Monthly Archives: August 2016

Back In Shearwater Again

Back In Shearwater Again (Sung to the tune by Willy Nelson)

Blunden Harbour slipped astern with it’s encircling shelter of rocks behind. Those same rocks which can seize and smash a boat may also protect it from the relentless energy of the sea. It all depends on which side of the rocks you choose. This whole coastline is one huge rock and I intended to stand well off. I have indelible images of the rusting hulks on the beaches by Cape Caution. I intend to keep my hulk in deep enough water.

Rising sun, lowering sky. Blunden Harbour falls behind me and the day's adventures lay ahead.

Rising sun, lowering sky. Blunden Harbour falls behind me and the day’s adventures lay ahead.

It was calm and bright at first but there was a descending fog. I have radar and a chart plotter and lots of experience in this area so no worries. An hour further on I was off the mouth of a place called Slingsby Channel, yet another inlet which leads to world-notorious Nakwakto Rapids and miles of winding passages inland. The fog had descended so that visibility was less than a quarter-mile. This area is named Queen Charlotte Strait and known by some tugboaters as the “Rock Garden.” There are reefs and protruding rocks everywhere. Depending on the vagaries of the spinning planet the wind and tides swirl unpredictably. Some days they churn against each other. This was one of them. It is at a time of spring tides, when the moon is full. This is when tidal forces are at their greatest. Yeehaw! I ached to head for the open ocean and put this mess behind me. Out there, free of the influences of land, the seas take on a rhythm and the shore slop eases into a far more rhythmic motion.

Swells of three and four metres came from different angles producing steep-sided mountains of water sometimes called haystacks. These are the waters surrounding aptly named Cape Caution. The ebb and flood of several large inlets mix with those of the open Pacific. There are few dull days here. I have passed the cape a few times when there was an oily calm on top of an undulating swell and the suspense was palpable. “When’s the shit gonna hit the fan?”There was no point in turning back, chances were that the weather would be the same tomorrow and the day after. Grin and bare it and get it over with.

The swells came all ways. Cape Caution shuffle. Photographs of sea conditions invariably appear much lower than reality.

The swells came all ways. Cape Caution shuffle.
Photographs of sea conditions invariably appear much lower than reality.

Items in the cabin, although carefully stowed, levitated and flung themselves in all directions into impossible places. I left them to settle in where they chose. There was no broken glass and no point in tidying up. It was hard enough just hanging on. The boat slewed, and rolled and pitched violently. Even trying to take a photo was a challenge. A boat in those sort of seas is an ultimate exercise machine. The swells rear up and then move on, there are moving monsters in all directions, haystacks and the holes between them. I was grateful for my electronics. So long as they continued to work I knew exactly where I was, my ground speed, and which way to steer. Peering into the fog, despite the electronic displays, one is soon seeing imaginary rocks, boats and dark silhouettes which appear and vanish. Even an hour of that is a long time. I was so happy that nightfall was many hours off. The engine began making noises I’d never heard before. Of course it was just my imagination, and I knew it was, but In the midst of this watery chaos you’re braced for the worst. Then a seal lion spy hopped out of the foaming murk twenty feet from the boat. Thanks for the laxative buddy!

Surfing down a lump. Note the speed in knots and the curser on the plotter.

Surfing down a lump, doing the Cape Caution slide..
Note the speed in knots and the curser on the plotter.

Whipped! Something to do to pass the time during calmer moments. Rope tricks are not my specialty but it was sure nice to hang onto while doing the Cape Caution shuffle. It has only taken be five years to get around to whipping this loop on the binnacle.

Whipped!
Something to do to pass the time during calmer moments. Rope tricks are not my specialty but it was sure nice to hang onto while doing the Cape Caution Shuffle. It has only taken me five years to get around to whipping this loop on the binnacle.

 

I imagined being perching in the rigging of a sailing ship with only “Eyeballs and arseholes” to save your engine-less vessel from disaster. And in waters like these, no matter which way you turn, there’s something to hit, probably sooner than later. Those were the “Good Old Days,” when mariners had only a magnetic compass to rely on. In a fog it took fantastic local knowledge and intuition to know where you were after considering the set of the tide, wind, waves. There was no button to push to call for rescue if you got it wrong. If you had an engine, it was weak and unreliable. Any older mariner was truly a venerable force of stamina, knowledge and luck. And there were those who plied these waters for millenniums in dugout canoes!

Just get it over with!

Just get it over with!

All’s well that ends. There was about six hours of that herk and jerk. I composed songs about ‘The Cape Caution Shuffle’ and the ‘Slingsby Grind.’ It was too rough to write anything down and God knows I’m no songwriter. One of the joy’s of getting older is knowing that nothing is forever and so I toughed it through. Finally the fog began to brighten, the seas eased and then suddenly it was behind me. The sea was calm with a light wind and I could see forever. What quiet happiness. I was now in Fitzhugh Sound also notorious for vicious wind and seas but my dues had been paid; for the day. I later learned that up to sixty southbound yachts were waiting in various anchorages for the weather to ease.

A lovely big bubble-netter. Once into the relative calm of Fitzhugh Sound, Humpback Whales seemed to be everywhere. By encircling a school of fish with a net of bubbles they can concentrate their meal into a big ball of sushi and swallow it in one massive mouthful. it is always a thrill to see these great creatures.

A lovely big bubble-netter. Once into the relative calm of Fitzhugh Sound, it seemed that Humpback Whales were everywhere. By encircling a school of fish with a net of bubbles they can concentrate their meal into a big ball of sushi and swallow it in one massive mouthful. it is always a thrill to see these great creatures.

Day six. I am now in Pruth Bay taking a languorous pleasure this morning of just sitting, sipping coffee, editing photos, writing and cleaning up the boat. I even bathed myself! That nasty smell is gone! I’m anchored off the docks of the Hakaii Research Institute. The institute has a wonderful website well worth checking out but be warned that you will find yourself wanting to come and visit in person. This place really made the news last year when they had confirmed archeological evidence here which proved human habitation over 13,000 years ago. That’s a hell of a grandfather clause! The facility is located at the Western end of Kwahsua Channel. About six miles long, it runs almost due East and West. There is about a half mile of low flat land separating it’s end from the open ocean. I wonder why a seaplane war base was not built here instead of blasting one out of solid granite at Shearwater. I’ll have to research that one, well aware I’m questioning military intelligence.

All creatures great and small. This moon jelly fish is about a foot in diameter. They can become almost half as big again. Yes, they DO sting.

All creatures great and small. This moon jelly fish is about a foot in diameter. They can become almost half as big again. Yes, they DO sting.

This is my day. I’m taking it off. I’ll go ashore after a week aboard and walk across to the beach. If I can. I feel as if I was in a brawl after yesterday’s rock and roll. I realize, all too clearly, I’m not a young feller any more. I want to name the beach as the finest I’ve ever been on so far in my life. It is pristine and there was not another person anywhere in sight. The water is clear, too cold for swimming but the air glowed with a special soft light, the breaking waves were back-lit and the only footprints in the sand, other than mine, were those of a raccoon. The curving beach is broad, firm and long enough to use as a runway for light aircraft. It is as close to untouched primal beauty as I have ever seen. I could find only four small bits of unnatural debris, (two were cigarette butts) to put in the litter bin at the trail head. Sadly, this isthmus was once logged of its giant spruce and cedar but there is healthy regeneration separating the bay from the beach. There are seven other adjoining beaches of various size. I left reluctantly but there was another place I wanted to visit.

Hakaii Beach, first breath-taking view.

Hakaii Beach, first breath-taking view.

Even the rocks on the beach are lovely.

Even the rocks on the beach are lovely.

...So are the dead trees.

…So are the dead trees.

...and there are flowers if you care to look.

…And there are flowers if you care to look.

A strand of kelp in the sand. It rather looked liked a seahorse to me.

A strand of kelp in the sand. It rather looked liked a seahorse to me.

...And a wading bird?

…And a wading bird?

I'll be back

I’ll be back

Downtown Yurtville. Notice how the communities get smaller as I go north? This is some summer staff accommodation at Hakaii Research Institute.

Downtown Yurtville.
Notice how the communities get smaller as I go north?
This is some summer staff accommodation
at Hakaii Research Institute.

The six mile seaplane runway 09. Kwashua Inlet.It separates Calvert  and Hecate Islands.

The six mile seaplane runway 09. Kwashua Inlet.It separates Calvert and Hecate Islands.

Two ships passing in the fog. Into the mystic once again.

Two ships passing in the fog. Into the mystic once again.

And here I am three hours across Fitzhugh Sound from Pruth Bay. The fog rose and settled several times. The light has been amazing. I’ve dodged more Humpback whales and the wind was favourable for motorsailing. At one point I thought I had found an uncharted reef which proved to be a Humpback whale breaching and beating it’s massive pectoral fins on the surface. The bright streak ahead on the waterline was the backside of Koeye Bay, it was exactly dead ahead. Koeye Bay, at the mouth of a beautiful river and valley of the same name is an ancestral cultural and spiritual center of the Heiltsuk Nation. To my surprise three water taxis from Shearwater were rafted together in the bay. Maintaining these boats will be part of my job. I hoped no-one recognized ‘Seafire’ or me. This is MY day!

Koeye Bay

Koeye Bay

The guardian of Koeye

The guardian of Koeye

Wedding guests return to the docks and the waiting water taxis.

Wedding guests return to the docks and the waiting water taxis.

The Shearwater Navy. some of the water axis from homebase.

The Shearwater Navy.
Some of the water taxis from home base.

There was a grand wedding ceremony which required the boats to transport all those people so many miles from Bella Bella. The light was perfect to photograph the long house on the beach and as I did the wonderful sound of aboriginal singing and drumming flowed down from the “Bighouse” overlooking the bay. I was transfixed, especially when a humpback whale breached, vented and sounded just off the mouth of the small bay. The moment was indelible, a rare karmic second of coincidence, or spiritual energy if you will, that is now embedded in my personal hard drive. Later the aroma of alder woodsmoke wafted down onto the bay. I stayed the night.

Day seven. I awoke in the morning with the boat rolling just as eagerly as it had all through the night. A steady rain pattered down on the deckhead, a few drops coming in through the open hatch. I laughed ironically, closed the hatch, and pulled the covers over my head. Back in the Great Bear Rainforest! That must have been the welcoming committee, the rain has stopped now that I’m up. I crawled out of the bunk one toe at a time and greeted a bleak dawn. Now I’m sitting at my table having finished my very last orange and anticipating my first morning mug of coffee. I am contemplating the fog on the inside of the windows. What am I doing here? If fools rush in, what do you say about someone who goes back for more? Economic refuge!

I noted on my charts how tiny parcels of land are set aside as Indian Reserves. I marvel at white-think and how drawing a line around a piece of land was/is considered fair recompense for a culture that did not understand the concept of owning any piece of the planet. It was all ours to use and respect and share. My thinking is becoming less ‘White” as I age. MINE! I don’t get it anymore, how much is enough?

The further north I come, the more tree whales I spot. These creatures love to bask on the surface and disguise themselves as logs and floating trees. If you’re not watching they may give your hull a grand thump. It might be great fun for them but no mariner ever thinks so.. They usually travel in packs. If you see one, there are bound to be more nearby. Now I note as I turn west and south to the narrow passage that as usual my destination is on a fold in the chart. It’s just the way of things in life if you don’t have a big enough vessel for a full-size chart table.

I did it! Lifetime guarantee huh? "If it ain't broke, I can fix that too!" A mechanic at Shearwater. Uh huh!

I did it! Lifetime guarantee huh? “If it ain’t broke, I can fix that too!” A mechanic at Shearwater? Uh huh!

Shearwater at last. The final leg was uneventful save for frequent rain squalls. I came the less travelled route around the back and top of the island, then through a gauntlet of rocks and currents called Gunboat Passage. As I turned in, I looked up the long length of Dean ChanneI. It bores it’s way well into the mainland to Bella Coola. It is steep-sided and deep, with few anchorages and the winds are often vicious. I felt small and weary looking up that channel. Up there is where Alexander Mackenzie was turned back by Heiltsuk warriors. He found Pacific waters but never got see the open ocean. He walked and canoed back to Toronto. I think I’ve had a long trip!

I hope a fresh approach and a positive attitude will be a great way to start a rerun here at Shearwater. It’s cool and cloudy today, the docks are very busy so I’m rafted alongside a fabulous J-class sailing boat. (One of it’s sheet winches alone looks to be more valuable than my entire boat.) I’ve already unloaded my mountain of tools and hopefully in the morning I’ll sort out a proper space for permanent moorage. Now I have to stay positive and keep thinking Mexico, Mexico through the long, dark, wet, windy winter ahead. Margarita, margarita, margarita.

"If the smell of your own smoke don't drive you crazy..." I met this belching apparition in Gunboat Passage, a few minutes from Shearwater.  I considered this as a last warning t go on by. I turned in... just to see what  comes next.

“If the smell of your own smoke don’t drive you crazy…”
I met this belching apparition in Gunboat Passage, a few minutes from Shearwater. I considered this as a last warning to go on by. I turned in… just to see what comes next.

Oh yeah! There’ll be lots to write about. I’m actually thinking of selling my beloved ‘Seafire’ and buying some smaller boat I find in Mexico. I already have an invitation to crew on a boat sailing to Mexico next year. The dream lives on. Ordeal or adventure, that’s up to me.


The eyes of men speak words the tongue cannot pronounce.”    …Crow proverb

My Punt Sunk

Click on images to enlarge 

First Light Eagle dawn in Anderson Bay

First Light
Eagle dawn in Anderson Bay

I’m beginning this blog late on Sunday afternoon. It is August 14th, and hot. The wind is blowing westerly, right on the nose, so here I sit anchored in Departure Bay, Nanaimo waiting for nightfall. Usually the summer westerlies drop off at night and later, under the light of a near-full moon, I’ll continue my journey Northward. I’ve had quite a day, filled with little mishaps and I suppose I should be content, it’s those perfect days which often precurse something nasty. So all’s well.

I’m so down and out these days I can almost will any darkness to happen. Thank the gods for my wife Jill. I went a huge part of this year certain that my marriage was finished but Jill has given me unlimited support when others have let me down and without her help, in every sense, I’d really be stuck. I wonder that I don’t understand being loved, I guess I never have, but I know that I am and I am deeply thankful. And so, professing my appreciation and love for Jill I leave her, and my beloved dog Jack behind. It is eight o’clock Monday morning. Jack will be asleep on the couch and Jill will already be at work, a few weeks away from retirement. I’ve never felt lonelier.

First I put my right wing in, then I stick my left leg out. A juvenile eagle soaks up the morning sun in Anderson Bay

First I put my right wing in, then I stick my left leg out.
A juvenile eagle soaks up the morning sun in Anderson Bay

I arrived here in Anderson Bay on Texada Island at 0:200, creeping into this narrow nook in the shadows of the moonlight and anchored in eighty feet of water. I’ve crossed the Strait Of Georgia, now with the long miles of Malaspina Strait ahead with it’s rollicking winds and seas on the nose. I’ll weigh anchor in a few minutes and see how far I can get. The moonlight and the stars last night were brilliant. Blobs of bio luminescence tumbled past in the boat’s wake. The night’s chill seeped into my bones, a relief after the intense heat of the day. I love travelling at sea in the dark, there is a magic that I cannot describe. Now the warmth of the day is building and soon the winds will begin. Ravens croak and hoot as kingfishers chatter and dart in perpetual motion. A young eagle sits above the scene opening it’s wings to warm away the night’s chill. It is a new world already, the timber and vegetation and geology are noticeably different these few miles north. The subtle changes will continue as I move on until I find myself back in the endless up coast cedar jungle. It’s time to move on. To the south, the high ground of Gabriola Island is still visible on the horizon, the last sight of home waters. I turn my back on it and head north to new adventures.

Look at me now ma! No tiny willy jokes please.

Look at me now ma!
No tiny willy jokes please.

Thanks for the wake dude! The boat name was 'Toy Box II' Some folks just need attention!

Thanks for the wake dude! The boat name was ‘Toy Box II’ Some folks just need attention! You’ve got it now.

In a few days I’ll be at work wearing my greasy coveralls, bent to some task of mechanical drudgery. Someone will walk into the shop and before I can straighten up and see who it is I’ll hear the dreaded words, “My punt sunk.” Ah yes, it’s a long road to Mexico. I head up the shoreline of Texada anxious to get as far north as possible before the forecast winds hits me on the nose. It builds gently and holds, a perfect sailing breeze, but nearly everyone going with it have their sails furled and motor on. It must be hot with little apparent wind on their boats! Alan Farrell, an old friend and iconic West coast nautical sage once said, “If you’re sailing against the wind you’re going the wrong way.” Dunno! The forecast is for several days of ongoing Northwesterly strong winds, the whole damned three-hundred plus miles. All that wind and I’m motoring against it. What the hell am I doing? I promised never to do this again.

In Thulin Pass, north of Lund BC is a place where log tows are towed to wait out windy weather. I rember this spot where someone painted a tugboat name over same aboriginal pictographs. The black paint is fading and the pictographs live on. YES!

In Thulin Pass, north of Lund BC is a place where log tows are towed to wait out windy weather. I rember this spot where someone painted a tugboat name over same aboriginal pictographs. The black paint is fading and the pictographs live on. YES!

Desolation Sound, as named by Captain Vancouver. It is anything but desolate, filled with white plastic yachts throughout the summer months.

Desolation Sound, as named by Captain Vancouver. It is anything but desolate, filled with white plastic yachts throughout the summer months.

The wind eases and the day becomes blistering hot. Eventually I arrive in a deep bay called Teakearne Arm where I used to work on the tugs making up log booms for the tow south to Vancouver. Now there is not one log in sight and yachts litter the shoreline. It is a poor anchorage, the bottom is all rock and slopes downward almost vertically, but each boat has a stern line, a thread to life ashore, and I marvel at the monkey-see monkey-do of poor seamanship. I anchor in the one tiny flat-bottomed spot I know. Some of the land-lubbers afloat must be commenting on my lack of seamanship; I’ve got no stern line out!

Eye Candy. A beautiful old salmon trawler lovingly converted to a lovely classic motor yacht.

Eye Candy.
A beautiful old salmon trawler lovingly converted to a lovely classic motor yacht.

I left at 01:30, an old tug boater at home in the dark. The yachties in their white plastic shells slept in blissful ignorance of the meteorites and pulsing stars and revolving universe.

The night blows cold and I’m weary. I soon realize that I am too late and too tired to take on the notorious trio of rapids ahead in the dark. I had intended to be on my way at midnight but have slept too long. The tide will turn again in a few hours so I drop the hook in the only tiny bight suitable to anchor behind Bartlett Island. Bright green eyes in the timber ashore glare into my spotlight when I check to see that I’m not too close to the steep rocky shoreline. The anchor chain grumbles over the rocky bottom and I grimace to think of the wear to the chain’s galvanizing. I’m up at first light, brewing some stout coffee. The forecast wind is strong, and dead on the nose. As I advance and wait repeatedly, my anchor is going to be up and down, to use an old nautical expression, “Like a whore’s drawers.” Haaar! I’ve previously made this passage in seven days. I’ll make no predictions for this one.

FORE! Stuart island, Yuculta Rapids. some very wealthy men have bought a large part of the island. They've built a private resort, a golf course, and marina. If you look closely you can see the 'St. eval' a gorgeous old British tug converted to a grand yacht. It brings guests from Vancouver

FORE! Stuart island, Yuculta Rapids. some very wealthy men have bought a large part of the island. They’ve built a private resort, a golf course, and marina. If you look closely you can see the ‘St. eval’ a gorgeous old British tug converted to a grand yacht. It brings guests from Vancouver

"There goes another one. Can't any of them swim?" Juvenile sea lions wathc and judge the performance of yachts transiting Gillard Pass near slack waters in the rapid.

“There goes another one. Can’t any of them swim?” Juvenile sea lions wathc and judge the performance of yachts transiting Gillard Pass near slack waters in the rapid.

Mermaid Bay, Dent Rapids. a log tow is helped into the safety of the tiny bay in the middle of the three sets of massive rapids. They'll wait up to twelve hours for the next tide before continuing to tempt the fates again. I know the process all too well, having worked on the tugs for may years.

Mermaid Bay, Dent Rapids. a log tow is helped into the safety of the tiny bay in the middle of the three sets of massive rapids. They’ll wait up to twelve hours for the next tide before continuing to tempt the fates again. I know the process all too well, having worked on the tugs for may years.

The Watcher. A bald eagle sits high in an old fir on a stubby limb and watches the world go by while waiting for lunch to arrive..

The Watcher. A bald eagle sits high in an old fir on a stubby limb and watches the world go by while waiting for lunch to arrive..

Mystic Mountain. J.R. Tolkein would have loved it Some folks can see a reclining face across the peaks.

Mystic Mountain.
J.R. Tolkein would have loved it Some folks can see a reclining face across the peaks.

The Yucultas, Gillard Pass and Dent Rapids can only be transited safely at or near slack water, the time when the tide reverses from flood to slack or back to flood. These are notorious and dreaded waters. There is a spot called the “Devil’s Hole” And I’ll leave you to speculate on exactly which hole that might be. As a former tug boater, I know them all too well. Oh yes, I have stories! Beyond lays two more tidal bores, Greene Point Rapids and Whirlpool Rapids in Well Bore Channel.

A DeHavilland Beaver, famous workhorse of the BC coast. It negotiates the rapids in a minute and has the passengers in town before I am out of sight of the rapids.

A DeHavilland Beaver, famous workhorse of the BC coast. It negotiates the rapids in a minute and has the passengers in town before I am out of sight of the rapids.

You thought I was exaggerating? My wind gauge in knots. note the angle needle...right on the nose!

You thought I was exaggerating? My wind gauge in knots. Note the angle needle…right on the nose!

The Last Arbutus Consensus among coastal mariners recognizes the old tree as being the most northerly growing on the coast. It sits at the bottom  of Wellbore channel. How old is it? What has it seen?

The Last Arbutus
Consensus among coastal mariners recognizes the old tree as being the most northerly growing on the coast. It sits at the bottom of Wellbore channel. How old is it? What has it seen?

I grind on against the now shrieking wind and finally drop my hook in the serenity of Forward Harbour, all the rapids successfully behind me. My windows are all coated with a thick layer of brine but I know what awaits me in Johnstone Strait and I don’t bother cleaning them. What bliss! I’m anchored in mud, great holding and best of all, silence. There is no grumbling anchor chain and I slept the whole night through. At 06:30 a voice outside the hull begins hailing the boat. “Ahoy Seafire, are you awake?” Yes I wasn’t! The guttural Worshington accent holds no appeal. I roll over and pull the blankets over my head. The beseeching voice eventually went away. When I get up, there were no other boats left in the anchorage. There were no emergencies. Another long day lays ahead.

Forward Harbour Dawn

Forward Harbour Dawn

I have a strange fumblebum sort of luck. I check my engine bay regularly through the day while underway and thoroughly at the end of each day, before I make supper or do anything else. Three days ago, while doing the routine my cabin table slipped in the open hole. I’d put my lap top away but the mouse and pad both landed within a fraction of falling on down into the bilge. I smugly rescued them, then noticed my wristwatch was missing. I couldn’t see it and assumed the worst. There was no point in looking further. It was down there. A day later I find it laying on a little ledge on the opposite side of the engine from where I looked, poised to leap into the depths of the bilge. The rescue was successful. I look at it on my wrist, still smelling of bilge, and know I should stop writing and weigh anchor. Fumblebum luck.

Last night while doing my engine checks, I cycled the electric bilge pump as usual to confirm it was working correctly. Inadvertently the switch was not in it’s automatic position. There was an abnormal amount of water to pump and I began to investigate. A sinking boat, especially one you’re aboard, is always of deep concern. I discovered a leak where the stern tube enters the bilge. This tube encircles the propeller shaft and holds a gland called the stuffing box. In this case, it is a heavy rubber tube which seals out the ocean by being firmly double-clamped at either end. It was no emergency…unless the other clamp failed. After thirty-five years of being ignored, the chances were good. It’s buddy had just died. It was not something that could wait any longer. That I find the problem now, instead on the open sea further north…fumblebum luck.

I have plenty of spare parts aboard, except at the moment, those lockers have several hundred pounds of large toolboxes sitting over them. That huge mass of ferrous metal already has the autohelm’s flux compass behaving erratically. Now this. LOUD CURSES! Rummaging through various nooks I finally found two hose clamps, shorter than required and of two different widths. Finally I managed to fit one clamp inside the other and had a workable solution. I should mention that the clamp goes in a place, where by contorting painfully, I can just reach. To wrap the clamp around the tube, fit it’s end back into itself, tighten it sufficiently by hand so it won’t slip when doing the final tightening with a ratchet, align the ratchet correctly with the tiny clamp nut, twist the ratchet countless times without dropping it while slippery with blood, (yes bleeding is always part of this sort of job) stop the leak without dropping my tool (more cursing while fishing with a magnet on a string) nor did my glasses fall into the bilge, well…mission completed! I used to claim that I did my best work in the dark with my eyes closed. Enough said.

It’s a temporary but safe fix and I’m happy to have accomplished it here in a calm anchorage. I feel slightly smug with a hint of returning self-confidence. My back is sore, my hands are torn, I want to go back to bed, but there’s a certain masochistic romance here which is not eluding me. A simple flipped switch, a corroded hose clamp, it’s a combination of little things that sink you.

Romance of the sea. After a lifetime of sailing in open cockpits, I really savour being warm and dry.

Romance of the sea. After a lifetime of sailing in open cockpits, I really savour being warm and dry.

Frederick Arm, logging from the sea to sky

Frederick Arm, logging from the sea to sky.

The Sleigh Ride. a gorgeous old sloop runs before the wind in Johnstone Strait. I want to turn downwind to join him, hang out all my laundry and head back south.

The Sleigh Ride. a gorgeous old sloop runs before the wind in Johnstone Strait. I want to turn downwind to join him, hang out all my laundry and head back south.

A Sailor Selfie. Johnstone Strait. "Living the dream."

A Sailor Selfie. Johnstone Strait. “Living the dream.” Wot a fisog!

 

The third full day of the journey was uneventful, if sailing into the teeth of a gale is ho hum. I certainly enjoy having a pilot house with an inside helm There were few other vessels out in Johnstone Strait and none going my way. I am now miles above Knight inlet and firmly within the North coast cedar jungle. It’s predominant yellowish green is punctuated randomly with the now-odd fir, hemlock or pine. In a few days, I’ll begin to see Sitka Spruce. I’ve made my way northward today by threading an intricate journey along the labyrinth of passages between the islands of the coast. The route is tortuous but keeps me out of the teeth of the gale which continues to push ashore and hammer the coast. There is a massive high out on the North Pacific and the wind finds it’s way well inland up the inlets. Mu wind gauge leapt above forty at times as the boat shuddered. The rigging shrieked and the mast vibrated. The boat felt and alive and eager as a puppy.

Canada Post. The facility serves the surrounding, sparsely inhabited area.

Canada Post. The facility serves the surrounding, sparsely inhabited area.

Broken Front Mountain. Nature is healing her wounds. The zig-zag pattern is where course second-growth trees take root on the old access roads.

Broken Front Mountain.
Nature is healing her wounds. The zig-zag pattern is where course second-growth trees take root on the old access roads.

At sundown I claw my way into Wahkana Bay on the Northeast corner of massive Gilford Island. I expect the wind to be howling but the small fiord is deep and almost fully enclosed. It is snug and peaceful within towering cliffs which enclose the anchorage. The contrast to the angry world outside is eerie. As I set the anchor I hear something crashing in the thick brush of the shoreline. Soon a young black bear reveals itself, having come to the ocean’s edge at low tide. It effortlessly flips large rocks and snacks on the small crabs beneath. It is as if I am invisible. Magic!

Heaven's Gate. After a long day of battling head winds and seas, the night's anchorage is just around the northeast point of Gilford Island.

Heaven’s Gate.
After a long day of battling head winds and seas, the night’s anchorage is just around the northeast point of Gilford Island.

Remains of the day. A last blast of sunlight as I turn into the hidden refuge of Wascana Bay

Remains of the day.
A last blast of sunlight as I turn into the hidden refuge of Wahcana Bay

How soon are you moving on? I'm sure this young bear is still on that beach, flipping rocks, and eating the little crabs that live beneath. He left me feeling like an intruder.

How soon are you moving on? I’m sure this young bear is still on that beach, flipping rocks, and eating the little crabs that live beneath. He left me feeling like an intruder.

Shhhh! Two loons steal through the calm of early morning.

Shhhh! Two loons steal through the calm of early morning.

Fog becoming forest. High on a ridge above Wahkana Bay.

Fog becoming forest. High on a ridge above Wahkana Bay.

Brine-burned branches where the Raincoast meets the sea. I once heard locals explaining to wide-eyed visitors that there were crews of "Trimmers" who went along the shoreline trimming the lower branches thoroughly.

Brine-burned branches where the Raincoast meets the sea. I once heard locals explaining to wide-eyed visitors that there were crews of “Trimmers” who went along the shoreline trimming the lower branches thoroughly.

Deep Sea Bluff . a well-known spot for tying up log booms. Many is the night I worked on the booms, making up tows in wind, rain and snow. All the while the skipper shouted orders to his "Boom Niggers." No lingering nostalgia here.

Deep Sea Bluff .
A well-known spot for tying up log booms. Many is the night I worked on the booms, making up tows in wind, rain and snow. All the while the skipper shouted orders to his “Boom Niggers.” No lingering nostalgia here.

Free as a dolphin. I met a hundred Pacific Whitesides in Tribune channel

Free as a dolphin.
I met a  few hundred Pacific Whitesides in Upper Tribune Channel.

'Bennu' turns into the Burdwoods. These are a group of islands within the Broughton Archipelago

‘Bennu’ turns into the Burdwoods. These are a group of islands within the Broughton Archipelago.

Turn left just past Walmart. Beautiful downtown Sullivan Bay. It was once a waypoint for coastal floatplane pilots and mariners. Now surviving on sport fishing, it is the last float community remaining on the BC coast.

Turn left just past Walmart. Beautiful downtown Sullivan Bay. It was once a waypoint for coastal floatplane pilots and mariners. Now surviving on sport fishing, it is the last float community remaining on the BC coast.

Thursday morning, day four. Well after sun-up I linger at my notes and photos. I’m tired, I don’t want to leave but my Presbyterian instincts urge me on. All too often the actual weather and the forecast are entirely different. I don’t want to find that I’ve wasted time sitting out a bad forecast. then I ask myself how sitting in an anchorage like this and just being, is any waste of time. Then I remember how I sat on a tugboat in one spot for three weeks, waiting for the wind to ease.That was in Allison Harbour, on my day’s route ahead.

A very small island. One of thousands of islets along the coast. This one is where Wells Passage opens out onto Queen Charlotte Strait.

A very small island. One of thousands of islets along the coast. This one is where Wells Passage opens out onto Queen Charlotte Strait.

Thursday evening, Blunden Harbour; a few miles short of Allison Harbour. It’ll still be there in the morning. Fatigue and a rapidly rising wind with a gale warning drove me in from open water. I did not want to find myself in a gale and in darkness off Cape Caution. So, another uneventful slog through beautiful country on a day of perfect weather.

Beautiful downtown Blunden Harbour. A lovely peaceful sheltered place, rich in first nations history.

Beautiful downtown Blunden Harbour. A lovely peaceful sheltered place, rich in first nations history.

I saw my bear on the beach again this morning, then dozens of dolphins, old haunts, beautiful boats, and I’ve sailed out of the winding labyrinth of the jigsaw jungle. I’ve met many other yachts, all vacationing while I’m grinding my way toward a job I swore I’d never go back to.

I did feel the same old life-long thrill of sailing out onto the open ocean. I could see to the open horizon. That was reassuring. The dreamer lives! Yet I wonder what the hell I’m doing heading north at this time of the year. This is madness. Tonight the sky is clear and the sun has set before nine pm. I swear I heard Sandhill Cranes migrating south this morning above the fog. Juvenile Bonaparte Gulls are flocking up and heading south. Leaves are turning colour. Salmon are spawning, I see jumpers (Salmon leaping clear of the sea) all day every day. Now in the cedar jungle, there is only the monochromatic yellowish green of a single species. A cherry tree ashore stands out clearly. Is it really the end of summer? Are we going to have an early winter? A recurring health problem has also appeared again today and I’m flummoxed about what comes next.

August full moon in Blunden Harbour. Of all my cameras. this was the best frame, taken on my cell phone!

August full moon in Blunden Harbour. Of all my cameras. this was the best frame, taken on my cell phone!

A good night’s sleep, thazwot! I went out on deck for a final check and there rose the August full moon. Requisite photos taken, it was into bed and up in the morning under a clear, calm sky. And so began day five of this little odyssey but that is another blog as the story and the journey continues.

The difference between a fairy tale and a sea story? A fairy tale starts with “Once upon a time.” A sea story begins with “This ain’t no shit!”

.

…Edith Widder

HERE WE GO AGAIN!

Ernie the Illegal Eagle

Ernie the Illegal Eagle

Boy have I put my foot in it! In my last posting I described finding a dead eagle and how I took its skull and some feathers. A friend’s raised eyebrows induced me to do some homework. I soon learned that possessing any parts of any wild life without a permit can put a person deeply in the nick. I understand that the law is to prevent folks from trafficking in wild animal parts and so, ostensibly, to prevent poaching for profit.

First mug. The addiction.

First mug. The addiction.

The way the act reads allows that just having a racoon’s penis bone, or a set of deer antlers without a permit can cost thousands of dollars in fines. I don’t know how severely the act is enforced but seeing as I advertised having these eagle bits I have to now announce that I’m putting them back in the wild where I found them. I understand the special spiritual value our indigenous citizens put on eagle icons and everyone can sleep easier with my meddling undone. I once worked on a fish packer with an all-native crew who finally bestowed me with the name “Walking Eagle.” It turned out to mean that I was “Too full of shit to fly” and I’ll live humbly and happily with that honourable handle. All due respect is in it’s proper place. The term was intended as an endearment instead of an insult. Understanding the wry humour of these guys made the term funny if I liked it and hilarious if I didn’t. Sometimes I miss those fellows.

The little green shack beside the track. This converted store is one of my favourite buildings in Nanaimo

The little green shack beside the track. This converted store is one of my favourite buildings in Nanaimo.

Ladysmith from across the Harbour.

Ladysmith from across the Harbour.

How many little birds in this tree?

How many little birds in this tree?

Well isn’t it strange how life’s path twists and rises and falls.
Despite my firmest intentions never to go north to work again, it is beginning to look a lot like my route to Mexico is going to have to be via Shearwater. I can’t seem to produce a reasonable income in southern latitudes let alone provide what I need to pursue this wonderful dream. Tentatively my old job on Denny Island awaits me. No one else seems to want it. I love the country up there, and certainly some of the people, but after last night’s rain here, my creaking old arthritic bones remind me of the long dark, wet, winter ahead. I want to weep in frustration. The depression demons won’t let go and this is not the place to go to exorcise them. I’ll have to dive into a massively creative project to survive. Perhaps a third novel is about to be conceived.

Diamond in the straw

Diamond in the straw

Going north, instead of south, defies all of my remaining sensibility. Every two points on this planet are joined with a rhum line, and a rum line, and so my heading changes with the same destination in sight. Sometimes when the gods firmly point you in a specific direction, it’s best to do what you’re shown even though it makes no sense at the time. I have wasted a huge part of my life trying to make things happen instead of letting the universe unfold. I bought the lie, at least for this guy, that it was the noble thing to do. Now, I am a dreamer. If you’re not having fun and losing sight of your dream it’s time to make the changes that only you can. Old Einstein once said that you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.

Jack contemplates the meaning of life.

Jack contemplates the meaning of life.

I thank all of my readers who have offered their messages of support both moral and immoral, kind thoughts, prayers and wishes. It really makes a difference. I know there’s a cheque in the mail and hopefully I won’t be at the airport when my boat comes in.

MUCHO GUSTO!

A magnificent evolution.

A magnificent evolution.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller

A Prescription And an Eagle’s Graveyard

"Right you lot, listen up! Now that you're learning to fly, you also have to learn about navigation. Hector! Get off that twirly thing and pay attention."

“Right you lot, listen up! Now that you’re learning to fly, you also have to learn about navigation. Hector! Get off that twirly thing and pay attention.”

So how’s it going?” asked my doctor. I explained that I was having a major relapse of depression and nothing seemed to work to conquer it. “And if you could do something to change things, what would it be?” I talked about moving to Mexico, where I would live in my boat close to rural seaside villages and assimilate the minimalist ways of the locals. I explained about their clear uncomplicated values, their richness despite not even owning shoes at times, their ability to find joy in the moment so long as they can feed their children for the day and how I could still live there for less than it cost here. It is an environment where I know I can do some good serious writing. “And what’s holding you back?”

Money” I replied. We both laughed. “Well maybe this will help.” He smiled and handed me the prescription in the following photo. Not only do I have a doctor with a sense of humour, but you can actually read his writing. Now there’s a keeper!

Buy one in the morning and another before bed.

Buy one in the morning and another before bed.

Wot! No back-up camera?

Wot! No back-up camera?

Lately I’ve had some well-meaning advise from friends on dealing with my clinical blues. I appreciate their concern but is not an affliction I choose nor one I embrace. I don’t want it. Get it? Misery is not something anyone reaches out for. And it is just not bad attitude. Nor is it an addiction that one clings to like a bottle or a needle. It is a chemical/electrical dysfunction of the brain. It can be a short-term episode or last a lifetime.

Arbutus smooth, near where the eagle was found.

Arbutus smooth, near where the eagle was found.

Bonsai Rock. An anchorage which became uncomfortable when the wind shifted to an unusual direction.

Bonsai Rock.
An anchorage which became uncomfortable when the wind shifted to an unusual direction.

Saltpan Stingray A natural pan in the sandstone beach fills with seawater which evaporates and leaves real sea salt

Saltpan Stingray
A natural pan in the sandstone beach fills with seawater which then evaporates in the wind and sun and leaves real sea salt… with a hint of otter pee.

Some days, an hour can be an eternity and no-one willingly embraces the darkness, loneliness and hopelessness of uncontrollable, bottomless gloom. One friend accuses me of “having no balls.” But in fact, after enduring this affliction for most of my sixty-plus years without French-kissing a 12 gauge or stretching a rope, I’d like to think my fortitude is pretty damned good. If you won’t understand the courage it takes to openly write and talk about this very tangible yet heavily stigmatized affliction, I should simply tell you where to go; but I won’t. When I was a child, people who were diagnosed with cancer were often stigmatized and ostracized. They frequently lived out their days, or years, sequestered away. We finally decided that cancer was not contagious and perhaps that’s the problem. We all have our mental and emotional flaws and we fear how they may bob visibly to the surface. Hopefully we can grow beyond the fear of our own human frailties, accept each other for who we are and all work toward a higher self.

The abundance of berries continues

The abundance of berries continues.

Even the feral apples are having a bumper year. This whole tree sprang up from a seed that passed through a bird. "Anyone can count the seeds in one apple, but who can count the apples in one seed?"

Even the feral apples are having a bumper year. Just think that his whole tree sprang up from a seed that was first eaten by a bird.
“Anyone can count the seeds in one apple, but who can count the apples in one seed?”

Another friend suggests keeping busy. Right. Good advice. No-one can match my frenzied creative bursts which have often earned me a reputation for being able to outwork anyone. I’ve written several books, including one about growing up with the nurture and nature factors of chronic depression. And I’ve got a whole damned boat to busy myself on, if there’s enough money for supplies. One tube of marine sealant now costs $30. and the price of things like a small plank of marine-grade wood nearly requires a third mortgage. Boatt is now spelled with two t’s: Break Out Another Ten Thousand. Fortunately elbow grease is still free.

Earth, Wind and Sea, Porlier Pass

Earth, Wind and Sea,
Porlier Pass

A dream house for the likes of me. It's someone's hideaway cabin on the shores of Porlier Pass

A dream house for the likes of me. It’s someone’s hideaway cabin on the shores of Porlier Pass

One of the best descriptions of clinical depression is a lack of vitality. Truly, even a simple act can be challenging during an episode of depression. To motivate yourself to do anything requires a focus of willpower, while other inner demons are telling you what a useless, lazy bastard you’ve become. “Pull your socks up,” my old English dad used to demand. He was the one I inherited this horrid disposition from (He never did well with his own socks) and I’m content to have no children of my own to risk passing this on. I’m not complaining, just explaining.

Spirit Of The Eagle

Spirit Of The Eagle

I have taken up the challenge of being open about what is called manic depression or bi-polar disorder. If this good old blue-collared, thick-fingered dufus can overcome the stigma and talk openly then perhaps a fellow sufferer will find a bit of solace and others a little enlightenment. Modern medicine, as with most health issues, seems largely content to treat the symptoms with various prescriptions. No symptom, no problem right? Despite this being a major health issue in our culture it is often dismissively brushed under the carpet. There are other more trendy health issues to focus on. Plenty of creative people through history have had to endure this curse and what we wouldn’t give just to have a regular sine wave. It seems, all too often, to be the price of having a gift worth sharing. “Geez, you seem sensitive about this issue.” Yep! enough said.

The slime star.

The slime star

Before the splendid weather came the promise of a fairweather sky

Before the splendid weather came the promise of a fairweather sky

Buffet on the rocks. Turkey Vultures come back for more.

Buffet on the rocks.
Turkey Vultures come back for more.

Inbound for sushi. A turkey vulture and it's awesome wings

Inbound for sushi.
A turkey vulture and it’s awesome wings

MY BEACH! Damned vultures.

MY BEACH!
Damned vultures.

Morning Ebb in Porlier

Morning Ebb in Porlier

Porlier Pass, wind against flood tide

Porlier Pass, wind against flood tide

This past weekend was hot and dry and lovely. A summer high weather system had moved on to the BC Coast and the Northwest wind blew steady and warm. It piped up during the night. I loved it but Jack seems to have lost his sea legs. Taking spray over the boat while it heeled and plunged is no longer his cup of tea and so we explored local haunts we’ve spent decades passing by. It was wonderful. I am assuming that my readers have access to Google Earth and can look up place names so I won’t elaborate on geography. The inside waters of the Southern West Coast are blessed with an archipelago of islands. In Canadian waters they are known as The Gulf Islands and in the US as The San Juans. Although many of these islands have fallen into private ownership, there are also many parks and it’s still anyone’s world up to the high tide mark.

A summer-afternoon's nap under a splendid climbing tee

A summer-afternoon’s nap under a splendid climbing tee

The scenery is breath-taking, soothing, inspiring and enticing all at once.

Rock On There are miles of sandstone shoreline throughout the islands of the Salish Sea

Rock On
There are miles of sandstone shoreline throughout the islands of the Salish Sea

Twice a day the tide floods and ebbs between the Strait of Georgia and the waters inside the passages of the Gulf Islands. Porlier Pass is a violently turbulent tidal passage dividing Galiano Island on the South from Valdez Island on the top side. Galiano is sparsely populated, Valdez is essentially uninhabited. Anchored in a tiny bight out of the swirling current, I took Jack ashore on Valdez at first light to watch the world come to life in mid-summer. I sit on Vernaci Point with a view of the entire Southern Straight of Georgia, also known now as the Salish Sea. Out past the surging waves and swirling tide, a bell buoy clangs steadily, like a rural Mexican church calling the devout to morning prayer. Sea birds wheel and cry. Eight eagles screech their dominion over the world before gliding down to feast again on a seal carcass on the beach. They are joined with a dozen vultures and the ever-belligerent crows

Harbour seals in the morning sun. They are masters at disguising themselves.

Harbour seals in the morning sun. They are masters at disguising themselves.

A sweet nook to anchor in out of the tide on the Galiano side of Porlier Pass.

A sweet nook to anchor in out of the tide on the Galiano side of Porlier Pass.

Last light. Mt. Baker across the Strait of Georgia.

Last light.
Mt. Baker across the Strait of Georgia.

Seals paddle effortlessly in the roaring clear water. Often Orcas hunt both seal and salmon here. I watch as the light brightens and hardens, the wind warms and increases, the air fills with the scent of dry arbutus leaves, fir cones, juniper and grass. It all mingles with the tang of the sea, an aroma therapy for any weary soul. If only it could be bottled and sold as “Gulf Island Breeze.”

A sandstone cavern in dogfish Bay

A sandstone cavern in Dogfish Bay. Swimmers stand on the Southern tip of Kendrick Island,  a zealously guarded outpost of the West Vancouver Yacht Club.

More swimmers. Jack and Jill try to convince me of how warm the water is. Haaaa!

More swimmers. Jack and Jill try to convince me of how warm the water is. Haaaa!

I found the desiccated remains of two Bald Eagles. Both lay on their backs deep in the long dry grass as if placed there deliberately. They were a considerable distance apart and clearly their souls had flown off at much different times. After a night’s contemplation, and the good omen of eight eagles in one place, I left a treasured brass piece from the boat and burned some feathers in respectful exchange for a skull and some feathers. It is how I acknowledge my respect for this powerful gift from the maker as well as my need to live in harmony with my world. I know little of native culture and hope that my efforts are adequate. The tide was easing and beginning to shift from flood to ebb. It was time to weigh anchor and sneak out between the rocks in that short time available to transit the pass safely.

On the evening before, I watched the setting sun’s light relinquish it’s grip on the purple loom of Mount Baker across the strait. The distant shore lights and then the stars began to glitter. Now in consideration of Jack’s angst we move north to the top end of Valdez Island, coasting on the last of the favourable flood through Gabriola Pass and into Dog Fish Bay, tucked inside Kendrick Island. Here, over a beautiful sandstone reef one can see most of the Southern Strait in one single, breath-taking panoramic sweep. Due north is a view up Howe Sound. In the snow-crowned mountains beyond, a massive thunderstorm illuminates the world. Ragged clouds exchange billions of volts in flashes of orange and pink light. Arcing our view a little further south the lights of Vancouver glitter and pulse around it’s harbour and up the surrounding mountains. Then a massive fireworks display begins over there and for a few minutes, breath-taking colours and patterns boil in the sky over the heart of the twenty-three mile distant city. All the while, further to the south, as if on a continuous string, the landing lights of aircraft descend and rise from the airport. The whole view is an indelible image. Nearby the tide bubbles and murmurs in the dark as seals hauled out on a nearby reef squabble and mew. The indelible experience is preserved with the regular swilling of good rough red warm wine straight from the bottle. Sleep comes long and sweet and deep.

A scene from the old farm on Valdez Island. I could faintly hear children's voice playing around the tree.

A scene from the old farm on Valdez Island. I could faintly hear children’s voice playing around the tree.

Don Wardill's painting of his house

Don Wardill’s painting of his house

Home made wallpaper.

Home made wallpaper.

Primitive and poignant and an uplifting way to spend a long winter evening

Primitive and poignant and an uplifting way to spend a long winter evening

On the tip of Valdez behind the bay sits the remains of an abandoned homestead taken over by the province of BC as a Provincial Park. I recall a time when sheep foraged along the ocean’s edge. Now the farm, it’s orchard, garden, meadows and paddocks are slowly returning to the forest which from which all was so laboriously carved. The old farmhouse, small and stout, is beginning to show signs of it’s abandonment. Finally someone has broken in but respectfully left everything untouched and then had re-secured the locks. I follow suit. After all these years of passing by I reason there will be the ubiquitous goon who will eventually do serious and permanent damage. I see this little house as a shrine and I want a sense of how life here must have been.

An enterprise cook stove and a Triumph wood heater . It all looked ready to go.

An enterprise cook stove and a Triumph wood heater . It all looked ready to go.

Tansy Ragwort has overtaken the paddock. The plant is an invasive species and rapidly proving nasty business for beast and bee alike.

Tansy Ragwort has overtaken the paddock. The plant is an invasive species and rapidly proving nasty business for beast and bee alike.

Jack Dawn. Another day unfolds

Jack Dawn. Another day unfolds

Inside, the tiny building is still sound and free of moisture damage. There has been no vandalism, everything seems just as it was when the last occupant left for the last time.

The latest date on a stack of newspapers was November, 2001, fifteen years ago. I found a framed teaching certificate belonging to someone named Don Wardill. It was dated 1936, numbered 491 by the Education Department of British Columbia. There was a list of “Special Subjects, the ink now too faded to read. The walls were covered in water colours signed by the same man. They were primitive in style yet beautifully rendered and portrayed a long lust for, or perhaps experience of the South Pacific. I imagined a lonely man, painting his vibrant pictures by lantern light while a winter storm raged outside. I’ve no idea who he was, possibly he still lives and I’d love to learn anything I can. His spirit is still there and I imagined restoring the house and grounds to their former state of a working subsistence farm, where people managed to live in harmony with the world around them. I leave the house as it was found.

If dogs have a heaven, Jack is in his.

If dogs have a heaven, Jack is in his.

We need to retain some examples of how people lived contentedly without the buzz and flash of electrons and computers and glittering facades. Giga this and mega that and Armageddon is eminent every time the internet crashes. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, the planet provides our needs. The rest is up to us.

Another dawn, another day, hope springs eternal.

Another dawn, another day, hope springs eternal.

This country was a lot better off when the Indians were running it.”

…Vine Deloria jr.