It is August twenty-second. I have been planning to attend a barbeque party tonight which was intended to be the christening of a new sun deck at the house of my supervisor. I slogged back from the public showers in a driving rain. I should have just sat in the cockpit with my soap. My dinghy, which I’m intending to take, is filling with rainwater. Two tiny swallows sat huddled together in the middle of an overhead wire, looking forlorn and miserable. There are few insects on the wing to eat when it’s pouring rain and the little birds will have a long night ahead of them. They’re still here but soon the swallows be on their way south. At work, I’m beginning to winterize boat engines in preparation for their storage through the long, long winter ahead. At five pm the dock lights are already on, it is that dark this afternoon.
I’ve been upgrading the wiring in my mast. The boat is thirty-five years old, it’s due. It is an unpleasant chore, clambering up and down the spar, working alone and unaided. Standing on the top two steps, hanging back from a safety harness, the time up there is limited by the pain in my legs and back while scrunched in under the head of the backstay. There’s no room left there to have a bosun’s chair to sit in. Oh to again be that flat-bellied, willowy fellow who’s clothes I once wore. I was one tough monkey; then. As soon as I pulled out the old wiring and prepared the new, the rain began. Now I’m waiting for a break in the deluge to get to the party. It’s like beginning a painting project and having the sky open up. Sailors even joke that when the rain begins, somewhere, someone has just opened a can of paint. So blame me. Haar! Meanwhile I’m starting this new blog post while I wait on the weather.
The party proved a grand success with heaps of delicious food and crowds of happy people. Nobody talked shop and the rain ended with a lovely double rainbow. Sunday became another mast marathon. Up and down to the top, pulling on the harness of new wires, tugging it back down, then up a little more, until I’d exhausted all the ways that it was not going to work. Finally, in the early evening, the new wire emerged from the head of the mast. Just another jaunt or two up on the folding steps and that part will be finished.
Now I’m writing over my Monday morning coffee. It is a ritual that I take a few minutes of “my time” before going off to work. It leaves me with a sense of empowerment and being in control before abandoning myself to the demands of the job. Apparently we start the week with three, out of six, water taxis with broken engines. The fleet manager with be wringing his hands anxiously. Some miserable days lay ahead. Of course there will also be some transient boaters each with the most important problem in the world. I just want to get my mast project done. That’s the most important problem! Right now! All those personal perspectives and I know where my priority will fall within the lineup of woes. End of the line son!
Tuesday morning coffee. A day older, more of the same. I was back up the mast last night, a brute for punishment to the bitter end. I borrowed a soldering torch but while up the mast, it broke, the nozzle and control fell to the deck with a load bang and then careened overboard with a dramatic splash several feet away. Remarks of a fecal context thundered down as a rain squall began to splatter my perch in the sky. For now I’ve finished my penance at the masthead, at least until new wiring connectors and a new vhf antenna and another torch arrive. That job should take only a few minutes and it will feel so good to know I’m finally done up there.
Now a recurring back injury is producing crippling pain but it’s up the ramp and hobble off to another delightful day. “Work shall set me free”. Haar! By first coffee break my back was in such a dreadful spasm that I went off to the Bella Bella hospital clinic for some la-la medication. It was closed. After a round in the emergency ward I finally emerged with a few pills that will help ease me through the remains of the week. This is the second visit to that small hospital. Both times I’ve been bemused and somewhat horrified by a character who sits in a dark corner in a wheelchair croaking repeatedly in a loud demanding parrot-like voice “I want my pampers!” It is bizarre yet strangely amusing; for a while. I admire a staff who can endure that daily grind. There are many types of courage which I do not possess.
Once back aboard ‘Seafire’ my e-mail included a video produced by Orbital Mechanics (you can find it on YouTube) which visualizes all of the world’s nuclear detonations since 1945. There are 2153 portrayed in total. It doesn’t sound like many. Right? It takes over thirteen minutes to watch them all flicker rapidly by! A staggering proportion have occurred in the US Southwest and the mid Pacific. Climate change? Dunno. Thirty dead whales (that have been found) in Alaska recently. Dunno! I do know that we do not fully understand all of the dynamics and properties of electricity yet all the while we’ve been messing with atomic energy for well over half a century. Nobody knows what the hell to due with all the atomic waste which continues to pile up. “Let’s bury it in your county!” Children quickly learn not to burn their fingers twice. What goes wrong with our brains?
Yep she’s all bluebirds and rainbows folks.
My internet is performing well enough now to acquire Netflix movies. Last night I watched ‘Mr. Turner’ starring Timothy Spall. No explosions or gun play, but a rich portrayal of England’s famous painter. It was a refreshing interlude from the drudgery of life in a shipyard. It is one of the few films I ever recommend and while I’m at it I’ll also plug another splendid movie named ‘Whiplash’.
Wednesday. Another day of trying to be three places at one time. Transient boaters who have a breakdown soon lose sight of the charms of this place when the necessary parts don’t arrive on time, or at all. They pay even more moorage and tediously wait and wait. It’s this old dog in greasy coveralls who has to placate them until their boat is finally ready to chug away around the corner to head for the next place, a hundred miles or more in any direction, where they can have yet more repairs made if required. I’m always bemused at how incapable some folks are of making even basic adjustments and inspections on their boats. They can’t grasp that self-sufficiency is a basic tenant of seamanship. To come into a remote area and throw yourself on the abilities of strangers seems, at least, naive. It is a recurring rant of mine.
I think back to when boats had no engines or electrical gadgets. Sailors then were a very different breed. It was a time when, ashore, you got around by horse. Many of today’s white-knuckled warriors wouldn’t know which end the hay went in! At least the horse knew!
I am also fascinated at people who have an addiction to spending. I’ve been making my observations about this for many years and I swear it is true. For days they’ve been away from any place that will take their money and here they find a few small stores, a restaurant and an engine shop to help them satiate their urges. They’ll buy anything and seem quite happy to complain about the price. The other frantic activity involves cell phones. Folks will spend hours, head down, poking away at their “devices” trying to contact the outer world. The signal here is very weak and their frustration is a sadistic pleasure for me. I’ve asked a few people if they did not come up here to escape all that frantic urban claptrap. Their blank-faced responses are, well, blank. Text, text, text.
In the late afternoon today a pair of Orca whales suddenly and dramatically appeared at the docks where Seafire is moored. Only the whales know why they ventured into this shallow lagoon at low tide but I’ll accept the visit as a good omen. The adventure goes on.
Friday night finally arrives with a promise of steady rain for the foreseeable future. My latest transient neighbour at the end of the dock is a 1947 vintage Cessna 195. I’m probably one of the few people here who knows what it is. It was a new-tech civilian aircraft at the time. She’s looking a little worn for all her years but still possesses a bull-nosed beauty representative of that post-war era. Come to to think of it, so do I.
Saturday, August 29th, rain, low cloud, wind warning. The forecast was correct. The rain and humidity are horrific. The old Cessna leaves in mid-afternoon. It vanishes into a gray squall but is back at the dock within the hour. Apparently, hundreds of miles to the south Vancouver and Seattle are experiencing a massive wind storm and are bracing for torrential rain. People have died because of falling trees. Flood warnings are posted. Forest wildfires still threaten huge areas in the interior of the province but with the breaking weather, campfire bans are now being lifted in some areas. It is still August but we seem to enduring our first North Pacific autumn low pressure system. As I write, old Seafire is slammed against the dock by a violent burst of wind. It is only eight pm but the evening is already nearly pitch dark. We wear on into the next week.
“We do not really know what draws a human being out into the world. Is it curiosity? A hunger for experience? An addiction to wonderment? The man who ceases to be astonished is hollow, possessed of an extinguished heart. If he believes everything has already happened, that he has seen it all, then something most precious has died within him… the delight in life.”
Ryszard Kapuscinski ‘Travels With Herodotus’