Monthly Archives: June 2015

Fraggle Rock

BACK OFF DUDE! Guardian totem of Bella Bella islet, sacred burial ground of the Heiltsuk Nation

BACK OFF DUDE!
Guardian totem of Bella Bella Islet, sacred burial ground of the Heiltsuk Nation

My new life here on Denny Island is proving to be more than a bit enigmatic. There are times when, with my twisted humour in full swing, I rename it Fraggle Rock. The big challenge is dealing with all my fellow citizens, and yes, I am well aware that I am now one of the denizens. (how’s that for a clever pun?) The people here can be divided into three groups. There are those who have lived here their entire lives, they may even be second generation locals. The second group is comprised of folks like me, who have come here for something different or because, like me, they don’t quite fit into the sensibilities of urban life. The third group are the indigenous people whose ancestors have lived here for millennia, the Heiltsuk Nation.

Denny Island was once the site of the original native community, Old Bella Bella. In front of that abandoned village lies Bella Bella Island, a sacred burial islet guarded by a fierce totem.

None of us non-natives dare set foot there and rightly so. Across the waters of Lamma Pass sits the present community of Bella Bella and Waglisla. They are complete with public wharf, general store, police station, school and hospital. That’s not much; but it is enough to cover basic needs and proof that the human race can survive very nicely without institutions like Walmart and MacDonalds; believe it or not. There are airfields on both Campbell Island to serve Bella Bella and here on Denny Island. There are also, of course, float planes to charter and BC Ferries provides a very expensive service to Port Hardy. Return airfares to any place out of here exceed fares to Europe. Life here without a boat is, for me, unimaginable.

Murphy, Shearwater greater, dog-and child sitter, and guardian of the Hodge Podge store.

Murphy, Shearwater greeter, dog-and child sitter, and guardian of the Hodge Podge store.

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A tribute to Murphy

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A map from home to Murphy at “Danny Island”

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The Heiltsuk Nation, as described by Wikipedia, is a First Nations Government on the Central Coast of British Columbia. It traditionally occupied about 6000 square miles in this region and evidence shows they have lived here continuously for the past 9,700 years. These are the people who turned Alexander MacKenzie back on his famous trek across Canada. He was able to dip his toe in Pacific waters but was not permitted to travel all the way to the open ocean. Presently they number about 2,200 and 1,400 live in Bella Bella. I have been befriended by some and find most of these good folks dignified and wonderfully gregarious. I can respect their culture and heritage and at the same time feel embraced simply as a fellow human being. I feel none of the racial tension I’ve found in some other first nations communities. I arrived here just as the federal report on Native Residential Schools was released. Coincidentally I just finished reading ‘The Inconvenient Indian’ by Thomas King. I recommend this book as a candid and articulate overview of the injustices our indigenous people have endured and often continue to. The balance achieved between the native community here and the white population, I think, is a good example of successful human interaction.

Downtown Shearwater

Downtown Shearwater

When the bait well goes dry

When the bait well goes dry

Denny Island is a great rocky island named in 1866 by the British Captain Pender for a Lieutenant Denny. There’s no information about what he’d done to deserve the honour although the British, like other colonizers, loved naming new places after themselves. The forest that grows here is ragged but thick and ancient. There is not enough soil for a larger forest to take root and the island, because of the hard rock base and the copious rain, is covered by cedar swamps, stunted forest, and small lakes. As the second world war advanced into rampant paranoia of a Japanese invasion on the West Coast, the Canadian military performed a major engineering feat. They carved a seaplane base out of solid granite in very short time. Number 9 Squadron operated here between 1941 and 1944.

The Orifice! The engine shop where I work is in the right hand corner of the old hangar. This phot was taken at approximately the corner of the second hangar, long burned-down. On the concrete apron between the two, I can imagine the parked flying boats, men in blue marching to brass band music, shouldered Lee Enfields and a sense of tension as fog swirls over the roof tops.

The Orifice! The engine shop where I work is in the right hand corner of the old hangar. This photo was taken at approximately the corner of the second hangar, long burned-down. On the concrete apron between the two, I can imagine the parked flying boats, men in blue marching to brass band music, shouldered Lee Enfields and a sense of tension as fog swirls over the roof tops.

That something this large could be conceived, built and abandoned in such a short time is a wonderful example of human genius and industry. It also begs the question about why such endeavour can so seldom be employed for peaceful means. The base was never manned by more than a thousand people but it gave a presence in this wilderness from which our waters could be patrolled and from which attacks from invading vessels could be repelled with force. Originally there were two large hangars which supported a squadron of Stranraer biplane amphibians and then Canso and Catalina flying boats. It is that aviation heritage which, in part, drew me here.

My Little bomb shelter in the woods. Entrance to one of the old bomb shelters, a great place to practise graffiti art and smoke a joint!

My Little bomb shelter in the woods.
Entrance to one of the old bomb shelters, a great place to practise graffiti art and smoke a joint!

After the war, the base was sold as part of the war assets liquidation program. Andrew Widsten and his wife bought the development and the Shearwater Marine Group was born.

Denny Island Old Growth Forest. STRUTH! You don't have to be big to be old. With not enough soil and too much water, this is what happens in many areas of primordial forest here on the raincoast.

Denny Island Old Growth Forest. STRUTH! You don’t have to be big to be old. With not enough soil and too much water, this is what happens in many areas of primordial forest here on the raincoast.

Drought in the bog, it's apparently unheard of in these parts but this is the year.

Drought in the bog, it’s apparently unheard of in these parts but this is the year.

PULL UP, PULL UP! A view of the Western end of the Denny Island Airstrip. Never a view you want to see from the cockpit.

PULL UP, PULL UP!
A view of the Western end of the Denny Island Airstrip. Never a sight you want to see from the cockpit.

The bomber. A Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose.  A classic aircraft form the '30s, poetry in motion.

The bomber.
A Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose. A classic aircraft from the ’30s, poetry in motion.

Approximately midway between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert it is a logical stopping point for fuel and servicing. It is located in the middle of some of the world’s best sport salmon fishing and that is certainly no liability. BC Ferries offers an infrequent service here and Shearwater itself provides a barge service to link this base and surrounding small communities to the outside world. Now Craig Widsten maintains the dynasty as a second generation entrepreneur. I can only imagine the challenges and logistics of successful commerce out of the mainstream.

Beyond Spiller Channel. a view Westward from the airfield.

Beyond Spiller Channel. A view Westward from the airfield.

My neighbour.  perfect Pacific Northwest year-round liveaboard cruising vessel.

My neighbour. A perfect Pacific Northwest year-round liveaboard cruising vessel.

Hooterville Sunset. My home moorage for the time being.  The light here can be magic.

Hooterville Sunset. My home moorage for the time being. The light here can be magic.

The Root Source A twisted piece of yellow cedar, perfect for a bowsprit cap.

The Root Source
A twisted piece of yellow cedar, perfect for a bowsprit cap.

Cutting the sacred wood to size

Cutting the sacred wood to size

Fitted to the bowsprit, ready for the carver to work his magic.

Fitted to the bowsprit, ready for the carver to work his magic.

 

I’m presently enduring a weird sort of flu to which many newcomers apparently succumb for a couple of weeks. I miss my previous endeavours restoring old boats and I can’t say I’m enjoying the tedium of being bent over corroded, greasy motors every day. You can never work fast enough and everyone feels they have a priority emergency. There are characters parachuting into your already-overloaded daily agenda with things they try to demand be attended immediately. There also is an issue of bringing in the correct parts from far-off suppliers in a timely and affordable manner. Coordinating the local air service with the water taxis can be a bit challenging as well. It certainly ain’t dull and I drag myself back to the sanctuary of my boat at the end of each day feeling like a very weary old sod.

Value-Added Forestry This sawmill produces beautiful cedar lumber from beach-combed logs.

Value-Added Forestry
This sawmill produces beautiful cedar lumber from beach-combed logs.

Blurry, my friend the red squirrel. he's very hard to photograph, he moves around so quickly.

Blurry, my friend the red squirrel. He’s very hard to photograph, he moves around so quickly.

Shearwater Gym, the big yellow punching bag. It is actually a helicopter water bag used for fighting forest fires.

Shearwater Gym, the big yellow punching bag. It is actually a helicopter water bag used for fighting forest fires.

Roughing it. how the poor folks come to fish.. The Shearwater helipad, often a very busy place.

Roughing it. How the poor folks come to fish… The Shearwater helipad, often a very busy place.

Shearwater's main artery The freight barge and ferry ramp.

Shearwater’s main artery.
The freight barge and ferry ramp.

The rather good, the not so bad, and the very ugly. Shearwater "Hobo" dock.

The rather good, the not so bad, and the very ugly.
Shearwater “Hobo” dock.

Don'tcha buy no ugly boat! Local "Punts" not pretty but very handy.

Don’tcha buy no ugly boat! Local “Punts” not pretty but very handy.

I’ve moved ‘Seafire’ from the transient work dock, called the “Hobo” dock to the employee’s moorage which I’ve decided to name Hooterville. Things are a bit rustic but it is sheltered and offside from the din and dust of a very busy shipyard. Wi-Fi and cell service are marginal but there are solutions coming. My first pay cheque has hit the bank and of course it’s a fraction of what I need but life is an adventure and we’ll stay the course. Meanwhile the weather is generally clear and warm with a minimum of biting insects… although the horse flies are very friendly indeed. Today’s blog is again more of a photo essay than any sort of diatribe. I look forward in future blogs to sharing anecdotes about local history, local characters and points of interest, all the while striving to get this old boat to a latitude with indigenous palm trees.

The wharfinger's shack at dawn

The wharfinger’s shack at dawn

Tide-locked. Low slack at the dock.

Tide-locked.
Low slack at the dock.

Indian paintbrush, Rainbow Island

Indian paintbrush, Rainbow Island

Cornerstone of the planet. A view eastward in gunboat Pass...or is it somewhere in Scotland?

Cornerstone of the planet.
A view eastward in gunboat Pass…or is it somewhere in Scotland?

Red-Headed Whoopers Beautiful in flight, incredibly noisy upon landing

Red-Headed Whoopers
Beautiful in flight, incredibly noisy upon landing and big enough to peck your eyes out…while standing!

Recycling. fresh water returning to the sea.

Recycling.
Fresh water returning to the sea.

The cure for anything is saltwater.

Sweat, tears, or the sea.”… Isak Dineson

Over The Horizon

One Last Look Back Lewis Channel at dawn, the magic light of the coast

One Last Look Back
Lewis Channel at dawn, the magic light of the coast

I’m settling into my new life in Shearwater. There are some enigmas to sort through. It’s interesting how wilfully coming to a semi-remote location magnifies our dependence on modern technology. A marginal, overloaded internet system leaves me in absolute frustration trying to communicate with the outside world and while posting my blogs. The computer is determined to crash and burn and none of my red-neck vocabulary helps at all. My mobile phone works marginally and at the moment I have also been blessed with some many-tentacled virus which is insidious. It snot funny but it will pass. I may have brought it up from the south with me. I hope I don’t start an epidemic. One of the few pleasures of getting older is knowing that nothing is forever. Yet there is also value in tenacity. While I recently heard hope described as the ultimate human torture, it prolongs suffering; I have also been inspired by the ship’s spider.

Town center, a thing of wonderful beauty

Town center, a thing of wonderful beauty

While travelling up Fitz Hugh Sound, I polished the metal work on the boat and discovered a spider sitting in the middle of its web beneath the bowsprit. Despite all the plunging and dunkings it endured in Queen Charlotte Strait the wee beast has endured. I’ve named him the Baptist. This superstitious sailor believes a ship’s spider is a good omen and so I wish him well.

The Raven and the Eagle, Bella Bella totem

The Raven and the Eagle,
Bella Bella totem

The area is pristine, immense, wild and free. So are many of the people drawn here. Some are aberrant personalities and where I fit into the complex culture here is yet a bit dubious.

The Raven and The Eagle, Waglisla

The Raven and The Eagle, Waglisla

Those dark waters seem to swirl and back-eddy daily. For the time being I remain the new hermit cautiously settling in to life on a rickety dock nestling at the edge of a small industrial slash in the mid-coast jungle. My welcome in the engine shop was a large jar of Vasoline set on top of my tool box. Redneck scatological humour, I can relate to that easily enoughand iff you don’t get it, there’s no point in me trying to explain. The available internet here is, to say the least, terrible. There are some cockamamie excuses about life in a remote location. But by my experience, this place is neither remote nor off the grid. It is 2015 and I know what is available in truly remote locations. Nevertheless there is a good solution soon available, and one of the joys of living on a boat is being able to untie and bugger off. That option sustains me.

A Guardian.  One of many.

A Guardian.
One of many.

See! Here are ten.

See!
Here are ten.

The 'Chilcotin Princess' a droemer coastal trader in these waters. Fortunately I grabbed this photos only a few days before she was towed off to the breaker's yard in Prince Rupert

The ‘Chilcotin Princess’
a former coastal trader in these waters. Fortunately I grabbed this photo only a few days before she was towed off to the breaker’s yard in Prince Rupert

After two weeks I already have plenty of anecdotes and observations about the area and its characters, its history, its culture. For this blog however, I am simply posting photographs with captions. Hopefully I can convey my sense of wonder for this place and how this adventure becomes part of my journey to a life in Mexico or points south. I realized recently that the legend on the boat’s dipstick is in Spanish.

Yep! It's a panga! Built in Florida, registered in Montana, fishing in Shearwater.

Yep! It’s a panga! Built in Florida, registered in Montana, fishing in Shearwater.

To my great wonder one of the first boats I saw as I entered Kliktsoatli Harbour, where Shearwater is located, was a beautiful Panga. Some local folks have sailed their boat from here to Ensenada, Baha in seventeen days. So, I can lay out a rhum line southward and then turn left when the butter goes soft. Meanwhile I’m a bilge ape again for the time being, like it or not. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s down into the bilge I go.

Edgar the Eagle, mascot of Shearwater

Edgar the Eagle,
mascot of Shearwater

 

The dreaded wheel barnacle

The dreaded wheel barnacle

In many backwaters here, there are abandoned boats in various states of natural recycling. If only they could talk!

In many backwaters here, there are abandoned boats in various states of natural recycling. If only they could talk!

Donkey cove

Donkey Cove

Dryad Point Light Station, a mid-coast landmark

Dryad Point Light Station, a mid-coast landmark

Kakushdish Harbour sunset

Kakushdish Harbour sunset

Into the jungle from the beach

Into the jungle from the beach

The cannery, old Bella Bella

The cannery, old Bella Bella

Seafire at the Shearwater "Hobo" dock

Seafire at the Shearwater “Hobo” dock

A very high tide a day's end

A very high tide a day’s end

Snoop, a passing mariner

Snoop, a passing mariner

The Bosun's mate, snoop's fellow deckhand

The Bosun’s mate, Snoop’s fellow deckhand

Shearwater sunset, Edgar's perch.

Shearwater sunset, Edgar’s perch.

Each day as I trudge to work I look ruefully toward the mountains in all directions. I ache to explore the inlets winding among them. On calm mornings, I swear that, faintly, I can hear the boom of surf on the outer islands only a few miles away. My fate lies out there. I am impatient. And nearly always, from somewhere, there is the call of eagles.

The way of water is special. That which changes cannot be lost. That which yields cannot Be broken. That which breaks cannot be destroyed.

How easy, then, to be unmastered.”

….Ray Grigg ‘The Tao Of Sailing’

Into The Jigsaw Jungle

Good Bye Ladysmith Life is a journey and a new adventure begins

Good Bye Ladysmith
Life is a journey and a new adventure begins

I like to mention occasionally that the amazing coastline of British Columbia runs Northwestward to Alaska and ascends through four hundred nautical miles of latitude. Within that distance we have over seventeen thousand nautical miles of shoreline. There is an intricate labyrinth of islands, islets, and inlets. It is as if someone has dumped a monstrous jigsaw puzzle out and nobody gives a toss about fitting anything together. There is a writhing network of very long dead-end inlets, or fiords if you prefer, and also interconnected waterways of seething tidal waters that are studded with hungry reefs. Prudent navigation and local knowledge are essential.

A Cumulus Eclipse The gods seem to smile as I head northward

A Cumulus Eclipse
The gods seem to smile as I head northward

As you travel up the coast by boat the geography and forest vegetation change rapidly with noticeable new features. The water becomes clear, cold, jade green and rich with marine life. The presence of people diminishes quickly once north of the Strait Of Georgia and those who do live there often have characters of strength and individuality. I feel at home and whole once clear of the South coast and its complexity of sprawling population in the prime retirement zone of Canada. The ordeal of the boat trailer as described in the previous blog underscored my growing inclination to find a simpler world. Pre-seniors like myself compete fiercely for menial employment which rewards a lifetime of experience for token remuneration.

Careening on the beach for bottom maintenance among the wrecks of Dogpatch in Ladysmith Harbour

Careening on the beach for bottom maintenance among the wrecks of Dogpatch in Ladysmith Harbour. The N or King is a former WWII mine sweeper which also had an illustrious career as a fishpacker. It seems nearly every other fisherman claims to have crewed on this boat at some time.

At the same time I have uncovered a job possibility as a marine technician in a place called Shearwater which is on Denny Island located between mainland Canada and Haida Gwaii. It is a beautiful area, tiny within a huge archipelago of pristine wilderness. You can travel an entire day without meeting other boats and little, if any, evidence of human presence. I tied up some loose ends, pooled my limited resources and sailed away. Jill, my long-suffering wife, gave me tremendous support despite the demands of her very demanding career. For the time being at least she’s got me out of her hair with only Jack the dog to trip over at the end of the day. Meanwhile I’m steeling myself for the transition between being my own man and jumping to the edicts of someone else.

Boats Of Note Seafire is on the left inside the break water, then a not-so-shining example of why we pay the big dollars to ride BC Ferries and disguised immediately above the power pole is the tug 'Bandera' southbound with a log tow. I've spent many weeks of my life aboard this boat. It  is where I had an accident which drastically altered my life and saw the installation of half a plastic heart. "Bionics rule!"

Boats Of Note
Seafire is on the left inside the break water, then a not-so-shining example of why we pay the big dollars to ride BC Ferries and disguised immediately above the power pole is the tug ‘Bandera’ southbound with a log tow. I’ve spent many weeks of my life aboard this boat. It is where I had an accident which drastically altered my life and saw the installation of half a plastic heart. “Bionics rule!”

Because I was northbound the wind, of course, was from the Northwest, on the nose as usual. I visited with friends in Silva Bay then headed across the strait to crawl up the mainland coast into the wind. I was disgusted by the explosion of condominiums and suburban development and happy to heading away from this insidious cancer. After a night anchored by Vananda I stopped in Powell River for fuel. Despite a massive downsizing in the forest industry the town struggles on. The locals are very friendly, the views are spectacular and real estate prices are quite reasonable. I asked one fellow for directions to an auto parts store and was promptly offered a ride. The community is like that. I left a black streak on the hull from the fuel dock fenders and while scrubbing it off, the young lady on duty offered me warm water for my hands! I decided to break for a last meal ashore and found myself enjoying the best burger I’ve ever had in Carter’s Cafe On Marine. It’s just a few steps up from The BC Ferry terminal and public wharf. Run by two lovely ladies the cafe is a spot I’m happy to recommend.

The wind eased as I motored on and with a gale warning still posted I was determined to cover as many miles as possible. For some reason marine weather broadcasts love to employ the term “Quasi-stationary”. Quasi, of course means nearly or almost and the determined use of it is certainly quasi. So I travelled northward under the influence of a quasi-stationary front.

Carter's Café. Great food served by lovely people.

Carter’s Café. Great food served by lovely people.

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Their Neighbour

After a long night in Church House where the night wind against the tide from Yuculta Rapids held old ‘Seafire’ broadside to the elements. The anchor chain dragged and rumbled across

Yet another sign in Powell River... too close to the bone for me!

Yet another sign in Powell River… too close to the bone for me!

all she needs is love, and a new engine. What a little beauty!

All she needs is love, and a new engine.
What a little beauty!

the rocky bottom and I was up early to tackle the rapids ahead. The Yucultas, Dent and Green Point Rapids slid behind in a few hours and after The Wellbore Rapids I was bashing into the promised rising Westerly wind. Sometimes, it takes up to three days to move a log tow through these notorious tidal bores. I found a calm anchorage in one of the two Jackson Bays within Topaz Harbour and set about clearing a blocked fuel line from the starboard tank. That took until midnight and after a candlelight dinner of Dollarama couscous, at first light, about 04:30, I was on my way northward.

Ten PM sunset over Sonora Island from Church House anchorage

Ten PM sunset over Sonora Island from Church House anchorage

A few hours later

A few hours later

Now THAT'S a leaf blower! A Hughs 500 helicopter and a Turbo Beaver at a private home on Stuart Island, Yuculta Rapids

Now THAT’S a leaf blower! A Hughs 500 helicopter and a Turbo Beaver at a private home on Stuart Island, Yuculta Rapids

The Westerly winds which blow down Johnstone Strait can be quite vicious. The seas are horrible when the tide is ebbing against that sort of blow. Westerly winds tend to build during the day and then ease as the sun sets but I was determined to make it to Port Harvey where I could go many miles out of my way to trace a tortuous track northwards which would bring me out slightly north of Port Hardy on the mainland side of Queen Charlotte Strait. I’d need to cross to Port Hardy for fuel and groceries before pressing on. Despite a forecast of 30 knots of wind on the nose I continued on past Port Harvey until the end of Johnstone Strait at Blackney Passage. The wind was easing so I continued on past Alert Bay ending up anchoring for the night in Beaver Harbour, only a few miles from Port Hardy. I was elated with my progress and nostalgic for the days when I plied these waters on tugboats.

Mermaid Bay, Dent Rapids This is where log tows are tied while their tugs wait for a favourable tide through the next set of rapids. All the boats erect a sign, hopefully higher than all the others. I've spent many long nights here.

Mermaid Bay, Dent Rapids This is where log tows are tied while their tugs wait for a favourable tide through the next set of rapids. All the boats erect a sign, hopefully higher than all the others. I’ve spent many long nights here.

The "Ugly House" Milly Island near Port Neville on Johnstone Strait

The “Ugly House”
Milly Island near Port Neville on Johnstone Strait

It has been fifteen years since my work boat days ended but memories flooded back. I recalled how in Lewis Channel a skipper named Cliff (who could never catch enough fish or take enough crabs) had managed to lasso a deer swimming across the channel. In Teakerne Arm we arrived at 02:00 to pick up some log booms. There was a fishing boat tied to the booms and when it became clear that they were losing their moorage spot there was an angry, staccato tirade from the Asian family aboard, prompted by an elderly matriarch. They were determined that they were there first despite our explanation that we had tied our booms there days earlier. We resolutely connected our booms to the rest of our log tow and with a cheery “See you in Vancouver” headed south. The fishing boat soon untied and went its own way.

"Tings all over" Taking some lumps in Johnstone Strait

“Tings all over”
Taking some lumps along the way

Towing logs through the Wellbore Rapids at daybreak we came upon a middle-aged lady in a kayak. She had been camping on a stretch of beach when rousted by bears. It turned out that she had paddled from Seattle to Alaska and was on her way home. I remember her when some yachter boasts to me about a minor passage as if it were an epic voyage.

Beautiful downtown Alert Bay. Once home of the world's tallest totem pole it was also in the Guinness book of Records for having the most taxis per capita

Beautiful downtown Alert Bay. Once home of the world’s tallest totem pole it was also in the Guinness book of Records for having the most taxis per capita

On another trip I was in the wheelhouse as the mate bantered with another boat in the proximity of Milly Island in Johnstone Strait. There is a house built on the island and one of the mates was braying on about what an ugly structure it was. Suddenly the home owner spoke out on the VHF. “Look buddy, your tugboat ain’t no thing of beauty either!”

Beachcombing. To progress against wind or tide hugging the shore is a game of nerves and intimate local knowledge of every rock. It is not for the faint of heart. Many log tows make their progress this way, even in the dark.

Beachcombing.
To progress against wind or tide hugging the shore is a game of nerves and intimate local knowledge of every rock. It is not for the faint of heart.
Many log tows make their progress this way, even in the dark.

I rather like the sight of the house and its posture of independence, especially after that particular conversation.

Along way home...and we're just getting started. Looking south down Johnstone Strait.

A long way home…and we’re just getting started.
Looking south down Johnstone Strait.

Just south of Milly Island is Kelsey Bay. The boiling tides in that area will make passage extremely difficult to the point that one night a deckhand and myself renamed the place, “Suction city.” We fought the tide rip that night for hours. Mu experiences in these particular waters inspire as much respect as the dreaded Seymour Narrows. Across from Kelsey Bay is Yorke Island which hides the amazing secret of a massive artillery fortress. Perched on the top of the island it nestles in the trees where it was built during WWII to fend off Admiral Yamamoto and the boys, should they arrive. Even many seasoned watermen aren’t aware of the huge installation. The old fort is probably most famous locally as the site of a hippie commune in the sixties. Peace Man!

Morning, Beaver Harbour near Port Hardy

Morning, Beaver Harbour near Port Hardy

Immediately north of Yorke Island is a bald rock called Fanny Island which is a large bald granite rock clearly visible and marked with a flashing light. It is a well-known check point for commercial marine traffic. One very dark but calm night, while passing nearby with a log tow, the VHF burst into life. “FUCK!. I mean Mayday, Mayday! HOLY FUCK WE’RE SINKING!” A fishing boat had hit Fanny Island. Encumbered with a massive log tow we couldn’t rush to assist but I turned on all our deck lights and summoned the engineer to break out the pumps. While the stricken vessel limped the long mile across to us I relayed the Mayday to the Coast Guard. A Coast Guard inflatable arrived an hour and a half later, its three crewman looking like orange popsicles after their high-speed winter night cruise up from Campbell river. They relayed another pump from a passing tug. We’d already rigged a collision mat over the puncture in the boat’s hull and had two pumps going to keeps things afloat. That effort, I surmise, was perhaps aided by the thick layer of empty beer cans bobbing around in the flooded engine room. Once sufficiently warmed by our galley stove the coast guard crew officiously announced that they would take charge of the sinker. We were only too glad to comply.

The  "Inseine" dock, Port Hardy fish plant

The “Inseine” dock, Port Hardy fish plant.

Mixing work with pleasure boats. some of the moorage in Port Hardy

Mixing work with pleasure boats. Some of the moorage in Port Hardy

Thar be monsters at these docks! I don't know what the hell it was, but I sure wish I could swim like that!

Thar be monsters at these docks! I don’t know what the hell it was, but I sure wish I could swim like that!

The collection. an admirable contempt for authority in Port Hardy

The collection. An admirable contempt for authority in Port Hardy

My kind of house. Adequate, sturdy, simple and right beside the sea.

My kind of house. Adequate, sturdy, simple and right beside the sea.

Goletas Channel, northbound from Port Hardy. Did the Spanish explorers, who named these waters, wonder if this might be the beginning of the fabled Northwest Passage?

Goletas Channel, northbound from Port Hardy. Did the Spanish explorers, who named these waters, wonder if this might be the beginning of the fabled Northwest Passage?

Now entering Queen Charlotte Strait, I recalled how this reef-studded body of water is sometimes known as the “Rock Garden” by skippers who have made stormy transits in the dark of this ragged corner of the North Pacific. There is ample material to write about. I’m preparing to publish a sequel to ‘The Water Rushing By’ which is now available from Amazon as either a p.o.d. paperback or as an e-book from Kindle.

A cruise ship in Queen Charlotte Strait. One salmon says to the other, "Look at all the canned people!"

A cruise ship in Queen Charlotte Strait. One salmon says to the other, “Look at all the canned people!”

Port Hardy clings to life after the decimation of the local mining, fishing and forest industries. Eco-tourism and, like it or not, aquaculture seem to have become the cornerstone of the local economy. Buying some provisions, one of my items was a vacuum-packed pork hock. I joked about how big a pork hawk must be if it can haul a pig away. The cashier didn’t miss a blink, “Maybe they’re even big enough to pack you away!” I stopped for lunch in a local bar and restaurant and noticed a sign admonishing clients not to smoke within the proximity of the establishment. Including a list of possible massive fines, it warned that “Jails isn’t a comfy place!” At the marina where I was moored, the clerk in the liquor store worried about how I was dealing with the “Heat.” It was a scorching twenty-two degrees with a cold, damp breeze blowing in from the sea. It was also worried that there was too much wind to leave to dock and then as I pulled away, I had to wait for a passing fishboat named “Eastern Sunset.” Strange, very strange. I moved on and spent the night in a popular little bight called God’s Pocket, then headed into the grey beyond early next morning.

Downtown God's Pocket. Thassit! I've always wondered where Devil's Pocket is.

Downtown God’s Pocket.Thassit! I’ve always wondered where Devil’s Pocket is.

 

THE G SPOT A log tower's mark in god's pocket

THE G SPOT
A log tower’s mark in God’s Pocket

THAR!... Yep you've got it! Grey whale ahead

THAR!… Yep you’ve got it!
Grey whale ahead.

Dive, dive, dive! Now you think you saw him, then you begin to wonder.

Dive, dive, dive!
Now you think you saw him, then you begin to wonder.

Queen Charlotte Sound is bounded on the North by Hecate Strait which is the body of water separating Haida Gwaii (still charted as the Queen Charlotte Islands.) On the Southern end of the sound is Queen Charlotte Strait and various other areas also bear Charlotte’s name. To further thicken the stew, the passage between Bowen Island and Horseshoe Bay, near Vancouver, also carries her name. When King Edward III married her in the eighteenth century her maiden name was Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Electress of Hanover. She bore randy old Ed fifteen children so perhaps that is why this area, with all of its islands, is so eagerly named after her. Thank God we don’t have to employ her entire long handle each time we refer to this area. What a mouthful that would be on the radio!

Something missing? A Grand and elegant US-registered yacht. Too bad he didn't have any money left over to buy a Canadian courtesy flag. It is an ultimate nautical rudeness not fly the ensign of the foreign country when in its waters.

Something missing?
A Grand and elegant US-registered yacht.
Too bad he didn’t have any money left over to buy a Canadian courtesy flag.
It is an ultimate nautical rudeness to not fly the ensign of a foreign country when in its waters.

My crossing was uneventful and typical with the open-ocean swell shuddering in under local tide slop and spastic bursts of wind. Rolls of light fog and drizzle welcomed me to the mid-coast. I gazed out onto the broad grey, open curving horizon and ached to head that way. My mind began to clear and I began to scrawl quick thoughts in my journal. Journal? Now there’s a good sign, it’s been a while since I did that. Where I can read my writing I find lines like “He spent money like a sailor and played guitar like an African” or “drowning in the waters you walk on.” Dunno what either one is about but someday it may blossom into sensible eloquence. Writing and photography, I find, require being able to grab to the glory of the moment and saving it for future edification. At least with a camera, there’s not a lot to interpret later on.

Scarlett Point light, Balaclava Island. Now a rare manned light station. I received a hearty wave from someone in the house on the right.

Scarlett Point light, Balaclava Island. Now a rare manned light station. I received a hearty wave from someone in the house on the right.

How about this? It was scratched out somewhere north of Egg Island.

I feel the ocean swell’s rise

As my happy boat begins to glide

This passage fills me with pride

Because I’m doing what few men do,

Exactly what I want to.

Land's end The northern tip of Pine Island

Land’s end
The northern tip of Pine Island

Growlers in the Rock Garden. Queen Charlotte Strait is not a place to be sleepy in the dark and/or in heavy weather.

Growlers in the Rock Garden. Queen Charlotte Strait is not a place to be sleepy in the dark or in heavy weather, or both.

The open horizon Beyond Nawhitti  Bar The urge to head that way was hard to resist, Mexico is just down there, three weeks away.

The open horizon Beyond Nawhitti Bar
The urge to head that way was hard to resist, Mexico is just down there, three weeks away.

The crack out back. Egg Island from the north. The original light station was swept away by a Tsunami without trace several decades ago. Sleep tight.

The crack out back. Egg Island from the north. The original light station was swept away by a Tsunami without trace several decades ago. Sleep tight.

Addenbroke Light Station Fitz Hugh Sound

Addenbroke Light Station
Fitz Hugh Sound

Motor-sailing northward in Fitz Hugh Sound.  The clear warm day was most unusual.

Motor-sailing northward in Fitz Hugh Sound. The clear warm day was most unusual.

Southbound. The Alaska State ferry 'Columbia' passing Namu

Southbound.
The Alaska State ferry ‘Columbia’ passing Namu

In one of a thoussnd secret anchorages in northern waters. Can  you smell wood smoke, hear drums, see dugout canoes?

In one of a thousand secret anchorages in northern waters. Can you smell wood smoke, hear drums, see dugout canoes?

A natural totem. After ten pm, looking out to Hakaii Pass

A natural totem. It’s still daylight after ten pm. Looking out to Hakaii Pass.

Once into the shelter of Calvert Island the remains of the day turned warm and clear and calm as I motor-sailed northward up the broad waters of Fitz Hugh Sound. At the northeast tip of Hecate Island I found a calm secluded anchorage just at the edge of Hakai Pass. The ancient trees lean out from the worn granite where they cling tenaciously, their brine-burned branches festooned with moss and hanging kelp. It is my last night before arriving in Shearwater and the frantic frustrations of a new job and settling into a new community. For the moment, no-one else on the planet knows where I am.

Haida Moon

Haida Moon

Still Waters Nobody knows where I am and it's all mine!

Still Waters
Nobody knows where I am and it’s all mine!

Bliss.

The sea finds out everything you did wrong”…. Francis Stokes

THE TRAILER (It can’t be done)

 

I love taking my dog Jack for a walk first thing in the morning. His full enthusiasm for all things is cathartic and inspires me to think freely. Some mornings I gain special insights. Jack loves patrolling the feral waterfront in Ladysmith. It is all former coal mine terminals; there is still plenty of coal laying about. Now covered in blackberries it is home to vast numbers of rabbits. Some days Jack has to choose which one to chase. Their population rises and falls in cycles. I’ve noticed that when their numbers become excessive the rabbits tend to be less wary and are dull and careless. They become stupid. I think it may be part of nature’s way of thinning down their numbers. You know what I’m going to say next.

I think the same is true of people. We’re clearly in a state of overpopulation. Here’s an example.

I’ve previously written blogs about a friend’s classic sailboat which I rebuilt. Transported to Gabriola from Oregon it came on a custom-built trailer which was part of the deal. For eight years the trailer languished in the weeds at the back of a farm. Consequently the import documents became stale-dated. Finally a decision was made to sell the trailer and the paper chase was on. Travel permits had previously been obtained to move the trailer about on Gabriola Island. No problem again; we thought.

Now it had to go to the big island for a visual review by Canada Border Services. Suddenly there were grave doubts that permits could be issued to take the trailer off of the island. I pointed out that a road in British Columbia was legally the same no matter where in the province it might be. All that logic did was provoke a copious round of head-shaking and eye-rolling between desks in the insurance office.

Then, after a half-hour of “Can’t be dones” and various other “Yeah buts”, while I simmered outside, the exact same permit as ever was issued once again. Huh? Then off went my friend and I to a local lawyer where in ten minutes we hand-written a ‘Power of Attorney’ document, stamped it, signed it, copied it and got on with the remains of the day.

The Trailer This is the potential threat to Candian civility, order, national security and especially minor bureaucrats

The Trailer
This is the potential threat to Candian civility, order, national security and especially to minor bureaucrats

I hauled the trailer across to Nanaimo on the ferry. Knowing the trip back, when you pay the fare, would be very expensive, I intended to deal with matters at the office of the Canadian Border Services, then take the trailer on to the local Canadian Tire Store for (what I was assured was a mere formality) an approved federal inspection confirming correct tire inflation, working lights and brakes and so forth. That was required before the final conformity decal for the previous provincial inspection could be issued. Confused yet?

Those ladies at CBS were very kind and gracious despite one surly colleague who went to visually inspect the Vehicle Identification Number on the trailer. I had clearly told him where the number was stamped into the frame. He returned declaring nothing was there but rust. I gently offered to take him back to the trailer and show him. His two colleagues rolled their eyes at me, waved him off and filled in their papers with the number I had given them. If I was that confident, so were they. It was a jumble, but there were copious documents saying duties and fines had previously been addressed.

Now, instead of going for the final inspection as planned, I learned that I’d have to wait to hear from a federal agent in Ottawa who would issue me a numbered RIV inspection form. (RIV is the Registrar of Imported Vehicles) It actually arrived online in a few days and before I could address the matter I was advised that the permit application was about to become stale-dated, perhaps I should request an extension. If that lapsed the entire process had to begin again. The problem was that the trailer had been put to work by the purchaser to store a valuable classic sailboat which first needed to be unloaded and there were several reasons that couldn’t happen. But finally the day arrived.

The lane into the boat house is uphill, steep, soft and sloped to one side. ‘Dorothy,’ the boat, had been loaded in a hurry and was sitting too far back on the trailer. That imbalance caused the hitch to want to lift violently and so we chained it down to the tow bar of a 4×4 truck. In turn, the hitch wanted to lift the back of the truck and we almost managed to tip old ‘Dorothy’ off into the woods on the downhill side of the lane. Our second attempt had the trailer hitch flipping up and destroying the tailgate of the truck. But no one was injured, well, perhaps our pride took a beating.

Using jacks and chain blocks strapped to various trees we were able to winch and push the boat, an inch at a time, into its cradle in the boathouse. The hours flew by. Finally the trailer was free and off I roared to Canadian Tire. This time, I had decided to forget the temporary road permits and simply borrowed the license plate from my own trailer. It was a dangerous risk should I be caught but I’d had enough of hearing about what can’t be done.

The end was in sight. Yeah right! No way. The builder’s plate was too badly weather-worn to be legible. I mumbled that it would have been easier to grind of the VIN stamps and declare the trailer as being home-built. NO! I was warned that would precipitate an entire new convoluted process even more frustrating than the present situation. Hey folks, it’s only a trailer we’re trying to legitimize here, not a fleet of Russian submarines. No-one in this story is being cheated, exploited, assaulted, raped or otherwise abused. I have imported boats and aircraft into Canada. As a logging and construction equipment salesman, I bought and sold big yellow machines internationally as far away as the Philippines. Never have I know such amateurish bungling.

I’ll repeat myself: IT IS ONLY A DAMNED BOAT TRAILER!

Defeated for the moment, I hauled the trailer off to Ladysmith and parked beside my own little trailer. The VIN plate on my trailer is new and clearly legible. The wheels and tires are exactly the same as those on the boat trailer. In a moment of inspiration I transcribed all of the data from one trailer to the other. I used an electronic tape printer, then covered everything with clear tape. The empirical data was about gross weights, axle weights, tire pressure and so forth. There are no lies, the category and capacity of the trailer’s running gear are well within limits. I towed the trailer to the Canadian Tire store in Duncan for a fresh attempt. I decided to stick to the truth and explained what I had done. Fail! No tampering could be tolerated. Tampering? The VIN is clearly stamped in the frame in two places. What has been tampered with? I let your imagination cover the range of four-letter expletives now raging in my brain. It was also pointed out that there should be additional side lights installed. I drove off in a fog of defeat. But not for long.

With little left to lose I returned to the first Canadian Tire Store with a careful story. There was a line-up at the service desk and I noted the raised eyebrows when I was recognized at the back of the queue. My yarn was that with the aid of an infrared viewer I was able to barely discern the original lettering on the sticker and decided to re-apply those markings on top of the originals. And by golly, another US-built trailer with the same size wheels had exactly the same values on it’s builder’s plate. Go figure! Without going out to inspect my data, the man with the stamp said “Good enough” and clunk bump went his rubber stamp. Then the document was in the fax machine to the folks at RIV. I paid my token fees and as I turned to leave I heard, “Oh darn! I forgot. The trailer is supposed to have a spare tire.” There was a long pregnant pause as I scowled like a frustrated bull. I was waved on.

Feeling faint from the latest round but not daring to feel smug, I raced off to the Gabriola Ferry Terminal, paid a huge fare for the trailer and made it to the auto shop before it closed for the weekend. “NO! We can’t issue you the approval decal without another inspection. It’s been too long since the trailer was last here. Don’t know what you’ve been using it for.” I’m proud to say that I didn’t lose my temper but instead gently explained that the trailer had not been used on the road until today. That was after being charged a huge sum to put things right. Now I was being asked for more money to inspect their own work. Everything was back in the crapper again.

Fortunately the tiny office was beginning to fill up with other customers and I clearly wasn’t leaving without my little decal. I won. The trailer was delivered to its new owner, I received the balance due, which I needed for my next adventure, (see my following blog) and went off into the sunset, exhausted but content to think I had completed an endeavour which folks repeatedly said could not be done.

The phone ran next morning. The trailer’s buyer was at the Gabriola insurance office. Uh huh!

Can’t be done!” Despite having an official government transfer/bill of sale document signed in all the right places by the vendor, the agent was now asking for a bill of sale between the vendor and the purchaser on a single separate document. The vendor was working in Peru, I had to leave town in another day. They also required a copy of a bill of sale between the vendor and the fellow in Oregon he had bought it from.

Somewhere, regularly all these folks must get together over a pint or ten and gleefully compare stories about their bureaucratic impositions. VAC: the Vexatious Agents Club. Well, with yet more shenanigans, I believe everything has been put right to everyone’s satisfaction. All’s well that ends. The trailer, by the way, once finally licensed is never going to leave the new owner’s back yard.

Non-epilogue! Wrong yet again! The beat goes on. Now it has been decided that ALL copies of ALL documents must be submitted, even though it is obvious which copies of which documents have already been entered into due process. The serial number of the trailer has been officially inspected and confirmed by official documentation three times, this local agent wants to visually inspect it again. Problem is, there’s another boat sitting on the trailer now. An email arrived from RIV saying that all the process was complete and that they were sending an official decal to be attached to the frame of the trailer. When the new owner presented that information to his local agent he was told that the entire process had to be started again because she insisted on having all of the papers she demanded, instead of simply saying, “Oops, guess I was wrong, so sorry.”

Nope! When my friend challenged her negativity and her “Bullshit” he was thrown out of the office. An ensuing call to her head office confirmed that the documentation as provided was in fact adequate and no more was required. Eventually a contritious call from the now-chastised local agent is bringing the entire lugubrious affair to closure. There was however, no apology for inventing and attempting to enforce her own rules.

The poor frustrated friend who bought this sack of trouble, sent me the following.

Bureaucracy 101, Lesson 1

Instructor to students: “Repeat after me, this cannot be done.”

Student raises hand: “Why can’t it be done.”

Instructor to student: “You are obviously not cut out to be a bureaucrat, please hand in your books and leave now”.

Instructor to rest of students: “Repeat after me, this cannot be done!!! Any questions?”

Somewhere in the background, is a sad voice softly singing “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.” As other countries like China and Mexico, for example, slowly work their way toward a democratic, humanitarian and reasonable system of government and administration, it seems that Canada is determined to retreat in the opposite direction. This sad tale of the trailer is one small example of a system which is top-heavy with minor bureaucrats. There is a federal election coming this fall. For God’s sake, VOTE. It is our apathy that has allowed this infection of stupidity to invade our entire state of being.

Trailer for sale or rent ...remember the song? Just wait until I show up to register this puppy. don't laugh, she's almost  paid for.

Trailer for sale or rent
…remember the song?
Just wait until I show up to register this puppy.
don’t laugh, she’s almost paid for.

This just reappeared out of my archives. It came, years ago, from a friend. The timing is perfect.

Sometimes things don’t go from bad to worse, some years the Muscadet faces down frost: sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well. A people sometimes will step back from war, elect an honest man: decide they didn’t care enough, that they can’t leave a stranger poor. Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts don’t go amiss. Sometimes we do as we meant to. The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen.

May it happen to you. …anonymous

"When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out." ...Tristan Jones In the straight of Georgia heading north for an new situation. More to come in the following blogs.

“When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out.”
…Tristan Jones
In the straight of Georgia heading north for an new situation.
More to come in the following blogs.