top. Through the years the fuel had rotted that incorrect hose so that it was collapsing on itself and preventing adequate ventilation. After thirty-seven years the hose was certainly overdue for upgrading. I also replaced the flush-deck fuel filler caps with short standpipes and a proper pipe cap. Now no water can leak into the tanks although there is something new to bash your feet on. There was the usual squirming and groping and wrench-dropping, including cuts and fibreglass slivers. It was an affirmation that I won’t do boat repairs for a living anymore. Keeping ‘Seafire’ shipshape is plenty enough for me anymore.

The ‘Red Herring.’ This a 40′ J Simpson steel pilothouse cutter. She’s a floating bomb shelter! The young couple who own her are Alaska-bound.

The trick to boat maintenance and repairs is to not let jobs pile up. One deficiency is bad enough, let a few develop and they’ll rear their ugly heads all at the same time. Preventive maintenance is the key to successful voyaging. There is also a bonus in getting intimate with your boat’s innards. On that dark and stormy night when “Shit happens” you’ll have a good idea of where to look for what. Be self-sufficient. I you don’t like that idea, stay home. God knows, there is enough that can go wrong at the best of times without begging for trouble through poor maintenance. Love your boat, it will love you back.

On the rain coast, it is easy to lose track of where you’ve parked your vehicle.

I’m not sure my essay on boat repairs has captivated everyone but this blog is supposed be about a life which ultimately orbits around owning, or being owned by, ‘Seafire’ and the dream that brought this boat into my life.

Sundown at Dogpatch

In the morning the fog settled in.

Ladysmith has been my home town for several years. It sits on the East side of Vancouver Island behind the embrace of the Gulf Islands and on the northern edge of the Cowichan Valley. It is a lovely area, dotted with small communities and is a popular semi-rural area of Canada. The Pacific ocean moderates our climate, the population is eclectic and sometimes quirky. There are several small newspapers, worth reading for snippets of parochial attitude. A recent letter to the editor complained about “Excessive nudity” in the men’s change room of the Duncan swimming pool. I’m not sure what the prurient objection was really about, but one letter, written in response quipped, “Excessive nudity? How much more than naked can you get?” So much for broad-minded tolerance in a haven for geriatric flower children.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s vessel.” But I do. This Goldrup 50 appeared at our guest dock. Locally built as a fishboat hull, she’s a go-anywhere yacht.

POLICE AT THE MARINA!
The RCMP have a new patrol boat and seem to spend a lot of time messing about on it. Each officer brings down their own official vehicle. Note the shotgun muzzle and the siren/light switch panel, the computer, and the VHF radio. They also seem to constantly use their cell phone. This is what they use to bust “Distracted drivers.”

And so we pass the days of winter, each one a little closer to spring. Tonight however, there is a forecast for snow. The rain drums on the skylight above my desk. My muse snores gently as he sleeps on the chair beside me. His front legs twitch. Perhaps he dreams of little yellow flowers. Any day now, little yellow flowers and the worst of winter will be past.

Do I amuse you? Jack at standby station number 1.

Wot de duck?
An experiment with a new lense.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. “

…Henry Ford

Waiting

There went several B.N.D.s! My work sometimes requires two compatible cameras. This is the very first frame with my new Sony dslt. It has been cloudy again all day long but what lighting!

I’ve deleted this entire blog and am starting over. It is a season for renewal so my sarcasms can be hung up, at least for a while. I had first begun with a sardonic remark about our local prize fire engine/ ladder truck tip-toeing down a very steep icy hill on New Year’s Eve with sirens wailing as it followed a creeping sanding truck. All is well that ends. There was no crash. They were out there and that’s what matters. Hats off to all of the town’s volunteers. Ladysmith, like all communities, would be a total shambles without them.

So all is well that ends and it is now a new year with loads of thrills and challenges ahead. My first dreaded task is already out of the way. Jack now has been successfully re-vaccinated for rabies and other nasty dog maladies. Trips to the vet have always been an ordeal and this was certainly one. This anxious old dogdad sweated it out in the waiting room while many long minutes of crashing, snarling and yelping dragged on in the veterinarian’s examination room. I resolved not to interfere unless there were shrieks of pain or a cry for help. The vet and her assistant, both lovely young ladies, eventually subdued Jack by rolling him in a blanket and making their point. I am indebted.

Jack Tar Hisself

Once he was cute, and smaller, and quicker…just like his owner!

Jack, I’ll admit, is like a surrogate son to me. He is a rogue; defiant and stubborn, but also loyal, deeply affectionate and protective. He suffers no fools, human or canine. A “Res. dog” he came from Penalakut Island. He was born about the time of a massive dog cull there. Apparently it involved a pick-up truck and a shot gun but I have no idea what traumas he endured during his early life. He can wag his tail and even his whole body, but if the karma runs over the dogma, Jack may turn himself instantly into a whirling dervish of snapping teeth and arsehole. He has taught me a lot about patience.

There are those who condemn the affection and funds spent on dogs. They say all that effort should be directed at our own children and yes, they’re right, but if you can’t even interact with dogs, you have little hope of success with humans. Perhaps that should be a pre-job test for teachers and counsellors: lock them in a room with a dog for a while. But then, we have laws about cruelty to animals. That was a joke Lucille! I think dogs are one of man’s higher achievements. All we have to do is let them teach us what they know. Insult me if you must, be leave my dog alone.

Read my lips!

photo: Jim Poirier
‘Seafire’ and owner enjoy a few days away from the home dock.

Two old farts on the same dock. Jim and his Corbin 39 have sailed extensively including two years in the South Pacific. It is a rugged and capable vessel to say the least.

Winter evening at Panther Point, looking south. The forest was a tangle of freshly blown-down trees, the paths were submerged in water. Night fell quickly.

Conover Cove. A view to Vancouver Island over the northern tip of Saltspring Island. On the fourth morning there was a hint of sunlight.

It was glorious.

While it lasted…. Soon the sun climbed above the overcast.

A Frank Lloyd Wright home in nearby Princess Cove. It suits the landscape perfectly, but in thirty years I’ve never seen anyone home. That is an Arbutus Tree hanging over the house.

NOT a FLW home. Just an original farm house at Conover Cove. Note the high spring tide, two days after a full moon.

Another Gulf Island home, a crow’s nest.

Long overdue, I spent some quality time with an old friend. Jimmy and I have know each other for over thirty years. Among his many talents, Jim has also sailed extensively. We have travelled in our own directions and have certainly never spent four days tied to the same dock. The days and evenings were spent commiserating. They flew by. The weather was perfect. January dark and rainy, there was little incentive to be outside. We rendezvoused at Conover Cove, a popular cruising destination in the Gulf Islands. There was no one else around. With plenty of laughter long into each night, and even some tears, nobody woke up hung over. We’re getting too old for that any more. What was discussed on that dock will remain there but it was perhaps the best start to a new year; ever. Thank the gods for good friends.

Arbutus tree in the morning light

Nothing warms my heart like the sight of these magnificent trees in sunlight, especially after a night-long rain.

The month wears on, creeping like a fire truck on a slippery slope. Daylight is already noticeably longer and soon little yellow flowers will begin to appear in parks and glens in the forest. Next the buds now swelling on limbs will burst and we’ll begin to expose our fluorescent skin to the eternal sun. Here’s to spring. We‘re waiting.

“Wanna take a turn around the block?” An overturned piece of dock floatation during some renovations at the Ladysmith Maritime Society Marina. The wonderful volunteer work never ends.

Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for “

…Bob Marley

Donuts In The Snow

IT’S OVER!
Red light, green light, crossing the highway in Ladysmith. Taken through the windshield with my mobile phone.

I posted my last blog ten days ago. When I awoke the next morning it was beginning to snow, just a wee skiff to keep the children happy; so I thought. I’ve spent many years in the great white north where a metre or more of snow overnight was not newsworthy. You just carried on. I regularly drove hundreds of miles on wilderness roads in extreme conditions of cold and deep snow. If you ended up in a ditch or broken down it could prove fatal so you drove accordingly and carried a few extra items in the event of emergency. If you saw someone off the road you stopped and made sure no-one was in trouble. It was all in a day’s passing. Here, if there’s enough snow to cover the ground, it is best to simply stay home. Today, the forecast is for 17 or more centimetres. A few people will die out there. Only half that fell and the sirens still wailed constantly all day.

Well, Jack enjoyed his Christmas. His new blanket was tasty!

The white stuff is slippery and if you have experience as a winter driver, you know that no amount of ability is enough when there is zero traction. Superior drivers use their superior experience to avoid situations which require superior skill. Unfortunately there are many motorists who apparently have no clue about winter driving. Steep hills covered in wet white grease and littered with goggly-eyed drivers stuck in their suv’s is reason enough to stay home. Those television ads depicting an all-wheel drive vehicle bursting through a bank of fluffy, dry snow forget to tell you one thing: you’ve got to stop sometime. Last night I saw a plug for an Alfa Romeo suv. (Stupid Urban Vanity) It was a gorgeous vehicle! But somehow I doubt the Italians fully understand Canadian driving conditions, not that many of these look-at-me-mobiles ever leave pavement. So I stayed home that morning and sat here pecking away at my writing.

The same old view south. In the distance, ships wait for cargo at another sundown, not a nice way to spend Christmas.

Then there was a horrific train wreck just south of Seattle. It was the very first run with paying passengers on a new high-speed rail service between Seattle and Portland. The train leapt off the rails and crashed down onto the main interstate highway in the state of Washington. The carnage incurred prevents this from being a hilarious story. To ad to the ludicrous tale, our boy Donny Trumpet (He’s always blowing his horn) was tweeting within three hours of the crash that this was a great example of why his infrastructure funding bill should be passed forthwith. The gormless ass! There were still people, dead and alive, trapped in the wreckage as he massaged his pathetic ego! Here on Vancouver Island we have solved any issue with railway safety. We cancelled our rail service.

Christmas morning; a brief respite. Jill and Jack savour a few minutes of sunlight.

 

Tracks in the snow.

Now over a week later I slide this blog off the back burner of my writer’s stove with a story from today’s local newspaper about a visiting Calgary man who “Spun a few donuts in the snow at Transfer Beach last week to clear a path for his 70-year-old mom to walk.” There’s a photo of a little car sitting in the middle of several circular furrows. That this was a news-worthy story says a lot about the pace of life in Ladysmith. I’m wondering how long this dude has had his mom going in circles. Such is our existence between Christmas and New Years. The days are grey and wet, the nights are long and wet. My sense of humour is short and dry. Outside on the final Friday of the year, I go to the local pool to swim my final lengths for the year. This morning I crawled out of bed one toe at a time and now dawn reluctantly squeezes the black sky to a porridge grey. A thick fog descends with a syrupy penetrating drizzle. In the afternoon, the drizzle turned to snow.

The bunk job completed. The deck beam and storage shelving are new. Apart from difficult angles, the real trick was to make everything look as if it belonged.

Open for business. This is the guest berth, until recently used as junk storage. Well, it’s junk if you don’t know you’ve got it or can’t find it. Emergency tools stored handily. The wheelbarrow handle has been adapted as an emergency tiller.

When I went aboard ‘Seafire’ to check on her, it was colder inside than out, like a tomb. This old boat has been my home, warm and snug through some long winter nights. I feel as if I’ve abandoned her and wonder where I will be this time next year. Well, life has to be lived as it comes, one moment at a time. When you look back, even 365 days, you’ve already forgotten so much of the blur. Just this moment, it’s all we have.

I wish everyone the best in 2018. May we all have something to do, someone to love and something to look forward too.

Happy New Year
May your days be sunny and your seas calm.

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” … Hal Borland 

Beyond Black Friday

Good things come in small bundles.

Santa blew it! Somehow, deflated Christmas ornaments laying all over humbug my Christmas spirits. Especially if they’re still lying there in July.

Black Friday has past. It may become known as the day that Darth Vader got stuck in the chimney. Forget the Star of Bethlehem, it’s Star Wars part 49. Bzzt, zap, whoosh! I’m not a fan, especially when the marketing of this film has be forced on us for months. “May the force be with with you” takes on a new meaning. What a way to start a celebration of love and peace and warmth and fuzziness! So it must be getting close to Christmas. Each morning there are deflated Santas and elves and snowmen lying on lawns nearly everywhere.

!The sacred act of consumerism is in the air. Even before mid-December advertisements for Boxing Day sales already clog the media which all the while keeps insisting that this year is a tight economic time, with housing and grocery costs at outrageous highs. Well, maybe so but as I drive by the malls, there does not seem to be many empty parking spots. Tap, tap, tap, click click. I’m not talking about the little drummer boy! Remember the ad, “Just say Chargex?” Jaded and cynical, I’m just not in the mood for anything other than peace and rum.

And lo, in the East, a star rose over the locomotive shed. There’s a Baldwin steam locomotive stored inside.

You recognize the view! This squint southward is over the Ladysmith amphitheatre in the local park.

The other side. Looking into the morning mist in Dogpatch. On a sunny winter morning, everything is beautiful.

Winterberry

Online, folks are posting yummy recipes. I have some good ones too but gluten, glucose and alcohol are bad for you, at least this year. I don’t know what happened to trans-fat, but apparently eggs, butter and coffee are OK again. My Christmas cake is delightfully heavy, dripping with syrupy alcoholic elixir; one slice is guaranteed to bring on a case of acne. Then there’s my glug, a mulled concoction of fruit completely desecrated in a blend of wine and brandy and other secret flammables with exotic spices. This year it’ll be cranberry juice and soda crackers. It’s the high life for me.

Frosty meadow.
Jack and I love walking at first light.

Once a simple pagan celebration of winter solstice and a return to lengthening days, this time of year was an affirmation of hope and familial security despite the long winter ahead. It was a simple defiance against the elements, things that went bump in the long dark nights and all there was to dread. It is supposed to be a celebration of life. Then religion imposed it’s toxic notions and Christmas was gradually perverted into an orgy of money grubbing. I’m well aware of the entire Christian story, I was force-fed on it for too many years. It’s dark and cold and wet outside tonight. There’s homeless folks out there, lots of them, and all the church doors are locked. In Victoria recently I saw security personnel guarding a church entrance. Homeless people were setting up camp for the night on the grass boulevard in front of the church. Shopping carts and garbage bags just didn’t look like the makings of a warm and safe winter night; in front of a church. Remember the stable?

Frozen Light

I do have golden memories of Christmas from a childhood many decades ago. A sudden aroma of home-cooking, woodsmoke or the tang of frost, the smell of wet woollens and barnyards (Yes, good old cow shit) the pungence of a real tangerine, fresh-cut conifers and a puppy’s gentle musk are among the stimulants that bring those old memories back to life in an instant. I know folks wrung their hands back then and worried about what the world had come to and how things just couldn’t go on like this much longer but by today’s comparisons, it was, at least for me, truly an age of innocence. That smells can induce memories, good and bad is an affirmation of our primal origin. I wonder about all the other senses which we have stashed away in the dim light at the back of our caves beneath the hanging bats.

In this particular area on Vancouver Island some hummingbirds spend the winter. This morning I was contemplating the brilliant multi-coloured led lights decorating a neighbour’s tree. A hummingbird zoomed down and began examining each light. Clearly, I’m not the only thinking creature confused about reality. With the thousands of lights gleaming through the night in Ladysmith It’s a good thing the wee bird is not nocturnal.

I’ve busied myself with a few projects on ‘Seafire.’ First a thorough cleaning in the main cabin and the galley. I was stunned to realize how much cooking effluent had accumulated behind and on the curtains and in niches my regular cleanings had missed. That accomplished, I turned my attention to a long-delayed project. The foredeck was slightly flexible. There was no issue with strength; I simply wanted to feel a rock-solid deck beneath my boots. Besides, the deck beam job will incorporate more book shelves and storage space in the forward V-berth. “Idle hands do the devil’s work” is something people liked to say when I was young.

I am not sure that boat projects are not devil’s work but it helps maintain some level of sanity within my chosen madness. While I’ve been fiddling around inside ‘Seafire’ different sorts of madmen are hard at other endeavours. Francois Gabart has just returned home to France on his massive trimaran after sailing around the world in 42 days and 16 hours. He set out on November 4th. I can remember where I was on that day, it is that recent! I’m not interested in going hyper fast on a sailboat, but I respect the achievement. To be alone and drive a boat that hard without a catastrophic mechanical failure while staying mentally and physically sound all the while is a miracle. It must seem very strange to be back ashore.

I can’t hear you! Jack charges a flock of pigeons, oblivious to all else.

Feet on the ground, now there’s a concept. The massive storm of inappropriate sexual behaviour accusations leaves me afraid to even smile at anyone of any gender, however many genders we now recognize. This tsunami of innuendo began with Bill Cosby and now anyone with eyes and hands is a suspect. I don’t want to dissect the issue, nor sound dismissive but… The US president openly bragged about his aggressive misogynistic sexual behaviour before he was elected. If an avowed pervert is running a country with impunity, surely that raises several obvious questions. He’s not welcome on my boat.

One of the ways I endure winter is to have something good to look forward to. Last year I had sequestered myself away in Shearwater and missed my annual pilgrimage to the Fisher Poet’s Gathering in Astoria. This annual event is held on the last weekend of February in Astoria, Oregon where poets and singers gather to celebrate the many aspects of the commercial fishing industry. It is a wonderful festival of blue collar eloquence and Astoria is a fantastic town to visit for any reason. You can learn more by going to the Fisher Poet Website (FPG.org)and can even hear some performers, including myself, read their work. If you’re in the area and want some late winter cheer, check it out. By the Way, Astoria has some of the best craft beers and ales anywhere.

Well, back to Christmas. I’ve just received a Christmas card from an uncle in England. The photo he enclosed shows himself and my aunt. It was hard to accept how they’ve aged. I have been receiving letters from him since childhood. They used to come on tissue-thin blue Royal Airmail paper. The letter cleverly folded quarterly with two sides reserved for the addresses. They were self-sealing and were bought prepaid, like a postage stamp. The sender wrote in as small a font as possible in order to say as much as possible on the six blank quarters. Somehow, the Brits had a style of handwriting that was generic. Everyone’s looked the same. That’s all gone now along with the whole fine art of letter-writing. Uncle’s handwriting is unchanged after all these years. There’s a comfort.

Early birds. Swans usually don’t show for winter until January. What does it mean?

The English journalist I mentioned in my last blog, Johnathon Pie, is actually a self-described political satirist whose real name is Tom Walker. He also calls himself a “Devil’s Advotwat.” His work, which appears on You Tube, is impeccable and utterly cutting as he rants about local and global political issues. He is crisp and irreverent and convincing, confirming my contention that our contemporary philosophers often appear in the guise of comedians. That, of course, should not be confused with a clown appearing in the guise of a politician.

“Dontcha buy no ugly truck!” When this GM pickup was new, that was the company’s marketing slogan. It appears to belong to a firewood harvester and is well-equipped for the backwoods.
Don’t laugh, I’ll bet she’s almost paid for!

Yep, as the song goes “It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.” But I’m not dreaming of a white one. If you are celebrating the season, do it with your bow into the wind and your sheets hard. Wishing everyone empty bilges and full sails.

See! Toto emerges from beneath his Christmas blankets. He seemed offended that I thought he was funny.

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” …Jay Leno

Going dinghy

There’s that view again from Ladysmith!
Yep, still looking south. On the horizon, a freighter sits anchored, waiting for her cargo.

 

The sky brightened.

An hour later.

So what’s Mr. B.N.D. doing up here buying a dinghy?” A friend’s wife queried me when I arrived in Campbell River to purchase a used tender for ‘Seafire.’ It was a fair question especially when my last blog was about buy nothing days. It was also a fair question in consideration of the wintery weather. A viscous rain was being driven by the rising sou’east wind. The water in Discovery Pass was a mass of building foaming hard lumps, the usual meringue of wind against tide. I know this piece of ocean all too well, but for once I was ashore. I’d come to buy a nine foot fibreglass dinghy already modified to hang almost perfectly from the davits on ‘Seafire.’

Look up.
Big Brother is watching.

I already have a nice little kayak and a splendid inflatable tender. There’s no place for the kayak on mothership in the winter where it doesn’t get hammered by the wind, or partially filled with water. It also blocks visibility from either helm. Getting into it in winter weather raises a good possibility of a frigid dunking as I try to finesse my Rubenesque thorax into the bobbing little cockpit while clad in clumsy boots and rain gear. The willowy, flat-bellied former younger self still hiding within my senior mass cringes as he realizes what he has become. Gawd! The Michelin man in a kayak.

The Achilles inflatable is a wonderful little speedboat but also an awkward thing on the davits. It refuses to accept being lashed solidly under the davits and has caused me much grief during heavy weather passages. The drain hole in it’s transom only allows shipped water to dribble out; not a good thing in big seas. It constantly moves no matter how I secure it to the transom of ‘Seafire’. Chafe is a sailor’s worst enemy on a boat. This inflatable is built from hypalon, a very tough, long-lived material, but it won’t live long if I allow it to continually wear on parts of the big boat. If it were a hard-bottomed dingy there would be little problem with the davits but I wanted an inflatable that could be rolled up for long passages. I refuse to tow a dinghy any distance for several other good reasons. Every thing is a compromise. Oddly, my first boats all had a hard dinghy; I longed for an inflatable. Now I’m back where I started.

The fibreglass dinghy affords me a way to get ashore from an anchorage and still provides the hope of being a life boat in dire circumstances. It already has solid lifting points and two drain plugs in it’s keel. I can also carry it about 30 centimetres higher than the inflatable, so there’s less chance of flooding it in rough weather. The little cockleshell was also reasonably priced. Nautical items tend to be less money at this time of year; about half-price in fact. So there, I’ve blogged half a page to explain my spending spree on Black Saturday. The drive home took two hours in a nasty downpour, darker than black. It was one of those night drives when your headlight beams are eaten in the spray and other drivers were demonstrating their worst motoring manners and low skill-sets. I arrived home to find a blog from friends in the Caribbean showing idyllic anchorages in clear tropical water. Swear words! It just ain’t right! In the morning an e-mail comes with photos of the beach in La Manzanilla, Mexico. Curving miles of golden sand, surf on one side, palm trees on the other. The TV weather girl tells us it has been the wettest November here since 1953.

Last summer, laughing children swung from this rope and swam across the pond. There were none playing there today.

On Winter’s Pond. It was so calm you could hear the birds shivering.

I step into my tiny garage/workshop and there lingers an aroma of spring and of hope. The fresh smell of curing paint is aroma therapy to me. Suddenly I can hear twittering birds and feel warm sunlight, all of that in a whiff of paint. It is December 1st today and I’ll cling to whatever I can as the rain drums on the skylight above my desk. Bumhug! It’s Christmas time again, already, so soon! As if there would be a chance of forgetting. Happy Consumermas. Two days later it proved to be a sunny Sunday. Jack and I went exploring and found a lovely walking loop beside the local river which I’ve been driving past for over thirty years. Then in the afternoon Jill and I drove to Crofton to take the ferry to Saltspring Island to see a movie in a 120 plus year-old building call the “Fritz.” The film was the “Viceroy’s House” which never played in the mega theatres of Nanaimo. That is probably because there are no explosions, gunfire or graphic violence. And that is probably why it lost out to film titles like “A Bad Mom’s Christmas.” Tis the season!

A Brrrird!

Viceroy’s House” was spectacular in all regards and helped clarify how much of the mess in India was created by the British colonialists. I heartily recommend it. All that adventure in one day! The decadence of travelling to another island just to see a movie did not elude me, so we crowned the afternoon by having a lovely dinner in a humble but wonderful Thai restaurant in Chemainus. Now it will be all dénoument for the rest of the month. Then the daylight will begin to increase each day. Yeah right!

While I’m in a complimentary moment, check out Johnathan Pie on You Tube. He’s a British journalist who manages to turn every report into a very raw rant. His ability to provide candid in-your-face opinions is very refreshing indeed. He has clearly been around for a while but he’ll probably disappear in mysterious circumstances. Catch him while you can.

In the woods, there’s still beauty on a gloomy day.

Ball, brook, branch.
Jack’s bliss. That’s his raincoat!

Jack has a quiet moment. Someone decorates several trees along one of our walking routes. This is the main one, also brightened with photos of dogs who used to walk here and are now in the ‘Big Kennel In The Sky.’

 

Waiting for the ferry at Vesuvius on Saltspring Island.

The fibreglass dinghy is now hanging from the back of ‘Seafire.’ It rows beautifully and fits the davits perfectly. Jack sat in the back looking like a little prince surveying his realm, clearly enjoying the ride while I rowed the royal barge. I love it when something works out and even the ship’s dog is happy.

The dinghy.
All tarted up and ready for sea. Note that ‘Seafire’ is not all wrapped in plastic. Ready, Aye ready!

 

Downtown Ladysmith, Christmas lights. They plant cabbages in the flower beds of town hall then leave the holiday lights on for months. Apparently the main street of Ladysmith has been vote the nicest in Canada

I don’t know what they’re called but these are one of my favourites. They stay like this until spring.

The phantom decorator strikes again. A gentle soul wanders far and wide, hanging a few decorations randomly throughout the woods. It’s lovely.

If it’s a wrong number, why did you answer the phone?” James Thurber

B.N.D.

Morning Glory after a night’s heavy rain. Bailing can be a daily routine in winter.

My wife has a great idea. She’s come up with what she calls a B.N.D. or, Buy Nothing Day. In our consumer culture we nearly all have the craving to spend money. We’re incessantly prompted and programmed to do it. “How do you like it? How do you like it? More. More! More!” was a jingle for a local supermarket chain. In remote locations yachters who’ve been confined to their boats for a few days have an overwhelming compulsion to buy anything, something, as much as possible even though it may be useless, over-priced crap that they never needed until they saw it. I know that when I’m down and out, it makes me feel momentarily better to buy something. Prozac is a prescribed medication for compulsive shopping disorder. Yep, it’s considered a medical condition! The compulsion to acquire is a certain symptom of depression just surely as Prozac is a common drug for that illness. And tomorrow is Black Thursday which precedes the Black Friday and Pink Monday sales events.

Anyway I’m happy to recommend B.N.D. as a means of achieving some empowerment and control over one’s life. It sounds easy but I dare you to try it. For those of us driven to spend on credit I recall an old Welsh lady who once asked me, “If ye canna pay for it once, how will you pay for it twice?” That is sage thinking that I still have difficulty with.

Anapaya has risen again, this time to be broken up. The breaker’s crane and barge mark the spot. Meanwhile someone has tried to burn the beached wrecks. The boathouse in the back ground is a newcomer.
Will this squatter be the scene of the next fire

Anyway, I’m often informed that sailors are cheap buggers the world over. Sailing is often described as being like “Standing in an ice cold shower while ripping up thousand dollar notes” and that the word boat is correctly spelled with two T’s. Break Out Another Ten Thousand. I’m one of those backwater types who really doesn’t care about impressions. Let’s just say that I’m not a snappy dresser but I keep my old boat seaworthy if not always shiny. If it is a choice between new underwear or a box of flares, you know what will be burned. So, it’s not that we sailors are compulsively cheap, it’s just that all our money goes into the boat. If anything, we’re compulsively broke. And before someone spews out the weary cliché about boats being holes in the water I’ll reiterate that houses are holes in the beach to shovel your money into, and the scenery never changes. You can’t untie your house and sail away when you’ve had enough of your neighbours. See ya later!.

Frost on the skylight. With much of the province buried under snow, this is a small price to pay for a rainless morning.

 

The last one, I promise.
A final shot of autumn colours. The rain and wind have knocked down most of the leaves by now.

Another symptom of depression is hoarding. I was recently horrified to realize that maybe I’m inclined toward hoarderism myself. I’ve been living on ‘Seafire’ for years in remote locations. I wear only work clothes and can destroy outer wear sometimes daily. When in town I cruise my favourite second-hand clothing store and acquire shirts, jeans and other outer wear “just in case” I run out of togs. My brother once said of me that “Somewhere there goes a naked clown!” Today was spent unloading the boat. Sacks of manky clothing, bedding, towels, extra tools and never-used boat parts filled my truck. And there’s more to come! I realize that when I go south I won’t need nearly as much “stuff” crammed into every locker. I’m sure only one parka will do. I swear the boat has visibly risen on her marks. If hoarding is a symptom of depression then our culture is seriously ill. You can’t go far without finding extensive storage facilities. Folks have so much “stuff” they can’t cram it into their too-big houses so they rent space to store even more “stuff.” Once, all I owned could be fit into a backpack. Then it became what went into a pickup truck. After all the years wasted acquiring “stuff” now my joy is getting rid of it. If you see an old geezer on the roadside, stop and offer a ride; it could be me.

On Autumn Pond. An all-day downpour in Victoria.
Wet beyond words.

Now ‘Seafire’ is safely tucked into a berth for the winter. The space is available permanently.

That is a frightening prospect. I won’t let her sit and gather green, but for the moment there are no voyages planned. November wears on. I tidy out my tool boxes, tend to little jobs around the house and wonder where the money is coming from. When I first arrived I never wanted to see the boat again and I’ve forced myself to stay away from her for over a day at a time. Now there is a building tension. I check my lotto numbers; yeah right! I check the weather; yeah right. The rain and wind continue.

Last week I visited with my friend Pär Domeij. He was passing through Victoria on his way home to Sweden for the winter. His beautiful boat ‘Sjoa’ is stored in Shearwater and he’ll return in the spring to continue filming and exploring the mid and north coast. His short films are stunning. You can see several of his works on YouTube. The camera skill and editing are brilliant. His narration is gently understated and the final result is superb. One of his recent films is posted as “An Ode To An Estuary.” His work and his deep enthusiasm for the backwoods of Coastal B.C. will inspire you.

Less than two weeks after my return, I’m becoming antsy. I’ve worn out the blog themes of autumn colours and yet another storm. Now there’s a part of me that wants to shout “Bollox” in sheer frustration. I’ve tidied up my tools, which was no small job, and now I’m beginning a serious clean up of old “Seafire.” We’ve removed the cooking-grease-stiff curtains which were also coated with coagulated dust. I was disgusted to realize how badly things had become. I do regularly clean the boat but after a few years of living aboard I have to admit to some root-bound grime in my hermit’s man-cave. Jill is helping me bring things back to life and I’m very grateful. If nothing else, the curtains were a serious fire hazard as Captain Olive Oil sizzled up yet another one-dish meal. When the boat’s interior is again immaculate, there’s plenty of writing to dust off, edit and market. There are certainly no excuses to ever be bored.

And that’s how it is in my world for the moment. No dramas, no thrilling events. I’m not dressed up, nor sitting out in the pouring early morning rain waiting for any trains. I know I’ve missed the last one. There’s even plywood on all the station windows. Haar! Life goes on.

The abandoned railway and train station at Ladysmith. The E&N railway should be a vital artery on southern Vancouver Island and it is genius that it is seldom used.

 

Looking to the south at high noon. The urge is overwhelming.

 

I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland and see what the army does with those wee red knives.” … Billy Connolly