It is another glorious late spring morning. New spider webs stream and sparkle in a rising Westerly wind. A small fleet of sport fishing boats has appeared at the docks, probably driven in by the wind. There’ll be a gang of frustrated fellows wandering the docks with drinks in hand. Testosterone and booze make a bad mix. The day will wear on. The fish stories will get bigger as the tide in the bottles falls.
It was my birthday two days ago, absolutely not noteworthy to anyone but me. There’ll be no long weekends held in my honour. Such is life when you’re not a queen, not even an old one.
I spent the day working and trying not to mention the date to anyone. Being sixty-something is nothing to celebrate. It is not something I’ve put any effort into. But by the evening I was sequestered away here on the boat feeling rather sorry for myself. I feasted on corn chips, hot salsa and cheese followed with a brick of marbled halva. This was all washed down with copious amounts of very good scotch. At least I celebrated with a healthy, balanced diet. Well, scotch is organic! No gluten I’m aware of; just one glutton. By the way, what ever happen to trans-fats, the poison of popular paranoia last year? Next day some dear friends, Bob and Deb, had learned my secret, baked me a cake, made a lovely gift (A bouquet of fresh herbs) and bought me a card. I went over to help them with a project and was greeted with a cake with candles and the B-day song. It was all quite touching. The warm and fuzzy feeling lingers. Thanks guys.
There is another warmth and fuzziness in my life at the moment. Fibreglass! The 1966 Cheoy Lee Frisco Flyer I’ve been working on for the past year needs new decks. There are, as Steinbeck said “Boats built to sail and boats built to sell”. This is a great sailing boat, well built for sailing offshore and very pretty. It was built in an era when yacht building techniques were transitioning from wood to fibreglass. Solid plank decks were once the way things were done on boats. On yachts the ultimate wood of choice is teak. The bare teak is pretty and an excellent traction surface and of course can be a sign, or often facade, of quality. Most teak decks are a composite sandwich of wood between two skins of fibreglass. The teak is then set on top of that strata in a poly sulfide bedding compound and attached with the copious use of screws which pierce the upper layer of fibreglass and set in the wood core. It is a recipe for self-destruction as each screw hole will eventually allow water to seep into the core and then the rot sets in. This darned thing is only forty-eight years old and needs rebuilding!
The first step is to saw, chisel and grind the old rotten decks away. All the while, I must be careful not to compromise the inner skin. It is the foundation for the new deck. That will be made from new layers of fibreglass matting and roving, a foam board core, more roving and matting on top, then a coat of gel coat and finally paint. Then all the fittings need to be cleaned, polished and reinstalled. Sounds easy right! First I have to remove the deck fittings which involves unfastening or breaking each rusted nut and bolt. That means for every fastening a weird dance of clambering above and below to attach wrenches to each nut. Sometimes the wrenches leap overboard, sometimes they slip and fall off below. One becomes adept with a magnet on a string. Once that masochism is complete, the deck needs to be supported with props and beams from beneath to keep its shape and prevent a stout lad like me from falling through. I won’t try to describe the incessant itching as minute glass fibre slivers work their way into your skin. Then there will be the overpowering tang of the liquid resin. For a change of misery try a fibreglass under a finger nail. It’s the romance of the sea Billy! Who but old sea farts like me have the patience to see this horrible job through. Arrrrgh! Nought’s forever! It just feels like it.
Meanwhile an email arrives to announce that my buddy Jim Poirier and his daughter Karmen are now anchored in French Polynesia. They are in a bay at Rikitea on Mangareva Island in the Gambier Group. This is a group of islands, islets and reefs surrounded by a huge, almost square atoll. It is certainly worth looking up on Google Earth. So Jimmy, you’ve no reason to be thinking of me (But thanks for the e-mails!) I’ll have my mind on other places like that as I endure the sweaty itches and noxious fumes of my penance on deck. Another acquaintance is off to visit friends in Wales for a few weeks. Tony and Connie will now be in the south of France and I keep thinking of Rodger and Ali who are somewhere, by now, far south down the coast on ‘Betty Mc’ on their way to leave that boat in San Diego for the summer. Then they’ll fly to Inuvik to their other boat where they’ll work a course eastward, as ice permits, in the Northwest Passage. It’s not just my job that is leaving me with an itch.
This morning we had a new visitor. A sea lion was hauled out on our docks for the first time that anyone here can remember. I managed to grab a photo a nano-second before Jack attacked. He actually nipped it on the backside! It is amazing how nearly a half-ton of blubbery creature can levitate and plunge into the sea so quickly. What incredible strength! I always marvel at the power of these beasts. They have a generally gentle nature but also are quite territorial and stubborn if they lay claim to a specific spot; especially if they have the strength of numbers. Jack is a dauntless little dog with an indelible memory. He has encountered sea lions in Oregon and wisely respected their numbers. Perhaps he saw this as an opportunity for a one on one encounter. The math about a forty-pound dog against an eight-hundred pound sea lion clearly eluded him. The beast apparently returned to the dock once my little black monster moved on. I shall always remember a boy’s remark after I’d shown his family a large heard of the noisy smelly creatures. “Sure glad they can’t fly!” Close your eyes and imagine. Pigeons and gulls pale in comparison!
On the subject of bad smells, my deck job is certainly drawing a lot of interest every time I open a container of fibreglass resin. It is an indelible aroma that instantly grabs you by the throat, from inside. No matter which way the wind is blowing, folks come from all directions to complain. They have a wonderful sense of timing, arriving just when I’m up to my elbows in the goop which is hardening as I apply it. It is not the best time for an amiable conversation. I try to gently explain it’s just another smell of the sea and point out that I’m at ground zero. I AM aware of the funk and absolutely hate anything to do with fibre glassing. I’m not doing this job because I like it. In fact, I’ve been around this stuff so much that I actually can’t smell it when I’m bent over an open pot of resin. That’s scary! The only good part of working with fibreglass comes when the work is all done. “Now bugger off!”
This blog is now running through the second weekend in June. We locals are enduring another annual fishing derby; or should I say drinking derby. Some of these folks drink into the wee hours and are not able to get up at first light and go fishing. As the day evolves, the wind rises and soon it’s too rough to leave the dock, especially hung-over. The drinking begins again. It is amazing how folk’s sense of entitlement rises with the amount of booze consumed. The docks become clogged with drunks lolling in deck chairs who had no regard for letting other people pass. I passed, several times with my gear and supplies, enough said. By 04:00 the ruckus was dying down. At 05:00 the first boat headed out fishing after idling next to my bow, and bunk, for a very long time.
By 08:00 it was again too windy to head out on the heaving seas. (Yes, a pun!) By 11:00 the deck chairs were again occupied and the bottles were out. Apparently the wharfinger’s office was inundated with folks looking for Tylenol. Of course old grumpy hisself was slathering the fibreglass resin liberally, the wind was blowing across the marina. Haaar! Take that you louts! Any more bother tonight and I’ll call in the Waltzing Wazulas Naked Pagan Lady Mariachi Klezmer Brass Band to parade the docks at first light. I’ll bring up the rear with a tuba.
Then again, I have a lovely recording of Gregorian chanting. Hmmm, set the Cd player on repeat and full volume on the cockpit speakers. Then I could go ashore to sleep in my trailer. Vindictive thoughts may cross my mind but I really do pity people who have to punish themselves to escape the desperation of their daily lives. Too bad they have to impose it on everyone else. They’ll take their agonies back home with them tomorrow and spend the next week telling people about how much fun they had. Some will even have a dead fish to show for their investment. I’ll be able to again shlock and grind my fibreglass in peace. I can also go back up my mast to install a few more steps without someone wanting to chat.
Writing that had me recall the night I walked into the Silva Bay Restaurant and greeted one of the servers. I told her how seeing her, “Made my day.” With a straight face she replied, “Oh Fred, that’s so sad!” God bless everyone with a sense of humour.
(By the way, just so you know, I have a friend who has a sweet original, classic Davidson D9 sailing dinghy. It’s for sale with all the sailing and rowing gear. The asking price of $850. is less than quarter that of new clones of this famous sailing skiff/rowing boat. It’s a grand accolade when someone begins to make reproductions.)
Another Sunday morning dawns with a high thickening overcast and a pale sun shining through it. A few boats head out to the killing grounds and the rest of the mob are too hung-under to give a toss. Well, they may have to toss once or twice yet. It’s peaceful. There is a gleaming plastic castle afloat moored across from me. It blocks my view of half the world and I want to rename it ‘Sound Barrier’. The boat hasn’t moved in days and all I’ve seen is one older fellow who appears on deck from time to time. It’s none of my business but still I ponder about boats and wealth and how people go about things. I’d love some fresh perspectives.
In the evening, as I returned to my boat at dusk, a small drama unfolded. Some die-hard fishermen were cleaning their catch over the side of the dock. There was a sudden loud squeal of indignant panic and fear. A Seal had ambushed a lovely Chinook the fisherman had and the tug-o-war was on. The seal lost but it did my heart good to see nature fighting back.
Now on Monday morning, the wind is roaring. Despite a forecast for rain, there is not a cloud in the sky. One lay-up of fibreglass is drying and as I finish this blog the wind gusts to gale force. The Beaver float plane just left with another load for Vancouver. It’ll be white knuckles and loaded sick sacks today. Meanwhile a gorgeous cold-moulded wooden ketch has appeared at our dock. Nothing pretentious here, just an obvious love of the sea, sailing and the shape of boats. Her teak decks are properly done with an absence of mechanical fastenings. All teak plates appear to be simply and firmly bonded without any damnable screws.
I’ve no witty remarks with which to end this blog. There is only so much you can write about fibre glassing and other folk’s fishing and drinking or is that dishing and frinking? The voyaging dream is very much alive even as the days thunder by and sooner in, sooner out, sooner done. Back I go for more. Then there’ll be some sailing to be done.
“Men in a ship are usually looking up and men ashore are usually looking down.”