It’s a metaphor which a friend, now long dead, used to express the vagaries of life. It makes a wonderfully descriptive image for me. More than once, as we stab at it with our fork, the ubiquitous pickle of life squirts us in the eye or stains our best shirt. We never know which way it might go, just like everyday life. We may as well find some humour.
Almost a week ago I was at work in a sooty, greasy bilge desperately trying to get a sailboat engine back together. The client had been tied to the dock for over a week while we waited for parts. They were very nice folks but did not understand that to do finicky work, a mechanic needs to be left alone to focus on the process.
The following hand-held video is intended to leave you with the sense of wonder I hold for the mid-coast of British Columbia. Note the stream running down the beach, the distance surf and the call of an eagle. If you can’t open it, the still photo below is from the same location.
It was one of those shoehorn engine jobs which requires a fully articulating third hand, on a three-foot-long arm with an eyeball in one knuckle of some very nimble fingers. My hands are two bunches of arthritic bananas. I hate asking folks to leave their own boat while I work but surely one shouldn’t have to ask for something so bloody obvious! Once I even explained that this particular job was rather like trying to do brain surgery through the rectum. They still had a way of pouncing on me just when that last one and only special-thread nut or bolt was almost in place and again went ka-ping down into the bilge. Murphie’s law says that nothing in an engine room falls straight down and that magnets will retrieve every bit of metallic debris before finally clicking on to the missing item. It happens over and over. Grrrrr! Finally the engine was back together, a second time, everything was good, all their ancillary problems were resolved, the bill had been ‘edited’ as tightly as possible, they left the dock next morning.
Three hours later they were back.
I had carefully explained that with their particular cooling system they would have to check the air bleeding valve regularly during the first day of operation. They now raged that the engine had overheated. They had charged off until the engine boiled over and then finally bled out a copious amount of air. Fortunately with no new harm done, the temperature had returned to normal, but now they were “gun shy” and were determined something might still be wrong.
GRRRRRRRR! With some folks you just can’t win! July was a blue moon month (Two full moons within one calendar month) and the boat with the engine trouble was named ‘Blue Moon’. This leads to yet another song title, “There’ll Always Be Another Blue Moon.”
The mid-coast area is not a place for weekend warriors who don’t understand the basics of boat and engine maintenance. But still they come. It’s how we make our income. One gets worn down as the summer grinds on. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of quitting at least once in frustration with either a customer, my employer or both. Clearly my days as a marine technician are nearly over. Physically and emotionally, I’m too worn, bent and busted to keep doing this. My finances are at an all-time low but I can’t go on like this. I was sure that I was on my way to Mexico from here but now I’ve got that old dead-end feeling again. That’s got to be yet another blues song! The problem is that when one turns a passion into a career, the risk of becoming jaded is very real. And here I am. Thankfully, I can untie the boat on weekends and re-affirm my sea lust is real and entirely reasonable; at least to me.
Since that sooty engine compartment of last week, I’ve taken a quick sabbatical back south to Ladysmith to take care of business, visit home and make sure my buddy Jack still recognized me. I’ve had so many setbacks this summer that my finances are in full tatters. My wife Jill provided tremendous support to get me the hell out of there for a few days. The soot from that last job is almost gone from my pores and I’m heading back to work at Shearwater already. Those few days off have passed all too quickly and I’m pecking this out at the BC Ferry terminal in Port Hardy. The huge hinged-open bow of the ‘Northern Expedition’ looms over me. Up at 04:30 to be here for 05:30 for some verbal abuse from a surly baggage cart attendant, (With arms folded, and head cocked she demanded, “Yeah, let’s talk!) I can’t find a hint of coffee or breakfast anywhere.
This paragraph now comes from aboard. I’m sitting in a luxurious cafeteria waiting for the breakfast gate to open at 06:30. We’re supposed to sail at 7. The vessel is lovely and I know this wannabe cruise-ship is a jewel in the crown of the BC hospitality industry but speaking for coastal residents, I think a little less glitter and more accountable, affordable regular service would be grand. Features like a high-end gift shop selling cheap reproductions of Haida silverware has nothing to do with basic transportation. I’ve already ranted in previous blogs about the ineptitude of the entire BC Ferry Corporation so I’ll leave this alone. However, there was a time when this Northern coastline was much more heavily populated and served by various private carriers. I’ve never heard anyone recall that they felt at the mercy and whim of a down-south crown corporation board office. It seems the time when people said what they meant, meant what they said and kept their promises is a fiction from some other era. Folks have always been folks but I recall when integrity was a personal mandate. (Engines at full throttle since 07:07, we finally back from the dock at 07:35) By the time we have left the dock, Jill has driven back almost as far as Campbell River. As I sit writing, a “Rubenesque” lady and her clone daughter have reclined and fallen asleep. Their snoring takes me back to some of the tugboat foc’sles I’ve known. When i awoke from my nap, there was nobody around. Funny thing!
The summer grinds on, the daylight ever shorter, the evenings cooler, the rain more frequent. The list of before winter to-do jobs on ‘Seafire’ is begging attention. How it will end up is anyone’s guess but with all the crap, there has to be a pony somewhere. Yeehaw! There’s got to be a bright side I haven’t discovered yet.
Enough grumpy rambling. Here are another batch of photos. As I edit them, I look forward to the summer when I can come to these wonderful waters and simply cruise. I’ll have my own tools and parts aboard. We’ll see what Murphy can do to me then. I recently explained to a lady on a passing yacht in for repairs that ubiquitous old Murphy was so devious she has us actually believing she’s a man. With a twinkle in her eye, this woman quietly replied, “Yeah, God too!”
“Being hove to in a long gale is the most boring way of being terrified I know.” …. Donald Hamilton