Monthly Archives: January 2016

What’s In a Name?

Dogpatch Dawn A community of under-the-radar liveaboard folks

Dogpatch Dawn
A community of under-the-radar liveaboard folks

Bicycle Blues Part of the price of living off the grid. "First they chain my frame, Then they steel both wheels!"

Bicycle Blues
Part of the price of living off the grid.
“First they chain my frame,
Then they steal both my wheels!”

 seafire- phosphorescence at sea. Also known as bio-luminescence, attributed to light-emitting organisms in sea water. When present, it is especially noticeable at night in waves, in the wake of a boat or the passage of fish. It appears as a green glow or as flecks of light. Seafire was also the name given to the naval version of the famous fighter plane, the Spitfire.

A recent contact from a long-lost friend who had discovered this blog noted that I still owned ‘Seafire’. I replied that the present Seafire is a namesake of my first vessel of that name. Here’s how it happened.

In 1986 I was living in the Northern Interior and dead sick of it. Prince George is a place where it seemed you spent six months of the year shovelling snow onto your lawn and then six months shovelling it back onto the street in hope of having a few weeks of green lawn before the flies quit biting and it began to snow again. I’ve lived in more remote locations but there was something quite dreary about Prince George. It had a lot to do with three very large pulpmills in that city and a general “Log it, burn it, pave it” mentality. I’ll always remember those pitch dark winter mornings with temperatures down to -40° and joggers in spandex, with a scarf around their faces, thumping down the polished ice streets between huge berms of plowed snow, a swirl of pulpmill ice smog around them. I think they did this in the name of good health!

Expo 86 brought me down twice to Vancouver that year, the second time to see the launching of the “Pacific Grace’ which had been built on the fair site. I was every inch an aviator at the time but the sea and this coast also occupied a huge piece of my heart and so a decision was made. It was time to move to the coast. For less money than owning an airplane, I could possess a sailing vessel which would take me anywhere I chose and also be my home. I reasoned that trying to live in a small aircraft while picking one’s way around the planet was really not practical. By the spring of the following year I had left a lucrative career behind and launched a tiny Northwest 21 trailerable sailboat in False Creek, not far from where the ‘.Pacific Grace’ first kissed the water.

I made my way northward as far as Port Hardy that March in the persistent winter weather in a boat with squatting headroom and no heat. My only source of warmth was a tiny propane stove which produced more water vapour than heat. My English roots were thrilled at my masochism and a sense of homecoming to be back on the sea. (No comforts please, we’re English!)

During that trip I enjoyed an evening aboard a beautiful William Atkin-designed Ingrid 36. She was a wooden double-ended ketch, very stout and very, very salty. Her name was ‘Seafire.’ She was owned by a young Alaskan-bound couple going north to summer jobs before heading for southern seas in the fall. It was, in part, the radiant, dry warmth of their Dickinson galley stove, in part the soft glow of the kerosene cabin lights, in part the lovely glow from the rum but mostly the gleam of the mutual dream held by this young pair of dreamers. What a wonderful thing!

I learned later that the boat had been sunk somewhere west of the Panama Canal in the fall of that same year. It was, apparently, attacked by Orca whales, a not uncommon story for those waters. I never learned the fate of her crew but assume they survived to be able to recount their ordeal. Two more boats passed through my hands, both very capable offshore vessels, ‘Jenta’ was a Gulf Island 29 and then ‘Anya’ a Vancouver 27. The next boat was a True North 34. She was a fibreglass double-ended cutter, massively built, cozy, clumsy, but imminently sea-worthy and steered with a huge, heavy oak tiller. That helm kept you out in the open, no matter what the weather. It was all very salty, and I was much younger. She came with the name ‘Sunward II’ which I could not abide and so, still deeply inspired, I renamed her ‘Seafire.’

This was now the forth sailboat I’d owned and refitted. I loved her dearly and she loved me. I will hold precious memories forever of the adventures and people aboard that boat. She was also chartered out for cruises with various guests from Europe. I believe my ‘Seafire’ inspired a passion for some other people to answer the calling of the sea.

Each day of chartering was hard work, especially when your guests got your own berth at the end of the day. You roughed it somewhere else on the boat. I began to scheme to build a larger, steel vessel, better-suited for chartering and reluctantly I sold ‘Seafire’ to a fellow with offshore dreams for her. The last I heard she was somewhere in Mexico. I don’t know what ever happened to her.

A True North 34 The way I used to go to sea

A True North 34
The way I used to go to sea

My office The way I do it now

My office
The way I do it now

Seafire again Pretty from all angles

Seafire again
Pretty from all angles

Life goes on. The steel boat was never built. I had a serious accident at work on the tugs and ended up experiencing major heart surgery. Unable to return to a career on the tugs I started a business on borrowed funds. That ended disastrously in bankruptcy. Somehow I staggered back up onto my knees and acquired another fixer-upper. ‘West Moon’ was a delightful Fortune 30, funky and very seaworthy but some friends were selling their beloved Sapphire 30,’ an Australian-built sloop named ‘Pax.’ Built for racing in the Southern Ocean she was massively constructed and had completed a 14 year round-the-world odyssey. I soon had her ready to go again. We had many adventures together including a summer trip around Vancouver Island and like any fine boat, she’ll always hold a piece of my heart. However I still ached for a boat which allowed me the option of chartering, could carry tools enough to help pay my way and offered an inside helm for days of extreme heat, rain, or cold.

Happy Harry Heiltsuk My Heiltsuk mask on the bowsprit, a souvenir of Bella Bella. The Stainless steel mast pulpit and the boom gallows are some of my upgrades. Thanks to my pal Bob Wyche

Happy Harry Heiltsuk
My Heiltsuk mask on the bowsprit, a souvenir of Bella Bella carved to order by Ivan Wilson. The Stainless steel mast pulpit and the boom gallows are some of my upgrades.
Thanks to my pal Bob Wyche.

I’ve long-dreamed of cruising to Europe but have lost my sense of romance for being outside up to my armpits in ice-cold green seawater. My perspectives on the romance of the sea were evolving. I’m not getting any younger. I needed a boat with an interior that did not require a steep vertical ladder. I wanted my dog and I to be able to enter and exit the cabin easily. And I wanted to be able to sit inside and to see out while I wrote. ‘Pax’ sold so quickly that it seemed meant to be. Suddenly there I was on the beach with no debts and a little cash in hand, a very dangerous place for sailor to find himself.

Pax  My Australian sailing machine

Pax
My Australian sailing machine

I searched everywhere in the Pacific Northwest and also made two different trips to the east looking at boats. I have long lusted after a type of motor-sailor designed after North Sea fishing trawlers. There is an English-built boat called a Fisher which I love as well as a Dutch boat called a Banzer. Motor sailors are usually displacement-hull motor boats with sail rigging. Traditionally they are rugged and seaworthy but not particularly good sailing vessels. The sails help steady the vessel in rough seas and offer poor to reasonable sailing ability when the wind is in your favour. There can be no expectation of windward ability. A motor sailor can be the best and worst of both worlds but is generally a happy compromise. The Downeaster 41 which I now own is built on a well respected 38′ offshore sailing hull and indeed sails rather well compared to many other motor sailors.

A sailing hull ...and a big propeller. October haulout in Shearwater

A sailing hull
…and a big propeller.
October haulout in Shearwater

After all that searching I found ‘Heart Of Gold’ almost at my front door in nearby Blaine. She was a perfect picture of despair when I first saw her. Covered in verdigris and bird droppings she listed hard to port. She had long sat at the dock and below deck reeked a sewerific blend of nasty neglect. It was obvious why she hadn’t sold. I’ve made my living fixing boats for a long while and knew that I could give this faded flower the loving she needed. This boat was perfect for my needs although the refit is still a long way from being complete. I describe the boat in my blog of May 24th, 2013 titled “It Must Be Spring.” It is easy to find in the archives on the right sidebar.

Heart Of Gold Really!

Heart Of Gold
Really!

Once I’d finished the business of importing the boat, which I did on my own with no problems, I needed to enter it into Canadian Ship’s Registry. A vessel’s name is the first piece of data in recognition of its official status as a Canadian vessel. (Until recent times a vessel’s owner could only ever own 64 shares of the vessel. The remaining 36 belonged to the British Monarchy who had a one-third claim on the boat and all “Her guns and appurtenances thereof.”) In remote areas I carry only one old shotgun and wore out my appurtenances long ago. However, I can still be considered somewhat impertinent.

As ‘Heart Of Gold’ had been entered in US Coast Guard registry I had all the formal measurements and tonnages and the process was straight forward. I’d struggled with the vessel’s name as being rather corny but resolved that if it were available I’d keep it to assuage nautical superstition. Oddly, the name had been available until the previous week and so I laid down my first choice for a new name.

‘Brass Monkey’ drew a wondering stare from the ladies in the office and then one said, “I know you! You’re Mr. Seafire.” I’ve been in that office so often through the years, she remembered me! In the Canadian Ship Registry system, a vessel’s name must be re-registered every few years. ‘Seafire’ had not been and so the name was mine for the asking. It seemed propitious, a sign from the gods and so once again I am the master of a Canadian-registered vessel named ‘Seafire.’ She’s a gorgeous old friend, unique and capable. She has been my home for the better part of the past five years and has carried me pleasantly along thousands of sea miles.

And so here I sit on a dark January night. The wind is calm but the rain hammers relentlessly as if I were still in Shearwater. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. The dream is very much alive but at the moment everything seems hopeless. The exciting part is, I know, that this is often a moment just before something really good comes down the pipe.

A wineglass transom. This clever design leaves a minimum disturbance behind the boat as it passes through the water.

A wineglass transom.
This clever design leaves a minimum disturbance behind the boat as it passes through the water.

By odd coincidence, while I have been writing this blog, a True North 34 has moored next to me. They are not a common boat. I can’t believe that I actually sat in such a cockpit day and night, in sun, rain, snow and flying spray. The tiller was heavy and the boat demanded good sail trim to be manageable. The narrow hatch tops a steep ladder down into the cabin which is a very snug place to ride out a storm. I loved that boat but the new ‘Seafire’ suits me very well. I am happy with my new old boat. I have yet to hold a renaming ceremony which nautical tradition demands. This is a mandatory ritual, long overdue, where the gods of the sea are supplicated for their blessing and protection. There are copious libations and affirmations among fellow nautical zealots. Then you sail away.

Let’s have a party; soon.

An old poster. The view is taken from a magic moment aboard the first 'Seafire'

An old poster.
The view is taken from a magic moment aboard the first ‘Seafire’

No Rehearsal

The wonder of buoyancy floats a small boat or large in a fathom of water or a thousand

The same wonder of buoyancy floats a boat, small or large, in a fathom of water or in a thousand

I am a fan of Ted Talks and if you don’t know what they are, do a web search. You’ll be hooked. Thanks to my old friend Jimmy I’ve just reviewed a Ted Talk presentation by an incredible guitarist named Tommy Emmanuel. His guitar skills are fabulous and at the end of his gig he says to the audience “Folks, life is not a rehearsal. Now get on with it!” That kicked me where the sun doesn’t shine! I’ve just read my first blog, now a two year old commitment to myself and the world. Shocked, sickened, I wonder what the hell I’ve been doing.

Suddenly On Day! After years of walking by this Arbutus tree, I notice the face cleverly carved around a knot

Suddenly One Day!
After years of walking by this Arbutus tree, I notice the face cleverly carved around a knot

In that time I’ve tacked, gybed, reefed, hove-to and back-tracked ostensibly in hot pursuit of my goal of sailing away. I know where I want to go and why, have the talent to do it, yet I’ve made little progress. I’ve had health issues, have been severely screwed over by unscrupulous people but there is nobody to blame but myself. I am not trying to solicit sympathy or empathy (although cash would be fine says this old pirate). I am trying to affirm the emotional plagues of winter which I know afflicts so many other folks. Depression, for me, is a tangible hereditary disorder I’ve wrestled with all my life and the dark days of winter bring out the worst of this curse. I’ve written my share about the problem and I’m not about to dissect it here other than to offer support and affirmation for those with enough courage to admit they too suffer from this very tangible problem. It is not simply an issue of bad attitude or self-pity but you can soon become your own black hole if you don’t force yourself to do whatever is necessary to rise above the darkness. In one Ted Talk, depression is described not as the opposite of happiness but rather the lack of vitality. I do affirm that.

Boat House Row A dreary morning in Ladysmith, but... if you don't like it, try missing a few!

Boat House Row
A dreary morning in Ladysmith, but… if you don’t like it, try missing a few!

I’ve been back home in lower latitudes for nearly three weeks. The arthritic pain of the North Coast’s extreme dampness has eased but old injuries still suck at my essence. That is being dealt with at the stately pace of our medical system. Broke, with few prospects for the moment, I’ve soon found myself imploding with only enough energy to make more excuses for my downward spiral. Fortunately, every year I find wonderful rapport and affirmation by attending the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon. Today was the final day to commit to perform this year. I have some good excuses for not going and almost said no. I don’t have the funds for any of it but I’ll find a way and will come home uplifted immensely, knowing I have helped do the same for my peers and my audience. There is a direct link to the Fisher Poets Website in the right hand side bar of this blog. With a little poking about you can find my name under the list of performers found “In The Tote” and hear me reading of some of my work as well as several other writers and musicians. If you’d like a break from winter, have a sniff of spring and a great time in an incredible town which has arisen from its own ashes, I’d love to see you there.

The Party Moon Jelly Fish. What do they talk about?

The Party
Moon Jelly Fish.
What do they talk about?

Meanwhile old ‘Seafire’ languishes at the dock. Despite my daily visits, she sleeps quietly, waiting for some attention as soon as the weather warms and improves enough for me to tackle my list of chores, big and little. There’s a story or two in that I promise. I also have a stack of writing, including several books, needing a final edit and posting on Amazon. You can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishing and books that are not published aren’t going to sell. There’s a story about a boy who is accidentally locked in a barn. Days later, he is found. All the manure has been shovelled up and piled neatly in one end of the building. When queried about this he replied wearily, “With all this shit I knew there had to be a pony in here somewhere.” It’s all about attitude. Dig on.

My pal Jimmy's Corbin 39 back in a Pacific northwest winter after a marathon voyage around the Pacific Ocean

My pal Jimmy’s Corbin 39 back for a Pacific Northwest winter after a marathon voyage around the Pacific Ocean

I receive frequent enquiries about what sort of camera equipment I use. The type of equipment you have has little to do with the photos you take. Most of my camera gear is old and beat-up. It is not what I would choose if permitted a shopping spree in a camera store but it is what I can afford. I don’t begin to use the potential magic in even these humble machines. Exotic camera equipment will not produce better photographs if the nut holding it does not have a good understanding of the art. To illustrate my point, the photos in this blog were all taken with my lowly cell phone around Ladysmith in the last few days . The concept has been around for quite a while now but taking photographs with a telephone still seems incongruous to me. Mind you, one of my cameras has a GPS and altimeter built into it. You wouldn’t believe what I can do with my new toothbrush!

Rock Steady Surviving the winter wobble test when the winds blows you off your jackstands

Rock Steady
Surviving the winter wobble test when the wind blows you off your jackstands

If you find the accelerating technology around you alarming, and like me, long for an older, more steadfast era, then the closing photos in this blog might soothe the savage beating in your breast. There is an old design mantra which says that if it looks good, it works good.

The boat is the “Curve Of Time”, a name taken from the title from the famous book by Wylie Blanchet. If you’re not familiar with the work and you’re learning about it in this blog you’re probably the sort of person who would enjoy it very much. The venerable tome is still available. The venerable vessel is a North Sea side-trawler, Dutch-built in 1959. her original fishing registration and home port can still been seen on her bows under the paint. After that career she was a Greenpeace vessel, the proverbial sword turned ploughshare. She has since enjoyed a third calling as a charter boat and research vessel which has introduced many people to the wonders of the West Coast. To my eye, she is a pleasing sight from all angles and… she’s for sale! Long may the sight of her quicken the hearts of romantics and dreamers wherever she may voyage.

Late Bloomer Beauty even on a gray day

Late Bloomer
Beauty even on a grey day

A Little run-down The sorry state of Vancouver Island's E&N Railway "feelin' nearly faded as my jeans."

A Little run-down
The sorry state of Vancouver Island’s E&N Railway
“feelin’ nearly faded as my jeans.”

The Real Thing 'The Curve Of Time' proudly displaying her battle scars. Imagine all that has been seen through those wheelhouse portlights.

The Real Thing
‘The Curve Of Time’
proudly displaying her battle scars. Imagine all that has been seen through those wheelhouse portlights.

Pretty From All Angles

Pretty From All Angles

YAR!

YAR!

The Crow's Nest set on a jaunty rake

The Crow’s Nest
set on a jaunty rake

 

The lecture ends, ‘Slow down. You’re not as young as you once were.’ and I have seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism. In this way they are encouraged by wives and relatives, and it’s such a sweet trap.

Who doesn’t like to be a center for concern? A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the household becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason she should inherit a baby.”….

…….John Steinbeck, from ‘Travels with Charley ‘

Reluctant Dawn Ladysmith Harbour in January

Reluctant Dawn
Ladysmith Harbour in January

Home Waters

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Happy New Year! Wishing you all health, happiness, someone to love and something to look forward to. This is ‘Seafire’ blog 92. I just received my annual stats and I’m a bit chuffed. This blog is now viewed in 82 countries by over 4700 regular viewers. Thank you everybody!

There’s no text this time, no polemic conjectures, no wry humour or candid observations.

Jill and I took the boat out for New Year’s Eve and quietly slept our way into 2016. Yesterday, January 1st was spent leisurely although, despite the sun, it was bitterly cold. I photographed the dawn and then we took the dinghy to grab mug shots of some some noisy neighbours down the beach. In the evening we warmed our feet and our hearts sitting by the wood stove in the home of some dear friends on Gabriola Island. Then we idled back out from the icy beach through the bitter darkness to the sanctuary of ‘Seafire.’ It was a wonderful way to open the year. Here are some photos of those first hours.

Two posts back, I mused about the approximately 50 miles distance I covered in one day aboard ‘Seafire’ and compared the mileage other folks might be able to cover in relative times. At Christmas I chatted with my brother, an Air Canada pilot. He now flies a 787 on a non-stop route between Toronto and Delhi, India. That is roughly half-way around the planet in about fifteen hours! How’s that for relative? Just remember that if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else. Stay the course.

First light, First photograph, 2016

First Light, First photograph, 2016

Mount Baker Taken from one of my favourite anchorages on the entire Bc Coast, Dogfish Bay, Kendrick Island at Gabriola Passage

Mount Baker
Taken from one of my favourite anchorages on the entire BC Coast, Dogfish Bay, Kendrick Island at Gabriola Passage

Old Glory shakes A Leg The day, the year begins

Old Glory Shakes A Leg
The day, the year begins

The Shadows Vanquished It IS as cold as it looks

The Shadows Vanquished
It IS as cold as it looks

The Cave An excellent acoustic chamber, it amplified the party din of noisy neighbours a few miles down the beach

The Cave
An excellent acoustic chamber, it amplified the party din of noisy neighbours a mile down the beach

Hey Guys! It was midnight hours ago. turn it down huh?

Hey Guys! It was midnight hours ago.
Turn it down huh?

Old Tattoo. This old thug would look right at home on a Harley. The tattoo is how research people track these sea lions. Some them migrate hundreds of miles.

Old Tattoo.
Wouldn’t this old thug would look right at home on a Harley? The branded number is how research people track these sea lions. Some them migrate hundreds of miles.

Whadya mean "New Year's Annual Polar Bear Dip?"

Whadya mean “New Year’s Annual Polar Bear Dip?” Sing or Swim!

 

Some revellers slept where they fell

Some revellers slept where they fell

Fish for breakfast, again.

Fish for breakfast, again.

Keep your bow pointing south and the sun on your port bow. Happy New Year.

Keep your bow pointing south and the morning sun to port.
Happy New Year.