Monthly Archives: June 2017

Poised for Flight

Goodbye Edgar
As if in farewell, Edgar watches from his favourite perch

The weather has eased into spring- like conditions and I’ve managed to complete scraping, sanding and refinishing the cap rails on ‘Seafire.’ I’ve used a new-to-me product called Semco, a very expensive teak sealer. I’ll see how it stands the test of time. I’ve given up on my beloved Cetol; it failed miserably to withstand the challenge of an up-coast winter. I feel better now that the worst part of restoring the boat’s exterior woodwork, or “Brightwork” is behind me but there is plenty to do yet. That can be achieved while sailing along.’

Poised for Flight
‘Seafire’ sits ready to go exploring

Seafire’ shows her scars and wrinkles proudly, she’s earned them, and I’ll give her a good clean-up once back in Southern latitudes. I cannot, however, bear a buildup of grunge. There has been a patina of winter filth on the bottom-side of the mast spreaders and on the radar scanner’s cover. A large storm is coming with high winds and heavy rain so I‘ve scooted up the mast this Sunday morning and scrubbed away the green stuff before the rain comes again. Now I feel “Gooder.” Checking my e-mail, I find that friends on their boat ‘Sage’ have hunkered down in a mangrove swamp in Martinique in anticipation of a potential hurricane. You can access their blog “Sage On Sail” through the sidebar on the cover page of this blog. They later posted a quick blog with a note of relief. Their storm threat had passed.

The weakest link.
A very risky way of holding your rigging up. The bent tang of this turnbuckle is holding this bobstay to the sprit, which in turn holds the forestay which holds the mast. It is often the way things get done here.

 

Evidence. It’s actually fish blood, there was more inside the boat as well as prawn heads. In remote areas, police are permitted to use official vessels for personal reasons.

That’s the easy one. This is an autohelm drive motor installed in the binnacle of a German-built yacht. The visible bolt is one of four that have to somehow be  removed. The stainless steel base was bolted in place, then the bolts were welded.
Goodensafe!

Bleary eyes, after a bug-bitten night.

Heiltsuk grow-op. A community garden in Bella Bella. At the time of the next full moon, tiny alien warriors will emerge from their pods.

A lobster boat replica. It is one of the prettiest power boats to come to our docks…in my opinion.

Sunday evening in Shearwater comes with the forecast rain. I was debating about what to do for supper when there was a knock on the boat’s deck. My neighbour has just returned from a successful day’s fishing. He offered me two huge slabs of white spring salmon. Guess what I had for supper and will again tomorrow. There is nothing finer than fresh fish, What a treat!

The squirrelly heist. Learning how to swallow uphill was the hard part.

A week later, I’m poised for flight. ‘Seafire’ is now moored on the “Hobo” dock, a jetty for fishing boats, tugs, workboats, and any transient freeloaders who can find a spot here. Perfect! It is, in fact, a much better spot than where I’ve been. It was made clear that since I was beyond my usefulness and no longer an employee then I could “Git yer pitchin’s and go!” Fair enough, thanks for the memories. What I find interesting is that despite urgent repeated requests to move and make space for a fifty-five foot boat, which so far has not yet appeared, no one saw fit to advise me of the impending blast in the adjacent rock quarry. At one pm I noticed other boats leaving and learned of the coming rock blast at three pm. Last time some rock was shot, one piece went through the end of a house and more bits were found on the end of the dock. Nothing personal, I’m sure, it’s just the way things are done here.

A “Culturally Modified” tree. Cedar bark and planks have been stripped from this tree.

Heiltsuk grave marker, hand-carved board

Returning to mother earth.
Another grave marker’.

Gone but not forgotten.

An ancient petroglyph carved in granite. How did they do it? I’ve just washed it with water to help enhance it’s lines.

 

 

A beautifully painted box left on a grave.

Flowers everywhere

A flooding tide

It is an odd thing, the vagaries of human personality. Most of us have experienced them from time to time, both of our own making and from others. Many folks here have bid me a fond and warm farewell. I’ve been touched by that. Then a fellow here whom I considered a good friend and a solid character suddenly subscribed to a false rumour about something I was alleged to have said. He invented an accusation which others know is raw fabrication. There are witnesses who can confirm what actually happened and whom my accuser won’t approach. I can’t fathom his motivation and thats the big question for me. He wants his fiction to be true. Why? This old bird has to admit to feeling quite hurt and bewildered but life goes on and this will soon be forgotten. I do wonder about the snowball effects of the Franken-monster this guy has created. It will come home to bite his ass. I’m counting the days until the end of the month when I leave this place. There is a tension and darkness in the air here which no-one can define and yet most readily acknowledge. Even without my health issues, I believe I’d move on.

Salmon Berry

Flowers becoming berries

The ‘Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz is an outline of Toltec dogma. One of those agreements is to be impeccable with one’s words and for the responsibility of the good and the harm they can do. Another agreement is to not make assumptions. It is just too small a community here to wilfully create acrimony and invent false scenarios. I’ve made some wonderful lasting friendships here, and despite the corporate ineptitude, I hold many fond memories. I won’t miss the bullshit but this country will always have a piece of me. It seems sad to leave on such a sour note. So, the other two agreements are to always do one’s best and especially for me at this moment, to take nothing personally. Enough said.

Meanwhile the weather has turned gorgeous. It is clear and warm. Summer solstice passed a few days ago and my first horsefly of the summer has been swatted. I’m spending the weekend tinkering and cleaning on the boat and simply defragging. Today I found a very old friend on the dock. ‘Shukran’ is a boat I loved over twenty years ago. She’s a Fisher Noreaster 30, one of the biggest little boats you’ll ever find. ‘Shukran’ was the original name bestowed when purchased new. The owner had earned her price while working on a dream contract in the middle east. Shukran is Arabic for “Thank you”. I looked up her current owner in the restaurant here to commend him for the loving care he has bestowed on one of my passions from days gone by. He was quite pleased at the praise from a stranger.

Shukran

On Sunday my friend Paer and I took a tour around the Archipelago which protects Kliktsoatli Harbour where Shearwater is located. We visited native burial sites, pictographs, beaches and islets where a profusion of flowers and berries grow. We saw what we now think is a female Northern Elephant Seal and then journeyed back to Shearwater; all in about six hours. What an amazing rich area. Up and down the inlets and around the islands there are thousands of miles of natural wonder as well as the secure feeling that this coast is nearly infinite in it’s vibrancy and size. Soon old ‘Seafire’ will meander southwards toward new horizons and unimagined adventure. To know that this wild labyrinth and sanctuary exists will always be a reassurance. That, I think, is the best reason for preserving wilderness; just to know that it is there.

Nakwakto Rapids, One of the world’s most notorious tidal rapids.
It is a poor photo taken through the aircraft window and jet exhaust but you can see why the island in the rapids is called Trembler Rock.

Sea becoming sky, sky becoming sea.

Now at the beginning of the next week I’ve flown south once again for another round of jiggery pokery in the hospital. The flight was idyllic. I napped, waking regularly, looking out on a new vista of the passing scenery. What a fantastic place we live! Tonight I’m sitting at my desk in Ladysmith. My belly is full with Jill’s cooking, Jack is asleep at my feet and the television is on with a program about obesity. What a different world from the one I left this morning. In a few day’s we’ll be aboard Seafire to begin our meandering trip south. What comes next?

Plaque on a Heiltsuk Grave

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” Vincent Van Gogh

Bearing Up

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Sunday morning calm in downtown Shearwater. Actually, the orange object in the left background is an excavator that began smashing and bashing just after first light. The fishboat in the foreground bears the grand name ‘Pubnico Gemini’

Summer Beach
When the afternoon tide rises over the sun-warmed beach, children come to swim and play on the rope swing.

On the chart it is named Kakushdish Harbour. The locals called it “Gustafson’s.” I much prefer the Heiltsuk name but I have no idea what sort of spices are used in a kakushdish .(She fed him some kakushdish and he was up all night) Seriously, the name rolls off one’s tongue in a lovely way and I’d guess it means something to do with shelter or safety. This is a short, shallow inlet only a few minutes from downtown Shearwater but a world away from the industrial ugliness and near incessant dirty clatter. I’ve avoided coming here, partly because it’s too close to home base but mostly because one has to pass under an electrical power line. I just don’t like overhead wires while on a moving sailboat. On the chart there is a clearance indicated of twenty-three metres. That is plenty enough for Seafire’s mast of sixteen metres but still I have a bad feeling about overhead wires and bridges. Unless the overhead obstruction is very high, it always looks as if you’ll go bump or zap; that tense anticipation is a nasty sensation.

Salal Flower Kakushdish

I could see a prehistoric family making their home in this niche

One of the aboriginal fish traps at Kakushdish

Kakushdish backwater

A forest grave site along the shores of Kakushdish

Kakushdish Harbour. A lovely place to hang out. The bare ground on the hills behind is a naturally occurring bog land where the ground is too wet and barren for forest to grow,

Once under the wire the bay is wide and calm. In places there are long grassy shores to stretch your legs. With our late spring, the colours seem especially intense. This morning there’s a high overcast but the bay is still lovely. The season is very near summer solstice and nights have long lingering dusks. It is a time of richness and plenty. All creatures are busy feeding, raising their young, and preparing for the coming winter. The last one seems to have barely passed. As I get older the seasons, for me, spin faster and faster. Summer is the apex before the long descent into the next cycle of cold, dark and wetness. Yeah you know it, south, south!

A big one. The  68 foot ‘Island Roamer’ comes up for fibreglass repairs after finding a rock in Haida Gwaii. Despite an amazingly good chart system, there ARE uncharted rocks. Full prudence is always required. If the pro’s came run aground, so can anyone else. Note the diminutive size of the worker beside the keel. The fibreglass crew had the vessel back in business in less than three days!

A big little one. Up for a “shave and a haircut” or in other words, bottom cleaning and fresh anti-fouling paint. This is a lovely example of the ubiquitous folk boat design, also often found in these waters as a ‘Contessa 26’. This design is famous for being sailed alone around the world. Several different sailors have done it. The design sails wonderfully and is very seaworthy.

A few days ago I crawled out from beneath a customer’s boat to find myself fifty feet from a young black bear. He was a beauty. My immediate concern was where the mother bear might be but it was soon obvious that this character was alone. There were a few people watching him but he was oblivious as he perused the aromatic garbage bins. Wild animals that accustom themselves to humans almost invariably meet a nasty end. I threw my hammer at him, several times. Bumbles, I named him, belonged in the safety of the forest, not in the middle of a shipyard at midday. He ambled slightly away but was determined to find a meal. We finally steered him up the hill, towards the school; plenty of lunch buckets up there. A yearling, probably orphaned, he has not been taught to forage for wild food and will need some strong persuasion to avoid the temptations of civilization. He has been spotted several times within the community. I fear for his future.

Bumbles Goes Bad
A poster on the grocery store bulletin board warns that my pal does not understand the danger of being fearless.

Because I am in my last days at Shearwater time is passing slowly for me, just as it did when I sat in a public school classroom this time of year so long ago. Friday afternoon finally arrived. I slipped the boat’s lines. We were quickly around the corner and out of sight. I spent the night and following day in Kakushdish most pleasantly. After a morning exploration of the bay by dinghy I settled down to work on the boat’s teak. I almost sanded my fingertips to the bone but tonight one cap rail is done. It has been scraped and sanded, had two coats of teak oil applied and all the metal fittings are back in their place. I enjoyed my simple honest work. A cool breeze hummed and whistled in the rigging. I knew a great sense of well-being. Funny how contentment can come from such a simple thing.

What manner of beast is this? Actually it’s only a large stump on tidal ground above yet another fish trap at Kakushdish.

Back to Beales, looking into the entrance to the lagoons beyond.

Once through the tidal rapids, one comes upon a loading bulkhead from a former limestone quarry, now long-abandoned.

Into the marsh. It is stunningly beautiful, in large part because of the natural open space.

Saltwater streams meander through the marshland.

Sandhill cranes feed in the marsh and nest in the bogs on the hills.

Late in the day I moved ‘Seafire’ to Beales Bay, a short distance around the rocks and reefs of Gunboat Passage. ‘Sjoa’ is anchored st the far end of the bay, I wonder what magic video footage Paer has made. I look out one last time just before bed. Last night’s full moon shines down between the scudding clouds. In the morning I awake with my eyes glued shut. I have to peel them open. Insect bites, or teak sanding dust, my whole head feels puffy. It’s snot funny. I force myself into the day; and soon happy for what it becomes. Paer comes over to ‘Seafire’ for a visit and we finally get to know each other a little. What a delight to meet someone new who closely shares similar perspectives and philosophies. I learn of adventures in Sweden along the Arctic Circle and in Lapland. Paer tells of sailing there and how life is in summers of the midnight sun and intense winters of near eternal darkness. He has an advantage of being able to see things from an outsider’s perspective and finds a positive view of things where I see only the negative. He points out that Shearwater, a tiny oddball community of misfit refugees from urban latitudes, manages to survive in relative harmony. He also points out, that despite our industry, we are able to make a minimal environmental foot print. The morning flew by as, in happy discovery, we plumbed each other’s philosophies, values, perspectives. Affirmation is very good for the soul.

I’ve been wanting to explore this huge wetland and estuary. Today the weather and the tides are in my favour. There is a lively and shallow, drying tidal rapids which guard the entrance. I’m able to pass through with a few inches of water beneath my kayak and slalom around three points and rocky islets into the marshland. It is unique as it spreads broadly around three saltwater streams which almost dry out at each low tide. Certainly they are navigable only on a rising tide. I am able to penetrate the green marsh by bumping along the bottom only as the tide rises up the stream bed and lifts me along a little further at a time. It is fantastic. The bottom of the streams are very course sand with glinting bits of mica. The water is slightly tea-coloured but clear. I am able to penetrate the grassy marsh and see birds and minnows in abundance. It is a place where I expect to see deer and bear at any time. I’m not disappointed.

Paer films a deer which came out of the forest directly across the stream from us. While this occurred the tide was bubbling up around our feet.

Up one reach of the stream network I find Paer hiking in the marsh. We chat at the stream’s edge, marvelling at how quickly the tide rises. As we stand there a deer emerges from the forest, walking directly toward us. Eventually she senses our presence and we all stand motionless regarding each other across the flowing water. Mesmerized, we don’t notice how the tide is rising over the mud at our feet. Paer has to scramble for higher ground. I paddle out against the flood arriving back at the narrows just as the tide is about to turn again to ebb. I imagine how the marsh streams must be when salmon are spawning. They will be lined with bear and churning with spawning salmon. My one regret is that it has taken me so long to discover this wonderful place. Paer spends days there, always alone. He loves the marsh and lagoon and has developed an intimate knowledge of this area. His film work is of superb professional quality. Clearly he loves filming wildlife and wilderness. He points out that he has never made a living with film; it is something he does in amateur passion to share his vision of the natural world. I note again that his film vignettes are published for viewing on Vimeo and YouTube.

Look for his name: Paer Domeij or titles like ‘Ellerslie Lagoon Waterfalls,’ ‘Two birds and a bear’ or ‘Sommarpromen i Lulea.’ ‘Gransfors Yxmedja’ is fascinating and ‘Cruise Canada’ is my favourite. I have not mentioned his exploits as a man who built a boat and went voyaging as he still is. I am both impressed and inspired by Paer. High praise indeed from this cynic.

The nook. one of thousands of streams running to the sea.

Monday was the usual hectic day with transient boaters lining up at the shop door to present their tales of woe. We serve folks on a first come first serve basis but somewhere else there be a place that serves people on the basic of the best dramatic account of their perceived problem. Uncle Harold’s ingrown tone nail and that the cat had diarrhoea six weeks ago really don’t have nothing to do with solving your present mechanical failure mister. You are number seventeen in the line-up so far this morning. We’re working on work order three from yesterday. Uh huh.

Bella Bella as seen from the mouth of Kakushdish

At least my little bear came back, he’s still alive and hungry. He did not seem as cavalier about the presence of people today and in fact scrambled up a vertical rock face to escape me. There are reports of a mother bear loitering in the surrounding forest. Hopefully, as the berries ripen during our late spring, our furry friend will prefer eating in the rough to biting the bullet if he continues to scrounge around people. Run Bumbles, run.

You’re IT! Appearing to be playing a child’s game, Bumbles is actually about to scale a 20′ vertical rock face to escape me. I’m trying to educate him that he is not welcome around people.

I’d rather see a blackbird in the forest than an eagle on TV”

Paer Domeij quoting his teenage son.

The Next Corner

The Next Corner

The swallows are back. One day in the past week they were suddenly here, flitting and swooping and chattering like no other creature can. Photographing them is very hard. They tend to nest in the rafters of the old hangar here where it is safely dark and out of reach from the likes of me. They feed, in part, on the plague of black flies that has arrived in the same week. By blackfly standards these are tiny specimens, but like scorpions, it is the smaller ones which produce the nastiest reaction. The bites become tiny, itchy bumps that last two days or more and they’ll be in any exposed place the little pests choose to attack. They still don’t hold a candle to the ones I recall in the tundra of the Northern Canadian Shield. Soon to arrive here will be swarms of horseflies which, hopefully, I’ll avoid by leaving in another month. Also out and about are what I call Shearwater flies. They look like half-scale houseflies and hover silently in small groups in front of your face. They don’t bite but are damned annoying. They disappear for a few days then come back to perform their mysteries yet again. There is a small patch of lawn at the head of the ramp. Yesterday a flock of ten mourning doves fed in that grass. It seems incongruous to find these birds here. Their gentle cooing is exactly the same as from those I have heard in the Sonoran Desert. It is one of the most relaxing and reassuring sounds I know and also another call southward.

A Swallow’s Eye View.
Up the mast on ‘Seafire’ tweeking a radio antenna connection.

The next few weeks will pass slowly. Soon I’ll be back to a life based at home in Ladysmith. It will be wonderful to have a regular life at home but this area will be forever in my heart. I’ll take some time at month’s end to explore this region a bit more.

The Pipe…
…Source of all that is wet. Actually one of many million streams in the rainforest. During a rainfall the pipe is half-full and a rushing torrent. In the fall, schools of salmon swim round and round trying to spawn. One time Orcas followed them in this little bay. This photo was taken just after low slack during the May spring tides. It was such a gorgeous day I washed my blankets. One is hanging over my boom. If you look carefully you can see the eelgrass is pointing into the stream, the tide is now flooding.

A week has passed since I wrote the preceding sentence. That clear warm sunny day seems as if it had never happened. Winter’s weather has returned with steady rain, night and day. Today, there is first a torrential downpour then a clearing and some drying before the next torrent begins. The boat’s exterior woodwork desperately needs to be scraped, sanded and refinished after last winter’s devastation. Even now, at the beginning of June, every effort is thwarted with more rain. Today, as I write, my tools sit beside me in anticipation of being able to rush outside in the next lull. Crews from the transient yachts, now thickly cluttered along the dock, wander aimlessly looking for distraction. We may be stcuk with the same people all summer. They loiter in the laundromat for hours, with amazing heaps of laundry and endless e-mails to and from the outer world. They hang about the yard and shop looking for entertainment. Questing a better wifi signal is an ongoing pastime for them. They’re often a nuisance and a danger. Some even find their way down onto the decrepit residential dock to peer and poke where they have no business being. I once told one gormless fellow “I know that i look lile a clown but I’m not here to entertain you.” I find myself wanting to untie old ‘Seafire’ and head for the backwaters. Soon, my restless boat, soon.

My pal Squirelly.
What could be finer than sitting on a bank on a perfect day eating dandelion seeds? Some days he’ll sit on my feet hoping for a handout.

One visitor has been here since last year. He’s spent the whole winter here, disappearing for a while then coming back to Shearwater for a few days. Paer Domeij is from Sweden. He lives and travels aboard his beautiful, sturdy cutter ‘Sjoa’. Paer is a professional videographer. Some of the short films he has made of this area are breath-taking. You can find his work on Vimeo and on YouTube. Each short piece is a diamond beautifully filmed and edited with a perfect amount of narration and background audio. You owe it to yourself to look up his films. His love for this wilderness is clear. Hopefully, once I’m back in a world buzzing with full cyber service, I can put up a link to Paer’s work.

Primordial Soup, from which we came?

One of my frustrations about leaving here is that I have not begun to explore this region as much as I’d like. That could take the rest of my life. However the arthritic pain of the last few rainy days reminds me of why south is the right direction for me. Still, there is the lure of what’s around the next corner, and the next. That mystery will always haunt me. Fortunately there are corners everywhere.

A chance of showers.
Sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, rain, rain. Welcome to the rainforest.

A soggy life. I open this portlight above the galley stove to let the cooking vapours out. Despite a visor, when it is raining, there’s a little problem.
Usually I put a small storm window in place to shed the rain.

For the time being focus is on work. The transient yachts, (I call them Gringo boats) have an infinite variety of troubles. The owners sometimes arrive at the shop in groups, each with what is to them he only problem in the world. Being told they must wait in line doesn’t suit their sense of urgency to hurry up and relax. In any season you’ll see it all. From clogged toilets to suppurating hydraulic systems, dead engines and mangled drive systems, in they come. We haven’t yet this season had a boat that tried plowing through a reef so there’ll probably be a pair of those arrive together. In the midst of the shipyard mayhem, these folks will continue living aboard their vessels while we hammer and grind and heave on wrenches and curse beneath them. They ascend and descend rickety ladders as we can provide and may need help with their big dog each time. I feel pity for these family beasts who endure a plethora of noxious aromas and sounds and are then exercised in the toxic mud and dust of the shipyard among hurtling machinery.

Camper copter. Four rotor blades and a bed built for two. Once a helicopter guy, I guess I’ll always be one. I’m certainly dazzled with this machine.

Nein, nein zat Fokker ischt unt Messerschmidt!
The Eurocopter 105 is rugged and versatile it is a pilot’s and mechanic’s dream. The Red Bull Company uses one of these, unmodified, to fly a full airshow with plenty of inverted manoeuvres.

Heck! I get it.

Rightfully, stranded crews should stay in our hotel while we ply our trade. It would be safer, more expedient and profitable. ( Often these repair jobs are covered with insurance and so are carte blanche) Other skippers are determined to loiter with their chins on our shoulders while we try to make their repairs in spite of them. I often employ a carefully practised surliness to retain some elbow-room in the shop. One character planted himself on my work stool in the middle of our doorway. I asked him to move out of the way and he replied that wanted to ensure he’d get some attention. I advised him that he’d be sure to get some “F…ing attention” if he didn’t move immediately. Simply getting the correct parts shipped in a timely manner is an eternal, complicated frustration. Happy customers are a rarity. Many white-knuckled buccaneers stop here in a frantic rush to escape the helter-skelter of home. They only manage to bring it with them.

Well, if this old wrencher knew so much about running a resort and a wilderness marine repair facility perhaps I’d have my own remote island business. Or perhaps, I’m clever enough not to. It is certainly bemusing to endure such a dystopic existence within a wonderland. Certainly, I’m not going to miss any of it. I just want to go sailing. Here’s to what’s around that next corner.

Rafted to ‘Gulf Tide’ an old tug converted to a beautiful liveaboard. Deb, the lady of the boat, does great canvas work.

The Shearwater Breakwater. A new forest breaks out on the old boom sticks.

Midday Fogsneak. The wind changed and dampened, the temperature dropped, and the sky became obscured. The rain returned a few hours later.

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”

… Will Rogers