A Plague Of Doves

Anchor set, mooring light aloft, supper in the oven, end of a very good day.

I’m feeling as worn as Willy Nelson’s guitar. Hopefully I too can still produce something good. But not today.

“Feeling nearly faded as my jeans.” My favourite mural in Chemainus, the lovely little town just south of Ladysmith.

ODIKA! Jill waits for what proved to be an excellent birthday dinner. If ever in Chemainus, this a fantastic restaurant. Lovely people, fantastic food.

Chemainus hydrant patrol. A joy of sidewalk tables is meeting the locals.

I learned this morning that a distant friend had died suddenly. He was the husband of my wife’s longest friendship and so after fifty-two years of marriage to his wife, Phillip had become an essential component of my wife’s friendship. I really liked him. I did not know him well, having only visited with him for a few days but I intended to befriend him more deeply. Now he’s gone, all those gonna-do moments have passed. The simple essay here is that we only have this moment, not the one in another minute’s time, only this one. And, every time you say goodbye, it may well be the last time. A few blogs back I briefly alluded to a dogma which includes being impeccable with your word. Don’t leave regrettable words without apology and preferably let your words be worth speaking and remembering. Believe me, this verbose writer and story teller wrestles with that one constantly.

In the teeth of a Qualicum. The wind blows strong and steady but there are no large seas because you’re sailing in the lee of the windward shore. It’s bliss!

Chaos below. I had not stowed anything because an hour earlier the wind was coming the opposite way and everything was happy in it’s place. No worries mate!

Chrome Island coming up like the clappers.

Chrome Island.
Anchored in the lee. The current kept the stern into the strong wind. Look at my flag.There was a whole lot of bobbing going on.

Rocks and cormorants on Chrome Island.

A peek at the edge of the keeper’s beautiful gardens and where I think some of the petroglyphs are.

Chrome Island looking back. The light was perfect and it never waits until tomorrow.

As I absorbed the news about this distant friend now gone, I sat with the day’s first coffee in hand. The mourning doves continued their serenade. A soothing sound, comforting and reassuring, this morning it was almost a thunderous din that seemed overwhelming. I wanted to shout at them to stop, shut up, fly away. I was already disoriented with arriving home. Now I’ve accepted a new job offer in Comox for a yacht charter company. I’m a bit reluctant to head back northwards for a low-paying job but it seems the gods dumped this one in my path. I’d best not step in it, or around it. I’ll just go see what’s up.

The light drew me on.

Smoke, mountains, low light.

The end of the world… over there.

Three days later I’m sitting in Seafire on a mooring buoy in Comox. Jill and I were still travelling south a week ago. I look ashore into the town, watching the traffic lights change on main street. They didn’t have any when we lived here thirty years. The community has grown up, a lot, and so have I. Well not actually, I’ve I just grown old. I truly believed I was coming south to retire but I need the money and here I go for some more work. These seem like nice folks and the job could prove to be fun. Every door leads a person to another door with yet more doors beyond. So…close the door, you’re letting the flies out!

One of the nice things about being at a more southerly latitude is that my mobile phone works inside my boat. No more huddling on deck ahead of the mast in the wind and rain, moving my head back and forth trying to find the best reception all the while swatting at squadrons of biting insects. Such decadence! I just finished a phone call with a friend who agrees that I should monetize my writing, my blog and my books and my photography. I find it hard to solicit myself and my work but I’m not too proud anymore to ask that if anyone knows someone who knows someone…. well, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishing. I’m not asking for any free lunch, just an agent who’s willing to take a chance on over twenty-five years of writing. That includes two novels, four other completed books plus a few on the back of the stove. I’m no one-hit wonder.

Yesterday proved to be an amazing day. Old ‘Seafire’ brought me all the way north from Ladysmith to an anchorage five miles south of Comox. That is a distance of—– miles in eleven and a half hours which included an hour out in Nanaimo for fuel. The shortest route from Ladysmith to Nanaimo requires transiting a notorious gap know as Dodd Narrows. Yesterday the tidal rate at maximum flood was 8.5 knots. I know the narrows, I know my boat and I know that the wild ride will keep most boaters away at maximum flood and ebb. I fear other yachts far more than tidal whirlpook. The worst part of turbulent water on a flood is downstream of the narrows and there is nothing to run into here, except other boats. One huge, overpowered motor yacht rushed up behind me and passed immediately after we’d exited the gap together. That wake mixed with the whirlpools and standing waves and produced a tsunami which broke dishes in the galley. ‘Seafire’ and I have know some rough going, but we’ve never before broken anything. The goon was towing a large fishing skiff on a long line and the entire show moved northward in excess of twenty knots. Somewhere there lurks a log. Thunk! Sunk!

While entering the narrows I was fascinated as I watched a bald eagle take a common murre. I’m no bleeding heart but it was painful to watch the murre’s agonizing demise and yet see the eagle’s strategizing and brilliant flying. He kept diving on his prey until it was too exhausted and injured to dive any more. The murre flew a last time, but now it dangled from the eagle’s talons. There is no place for warmth and fuzziness in nature and I’m sure that when feeding our offspring is a priority, we can all demonstrate our vicious nature.

Northbound from Nanaimo I lucked into a Qualicum wind which heeled the old boat over and had us hurtling on our way. Thirty knots of warm breeze on the beam is a gift and I revelled in it. At times the rails were in the water and we raced up the strait toward Chrome Island. I anchored in the lee of the island but the wind curled around the rock and arm-wrestled with the ebb tide from Baynes Sound. The stern stayed into wind and ‘Seafire’ bounded at the end of her anchored chain like a feral pony. I took the dinghy around the island and then started to go ashore. There are some incredible petroglyphs on the island, the evening light was clear and golden. It seemed meant to be.

Then the light keeper appeared. I was promptly advise that the island was his home and he was in the middle of dinner. “Come back tomorrow.” He flung out an apology; I told him I didn’t believe that. It the first time ever, anywhere I’ve been in Canada, that a light keeper has been less than welcoming to me. Usually a visitor’s concern is being able to get away again, company is usually cherished by lightkeepers. I had no intention of invading his home or demanding a cup of anything, nor trampling his beautiful lawns and gardens. I’ve reviewed this with other mariners who all agree that a Canadian light station is Canadian property and we have every right to visit our landmarks. I promised the grump that he’d been rude to the wrong writer and here ya go buddy!

The light that evening was magic. It drew me onward until finally at dusk I dropped my anchor in Henry Bay, a short distance in Comox. The trip covered sixty-five nautical miles in less than half a day. Brilliant!

And so here I am in Comox. On my first afternoon there I took the dinghy and visited the “Royston Wrecks” directly across the estuary. It has been decades since I was in this sacred place. A breakwater for a log-booming ground was built by scuttling 14 ships. Some were WWII liberty ships. Two of the hulks were former full-rigged clipper ships that had been cut down and used for log barges. One is the ‘Riversdale’ built in Liverpool in 1894. All that remains of her now is the forward section. The other, also built in Liverpool in 1876 is the ‘Melanope’. She, apparently was once an immigrant vessel to Australia. Her aft and forward sections remain to give you a clear idea of her overall size.

The bow of the ‘Riverdale’
This sprit has been shortened by forty or fifty feet. Imagine some young, barefoot seaman sitting out there watching the dolphins swimming beneath the bow in the seas foaming past.

Looking into the foc’sle. Check out the deck planking and how it has stood up to the years compared to the steel deck beams.

The bones of the ‘Melanope’ That’s the stern section in the background. A very big sailboat!

Bow detail. Note the riveted hull plates. Welding a ship together was yet to come. There were times when this hull crossed the open ocean heeled over much like this.

The mizzen was missin’.
This is the aft mast, or mizzen. It would have been cut off when the vessels was decommissioned to live out her days as a barge. The mast was rolled and riveted, then reinforced with more steel inside. How’d they do that? NO COMPUTERS! Did some poor bugger have to crawl inside the mast? There’s a belaying pin rusted in it’s rail. Running rigging would be “belayed” to it.

Chain pipes. Where the anchor chains passed out from the lockers. They were set low to prevent fouling the bob stay forward. Chafe marks are visible in the forward pipe.

The Jackstaff. This swivelling cast steel arm was used to “cat” the anchors, securing them up for the voyage. Note the arced rusted-out marks where the anchor must have chaffed on the hull plates. The huge forward-facing socket was where the massive bowsprit was bedded home. Also see the massive turnbuckle thimble above the sprit bas. It was used to harden a forestay. This was an immigrant ship and all those who sailed on her have passed on. It is very humbling.

What grand things these were! The nautical author John Villiers describes the full-rigged ship as one of man’s highest achievements. Combining technology and art they moved passengers and massive amounts of freight around the planet without burning a single drop of fuel. That was all accomplished without computers, radios, satellites. I’ve included a photo, without permission, of a full rigged barque to illustrate the wonder and glory of those vessels. I believe the ship is the ‘Cuauhtemoc’ built in 1982 as a training ship for the Mexican navy. I’ve been aboard her and she is a floating cathedral, immaculate and glorious.

This photo is reproduced in this blog without any permission. I don’t know who owns the rights but it is one of my favourite images. I use it for the desktop on my lap top and fantasize about being aboard in the rigging. This is very much how these wrecks would have appeared during their working life.

Meanwhile I’m settling into my daily grind on the docks of Comox. The bay here is surrounded by beautiful beaches and sandy spits. There is a huge glacier which looks down on the bay where dozens of tiny sailing vessels skitter about at the hands of children learning to sail. At low tide the shallow clam beds and boulders extend toward the glacier, several feet above our eye level in our floating dock house. The air is rich with the heady aroma of all that thick mud.

In the park above the docks folks exercise their dogs between happy playing children. A shelter has been built where sits a piano available for anyone to play. I’ve heard bagpipe tunes. Two nights ago, on coming out from dinner in the pub, there was some wonderful salty accordion music wafting out from a hidden corner.

It seems worth staying for a while.

How could the Greeks, who knew that one never enters the same river twice, believe in homecoming.”

…Bernhard Schlink ‘The Reader’

5 responses to “A Plague Of Doves

  1. Nice Fred. Looked for you at LMS today. Just missed you. All the best in Comox. George

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. George;
    And I thought I saw your C dory here in Comox.
    We’ll hook up
    Best, Fred

  3. Next we know you’ll be running some international company and you’ll need an agent down here in the Caribbean. Keep us in mind although am sure you would prefer the warmer climate. Again great photos and good story.

  4. Tony:
    I’m still thinking of building and selling solar-powered led illuminated roadside crosses that play ‘La Bamba’ for Latin America. Perhaps for the Caribbean we could change the tune to ‘Put the Lime In The Cocomut.’ We could call it the “Shine where you’re planted roadside marker company.” Are you in?
    SWYP inc. to raise capital maybe we could just sell Donald Trump Pinatas.
    Fred

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