“Hove to” is a nautical expression that deals with a situation at sea, especially for a sailing vessel. After putting a sail “aback” which means that sail is now wind-filled so that it sets backwards across the deck of the boat, one sets the helm downwind so that the boat lies gently off the wind and slowly drifts leeward. The wake of the boat drifting sideways acts as a breakwater to advancing seas. This manoeuvre is used when conditions are too stormy and unsafe to hold your intended course and/or when the crew is to weary to stand a watch and requires a rest. I’ve used it a few times and it is an amazing experience. The boats sits easily, almost as if at a dock, while the ocean rages all around you. One can sleep, cook a meal, make repairs, do some writing and chart work and generally prepare to set the right sails and steer a course when conditions ease. It is important to know where you are and be aware of any land mass or rocks lying downwind of your drift.
At the moment, I’m hove-to. It is mid-winter, the wind and rain are incessant. I am not complaining; I vividly recall last winter up in the real rainforest at Shearwater. This winter seems to be especially wet, the interior of the province is heaped with snow; local ski resorts have received over 100cm of snow in one night. I can’t imagine what things are like in the ‘Great Wet North.’ My next projects on ‘Seafire’ require a few dry hours so here I sit, house-bound, waiting for a break. Fisher Poets (fisherpoets.org) is coming up. I’m working on new material for that, as well as sorting through my archives. Good grief! There are over twenty-five years of serious writing. Yes, I know, it’s time to get published and that is a story in itself.
It is also a time for reading. That is an eternal obligation of the writer, to read. Not only to enforce a healthy degree of humility, but to stimulate new ideas. The current tome on my night table is ‘Bark Skins’ by Annie Proulx. I am not in the business of selling anyone’s books, but Annie Proulx is one of my favourite writers and literary inspirations. ‘Bark Skins’ is the quintessential novel, all 713 pages. It draws the reader forward in a magnificent yarn covering centuries and dissects environmental, gender and racial issues brilliantly. If you aren’t familiar with this Nobel-winning author, I dare you to read it, or any of Proulx’s other works. You’ll discover a fantastic mind. End of book plug.
Despite a forecast today for snow, we were blessed with a sunny afternoon. I worked like crazy and finished the next project: new fuel tank vents. It may sound mediocre, but it is a job which has been on my list since i bought the boat seven years ago. It is important not to allow water to get into your fuel tanks, especially seawater. Engines require clean, fresh fuel and contaminated fuel will cause devilish problems, especially at the worst possible time. My old tank vents were in the transom where it was both possible to inhale seawater and also to spew fuel directly into the ocean. The tanks have been slow to fill, which is usually a venting problem. Often I would have diesel fuel burp back out of the filler pipe which caused a great mess. One drop of fuel into the ocean looks as if the ‘Exxon Valdez’ has run aground again and that is not politically correct.
I installed two new vents about forty centimetres higher than the old ones and now face onto the side decks close to the filler pipe. I can now monitor what’s going on when I am fuelling the boat. If the vents do leak it will be aboard the boat and onto a fuel-absorbent pad. I also replaced the hose between the tank and the new vent with correct, and very expensive, fuel-grade hose. The new hose is half the length of the old one which, I discovered, was heater hose that drooped below the level of the tank top. Through the years the fuel had rotted that incorrect hose so that it was collapsing on itself and preventing adequate ventilation. After thirty-seven years the hose was certainly overdue for upgrading. I also replaced the flush-deck fuel filler caps with short standpipes and a proper pipe cap. Now no water can leak into the tanks although there is something new to bash your feet on. There was the usual squirming and groping and wrench-dropping, including cuts and fibreglass slivers. It was an affirmation that I won’t do boat repairs for a living anymore. Keeping ‘Seafire’ shipshape is plenty enough for me anymore.
The trick to boat maintenance and repairs is to not let jobs pile up. One deficiency is bad enough, let a few develop and they’ll rear their ugly heads all at the same time. Preventive maintenance is the key to successful voyaging. There is also a bonus in getting intimate with your boat’s innards. On that dark and stormy night when “Shit happens” you’ll have a good idea of where to look for what. Be self-sufficient. I you don’t like that idea, stay home. God knows, there is enough that can go wrong at the best of times without begging for trouble through poor maintenance. Love your boat, it will love you back.
I’m not sure my essay on boat repairs has captivated everyone but this blog is supposed be about a life which ultimately orbits around owning, or being owned by, ‘Seafire’ and the dream that brought this boat into my life.
Ladysmith has been my home town for several years. It sits on the East side of Vancouver Island behind the embrace of the Gulf Islands and on the northern edge of the Cowichan Valley. It is a lovely area, dotted with small communities and is a popular semi-rural area of Canada. The Pacific ocean moderates our climate, the population is eclectic and sometimes quirky. There are several small newspapers, worth reading for snippets of parochial attitude. A recent letter to the editor complained about “Excessive nudity” in the men’s change room of the Duncan swimming pool. I’m not sure what the prurient objection was really about, but one letter, written in response quipped, “Excessive nudity? How much more than naked can you get?” So much for broad-minded tolerance in a haven for geriatric flower children.
And so we pass the days of winter, each one a little closer to spring. Tonight however, there is a forecast for snow. The rain drums on the skylight above my desk. My muse snores gently as he sleeps on the chair beside me. His front legs twitch. Perhaps he dreams of little yellow flowers. Any day now, little yellow flowers and the worst of winter will be past.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. “