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.
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.
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.
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.
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.