Beyond The Smoke

(Note: All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them. In this blog, all images were taken with my cell phone.)

Skyfish. I’ll let you figure it out.

Last blog found me apologizing for the dull content I was producing. Well, isn’t it interesting how mundane drama can punctuate routine? And Oh Lord, how i hate routine! It does not have to be an international crisis, any little bump in the road will do. I bought a used Ford truck earlier this year from friends whom I trust. I know I have a way of stumbling into bad luck but “Geez Louise!” Other friends have raved about their Ford trucks and I was confident I’d done something right this time.

My truck is one of the nicest vehicles I’ve ever owned. It drives nicely, looks good, is easier on fuel than my previous small SUV and pulls and stops my little trailer with ease. I’ve been upgrading it a bit and preparing for a driving trip southwards this winter. Then began a intermittent herky-jerky idling issue. OK, I’m a mechanic. I did my homework, poked about a bit and decided the issue was with something called VCT solenoids. I could easily deal with the job myself although unfamiliar with this particular engine. I believed that it would take less than an hour to put things right.

Pushing rope. Towing a broken-down charter boat to safety. Just as I snapped this frame, the tow rope shifted on the overhead tow bit. Note the crack-the-whip bight in the towl line.

I’m “Old School” and well aware of the fact. I’m reluctant to mess with modern hi-tech computerized engines because I don’t fully understand how they work and I do not possess the computers I need to diagnose and adjust them. I may be a mechanic, but I’m no motor head. My reasons to exist have nothing to do with knowing the latest in automotive technology. For me, a ride is just a ride. My ego is not influenced by the way my camshaft is ground.

Manshadow photographing bicycle in morning light. Life moves slowly for some folks.

When all my parts finally arrived I dove in under the hood. There is an external seal around these solenoids which sit in a pocket in a valve cover on either side of the engine. My new seals looked slightly larger. I assured myself that it was only my imagination and removed one seal. Damn! They were different and I assumed I’d acquired the wrong parts. Then I learned the rest of the story. The Ford dealer was soon able to determine that the factory had “upgraded” the valve covers at the time the truck was built. With the new, smaller seals much of the top of the motor has to be disassembled so the valve covers can then be removed in order to change the solenoids. Air conditioning lines, along with various sections of plumbing and wiring need to be disconnected and stripped off to achieve this. A forty-five minute job has become eight hours.

Having no choice but to proceed I left the project in the hands of a local repair shop whom I trust. Fortunately I’d conceded the matter before I’d starting disassembling anything. Mechanics absolutely hate someone bringing in a job that they’ve already messed with. I certainly do. Because of extreme corrosion (due to road salt damage) the bolts holding the valve covers had broken. That’s a misery at any time. Theses bits were only available as part of a kit which includes new valve covers. Then, also due to corrosion, even the transmission dipstick has broken. So much for Ford’s “Better Idea.”

I’m amazed at how calmly I’m taking all this but I’ve learned that foaming at the mouth accomplishes nothing. I’m becoming an old fart and have learned that everything passes. It does seem to be a classic tale of two conjoined events, Sod’em and Go for more. Haar! I think of the clanky-bangy $4500. Nissan truck with which I dragged a trailer to Mexico and back. I believe I’m inclined toward Japanese vehicles from now on. In actual fact, everything on the road is over-priced junk and while they are bliss when running properly, the costs to buy and operate a vehicle are stunning. All that money which should be going into ‘Seafire. The cost of this one repair (almost $1800.) is much more than I’ve paid for many vehicles in the past.

Manyberry season. Despite the dry summer, we have a bumper crop of succulent blackberries. These vines have enveloped a cherry tree.

So, language. We understand that language is the foundation of culture. We also understand that the English language is corrupted with many Americanisms. That’s understandable due to the overwhelming global influence of the US. See, I’ve just used one. Abbreviations are increasingly popular to the point that sometimes I don’t know what the hell folks are saying. As I write, my radio is on and I am intrigued at how careless radio announcers are with language. There was a story just aired about a school which will not permit children to bring sugary drinks to class. The announcer said, “From now on students will only be allowed to drink water.” What, no studying? I think the statement should have been “From now on all that students will be allowed to drink in school is water.” Yeah, yeah, I know we know what she meant but my point is that every word and combination thereof actually means something specific. Anything else is babble. Say what you mean, mean what you say. And don’t, like, LOL get me going on slang and texting. OMG! I mean yeah no because like I totally do. Whatever dude! Shaddup! Good clear communication is the art of saying as much as possible with as few words as possible. That’s what makes for good writing. Flowery digressions are not what people want to read; even when you’re writing about flowers.

The public piano. This sits on the waterfront in Comox. Some folks, like this woman, play it very well.

When I was in school penmanship was an important class. Not only was legible handwriting import, but spelling, grammar and formatting a letter were all part of a basic regimen. I enjoyed exchanging letters. There were always distant relatives to share news with as well as “Pen pals.” Blogging, I suppose, is an extension of that lost art. Nearly every exchange of information is now done with a bleep and an emoji. We descend toward gibberish. Perhaps one day we’ll all speak dog. Being “Barking mad” will have new meaning and I’m not looking forward to the bum-sniffing.

Happiness times five. Dog spoken here. A Comox parking lot moment.

Ziggy. The boss’s dog. He’s a beauty and dignified too. Not just the dog!

Jack surveys part of his kingdom. This photo is looking northwest toward Comox and Cape Lazo. We’re on top of a mountainous coal pile that extends fro many acres. It was once part of a coal-loading terminal. Imagine the foreshore being ringed with full-rigged sailing ships.

On a final note about communication, I’ve just heard from my friends who are in the Caribbean with their boat. They’re fine and that’s a relief. I thank them. I’m intrigued at the coverage of Hurricanes Hugo and Irma balanced against that about the massive earthquake in Mexico. Both disasters are horrific and incomprehensible but it seems however that there is not a lot of interest in the aftermath of the events in Mexico. I cheered to learn how Mexico has withdrawn it’s offer of aid to Texas in response to Trump’s lack of reciprocal interest. Mexico was not asking for help, it just wanted the minimal dignity and support of recognition. You don’t insult Latinos. I’m told that the most popular pinata in Latin American these days is an effigy of Donald. Apparently, when you finally get one broken open, there’s nothing inside. Much gusto!

When wild roses go bad. I’d like to learn what this sort of blight is called.

Here on the coastline of BC, where we’re once again reminded that we sit in a paradise on top of a major earthquake fault, we luxuriate in the last sultry days of summer. For the moment, we are safe from the misery out there beyond the smoke. But any minute now…

Sunup once again.

I like to think of myself as a natural disaster. If you really piss me off, naturally there will be a disaster.”         … anonymous

They’re Gone

The last bird? A beautifully made Purple Martin condo on the dock in Comox.
It’ll be empty until next May. Time share?

 First things first. Last blog I described a plant as being a zucchini when in fact, as I have been corrected, it was an English Cucumber. I’m glad I didn’t try to name it something like a Nigerian Horse Radish. No fake news here! Around the docks on Southern Vancouver Island, folks build bird houses for Purple Martins. The birds arrive in the spring with their chittering calls. They swoop and dive and gobble up tons of insects which are then bombed onto the shiny yachts moored below. Some people gripe about the tiny blobs of potential bug bites on their boats but I’m quite happy to pay that small price for the presence of these happy and colourful birds.

They raise their chicks until they are peeking out from the bird houses. Their fluffy demanding offspring can’t seem to ever be fed enough. Once they are big enough to survey the world outside, it is only a matter of days until all the birds are gone for the year. Yesterday their thunderous absence rang out. They’re gone. South. There must come a moment when some sage old martin says “Right squadrons, it’s time to go. Now!” and off they all fly. Now the crickets and their tireless concert will chirp on night and day until the first heavy frost. Some swallows remain for the time being but the Martin houses are empty. One day soon, there will be a sad quietude. The swallows will be gone too.

Creatures know. Birds know when to leave on their migrations and they know where to go. Jack the dog, on the morning of the recent eclipse, went and hid in a closet, a place he never goes otherwise. People have those same instincts and intellects. We’ve simply buried them in our mad rush to do abstract things. Being in touch with our planet and it’s driving forces has lost value in our primal sensibility. That’s why for example, you’ll see a young mother, head-down texting, pushing her progeny in a stroller out into hurtling traffic. Apparently, in recent years, global pedestrian fatalities have soared due simply to people texting.

Summer is roaring by as I work for and with a fine bunch of people. The days pass quickly maintaining and preparing a fleet of yachts for the next round of charter customers. Most are lovely people as well they should be; they’re on vacation. Then there are others. I’ll simply say that the couple who own this business possess a courage and graciousness which I do not. The weeks go by in a blur. Repairing boats, inspecting them, delivering them and sometimes charging across the strait when they break down while on charter can all be in a day’s demands. There are few dull moments. I go home to Ladysmith for two days each week and sleep the whole time away. I feel old. I am having serious doubts about ever getting out and southbound on the open ocean. That, of course, is what this blog is all about. How I try to be like people who can simply relax in the moment and squeeze it like a sponge until every possible drop of life has been tasted. Working for tomorrow while folks around you are on vacation at the moment is torture.

The wake. Navigating in smoke.

Every morning begins with a huge flock of honking Canada Geese flying by low overhead. These airborne thugs practise a few circuits just over the mast heads like boys on motorcycles demanding attention. Then there is quiet again, but now it’s time to get up. Perhaps they are practising for a southward migration, deciding who will go and who must stay for the winter. It used to be an uplifting song to me, the ultimate Canadian anthem of travel, freedom, vast distance and self-determination. Now I curse these braying, flapping creatures with their bomb loads of greasy green excrement. When I was a child there was grave concern about these birds becoming extinct. They’re now the bane of parks, schoolyards and waterfront areas everywhere. The flocks which live along the shoreline are apparently barely edible. They taste strongly of their inter-tidal diet. But these grey flapper are certainly excellent organic alarm clocks.

Now THAT’S a lawn ornament! This is part of the ‘Welcome to the Comox Valley’ display. In 1967 as a young air cadet, I brown-nosed a ride in a Tutor trainer when our national aerobatic team was known as the “Golden
Cennetaires ” Yep, now long-known as the “Snowbirds,” their aircraft are that old.

My wife Jill is a voracious reader and I often read books she has  finished with. I found one book was very dull and she agreed, saying that she was not able to finish it. She declared that “Life is too short to waste reading boring books.” Perhaps writing dull blogs is part of that mantra. In my recent experiences there have been no explosions, leaping whales or exciting intrigues.’Seafire’ remains tied to the dock, a floating apartment, while I work on all the other boats around me. I’ll have to stir the pot and see what I can scrape off the bottom. I’m shrinking from my efforts here perhaps in response to some of the nonsense I hear on the radio. I think I’m writing about nothing! How a resource-rich country like Canada should be paying exorbitant spiralling fuel prices is stunning. That we push back with only a few mumbles is incredible. I’m sorry about the weather tragedy in Texas but there is no way it truly affects us. We happily live like chicken farmers who go to town to buy eggs and accept whatever we’re told, even that the recent solar eclipse is also reason to jack up the price of petroleum. Huh?

So what did Ethanol do wrong? Her sister’s still around! This pump is at the fuel dock in Refuge Cove where in summer, you should be content with whatever flavour of gas is available. The meters show quantity in litres, not price.

Speaking of things Fort McMoney, I am not aware of reciprocal interest this year from those people who accepted global help to prevent them all from being barbequed last year. Perhaps there is some concern and help from them. I’m not aware of it. As wildfires ravage British Columbia this year I do hear the media describe a “Drought” we are suffering. C’mon! We’re paying the price for decades of gross forest mismanagement. It is a normal hot, dry summer. Thazzit! A drought is when the streams and lakes dry up, crops and livestock wither and die, folks can’t find any water even to drink. All the car-washes are still operating. Life goes on, shiney as ever, even with the high price of fuel.

Today on our walk Jack and I met two gorgeous dogs, recently rescued from Iran. They had both been mutilated. Apparently some fundamentalists see dogs as unclean and fair game for torture and mistreatment even though the Koran demands that all of God’s creatures be respected, especially those which by nature live in families. Fundamentalists, whether Christian or Muslim, don’t need to dig deep to find excuses for heinous behaviour. We’ve all been at it for millenniums. For the record, I believe that dogs are one of man’s highest achievements. If you don’t like dogs, you probably don’t get along well with people either.

Jack enjoying the “drought.” Seriously, our fresh water levels are at their seasonal normal.

Labour day is now past. Once again the air is filled with smoke from numerous intense forest fires burning in the interior. We’re caught in one last coastal summer high pressure ridge. It doesn’t seem so long ago that folks were fed up with the long, damp, cool spring. Soon enough again we will forget these last warm days of summer. Let’s enjoy them while they last.

By the way, the swallows have now all departed.A t the end of the workday today, six southbound Sandhill Cranes flew low overhead trumpeting their unmistakeable call. They’re a month early. Whatever that mean’s.

Wild rosehips galore. Plump and plentiful, a sign to many that we will indeed have an early, long and harsh winter.

Blood sunrise, sailor beware! another day begins under a thick pall of smoke.

As the day advanced, the smoke settled until the mountains were lost from sight. This photo is of Deep Bay on Vancouver Island at 3 pm today.

I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living.” …Old Fred the sailor.

The Wharfinger’s Zuchinni

“Just walk on by and take that floppy-eared, skinny-flippered creature with you. Jack is fascinated with the temerity of these seals.

Suddenly the evenings are noticeably shorter; and cooler. The morning light comes a little later each day. A few days ago we had a lovely warm rain. After our dry smokey weather it felt grand. That is despite all the wetness of Shearwater which I’ve sworn I was so fed up with. The crickets chirped on through the downpour just as they do now that it has dried again. Suddenly we’re in mid-summer. There is a mild sense of the distant yet approaching winter. We savour the beauty of each day, and it’s fading flowers, knowing nothing is forever. Part of the fascination is knowing how fleeting the moment is.

On the morning tide. This derelict, capsized sloop was towed in to the boat ramp during the night. It was later dragged ashore and put on a trailer. Hopefully it will sail again some day.

Drifting and dreaming. a long passage northward with smoke obscuring the horizon.I passed this beautiful boat while delivering another vessel to a shipyard in Campbell River.

The Dream. A soft focus image to portray the sense of glassy water and low visibility.

Crossing The Bar. Northbound from Comox requires a circuitous route across a shallow bar and around Cape Lazo. There’s a sailboat ahead on the starboard bow.

Fishing for pinks. It is a time of harvest and bounty. Coho salmon are spawning and provide feisty sport for fly fishermen. They’re out there in their chest waders from first light to last.

Crows in a weeping willow. Their dry rasping calls are an anthem of midsummer.

Look up. A view from my table in the pub.

Ah summer! The Blackfin Pub in Comox has an amazing panoramic view.

There is an abundance of fresh produce. Even the wharfinger’s flower box has a tumbling wealth of vegetables. The tomatoes are ripening and the zuchinni is ready. Happily adopting the lazy spirit of the season I’m posting this blog as a photo essay. See you at the beach. I’ll be under the Corona umbrella.

The Wharfinger’s Zuchinni

Coming down. What better way to chill out in the evening than a flight in a home-built Sopwith Camel replica?

Jack and Fred row back from the beach. Jill took this shot of us returning from our dawn patrol.

Jack and Jill on the beach at low tide.

Jack’s Bliss. A tidal pool is all he needs for day-long self amusement.

I can’t get enough. the views on the sandy northern tip of Denman Island amaze me.

Beach Apples
This old apple tree, rooted in sand, manages to still bear fruit!

 “A little bit of summer is what the whole year is all about.”
John Mayer

Smokin’ Hot

Summer of the red sun

At first light the air was cool, pure and sweet. There was a brown pall over Vancouver. I assumed it was smog. By mid-morning a high, thick overcast covered the sky. One could smell smoke. The gloom was cast out from the forest fires burning in the interior of the province. Late afternoon was airless, the sun’s heat was fantastic and oppressive. I recalled cruel children cremating live insects under a magnifying glass. For a moment I felt a sense of smallness. I recalled when, as a young man working in the woods, I would be summoned to fight forest fires. The incredible heat, the smoke, the ash, the spark-laden dust, the long days, the weariness and thirst, the harsh din of machinery I drove, snatched moments of dreamless sleep during the dark hours and the fatigue in rising at first light to do it all over again. I feel that fatigue now but it is because I’m older and perhaps because I worked too hard when I was younger.

Night after night, the same smokey red sunsets.

Comox Glacier.
Before the smoke. Somehow the sight of all that snow and ice has a cooling effect.

The same view with smoke. The bird is a purple martin.

I’m on my first time-off from my new job. I’ve commuted home for two days from Comox and don’t feel at all like going back to work. I’ll return in a few hours so I’ll be there in the morning. In my younger years I’d just get up earlier and put in a full day once I arrived. My doctor shakes his head at my determination to keep on chasing an income despite his advise otherwise. Poverty is a hard master. You don’t hang up your debts, or dreams, just because you’ve reached a certain age. I drive north squinting into a copper sun. A fire has broken out up-island near Nimpkish Lake and the smoke mixes with the general funk already filling the sky. I can smell and taste it. It is only the first of August and we could have three months of volatile fire season ahead. We were all dismayed at the long wet winter and spring, it seemed that it had been wet and miserable forever. That seems a distant memory now.

The summer wears on. At 0:600 this the morning the thermometer reads 17 degrees. It feels chilly! The forecast temperature will double later today. In Mexico this weather is what a person goes to enjoy. Working in it at home is an entirely different situation. In the afternoon the sound of singing and chanting carried in from the bay. Eventually over two dozen native canoes passed up into the mouth of the Courtenay River. It was part of an annual event called ‘Tribal Journeys’. Canoes from Puget Sound and southern regions are making their way north in an armada that may have up to 2500 participants. It looked like thirsty work, all that paddling and chanting and drumming. I found the sight and sound of it all quite uplifting. I hope the builders and paddlers of the canoes find empowerment and pride in their grand adventure.

A haunting sight and sound of a native canoe filled with chanting paddlers.

Coastal cruising the old way

Honest Joe’s Used Canoes
Part of the armada lines the shoreline, in the background there was drumming and singing..

Team work.
Finding the log, building the canoe, paddling it… no place for personal ego.

Old Copper Eye
Nobody’s average garden gnome

Two days later, before the sun had risen, in the smokey first light, songs and chants carried across the water. Silhouettes of the canoe flotilla appeared and then faded into the blur of dawn as their journey northward continued.

How’d he get that boat up there? An iconic Comox waterfront novelty for decades, the owner, builder, designer and resident of this boat lives a simple lifestyle in the face of modern sensibilities.

The Fugitive. Note the name of the boat beneath the questing contrails overhead.

Edgar?
For a moment it seemed that perhaps the totem eagle from Shearwater had found me.

Dog patch dawn. Ladysmith.
Smokey sunrises are part of life on the island…for the moment.

A dog day dawn. Another hot day ahead on the docks in Comox.

The Race. Sailing school on a perfect afternoon before the smoke came.

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

John Lubbock, The Use Of Life

A Plague Of Doves

Anchor set, mooring light aloft, supper in the oven, end of a very good day.

I’m feeling as worn as Willy Nelson’s guitar. Hopefully I too can still produce something good. But not today.

“Feeling nearly faded as my jeans.” My favourite mural in Chemainus, the lovely little town just south of Ladysmith.

ODIKA! Jill waits for what proved to be an excellent birthday dinner. If ever in Chemainus, this a fantastic restaurant. Lovely people, fantastic food.

Chemainus hydrant patrol. A joy of sidewalk tables is meeting the locals.

I learned this morning that a distant friend had died suddenly. He was the husband of my wife’s longest friendship and so after fifty-two years of marriage to his wife, Phillip had become an essential component of my wife’s friendship. I really liked him. I did not know him well, having only visited with him for a few days but I intended to befriend him more deeply. Now he’s gone, all those gonna-do moments have passed. The simple essay here is that we only have this moment, not the one in another minute’s time, only this one. And, every time you say goodbye, it may well be the last time. A few blogs back I briefly alluded to a dogma which includes being impeccable with your word. Don’t leave regrettable words without apology and preferably let your words be worth speaking and remembering. Believe me, this verbose writer and story teller wrestles with that one constantly.

In the teeth of a Qualicum. The wind blows strong and steady but there are no large seas because you’re sailing in the lee of the windward shore. It’s bliss!

Chaos below. I had not stowed anything because an hour earlier the wind was coming the opposite way and everything was happy in it’s place. No worries mate!

Chrome Island coming up like the clappers.

Chrome Island.
Anchored in the lee. The current kept the stern into the strong wind. Look at my flag.There was a whole lot of bobbing going on.

Rocks and cormorants on Chrome Island.

A peek at the edge of the keeper’s beautiful gardens and where I think some of the petroglyphs are.

Chrome Island looking back. The light was perfect and it never waits until tomorrow.

As I absorbed the news about this distant friend now gone, I sat with the day’s first coffee in hand. The mourning doves continued their serenade. A soothing sound, comforting and reassuring, this morning it was almost a thunderous din that seemed overwhelming. I wanted to shout at them to stop, shut up, fly away. I was already disoriented with arriving home. Now I’ve accepted a new job offer in Comox for a yacht charter company. I’m a bit reluctant to head back northwards for a low-paying job but it seems the gods dumped this one in my path. I’d best not step in it, or around it. I’ll just go see what’s up.

The light drew me on.

Smoke, mountains, low light.

The end of the world… over there.

Three days later I’m sitting in Seafire on a mooring buoy in Comox. Jill and I were still travelling south a week ago. I look ashore into the town, watching the traffic lights change on main street. They didn’t have any when we lived here thirty years. The community has grown up, a lot, and so have I. Well not actually, I’ve I just grown old. I truly believed I was coming south to retire but I need the money and here I go for some more work. These seem like nice folks and the job could prove to be fun. Every door leads a person to another door with yet more doors beyond. So…close the door, you’re letting the flies out!

One of the nice things about being at a more southerly latitude is that my mobile phone works inside my boat. No more huddling on deck ahead of the mast in the wind and rain, moving my head back and forth trying to find the best reception all the while swatting at squadrons of biting insects. Such decadence! I just finished a phone call with a friend who agrees that I should monetize my writing, my blog and my books and my photography. I find it hard to solicit myself and my work but I’m not too proud anymore to ask that if anyone knows someone who knows someone…. well, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishing. I’m not asking for any free lunch, just an agent who’s willing to take a chance on over twenty-five years of writing. That includes two novels, four other completed books plus a few on the back of the stove. I’m no one-hit wonder.

Yesterday proved to be an amazing day. Old ‘Seafire’ brought me all the way north from Ladysmith to an anchorage five miles south of Comox. That is a distance of—– miles in eleven and a half hours which included an hour out in Nanaimo for fuel. The shortest route from Ladysmith to Nanaimo requires transiting a notorious gap know as Dodd Narrows. Yesterday the tidal rate at maximum flood was 8.5 knots. I know the narrows, I know my boat and I know that the wild ride will keep most boaters away at maximum flood and ebb. I fear other yachts far more than tidal whirlpook. The worst part of turbulent water on a flood is downstream of the narrows and there is nothing to run into here, except other boats. One huge, overpowered motor yacht rushed up behind me and passed immediately after we’d exited the gap together. That wake mixed with the whirlpools and standing waves and produced a tsunami which broke dishes in the galley. ‘Seafire’ and I have know some rough going, but we’ve never before broken anything. The goon was towing a large fishing skiff on a long line and the entire show moved northward in excess of twenty knots. Somewhere there lurks a log. Thunk! Sunk!

While entering the narrows I was fascinated as I watched a bald eagle take a common murre. I’m no bleeding heart but it was painful to watch the murre’s agonizing demise and yet see the eagle’s strategizing and brilliant flying. He kept diving on his prey until it was too exhausted and injured to dive any more. The murre flew a last time, but now it dangled from the eagle’s talons. There is no place for warmth and fuzziness in nature and I’m sure that when feeding our offspring is a priority, we can all demonstrate our vicious nature.

Northbound from Nanaimo I lucked into a Qualicum wind which heeled the old boat over and had us hurtling on our way. Thirty knots of warm breeze on the beam is a gift and I revelled in it. At times the rails were in the water and we raced up the strait toward Chrome Island. I anchored in the lee of the island but the wind curled around the rock and arm-wrestled with the ebb tide from Baynes Sound. The stern stayed into wind and ‘Seafire’ bounded at the end of her anchored chain like a feral pony. I took the dinghy around the island and then started to go ashore. There are some incredible petroglyphs on the island, the evening light was clear and golden. It seemed meant to be.

Then the light keeper appeared. I was promptly advise that the island was his home and he was in the middle of dinner. “Come back tomorrow.” He flung out an apology; I told him I didn’t believe that. It the first time ever, anywhere I’ve been in Canada, that a light keeper has been less than welcoming to me. Usually a visitor’s concern is being able to get away again, company is usually cherished by lightkeepers. I had no intention of invading his home or demanding a cup of anything, nor trampling his beautiful lawns and gardens. I’ve reviewed this with other mariners who all agree that a Canadian light station is Canadian property and we have every right to visit our landmarks. I promised the grump that he’d been rude to the wrong writer and here ya go buddy!

The light that evening was magic. It drew me onward until finally at dusk I dropped my anchor in Henry Bay, a short distance in Comox. The trip covered sixty-five nautical miles in less than half a day. Brilliant!

And so here I am in Comox. On my first afternoon there I took the dinghy and visited the “Royston Wrecks” directly across the estuary. It has been decades since I was in this sacred place. A breakwater for a log-booming ground was built by scuttling 14 ships. Some were WWII liberty ships. Two of the hulks were former full-rigged clipper ships that had been cut down and used for log barges. One is the ‘Riversdale’ built in Liverpool in 1894. All that remains of her now is the forward section. The other, also built in Liverpool in 1876 is the ‘Melanope’. She, apparently was once an immigrant vessel to Australia. Her aft and forward sections remain to give you a clear idea of her overall size.

The bow of the ‘Riverdale’
This sprit has been shortened by forty or fifty feet. Imagine some young, barefoot seaman sitting out there watching the dolphins swimming beneath the bow in the seas foaming past.

Looking into the foc’sle. Check out the deck planking and how it has stood up to the years compared to the steel deck beams.

The bones of the ‘Melanope’ That’s the stern section in the background. A very big sailboat!

Bow detail. Note the riveted hull plates. Welding a ship together was yet to come. There were times when this hull crossed the open ocean heeled over much like this.

The mizzen was missin’.
This is the aft mast, or mizzen. It would have been cut off when the vessels was decommissioned to live out her days as a barge. The mast was rolled and riveted, then reinforced with more steel inside. How’d they do that? NO COMPUTERS! Did some poor bugger have to crawl inside the mast? There’s a belaying pin rusted in it’s rail. Running rigging would be “belayed” to it.

Chain pipes. Where the anchor chains passed out from the lockers. They were set low to prevent fouling the bob stay forward. Chafe marks are visible in the forward pipe.

The Jackstaff. This swivelling cast steel arm was used to “cat” the anchors, securing them up for the voyage. Note the arced rusted-out marks where the anchor must have chaffed on the hull plates. The huge forward-facing socket was where the massive bowsprit was bedded home. Also see the massive turnbuckle thimble above the sprit bas. It was used to harden a forestay. This was an immigrant ship and all those who sailed on her have passed on. It is very humbling.

What grand things these were! The nautical author John Villiers describes the full-rigged ship as one of man’s highest achievements. Combining technology and art they moved passengers and massive amounts of freight around the planet without burning a single drop of fuel. That was all accomplished without computers, radios, satellites. I’ve included a photo, without permission, of a full rigged barque to illustrate the wonder and glory of those vessels. I believe the ship is the ‘Cuauhtemoc’ built in 1982 as a training ship for the Mexican navy. I’ve been aboard her and she is a floating cathedral, immaculate and glorious.

This photo is reproduced in this blog without any permission. I don’t know who owns the rights but it is one of my favourite images. I use it for the desktop on my lap top and fantasize about being aboard in the rigging. This is very much how these wrecks would have appeared during their working life.

Meanwhile I’m settling into my daily grind on the docks of Comox. The bay here is surrounded by beautiful beaches and sandy spits. There is a huge glacier which looks down on the bay where dozens of tiny sailing vessels skitter about at the hands of children learning to sail. At low tide the shallow clam beds and boulders extend toward the glacier, several feet above our eye level in our floating dock house. The air is rich with the heady aroma of all that thick mud.

In the park above the docks folks exercise their dogs between happy playing children. A shelter has been built where sits a piano available for anyone to play. I’ve heard bagpipe tunes. Two nights ago, on coming out from dinner in the pub, there was some wonderful salty accordion music wafting out from a hidden corner.

It seems worth staying for a while.

How could the Greeks, who knew that one never enters the same river twice, believe in homecoming.”

…Bernhard Schlink ‘The Reader’

Ride The Tide

Ride The Tide

( When I posted the last blog, the cyber gods decided to reformat it while whizzing out through the sky from Port Hardy. All the content is there, it was just reorganized. I decided not to tear it apart and put it back together again my way. If an idea has been reinforced for me at Shearwater it is that when something works, don’t mess with it.)

Seine Boat Sunday Morning, Port Hardy

We left God’s Pocket with a forecast of gale force winds to help blow us homeward. That kept the sport fishing boats in the lee of the northwest point of Hardy Bay. As usual they tacked and swerved and wandered unpredictably with little sense of seamanship or right of way. We picked our way through the mob and set a course into the harbour of Port Hardy. I was standing on the starboard locker of the cockpit leaning up over the aft cabin bulkhead to keep a good lookout for more fishing boats. I woke up with the gentle swishing, crunching noise of clam shells and mud under the keel. Yep, goddamnit! Even old salts do it and a big finger to any armchair admiral who wants to say something sarcastic. At least I’ve admitted it and there was no damage done except to my pride. That, of course, was due entirely to luck and no good management.

Now to properly run aground you must do it in broad daylight, on the wrong side of a light, in the middle of a harbour you know well; and of course, on a falling tide. So I screwed that up too. It was a rising tide. We floated off and backed away as gently as we had arrived. I can tell you how hard it is to steer when you are my weight but only three inches tall! It’s healthy to laugh at yourself and it’s good to be reminded of how easy it is to screw up. For once I got off easy. No drama at all! Many marine incidents occur because somebody fell asleep at the helm. Yes, you can take that as a metaphor.

Mornin’ Big Daddy! Waking up and looking out found this monster bow looming over us. It arrived quietly in the night. “Spare a cup of sugar?”

Alert Bay, the old shipyard. Note the totem poles in the background.

“Could you show us your regulation stern light?”
Traffic in Blackney Sound. In the morning we were in Port Harvey, the ‘Crystal Serenity’ was in Vancouver.

The dreamer. At the top of Johnstone Strait and heading north. Safely out of the way before the cruise ship came around the corner.

Whale Watcher’s shack. High on a bluff across from Robson Bight, university students have spent their summers here for decades studying Orca whales.

The gale warning was still up next day. We headed south in the late morning and arrived in Port Harvey, well down Johnstone Strait, in seven hours. That’s an excellent passage of fifty miles, our ground speed topped over ten knots at times. Then while dropping the anchor, the entire windlass electrical system quit. . , out went the chain, with only old Armstrong hisself to hoy it back aboard. A puzzler to troubleshoot, I slept on it. There was power in all the right places, but not enough to turn the windlass motor. Eventually I found a bad connection that had heated enough to melt some plastic which in turn rendered the continuity too low to work. My incentive was that 150′ of chain, plus a forty-five pound anchor to be humped back aboard by hand. The problem with repairing your own boat is that there’s nobody else to blame and no-one else to do it for you. Self-sufficiency, I say it again, is the mantra of a successful mariner.

Native pictographs in Port Harvey. I see five canoes, but maybe it’s the place of many smiles.

Downtown Port Neville. Here are three visiting boats taking up the space for six. Yep, I pointed it out to the owners. I know; there are several names for guys like me.

The old Port Neville store

I sneaked a peek through a dirty old window. The sight took me back to my childhood when the farmhouse kitchen was where folks visited. I could smell wood smoke, spilled milk, fresh baking and coffee.

Clever corners. The logs are square-hewn with a broad axe, the dove tail corners are cut so that all angles shed water.

The old homestead

A gate swinging in the wind. Imagine what it has known.

The oil shed. A relic of days gone forever.

Early morning walks in the dark and driving rain form the house to the barn. A recent carved sign by the barn door says “Man Cave”

After repairs in the morning, we travelled the short distance down Johnstone Strait to Port Neville. The wind forecast was correct. It blew like hell and the tide runs furiously there. I was plenty happy to have a fully functional windlass and let out as much chain as I wanted. There is a long inlet behind the famous old store and docks. It would be worth taking a few days to explore. There are some great petroglyphs in the area which will take some time to find and so I will return. It’s fun to discover the wonders of a place which you’ve been passing and ignoring for over thirty years.

The old swimmin’ hole
This backwater warms up nicely as the tide floods in on a summer afternoon. You could almost hear children laughing.

Now you’re logging! A raft, a gas motor, a two-drum winch, some cable, an axe, a saw and a jack makes a full one-man logging company. Men were men back then, and some lived to talk about it!

Gears, slightly used. It’s been a long time since these gears were cast and cut in England.

The water rushing by. Tidal stream beneath the dinghy where it’s lashed alongside ‘Seafire.’

A midden. This monstrous terraced pile of clam shells inspires me to go back to Port Neville and spend time poking around. Middens are sites where native disposed of their garage, mostly clam shells. Imagine what else must be in there!

How old?

Today we travelled from Port Neville, left Johnstone Strait and managed to transit five sets of notorious rapids. Yes five. Employing some old tug-boaters tricks we transitted The Wellbore Rapids, Greene Point, Dent, Gillard and finally the Yuculta Rapids. Now we are a few miles from the northern portion of Georgia Strait which is home waters. I want to stretch this voyage as long as possible. I’ve made the entire jaunt previously in seven days. On this trip, today is our eleventh and I’d as soon stay out for the entire month. We’ll wander southward and see where we end up. There’s always a chance of getting lost in a fog.

There is nothing so uplifting as a visit from dolphins. How wonderful it must be to swim like that.

The wave-off.
Humpback whales perfecting their routine.

West coast sailing, you never know what’s coming next.

Bye, bye y’all.

“Whales? Wot whales?
Oh just Humpbacks, no Orcas, no worries.”

More pictographs, the Gorge, Cortes Island.

The ‘Romano’
A tired old North Sea side trawler and…someone’s tired old dream

Another lost dream, but… she’s still afloat.

We found a tiny ledge to set the anchor on the edge of Whiterock Passage. In the morning we headed south again and were soontreated to the fabulous display of two humpback whales at play,,,or whatever it is they’re doing when they leap out of the water and crash down in an explosive, booming welter of spray. It is always an incredible sight even when too far away to photograph but we got close enough for a fine round of fluke waving. We stopped in Whaletown on Cortes Island, then toured the gorge in Gorge harbour and finally anchored for the night by the docks at beautiful Mansons Landing on Cortes. I’ve been aching for years to photograph a petroglyph a ways down the beach from here so off I scooted in the dinghy knowing full well I’d never it. By an incredible stroke of luck the sun broke through the overcast just as I looked up at this particular boulder and there it was! Shadows revealed the etching in the boulder which is monstrous, about 4 metres long, the carving was made as high as a man can reach. What I find stunning is that the rock is solid blue granite, the kind of incredibly hard rock with sparkly bits of glinting mica. However did they do it? What tools did they use and how long would it have taken? I’m guessing it is a talisman to summon spawning salmon but what does this white man know? We also discovered that Cortes Island has it’s own co-op radio station which plays some fabulous music in the afternoons and evenings. KPLZ 89.5 or online as Cortes Radio.ca from Cortes Island, “Where everybody has something to hide.” You’ve got to love that!

Whaletown Cortes Island
Post Office

Whaletown Library

The Kirk

Whaletown Harbour

Jill shots the photographer

Twin-engine double-ama dinghy. I know better than to laugh, it’s probably been to Hawaii and back.

Manson’s Landing Jetty.
A scene from days past, a boat on a grid, a telephone booth.

It actually works!

Manson’s shellfish lagoon at low tide.
They’re safe to eat!

The stile, lagoon, Manson’s Landing

A cultural beach marker,
Cortes Island.

A work of love. The top of the fish is a high as I could reach to work. I’ve been wanting find this one for over twenty-five years,

The following morning brought light winds, then a breeze right on the nose, but we motor-sailed the long grind down to Jedediah Island. This place, for me, is the centre of my universe. I spent two years helping to fight to save this fabulous island as a natural park from the provincial brownshirts. We won, and the island retains it’s magic and wildness, but that’s another story. If, when the time comes, there’s enough of me left to burn, I want my ashes spread from from Gibraltar Rock, the peak of Jedediah.

Sabine Channel, southbound. Texada Island on the port side, as big as some countries.

Jill in the fields of Jedediah once again

Find the deer.

Will’s Grave
Gone 14 years, he’s still honoured.

Run! It’s another one. Feral sheep in the old orchard on Jedediah.

Apple Bandit. I used to feed these apples to Will.

Never Give Up.
This old Juniper still clings to life on the edge of Home Bay, Jedediah

Friday morning dawns clear, calm and perfect. I don’t want to leave this place but another life calls, or should I say, demands. It has been two weeks since we flew to Vancouver to begin this tiny odyssey. Of course, it seems like two days. We drop the hook in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay a few hours later. On Saturday, the fifteenth, we arrive at the Maritime Society docks and are greeted by old friends with hugs and welcomes. So ends a chapter of my life spent aboard Seafire. I sit dozing in my easy chair listening to the sirens and Harleys Davidsons buzzing along the highway. How will the next chapter go?

Shack Island, Nanaimo.
These were subsistence homes built during the depression of the 1930s. Passed down through generations they are a cherished local landmark.

Some newcomers want the old homes torn down,. They say they are an ‘Eyesore’ and want them gone. Hmmmm. Tear what down?

That’s us in the middle.
A view from a friend’s home on Departure Bay, Nanaimo.
Sirens, ferry horns, motorcycles. Let’s just check the mail and…

A thousand words.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Pruth Bay and God’s Pocket with a few whales along the way

Somewhere there’s a tiny tractor.

Texture, texture, texture.

Dah dit dah dah dit dit

Even the trailside privy was a work of art.

Time to go. Looking due east to Fitzhugh Sound. Six miles of seaplane runway. Why RCAF seaplane base Shearwater was not built here instead leaves one pondering military intelligence.

There be monsters in these deeps.

Humpbacks galore.

A bubble net brigade. A humbling experience for the spectator.

Scarlett Point Light Station. what a great job…if it weren’t for all that damned grass to mow. Safe in off Queen Charlotte Sound.

God’s Pocket

Supper for poor sailorfolk

God’s Pocket

Where did this name come from? Why not God’s Sock, or God’s Knickers? And which pocket is it? One in his jeans? In the back, next to where the farts come out? Jill tells me I’ll find an answer. I think the name has to do with a sense of safety, a tiny place snugly out of the vicious winds that can blast this area. It is a dent in the shoreline of Hurst Island, just northwest of Port Hardy. It is not particularly notable yet provides fair holding ground and reasonable shelter in most winds. There is nothing here except a base for eco-tourism. There are no stores, no bright lights and no place to go ashore. Yet it is a name which yachties love to drop invariably in a clubhouse anywhere south. There’ll be a scrum of folks with wine glasses in hand and this name will float out repeatedly. “Oh yes it is lovely there. The problem is you see there’s no place to take Fifi ashore in God’s Pocket and she just won’t do her business on the afterdeck.

Then the widget spinner on the ice-maker broke and we had to go back to Port Hardy and wait three days for new parts to be flown in. You just don’t dare go into the north country without a reliable ice maker. Nonetheless you simply must stop at God’s Pocket. Be sure to anchor in the middle so there’s no room for anyone else.” I imagined an affected British accent with a Worshington undertone as I wrote the above.

Actually, we had the tiny anchorage all to ourselves. That seems odd, it is usually crowded in summer with some huge gin palace in the middle, sweeping around the rocky bight because it has far too much anchor chain out. Everyone else ends up in the kelp beds trying to stay clear of the lunging Fart Parkerson.

Enough sarcasm. We made our way here from Goose Island via Hakaii Pass and a night in Pruth Bay at the top of Calvert Island. It is a stunning place with amazing beaches. On our way south from there we made our way down Fitzhugh Sound passing dozens of Humpback whales along the way. The crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound was the easiest ever. We’ll stop in Port Hardy to get provisions before moving ever southward. Our trip is again best described with photos.

There are no public docks in Pruth Bay. All the facilities belong to the Hakaii Research Institute, developed in the facilities of a former fishing lodge. This sexy-to-someone boat looked out of place to me.

So did this one. Note some of the crew standing on the drop-down transom, with the deck chairs. She’s flying a Danish ensign.

The Hakaii Institute.
A very tidy operation. They very graciously allow access to the beaches via a lovely path and even provide wifi.

There are five broad, sweeping, stunning beaches of fine white sand. When dry it squeaks underfoot. I’ve previously posted photos of the vistas here during a visit last year. This time I focused on details.

Dense rainforest grows on solid rock right o the edge of the sand and sea.

It was one of those days when there was a photo everywhere.

A portal to the other side.

Never look back, or you shall have to return.

Lovely, but too bloody cold for swimming

The darting, sprinting shorebirds are always fascinating.

Deer tracks in the shifting sand.

The beach dunes are held with flowers, sedges and grass.

I could have taken photos until last light.

See what I mean?

Everything seems sculpted and carefully arranged.

Use sun screen.

Stranded

Sand script

CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE