Yesterday was a glorious weather day. Clear and nearly calm it was perfect for doing anything outdoors. I gave old ‘Seafire’ some long overdue loving. Early in the morning, when the tide was at high slack I eased her over the grid at the Ladysmith Fisherman’s Wharf to clean her bottom, polish up the propeller and replace the sacrificial zincs.
I should explain that sacrificial zinc anodes are designed to absorb stray electrical currents that affect every boat, especially in salt water. The process,, called electrolysis will destroy underwater metal fittings such as bronze thru-hulls to the point of them becoming a crumbling powder. The zincs, easily replaced, do the crumbling instead of the important metal bits on the hull. The dangers of an open hole in the bottom of a boat are obvious. Despite copious scientific dissertations there is a mystery to the process which we do not fully understand. Stray electrical currents in marina docks, and from other poorly wired boats are the most common culprits as well as the minute or severe fields created by each boat itself. Regular maintenance to check the thru-hulls and replace the zincs is essential. There are ongoing, sometimes heated, debates about what the mystery of electrolysis really is and what causes it. I have my own theories but awareness of its effects is more important, just like respecting lightning without understanding what causes it. It is also worth noting that all those folks who tell you how much they love sailing (Hint, hint) don’t ever show up to help with the dirty work. “Call me when you need crew.” I do, where are you now? Yeah, right!
Instead of using a mechanical lift to take a boat out of the water, a centuries-proven method for working on a boat’s bottom is to position it over a grid at high tide. This is a platform of concrete, or treated wooden timbers, which supports a vessel’s weight when it settles with a falling tide. The boat leans against pilings to stay upright. When the tide falls low enough to allow work to begin, you go like crazy to get everything done before the returning tide prevents any further efforts. There is never enough time.
Of course all of this has to be co-ordinated with the vagaries of the monthly tidal cycle. One first needs enough water to position a vessel over the grid and a tide which falls enough to allow the maximum amount of time to get your work done before the tide returns. It is also important to have enough water to float free on the next tide. Other factors affecting the tide’s height and duration are local winds and even distant storm systems.
Barometric pressure, wind and run-off from local rivers and streams due to heavy rain or spring freshets may also affect the tide’s vagaries. There are tide books and computer programs to help with your planning but ultimately they are only guides. You must use your own experience and local knowledge to calculate. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have semi-diurnal tides which means that we have four tides a day to deal with. There will be a high tide and a low tide followed by a lower high and low tide. Tides are therefore approximately six hours apart, or twelve hours between useful high tides.
Due to phases of the moon you may find yourself working in the dark as each day’s tides lag the preceding day by thirty to forty minutes. Tides with minimum rise and fall are called Neap tides. Ones with maximum range are called Spring tides and occur at or near the full moon and also the new moon. Before grids folks “Careened” their boats by laying them against a steeply sloped soft bank, doing one side of the boat each day.
The required understanding for careening involves also knowing how to position the boat so that it floats free instead of filling with water as the returning tide creeps up. Nothing to it.Right!
I’ve heard questions from landlubberly people who don’t understand tides. While rushing around at work while on other grids there have been variations of “However did you get that boat up there?”
The best comment was from a friend who overheard two old souls tottering along a seawall with one exclaiming, “I could have sworn there was a beach here yesterday!”
The grid in Ladysmith is next to a log sorting ground and a sawmill. The harbour-bottom around the grid is a foot thick in viscous black, reeking, sucking muck of organic origin. Standing in one spot requires a desperate struggle to retrieve your wading boots. Eventually water and muck creeps into your boots. You simply must keep working trying not to stand in the same spot for more than a few moments. It makes for a glorious mess and a desperate struggle to get the essential work done. Thank God I didn’t fall face-first into the ooze. I’d still be there, feeding the crabs. I scrubbed the bottom as best possible in the circumstances and removed any clumps of mussels and other fauna. The propeller was cleaned and polished and the zinc anode was replaced. Then came the usual interminable wait for the tide to return enough to float the boat free. The book time for high tide passed without enough water to float free. It was almost an hour late. Cold, wet, hungry and exhausted I had to remind myself that tide books are only guides and that reality writes its own course. The next high-slack always seems to be later and lower than predicted but eventually the same mystery which floats a vessel over an abyss floats it with only a fraction of an inch of sea under the keel. And so finally I returned to the dock in the last bit of daylight. Then the cleaning up must be done before you take the rest of the day off. God that mud stinks! But I scrubbed it off before it glued itself to the decks. The poor old boat has not received a lot of attention this winter while I’ve floundered at other things. Now she’s showing me her contempt for my neglect and there are a few projects to address before ‘Seafire’ is back in top shape. Once again, the old quote of Lord Nelson can apply, “Ships and men rot in port.”
I was once famous for being anal about keeping things shipshape. After returning from a trip I’d stay with the boat until everything was ready to go to sea again. I’ll admit that pain-in-the-ass has gone somewhere else now but I still check my boat regularly and keep it shipshape, if not entirely shiny, at all times anymore. Still, despite near daily checks and a heater murmuring away constantly which kept the boat reasonably warm and dry through the winter, there are electrical issues. The dampness works its way into everything and without regular use some components begin to fail. I know these are simply symptoms of lack of use and the old girl and I need to sort this out. Of course everything in the lockers, which was stowed with a good logic, has somehow migrated elsewhere and soon the boat is knee-deep in stores and tools that need to be re-stowed as you look for the widget that you know was right here.
Old Tristan Jones famously said, “When in fear, or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out.” You have to keep a boat seaworthy in order to be able to do that.
And so spring advances. Early morning temperatures still hover down near the freezing point but the afternoons are pleasant if it is not pouring rain. The leaves and flowers are bursting out. Some are quite early this year, I saw Dogwood flowers already which is almost a month early.
Perhaps it’s due to the “Blob.” This is a name applied by climatologists to an above normal temperature mass of warm water first noticed in the North Pacific last year. It is currently hugging our BC coastline. There is much anticipation about its cause and effects. We have warm years, cold years, wet ones, dry ones and various combinations thereof. The only constant is change and yet everyone is determined that no matter what happens, it is living proof that global warming is upon us and it’s our fault. Old time accounts from Vancouver Island of over a century ago have it that when Tofino was settled, the climate was much different. Tropical fruit plants were introduced there because it was that warm. People could easily swim in the sea, there were seldom pervasive fogs and fish stocks were quite different. Now Tofino is well known for its rain and fog and damp cold. It’s still temperate enough for Gunnera Manicata to grow prolifically. Indigenous to Areas between Columbia and Brazil, the giant rhubarb-like plant, with huge leaves over a metre wide, is now being eradicated here because it is not indigenous and tends to overrun other native species. It is like broom, gorse and bamboo, other introduced plants here which overwhelm their new environment, much like the non-native people who brought them here. What an interesting question! Why do people in quest of a new identity and opportunity, whom for good reasons chose to leave their native environment, have a need to bring along pieces of the old world they escape? We all have this missionary complex to some degree and often miss the value of assimilating a new environment with two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Anyway, I don’t believe that any of the foreign flora we’ve introduced here has done much to change the climate. The planet and the universe are in a constant state of flux and while we are an alien virus here, we need not be so arrogant as to believe we have an influence on things which we’ve never had any control over. Especially, when we tend to ignore the things we can change.
This morning, while Jack and I walked our Ladysmith waterfront patrol, I heard a sound which froze me to the spot. I’d just heard the call of a Northern Loon. A harbinger of spring the sound instantly recalled pleasant moments in my youth. Instantly I again knew magic mornings in cedar strip and canvas canoes, the soothing, gurgling coil of water behind each paddle-stroke, gentle banks of mist, light laddering down into clear water where fish could be seen gliding among sunken stumps. Echoing along the shorelines quavered the eerie cries of loons in chorus. Those calls will haunt me forever.
My father used to listen to bird recordings on lp vinyl. Damn, how I hated them! Dwibble, blap tweet, then a nasally dweeby man’s voice would declare something like: “Pink-bellied Flute Snoot, spring mating call.” One, called I think, ‘Birdsongs of the Northwoods’, suddenly emerges in my memory. I recall the narrative which I heard too often. “Across the rich gold ribbon of the rising moon’s reflection on the water, drifts a shadow. It is the shadow of a loon. It lifts its head and from its throat comes the cries of souls in torment.” Fifty-plus years back and now I remember that! What the hell did I have for breakfast? Now let’s see! Oh yeah. Nope. Hmmm!
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.”
…Lucius Annaeus Seneca