Bearing Up

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Sunday morning calm in downtown Shearwater. Actually, the orange object in the left background is an excavator that began smashing and bashing just after first light. The fishboat in the foreground bears the grand name ‘Pubnico Gemini’

Summer Beach
When the afternoon tide rises over the sun-warmed beach, children come to swim and play on the rope swing.

On the chart it is named Kakushdish Harbour. The locals called it “Gustafson’s.” I much prefer the Heiltsuk name but I have no idea what sort of spices are used in a kakushdish .(She fed him some kakushdish and he was up all night) Seriously, the name rolls off one’s tongue in a lovely way and I’d guess it means something to do with shelter or safety. This is a short, shallow inlet only a few minutes from downtown Shearwater but a world away from the industrial ugliness and near incessant dirty clatter. I’ve avoided coming here, partly because it’s too close to home base but mostly because one has to pass under an electrical power line. I just don’t like overhead wires while on a moving sailboat. On the chart there is a clearance indicated of twenty-three metres. That is plenty enough for Seafire’s mast of sixteen metres but still I have a bad feeling about overhead wires and bridges. Unless the overhead obstruction is very high, it always looks as if you’ll go bump or zap; that tense anticipation is a nasty sensation.

Salal Flower Kakushdish

I could see a prehistoric family making their home in this niche

One of the aboriginal fish traps at Kakushdish

Kakushdish backwater

A forest grave site along the shores of Kakushdish

Kakushdish Harbour. A lovely place to hang out. The bare ground on the hills behind is a naturally occurring bog land where the ground is too wet and barren for forest to grow,

Once under the wire the bay is wide and calm. In places there are long grassy shores to stretch your legs. With our late spring, the colours seem especially intense. This morning there’s a high overcast but the bay is still lovely. The season is very near summer solstice and nights have long lingering dusks. It is a time of richness and plenty. All creatures are busy feeding, raising their young, and preparing for the coming winter. The last one seems to have barely passed. As I get older the seasons, for me, spin faster and faster. Summer is the apex before the long descent into the next cycle of cold, dark and wetness. Yeah you know it, south, south!

A big one. The  68 foot ‘Island Roamer’ comes up for fibreglass repairs after finding a rock in Haida Gwaii. Despite an amazingly good chart system, there ARE uncharted rocks. Full prudence is always required. If the pro’s came run aground, so can anyone else. Note the diminutive size of the worker beside the keel. The fibreglass crew had the vessel back in business in less than three days!

A big little one. Up for a “shave and a haircut” or in other words, bottom cleaning and fresh anti-fouling paint. This is a lovely example of the ubiquitous folk boat design, also often found in these waters as a ‘Contessa 26’. This design is famous for being sailed alone around the world. Several different sailors have done it. The design sails wonderfully and is very seaworthy.

A few days ago I crawled out from beneath a customer’s boat to find myself fifty feet from a young black bear. He was a beauty. My immediate concern was where the mother bear might be but it was soon obvious that this character was alone. There were a few people watching him but he was oblivious as he perused the aromatic garbage bins. Wild animals that accustom themselves to humans almost invariably meet a nasty end. I threw my hammer at him, several times. Bumbles, I named him, belonged in the safety of the forest, not in the middle of a shipyard at midday. He ambled slightly away but was determined to find a meal. We finally steered him up the hill, towards the school; plenty of lunch buckets up there. A yearling, probably orphaned, he has not been taught to forage for wild food and will need some strong persuasion to avoid the temptations of civilization. He has been spotted several times within the community. I fear for his future.

Bumbles Goes Bad
A poster on the grocery store bulletin board warns that my pal does not understand the danger of being fearless.

Because I am in my last days at Shearwater time is passing slowly for me, just as it did when I sat in a public school classroom this time of year so long ago. Friday afternoon finally arrived. I slipped the boat’s lines. We were quickly around the corner and out of sight. I spent the night and following day in Kakushdish most pleasantly. After a morning exploration of the bay by dinghy I settled down to work on the boat’s teak. I almost sanded my fingertips to the bone but tonight one cap rail is done. It has been scraped and sanded, had two coats of teak oil applied and all the metal fittings are back in their place. I enjoyed my simple honest work. A cool breeze hummed and whistled in the rigging. I knew a great sense of well-being. Funny how contentment can come from such a simple thing.

What manner of beast is this? Actually it’s only a large stump on tidal ground above yet another fish trap at Kakushdish.

Back to Beales, looking into the entrance to the lagoons beyond.

Once through the tidal rapids, one comes upon a loading bulkhead from a former limestone quarry, now long-abandoned.

Into the marsh. It is stunningly beautiful, in large part because of the natural open space.

Saltwater streams meander through the marshland.

Sandhill cranes feed in the marsh and nest in the bogs on the hills.

Late in the day I moved ‘Seafire’ to Beales Bay, a short distance around the rocks and reefs of Gunboat Passage. ‘Sjoa’ is anchored st the far end of the bay, I wonder what magic video footage Paer has made. I look out one last time just before bed. Last night’s full moon shines down between the scudding clouds. In the morning I awake with my eyes glued shut. I have to peel them open. Insect bites, or teak sanding dust, my whole head feels puffy. It’s snot funny. I force myself into the day; and soon happy for what it becomes. Paer comes over to ‘Seafire’ for a visit and we finally get to know each other a little. What a delight to meet someone new who closely shares similar perspectives and philosophies. I learn of adventures in Sweden along the Arctic Circle and in Lapland. Paer tells of sailing there and how life is in summers of the midnight sun and intense winters of near eternal darkness. He has an advantage of being able to see things from an outsider’s perspective and finds a positive view of things where I see only the negative. He points out that Shearwater, a tiny oddball community of misfit refugees from urban latitudes, manages to survive in relative harmony. He also points out, that despite our industry, we are able to make a minimal environmental foot print. The morning flew by as, in happy discovery, we plumbed each other’s philosophies, values, perspectives. Affirmation is very good for the soul.

I’ve been wanting to explore this huge wetland and estuary. Today the weather and the tides are in my favour. There is a lively and shallow, drying tidal rapids which guard the entrance. I’m able to pass through with a few inches of water beneath my kayak and slalom around three points and rocky islets into the marshland. It is unique as it spreads broadly around three saltwater streams which almost dry out at each low tide. Certainly they are navigable only on a rising tide. I am able to penetrate the green marsh by bumping along the bottom only as the tide rises up the stream bed and lifts me along a little further at a time. It is fantastic. The bottom of the streams are very course sand with glinting bits of mica. The water is slightly tea-coloured but clear. I am able to penetrate the grassy marsh and see birds and minnows in abundance. It is a place where I expect to see deer and bear at any time. I’m not disappointed.

Paer films a deer which came out of the forest directly across the stream from us. While this occurred the tide was bubbling up around our feet.

Up one reach of the stream network I find Paer hiking in the marsh. We chat at the stream’s edge, marvelling at how quickly the tide rises. As we stand there a deer emerges from the forest, walking directly toward us. Eventually she senses our presence and we all stand motionless regarding each other across the flowing water. Mesmerized, we don’t notice how the tide is rising over the mud at our feet. Paer has to scramble for higher ground. I paddle out against the flood arriving back at the narrows just as the tide is about to turn again to ebb. I imagine how the marsh streams must be when salmon are spawning. They will be lined with bear and churning with spawning salmon. My one regret is that it has taken me so long to discover this wonderful place. Paer spends days there, always alone. He loves the marsh and lagoon and has developed an intimate knowledge of this area. His film work is of superb professional quality. Clearly he loves filming wildlife and wilderness. He points out that he has never made a living with film; it is something he does in amateur passion to share his vision of the natural world. I note again that his film vignettes are published for viewing on Vimeo and YouTube.

Look for his name: Paer Domeij or titles like ‘Ellerslie Lagoon Waterfalls,’ ‘Two birds and a bear’ or ‘Sommarpromen i Lulea.’ ‘Gransfors Yxmedja’ is fascinating and ‘Cruise Canada’ is my favourite. I have not mentioned his exploits as a man who built a boat and went voyaging as he still is. I am both impressed and inspired by Paer. High praise indeed from this cynic.

The nook. one of thousands of streams running to the sea.

Monday was the usual hectic day with transient boaters lining up at the shop door to present their tales of woe. We serve folks on a first come first serve basis but somewhere else there be a place that serves people on the basic of the best dramatic account of their perceived problem. Uncle Harold’s ingrown tone nail and that the cat had diarrhoea six weeks ago really don’t have nothing to do with solving your present mechanical failure mister. You are number seventeen in the line-up so far this morning. We’re working on work order three from yesterday. Uh huh.

Bella Bella as seen from the mouth of Kakushdish

At least my little bear came back, he’s still alive and hungry. He did not seem as cavalier about the presence of people today and in fact scrambled up a vertical rock face to escape me. There are reports of a mother bear loitering in the surrounding forest. Hopefully, as the berries ripen during our late spring, our furry friend will prefer eating in the rough to biting the bullet if he continues to scrounge around people. Run Bumbles, run.

You’re IT! Appearing to be playing a child’s game, Bumbles is actually about to scale a 20′ vertical rock face to escape me. I’m trying to educate him that he is not welcome around people.

I’d rather see a blackbird in the forest than an eagle on TV”

Paer Domeij quoting his teenage son.

The Next Corner

The Next Corner

The swallows are back. One day in the past week they were suddenly here, flitting and swooping and chattering like no other creature can. Photographing them is very hard. They tend to nest in the rafters of the old hangar here where it is safely dark and out of reach from the likes of me. They feed, in part, on the plague of black flies that has arrived in the same week. By blackfly standards these are tiny specimens, but like scorpions, it is the smaller ones which produce the nastiest reaction. The bites become tiny, itchy bumps that last two days or more and they’ll be in any exposed place the little pests choose to attack. They still don’t hold a candle to the ones I recall in the tundra of the Northern Canadian Shield. Soon to arrive here will be swarms of horseflies which, hopefully, I’ll avoid by leaving in another month. Also out and about are what I call Shearwater flies. They look like half-scale houseflies and hover silently in small groups in front of your face. They don’t bite but are damned annoying. They disappear for a few days then come back to perform their mysteries yet again. There is a small patch of lawn at the head of the ramp. Yesterday a flock of ten mourning doves fed in that grass. It seems incongruous to find these birds here. Their gentle cooing is exactly the same as from those I have heard in the Sonoran Desert. It is one of the most relaxing and reassuring sounds I know and also another call southward.

A Swallow’s Eye View.
Up the mast on ‘Seafire’ tweeking a radio antenna connection.

The next few weeks will pass slowly. Soon I’ll be back to a life based at home in Ladysmith. It will be wonderful to have a regular life at home but this area will be forever in my heart. I’ll take some time at month’s end to explore this region a bit more.

The Pipe…
…Source of all that is wet. Actually one of many million streams in the rainforest. During a rainfall the pipe is half-full and a rushing torrent. In the fall, schools of salmon swim round and round trying to spawn. One time Orcas followed them in this little bay. This photo was taken just after low slack during the May spring tides. It was such a gorgeous day I washed my blankets. One is hanging over my boom. If you look carefully you can see the eelgrass is pointing into the stream, the tide is now flooding.

A week has passed since I wrote the preceding sentence. That clear warm sunny day seems as if it had never happened. Winter’s weather has returned with steady rain, night and day. Today, there is first a torrential downpour then a clearing and some drying before the next torrent begins. The boat’s exterior woodwork desperately needs to be scraped, sanded and refinished after last winter’s devastation. Even now, at the beginning of June, every effort is thwarted with more rain. Today, as I write, my tools sit beside me in anticipation of being able to rush outside in the next lull. Crews from the transient yachts, now thickly cluttered along the dock, wander aimlessly looking for distraction. We may be stcuk with the same people all summer. They loiter in the laundromat for hours, with amazing heaps of laundry and endless e-mails to and from the outer world. They hang about the yard and shop looking for entertainment. Questing a better wifi signal is an ongoing pastime for them. They’re often a nuisance and a danger. Some even find their way down onto the decrepit residential dock to peer and poke where they have no business being. I once told one gormless fellow “I know that i look lile a clown but I’m not here to entertain you.” I find myself wanting to untie old ‘Seafire’ and head for the backwaters. Soon, my restless boat, soon.

My pal Squirelly.
What could be finer than sitting on a bank on a perfect day eating dandelion seeds? Some days he’ll sit on my feet hoping for a handout.

One visitor has been here since last year. He’s spent the whole winter here, disappearing for a while then coming back to Shearwater for a few days. Paer Domeij is from Sweden. He lives and travels aboard his beautiful, sturdy cutter ‘Sjoa’. Paer is a professional videographer. Some of the short films he has made of this area are breath-taking. You can find his work on Vimeo and on YouTube. Each short piece is a diamond beautifully filmed and edited with a perfect amount of narration and background audio. You owe it to yourself to look up his films. His love for this wilderness is clear. Hopefully, once I’m back in a world buzzing with full cyber service, I can put up a link to Paer’s work.

Primordial Soup, from which we came?

One of my frustrations about leaving here is that I have not begun to explore this region as much as I’d like. That could take the rest of my life. However the arthritic pain of the last few rainy days reminds me of why south is the right direction for me. Still, there is the lure of what’s around the next corner, and the next. That mystery will always haunt me. Fortunately there are corners everywhere.

A chance of showers.
Sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, rain, rain. Welcome to the rainforest.

A soggy life. I open this portlight above the galley stove to let the cooking vapours out. Despite a visor, when it is raining, there’s a little problem.
Usually I put a small storm window in place to shed the rain.

For the time being focus is on work. The transient yachts, (I call them Gringo boats) have an infinite variety of troubles. The owners sometimes arrive at the shop in groups, each with what is to them he only problem in the world. Being told they must wait in line doesn’t suit their sense of urgency to hurry up and relax. In any season you’ll see it all. From clogged toilets to suppurating hydraulic systems, dead engines and mangled drive systems, in they come. We haven’t yet this season had a boat that tried plowing through a reef so there’ll probably be a pair of those arrive together. In the midst of the shipyard mayhem, these folks will continue living aboard their vessels while we hammer and grind and heave on wrenches and curse beneath them. They ascend and descend rickety ladders as we can provide and may need help with their big dog each time. I feel pity for these family beasts who endure a plethora of noxious aromas and sounds and are then exercised in the toxic mud and dust of the shipyard among hurtling machinery.

Camper copter. Four rotor blades and a bed built for two. Once a helicopter guy, I guess I’ll always be one. I’m certainly dazzled with this machine.

Nein, nein zat Fokker ischt unt Messerschmidt!
The Eurocopter 105 is rugged and versatile it is a pilot’s and mechanic’s dream. The Red Bull Company uses one of these, unmodified, to fly a full airshow with plenty of inverted manoeuvres.

Heck! I get it.

Rightfully, stranded crews should stay in our hotel while we ply our trade. It would be safer, more expedient and profitable. ( Often these repair jobs are covered with insurance and so are carte blanche) Other skippers are determined to loiter with their chins on our shoulders while we try to make their repairs in spite of them. I often employ a carefully practised surliness to retain some elbow-room in the shop. One character planted himself on my work stool in the middle of our doorway. I asked him to move out of the way and he replied that wanted to ensure he’d get some attention. I advised him that he’d be sure to get some “F…ing attention” if he didn’t move immediately. Simply getting the correct parts shipped in a timely manner is an eternal, complicated frustration. Happy customers are a rarity. Many white-knuckled buccaneers stop here in a frantic rush to escape the helter-skelter of home. They only manage to bring it with them.

Well, if this old wrencher knew so much about running a resort and a wilderness marine repair facility perhaps I’d have my own remote island business. Or perhaps, I’m clever enough not to. It is certainly bemusing to endure such a dystopic existence within a wonderland. Certainly, I’m not going to miss any of it. I just want to go sailing. Here’s to what’s around that next corner.

Rafted to ‘Gulf Tide’ an old tug converted to a beautiful liveaboard. Deb, the lady of the boat, does great canvas work.

The Shearwater Breakwater. A new forest breaks out on the old boom sticks.

Midday Fogsneak. The wind changed and dampened, the temperature dropped, and the sky became obscured. The rain returned a few hours later.

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”

… Will Rogers

The Farting Tiger

What happens if I push this one? A much-manipulated photo taken from the boat in Saint John Harbour.

After all the writing I’ve done in the last seven months about dreary rain-soaked darkness I’m happy to report that I sit at my laptop this morning while enjoying a perfect dawn. The sky is clear and windless. The rising sun sun brings a warmth that seeps right in to my heart and provides a rich golden light unique to this part of the world. The silence is eerie. There is no grunting machinery, no throb of marine diesels, no yammer of someone’s acid radio tones. All I can hear is the squeal of tinnitus in my mechanic’s ears but gradually I pick out the pip and chatter of little birds, even the wing-whistle of a passing raven. There is a plip-plop of tiny fish jumping on the surface of the sea. This bliss comes in Kynumpt Harbour, a few miles west of Shearwater. I’ve escaped for the May long weekend and anchored here last night. For the moment I savour just being. The cabin entry is wide open and it is grand.

Ahh! A little over an hour west of Shearwater I have the world and the sunset to myself.

Kynumpt Dawn. Wanting to be nowhere else.

The sound of children playing on the beach. I could almost hear them echoing from the past when Kynumpt cradled a small community.

My days at Shearwater are drawing to a close. That, of course, allows me to see things more objectively. I’ve turned in my notice. With that sense of freedom I can allow myself to think and say things I dare not before. I see myself at the end of my working life but still needing a working income. It is rather like holding a farting tiger by the tail. While you cling on desperately, you know that it is inevitable that you are going to be shat on or have your head ripped off; or quite possibly, both. Yesterday I happily proclaimed that I had worked on my last Bayliner ever (they’re miserable boats to work on) Now I sit here pecking at this keyboard with my grease-imbued banana fingers and watch the tranquillity slowly unfold. Ashore an eagle has perched in a cone-laden Sitka spruce. Reflected patches of light disco-ball across the green of the trees along the beach. Once the site of a native village, this bay has in turn been a failed Scandavian settlement and then a logging camp. The clearings are growing over but a few fruit trees cling on to their feral life. But it is time to move on. The trouble with this sort of weekend is that my freedom is clouded with a sense of brevity. Hurry up and relax!

Well blow me down! This pair of Humpbacks must’ve passed beneath me heading in the opposite direction.

The day passed quickly. I headed westward under a brilliant sun. Humpbacks emerged in the distance behind me as I passed Edge Reef. This is where the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground last fall and created such horrific drama and expense. Seals and gulls bask on the reef at low tide and all appears pristine to my eye. There may well be contamination in the clam beds but today one would never suspect. In less than three hours I arrive in Saint John Harbour, a lovely place providing shelter from the open ocean. It is a few miles south of the entrance to Seaforth Channel. With an open horizon to the southwest it is a different world. Of course I want to keep on going, due south. I anchor in a fine nook eager to explore the backwaters but then it hit me. As the tiger said, “It must have been something I ate!” I suddenly found myself gripped by a vicious stomach flu and was forced to remain close to the head. I slept for several hours and awoke to find a gloomy overcast had settled in. Groggy, wobbly and weak, I realized my day was finished. I went back to my bunk defecated…. I mean defeated! Bummer!

Edge Reef, scene of the crime. This was the site of the grounding of the ‘Nathan E. Stewart’

Cape Swaine and the open ocean. Turn left, sail due south until the butter melts, turn left, you’re there!

The mouth of Seaforth Channel. Beyond the rocks of Cape Swaine, Ivory Island light station can be seen in the distance on the northern side.

In the morning neither my plumbing nor the sky had improved. I felt as grey as the low overcast and couldn’t decide what to do. I went back to bed for a while then grimly set out to see the world. This was my weekend damnit! The swell of the open ocean soothed me and I looked west across Hecate Strait to Cape Saint James. It is the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. The high ground of those islands stood above the horizon that day and called me to come on over. A mirage effect allowed me to see across the ninety-five nautical miles. The light flashes white every five seconds. It stands ninety-six metres above sea level with a nominal range of visibility fourteen miles. Aboard ‘Seafire’ it is sixteen hours distant. Yet I could see it clearly. Reluctantly I turned eastward at Cape Mark on the bottom of Athlone Island. The area is a maze of rocks, reefs, islets and tenuous channels which are sometimes a dead end. It is a deadly place in the dark or fog. While picking my way through some of those reefs and islets of Queens Sound my flu symptoms returned with a vengeance and I crawled into the bay in Stryker Island. A few hours of weird dreams later I had a strong urge to get out of this place. It is a beautiful bay but I had a bad feeling and I knew it was best to move on. I’ve learned to trust my feelings without trying to analyze the intangible.

The original version of photo one. This was taken before sunset from the boat while looking to the northwest from Saint John Harbour.

Land Ho! A view toward Milbanke Sound and one of it’s peaks.

Believe it or not. That’s Cape Saint James, ninety-five nautical miles distant across Hecate Strait. The optical effect is enhanced with my telephoto lense.

Into the rock garden. These reefs and rocks are everywhere for many miles. It is not really a place to be doubled-over with stomach cramps.

Fingal Island

Tuft Island.

 

A West Coast moment. One of a million Islets along the British Columbia coast.

Joassa Seals wondering, no doubt, what the hell this idiot was up to.

Looking back is so easy! Fortunately the narrows is as deep as it is narrow.

How Rait Narrows look on the chart.

There are several routes back toward Shearwater from there. The most open and direct route is Raymond Passage which leads up to join Seaforth Channel a few miles from the home dock. Branching off this easy open passage is Boddy Narrows which becomes Joassa Channel and then impossibly tight Rait Narrows. I’ve previously dared myself to try this gap and deferred to prudence. My weekend has been spoiled by a flu bug and I needed something to cheer myself. With names like Joassa how can I resist? Woodsmoke billowed through the trees on a small wooded islet near Quinoot Point. I glimpsed a cabin secreted in the dense forest. That presence added to the magic of this secluded pass. I couldn’t be seen turning back now. It looked as if the boat’s rigging was about to knock squirrels from the overhanging trees. I inched through the narrow twisted gap. Finally I was in waters where I had turned back on a previous attempt from the northern side. The biggest barriers are always the ones we make in our own mind. Last night I anchored in Lockhart Bay, only a few miles from Shearwater.

Back to Shearwater reality. Meet you at the old bollard, a relic of days when coastal freighters were the only link to the south.

A man-hater’s dream…just give them a big stick! Anenomes on the bottom of an old dock hauled out for cleaning.

Noon Monday finds me back at my dock in Shearwater. A disappointing weekend, no wind, no saiing, no fishing and I’m way over on my toilet tissue ration. Such is life. I’ve been talking about loosing weight. Living in a boat is a marvellous thing. As I sit writing I am in the same boat I cruised about in all weekend. This hull rose and fell and rolled on the swells of the open ocean. The cabinetry squeaked and loose items slid about. There is a lovely thrumming harmonic hum from the engine which pulses through the boat when we motor along. It is all lovely and a bad day at sea is generally better than a good one at the dock. Now all is quiet, old ‘Seafire’ is again a small floating condo with the potential to go anywhere in the world. Nothing happens until I untie her. All I have to do is decide how to deal with the farting tiger. Phffffft!

The Tin Schooner. Occasionally some unique and beautiful boats pass through. This steel schooner is a beauty to me. Dreams!

Tiger hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest. Hmmm!

We are at the bottom of the food chain. Nothing else on this planet needs us. Yet we need all other living things to survive.” Christi Belcourt, Metis artist

Mother’s Day In Weirdwater

This is a first for this blog; a birthday wish. A co-worker has long advised me of his mom’s loyal following of my postings. She is close to the celebration of her 96th birthday and I have every reason to believe that this lady is a sparkling character. So, Evelyn, I hope that you have many happy, successful years ahead. Best wishes from the Weirdwater Blogger.

Mother Rock

It is Mother’s Day weekend. I am starting to write Saturday morning anchored in a beautiful place only a couple of miles from Shearwater. A good anchorage needs a few things. First good holding ground, which means a bottom into which your anchor will sink, holding firmly as a rising wind pushes on your boat. So, a safe shelter with a grand view and somewhere ashore to go for a walk are the components of a great place to drop an anchor for a night or few. Those places are rare here in the Great Bear Rainforest. Many sheltered places are claustrophobic with steep, rocky shores and deep rocky bottoms. You can put almost all your anchor chain out to hook the bottom. Yet you may still be very close to the trees which often lean out over the water. Even at low tide there is often no place to stretch your legs ashore. A delight in this area is solitude. Most anchorages here are bypassed by other boats if someone is there first. In Southern waters, folks love to crowd in to the same place to the point that the first boat in ends up leaving if being alone was their ambition. It is one of the reason i carry lots of anchor chain so that I can anchor in deep water outside the heard. .Here, that’s not an issue!

Looking East from what I call Rainbow Bay.

Same view over the tombolo spit near high tide

The weather this morning is grey and blustery with pelting rain. Inside, the boat is cold and damp, despite the wonderful little furnace, which I ration the use of to save the vessel’s batteries. To hell with it! I turn up thermostat. The anchorage is protected on the east by a tumbolo spit which joins two islands while affording a wide view of the coastal mountain to the east. The view to the west is wide open for miles but the bay is partially protected by islets and reefs. The Dryad Light Station at the top of Lama Pass can be seen where it sits about five miles away, Beyond that, Seaforth Channel stretches toward the open waters of Milbanke Sound. The muted light somehow enhances certain tones of green in the surrounding forest and beaches. The calls of birds ashore, including cranes, geese and herons echo around the bay. Should the wind change I can readily move into tighter nooks nearby, but for the moment, despite gloomy weather, the view here is spectacular and I’ll linger.

Looking West from the same spot. Dryad Point Light marks the north end of Lama
Pass, Seaforth channel extends and broadens to the West.

The ubiquitous reef emerging at low tide. Nearly every anchorage has one.

As I write my wife is packing for a sad trip to her homeland of Scotland. Her mom has passed away and Jill must endure a long lonely journey with the dark heavy obligations of this inevitable event. Her mom did not much like the cut of my jib and referred to me as “The bloody bog Canadian.” Nevertheless I admired her feisty character and outspoken Scottishness. I am despondent that I am not able to do more than write a few lines and that I cannot go with Jill to provide some support. An aspect of family hope is gone forever. I’ve buried both of my parents and know the ordeal she has ahead. How I wish that I could help her. We all have to deal with it at some time. This too shall pass but for now, the day wears on. So much for Mother’s Day.

Later, I drop the anchor in Beales Bay, only three and a half miles to the east. There is a lovely reversing tidal rapids here and an extensive lagoon beyond to explore. The weather is bleak and wet as ever. It is not really a place to safely go alone but after staying aboard all day I’m anxious to see what’s around the corner. I have not yet unlashed my kayak from the boat’s cabin-top this year. For that matter, neither have the sails been unfurled. The last three seasons have blurred into an ongoing grey murk of wet wintery weather. The woodwork on the exterior of the boat is blistered and peeled away. I’ve never had this happen before. The persistent rain and frost have taken a heavy toll. It has been an unusual winter which does not seem to have quite released it’s grip yet.

Around the corner. Looking into the lagoon entrance from Beales Bay

Swamp foam. Organic earth substances agitated in the rapids emerge from the narrows.

Lower yet. Nearing low slack the tidal narrows can be seen within the entrance to the network of lagoons upstream.

On the fold…the range of my weekend, about three and a half nautical miles in local waters. A fantasy is to have a boat with a wheelhouse big enough to accommodate a full size chart table. Folding charts is a practice coming from my flying days and travelling in small boats. Many folks ply these waters with only their GPS, a dangerous practice in my view.

Sunday morning is a repeat with incessant rain and low cloud. The narrows from the lagoon are discharging prolific foam and I can hear the grumble of the rapids around the corner. I ‘ll have some breakfast and see how the world looks then. Now approaching noon, I’ve napped and read and cleaned and tinkered all I can stand. The rain still patters down. Randomly, the sky begins to brighten and then comes yet another deluge. The tide is near low slack and i’ll have to wait hours for it to rise enough for me to kayak through the narrows. I am not so much concerned about being wet as I am about having enough time and light to explore and photograph whatever I might find back in there. Clearly, I’m not going to see the lagoon today. It is Victoria Day weekend next and maybe I’ll come back. It cannot rain forever. Can it? As I weigh anchor a pair of eagles and a scraggly old deer emerge as if to say good bye. Later dudes!

Dead Sexy
Arriving back in Shearwater I find this beauty at the fuel dock.
It is the time of year when transient boats are beginning to arrive. I find their grand gleaming phallic palatial presence off-putting to say the least. This boat shows a pratical design which allows for work and play all at once, and damn what other people think.

 Don't laugh, it's almost paid-off.

The organic approach. A goold old truck complete with empty beer cans, a full ash tray and a healthy moss grow-op inside and out. Don’t laugh, it’s almost paid for.

The stinky crane. I jury rigged an exhaust system on a crane so we could reinstall some boat motors without fumigating the old hangar. The huge doors in the background have opened and closed by hand since they were installed about 75 years ago.

Tidy as you go! Another organic aspect of life in Shearwater. Cleaning up after yourself is never taken personally. That’s my exhaust pipe poking through the wall. Yes, that is really an original cast iron drain pipe.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” …Will Rogers.

In A Fog

A trillium in the sun. When you live in the dark dripping Northcoast jungle, seeing real wildflowers is an absolute thrill

Feral tulips picked from a vacant lot on mainstreet Ladysmith.

NOTE: All photos in this blog were taken with my cell phone. Click on any photo to enlarge.

First of all I must confess to providing some “Fake news” in my last blog. I was told the nearest advance polling station for the BC election was in Masset, when in fact it is in Bella Bella. ALWAYS confirm your sources!

I awoke wondering where I was. The room was bright and there was someone in the bed beside me. That, I realized, was my wife. I was home in Ladysmith, not alone as usual in my berth in the boat. There was a strange yet vaguely familiar sound outside. I realized it was the sawmill on the other side of town. I was hearing the clack and bang of lumber in a drop sorter. The sound was from the past, that of a working sawmill, now a sadly rare song of what made this province great. Once, nearly every town in BC had at least one sawmill. A few days ago when my flight was landing in Nanaimo Harbour I looked down into the gaping holds of an Asian ship on the wharf of a former sawmill. It was receiving yet another load of raw, prime BC logs. All the while, fewer folks can afford to buy houses built with BC lumber.

While this is not a political blog I like to get a few jabs in now and then. Right now we are in the middle of a provincial election campaign and one of the hot topics is the lack of affordable housing in British Columbia. That story has now been extrapolated to people living on their boats and pumping raw sewage overboard. In enclosed waters, such as False Creek in Vancouver, doing something as thoughtless as that will certainly draw attention. In places like Shearwater, where I live on my boat, there is no sewage facility on any of the docks, so feeding the crabs is ‘De Rigeur” but , at least, we do have plenty of tidal action to dissipate the DNA from a few boats. In an area of dense population and no open tidal flow everyone will end up with a shitty situation. I’m far more concerned about the oils and chemicals that wash out of our yard in the incessant rain.

I like to preach that the price of freedom is responsibility. If you want to live beneath the, radar,”off the grid,” great! Just quit firing rockets for attention. Don’t do things that piss everyone else off, then demand your right to live as you choose. There is an eternal debate about raw sewage and how it is dealt with. For years in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, filtered sewage is piped out into the Strait Of Juan De Fuca. There is a recurring outcry in the cycle of popular protests about that, although few seem to note that in the vicinity of those discharges is where some really big salmon get caught. It’s the food chain thing; big fish eat smaller fish which eat tiny fish, you know how it goes. Few people seem at all concerned however about all the toxic crap that flushes off of our streets, into the storm sewers and out to sea. The oceans of the world are all in deep peril from over-fishing and every type pf pollution from noise to plastic to chemical and nuclear. Frankly, I see our species treating the whole world as a toilet. Our bowl is running over.

Wreck Beach, Ladysmith aka Dogpatch. When folks in the small liveaboard community find their basements too wet, they scuttle their old hulks on the beach and often the venerable vessels are burned. The debris below the pilings in the background is the ashes of a floathouse lost to fire this winter. Eventually someone else has to clean up the expensive, toxic mess.

Coincidentally the same newspaper page that carried the sewage story, ran a report about a very expensive construction property which has been abandoned. The project broke into an aquifer and now the city of Vancouver is saddled with the expensive problem of containing and diverting the millions of daily litres of fresh clean water into the Fraser River. Um, you know ,…there are many cities around the world that would love to have this problem. Even Vancouver runs out of water in the summer. When life gives you lemons make lemonade, go with the flow. Truly amazing isn’t it? Human beings are determined to try forcing nature to conform to our will and a gift from the Gods is considered a problem.

Today was to be my return to Shearwater after a few days south. An early morning drive of about two hours to Campbell River got me to the airport in good time. The near-empty flight roared into the sky and eventually landed in Port Hardy for fuel after much circling and two aborted landing attempts in Bella Bella. The fog was thick and especially viscous right over the airfield. We probably passed 500′ over the terminal building. So now it’s a day’s pay lost, plus the price of a motel room and meals. Remember last blog’s quote about making God laugh by telling him your plans? We’ll see how tomorrow unfolds.

Tomorrow has become today. I sit in my motel room looking out on Discovery Pass where the fog drifts and lifts and settles. Flocks of snow geese fly northward, low over the water, hooting and calling their distinctive sounds. On an adjacent wall, a woodpecker hammers his way through the wooden siding of the motel’s dining room. I find it hard to photograph the bird through the sifting fog. It is very peaceful. I have a suspicion that today’s game will be called “Hurry up and wait.” We’re here because we’re not all there.

Name that bay! A glimpse of earth before we venture lower toward an aborted landing. It’s so hard being an old pilot sitting in the back!

“Is a flashing bunny a good thing?” The little guy on the right watches cockpit procedure as we buzz Bella Bella a second time..


Looking up from 13,000′ The contrail high overhead represents a few hundred people hurtling eastward
enjoying some sort of lunch and completely oblivious to the speck crossing beneath them. It leaves me feeling very tiny.

Breathe! Finally the fog dissipates over Queen Charlottle Strait. We’re passing over a tiny nook known to mariners as ‘God’s Pocket’

Short final, Port Hardy.
With empty fuel tanks and bursting bladders, a very welcome sight.

A sexy airplane nobody wants to ride in. This immaculate Beechcraft Super King Air is part of the BC Air Ambulance fleet. On the ground in Port Hardy.

Phweeeeeeeeep… all night long. The fog whistle at the Cape Mudge Lighthouse across Discovery Passage from my motel room. The Campbell River airport was still fogbound.

 

Snakehead Rock. Sitting on the tidal flat beneath my motel room balcony this large naturally sculpted rock faces the flooding tide and makes it easier to comprehend aboriginal mythology. Even the bird dropping in the eye is perfectly placed.

A lousy photo of a rotten guy. In the early morning fog this flicka hammers out a second condo in the motel wall. Fortunately his union doesn’t endorse working night shifts.

I’d barely finished breakfast when the phone rang to tell me that a bus had arrived to take the Bella Bella refuges back to the airport. At the airport, we were loaded onto a second bus and hauled off to the airport in Comox. After a little more shuffling the passengers were herded toward a waiting aircraft sitting on the far side of the tarmac. The pilots were wrestling with a stubborn fuel cap on a wing tank. It was the same crew with whom we’d flown the previous day and the young captain was showing rising frustration with his ongoing bad luck. I know that feeling. You can’t start cursing and jumping up and down on your hat when there’s an audience of passengers belted into their seats. We were grounded without an airworthy fuel cap. I volunteered my services as a former aircraft mechanic and soon found myself out at the wingtip on a ladder. Letting a passenger tinker on a aircraft is not the way to run an airline but it is wonderful what you can accomplish with a screwdriver and a pair of vise-grips. The innards of the special cap were worn out and jammed. I persuaded it to function for one last time. We flew. The flawless landing in Bella Bella was right on legal minimums in fog and torrential rain. I made a whole bunch of people happy today.

The red thing goes where?
Passengers were beginning to raise concerns as this young pilot tried unsuccessfully to repair a faulty fuel filler cap. I finally went and helped. The aircraft in the background is an Argus, part of the Comox Aircraft Museum’s collection. It was used for long-range anti-submarine patrol.

What a feeling!
Northbound out of Comox,
Bella Bella or bust.

All’s well that ends. I’m back in Shearwater. The heavy rain continues.

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.”

… Will Rogers

An Open Tool Box In The Rain

The Harbinger.
A sure sign of spring, this tiny hummingbird and it’s pals are migrating north. They stop long enough to rest and fuel up, then buzz off. In real size, they are never more than two inches in length. They fly thousands of miles north, then south again, each year.

The evening is clear, the sky is clear. The temperature is not frigidly damp. In fact it is almost tepid. Outside in the last of the day’s light two Kingfishers dart and chase, chattering vigorously. Inside the boat, I’ve just turned the heater on for the evening. It was off for most of the day and the hatches were open. Ever so slowly the reluctant spring shuffles in under the faltering embrace of winter. During my dinner, and in the hour since, I’ve been watching ‘2 Cellos,’ a dynamic pair. Their music is amazing and flawless whether a classical prelude or a rollicking cover of a famous rock song. I heartily recommend them to anyone with a love of good music. The duo has a concert tour passing nearby. Seats in Washington and Oregon were sold out for as much as $US 395. each!

…And a bumminghird in an alder tree.

I worked today, even though it is Sunday. A water taxi needed some maintenance and repairs. Just before finishing the job, an operator appeared without notice to take the boat away ASAP. Then we found the battery in the Travel-lift was stone dead. (This is the machine which transports boats, weighing up to sixty tons, to and from the water.) Such is life here. We’re braced to see what will be jammed into tomorrow’s schedule. There is plenty of work already on the slate but there is always something unexpected to deal with. The engine shop tries desperately to run a preventive maintenance program but ‘Break and Fix’ is the way things have always been done here and no amount of persuasion affects permanent change. It is frustrating to see the incredible and unnecessary expenses the company deliberately endures. Combining my inability to affect positive change, and with my health issues, it is time to move on. I’ve given notice here. After a replacement has arrived I will leave this place. I love this wild country but my experience here does not seem to be on any path toward my goal. Perhaps I’ll see things differently once I’ve left. Meanwhile, pass me some dry socks please.

Recycling.
It came out of the earth now it’s going back. No matter how careful we are, a little oily residue escapes in the incessant rain. “Mommy, look at the rainbow in the puddle!”

Earlier today, while trudging back to the boat during a rain squall, my eye was caught by a battered box of tools sitting beside a boat stored in the yard. It sat with drawers and lid flipped wide open. Everything was filled with rainwater, the tools in the drawers were beginning to rust. Rain water ran over the edges of the box. Days later, the battered tool box is still in the same place. Mechanics treasure their tools which are the instruments of our trade. Without them we could do little. It is hard to see anyone’s tools treated with indifference. But that is often the way things are done here. I don’t get it, I never will. I’m hardwired another way. Sometimes I truly wish I were not.

– Red tool box rusting in the rain.- Broke back tool box.
– For some reason my wrench is rusty.

I mused that perhaps my life is a bit like that toolbox. Filled with good potential and valuable skills, have I abandoned my life and simple ambitions to rot with neglect and disuse? Why does everything seem at a dead end? Certainly, my potential far exceeds what I do here. My worn body is in pain all day and night. Finances are holding me where I am and it seems that the friends who are financially secure are telling me to “Just do it.” What is it I don’t understand? A good buddy and I are in similar situations and we both have the same dream. We each sign off our regular communications with “Due south!” Meaning of course, we will do this thing no matter what, meet you down there. But a dark, nagging doubt towers over each of us.

Making a blunt point.
Log dogs on the bow of a small steel tug.

Meanwhile the provincial election campaign rails on. There are another two weeks of verbal masturbation to endure. I listened to part of an on-air debate last recently between the three candidates. They all espoused various idiotologies yet all sounded the same. I have long refused to vote for any candidate whose platform is about what’s wrong with their opponents. The debate was a childish game of turd-toss. There is no-one to vote for. And by the way candidates, all of you, no government has ever been a source of wealth. And, although all politicians make the claim, no government has ever created one job. Never! Stop the bull!

Cut me loose!
Shorelines to the docks at low tide. Anenomes grow on the chain.

You can’t catch a fish by chasing it with a hook. Offer me something enticing and I just might bite. Here in Shearwater a lady removed her voter’s card from her mailbox. Apparently the nearest advanced polling station is in Masset, on Haida Gwaii. That’s an ocean voyage of over two hundred miles across the notoriously vicious Hecate Strait. We are a hardy bunch of folks! For weeks, CBC radio provides thin speculations and dreary reviews of the electoral race. Journalists pick out every bit of lint from every corner. Such a weary business!

Wreck Beach…Bella Bella.
Under the jetty at low tide.

Technical Advice.
Boat filth imbedded in my paws despite a thorough scrubbing. By the time I’m heading back north again, they’ll be coming clean.

Shearwater suspense.
Morning fog three hours before flight time. It lifted. We flew.

, I’m posting this from the Bella Bella Airfield. Fog and a thin spattering drizzle are the weather this morning. At the moment, conditions are not flyable. I’m hoping to head south on yet another medical excursion. I’m very much looking forward to seeing my wife Jill and my buddy Jack, the dog. For the weekend, I’m doing south.

From far overhead above the clouds, there comes the thunder of passing jetliners

John Cleese… “ Want to make God laugh?

Tell him your plans.”

Easter Flashes By

BIG! This barge stopped briefly in Shearwater while I was leaving for the weekend. The “Ocean Oregon’ was being towed by the ‘Arctic Taglu’. Once this monster is loaded with logs it will go south where the timber is reloaded on a ship for export.

LITTLE! ‘Seafire’s’ tender is a 10’6″ Achilles inflatable hypalon boat. It has an inflatable floor and performs much better than previous aluminum hard-bottomed inflatable boats. It’s a keeper!

Good Friday morning, Easter weekend. The anchorage is placid. There is no sign of human presence anywhere other than myself. ‘Seafire’ is anchored in a finger-shaped bay off of Troup Passage. I’ve dreamed of this for weeks and the thought of being here sustained me through the haul-out last weekend. Here I am with three full days on my beloved boat away from Shearwater. I’d love some company but I’m happy enough with my own self and am free to follow a random schedule having to bend or explain anything to anyone.

Freedom! Heading out for the weekend on Seaforth Channel. A few miles west it opens onto the entire Pacific Ocean, a tough call to resist.

Yesterday at 5 pm, quitting time, I was still in a bilge wrestling with a last stubborn bolt. There is always one. If I hadn’t beat the damned thing it would have haunted me all weekend. I won. By 6:30 we were all shipshape and had slipped our lines. That we is ‘Seafire’ and me. There was even a thin sunlight as we left the bay. Two hours later the anchor went down here as the last light of the day ebbed away. The stereo is playing an amazing album of eclectic Spanish music. ( Carlos Nunez- Discovery) It would be nice to share this bliss but this blog is as close as I’ll get to that. Soon it’ll be anchors aweigh to see what’s around the corner, and then the next. What a feeling to be content in the moment at hand and not want to be somewhere else.

Into the mystic. Northbound up Bullock Channel. It, in turn, opens onto Spiller Channel.

I’m travelling northward up a network of inlets and passages to a place called Ellerslie Lake, a sacred back water to locals. The scenery and fishing are supposed to be fantastic. We’re in the middle of herring season. There might be wildlife to see with all that surplus feed in the water. By mid-afternoon ‘Seafire’ arrives and the anchor goes down in a magic world which is entirely mine. There is a logging camp miles back but here the solitude is absolute. The silence thunders out. I launch the dinghy and soon find a forgotten joy as I skim across the flat water. I love exploring in my trusty little Achilles and can quickly cover many miles in a radius from where mother ship ‘Seafire’ is anchored. The skies have cleared a bit. A golden evening light bathes the area and it will be best to take advantage. I decide to visit the falls and find a rich reward of soft pure light for the effort. As the tide falls the is a tidal gorge to navigate in and out of the large lagoon below the falls. The lower the tide the more the rapids increase.

Anchored beneath the mountain. We all need to occasionally be reminded of how tiny and insignificant we are.

Natural Art. I could see a fish in the reflection at the tide line.

I remind myself that I’m entirely alone as I pick my way up and over the boiling water but I’m having fun for once. I love white water and soon I’m into the lagoon. In another two miles I arrive at a spectacular water falls running into the sea. The light is fading and I know the rapids will be steeper each minute I linger.

The prize. The falls  which drain Ellerslie Lake. I’ll go back and explore when it’s warmer.

Over the edge. Yeehawing my way down the rapids from the lagoon at Ellerslie Lake.

I’m not a kid with a canoe anymore, and I don’t want to spend the night here if the rapids become impassable. The rapids are considerably more violent and steeper but the hardest part is making a decision to just do it. Then you pick your way through and it’s over. I’m hungry and getting cold. Finally back at the boat I’m numb, my arthritic hands burning with painful coldness. I have never worn gloves but the time has come. God bless my diesel furnace. Despite the warmth of my kerosene lamp and the music I play, Stan Rogers then Ibrahim Ferrer, nothing warms my core. The music of Cuba seems incongruously far from the cold grandeur of this incredible place.

Warmth at last light. I turned up the furnace and put the kettle on promptly on my return.

I am still filled with pain and stiffness in the morning. This sucks! The fog and rain has descended again and my body, and soul, ache for warmth. Damn! This getting older will be the death of me! After breakfast I clean up and decide to crawl back into bed. The weather, and the way I feel, are equally grey. At 13:00 I am up and after consulting the charts I decide to pull the hook and amble back toward Shearwater the long way. I’ll find another place to anchor tonight. The weekend is already half gone, but then, half still lies ahead. The rain squalls continue. I am glad that I seized the sunlight of last evening

It blinked! I swear!
An interesting anomaly on the top of a cliff looking down on the anchorage.

Serenity.So calm that not every one notices the photo is posted inverted.

Now which way is up? Another calm evening, now in Wigham Cove…just me and the seals.

 

Soon the seals will have it all to themselves. I always find it amusing that they lay curled up like a sausage in a frying pan.

I meander down Spiller Channel for a few hours. I explore Neekas Cove and Inlet but something doesn’t feel right and i continue on my way. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition about anchorages and go or not to go decisions. There may practical reasons but experience produces an inner voice which is often correct a\nd I don’t analyze what I intuit. The wind rises on my nose but we make fair speed and it is so pleasant to feel the boat travelling as it has not for too many months. I tuck into the secure basin charted as Wigham Cove on the south end of Yeo Island. I cook a simple supper of ground beef well-imbued with smoked chipotle pepper and garlic. I fill some pitas with the potent mixture and feel a lovely glow spreading within. Warmth! Simple pleasure!

Sunday morning finds me nestled firmly between the blankets, suspended in a stupor between sleep and wakefulness. Sunlight shafts into the cabin. A light fog is dissipating to reveal a near-cloudless sky. I ache for a place to walk but the cedar jungle crowds everywhere, There are no meadows or trails, only a thick tangle of brush and windfalls and interlocked branches. Some beaches offer a place to amble at low tide along a small edge of this impenetrable mystery of endless forest. Wild creatures can magically appear and disappear silently into and from this thick maze. I crash and thrash to try and intrude for a few yards and then retreat, defeated again, to the opening from which I began. I am an alien here.

It will be a sleepy Sunday, it suits my lethargic mood and I prepare for the last leg back to my berth in Shearwater; after yet another nap. I feel exhausted and want to stay here for a week.

You’re back! Got any fishy bits for me?

Later in the day the boat is back in her berth. It is as if the weekend never happened. Monday dawns with a cloudless sky. It is windless and warm, 22 degrees C. by noon. I’m back in a bilge covered in black muck and l am already looking forward to the next weekend. This too shall pass.

Life goes on. Taking seed in the end of a dead-head below Ellerslie Falls. Loggers once shot their timber over the falls. Now the forest will re-establish itself one way or the other.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”…. Albert Einstein