Monthly Archives: December 2015

Back Where I Started

A Clear View Thank god for radar, I can see what I'm going to hit

A Clear View
Thank god for radar, I can see what I’m going to hit

Out of Bagels! The grim reality sets in on Saturday morning. Seafire is now in Musket Island Marine Park Anchorage. I tiptoed in here in the inky dark, between the rocks, using radar. It is not a thrill I recommend for the end of a long day. There is an ongoing gale warning up and the dinghy davits aren’t doing so well. They are broken and twisted, unfit for more abuse. The dinghy is almost dragging in the water and I’ve got to get it up out of harm’s way. Just before I turned in to this sheltered bay I hit another damned log. A big one! That’s really good for the nerves after a full day on the helm and in a blackness darker than being inside a bear. I’ve travelled all the way from Shoal Bay today, sixty-six miles. It doesn’t sound like much. The wind rose and fell and I kept extending my destination to the next anchorage and then the next. I wanted to beat the line-up of forecast storms.

Lewis Channel looking south This photo was taken last May while northbound to Shearwater

Lewis Channel looking south. This photo was taken last May while northbound to Shearwater

Seven months later, southbound this time.

Seven months later, southbound this time.

In the time I was under way yesterday some people travelled half-way around the world. Many have driven the same mileage in an hour. Some boats sailing offshore are using the wind in their favour and will knock of this distance in half a day or less and won’t have to stop for over the next half-day, every day. Boats the size of ‘Seafire’ move along at a little over six knots and that’s the way it is; a very reasonable rate of passage to watch the world go by. You can cover a lot of ground in a day if you don’t have to keep stopping.

Bobbing Eagle "Whassamatta? Never seen an eagle sitting on a cedar tree before?"

Bobbing Eagle
“Whassamatta? Never seen an eagle sitting on a cedar tree before?”

I’ve arrived here in one day from Shoal Bay. It was a long haul, having hit the deck at 04:30 to be at the “Devil’s Punchbowl” in Dent Rapids at the precise time. I caught the last of the flood and shot through all three sets of rapids in fine style, well before the tide reversed hard enough to prevent my transit. I passed a log tow on the way into the rapids. The tug was pulling out into the mainstream heading for Mermaid Bay. There they wait six hours to catch the beginning of the next flood tide. The assist tug was on the back of the tow and all eight lights marking the booms burned brightly. Those marker lights are now LEDs and don’t need any attention.

Desolation Sound. A moment of sunshine and not a yuppy yachter in sight.

Desolation Sound.
A moment of sunshine and not a yuppy yachter in sight.

When I was on the tugs we still used kerosene lanterns which needed constant attention. They had to be refilled every few days, the glass chimneys needed to be cleaned, the wicks needed to be trimmed. Then they needed to be re-lit in the wind and rain on an rolling bundle of logs. Then they were refastened to a steel stake driven into a log. To accomplish this you needed to pack an axe, a kerosene jug, dry matches and cleaning supplies all over the bobbing, rolling logs. If a wave splashed a lantern the glass would shatter. It was a real pain in the ass trying to keep those lanterns going and enduring the skipper’s rage when all the lanterns were not burning. If some drunk in a speedboat hit the tow, he always claimed the lanterns must not have been working. He may have been right.

The 'Pacific Fury' One of my former homes where I've spent many days of my life. We used to keep this boat, the flagship of the fleet, shining proud. Now under new owners she's looking like I feel but...we never had a beer fridge on the boat deck.

The ‘Pacific Fury’
One of my former homes where I’ve spent many days of my life. We used to keep this boat, the flagship of the fleet, shining proud. Now under new owners she’s looking like I feel but…we never had a beer fridge on the boat deck. You can see the skipper in the wheelhouse wondering who and what the hell I’m up to.

I’m entering the fringes of civilization. I can can get cell service and radio stations, tons of them. With the din most of them broadcast, I actually find comfort in the familiar blither of CBC !. Yes I know, this is after months of bitching about the only station available on the North Coast. At least CBC2 plays music. Now, I’ve discovered, I’ll have to tackle the day without my breakfast bagel. I have some biscuit mix but the last batch I whipped up tasted a bit boaty for some reason. I believe the package has only been aboard for two years.

Pulling for home. Southbound in Lewis channel with about 120 sections of bundled logs, it'll be the last tow before Christmas. This old girl has a 1500 hp Deutz diesel and I swear she can pull slack out of the crack of dawn. I have fond memories of her, she was quiet inside, was easy to work off the back and a good sea boat.

Pulling for home. Southbound in Lewis channel with about 120 sections of bundled logs, it’ll be the last tow before Christmas. This old girl has a 1500 hp Deutz diesel and I swear she can pull slack out of the crack of dawn. I have fond memories of her. She was quiet inside, easy to work off the back and a good sea boat.

The Open Road The Strait Of Georgia, looking toward the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island

The Open Road
The Strait Of Georgia, looking toward the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island

I wrestled the dinghy aboard, deflated it and lashed it down on the foredeck knowing now I should have done this before I left Shearwater but I wanted the dinghy available should there be a nasty log with my name on it. I’ve decided how to build a davit that will work for offshore sailing after my horror discovering that the stainless steel davit bases had actually begun to tear under their tremendous abuse! There is massive power in a moving lump of water. I weighed anchor at noon and decided to pass behind Nelson Island instead of bashing into the building sou’easter out in Malaspina strait.

Beef Barley Stew Day 1 - Not bad. Day 2- Needs a little something Day 3- Here fishy, here fishy.

Beef Barley Stew
Day 1 – Not bad.
Day 2- Needs a little something.
Day 3- Here fishy, here fishy.

Big white horses were galloping in the grey open waters. Those kind of waves are tough enough to run with and dead ugly to fight against. There is an innocuous-looking rock called Cape Cockburn along the way which is a very nasty place to pass in this kind of weather. I have tried it, more than once and have offered up some variations on its name which I’ll leave to your imagination. I’ve actually been driven back twice previously at this cape. I’m not in the mood for more.

My own little country. A summer cabin in Hardy Bay from days gone by. I'm sure there are plenty of fond memories.

My own little country.
A summer cabin in Hardy Bay from days gone by. I’m sure there are plenty of fond memories.

Look at me! "Don't know when I'll ever use it but think of the stuff I can put in it." For all I know I know it belongs to a religious sect who do important things here. Nobody home today.

Look at me!
“Don’t know when I’ll ever use it but think of the stuff I can put in it.” For all I know it belongs to a religious sect who do important things here. There was nobody home today.

Today I took the long way and arrived a few hours later in Pender Harbour. I’m at the Madeira Park wharf and it’s a good thing. I’ve done well to be here in this persistent string of storms. I’m content. The barometer is dropping again, slowly. That means there’s a big system coming which may not be just a passing blow. I’ve only got fifty miles to go and still dare not expect to be home for Christmas! I’m at a dock with properly functioning electrical service, good wifi, showers and nearby shopping. Such decadence! A visit to the grocery store had me almost gasping. It is not a grand store by down-south standards but there was a choice of fresh produce, fresh unfrozen meat and selections of everything imaginable at what seem to be reasonable prices. I’m sure I can find locals who feel otherwise. It is amazing how we adjust our expectations. Suddenly the value of the last six months in a remote community is clear.

The Dark Fjord. Tolkein would have loved it. I could her some Sibelius playing. Looking north from the top of Nelson Island.

The Dark Fjord.
Tolkein would have loved it. I could hear some Sibelius playing.
Looking north from the top of Nelson Island.

Freill Lake Falls. I believe they are approx. 1800' high.

Freill Lake Falls.
I believe it is approx. 1800′ high from the lake they flow out of to the ocean below.

Logging roads in the mist. You might hate logging but you've got to admire the engineering and the temerity. Imagine steering an off-highway load of logs down that grade.

Logging roads in the mist. You might hate logging but you’ve got to admire the engineering and the temerity. Imagine steering an off-highway load of logs down that grade.

It is has been several years since I’ve travelled these waters and I’m stunned at what I see has changed. There have always been cabins, some vacation homes, a few full time abodes, ghost communities. Now, nearly everywhere you look, there are monstrous edifices which I can see are merely summer retreats. With the cost of importing labour and material, many houses have clearly cost well over a million dollars. They sit empty, cold and austere. In Pender Harbour the housing developments are overwhelming. Their presence has stolen the whole charm of the harbour. There is a famous old hospital here, now a hotel and resort. Some of these new homes make the old landmark seem tiny. It is stupefying to me. I’ll confess a certain degree of jealousy but what is the source of wealth which defies any question about need and greed? C’mon guys! I suspect that many of the barefoot draft-dodger hippies who came here begging “Peace man. C’mon share the wealth man,” have inherited well and invested cleverly. Now they own these edifices which represent exactly what they once claimed to despise. It’s true, a capitalist is just a socialist who has found an opportunity. Isn’t it interesting how we are all capable of corrupting ourselves?

I live in this boat which has a floorspace of less than three hundred square feet. I have plenty of space for all my stuff and even have some extra sleeping space for guests. I can stand up, lay down, sit and write, cook, bath, use a toilet and usually stay warm and dry. It’s all I need.

An easier way. I'll bet nobody noticed a tiny sailboat down there.

An easier way. I’ll bet nobody noticed a tiny sailboat down here.

In many places up the coast an old house has stood alone for years, once a small home for a family. Then it is rebuilt and extended or torn down and replaced. The bush is cleared back and a second house is built. Soon a tiny community springs up but it always seems unoccupied. I don’t understand the need to own more than you can use. Likewise seafood farms are springing up in nearly every good anchorage like some sort of virus. I prefer eating wild protein but I understand the need for farmed food when people are so determined to live like farmed fish themselves. An old friend, Allen Farrel, once commented on people’s frantic lifestyle and how many chose to spend a few weeks a year trying to find themselves by sleeping on the ground in a tent. “Don’t they understand,” he wondered, “that they can live in a tent all year if that’s what they really want?” There’s a balance somewhere. I’m not sure I have an answer but the idea of a monster investment somewhere out of town on the edge of the idea of wilderness just doesn’t make sense to me if I can’t enjoy it in real time out of the mainstream.. I suppose if the apocalypse does come, there’ll be a lot of free housing available out of the mainstream.

Frosty Knobs The watch cap protects the binnacle compass from sunlight when not in use. I prefer the inside helm in weather like this.

Frosty Knobs
The watch cap protects the binnacle compass from sunlight when not in use. I prefer the inside helm in weather like this.

On day eight, Sunday morning the “Marine Weather Statement” was as confusing. Finally I decided that forecasts be damned, I’d go have a look. I could see home and steeled myself for one last bashing while crossing the Strait Of Georgia. At Merry Island the wind and seas were coming from all directions and I felt like a bug in a washing machine. A prevailing south wind was building along the mainland shore but the smoke from the Nanaimo pulp mill showed a strong northerly wind on Vancouver Island. Amazingly, the seas calmed as I crossed. More logs, one more tidal narrows, more darkness (although there is an extra hour of daylight already these few degrees further south) and I arrived at the Ladysmith Maritime Society docks. I was piped onto the dock with the wail of sirens on the highway. Civilization!

I came home to this. The Ladysmith Maritime Society Dock. Sirens howl on the highway behind.

I came home to this. The Ladysmith Maritime Society Dock. Oddly, moments after this photo was taken, an angry, cursing woman began ripping Christmas lights from the railings and then applied a hefty punch-up to the plywood Santa.

 

A final wish for a happy Christmas.

Having too many things, Americans spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and Nature throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.”

… John Steinbeck 1960

Coming Down

 

THANK YOU! My little eight-day odyssey is over, I’ve arrived in Ladysmith. Many of you sent notes of concern and well wishes. I am very touched and thank you all. The next two blogs will describe my little adventure.

Lamma Pass Sunday Morning coming down

Lamma Pass
Sunday Morning coming down

Sunday morning, December 13th, 06:30. Viscous dark, flat calm, barometer steady. I’ve spent the whole night in my bunk sleeping fitfully, waiting for a forecast wind which hasn’t come. As soon as my coffee is finished, I’ll tidy the decks and cast off. Six months of my life in Shearwater are now in the rear-view mirror. I’m just as broke as when I arrived but richer for having made some fine friends and the intimacy one achieves by staying long enough to know a place and its people. It is time to move on, my aching bones demand release from the dampness here. I swear some days you can wring moisture from any handful of air. I’m hot feeling good about any of this, going or staying, but the die is cast. I think I’m getting a cold but I can be just as sick down there somewhere as I can hanging around here. I’m on my way.

Denny Island Behind aview of my plotter screen, or electronic chart, as I turn southward from Lamma Pass into Fitz Hugh Sound

Denny Island Behind
A view of my plotter screen, or electronic chart, as I turn southward from Lamma Pass into Fitz Hugh Sound

Pointer Island The same place looking out the window. In the phot avove, it is the island on the corner behind my track index arrow

Pointer Island
The same place looking out the window. In the previous photo, it is the island on the corner behind my track index arrow

At first the autohelm won’t work properly. I’ve been concerned about the massive load of steel tools stowed near the autohelm flux compass. I’m dreading to have to hand-steer the whole trip. The further we go the better the device works and I’m beginning to suspect there may be some magnetic anomaly in the area. An hour south everything is fine. The day begins to brighten, despite windy-looking clouds. There is just enough breeze for me to run out the jib. I keep an eye on the barometer. It climbs rapidly, a few millibars each hour. The rate of change is alarming, a harbinger of sudden high winds. It comes from the northwest, cold and damp, clean air from Siberia perhaps. I retreat into the warmth of the cabin where the little furnace chuffs out a steady supply of toasty air. I once scoffed at such decadence, stoically enduring endless hours in an open cockpit bundled up like a pile of wet laundry. Now I have these achy bones and joints to show for all that manliness. I guess it’s my English blood that demanded such masochism but I’ve decided the romance of the sea doesn’t always have to be something that feels good only when you stop.

Wind warning The lenticular cloud and the mirage on the horizon are fair warning that big wind is coming

Wind warning
The lenticular cloud and the mirage on the horizon are fair warning that big wind is coming

Mount Buxton, Calvert Island.

Mount Buxton, Calvert Island.

I began to contemplate raising more sails, but there is a storm warning posted. It will come quickly. Sure enough the wind picks up as the tide turns against it. I take a quick turn through Namu, the abandoned fish plant so nostalgically famous to many commercial fishermen. The whole site is in ruins and I hurry on my way. I’m not staying here, it’s eerie and depressing. The endless miles of untouched forest are far less lonely than these ghost communities. I wonder at the tremendous investment so hurriedly left behind. Tongue in cheek I observe that many of the buildings seem in reasonable condition. Perhaps this would make a great rehab location. Refurbishing the housing could be part of the process. Yeah right!

Beautiful Downtown Namu

Beautiful Downtown Namu

The Old Bunkhouse

Namu has gone namu

The Old Bunkhouse

The Old Bunkhouse

Fuel Dock Closed

Fuel Dock Closed

A few miles down the coast is a spot called Koeye Bay, a revered location at the mouth of a beautiful river where the Heiltsuk have built a new “Big House.” The tiny bay is now on an exposed lee shore and the minutes of remaining daylight are roaring by. Sadly, I go past after planning all summer to visit. Next year! Soon the wind is blowing storm force and gusting over fifty. Some waves are four metres tall and almost that close together. It is always stunning to see how quickly the seas can build. All that energy!

Here it comes

Here it comes

Foolishly, I have left my inflatable boat hanging in it’s davits with the outboard mounted and the little boat full of gear. I constantly admonish other people not to do this. A stern-slung dinghy is susceptible to being caught and filled with water, or torn off the mother vessel and inflicting serious damage in the process. Now here I am with no place to go except straight downwind. Fool! The only places to seek shelter have very narrow entrances. I’m not going to charge through a line of building beach surf attempting an unknown entrance. By now a rogue wave has flipped my beautiful Achilles dinghy out of one of its slings. I’m dragging the bow of the inflatable sideways through the foaming sea. I fear the rest of the davit system is going to snap at any moment and I’m about to lose a very valuable hypalon boat and my outboard motor. I managed to rig a temporary sling with the dinghy’s painter. Somehow that held for the next ten miles and tonight I’m sitting in a placid anchorage with everything put right. All’s well that ends. I did lose some gear from the dinghy, a small price to pay for my stupidity. The joy of the day was to experience how old ‘Seafire’ held her own in the nastiest seas I’ve ever had her in. She rode and handled like a magic carpet. This vessel is a superb sea boat. I am thrilled. The autohelm performed flawlessly even in the big following seas, an ultimate test.

Bam! No turning back now.

Bam!
No turning back now.

Surf's Up! If you've ever tried photographing big waves, you know how hard it is to make them look as big as they really are. Yeehaw!

Surf’s Up!
If you’ve ever tried photographing big waves, you know how hard it is to make them look as big as they really are. Yeehaw!

Monday morning arrives with the sky beginning to brighten by eight o’clock. The anchorage I chose is tucked into the side of Illahie Inlet; it was as calm as cream. The sky is cloudless. Last night’s stars burned brilliantly and everything is coated with a heavy frost. Now it is time to sneak out of one of the narrow entrances. I’m hoping for the safety of Port Hardy tonight. We’ll see what fortunes the gods have in store.

Monday Morning Green anchorage, Illahie Inlet

Monday Morning
Green Anchorage, Illahie Inlet

Happiness is Cape Caution in the rear view mirror. The barometer sprang up and then down as a warm high pushed its way ashore. The straight edge of the warmer overcast passed by overhead at a phenomenal speed. Entering Queen Charlotte Strait from Queen Charlotte Sound can leave a person feeling like a bug in a washing machine. Water from the open North Pacific has been moving this way for thousands of miles. Now that energy has to dissipate on our rocky shores. Tide and wind have been moving other bodies of water up and down Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, Fitz Hugh Channel and the many deep inlets which penetrate far into the mainland. Billions of tons of water are constantly colliding and mixing as the world goes on spinning around. It is not a place for the timid or for landlubbers. However without humility and respect for mother ocean she’ll administer some indelible slap therapy to the careless and insolent.

Why I don't like travelling in the dark

Why I don’t like travelling in the dark

The Deadhead " Thunk......sunk." Smitty Smith

The Deadhead
” Thunk……sunk.”
Smitty Smith

The coast mountains were crusted with a thick mantle of fresh snow, as brilliant as the exploding surf on the black rock foreshore. Mount Buxton, on Calvert Island, only 3325 feet above sea level was spectacular. The miles and landmarks crawled past. Opening my fridge is an old skill learned in my tug boat days. Open the door when that side of the boat is rolling away. Grab, slam and lock before the boat begins to roll back. If the door isn’t closed in time, the fridge projectile-vomits its shattering splattering contents at your feet.

Tonight finds me in another placid anchorage. This time it is on the side of Slingsby Channel, near the world- famous Nakwakto Rapids. They are second only in ferocity to the Maelstrom in Norway. The maximum velocity in today’s tide book is 13.5 knots! Even in this secure bay, a few miles from the narrows, a boil of tide reaches in occasionally and spins the boat on its anchor I awake each time to the rumble of the anchor chain on the rocky bottom below.

The beautiful, deadly shoreline near Cape Caution

The beautiful, deadly shoreline near
Cape Caution

I’ve chosen the mainland side of Queen Charlotte Strait instead of crossing to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island as I’d first planned. The weather is forecast to bring a series of strong southeasterly winds. Hopefully I can tip-toe southward along the old log-towing routes that twist and meander along a labyrinth of mainland channels and inlets. It is a tortuous route but certainly beats sitting and waiting for favourable weather which may not come. I once sat for nearly three weeks aboard a tugboat with four other restless rednecks waiting for the wind to drop enough to make towing logs possible. It is fine to talk to yourself, it is even alright to answer; so long as you remain aware of who it is answering. Now then, if only that invisible dog would stop barking.

Wentworth Rock some mariners call Queen Charlotte Strait "The rock garden," Few rocks and reefs have a light.

Wentworth Rock
Some mariners call Queen Charlotte Strait “The rock garden,” Few rocks and reefs have a light.

December 15th, Tuesday morning, 06:00. This was to be my last day of work at Shearwater, but here I am well below Cape Caution with one last leg on the open sea before dodging into the shelter of interconnecting waterways and inlets which will take me south to the Strait Of Georgia. There is one short stretch in Johnstone Strait and, of course, a few tidal bores, but I’m back in home waters. With a quick transit down the tidal ditch that is called Schooner Channel I found myself back out on the rock ‘n roll of Queen Charlotte Strait. I love the feel of the open water. These are swells with a feel of the shore to them. Further off the coast they become more rhythmic. There is a lovely cadence of climb, glide and surf and it can carry one all the way to Hawaii or Mexico or anywhere beyond. Fresh coconuts anyone? Instead I’m heading southward for the shelter of Wells Passage. The forecast is for sou’east gales so I’ll forgo Port Hardy and stick to the mainland side. I pass within 12 miles of the town and can actually grab a bar of cell service but opt for my solitude and frugality. I know that if I go to Port “Hardly” money will vaporize right out of my pocket. The only money-management scheme this sailor seems to understand is to stay at sea.

Below Cape Caution Beautiful, but a dangerous lee shore.

Below Cape Caution
Beautiful, but a dangerous lee shore.

If I were to find myself weather-bound there for several days, the moorage alone could be horrific. Besides, it is a glorious day to be out here. Such a wonderful thing to want to be no other place than right where you are at the moment. I‘m savouring it, the days ahead may not be so pleasant. The seas gently ease, and as always, the light in this region is incredible. Even with a lowering overcast the sun has the whole world glowing. My cameras whirred. Because of the blur of the boat’s motion in this low light, only one photo in ten will survive editing. In early afternoon I pass Numas Islands, I often referred to it while on the tugs as “Numb Ass.” Take that as you will. It seems an old friend today.

 Finally! South of Numas Island looking toward Vancouver Island

Finally!
South of Numas Island looking toward Vancouver Island

Eventually I sneak into Monday Anchorage on Mars Island, just one tiny piece in the jigsaw puzzle of islands and waterways. I’m greeted by a pod of Orcas. A perfect end to a perfect day. The boat has once again performed flawlessly, even when bonking the ubiquitous wood debris in the water. I marvel how there aren’t more strikes. Somehow my worries about what lays ahead ease for the moment. I’m at sea, I’m at peace. There are subtle changes to the forest and the shoreline as the journey progresses southward. I can never exactly define the evolution of topography and forest but it is indeed an incredible trip. Everyone should undertake this at least once in their lifetime. It leaves one fully aware of how tiny we are.

Last light in Monday Anchorage looking west over Queen Charlotte Strait

Last light in Monday Anchorage looking west over Queen Charlotte Strait

Dawn, Monday Anchorage

Dawn, Monday Anchorage

Wednesday morning, day four, finds me up long before dawn pecking away at this laptop while I savour a mug of hot, thick black coffee. Again the stars burn and throb in a cloudless sky. The forecast is indeed for prolonged strong southeast winds. I’ve made the right choice. I’d as soon stay here, I love the tranquillity and the sense of being embraced by both the emerald sea and forest but in a few minutes the engine will shudder to life, the anchor chain will rattle aboard, and off this old boat and its skipper will go to see what’s around the next corner, and the next. There are plenty of those ahead.

Dozens of corners later finds me in Port Neville, on the edge of Johnstone Strait. I ran out of daylight here, only 5 miles short of being able to turn out of the Strait into the next Labyrinth which will provide reasonably sheltered water all the way to the Strait of Georgia. I travel the routes I’ve know as a tug boater and realize how much I love this particular part of the coast. It is a transition zone where the thick cedar jungle becomes predominantly fir, the rocks have a different colour, the light is different, there are a few more moments of daylight. There’s always a delight. Today it was a pod of dolphins who joined the boat on and off for several hours. Always a good omen, they cheered me immensely. Earlier, as I passed Gilford, a remote first nations village, a crow landed on the foredeck and then peered intently in through the windshield at me. He then hopped along the side deck, turned his back to me and leisurely surveyed his kingdom from his royal barge. Parochial superstition often indicts crows as souls of the dead, and generally regards them as harbingers of darkness. I was happy to accept this character’s trust and disregard. Usually crows never take their eyes off you, ever! And so I passed on through the kingdom of underwater angels, the dolphins. I’ll accept whatever blessing comes my way.

Gilford....That's it!

Gilford….That’s it!

Gilford Ghost

Gilford Ghost

I once passed Gilford almost daily. Cramer Pass was part of our route back and forth to the fish plant. I was engineer on a fish packer. The rest of the crew were all first nations. Gully, a fellow from Alert Bay, was a wealth of local native lore and knowledge. He was delighted in my interest. I learned a lot about fishing techniques, burial islands, pictographs, dugout canoes, fishing boats native legends and who was who. His mentor had been an elder he respectfully called Jimmy Seaweed. As we passed Gilford one day, he told a story about a young boy being snatched from that dock by a large octopus. He insisted this was God’s truth and even showed me a headstone at the waterline which was allegedly for the child. I may never digest that story, but I’ll certainly never forget it. I have since learned that some of these amazing creatures will actually come out of the water to stalk prey. Soooo? Today, as I passed, I also recalled Gully’s car. It was a very large rock, visible at low tide, and to Gully’s eye looked like a car. Each time we passed I also began to see it. Eventually it did look remarkably like a small boxy-looking car. Today, with enough tide, there was a large white seal sitting on the roof of Gully’s car. Damn it Gully! I miss you old pal.

A dolphin flashes by in Knights Inlet

A dolphin flashes by in
Knights Inlet

Tonight, in Port Neville, the boat is bobbing her bow in a residual swell that works its way in from the Strait. There is a gale warning up, tomorrow could be a long day.

Downtown Minstrel Island, once a rollicking hub of the logging and mining communities in the Knights Inlet area

Downtown Minstrel Island, once a rollicking hub of the logging and mining communities in the Knights Inlet area

Minstrel Island Post Office in Chatham Channel. No double-docking please.

Minstrel Island Post Office in Chatham Channel. No double-docking please.

Thursday morning, day five of the trip. It took me seven days to get to Shearwater in the spring. With the short winter daylight, and the adverse weather, I’m delighted with my progress homeward. The continuing forecast is for southeasterly gales of 30 to 40 knots. Johnstone Strait is no place to be in those conditions. It’s a monstrous wind tunnel. With only five miles to go I’m going to give it a try. I can always turn back. I’d hate be stuck here for days when a couple of hours of slogging would see me into more sheltered waters. The day is so dark I turn the illumination down on my plotter, it’s just too bright this day.

Dawn in Port Neville, the whole darned town! The cabin on the right offered great company during the evening with the warm glow of lanterns inside.

Dawn in Port Neville, the whole darned town! The cabin on the right offered great company during the evening with a warm glow of lanterns inside.

With great relief I slid in behind the shelter of Yorke Island, hoping the worst is over. Sunderland Channel leads to the first of the big rapids on the back route. Sometimes Sunderland is as vicious as Johnstone Strait but today it is only moderately adverse. The rain is pelting down and then come the snowflakes. Thick, sticky numbers, like blobs of mashed potato. They coat the windscreen but the sea spray coming over the bow washes it clean.

Plunge, sploosh, splat. I arrive in Wellbore Channel about four hours too late for slack water. The tide is ebbing and my choice is to wait another few hours or try to buck through. It is past maximum flow so the current will be easing and I dive in. My bottom speed is down to two knots which means I’m fighting a current of over four knots. I jig and jake around the whirlpools and finally break out at the far end. It takes two hours to crawl the four mile length of the channel but now I can tackle the next set of rapids just as they turn in a favourable direction. At the end of this pass is a solitary arbutus tree. Still hanging its beautiful flesh-coloured limbs over the water, it has been a monument to those with eyes for it as long as I know. As far as anyone can tell, it is the most northerly arbutus growing on the coast.

The tide is slow to turn today, probably because of the added push of the southeast storm winds. It impedes my progress all the way through the Green Point Rapids and my faint hope fades of making it all the way to Dent Rapids in time to catch the next flood. I know I could still be sitting in Port Neville waiting for a better forecast. I’ve done well. Years travelling these waters on the tugs have me given me instincts which only experience can bring. I offer a note of thanks to those crusty old skippers who passed on what they knew.

Snow becoming sea. Nearing Whirlpool Rapids

Snow becoming sea.
Nearing Whirlpool Rapids

The snow on the slopes is thick and nearly comes down to the water. This weather is great for deer hunting and I think of days like this when I’ve clambered about looking for fresh tracks under the quiet cover of blanketing fresh snow. The smell of the forest on such as day is magic and taking a deer was never the real objective. My musings wander over the topography of the passing islands. I find my finger tracing the contours of West Thurlow Island. On it’s ridge there is a lake named Woolloomooloo. It has amused me for decades. Who in the hell would hang a small remote lake with a handle like that? It would be a hell of a hike. The word conjures an image for me of a short swarthy ugly fellow in a loincloth with a bone in his nose pointing a knobby blood-stained stick at me and angrily uttering, “Woolloomooloo!” “Sorry chief! I’ll never point my camera at your goat again.”

Christmas time  in Shoal Bay

Christmas time
in Shoal Bay

Day five ends with ‘Seafire’ anchored in Shoal Bay. It is the closest safe anchorage to the final three sets of rapids. Dent, Gillard and the Yuculta rapids are notoriously fierce. In a slow boat like mine they must be run close to slack water (When the tidal current eases then reverses direction) but early enough to be safely through when the current begins to build the opposite way. Even big tugs wait for slack water. I’ve ridden log bundles here through the sucking whirlpools when a log tow breaks apart. There’s no romance of the sea in any of this. I’ve great respect for this body of water. After the rapids I’m almost in home waters. Only a day or two to go, if the weather eases. “Woolloomooloo!”

Sundog over Gilford

Sundog over Gilford

“hark, now hear the sailors cry

smell the sea, and feel the sky

let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic…”

                                                                                             Van Morrison

Eggnog And Bullets

The Long Way Home Looking south from the air over the Western tip of Denny Island then south down Lamma Pass. I have my doubts about calm seas with the sun in my eyes.

The Long Way Home
Looking south from the air over the Western tip of Denny Island then south down Lamma Pass. If you look carefully, you can see the Bella Bella wharf. I have my doubts about calm seas with the sun in my eyes but this is the beginning of my route homewards.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Another dreary Friday night after a long dull day’s work. Rain, wind, darkness, not much to do, no-one to visit with, (many have already left for the winter) another weekend of aloneness to endure. I refuse to hang out in the pub and descend into that world of hurt and darkness.The weather is too foul to contemplate going anywhere and besides, in another ten days or so, I’ll be leaving Shearwater and heading back south toward Ladysmith. That anticipation makes the days drag by and the terror of what-in-the-hell -I’m-getting-into-next is gnawing at me. Then comes a nice surprise.

My wife calls them ‘Care packages’ and she’s mailed me one. We’ve been apart a very long time and I really appreciate her gifts of hope and promise. Today’s package is in a small but heavy box and upon opening it I discover a small tarpaulin which I’ve needed for the boat, two packs of my favourite coffee, a small sack of curry powder and a fabulous bar of very nice hazelnut chocolate. Delighted, my mouth is soon full of chocolate as I empty the powder into my metal curry box. The sudden sharp tang of the spice aroma blends perfectly with the melted chocolate. It is a new taste sensation, an incongruous blend of the smooth and the sharp, the sweet and the tangy. At the time it seemed very, very good. Try it sometime.

Williwas and Catspaws Another storm arrives in Shearwater

Williwas and Catspaws
Another storm arrives in Shearwater

Surf's Up! A barrel of water slams over the wharfinger's float house. In summer, the boat gringos like to sit on the dock in their deck chairs.

Surf’s Up!
A barrel of water slams over the wharfinger’s float house. In summer, the boat gringos like to sit on the dock in their deck chairs.

4pm under a very rare clear sky. It will soon be dark.

4pm under a very rare clear sky. It will soon be dark.

Eleven am Sunday morning. I used to love storms. We’re experiencing yet another one at the moment. The boat is bucking and squirming against her docklines as usual. The table where I sit writing is gimbaling in all directions, but so is the boat and so am I. It is all relevant. I don’t notice; I’m used to this weather. The day is over for me already, I’ll stay aboard until tomorrow morning. There’s nowhere to go ashore. I’ve already been to the wharfinger’s float house for a haircut. His partner is an excellent barber. Then I went for a huge plate of brunch in the restaurant. I know, I’m a high roller.

I ate while reading a few pages of a novel found in the laundry as the storm raged outside. Williwaws, waterspouts, horizontal cloudbursts and stacking waves are not notable anymore. They are a near-daily fact and I wonder how in the hell I’m going to get the boat three hundred miles southward into the face of this incessant adverse winter weather. There is much speculation afoot about how and if this old fool will make it home.

The staff, busy stringing up Christmas decorations, were happy and exuberant. Their obvious joy left me feeling dull and shrivelled. Tomorrow is the annual company Christmas party. There is huge anticipation, various company dignitaries are flying in for the event; weather permitting. I am dreading the whole ordeal, reluctantly inclined to attend only for a free meal and drink. This is a time of year which once had me feeling warm and fuzzy. Now I am the quintessential scrooge. The entire season seems crass and shallow, a meaningless orgy of superficial consumerism and general silliness. There seems to be little left about family, tradition and the simple joy of sharing. Humbug, dumbug and bumhug!

At the table next to me, five men speculated on the weather for a while then lapsed into silence as each fell to texting on their own cellphone. They had all found a differing weather report on their devices, which I found amusing, then hilarious as they wandered off alone into their personal cyber world. I trudged back through the white-capped puddles into the wind and rain. Now I’m back aboard ‘Seafire’ and settling in for the day. Nine days are left until I leave, weather notwithstanding.

Now seven more sleeps. The intense weather continues as horrific weather systems crowd onto the coast. Storm warnings are constant and of course the wind is all on the nose.

Another Storm Warning The barometer tumbled this low, to 987 mb, overnight. To use some old sailor's jargon, "She's up and down like a whore's knickers."

Another Storm Warning
The barometer tumbled this low, to 9807 mb, overnight.
To use some old sailor jargon, “She’s up and down like a whore’s knickers.”

I’m plodding through my last few days here, a dark comparison to the child before Christmas. I just want to be on my way. Last night was the annual company Christmas party. My trepidations proved accurate. It was a grand effort but an event far from being a ‘Party’. It’s over and the following morning, I am not hungover. I show up at work on time, the loyal good old boy. Perhaps it was good strategy to hold the event on a Monday evening.

A Smell Of Snow The white stuff on distant mountains can be smelled on the wind. It's time to go!

A Smell Of Snow
The white stuff on distant mountains can be smelled on the wind. It’s time to go!

One of the dubious joys here is that the only available public radio station is CBC 1. It is a venue addressing multiculturalism, ethnic minorities, social and political anomalies. It often manages to be incredibly boring, infantile and a master of dissecting moot points. Occasionally, however, there is a story posted which is wonderfully amusing. That is especially so when humour was not the intent. Yesterday morning it was reported that the city of Prince George hosted a training program for folks from remote communities which do not have any ambulance service. These people would go home as first responders. They will be able to provide various life-saving skills such as CPR, mouth to mouth resuscitation, the Heimlich manoeuvre, emergency child delivery and so forth. A good thing I think, especially when the story ended with an account of how this first-aid training had already saved a life.

A man and his wife had both taken the course. They returned home and were sitting down to supper. “We were just sittin’ down to dinner when I dropped a piece of broccoli. The dog jumped right on it and inhaled the whole thing. All of a sudden he started chokin’ real bad then he tipped over! Good thing we’d taken that training! We started thumpin’ him on the back and he honked that broccoli right up. We’re sure lucky we knew what to do.” The account was provided in rich backwoods jargon and I found it hilarious. Then I remembered a friend’s account of an old man trying to demonstrate the fine training of his dog. I put the two stories together.

Yep, woulda have really missed old Wiener, he’s an awesome dog. Uh huh. He always listens pretty good. Here Weiner. C’mon Weiner. HERE WIENER! WIENER! Come here! Wiener, GET DOWN!

Wiener, stop lickin’ me!”

As I write, CBC is airing a story about a zombie nativity scene. WOT? Really! This follows a story about that xenophobic idiotic Republican candidate Donald Trump, and how he is enthusiastically supported by thousands of bleating Republicans. Baaaah! The next story was that to date in this year of 2015, The USA has endured 355 mass shootings, far too many to report, even nationally! That’s more than one per day and there will certainly be more. This is on a continent which is rapidly becoming extremely Islamophobic. Folks who think like Mr. Trump don’t seem to understand that if we stopped bombing these people, maybe there would be an end to the mass exodus from their homeland. We are all descendants of refugees whether economic, religious or political.

No-one happily chooses to rip up their roots and start their lives over in a strange place and culture. As we condemn cultures we do not understand, except for the part-truths we receive from the media, we also choose to ignore how many millions have died under the grinding wheels of Christian greed and self-empowerment. Despite the eternal rhetoric about peace and love and compassion, no other religion uses a symbol of capital punishment as its icon and keeps the church doors locked most of the time. Any dogma which we choose to embrace has its extremists. We certainly have ours.

We are in the season of goodness and light and love and peace. Eggnog and bullets are not a happy mix. Right?

Right!

Silent night; Holy night. Down Wiener!”

High Slack A winter high tide of 16.1 feet. At low tide these pilings tower above the dock. Note how far into the trees the ocean has risen.

High Slack
A winter high tide of 16.1 feet. At low tide these pilings tower above the dock. Note how far into the trees the ocean has risen. Storm winds have pushed the tide even higher than the tide book forecast. Seafire is at the end of the dock on the left. she’s leaving in the morning.

December 11th, Friday again. I’m done counting sleeps and am instead listening to each up updated weather forecast, or rather, “Technical Marine Synopsis,” as they are now known. It appears that Sunday morning is time to go and there may be a weather window opening in the next day or two. The days have barely eight hours of light and with prevailing winds from the southeast it can be a very long haul south to Port Hardy especially when travelling alone. It is foolhardy to travel in darkness. With plenty of logs floating freely as well as many unmarked reefs, prudence is essential. The days are short and the nights are long so the first hundred miles on the way down from the north coast jungle can be very, very long indeed. That is about the first third of the journey home. From there it can still be a challenging voyage if the weather is adverse. It probably will be. I’m posting this blog just before I leave. Chances are that by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way. Wish me well.

A sunset over Queen Charlotte Sound from years past. Known by some mariners as the "Rock Garden" this is a challenging body of water to cross especially in winter. Hopefully it will behind me in a few more days.

A sunset over Queen Charlotte Sound from years past. Known by some mariners as the “Rock Garden” this is a challenging body of water to cross, especially in winter. Hopefully it will behind me in a few more days.

In turn, I wish everyone inner peace, someone to love, something to do and lots to look forward to. Have a warm and fuzzy Christmas.

Have A Warm And Fuzzy Christmas

Have A Warm And Fuzzy Christmas

When in fear, or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out.”….Tristan Jones