Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Farting Tiger

What happens if I push this one? A much-manipulated photo taken from the boat in Saint John Harbour.

After all the writing I’ve done in the last seven months about dreary rain-soaked darkness I’m happy to report that I sit at my laptop this morning while enjoying a perfect dawn. The sky is clear and windless. The rising sun sun brings a warmth that seeps right in to my heart and provides a rich golden light unique to this part of the world. The silence is eerie. There is no grunting machinery, no throb of marine diesels, no yammer of someone’s acid radio tones. All I can hear is the squeal of tinnitus in my mechanic’s ears but gradually I pick out the pip and chatter of little birds, even the wing-whistle of a passing raven. There is a plip-plop of tiny fish jumping on the surface of the sea. This bliss comes in Kynumpt Harbour, a few miles west of Shearwater. I’ve escaped for the May long weekend and anchored here last night. For the moment I savour just being. The cabin entry is wide open and it is grand.

Ahh! A little over an hour west of Shearwater I have the world and the sunset to myself.

Kynumpt Dawn. Wanting to be nowhere else.

The sound of children playing on the beach. I could almost hear them echoing from the past when Kynumpt cradled a small community.

My days at Shearwater are drawing to a close. That, of course, allows me to see things more objectively. I’ve turned in my notice. With that sense of freedom I can allow myself to think and say things I dare not before. I see myself at the end of my working life but still needing a working income. It is rather like holding a farting tiger by the tail. While you cling on desperately, you know that it is inevitable that you are going to be shat on or have your head ripped off; or quite possibly, both. Yesterday I happily proclaimed that I had worked on my last Bayliner ever (they’re miserable boats to work on) Now I sit here pecking at this keyboard with my grease-imbued banana fingers and watch the tranquillity slowly unfold. Ashore an eagle has perched in a cone-laden Sitka spruce. Reflected patches of light disco-ball across the green of the trees along the beach. Once the site of a native village, this bay has in turn been a failed Scandavian settlement and then a logging camp. The clearings are growing over but a few fruit trees cling on to their feral life. But it is time to move on. The trouble with this sort of weekend is that my freedom is clouded with a sense of brevity. Hurry up and relax!

Well blow me down! This pair of Humpbacks must’ve passed beneath me heading in the opposite direction.

The day passed quickly. I headed westward under a brilliant sun. Humpbacks emerged in the distance behind me as I passed Edge Reef. This is where the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground last fall and created such horrific drama and expense. Seals and gulls bask on the reef at low tide and all appears pristine to my eye. There may well be contamination in the clam beds but today one would never suspect. In less than three hours I arrive in Saint John Harbour, a lovely place providing shelter from the open ocean. It is a few miles south of the entrance to Seaforth Channel. With an open horizon to the southwest it is a different world. Of course I want to keep on going, due south. I anchor in a fine nook eager to explore the backwaters but then it hit me. As the tiger said, “It must have been something I ate!” I suddenly found myself gripped by a vicious stomach flu and was forced to remain close to the head. I slept for several hours and awoke to find a gloomy overcast had settled in. Groggy, wobbly and weak, I realized my day was finished. I went back to my bunk defecated…. I mean defeated! Bummer!

Edge Reef, scene of the crime. This was the site of the grounding of the ‘Nathan E. Stewart’

Cape Swaine and the open ocean. Turn left, sail due south until the butter melts, turn left, you’re there!

The mouth of Seaforth Channel. Beyond the rocks of Cape Swaine, Ivory Island light station can be seen in the distance on the northern side.

In the morning neither my plumbing nor the sky had improved. I felt as grey as the low overcast and couldn’t decide what to do. I went back to bed for a while then grimly set out to see the world. This was my weekend damnit! The swell of the open ocean soothed me and I looked west across Hecate Strait to Cape Saint James. It is the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. The high ground of those islands stood above the horizon that day and called me to come on over. A mirage effect allowed me to see across the ninety-five nautical miles. The light flashes white every five seconds. It stands ninety-six metres above sea level with a nominal range of visibility fourteen miles. Aboard ‘Seafire’ it is sixteen hours distant. Yet I could see it clearly. Reluctantly I turned eastward at Cape Mark on the bottom of Athlone Island. The area is a maze of rocks, reefs, islets and tenuous channels which are sometimes a dead end. It is a deadly place in the dark or fog. While picking my way through some of those reefs and islets of Queens Sound my flu symptoms returned with a vengeance and I crawled into the bay in Stryker Island. A few hours of weird dreams later I had a strong urge to get out of this place. It is a beautiful bay but I had a bad feeling and I knew it was best to move on. I’ve learned to trust my feelings without trying to analyze the intangible.

The original version of photo one. This was taken before sunset from the boat while looking to the northwest from Saint John Harbour.

Land Ho! A view toward Milbanke Sound and one of it’s peaks.

Believe it or not. That’s Cape Saint James, ninety-five nautical miles distant across Hecate Strait. The optical effect is enhanced with my telephoto lense.

Into the rock garden. These reefs and rocks are everywhere for many miles. It is not really a place to be doubled-over with stomach cramps.

Fingal Island

Tuft Island.

 

A West Coast moment. One of a million Islets along the British Columbia coast.

Joassa Seals wondering, no doubt, what the hell this idiot was up to.

Looking back is so easy! Fortunately the narrows is as deep as it is narrow.

How Rait Narrows look on the chart.

There are several routes back toward Shearwater from there. The most open and direct route is Raymond Passage which leads up to join Seaforth Channel a few miles from the home dock. Branching off this easy open passage is Boddy Narrows which becomes Joassa Channel and then impossibly tight Rait Narrows. I’ve previously dared myself to try this gap and deferred to prudence. My weekend has been spoiled by a flu bug and I needed something to cheer myself. With names like Joassa how can I resist? Woodsmoke billowed through the trees on a small wooded islet near Quinoot Point. I glimpsed a cabin secreted in the dense forest. That presence added to the magic of this secluded pass. I couldn’t be seen turning back now. It looked as if the boat’s rigging was about to knock squirrels from the overhanging trees. I inched through the narrow twisted gap. Finally I was in waters where I had turned back on a previous attempt from the northern side. The biggest barriers are always the ones we make in our own mind. Last night I anchored in Lockhart Bay, only a few miles from Shearwater.

Back to Shearwater reality. Meet you at the old bollard, a relic of days when coastal freighters were the only link to the south.

A man-hater’s dream…just give them a big stick! Anenomes on the bottom of an old dock hauled out for cleaning.

Noon Monday finds me back at my dock in Shearwater. A disappointing weekend, no wind, no saiing, no fishing and I’m way over on my toilet tissue ration. Such is life. I’ve been talking about loosing weight. Living in a boat is a marvellous thing. As I sit writing I am in the same boat I cruised about in all weekend. This hull rose and fell and rolled on the swells of the open ocean. The cabinetry squeaked and loose items slid about. There is a lovely thrumming harmonic hum from the engine which pulses through the boat when we motor along. It is all lovely and a bad day at sea is generally better than a good one at the dock. Now all is quiet, old ‘Seafire’ is again a small floating condo with the potential to go anywhere in the world. Nothing happens until I untie her. All I have to do is decide how to deal with the farting tiger. Phffffft!

The Tin Schooner. Occasionally some unique and beautiful boats pass through. This steel schooner is a beauty to me. Dreams!

Tiger hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest. Hmmm!

We are at the bottom of the food chain. Nothing else on this planet needs us. Yet we need all other living things to survive.” Christi Belcourt, Metis artist

Mother’s Day In Weirdwater

This is a first for this blog; a birthday wish. A co-worker has long advised me of his mom’s loyal following of my postings. She is close to the celebration of her 96th birthday and I have every reason to believe that this lady is a sparkling character. So, Evelyn, I hope that you have many happy, successful years ahead. Best wishes from the Weirdwater Blogger.

Mother Rock

It is Mother’s Day weekend. I am starting to write Saturday morning anchored in a beautiful place only a couple of miles from Shearwater. A good anchorage needs a few things. First good holding ground, which means a bottom into which your anchor will sink, holding firmly as a rising wind pushes on your boat. So, a safe shelter with a grand view and somewhere ashore to go for a walk are the components of a great place to drop an anchor for a night or few. Those places are rare here in the Great Bear Rainforest. Many sheltered places are claustrophobic with steep, rocky shores and deep rocky bottoms. You can put almost all your anchor chain out to hook the bottom. Yet you may still be very close to the trees which often lean out over the water. Even at low tide there is often no place to stretch your legs ashore. A delight in this area is solitude. Most anchorages here are bypassed by other boats if someone is there first. In Southern waters, folks love to crowd in to the same place to the point that the first boat in ends up leaving if being alone was their ambition. It is one of the reason i carry lots of anchor chain so that I can anchor in deep water outside the heard. .Here, that’s not an issue!

Looking East from what I call Rainbow Bay.

Same view over the tombolo spit near high tide

The weather this morning is grey and blustery with pelting rain. Inside, the boat is cold and damp, despite the wonderful little furnace, which I ration the use of to save the vessel’s batteries. To hell with it! I turn up thermostat. The anchorage is protected on the east by a tumbolo spit which joins two islands while affording a wide view of the coastal mountain to the east. The view to the west is wide open for miles but the bay is partially protected by islets and reefs. The Dryad Light Station at the top of Lama Pass can be seen where it sits about five miles away, Beyond that, Seaforth Channel stretches toward the open waters of Milbanke Sound. The muted light somehow enhances certain tones of green in the surrounding forest and beaches. The calls of birds ashore, including cranes, geese and herons echo around the bay. Should the wind change I can readily move into tighter nooks nearby, but for the moment, despite gloomy weather, the view here is spectacular and I’ll linger.

Looking West from the same spot. Dryad Point Light marks the north end of Lama
Pass, Seaforth channel extends and broadens to the West.

The ubiquitous reef emerging at low tide. Nearly every anchorage has one.

As I write my wife is packing for a sad trip to her homeland of Scotland. Her mom has passed away and Jill must endure a long lonely journey with the dark heavy obligations of this inevitable event. Her mom did not much like the cut of my jib and referred to me as “The bloody bog Canadian.” Nevertheless I admired her feisty character and outspoken Scottishness. I am despondent that I am not able to do more than write a few lines and that I cannot go with Jill to provide some support. An aspect of family hope is gone forever. I’ve buried both of my parents and know the ordeal she has ahead. How I wish that I could help her. We all have to deal with it at some time. This too shall pass but for now, the day wears on. So much for Mother’s Day.

Later, I drop the anchor in Beales Bay, only three and a half miles to the east. There is a lovely reversing tidal rapids here and an extensive lagoon beyond to explore. The weather is bleak and wet as ever. It is not really a place to safely go alone but after staying aboard all day I’m anxious to see what’s around the corner. I have not yet unlashed my kayak from the boat’s cabin-top this year. For that matter, neither have the sails been unfurled. The last three seasons have blurred into an ongoing grey murk of wet wintery weather. The woodwork on the exterior of the boat is blistered and peeled away. I’ve never had this happen before. The persistent rain and frost have taken a heavy toll. It has been an unusual winter which does not seem to have quite released it’s grip yet.

Around the corner. Looking into the lagoon entrance from Beales Bay

Swamp foam. Organic earth substances agitated in the rapids emerge from the narrows.

Lower yet. Nearing low slack the tidal narrows can be seen within the entrance to the network of lagoons upstream.

On the fold…the range of my weekend, about three and a half nautical miles in local waters. A fantasy is to have a boat with a wheelhouse big enough to accommodate a full size chart table. Folding charts is a practice coming from my flying days and travelling in small boats. Many folks ply these waters with only their GPS, a dangerous practice in my view.

Sunday morning is a repeat with incessant rain and low cloud. The narrows from the lagoon are discharging prolific foam and I can hear the grumble of the rapids around the corner. I ‘ll have some breakfast and see how the world looks then. Now approaching noon, I’ve napped and read and cleaned and tinkered all I can stand. The rain still patters down. Randomly, the sky begins to brighten and then comes yet another deluge. The tide is near low slack and i’ll have to wait hours for it to rise enough for me to kayak through the narrows. I am not so much concerned about being wet as I am about having enough time and light to explore and photograph whatever I might find back in there. Clearly, I’m not going to see the lagoon today. It is Victoria Day weekend next and maybe I’ll come back. It cannot rain forever. Can it? As I weigh anchor a pair of eagles and a scraggly old deer emerge as if to say good bye. Later dudes!

Dead Sexy
Arriving back in Shearwater I find this beauty at the fuel dock.
It is the time of year when transient boats are beginning to arrive. I find their grand gleaming phallic palatial presence off-putting to say the least. This boat shows a pratical design which allows for work and play all at once, and damn what other people think.

 Don't laugh, it's almost paid-off.

The organic approach. A goold old truck complete with empty beer cans, a full ash tray and a healthy moss grow-op inside and out. Don’t laugh, it’s almost paid for.

The stinky crane. I jury rigged an exhaust system on a crane so we could reinstall some boat motors without fumigating the old hangar. The huge doors in the background have opened and closed by hand since they were installed about 75 years ago.

Tidy as you go! Another organic aspect of life in Shearwater. Cleaning up after yourself is never taken personally. That’s my exhaust pipe poking through the wall. Yes, that is really an original cast iron drain pipe.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” …Will Rogers.

In A Fog

A trillium in the sun. When you live in the dark dripping Northcoast jungle, seeing real wildflowers is an absolute thrill

Feral tulips picked from a vacant lot on mainstreet Ladysmith.

NOTE: All photos in this blog were taken with my cell phone. Click on any photo to enlarge.

First of all I must confess to providing some “Fake news” in my last blog. I was told the nearest advance polling station for the BC election was in Masset, when in fact it is in Bella Bella. ALWAYS confirm your sources!

I awoke wondering where I was. The room was bright and there was someone in the bed beside me. That, I realized, was my wife. I was home in Ladysmith, not alone as usual in my berth in the boat. There was a strange yet vaguely familiar sound outside. I realized it was the sawmill on the other side of town. I was hearing the clack and bang of lumber in a drop sorter. The sound was from the past, that of a working sawmill, now a sadly rare song of what made this province great. Once, nearly every town in BC had at least one sawmill. A few days ago when my flight was landing in Nanaimo Harbour I looked down into the gaping holds of an Asian ship on the wharf of a former sawmill. It was receiving yet another load of raw, prime BC logs. All the while, fewer folks can afford to buy houses built with BC lumber.

While this is not a political blog I like to get a few jabs in now and then. Right now we are in the middle of a provincial election campaign and one of the hot topics is the lack of affordable housing in British Columbia. That story has now been extrapolated to people living on their boats and pumping raw sewage overboard. In enclosed waters, such as False Creek in Vancouver, doing something as thoughtless as that will certainly draw attention. In places like Shearwater, where I live on my boat, there is no sewage facility on any of the docks, so feeding the crabs is ‘De Rigeur” but , at least, we do have plenty of tidal action to dissipate the DNA from a few boats. In an area of dense population and no open tidal flow everyone will end up with a shitty situation. I’m far more concerned about the oils and chemicals that wash out of our yard in the incessant rain.

I like to preach that the price of freedom is responsibility. If you want to live beneath the, radar,”off the grid,” great! Just quit firing rockets for attention. Don’t do things that piss everyone else off, then demand your right to live as you choose. There is an eternal debate about raw sewage and how it is dealt with. For years in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, filtered sewage is piped out into the Strait Of Juan De Fuca. There is a recurring outcry in the cycle of popular protests about that, although few seem to note that in the vicinity of those discharges is where some really big salmon get caught. It’s the food chain thing; big fish eat smaller fish which eat tiny fish, you know how it goes. Few people seem at all concerned however about all the toxic crap that flushes off of our streets, into the storm sewers and out to sea. The oceans of the world are all in deep peril from over-fishing and every type pf pollution from noise to plastic to chemical and nuclear. Frankly, I see our species treating the whole world as a toilet. Our bowl is running over.

Wreck Beach, Ladysmith aka Dogpatch. When folks in the small liveaboard community find their basements too wet, they scuttle their old hulks on the beach and often the venerable vessels are burned. The debris below the pilings in the background is the ashes of a floathouse lost to fire this winter. Eventually someone else has to clean up the expensive, toxic mess.

Coincidentally the same newspaper page that carried the sewage story, ran a report about a very expensive construction property which has been abandoned. The project broke into an aquifer and now the city of Vancouver is saddled with the expensive problem of containing and diverting the millions of daily litres of fresh clean water into the Fraser River. Um, you know ,…there are many cities around the world that would love to have this problem. Even Vancouver runs out of water in the summer. When life gives you lemons make lemonade, go with the flow. Truly amazing isn’t it? Human beings are determined to try forcing nature to conform to our will and a gift from the Gods is considered a problem.

Today was to be my return to Shearwater after a few days south. An early morning drive of about two hours to Campbell River got me to the airport in good time. The near-empty flight roared into the sky and eventually landed in Port Hardy for fuel after much circling and two aborted landing attempts in Bella Bella. The fog was thick and especially viscous right over the airfield. We probably passed 500′ over the terminal building. So now it’s a day’s pay lost, plus the price of a motel room and meals. Remember last blog’s quote about making God laugh by telling him your plans? We’ll see how tomorrow unfolds.

Tomorrow has become today. I sit in my motel room looking out on Discovery Pass where the fog drifts and lifts and settles. Flocks of snow geese fly northward, low over the water, hooting and calling their distinctive sounds. On an adjacent wall, a woodpecker hammers his way through the wooden siding of the motel’s dining room. I find it hard to photograph the bird through the sifting fog. It is very peaceful. I have a suspicion that today’s game will be called “Hurry up and wait.” We’re here because we’re not all there.

Name that bay! A glimpse of earth before we venture lower toward an aborted landing. It’s so hard being an old pilot sitting in the back!

“Is a flashing bunny a good thing?” The little guy on the right watches cockpit procedure as we buzz Bella Bella a second time..


Looking up from 13,000′ The contrail high overhead represents a few hundred people hurtling eastward
enjoying some sort of lunch and completely oblivious to the speck crossing beneath them. It leaves me feeling very tiny.

Breathe! Finally the fog dissipates over Queen Charlottle Strait. We’re passing over a tiny nook known to mariners as ‘God’s Pocket’

Short final, Port Hardy.
With empty fuel tanks and bursting bladders, a very welcome sight.

A sexy airplane nobody wants to ride in. This immaculate Beechcraft Super King Air is part of the BC Air Ambulance fleet. On the ground in Port Hardy.

Phweeeeeeeeep… all night long. The fog whistle at the Cape Mudge Lighthouse across Discovery Passage from my motel room. The Campbell River airport was still fogbound.

 

Snakehead Rock. Sitting on the tidal flat beneath my motel room balcony this large naturally sculpted rock faces the flooding tide and makes it easier to comprehend aboriginal mythology. Even the bird dropping in the eye is perfectly placed.

A lousy photo of a rotten guy. In the early morning fog this flicka hammers out a second condo in the motel wall. Fortunately his union doesn’t endorse working night shifts.

I’d barely finished breakfast when the phone rang to tell me that a bus had arrived to take the Bella Bella refuges back to the airport. At the airport, we were loaded onto a second bus and hauled off to the airport in Comox. After a little more shuffling the passengers were herded toward a waiting aircraft sitting on the far side of the tarmac. The pilots were wrestling with a stubborn fuel cap on a wing tank. It was the same crew with whom we’d flown the previous day and the young captain was showing rising frustration with his ongoing bad luck. I know that feeling. You can’t start cursing and jumping up and down on your hat when there’s an audience of passengers belted into their seats. We were grounded without an airworthy fuel cap. I volunteered my services as a former aircraft mechanic and soon found myself out at the wingtip on a ladder. Letting a passenger tinker on a aircraft is not the way to run an airline but it is wonderful what you can accomplish with a screwdriver and a pair of vise-grips. The innards of the special cap were worn out and jammed. I persuaded it to function for one last time. We flew. The flawless landing in Bella Bella was right on legal minimums in fog and torrential rain. I made a whole bunch of people happy today.

The red thing goes where?
Passengers were beginning to raise concerns as this young pilot tried unsuccessfully to repair a faulty fuel filler cap. I finally went and helped. The aircraft in the background is an Argus, part of the Comox Aircraft Museum’s collection. It was used for long-range anti-submarine patrol.

What a feeling!
Northbound out of Comox,
Bella Bella or bust.

All’s well that ends. I’m back in Shearwater. The heavy rain continues.

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.”

… Will Rogers