IT MUST BE SPRING

 

They’re back! Victoria Day weekend has just passed and now we’re careening toward the first day of summer in another four weeks. First the swallows and Purple Martins reappear, then with the long weekend in May other weird birds show up. Now I know that when I use the term, weird, it means someone or some thing is beyond my comprehension. When the entire Status quo trends that way, I understand that I’m the one who’s weird. Or am I ?

My perception of what is correct in the nautical world is complex yet steeped in simple tradition. I value things being done ‘The old way’ and feel that self-sufficiency, independence, and simplicity are essential components in being a proficient mariner. Clearly, masses disagree.

I was evicted, for the weekend, from my spot on the dock by noon on Friday. The weekend warriors happily pay premium moorage fees.  (Those with the gold make the rules) A gleaming white Tupperware armada began to arrive. I retreated to anchor across the bay in a secluded spot. Long before nightfall all the marinas in the bay were bursting with gleaming plastic, pulsing light and noise. As darkness settled, the boats kept on coming. For once, no-one ended up aground on the reef at the harbour entrance.

The docks, choked with shouting boaters in folding chairs sitting at folding tables, were impassable. Caustic music of different flavours throbbed from various stereo systems around the bay. The din was constantly punctuated with the squeals and forced guffaws of drunken people trying to convince themselves they were having fun. There is a braying, frantic tone that betrays the desperate existence so many of these folks were trying to escape for a few hours. They only manage to bring it with them. There are four months ahead when we have to endure these vicarious wannabe Vikings stumbling into the bay and overrunning our generally peaceful existence. Here on the West coast I don’t know what ‘Going boating’ or ‘Boating season’ means. There are those of us who’s existence is intrinsic with being on and near the sea; all year long. It’s the way some of us live, all the time. Weird huh? I should mention here that I realize I am categorizing. There are plenty of competent and experienced mariners out there doing what they love and don’t give a damn for making impressions or joining herds. I also know that these kindred spirits tend to avoid the madness I describe.

This old cynic left the bay when the small anchorage I had chosen became littered with ever more boats anchored too close. It happened twice again during the weekend as I retreated to more secluded anchorages. As usual, there was yet another kayaker who thought that this boat at anchor was a captive venue for his demands for attention as he clung, shouting, to our cap rail. As I recall, key words I used were “Privacy, respect, solitude, and piss-off!”

Yeah I know I’m a grumpy old fart. ‘Hey you, get off of my cloud!”

The old prune barge herself
All dressed up with everywhere to go

I’ve previously promised to describe my boat ‘Seafire‘, the dream machine after which this blog is named. The design is called a Downeaster 41, entirely a misnomer in a couple of ways, all in the cause of marketing. Actually the hull is 38′ with the extra 3’ being added in the form of a bowsprit/platform. The designer, Henry Morschladt, drew several sizes of vessel for Downeaster Yachts of Santa Ana, California. Apparently, if you hang an Eastcoast handle on a boat, it is supposed to seem saltier. This line of sailboats is famous for being over-built and seakindly. Many have have successfully completed extensive offshore voyages. ‘Seafire’ is one of twelve 38′ hulls built and sold as 41′ motorsailers. Allegedly my hull was produced in 1981, near the end of the company’s history when so many businesses failed in that great recession. I wonder sometimes, if my hull wasn’t one of the last built. Some of the fibreglass work in out-of sight places is very, very rough and the plumbing and wiring were clearly installed by amateurs. The teak wood work is gorgeous.

Home of the blog, the meditation both, dining salon and board room. Galley, guest cabin, skippers quarters and stowage forward
Home of this blog, the meditation booth, dining salon and board room. Galley, guest cabin, skippers quarters and stowage forward

Those criticisms out of the way there is not one osmosis blister on the hull after 32 years of soaking in the briny deep. That’s a very good sign of her integrity. The engine is a trusty old 65 Hp Ford Lehman, recently rebuilt. (That is an American engine, not at all related to the British Leyland, an entirely different product. )The transmission is a ubiquitous Borg Warner velvet drive; it’s all good. There is an inside helm, massive water and fuel tankage, a huge forward berth and a separate private cabin with a comfortable double berth. The galley is better than some which I’ve known in tugboats and is located in the belly of the vessel, where it is easiest to produce a hot meal in heavy weather.

Sadly, the boat had apparently not know much of a life as other than a ‘Gin Palace’, one of those boats that is used to entertain and impress people and seldom leaves the dock. Her neglected state made her affordable to me, the effort to bring her up to my standard of seaworthy has financially shattered me. I knew better !

Pretty from all angles
Pretty from all angles

She is cutter-rigged with furlers on both headsails which makes her easy to handle and the old ‘Prune Barge’ sails pretty well for a motorsailor. She looks after herself and her crew just fine in nasty weather and I have grown quite fond of her. Now, I just have to finish enough of her refit to get her to La Paz Baha for Christmas. There have been plenty of recent setbacks so I know I’m doing the right thing although there are days when I nearly drown myself and those close to me in despair and doubt. If I drop this dream, my life becomes meaningless, my writing and everything else hinges on sailing and so I can’t give it up.

Exposed
The whole situation exposed

‘Seafire’ is the eighth sailboat I’ve bought and refitted. There was a power boat or two along the way as well. Six of the sailboats were all very capable offshore boats. If only I’d just buggered off in the first little sloop ‘Jenta’, what a different tale I’d have to tell. You cannot steer a steady course by looking back at your wake so there’s no point in regrets. The boat previous to ‘Seafire was ‘Pax’, an Australian-built IOR half-tonner which had been raced in the Southern Ocean for ten years before embarking on a fourteen-year East-about cruise around the world. One of her claims to fame was when she had been rolled 360 degrees by a rogue wave off the mouth of the Platte River in Uraguay. Even the mast stayed in place!  She is one tough little ship to have survived that well enough to sail on in to shore. I had ‘Pax’ fully refitted and ready to go again.

Pax
Pax

However, I wanted a boat which I could sail from inside and which had the capacity for enough tools for me to be totally self-sufficient and also earn some cash along the way. I also wanted some private quarters for a few guests. I want to be able to offer friends the chance to join the boat, wherever in the world she may be. This will help with the expenses and also provide folks the chance to affordably see a bit of the world away from home in a unique perspective.

Yes, you’re invited.

The open Pacific, Todos Santos, Baha
The open Pacific , Todos Santos, Baha
La Paz Baha
La Paz

 

 

USE IT OR LOSE IT

The water rushes down on its way to the sea
Spring time in the forest

 I’ve put up a couple of links today in my Blog Roll to a web site and  to a blog site of a man named Pat Dixon. Pat is a compadre I’ve met through the Fisher Poet’s Gatherings. He has been instrumental in putting up the expanded FPG website and seems able to cruise through the cyber jungle with ease; especially in comparison to my ability for stumbling and nearly drowning in the first puddle I find. I’m honoured to have Pat’s permission to post links to his work and hope readers find it as uplifting and inspiring as I do.

The value I find in the inspiration of people like Pat is the reiteration that if you have a gift you must use it or lose it or….as old Lord Nelson said, “Ships and men rot in port.” When people put their shoulder to the proverbial wheel, and like Pat, who writes a poem a day for an entire month, amazing results follow.

All things must end
Jack chases down the stream….Whoa! What stream? 

This week, while driving to Victoria on business my dog, Jack, and I stopped at one of our usual watering holes. It’s a place to have a stretch and a pee and a drink of water before diving into the maelstrom of frantic, lurching traffic know as the ‘Colwood Crawl.’ The place I describe is only safely accessible while southbound from the Malahat through Goldstream Park. There’s a small parking area and then a lovely walk to a beautiful waterfall. It was cascading as usual under the canopy of lush spring-green foliage. Bellow the falls the stream always runs fully with tumbling clear water. At this time of year one expects the water to be a foaming madness of spring run-off. Clearly the logs littering the stream bed are testament to boisterous currents. This year the water runs through quiet pools for a few hundred metres then disappears into the rocks of the stream bed. It is quite disconcerting and I wonder what it means.

Meanwhile the tides rise and fall and the sun and moon go round as ever. Some sailing friends are presently exploring the Himalayas. Others are preparing for a summer of cruising in the Northwest Passage. An old friend has his boat in final preparations for a year-long voyage to the South Pacific. Another buddy has recently completed the purchase of a fifty-four foot ketch as the tangible  journey of his dream begins. The energy of all those dreamers is something wonderful to draw on as I weave loose fibres into the fantastic fabric of my own flying carpet.

I thank them all.    

Up the creek without a stream
Jack ponders the disappearing stream.

WARM AND FUZZY

WARM AND FUZZY

Yesterday felt like the first day of summer. The temperature was in the high twenties, the sky was cloudless and the air was filled with the aromas of cut grass, blossoms, and barbeques. Even the reek of cowshit as I passed a local dairy farm seemed, to this old farm boy, an assurance of promise and continuity. For once life felt warm and fuzzy.

This weekend also marked an important step in my journey toward sailing away. My job and I have gone in separate directions. It feels good .

That may seem an odd thing for a guy who’s main concern is money. But now I have time to prepare to go sailing and things have a way of working out if you are headed in the right direction. You’ve just got to hang in there until well into the eleventh hour no matter how bleak things look. At least, that has been my experience.

Frankly this weary old work horse just can’t pull the plow like I used to. Running around all day, clambering up and down ladders and squirming into hot, dank bilges is often a a painful challenge. It’s a younger man’s game.

I now feel much more in control of my life. I can take time to address things important to me, like writing this blog. I read somewhere that unless you’re the lead sled dog, the view never changes.

We’ll see.

The old prune barge herself
The old prune barge herself

PASSING CLOUD

‘Passing Cloud’ is a well-known British Columbiabuilt wooden schooner (You can Google up pictures by simply using her name) This piece is not about the vessel, but is inspired by a wee visit to her birthplace yesterday. In fact, I find the name an analogy about how things of beauty and substance can pass or vaporize before we realize what we are losing.

 By comparison here is a quote taken directly from the packaging of a usb hub I bought this weekend. “THE MAGNETISM OF THE BOTTOM CAN BE COMFORTABLY ABSORBED BY PAVING THE DESIGN IN ANY PROVINCES.”

REALLY! I guess now that China knows it owns North America it is not really concerned about getting the language right. I believe the linguist who wrote that was trying to explain that the gadget has a magnetic bottom. Remember that mutant translation next time you see an Air China Airbus passing overhead…..right then, back to the passing cloud theme.

Magic!
Magic!

Ted Knowles 1.PG Ted Knowles15 Thoreau 1The man who owns the property and the boathouse where ‘Passing Cloud’ was built has sold and is moving on. I met him through a friend and went to Victoria to pick up an old wooden mizzen mast Ted wanted to go to a good home. I need it for a project on a customer’s boat and so serendipity has led me to a wonderful experience. Ted is an older man with a youthful glow. He is soft-spoken yet clearly a whole person who exudes an aura of peaceful wisdom and experience and confidence. It is a feeling I often get when around people who ‘Mess’ with wooden boats. He is certainly well known within the community of local wooden boat folks.

I am writing this and publishing these photos, without his knowledge or permission,  as a tribute of gratitude. I share this blog with fellows of a similar ilk and so take this liberty.

Ted’s boathouse is a temple for characters like me and  I wanted to share the wonder of the place. Everywhere are heaps of treasure: tools, and home-made machinery, including a sawmill and massive planer, well-seasoned boat wood, small wooden boats, home-made tools, a forge and a plethora of nautical tools and items. It is organized choas. I had a sense that Ted probably knows where every nail is stored. All, of course, is covered in a thick strata of dust and a sense of history.

Ted has sold and is moving on. He is faced with the daunting task of clearing out the boat house before he leaves for the last time. The waterfront property will become the site for two luxury waterfront homes. Another piece of our heritage passes like a cloud. He quiety said with a sad smile that it is, “Progress.” He could find no-one who wanted to take over the little shipyard as it is.

I recall giving someone directions to a new restaurant in Vancouver. It is at the foot of Burrard Street on the now-concreted foreshore of Coal Harbour. I described it as being where Menchions Shipyard had been located and received a blank look in response. How quickly we forget. We smother everything in cement and asphalt, glass and metal and talk about ‘Thinking green’. There was a time, not so long ago, when it was honourable to make a little daylight in the swamp but we created a monster. Now it is not unreasonable to find that, as Joni Mitchell sang, they’ll charge a dollar to see the tree museum.

I suppose it is one of the reasons I am preparing ‘Seafire’ to go voyaging. At sea you can see the world almost as it has always been, ever-changing unchangeable curved open horizon; the bits of plastic debris bobbing along ignored. Sailboats are a way of getting to places where life is still lived much as it has been. Change occurs everywhere, but the notion of constancy and solid values are a great comfort to this writer who mourns the passing of things like the art of letter-writing and self-sufficiency. Now where’s my copy of ‘Blogging For Dummies’?

BLOGGING ON

I still can’t get used to this bloggery bloggerty word BLOG! It sounds like something you’d find stuck under a school desk or a church pew or…something you’d do in a barnyard on a rainy day in your bare feet.  Of course words like net and spam had a singular meaning not so long ago.  Tweet, Twitter, Skype and Google  are all terms with an unknown or very alternate meaning not so long ago. Language constantly evolves and so must we; like it or not.

Silva Bay, April 24th, 2012
Silva Bay, April 24, 2012

Anyway, it’s another full moon tomorrow night. The forecast is for rain tomorrow so I grabbed this shot a few minutes ago. Already another month has jetted past.  There has been little progress in getting this boat ready while other urgencies have kept interrupting. I do now have a new computer, a most appreciated early birthday gift from my wife Jill.  No more vertical blank line in the middle of the screen and despite my apprehension I’m finding Windows 8 easy to assimilate….believe it or not!

I’ve fought and struggled to comprehend how to make WordPress work for me.  Their people have sent some helpful e-mails and I’ve spent some quality time with a local cyber wizard named David Vincent, who has a brilliant little business here on Gabriola Island called Sleep Deprived Computer Techs. He did more for me in an hour than I’ve accomplished in a month.

Now I have things set up so I can post blogs with photos,  set up links to other relevant sites and, I also now have a way folks can subscribe to my addled scritchings and receive then automatically by e-mail. What boggled me today was that wifi reception was, for some reason, quite spotty where David and I met for lunch but somehow he tweeked something on his cellphone which immediately produced a working connection on my laptop! I know it’s been a very long time since I built a crystal radio in grade school but I am absolutely amazed at some of the technology that I learn about and which other folks take for granted.

What’s all this cyber-musing got to do with anything? I recently offered an anecdote to a friend who was bogged down with trying to realize his dream.  I said that when you climb to the top of a mountain, the first thing you see are more mountains. You determine to climb some of those but almost invariably you have to descend from where you are, cross a valley, and begin climbing all over again. So when you’re up to your ass in wormy mud in the proverbial swamp, wrestling nasty creatures, it’s hard to remember that you are actually mountain-climbing.

I am a writer, a frustrated one. All the books I’ve written are not producing any income. It appears that blogging is another way for writers to achieve some recognition. So with that ulterior motive in mind, I hope I can write inspiring and interesting bits for other people working towards fuller lives and their own personal dreams.

The swallows and purple martins have returned to the bay as well as brown-faced friends from their winter sojourns. The motivation is there and this beautiful boat where I sit writing is tugging at her lines. The days rattle by. We dive into another one as the rising sun warms the bay.

QCS Sunset

The First Quarter Is Gone!

It was full moon again last week and then, when the Easter Rabbit left his tracks, I realized that we’re already into the second quarter of the year. Bloody hell! Doesn’t time fly whether or not you’re having fun?

Plum blossoms and sailboat motoring toward Silva Bay
Hope, after a very long winter

 

It has already been a month since I was in Astoria Oregon reading some of my poetry and prose at the Fisher Poets Gathering. Fisherpoets.org will get you to their website. You’ll find my page ‘In The Tote’ and can actually hear me reading a couple of my pieces. They’re a great bunch of very talented people and I feel very honoured to be counted among them.

It was a great end-of-winter event which will leave me feeling affirmed and inspired for a long time after that special weekend. Soon however, reality sets in and one begins to bog down once again. I came back to a month that had my boss suddenly undergoing quadruple by-pass heart surgery. That has left us all in a muddle trying to help carry on in the shipyard. Of course that puts all of the personal plans in a spin and the ideas about new things to write are left on hold as just jottings in a journal.
Ah well, the winter weather hung on interminably so boat work has been set back for both me and my customers. Yet, progress on the great dream inches forward as the pages fly from the calendar. The dream is alive and ‘Inch by inch, every thing is a cinch!” I suppose it’s worth mentioning our last winter storm. Fifty knot winds with huge gusts through the night left one 41’ketch on the rocky foreshore here in the bay. I noticed her at first light and rushed to pull her off with the small shipyard skiff. It was a rising tide and I was inching her back into deep water with a minimum of damage when the local amateur pirates arrived. I eventually left the scene as they dragged the beautiful old hull across a rocky ledge incurring a huge amount of absolutely needless damage.
There were threats of violence from them but ultimately I have some great new story ideas. Such is life.

I live daily with the frustration that this blog site is not being developed as promised and required but hopefully that will soon fall into place. My very old and much abused laptop has developed a vertical stripe mid-screen which is slowly growing in width. It’s amazing how challenging writing becomes with those few letters censored out of each line. Hopefully with a new computer and perhaps a bit of tutoring about WordPress we’ll get this sailing/writing gig heading out of the harbour with a few sails up. Patience Billy, patience!

FRUSTRATED IN BLOGLAND

Astoria bridge
I’ll admit it. I am a cyber-Neanderthal. I decided to set up a blog/web site with WordPress because it was assuredly very easy, simple steps, nothing to it. It’s the way of the future, the perfect way for a writer to interact with the world. After initial frustration with the free mode, I paid money for the hold-my-hand level. NADA! So far all I’ve learned is that a dashboard is something to bash your head on, repeatedly. I can post text, unless I somehow make it ‘Sticky’ (What the hell ever that means) and an hour’s worth of writing is splift-gone into cyber space. Now I know that,technically, I am competent. I am able to operate most machinery, including boats and aircraft and I make my living fixing things mechanical and, in fact, most other things man-made. However I am suspicious of anyone who readily understands this cyber-babble with all the mutant language. I would not be eager to loan them my car keys, they live in a different reality than the one which has served my fairly well for the past sixty years. I think I’m glad I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning, My weary brain cannot comprehend what madness lies ahead with all this electronic enslavement. Let’s see what happens when I click here…
Blipft! What’s fatal error mean?
I’ve ordered a copy of WordPress For Dummies, perhaps there’s hope.

It’s interesting what one gets into on the way to a goal. What’s any of this got to do with going sailing? My last blog was full of grand intent and now I’m already nearly sixty days closer to the deadline I set. The refit continues, albeit at a winter’s pace. Phase one of the galley refit has been completed in the gloom of winter despite the rigours of living in the boat at the same time. For the time being, I’m back at work in the shipyard, I’ll soon move on, but for the time being that’s what is going on. In a few days, I’ll be in Astoria Oregon for a few days to attend my annual pilgrimage to the ‘Fisher Poets Gathering’. (Fisherpoets.org) It’s a raucous event where commercial mariners, mostly fishermen, gather to share their writing and music. The eloquence and genius there is amazing. It is an affirmation of blue-collar dreamers who belong to the sea. I’ll be back.

A COMMITTMENT TO ACTION

The dream lives on
The dream lives on

It is two days before Christmas, 2012. The Mayan apocalypse has not occurred and there are no more excuses. I vowed to my wife last night that this time next year our boat ‘Seafire’ will be moored somewhere where palm trees grow indigenously.

This dream began thirty years ago when my then-new wife made it clear that she was not about to be persuaded of any of the joy of flight in light aircraft.

I was beginning to build a biplane which I intended to fly around the world. I rationalized that for the same amount of money and a lot less beaurocratic regulation I could own a small offshore sailboat which we could live in and leisurely travel wherever we wanted. It had been years since I had done any sailing but, with the inspiration of  a friend who had built a boat in South Africa and sailed it offshore extensively, the notion was cast in stone.

Our first boat was a 21′ trailerable sloop which languished through a Northern BC interior winter. I remember checking the ice on a nearby lake on the May long weekend and deciding then that we had to move to the coast. The following spring found me bashing Northward in the late winter weather of March from Vancouver to Port Hardy. A small boat with squatting headroom and only a camp stove for comfort was a rude reaquaintance with the romance of the sea.

I beat the centerboard trunk out of the little boat on that trip. When I finally made it back south to Nanaimo, the first task was to remove the damage and design and build a permanent keel beneath the bottom of the boat. It was a huge job and if I were a sane man I would have turned my back on the sea forever but I was hooked.  With memories of perfect minutes when the sea hissed past, the sails rumbled contentedly, a pod of dolphins rose and cavorted beside me and the last cold, wet, squall was now a rainbow retreating ahead of me, there was no turning back.

There have been seven more boats since. Each boat was offshore-capable. Each was a massive labor of love, intense effort and expense to refit and I never made a significant profit selling any of them. I can underline the ‘ Go simple, go now’ mantra of the fundamental sailor’s creed. At the time, there was always a good reason for my decisions but in hindsight, one only regrets what they don’t do.  Go now!

All that having been said I am writing this morning for my own benefit. Today is committement day when I put a written pledge before my readers. Seafire is the eigth boat in twenty-six years. She is, incidentally, the second Seafire in my history but that is another story. She is a Downeaster 41, one of twelve motorsailors built by Downeaster Yachts in Santa Ana, California. Using their famous 38′ hull, they created a pilothouse boat with a large engine, a second helm inside, and a guest cabin, It is a perfect ‘Geezer boat’ and I intend to see a lot of palm trees through her windows as well as castles and pubs in the UK and Europe.

I’ll describe the boat and it’s refit and how I found her in future blogs. Today is the moment when I’m laying out the fleece. Despite being on the downhill side of middle-age, having some health issues and absolutely disastrous finances, the dream is alive.

Sterling Hayden once wrote that one should never begin a voyage when you can afford it. Only when you go out on limited means will you truly understand what sailing and life are really about.  I know people who have sailed both  with and without adequate means. Some describe their passages in miles and yet clearly have missed one passage of  utmost importance. It is a distance of about six inches, the space between one ear and the other. It is the inner journey that endures over and beyond all others.

So today, I heave the lines aboard and point the bow toward the harbour mouth.