Monthly Archives: January 2017

Cream and Scum

Seafire Dreaming some dark and stormy nights it's hard to remember perfect moments like this in Clatse Sound

Seafire Dreaming
Some dark and stormy nights it’s hard to remember perfect moments like this one in Clatse Sound…and to imagine what can be ahead.

Warning: This blog contains a photo which some may consider offensive

You’re getting past your shelf life.” How’s that for a remark from your doctor? He’s a great guy, one of the last country doctors I know and an avid permanent local. He has a great sense of humour which is a tremendous virtue for a doctor. On the water taxi ride back from the Bella Bella Hospital to Shearwater I began to reflect on what he really meant. The life I’ve lived has already taken me decades past my shelf life. I’ve done a lot of dangerous and stupid things in my time and know full well that none of us has more than the moment; no matter what we might think. I am not afraid of dying but I certainly hate not living. And living up here alone in the boat, through the winter, is proving to be nothing but an existence. After enduring a winter here in the Great Bear Rainforest I know I must make some immediate moves to change the prospects for the rest of my days. I don’t quite know how to change my status as an economic refugee, a common whore, especially when this old bilge ape is just not able to work as hard as he used to.

A Punter's View Sea-trialing a ubiquitous local punt with a new outboard motor

A Punter’s View
Sea-trialing a ubiquitous local punt with a new outboard motor

This blog was originally begun as a running narration of my vessel ‘Seafire’, myself and those who would join me on adventures and voyages to exotic destinations. It has taken on a life of its own and seems to teeter on a theme of finding wonder, humour and insights from the moments at hand. The years roar past like a runaway express train. For some reason I was cursed with hard wiring which seems to prevent me from ever getting my leg over a financial fence and achieving my simple dreams. Some friends tell how easy it is to just “DO” things but that formula eludes me. I have had many adventures which are too incredible to describe here; yet what I have dreamed of the hardest and longest still eludes me. Now my health is failing me and I have to modify those dreams and my lifestyle. I do also understand that with the correct lifestyle I can regain fair health and still live out some of those dreams. It is a conundrum which only I can resolve. The end of January is fast approaching and I’ve accomplished nothing here except to barely survive. But perhaps that in itself is an achievement.

"Feelin' nearly worn as my wheels." I decided it was time to replace the office chair wheels with something slightly less worn.

“When push comes to shove, Feelin’ nearly worn as my wheels.” I decided it was time to replace the office chair wheels with something slightly less worn.

Some sailors cheerfully go to extreme regions where they freeze-in for the long cold polar night. I’ve done my time in the Great White North. I cannot imagine eight to ten months of this as I sit here in the boat, writing at 03:00 and looking out at the blackness around the bay. There is no wind or rain tonight, for the moment, which perhaps is why I cannot sleep. It is too calm. What a place this is! Endeavours here are a strange waltzing boogie between the practical and the incongruous, the insane and the brilliant. To survive here one must mould themselves to bend around, and into, the culture of a many-faceted work camp community manned by characters, like myself, (Imagine a little town full of Freds) who don’t fit into the mainstream of the Southern Coast. I tend to simply do my job and then retreat into a hermit crab existence within this boat. But enough claptrap about the gloom of winter weather and frustrated dreams. There’s lots else to write about.

I often bemoan how my prime link with the outer world is CBC Radio. The radio and this laptop computer are my only company aboard the boat. (Really! No rubber dollies.) With a patter of human voices in the background, life is a little more bearable although many CBC programs are eternal manure heaps of rhetorical blither. Occasionally, for me, a nugget shines out from within the brown. One of those recent undungings was a half minute playing of an old but recognizable tune. No-one announced what those notes were, but it was instantly clear to me as a snippet of the theme music from a CBC series called ‘The Beachcombers.’ That tune is available online as are many of the 387 episodes aired over eighteen years. The show began in 1972 and was a near-instant hit. Set in beautiful little Gibsons BC the simple plots unfolded along the waterfront and still, even now, hold a pleasant charm. If you know who Relic was, you know the show. That series accomplished two things. First, I believe, its portrayal of life on this coast drew a migration of Eastern Canadians to the West. The image of an easy-going life in a picturesque setting had to be a magnet to a hippy generation that often travelled with only a thumb and a backpack. Those same folks are now entering their geriatric years and became the next generation of middle-class establishment which now owns some of the most expensive properties in the country. There’s a quote that goes, “A capitalist is just a socialist who’s found an opportunity.”

The Real Thing A locasl beachcomber's boat, the venerable and beautiful 'Pender Chief'

The Real Thing
A local beachcomber’s boat, the venerable and beautiful ‘Pender Chief.’ Beachcombing is the enterprise of finding merchantable logs afloat and washed up on beaches. No living timber is taken, it is solely a salvage operation. It is how I began a career which led me to full-time tugboating.

 

I think the second achievement of this TV series was that it portrayed as perfectly normal for whites and indigenous people to work and interact with each other on a fully equal basis. There were no exclamations about race or gender. Everyone was just one of the community. A local Sechelt native and prominent Hollywood actor, Chief Dan George, often guest-starred on the program and added a rare dignity. Anyone old enough to remember the show will soon fondly recall their favourite episode. However, there are now folks old enough to have a driver’s license who have never seen or heard of the production. If you see a geezer on the side of the road, wearing a headband and tattered bell-bottomed pants, they may well be on their way to check out the Sunshine Coast. It’s never too late. The food at Molly’s Reach is great. Peace man!

Knowing the ropes a beachcomber's workplace. a beach skiff and a shallow-draft tug. It's a great lifestyle and sometimes you can make a little money too!

Knowing the ropes
A beachcomber’s workplace. A beach skiff and a shallow-draft tug. It’s a great lifestyle and sometimes you can make a little money too!

Value added Beautiful clear cedar timbers milled from salvaged wood. It doesn't get better than grass roots commerce.

Value added
Beautiful clear cedar timbers milled from salvaged wood. It doesn’t get better than grass roots commerce. Bonus scr

Speaking of peace there is the Trump subject. How many damned times a day do we have to hear something else relating to Trump? I’ve found myself counting the seconds after the radio is turned on until I hear the dreaded T-name. I try to avoid political contemplation at length in this blog but the media has been battering us with all things Trumpety, Trump since the beginning of the long presidential campaign. I’ve had enough. I’ll simply say that I wouldn’t want to spend any time in a life raft with this dude. Same thing, by the way, for Hilary. My dog is so smart he is well able to play stupid as it suits him. I think Trump may be playing a similar game. Listen carefully when he speaks about his “Big beautiful wall.” While it is assumed he is talking about his contempt for Mexico he carefully talks about protecting “Our borders.” Guess who has the only other border Canada. Many US citizens do not really see Canada as a sovereign nation and we have all these resources. Get it? Sleep tight.

Clearly he also has low regard for China so here’s a proposal. Major US retailers, like Walmart and Costco, sell little that is NOT made in China. Maersk shipping built special container ships just to accommodate Walmart’s huge demand. The shipping line returns those tens of thousands of containers to China; empty. So Mr. T, if it’s America first, perhaps US businesses should sell only US manufactured goods. Huh? And you say you will close all your hotels outside the borders of the US? Oh, and please, please bring all those crap fast food American restaurants back within your beloved border. Free enterprise. Ever hear of that Donny? NAFTA. Not A Freakin’ Thing’s Allowed! I’ve done a lot of business in the US and it seems to me that Americans hate being beaten at their own game. How’s that for a rant?

I WARNED YOU! Something under this dock grows, no-one is sure what to call it. Here are some possible captions: Cojone Del Mar But it's natural! No bull A family resemblance Neurotic Photo It must be spring Got DNA

I WARNED YOU! Something under this dock grows, no-one is sure what to call it.
Here are some possible captions:
Cojone Del Mar
But it’s natural!
No bull /Got DNA
A family resemblance
Neurotic Photo/ Old Sea Scrotum
It must be spring/That reminds me
Got DNA /”Well, doc, it kinda’ feels like a barnacle.

Meanwhile, up here in Gulag Shearwater the vicious weather has returned. High winds with massive gusts have stormed us for the past two days and nights. Old ‘Seafire’; is slammed repeatedly. The heavy boat is tossed about like a bath tub toy. Sleep for the past two nights was impossible. My binnacle cover, which was tied securely, was gone this morning. There’s another few hundred dollars blown away. It was due to be replaced, but I wanted the old one for a pattern. Shingles nailed to the dock were torn up by the wind and flung helter skelter. The weather was too foul even for our intrepid tugboat skipper to run a freight barge over to Bella Bella. I’ve sold my vehicle to a fellow there and need to deliver it. By water taxi we’re about fifteen minutes apart with rides an hour apart. BC Ferries offers a vague and irregular service which runs bi-monthly on average. Tonight I’ll board the ferry at 23:30 hours and then spend the night trying to sleep in the vehicle once ashore in Bella Bella.

Night Moves Midnight, pouring rain ink darkness, I wait at the ferry dock, the only passenger.

Night Moves
Midnight, pouring rain, inky darkness, I wait at the ferry dock, the only passenger.

All’s well that ends. It pummelled down rain all night, I slept fitfully. The transaction is complete, paid in full along with some fish. Then my new friend delivered me back to my own boat with his. There really are plenty of good folks out there yet.

A gift of fish. It's lovely to do business with gracious people.

A gift of fish. It’s lovely to do business with gracious people.

At least Donald has never heard of Shearwater. Ah, here comes the wind again.

Cream rises to the top. So does scum.” …Ian Graham.

After The Crash

Eagle moon January 12th Cold, clear, calm, icy!

Eagle moon
January 12th
Cold, clear, calm, icy!

January First, 2017

January First, 2017

 

In a recent blog I promised that, despite the winter doldrums, I would find something interesting to write about. How about a runaway forklift? I repaired the wiring on a forklift which had died outside my engine shop. Once it was running, I did some final electrical checks and then gathered up my tools. That was when the back-up alarm began to sound. The heavy machine lurched backwards, accelerating as it went. One hundred feet away sat a row of boats. The first two were aluminium work punts and then a very expensive fibreglass sport fishing boat. In horror I jogged toward the impending disaster, my brain screaming “No, no, no!” The punts were shouldered aside, as the smoothly idling forklift zeroed in on the prime target. Fortunately the ground was covered in ice and the trundling attack came to rest as blocking was flung aside and a pile of pallets splintered. One driving wheel spun in useless frustration. I was able to clamber aboard and shut the engine off.

Beep, beep , beep, bee...Shit! The reverse runaway forklift. Thank goodness for the ice. The expensive boat behind the forklift was spared by one inch.

Beep, beep , beep, bee…Shit! The reverse runaway forklift. Thank goodness for the ice. The expensive boat behind the forklift was spared by one inch.

Safety First!  The ubiquitous local aluminum punt often requires welding repairs after rocky beaches and stormy seas. Stacks of pallets are a great way of positioning the vessel at the best height. Creak, crack, tilt.

Safety First!
The ubiquitous local aluminum punt often requires welding repairs after rocky beaches and stormy seas. Stacks of pallets are a great way of positioning the vessel at the best height. Creak, crack, tilt.

Collateral damage was minimal and the dislocated punts came to rest an actual one inch from the hull of the grand boat. The forklift controls were worn. As it idled the shift lever vibrated itself down into the reverse position. I made appropriate repairs immediately. In my bunk, I dreamed of the machine launching itself over the end of a barge. The reverse alarm beeped its way overboard and then made a most peculiar sound as the machine sank. All’s well that ends. As the daylight faded a near-full moon rose into a crackling clear sky. Hopefully this heralds the end of our cold snap. It has been a rare event for which we are ill-prepared.

The old castle road. Would you believe a WWII jeep trail through local bogland

The old castle road.
Would you believe a WWII jeep trail through Denny Island bogland?

The weather has now returned to the many shades of grey slanting rain and gusting wind. It’s just another long, tedious day after tedious day on the mid-coast of British Columbia. The broken dock chains have been replaced. Slam-bashing winds have wracked the docks every night since and all is well. Yesterday, despite the cold lashing rain, there were rolls of fog on the distant mountains that had a spring-like look. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking but there really was an hour of sunlight in the late morning. One of the joys of getting older is knowing that nothing is forever and winter will eventually end. The trick for me is to find and savour those brief golden moments.

Winter dream.... When the sunlight is high and warm and long each day. ....Many more sleeps!

Winter dream….
When the sunlight is high and warm and long each day.
….Many more sleeps!

The weeks grind on. Donald Trump is plugged in at his newest ivory tower and even up here, it seems, the world is puckered up in anticipation and dread. Yes, even here in the remoteness of the rain forest. I suspect that in four years we’ll discover his rhetoric was largely empty promise and threat, just like a politician. He will have been forced to acknowledge possession of all normal human bodily parts. His ambition as the world’s next fuhrer will be fully deflated. Simply understand to never, ever trust a fat man with tiny hands.

Any sign of spring is desperately cherished. A moment of sunshine, its warmth on one’s face. I heard geese today. They’re local birds, but haven’t called like that for months. Beneath the docks, billions of herring swarm and glitter. That is a sure sign of good things to come. Today while on a sea-trial out in the bay I saw a huge humpback whale. I’m sure it was gorging on the spawning herring. Later, as I walked back to my boat, I heard two wolves howling nearby. There’s hope!

January Moon Rise The long sleepy wait for spring. Beneath the calm surface, the tides ebb and flood, the herring begin to return by the billion. The year's timeless cycle turns as ever.

January Moon Rise
The long sleepy wait for spring. Beneath the calm surface, the tides ebb and flood, the herring begin to return by the billion. The year’s timeless cycle turns as ever.

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes
From the poor and campaign funds from the rich,
By promising to protect each from the other.”
~Oscar Am Ringer, “the Mark Twain of American Socialism.

Look Ma, no batteries!

Look Ma, no batteries!

Cellos And Chicken Soup

Jury Rig A temporary fix to hold the dock in place until a new chain can be installed.

Jury Rig
A temporary fix to hold the dock in place until a new chain can be installed.

New Year’s Day. Finally enjoying a good sound night’s slumber, after two long sleepless ones, I was awakened by a frantic knocking on my deck at 04:00. Dreadfully ill with a nasty virus, my chest and head blocked with insidious goo, I had finally slipped off to the roar of a rising wind and the rocking of the boat. I sleep well when it’s like that. I was jarred back to consciousness by some folks who were ending a New Year’s Eve party on the float house next door. A vicious westerly wind had risen. The massive but badly rusted chain which held the end of the dock had snapped. My beloved ‘Seafire’ and the boat ahead of us were in peril of being caught in the bight. Imminent danger loomed of being crushed between two pieces of dock. All of the boats here could well become part of a tangled mess on the beach. New Years was beginning with a bang. I groped around in the dark to find my pants.

Life On A Thread The temporary life line which kept the broken dock from folding up on the boats moored to it. 'Seafire' is one of the boats. It is my home at the moment. Most of my life is invested in it.

Life On A Thread
The temporary life-line which kept the broken dock from folding up on the boats moored to it. ‘Seafire’ is one of the boats. It is my home at the moment. Most of my life is invested in it.

        One Thin Line While we wait for some new dock chain to arrive this frayed piece of line holds  the life of 'Seafire'.

One Thin Line
While we wait for some new dock chain to arrive this frayed piece of line holds the life of ‘Seafire’ and a few other boats.

Stepping into the cockpit was an instant full-body ice cream headache. Uumph! I puckered up. Damn! I wasn’t going to be of much use to anyone. The wind continue to blow. The best I could do was to forestall various inept efforts by my peer’s attempts after their evening of celebrations. Finally some competent sober talent arrived and all’s well that ends. Five hours later the morning sun in the churning clear sky is just now rising up the masts along the dock. “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” Hope so.

Happy New Year!

 SUSHI! Marine growth on one of the old dock chains.

SUSHI!
Marine growth on one of the old dock chains.

T he Pecking Order Look who came to lunch!

T he Pecking Order
Look who came to lunch!

I went back to work next day in the engine shop by checking our fleet of water taxis and planning the days ahead. The cold wind whistled and rumbled under the azure blue where ravens and eagles hovered in the pure sunlight. It was a glorious day. On the ground I’m still stuffed with flu goo. My chest is honking and burbling like a flock of geese. That’s as close to flight as I can get. But I gasped and puffed my way a day closer to my goals. Large pieces of paper towel emerge clean and fluffy from the clothes drier. All those pockets with paper hankies I did not remove. I believe that’s called recycling. Snot funny! I spread clean warm sheets fresh from the laundry bag on the bunk and flop down on top to savour the fading warmth. I will not be here next winter. That is a promise. (As I post this blog, CBC news airs a report that Greece has temperatures of -10 and a dusting of snow.)

It is the time of year where each day can be a dark eternity. Work is a bleak distraction from other harsh realities. Hibernation instincts are high and it would be grand to simply sleep for the next two months. There are plenty of projects on the boat to be completed. They’ll still be there when the weather eases under the influence of spring. I also have many writing efforts sitting on the back of the stove, slowly bubbling away. The problem is staying awake. I find myself hunched over this computer, slumbering fitfully with my banana fingers keying out several pages of Zs or Fs. I’m napping these words out over my breakfast coffee and catch myself nodding’doing the chicken’ once again. Last night I awoke sitting here at eleven pm, and finally went to bed. This morning I crawled out of the warm bedding one toe at a time.

Finding The Leaks Each icicle marks a flaw in the tired old caulking which won't hold rain water in.

Finding The Leaks
Each icicle marks a flaw in the tired old caulking which won’t hold rain water in.

By week’s end not much has changed. My flu is reluctantly easing its grip but it has left me utterly exhausted. I’m spending this weekend simply resting. Posting this blog is my only endeavour. Possessed with all the ambition of a mudflap, I’ll ignore all the work heaped up in the shipyard and on this boat. I need my ‘mojo’ back. Apparently the entire coast is gripped with a flu epidemic and harsh winter weather. In Shearwater the temperature has risen enough for snow and rain but the forecast for the week ahead includes more snow and descending temperatures once again. The evening twilight does seem to be lingering a few minutes more and there are green buds on some of the bushes.

"I'll go to sea no more." After having their bones picked a final time for any pieces of value, these old hulls will be broken up and taken to the dump.

“I’ll go to sea no more.”
After having their bones picked a final time for any pieces of value, these old hulls will be broken up and taken to the dump.

The Indignity Of Death. Private parts exposed, corpses go unnoticed.

The Indignity Of Death.
Private parts exposed, corpses go unnoticed.

Once, the notion of the Great White North seemed a manly thing to me. I recall winter tent camps, thawing ice for drinking water, starting machinery in the dark in minus forty degree weather. The romance of it all eludes me now. Old ‘Seafire’ was not built for these latitudes. Staying warm and dry is an ongoing challenge. On Saturday morning, seven days into the year, I stay buried within the coziness of my bunk until long after the first broke-back pickup has clattered by.

          Beaking It out A pair of eagles sing a hungry song.

Beaking It out
A pair of eagles sing a hungry song.

There is a road on the perimeter of the bay where the vehicles rattle past. Our roads here are rough and folks seem to like to drive as fast as possible. Destroying a vehicle with abuse and neglect seems to be part of the local culture. Body parts rattle, torn-off mufflers do not get replaced, faulty brakes and worn-out tires are lived with. Some vehicles pass by the engine shop daily to re-inflate soft tires. Headlights are left burned or bashed out despite the long hours of darkness.

A Brilliant Selfie One of the few bright ideas I've had in a while...actually the photo is an accident.

A Brilliant Selfie
One of the few bright ideas I’ve had in a while…actually the photo is an accident.

And so life goes on in Weirdwater. Frankly, I’m feeling as road-weary as the vehicles here. In the last few days, the company has been sorting out derelict vessels and storing them in one corner. They were living, working creatures at one time, loved by someone who used them to make a living. Now they are dead shells waiting for the crush and bash of the breaker’s machinery. Where does a boat’s soul go? Probably the same place mine seems to be heading. After my house chores and cleaning up the boat outside I reclined in the main cabin while a fragrant pot of Avgolemono (Greek lemon chicken soup) simmered on the stove. YouTube streamed various pieces of cello music and I snoozed peacefully. It seemed as good a cure for the flu as any. I’m getting good at doing nothing. In fact I’m thinking of retreating into the deep folds of my bunk and hibernating like a bear. No more postcards from Mexico please. Call me when you see the swans heading north again. Meanwhile, a week later, the broken dock still hangs on the end of a single temporary rope. The wind warning for today is forecasting speeds of up to 100kph. The mast and rigging begin to hum and sing and vibrate once again.

Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it.”

…..Willard Scott