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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.