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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!”