Monthly Archives: June 2013

THE SHIP’S SPIDER

 

No Spiders

No spiders

Superstitions of the sea. That’s a subject often drowned in copious amounts of alcoholic beverage and sceptical conversation. Men don’t easily admit they hold with various supersticions, but nearly every sailor has developed their own fears and respects.

Don’t begin a voyage on Friday. Never open or store a container of anything upside down. Don’t whistle in the wheelhouse. Every one knows about Murphy’s Law and how the worst possible scenario is what one should expect. My intimate and dark relationship with Murphy has taught me that monster is probably female. She’s far too devious to be male! Personally, I’ve come to suspect any boat with a hull painted green or blue and I can tell you vehemently to avoid any boat that comes with shag carpeting. There’s a practical reason for that one; but then most superstitions have a tangible origin.

As a marine mechanic I’ve developed a habit of flipping some small shiny object overboard, a stainless steel nut or screw is adequate. Much better to offer a small sacrifice to the old man of the deep than give up a treasured wrench or a pair of eye glasses or a cell phone. Kill a spider and make it rain.

Actually I’ve come to value the presence of spiders aboard as a good omen! It can be argued that with enough flies aboard to attract predators arachnids might be a bad sign but I reckon that the wiley insect will not be found aboard any vessel about to sink or burn. I am fascinated by the spider’s incredible tenacity and engineering skills. I’ve known webs in the rigging to withstand full gales. If damaged or destroyed a spider web is repaired promptly. I’ve seen their silk spun between two masts and in other places ridiculously impossible. Despite their capacity for massive industry, spiders also have incredible stealth and amazing patience.

There are nasty ones, best avoided, and even some of the tiniest spiders have formidable venom in their bite. Once a backwoods boy who could shoot the brains out of anything without remorse, I now find myself trying to move spiders and other innocent creatures from situations dangerous to them or someone else. I hope that an evolving respect for life is positive growth and that my little friends hold a reciprocal respect.

Speaking of intrepid tenacity I’ll dedicate the rest of this blog to two dear and inspiring friends. Two years ago, through friends of friends, Rodger and Ali first came to Silva Bay aboard their boat ‘Betty Mc’, registered to the Port of Melbourne, Australia. This vessel was built in Tasmania as a lobster boat. (Or, as pronounced in Aus: “Crybote”) Rodger explained that crayfishing is often done in the surf and so the boats must be built to withstand the occasional bash on the rocks. ‘Betty Mc’ certainly is. She’s a floating bomb shelter! The boat still has a livewell and could be put back to work fishing with little effort. Built of exotic timber like “Red shaggy Bark” and “Celery Top” she’ll outlive us all despite the many miles that have passed beneath her keel. With amenities like a head spurned, ( No-one has ever had to unclog a bucket!) the boat is filled with tools, spare parts and materials for repairs, extra outboards and even a motorcycle. She’s not a gaudy girl but has an immaculate engine room, snug accomodation, is wired beautifully and practically, and has an interior which is elegantly simple and practical. Her wheelhouse is clearly thought out by a seasoned mariner and holds the boat’s single luxury, a stainless steel expresso machine handy to the helm! ‘Betty Mc’ carries fuel enough for a three-thousand mile range and has a sailing rig to help her get there eventually, no matter what.

Betty Mc

Betty Mc

Her rugged good looks stand her out from the crowd to the eye of the seasoned mariner yet she is generally unnoticed by weekend warriors and other Tupperware pirates. Perfect! After working for a living for decades, she was refitted by Rodger and Ali and has since voyaged northward through the South Pacific to Japan then on to the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and southward to Silva Bay. Last year she returned to Alaska for the summer and so far this year has gunkholed down into the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound more miles than most yachts travel in years.

Boats have been described as the ultimate work of man; a marriage of function to perform specific work and commerce  while there is also an artful form of infinite variety and beauty. A proper vessel is pleasing to the eye from angles. ‘Betty Mc’ is a perfect example. Previous to acquiring ‘Betty Mc’, Rodger and Ali cruised extensively by sail ‘Down under’ and have also travelled an enviable number of places overland Their adventures are a massive achievement by any standard and they’re definitely not over yet.

Wave1

Last fall the intrepid pair bought a surplus Canadian Coast Guard vessel at auction for a bargain price. ‘Wave’ is under thirty feet in length, is built ruggedly of aluminum and powered by a screaming Detroit diesel. She once served as a support vessel for the CCG Cutter ‘John P Tulley’. Returning from a winter break in Australia, Rodger and Ali have worked very long hours for the past months to refit and prepare her for their new odyssey. They left today.

Wave

Wave

They are taking ‘Wave’ to Sidney where they’ll load her onto a truck for the long haul to Hay River, in the Northwest Territories. There, the boat will be launched on the Southern shore of Great Slave Lake. They’ll travel northward over a thousand miles downstream  on the MacKenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk and then onward in a personal exploration of the Arctic and the Northwest Passage. When winter sets in (Usually sometime in September) they’ll haul her up on a safe beach and come back to her next spring. Who knows how many years they will be at that adventure! I have the honour of baby-sitting Betty Mc while they’re away from her and I look forward to learning the plans for her next jaunt; I’ve heard then mentioning Europe and Scandinavia.

Rodger and Ali

Rodger and Ali

What intrigues me most about Rodger and Ali is their personality. I say that singularly because that is how they function, as a single unit, a perfect balance of ying and yang. Theirs is a marriage where one plus one equals much more than two. They are quiet and unassumming while being warm and charming at all times despite the long weary hours that  they often work shoulder to shoulder. It took a long time for me to learn of their high academic standing and then not from them; they are very humble. I’ve never heard them brag about anything though they’ve certainly earned the right. These two are an absolute antithesis from the stereotyped Australian who projects a wannabe Crocodile Dundee image and says things like “Brace yourself Sheila!” They prefer living as simply as possible without frills and seem to always be caught within the joy of the moment. This team constantly inspire me. Yes, I envy them. I feel quite humble to count myself among the many friendships they must cultivate everywhere they go. I wish them many spiders!

NOTE: If you are interested, there is an excellent article online about Betty Mac’s epic voyage up from Tasmania to Alaska. Google up: Rodger Grayson Betty Mc. (The url is far too long to post here as a link.) Look for the heading, Sturdy Workboats. This is a New Zealand periodical dedicated to real boats.

WHY I DIDN’T

I’m cheating on this blog. Most of it has already been written for months.

I am repeatedly asked why I’m on my own now instead of working in the shipyard. Apart from my penchant for doing jobs suitable for much younger men, I can assure you that wriggling around in bilges and lockers is not ideal for Rubenesque old bilge apes like me. I’ve got to get ‘Seafire’, my own prune barge, ready for the deep blue sea.

I guess that having a white muzzle has its advantages, like finally having the patience to endure finicky tasks, and having the same thing go wrong seventeen different ways and remembering even worse jobs in the past. Then your greasy glasses, which weren’t doing you much good anyway, drop into the bilge and you blow your old back out trying to retrieve them, and life clearly can’t go on and on like this.You know that nothing is forever, including yourself, and it’s time to savour the warmth of the fire before it becomes a heap of dying embers, then ash.

Some folks asked me why I kept on working in the yard. So now I don’t. The same people ask me why I’m not there any more! I used to call myself ‘Shipyard Fred’. Now I’m just a wharf rat…but one with still a dream or two, or ten. I’d prefer to finish life as a lump of shark shit instead of ending up sitting in a corner being spoon-fed and having my diapers changed. No one is going to stand around the edge of a

The 'U&I'

U&I

six-foot hole telling each other what a hard worker I was. Bugger that!

Bilge Ape

Bilge Ape

The following is something I wrote for the Fisher Poets Gathering in February of this year. People liked it. I hope you do.

Shipyard Summer Romance

It is hard to find the romance of the sea in anything, while working in a shipyard.

Most days I don’t have it as bad as the guys

Who purge dripping filth from hulls left too long unattended

They scrape the bearded muck then the caked bottom paint away

So they can replace it with fresh poison which fills the air and your brain with a putrid tang.

My wages aren’t quite as meagre as the rest of the crew’s

Because I have the lofty honour of working inside the hulls

Where the slurping black bilge muck defies you to reach on down for dropped tools

If you can wriggle your hand that far; and get it out again.

Each job may require painful contortions inside the bowels of a vessel,

Size of the boat has nothing to do with it, big ones have places just as tight

Every bolt rusted solid with no room to heave on a wrench

There’s a tangle of circuitry you’ll rip apart if you’re not careful.

Nothing to it

Nothing to it

Wiring, now there’s a joy!

You spend half the job trying to figure out what the hell the last man

Was thinking before you eventually rip out all the old stuff and start over again

Coming up with a bitter joke about the ‘Home-Prairie Frigger-Rigger Manual of Marine Wiring.’

You also curse the landlubber marine designers who, themselves, have clearly never been to sea,

Let alone ever turned a wrench.

Sewage jobs seem to show up on the hottest days of the year.

You battle with a clogged toilet pump tucked well beneath the sole plates

Surgical gloves ruptured, you don’t give a damn, you just want to get the job done

Gagging on the stench of someone else’s rancid DNA

While they implore with toe-tapping anxiety that they’d really like to make the next tide

As if you’re squirming there, with their organic discharges running down your arm, just to pass the time.

Of the few cash tips you make in the summer, none are ever from the crapper jobs.

There is work that comes back, no matter how careful you were the first time.

The boss looks at his watch and wordlessly makes it clear that you’re costing him revenue,

We’ll talk about the lost time later, just get it done, stay late if you have to, jobs are heaping up.

You emerge from a locker gulping for a breath of air, your body chaffed, bruised, scratched and

bleeding, massaging knots out of contorted muscles before going back down for more

Fibreglass slivers under broken, blackened fingernails, bloody knuckles

Only God understands what grows in pink fungal splendour in the locker where you struggle and gasp

Knowing you’ll probably only wriggle back out of this hell hole if you stay sweat-wet.

Engines and gearboxes, more bliss!

Bugga!

Bugga!

Outboard motors than will not run despite everything appearing perfect

The pull-start poltergeist turns out to be the customer’s son.

He put diesel in the two-stroke tank

Now four carburetors need to be removed, stripped, cleared, reassembled, reinstalled and tuned,

Magically in the next hour and a half.

An ancient stubborn diesel engine worn beyond reasonable hope

Hard to start, water in the oil, a crack in the block, stripped bolts,

Yet you spread its greasy guts across the bench after hearing the poor-broke-sailor lament

Sung ever better than your own version.

The only parts you could find are somewhere on their way from Scandinavia on a slow boat

Hopefully you can patch things up for this guy to make it through to season’s end

Meanwhile you fumble a transmission together with pieces from two other busted ones

It’s for a tired old working boat and Chum season is only a few days long, so you do the best you can.

A desperate power-boater comes through the door, as usual, two minutes ahead of closing time

He has to be in Vancouver for the morning and he’ll make it worth your while,

Yeah right; you’ve never heard that before!

Laying across the hot engine, bolt heads poking into your guts you wonder

How and why the hell he left the last dock with a pump leaking that badly.

You don’t have the correct parts of course

So you stay on another half-hour trying to persuade Mr. Yuppie-yachter that it’s alright

Run home on only one engine, that’s why it’s there, backup so you can make it to your meeting.”

Turns out he doesn’t really need to, afraid to try the crossing only one 400 hp engine. he’ll wait; Liar!

Another evening shot to hell now, you’ll order parts in on the morning floatplane.

On the blocks

On the blocks

You go back to your own boat, your home,

The reason you live like the transient scum dock-hermit whom certain folks think you are

No point trying to explain your dream to beach huggers.

Too weary to put in a couple of hours on your own long list of work to do

You open a beer and fry up some supper

A proper diet and your dreams pushed back another day

Smiling you recall a time when you longed for a life ashore.

You had hoped to sail your old prune barge south this fall, finish her refit down there somewhere

At the helm there’s a framed picture of a palm-fringed, azure green tropical anchorage

But you know you’re in for yet another long dark, wet, arthritic winter

You know that soon the e-mails will start coming in from friends already south of thirty-eight.

You fear you’ll never pay the bills as you crawl into the cold, lonely bunk for another weary night

Knowing that old Nelson was right, ‘Ships and men rot in port.’

Around the marina, dock-warriors on their plastic clone boats

Party into the night, music blaring, drunken laugher, giggling children maraud the docks

You toss and writhe, jealous of their apparent pleasure,

Angry at their obvious decadent leisure

Numbly you wonder if you know how to have fun anymore.

For a few minutes you fall into the dark bliss of sleep

Then there’s a tentative knocking on the hull

The boat shifts slightly under someone’s weight on the cap rail

Probably looking for a mechanic you think

You lay unmoving until finally they go away

Now you’re awake for hours embraced by your regrets and worries

Then it occurs to you that maybe the caller

Was that gorgeous woman on the boat two docks down wanting to borrow some sugar…

Yeah right! Well, even old bilge apes can indulge in fantasies, OK!

In the morning, pot-bellied men in flowered shirts mop the dew from their shining white decks

You trudge back up the dock, stepping around fresh poodle piles, to another day in the yard

Pausing for a moment to savour the perfect summer morning

Wondering why you don’t just untie your own boat and bugger off

No goodbyes, no final paycheque, just gone

But you know you don’t steer a steady course looking back at your wake

So you stay on to pay off the bills.

No cash, no splash

No cash, no splash

Your attention turns to the spectre of a gleaming bright phallus with huge propellers

The crew has brought it up on the ways during the night flood tide.

There was a noble time when this yard’s machinery sculpted wood here

At the hands of those who knew and loved the shape of boats

The air was filled with the staccato beat of caulking hammers,

The song of band saws, a tangy aroma of yellow cedar dust and pine tar

As dedicated men built boats right here to go to sea, and to war.

That was a long time ago

Hard to believe now in the choking muck of ground rust and fibreglass

Grating nasal scream of grinders and other machinery,

Now this!

Barbie the trophy wife stands up on her swim grind trying to give orders

Manoeuvring constantly so you have a view up her short skirt

You’re a sailor who’s certainly no prude but you keep your eyes averted

And wonder why on earth she blatantly flirts

With this grotty old bilge ape in tattered coveralls covered in dirt

Her cell phone buzzes and chirps all day

She reiterates that her old man is a very fussy fellow

While you think that ‘He can’t be if he’s hooked up with you lady.’

Barbie invites you to come aboard for beer later

But the chance to decline her invitation leaves you feeling better

Smiling thinly you get to work knowing there’ll be no pleasing anyone on this job,

So just get ‘er done and be gone

You tunelessly breathe an old shanty you know

About how every turn of the screw brings me closer to you.

It goes on through the year

Too rarely you get to work on a real boat that smells of fish

Or rust and grease and diesel and work

The summer spins by as dizzy as a barnacle on a propeller

The gods put you here, you’ll see it through

But it seems a long way from steering a course across the heaving belly of the open ocean

Where life actually makes sense.

You’ve always loved the sea and boats

You have a place in your heart for those who share this passion and understand why you hang on

They know how the summer wind is warm and steady and calls you to cut her loose and just sail away,

No further explanation needed about why you’re working in the yard

Those few know that it’s all about the romance of the sea.

Jame's boat

Jame’s boat

Soft Butter

 

Finally! A few days ago, as I prepared my morning toast, I realized that the weather had warmed enough for the butter to have gone soft. It’s still pliable today. A friend who was once giving me advise on sailing to warmer climes suggested that “You hold a heading due south until the butter melts, then turn left!”

Lately, other friends seem to parrot each other in their advise to me that the boat is looking good, “Just untie it and go!” They’re right I know. Sometimes you just have to shut your eyes and jump. Still, there are bills to clear up and I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder once I leave. And, like it or not, there are a few items of prudence to be addressed before venturing out onto the briney deep. You can’t steer a steady course by looking back at your wake for bits bobbing behind or men in brown shirts with pieces of paper to serve to you. So the plod forward continues into the warmth and brightness of late spring and early summer. I know I have the positive emotional support of many; so with all that good karma I can proceed with confidence believing that this will work out quite well and that by Christmas of this year, I’ll be blogging away from somewhere in the Sea of Cortez. There seems to be, in all worthwhile endeavours, a steep climb through fog where one’s faith is severely tested. From previous experience I know that fog may not clear until you are crawling onto the summit. So, in the meantime, may all of our karmas not run over any of our dogmas.

Neither fear no ignorance nor poverty!

Now then, discussing karma, I do intend to take a little time and enjoy life a bit this summer. Gabriola is a wonderful place to do that, especially in summer with most folks are in generally good spirits. There are all sorts of summertime art and musical events happening here on this island which is populated with so very many talented people. Currently, I’m trying to set up a gig for a friend who will be here in mid-summer. Richard Grainger is someone I describe as the Stan Rogers of England and he’ll be playing Vancouver Island at various venues in mid summer. A link to his website and wonderful music can be found in my ‘Blog Roll’.

Gab morning 11

At the moment the local museum has an exhibit up about the Hippy era when so many islanders first arrived here. Now advancing into a pre-geriatric age these old flower children have come a long way. Last night I reviewed a long series of snapshots of life back then. Some of those young hopefuls are now entering their geezerhood. I peer into the faces of of those I encounter and wonder at how quickly forty years and more have passed. Some of them still look vaguely recognizable against their aged photographs. Now some have their own grandchildren out in the marijuana patch breast feeding their own progeny. The beat goes on!Gab morning10

Gabmorning8

Political and social protest now seems to have largely devolved to online petitions. Of course, with broader comfort zones it is interesting to see how perspectives change. Now these once barefooted squatters whose mantras included ‘Share the wealth man’ have come by inheritances that allow then to wear designer gumboots while driving an exotic foreign SUV (Stupid Urban Vanity) sporting a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker, listening to satellite music stations and grumping that texting on their BumbleBerry cell phone is not possible everywhere on the island; the signal here is intermittent. The trees on the perimeter of their private estates are festooned with ‘Private Property’ signs. I’ve heard a capitalist defined as “A socialist who’s found an opportunity”. It’s true! I know of people who were threatened with violence for the offence of anchoring in front of someone’s beachfront holdings. That was on a local Gulf Island especially noted for it’s free thinkers and liberal lifestyle.

Not everyone became a happy heir or a successful entrepreneur. I see the dead look in some eyes which seem to grieve for how life turned out so unjustly. (Or maybe…..it’s just drugs) I don’t know if many of us deserve our fate, good or bad, but for those who realize that their hope of communal enlightenment and nirvana generally turned out to be bullshit, here’s a quote from Winston Churchill: “The inherit virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” Then again in all fairness, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”.

That is being relayed by this failed capitalist who has come to truly wonder at the sad concepts we all hold of being owned by our stuff and of people actually feeling we can have exclusive possession of own piece of the planet. Other folks do seem to have truly found themselves a comfortable niche and apparently live a contented and harmonious existence. Kudus indeed!

A few of the island’s residents are quite opposed to concepts of people living as they choose, for example, on their boats. I guess that I may well be regarded as just another old boat hippy who doesn’t know the war is over. For some, it’s not. If you insist on employing the hyper-anality you came to escape, go for it. If it bothers you more than me, who’s got a problem? 

Most folks understand that the price of freedom is responsibility and you can’t “Do your thing” if it means getting in someone else’s face. Unless, of course you are one of those devil’s advocates whose thing is peeing in someone else’s cornflakes. So put on a tie-dyed T shirt with a slogan that says something like “Nuke A Gay Whale For Jesus”. Different strokes for different folks dude! If you like to ride naked on an alpaca while playing a didgeridoo, there is plenty of real estate available here. Just make sure you have a good water well and don’t dare to cut down any of your own trees!

A grand thing about living on this beautiful and diverse island is how so many different flavours of humanity, from career-welfare potheads to semi-retired multi-millionaires, are generally able to mix and mingle and live together peacefully on this little rock. Gabriolans are noted for their loyalty to each other as fellow islanders and often joke about the ferry link to Nanaimo as ‘Going to the other side”. Thankfully, it is a reliable ferry service.

Peace Man!

Degnen Bay

Degnen Bay

Welcome to my nightmare!

Welcome to my nightmare!