Monthly Archives: March 2016

Whau Dar Muddle Wi Me?

I’m baaack! I’ve beaten my long bout with terminal snyphlis. God, three weeks can be a long time! I can take a deep breath once in a while without coughing up any weird biology. Yeehaw! Once in a while you get a sense that maybe, just maybe, things are going to work out. A simple clear breath is such a wonderful thing!

I found a like-new compass on e-Bay, a Dirigo, one of the best names to be had. I made an offer, which time-expired, but I sleuthed out that of all the places on the planet, it was sitting in a pawn shop in Victoria right here on Southern Vancouver Island less than an hour away. I went and bought it for a very good price. The weather was gorgeous and for the first time in weeks I felt fit for living. Jack was along and he deserved a break at his favourite Victoria dog park, Macaulay Point Park, an old artillery fort built in the late 1800s.

For Tony and Connie A spring day view from Macaulay Point to Ogden Point and the Victoria Harbour Entrance. Home Port to 'Sage.'

For Tony and Connie
A spring day view from Macaulay Point to Ogden Point and the Victoria Harbour Entrance. Home Port to ‘Sage.’

Jack and the big doghouse. Actually it's a tunnel providing sheltered access to one of the gun emplacements at Macaulay Point. Note the build date:1895

Jack and the big doghouse. Actually it’s a tunnel providing sheltered access to one of the old gun emplacements at Macaulay Point. Note the build date:1895

A view West to Race Point and then the open Pacific. a place which all good things must pass.

A view West to Race Point
and then the open Pacific. A place which all good things must pass.

Once home the suspense mounted as I headed for the dock to see how well the new compass fit the old box. With some simple inventiveness, one gimbal ring fit inside another and the whole plan fell into place as if it were pre-destined for a long time. A double-gimballed Dirigo! Eat your heart out. Wow! What a feeling after all the weeks of abject misery. Now all I have to do is swing the new compass and we’re ready for sea. What the hell do I mean by “swinging the compass?”

Steady as she goes! My new double-gimballed Dirigo. Even the compass light worked out perfectly

Steady as she goes!
My new double-gimballed Dirigo. Even the compass light worked out perfectly. Note the compass points marked around the card

OK, it’s as good a time as any to explain the rudimentary principals of using a good old-fashioned magnetic device and yes, I’ll over-simplify as much as I dare. Contrary to some beliefs a compass does not tell you what direction you are going, nor does it actually even show in what direction True North lays.

Sadly there are a lot of pilots and mariners who don’t really know how a compass works anymore. Once, so long ago, it was the only navigational tool used by many travellers.

We live in the age of GPS which is a network of satellites. By simple triangulation they can very accurately determine where you are on the planet within inches. Unfortunately, all it takes is for Uncle Obama or, God forbid, Commander-In-Chief Trump, to flip a switch, and we loose our Global Positioning Network. With millions depending on this device in their car, boat, aircraft, mobile phone, camera, wristwatch, it would be a disaster. Many folks would be utterly screwed. The military allowed GPS to become available to the civilian world because it has something else even better. It doesn’t need GPS anymore now than muzzle-loading cannons. This becomes part of my eternal essay about how people are rendered dependant on technology. Eventually we become enslaved to convenience instead of having the freedom of relying on knowledge, wisdom and intuition. And so we become very easy to control. I know there are countless sailors who have crossed oceans only using their GPS, and electronic charts are universally accepted now. Many vessels even have a sextant aboard anymore.  I don’t ever want to have to find my home in the dark with my eyes closed. I insist that one of the mantras of a real sailor is self-sufficiency. There is some deep value in retaining wisdoms of the old school.

So here’s how a magnetic compass works. There is a simple acrostic that reads: True Virgins Make Dull Company. I’ll explain.

TRUE north is any imaginary straight line on the planet that intersects the equator (another imaginary line) at 90° and crosses through both the North and South Poles (two more theoretical points) These north/south lines are called lines of longitude but I’m trying to keep this simple and we’ll avoid any description of latitude and longitude here. Using one of those lines on your chart you layout your course from A to B and then determine the true course to which you’ll add or subtract your adjusting values.

VARIATION is the local angle between Magnetic North and True or Theoretical North. Unfortunately The Magnetic North Pole is a considerable distance from the True North Pole so depending on where you are on the planet, the angle between the two poles naturally has to change. To further confuse the issue, the Magnetic North Pole slowly moves around. That precession must be accounted for to provide complete accuracy. Any chart or map will have a variation rose which will tell you how much the angle is changing annually. A navigator needs to calculate the current value of variation and then subtract if the variation is Easterly, or add if it is Westerly. Hang in there, it gets more interesting.

MAGNETIC This is the angle, or heading to steer once you have added or subtracted the variation as required.

DEVIATION Within any boat, aircraft, or other vehicle there are various magnetic properties. It may be the engine, electronic equipment, the steel plate in your head, stereo speakers and so forth. This magnetic pull is an influence on a compass and so each compass installation must be “Swung” to determine the amount of deviation, east or west, on every ten degrees of the compass card. It is then all recorded on a deviation card and posted within sight of the compass.

COMPASS Finally, now that you have added or subtracted the deviation closest to the heading you intend to steer, you have the actual number on the compass card to try and steer steadily toward.

Of course, you can set your GPS to steer either true or magnetic and it is not affected by any deviation until it goes bleep and becomes a dark, empty, lost screen. In the old days of sail, when you had to adjust your helm constantly to compensate for the vagaries of the wind in your sails, the helmsman “Boxed” the compass. He did not steer by degrees but rather the point the skipper ordered. A point, for example, of East Nor’East could be altered by the point (11.25 degrees) either way. One point to Starboard would make the heading ENE by East. You had to pay attention, even with the wind rumbling in your ears. The other navigation tool was a sextant, so that you could work out your position according to the angle of altitude to specific stars at a given moment. That required an accurate chronometer but here we teeter on the fine line between art and science and this is a blog and not a navigational tome.

Ropework. Skills which came from when a seaman's deftness with ropes and sailcloth were part of his trade.

Ropework.
Skills which came from when a seaman’s deftness with ropes and sailcloth were part of his trade.

A gaff rig. Mains'l detail on the fishpacker 'Providence'

A gaff rig.
Mains’l detail on the fishpacker ‘Providence’

Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark. The real thing!

A good friend and accomplished sailor just emailed me from Sydney Australia where he had toured the ‘James Craig’ a fully restored and working barque. He was gob-smacked.(A barque was a full-rigged ship, with at least two masts square-rigged) There are very few of these beauties left, especially in seaworthy condition. You can actually buy a ticket to go for a harbour cruise aboard her. I’ve trod the decks of ‘Cutty Sark,’ the famous preserved tea clipper stored in Greenwich, England and I fully understand Jimmy’s enthusiasm. There is a spirit in the fibres of these fabulous old icons. All of the emotion and drama of the long-ago passages, the storms, the rich characters of the crews are an energy which is easy to feel. It is tangible and very real, something much larger than mere imagination.. (A clipper had three masts square-rigged and was very fast.) ‘Cutty Sark’ once logged off 363 nautical miles in 24 hours, with a full cargo. She did that without burning one drop of fuel for propulsion! How’s that for green thinking?

My favourite full-rigger is the Mexican training barque ‘Cuauhtemoc,’ partly for my affinity of things Mexican but also for the love and spirit with which she is sailed and maintained. However, she was built in 1982 as a training ship and is not an original working ship like the ‘James Craig or ‘Cutty Sark.’

In addition to the skill required in simply steering such a vessel without auto-pilot or GPS the ‘James Craig’ apparently has 140 pieces of running rigging each held, or belayed, in place by a belaying pin. Each of those lines has its own name and place, which every crew member was expected to know. In storm or in dark, whether ill, hungry, or off-watch, a seaman was expected to know exactly what to do on demand, on deck, or in the rigging. To make a mistake, either at the helm or in the rigging could cost the ship a mast or worse. Injuries and fatalities were all too common and you didn’t want any on your head.. Many of these men could neither read nor write but the old term about “knowing the ropes” was a high accolade. The confidence in yourself and your shipmates had to be enormous. Men were appointed to their positions by their skill and experience. It had nothing to do with any piece of paper. It was not uncommon for a man in his mid-twenties to have been made captain. One of my two favourite nautical writers, Alan Villiers, (the other being Sterling Hayden) once served aboard the ‘James Craig’ when she plied her trade in the Tasman Sea. I’ve never laid eyes on her, but I feel I know her a little.

A picture is worth a thousand words

A picture is worth a thousand words

I truly believe that sail-training ships are one of the finest ways for young people to develop solid personal character as well as invaluable nautical experience. Sadly, Canada, with the longest navigable coastline of any nation, has only the lovely little old ketch ‘HMCS Oriole’ as our sail training vessel and flagship. Compared to Japan’s ‘Nippon Maru’ or the USCG ‘Eagle’ or Mexico’s ‘Cuauhtemoc’ it is rather embarrassing; eh?

A bow detail of the Australian-built replica of the 'Endeavour' Men sailed ships like these around the world on voyages of discovery...and then found their way home again!

A bow detail of the Australian-built replica of the ‘Endeavour’
Men sailed ships like these around the world on voyages of discovery…and then found their way home again!

Easter weekend has thundered up on us and the weather is grudgingly yielding to spring. Buds and leaves and flowers are emerging and this week I saw a huge flock of swans heading northward. Now there’s an example of real navigators. The dreary business of the US presidential pre-nuptuals wears on and on. As I write, the Ladysmith Volunteer Firehall has just sounded its general alarm once again. In minutes emergency vehicles wail off on their next mission of mercy and self-importance. (They love any opportunity to use their sirens.) Dogs around this little town howl in response to the sirens. Meanwhile, on the television, more horrific terrorist attacks in Europe have the media humming with speculations and innuendo. It’s clearly time to go swing my compass.

The boat house in spring a backwater in Lasdysmith

The boat house in spring.
A backwater in Ladysmith

If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.”

…Ken Livingston, British Labour Politician

My Life As An Amobea

The 49th Parallel Ladysmith lies on the 49th parallel. This rock sits on the beach a little to the south where it was deposited during the last period of global warming

The 49th Parallel
Ladysmith lies on the 49th parallel of latitude. This granite and quartz boulder sits on the beach a little to the south where it was deposited almost perfectly by a glacier during the last period of global warming.

Now THAT'S a Boulder! It's the little guy underneath doing to heavy lifting.

Now THAT’S a Boulder!
It’s the little guy underneath doing the heavy lifting.

Last post I mentioned the Ides Of March. Now I’m living them. It’s snot funny! After eight days of gasping and gagging I descended into whimpish submission and made a doctor’s appointment to be told what I already knew. The sawbones advised me that I had pneumonia. So now I’m to trust in these colourful wee pills and to “Get plenty of rest.” I can’t lay down without coughing my lungs inside-out so I sit in a suspended state that is neither sleep nor wakefulness and spend all day staring into a garden-slug beige-green mist, rasping out the next breath while sitting in my living room recliner, aka “The Stinky Chair”, and trying to maintain a state of mindless zen; neither dead nor alive. There are many kinds of courage I do not possess and enduring this state of nothingness is one of them. Writing this paragraph is the most ambitious thing I’ve done in a week. How do people endure a long illness? There is far too much time for introspection. I feel a tide of madness advancing up through the lethargy of this illness, the boredom, and the weakness to change anything. Imagine this, old Fred has lost his voice!

Rootbound Beach Ocean becoming forest, forest becoming ocean

Rootbound Beach
Ocean becoming forest, forest becoming ocean.

The cold rain continues to hammer in tedious monotony. Jack the dog maintains a state of hibernation all the while eager, at a moment’s notice, to bound out into the weather for a change. Any small outing is a grand adventure. I stagger frailly along paths far behind him, my chest squeaking and bubbling pathetically. How we take the fragile, teetering miracle of good health for granted! How I hope to be doing exactly that again soon. Last night my wife took me to a local Chinese restaurant for a bowl of wonton soup, a perfect tonic for my state. I opened the car window to spit another bit of lung out into the pelting wet of the night’s gale. The window wouldn’t close again! We returned home, I fixed the window, we went for another try at the soup. The fortune cookie was utterly inaccurate, I returned to my stinky chair. Everything on the television is beyond my idea of edification, enlightenment or simple non-offensive entertainment. Meanwhile, old ‘Seafire’ continues to languish at the dock, sadly tugging at her lines waiting for the next adventure. Coming soon, coming soon.

Don't shout at me! A very old arbutus tree, and still alive.

Don’t shout at me!
A very old arbutus tree, and still alive.

A week later, I’m still honking like a flock of geese. Things are improving slowly and I can actually sleep lying down again. Now Jill is sick, I’ve shared the wealth and she has spring break to recover. Gee thanks huh! I suppose a benefit of the misery of an illness is to be reminded what a truly fragile species we are. This is only a flu virus that is striking people down locally, it could easily be some other deadly microcosm wiping us out by the millions. It has happened before, many times. I maintain that there is one non-indigenous organism on this planet: us. If we don’t learn how to co-exist as the guests we truly are here, we may well come face to face with antibodies which will erase us from our tenuous and infectious invasion of the earth, the host we insist on exploiting far beyond our minimal needs. There is a natural order to the universe which will be ignored for only so long.

 The dead end...speaking of bikes and feeling poorly!

The dead end…speaking of bikes and feeling poorly!

All the while, my illness seems to have extended a negative karma elsewhere. Problems with my vehicle have had me crawling, repeatedly, underneath on the garage floor doing some nasty work over and over until the gremlin decided to quit fighting. The job was certainly not a cure for a chest infection! It’s extraordinary how a low time seems to attract problems. On a check of ‘Seafire’ I find the big compass at the main helm now has, mysteriously, a split bowl. There is mineral oil leaking all over. One of the joys of getting older is knowing all things pass. Life can be an ordeal or an adventure, it is all about attitude.

Don't go to sea with an empty compass box, and don't buy a Sam Yang compass. Now I need to find a new compass that fits the box I made.

Don’t go to sea with an empty compass box, and don’t buy a Sam Yang compass. Now I need to find a new compass that fits the box I made.

If you like rainbows...you've got to go out in the rain.

If you like rainbows…you’ve got to go out in the rain.

What duck? Some lovely brightness despite the winter gloom.

What duck? Some lovely brightness despite the winter gloom.

The Vortex Dark faces in the sky

The Vortex.
Dark faces in the sky.

 Caw! The crows of spring waiting for something to happen or something to die.

Caw!
The crows of spring waiting for something to happen, or something to die.

Well isn’t it funny how the pickle squirts! A lady in Queens, New York was doing a general search online of the term “Ides Of March” and stumbled on ‘Seafire Chronicles’. She liked my photo of a bicycle leaning on a post at surf’s edge and so now we each have a new friend. Justine Vallinotti posts her own blog. http://midlifecycling.blogspot.ca which is built on her passion for bicycling. It’s a lovely and informative sight, well worth checking out. You’ll find a link to her site on my Blog Roll in the right hand side bar. Another fabulous sight linked there is Sage On Sail, friends of mine from Victoria here on Vancouver Island. They have sailed from Victoria across and up and down the South Pacific. Now they’re sending incredible photos from South Africa as they methodically work their way Eastward along its coast. They are also avid bicycle folks and I believe they are heading up and across the Atlantic for the New York area. So heh! You never know what will happen when you pusha da button! I once set foot in New York for about an hour in the late sixties. I flew in and out of JFK as crew and vowed never to return there again. This old bog-stomper was terrified at the endless city I could see from the air and I’m sure it is even more horrific half a century on. Here rises that issue again about different types of courage. I much prefer the backwoods and wide-open ocean, the thought of which, I know, freezes other folk’s blood. Different strokes for different folks.

Still on the theme of how one little thing can lead to another, the bike business led me to thinking of “Fat Man On A Bicycle”, a BBC 4 travelogue and cooking show hosted by Tom Vernon. It was a good enough show that I still remember it and of course that leads me to recalling “The Two Fat Ladies”, another BBC 4 cooking show featuring two obese women who travelled Britain in their motorcycle and sidecar cooking up wonderfully rich food wherever they stopped. They were deadpan hilarious. While researching the above I stumbled on a site called “Fat Guy Across America” It is about a fellow named Eric Hite who weighs in excess of 500 pounds and is biking across the continent in an effort to regain his health and his marriage to the woman he loves. So all of that comes from taking and posting one photograph of a bicycle.

Spring seems reluctant here. There has been snow on the mountains since mid-September and although there are buds and flowers it remains chilly, even on sunny days. I know it won’t be long until the bitching about “Hot and dry” begins again and every layman can prove global warming. The world economy thrives on paranoia and while many things are in a sorry mess I do get weary of the masses allowing themselves to be steered in someone else’s profitable direction without asking obvious questions. Which leads to this one. Donald Trump!? C’mon folks, really? Is our Western Culture so ruptured that this dude continues to get anyone’s serious consideration as a presidential candidate, even for one day? That terrifies me.

All the more reason to run away to sea. I’ll just have to remember when crossing the US border to not have a black, bushy beard, to not be in the company of any dark-eyed children, to not wear a cowboy hat and when dealing with Homeland Insecurity to never, ever, employ any sense of humour. ON A CLOUDY DAY: Despite another gloomy day, both health and weather-wise, it’s uplifting to go and find some photos in the dull light. Here are a few from today.

Classic Jack. Just add water, Jack is a happy dog.

Classic Jack. Just add water, Jack is a happy dog.

A view to another world. The Holland Creek tunnel in Ladysmith built by the railway over a hundred years ago

A view to another world.
The Holland Creek Tunnel in Ladysmith built by the railway over a hundred years ago.

A Caterpillar among the daffodils. Mainstreet Ladysmith where kids love to play on old tractors.

A Caterpillar among the daffodils. Mainstreet Ladysmith where kids love to play on old tractors.

Pamela's dock. The foreshore of property inherited by Pamela Anderson. Ladysmith is her hometown,. She is the community's most famous export, among coal, lumber and oysters.

Pamela’s dock. The foreshore of property inherited by Pamela Anderson. Ladysmith is her hometown.  She is the community’s most famous export, among coal, lumber and oysters.

Under the Slime Light. Winter verdigris can grow anywhere, even between your toes!

Under the Slime Light. Winter verdigris can grow anywhere, even between your toes!

Shipwright built. Not a straight line anywhere. A beautiful piece of work.

Shipwright built. Not a straight line anywhere.
A beautiful piece of work.

If you like blues music check this out. A friend emailed me some Youtube links with a guitarist named Hank Shizzoe, another named Sonny Landreth, and a band calling itself “Loose Gravel”. It is all good stuff and I’m always amazed at these very talented people who can produce unique sounds. This from a guy who couldn’t carry a tune in a fish tote. Hopefully the next blog has me bounding around like a very frisky Easter rabbit. I’m due for surgery on a bum ankle in a few days and after that who knows? Perhaps I’ll end up with a band named “Wooden Leg”… or “Stumble Gumboot.” The possibilities are endless, the dream is alive.

Walk a small dog who chews a big stick.

Walk a small dog who chews a big stick.

The whole situation! For those with bugs...get well soon.

The whole shituation!
For those with bugs…get well soon. Did you notice the old shitehawk has only one leg?Well put!

Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

                                                                                      .- George Carlin

The Ides Of March

 

Last Light Seaside Oregon

Last Light
Seaside Oregon

It is March 2nd already, almost a month since my last blog. The pinnacle of my winter is past now, I’ve just returned from my annual pilgrimage to the Fisher Poet’s Gathering in Astoria Oregon. As usual the event was wonderful, reading and listening to the work of over ninety of us, an affirmation of our blue collar love of the sea, the environmental and political issues and the simple raw passion of being on and near the water. The drive down this year seemed long and tedious, with several detours on the roads and an expired passport, but it is all over now with more fond memories filed away.

The most westerly bicycle rack in the USA

The most westerly bicycle rack in the USA

The disciples Longbeach Washington

The disciples
Longbeach Washington

The Baptist

The Baptist

I’ve managed to bring home some insidious virus and I’m not feeling particularly energetic. I’m sitting here in my bunny slippers with a schnozzy nose and bleary eyes so this blog will not hold any creative considerations or polemic perspectives.

In my last blog, ‘The Cowboy Jihad’ was written only with available information, which I confessed at the time. There has since been a lot more digging on the subject among myself and my peers. While in Astoria I managed to share brunch with a lady who has an intimate knowledge of the Burns and Malheur Lake areas in Oregon. There is a very different slant to the story when taken from a local perspective. It seems that the radical ranchers who came from various other states to establish the standoff with the feds were not much welcomed by local folks. The community was/is harshly divided, schools were closed as the event heated up, the National Guard was on standby. Apparently the general local consensus was that folks just wanted these outsiders to go back to their home ranches, pay up their overdue taxes and range lease fees (The arrears total many millions) and let the residents of the epicentre get on with their disrupted lives. Many of the facts we received through the media are grossly slanted or blatant lies.

Old Blue Lips Some Astoria flavour

Old Blue Lips
Some Astoria flavour

I am a Canadian and a US insurrection is none of my business so long as I can cross through my neighbouring country without being shot or imprisoned without just cause. There are plenty of issues here at home to poke my beak into. My resolve is to maintain and inspire the value of a questioning mind and to

Downtown Train Avery old wooden railway caboose on mains street in Astoria

Downtown Train
A very old wooden railway caboose on mains street in Astoria

A restored tram car in Astoria

A restored tram car in Astoria

Astoria Dawn A view from my motel room

Astoria Dawn Rainstorm
A view from my motel room

be aware. For example, two days ago when boarding the ferry M.V. Coho for the crossing to Victoria, I reviewed the Canada Customs form I was handed. I noted that items like switchblade knives and bear spray are “prohibited.” Hand guns are “restricted.” What the hell?

All I want to do is go sailing. The muddy waters of our own greed, apathy and resulting misgovernment are leading us into our own figurative Ides. For me, it’s all reason enough to move along and just be, instead trying to make sense of things. If I can’t be part of the solution then I am part of the problem.

Ready to go Prawn traps in a back alley of Astoria

Ready to go
Prawn traps in a back alley of Astoria

The Liberty Theatre a lovingly restored relic of the 20s and 30s It is gorgeous inside

The Liberty Theatre
a lovingly restored relic of the 20s and 30s It is gorgeous inside

Rooked An amazing chess set in an art gallery window. The board is about five feet square

Rooked
An amazing chess set in an art gallery window. The board is about five feet square.

Another art gallery window. This metal sculpture is about four feet long. The tail, the jaws, the fins and the eyes move. They're cleverly recycled motorcycle lights

Another art gallery window. This metal sculpture is about four feet long. The tail, the jaws, the fins and the eyes move. They’re cleverly recycled motorcycle lights.

Yes Really! A car lot in Port Townsend The cars are all 60s vintage Morris Minors

Yes Really!
A car lot in Port Townsend. The cars are all 60s vintage Morris Minors

Look ma! No airbags, no seatbelts, no radial tires, Wot? No GPS!

Look ma!
No airbags, no seatbelts, no radial tires, Wot? No
GPS!

Real wood! A little English Oak

Real wood! A little English Oak.

An Oscar Meyer Weiner, the dirty old weiner flasher. Even I find this slightly vulgar. "Mommy, what's he squirting on his head?

An Oscar Meyer Weiner, the old flasher. Even I find this image slightly vulgar. “Mommy, what’s he squirting on his head? For some reason he lurks on the edge of the Morris Minor car lot.

 

Well it's not exactly the cover of the Rolling Stone but that's me, the Fisher Poet's poster boy. Reproduced with permission of the "Coast Weekend'

Well it’s not exactly the cover of the Rolling Stone but that’s me, the Fisher Poet’s poster boy.
Reproduced with permission of the “Coast Weekend’

 

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Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

George Orwell