September 13th ; already! It has already been fourteen years since we were staggering in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not. There are teenagers starting high school this month who were then yet to be born and are now thinking about what sort of first car they might have. (Well, George Bush said to go shopping!) It seems we’ve learned nothing from those dark days except to be permanently afraid. The news has not really changed much. So seize the moment, it’s all we have.
Here in the remote archipelago where I live, the only radio available is good old CBC. They are the masters of tedium and nonsensical mindless interviews. While they do manage to produce the odd nugget from within their manure pile of rhetoric, one is soon wearied of incessant coverage of the same subject. Having already gone on for too many months, the primary babble is about the upcoming federal election, yet another damned month away. It has been dissected every possible way. That topic has now been dread-locked in with the Syrian refugee crisis. CBC’s undying, numbing perspectives are guaranteed to eventually harden even the softest heart.
All of the above has been interspersed this past week with a sudden zeal of reporting about sex education within the public school system. CBC has managed to turn even that subject into something as arousing as calculus. Their reports, interviews and forums are endless. It used to be such a tender subject. Openness is one thing. Desensitizing folks to their children’s interest in their own human biology is yet another. Allegedly some of those unborn of 9/11 are now already hardened porn viewers before they’ve left grade school. It is certainly a long way since I reviewed the woman’s underwear section in the Sears catalogue under the covers with a flashlight. Ah c’mon. Admit it! Yes, some of you did it too. That aside, CBC often manages to neither inform nor entertain although the occasional report of a beaver flooding a road is rather uplifting and, at least, real news.
We’re still a week away from the calendar end of summer but clearly winter is approaching with a vengeance. The signs are clear. In a region that often only knows two seasons, we’ve already had two winter-class storms. The numbers of gringo boats are dwindling at the docks. The ones here now are southbound from a whole summer somewhere north. Many of those are lovely seaworthy boats skippered by people who are serious mariners instead of the white-knuckled weekend warriors in their Tupperware look-at-me bobbers.
Now a motley gaggle of gill-netters clings to the dock , rafted six abreast at times, in hope of another fishing opening or two. Locals call this the “Stamp” fishery. If these fishermen can put in enough weeks trying to catch some fish, which involves endless waiting for another DFO opening of a few hours, then they qualify for employment insurance benefits to carry them through to next year. Judging by the obvious lack of maintenance on many of their boats, (Not all) these fellows are desperately impoverished. They are certainly not short of time to work on their boats although even scrubbing the decks seems too much for them. Yet they always have beer and cigarettes and often party into the wee hours of the night, waking up those of us who go to work in the morning. They don’t pay moorage, but do certainly contribute to the local economy in the pub and the liquor store which is why they’re tolerated but they’ll soon move on. Now the seine boats are showing up, to clean up the fish the gillnetters miss.
In the small lagoon where I am moored a school of Coho have circled relentlessly for the past week, apparently intent on somehow spawning in a culvert discharging fresh water several feet above the sea. Their condition is deteriorating visibly as nature takes its inevitable course. This is not where their life cycle began, their presence is a mystery to me.
The sky is now regularly dotted with flocks of cranes flying southward. Their wonderful resonant rattling calls are a haunting sound. These birds can stand four feet tall and have wingspans over six feet. They migrate from as far as Eastern Siberia to the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. Damn their beaks!
I’ve spotted several pair here during the summer. They’re furtive and damned hard to photograph. They circle and whoop to others resting in the local bogs but always they wing on out of sight as if following invisible lanes in the sky. Interestingly, they fly the same headings as the jets passing far above them. Some fly so high they are barely visible, others pass low enough so that you can clearly see them. Yesterday, several dozen circled and called while the sun glinted on their massive, powerful wings. They stir urges in me which can be simply expressed. South!
“The cabin of a small yacht is truly a wonderful thing; not only will it shelter you from a tempest, but from the other troubles in life, it is a safe retreat.”
It is August twenty-second. I have been planning to attend a barbeque party tonight which was intended to be the christening of a new sun deck at the house of my supervisor. I slogged back from the public showers in a driving rain. I should have just sat in the cockpit with my soap. My dinghy, which I’m intending to take, is filling with rainwater. Two tiny swallows sat huddled together in the middle of an overhead wire, looking forlorn and miserable. There are few insects on the wing to eat when it’s pouring rain and the little birds will have a long night ahead of them. They’re still here but soon the swallows be on their way south. At work, I’m beginning to winterize boat engines in preparation for their storage through the long, long winter ahead. At five pm the dock lights are already on, it is that dark this afternoon.
I’ve been upgrading the wiring in my mast. The boat is thirty-five years old, it’s due. It is an unpleasant chore, clambering up and down the spar, working alone and unaided. Standing on the top two steps, hanging back from a safety harness, the time up there is limited by the pain in my legs and back while scrunched in under the head of the backstay. There’s no room left there to have a bosun’s chair to sit in. Oh to again be that flat-bellied, willowy fellow who’s clothes I once wore. I was one tough monkey; then. As soon as I pulled out the old wiring and prepared the new, the rain began. Now I’m waiting for a break in the deluge to get to the party. It’s like beginning a painting project and having the sky open up. Sailors even joke that when the rain begins, somewhere, someone has just opened a can of paint. So blame me. Haar! Meanwhile I’m starting this new blog post while I wait on the weather.
The party proved a grand success with heaps of delicious food and crowds of happy people. Nobody talked shop and the rain ended with a lovely double rainbow. Sunday became another mast marathon. Up and down to the top, pulling on the harness of new wires, tugging it back down, then up a little more, until I’d exhausted all the ways that it was not going to work. Finally, in the early evening, the new wire emerged from the head of the mast. Just another jaunt or two up on the folding steps and that part will be finished.
Now I’m writing over my Monday morning coffee. It is a ritual that I take a few minutes of “my time” before going off to work. It leaves me with a sense of empowerment and being in control before abandoning myself to the demands of the job. Apparently we start the week with three, out of six, water taxis with broken engines. The fleet manager with be wringing his hands anxiously. Some miserable days lay ahead. Of course there will also be some transient boaters each with the most important problem in the world. I just want to get my mast project done. That’s the most important problem! Right now! All those personal perspectives and I know where my priority will fall within the lineup of woes. End of the line son!
Tuesday morning coffee. A day older, more of the same. I was back up the mast last night, a brute for punishment to the bitter end. I borrowed a soldering torch but while up the mast, it broke, the nozzle and control fell to the deck with a load bang and then careened overboard with a dramatic splash several feet away. Remarks of a fecal context thundered down as a rain squall began to splatter my perch in the sky. For now I’ve finished my penance at the masthead, at least until new wiring connectors and a new vhf antenna and another torch arrive. That job should take only a few minutes and it will feel so good to know I’m finally done up there.
Now a recurring back injury is producing crippling pain but it’s up the ramp and hobble off to another delightful day. “Work shall set me free”. Haar! By first coffee break my back was in such a dreadful spasm that I went off to the Bella Bella hospital clinic for some la-la medication. It was closed. After a round in the emergency ward I finally emerged with a few pills that will help ease me through the remains of the week. This is the second visit to that small hospital. Both times I’ve been bemused and somewhat horrified by a character who sits in a dark corner in a wheelchair croaking repeatedly in a loud demanding parrot-like voice “I want my pampers!” It is bizarre yet strangely amusing; for a while. I admire a staff who can endure that daily grind. There are many types of courage which I do not possess.
Once back aboard ‘Seafire’ my e-mail included a video produced by Orbital Mechanics (you can find it on YouTube) which visualizes all of the world’s nuclear detonations since 1945. There are 2153 portrayed in total. It doesn’t sound like many. Right? It takes over thirteen minutes to watch them all flicker rapidly by! A staggering proportion have occurred in the US Southwest and the mid Pacific. Climate change? Dunno. Thirty dead whales (that have been found) in Alaska recently. Dunno! I do know that we do not fully understand all of the dynamics and properties of electricity yet all the while we’ve been messing with atomic energy for well over half a century. Nobody knows what the hell to due with all the atomic waste which continues to pile up. “Let’s bury it in your county!” Children quickly learn not to burn their fingers twice. What goes wrong with our brains?
Yep she’s all bluebirds and rainbows folks.
My internet is performing well enough now to acquire Netflix movies. Last night I watched ‘Mr. Turner’ starring Timothy Spall. No explosions or gun play, but a rich portrayal of England’s famous painter. It was a refreshing interlude from the drudgery of life in a shipyard. It is one of the few films I ever recommend andwhile I’m at it I’ll also plug another splendid movie named ‘Whiplash’.
Wednesday. Another day of trying to be three places at one time. Transient boaters who have a breakdown soon lose sight of the charms of this place when the necessary parts don’t arrive on time, or at all. They pay even more moorage and tediously wait and wait. It’s this old dog in greasy coveralls who has to placate them until their boat is finally ready to chug away around the corner to head for the next place, a hundred miles or more in any direction, where they can have yet more repairs made if required. I’m always bemused at how incapable some folks are of making even basic adjustments and inspections on their boats. They can’t grasp that self-sufficiency is a basic tenant of seamanship. To come into a remote area and throw yourself on the abilities of strangers seems, at least, naive. It is a recurring rant of mine.
I think back to when boats had no engines or electrical gadgets. Sailors then were a very different breed. It was a time when, ashore, you got around by horse. Many of today’s white-knuckled warriors wouldn’t know which end the hay went in! At least the horse knew!
I am also fascinated at people who have an addiction to spending. I’ve been making my observations about this for many years and I swear it is true. For days they’ve been away from any place that will take their money and here they find a few small stores, a restaurant and an engine shop to help them satiate their urges. They’ll buy anything and seem quite happy to complain about the price. The other frantic activity involves cell phones. Folks will spend hours, head down, poking away at their “devices” trying to contact the outer world. The signal here is very weak and their frustration is a sadistic pleasure for me. I’ve asked a few people if they did not come up here to escape all that frantic urban claptrap. Their blank-faced responses are, well, blank. Text, text, text.
In the late afternoon today a pair of Orca whales suddenly and dramatically appeared at the docks where Seafire is moored. Only the whales know why they ventured into this shallow lagoon at low tide but I’ll accept the visit as a good omen. The adventure goes on.
Friday night finally arrives with a promise of steady rain for the foreseeable future. My latest transient neighbour at the end of the dock is a 1947 vintage Cessna 195. I’m probably one of the few people here who knows what it is. It was a new-tech civilian aircraft at the time. She’s looking a little worn for all her years but still possesses a bull-nosed beauty representative of that post-war era. Come to to think of it, so do I.
Saturday, August 29th, rain, low cloud, wind warning. The forecast was correct. The rain and humidity are horrific. The old Cessna leaves in mid-afternoon. It vanishes into a gray squall but is back at the dock within the hour. Apparently, hundreds of miles to the south Vancouver and Seattle are experiencing a massive wind storm and are bracing for torrential rain. People have died because of falling trees. Flood warnings are posted. Forest wildfires still threaten huge areas in the interior of the province but with the breaking weather, campfire bans are now being lifted in some areas. It is still August but we seem to enduring our first North Pacific autumn low pressure system. As I write, old Seafire is slammed against the dock by a violent burst of wind. It is only eight pm but the evening is already nearly pitch dark. We wear on into the next week.
“We do not really know what draws a human being out into the world. Is it curiosity? A hunger for experience? An addiction to wonderment? The man who ceases to be astonished is hollow, possessed of an extinguished heart. If he believes everything has already happened, that he has seen it all, then something most precious has died within him… the delight in life.”
The seasons have moved from late spring to mid-summer. We’ve had blistering hot weather, then a few days of rain. Now the evenings and mornings are cool. The butter in the galley is once again hard at breakfast time. It’s great weather for sleeping. My dog Jack and I wake up one toe at a time. The rain has helped produce a profusion of blackberries and some are already ripe for picking. It seems the plants are producing their treasures a month earlier this year.
Silva Bay is blessed with an annual migration of Purple Martins and Barn Swallows. They’re delightful as they chatter and zoom about through the rigging. I wonder if the annual influx of yachters aren’t a clever device which the birds use to attract the biting insects they in turn feed upon. This year’s brood of baby birds is well on its way to being ready to fly south. That magic is amazing. Birds return to mate and nest and produce tiny eggs. Those eggs in turn become ugly little dinosaurs which rapidly evolve into beautiful creatures born with a navigational intuition which which will take them as far away as Central America then back to this bay next spring.
An e-mail I received recently advised not to worry about old age: it doesn’t last that long. I forwarded that message on, explaining there are things to do before I end up as a few puffs of smoke in the crematorium chimney. A song playing on the radio has the lyrics, “If I die, I wanna die old.” Hey baby, there’s no if about it! As I rushed about the business of the day a lady discovered an inert heron floating by the docks. It was freshly killed. The bright crimson at the back of its head was evidence of a mortal tangle with an otter or a collision of some sort. In my haste I debated briefly about taking a photo but then rushed off to the tasks at hand. I can still see that dead heron. Beak slightly parted, bright, sharp yellow eye staring serenely into my soul, an image more indelible than any photo. This morning I open the hatches to a perfect dawn with the birds calling and chattering. There is a perfume of fresh newness as if the world had just been unwrapped, an incredible gift which we so often don’t quite see. Baby birds, dead birds, life, death, dawn, sunset, the days whirl by. Life has no apparent meaning for me. How I wish I could learn to enjoy life’s plateaus and find the ability to live fully in the moment!
Now the hot weather has returned. Yesterday afternoon when I stepped into the boat it felt cool. The thermometer read 29ºC. This morning the bird’s noises are subdued. Old men wipe the dew from their white boats. Flags lift and drop flaccidly. It’s going to be a blister! Forest fires rage across the continent and the global warming faction is saying, “See, I told ya!” Uno cervesa por favor.
Days later, the grand summer weather continues, thankfully today we have a moderate Westerly breeze. Yesterday was windless and airless, an absolute torture to work bent over in the sun, at least for this aging old fair-haired boy. Days like that leave me wondering at the feasibility of my Southern dreams. I say that even as I continue my research on Mexico and Costa Rica. That seems ludicrous in this paradise which is my home; but the nights are shortening. Another long, grey wet arthritic winter is coming. I’m also questioning the sanity of staying in a place that seems doomed to self-destruct politically, economically and environmentally.
My pal Jim has now arrived in Hilo, Hawaii with his boat. He has sailed a hurricane- pace tour of the South Pacific. His next stop will be back here in British Columbia. I admire Jimmy totally in his ability to realizehis long-held dream and I look forward to helping welcome him back. Much of his journey was cursed with a lack of wind. When you’re out there with your little windship rolling and rolling day after day, your rigging is self-destructing while your precious fuel and water supplies dwindle and the nearest ports are thousands of miles away, you are left feeling very tiny and somewhat doubtful. Fortunately on the leg from the Marquesas to Hawaii Jim had perfect winds and describes it as the sail of his life. The passage was made on one tack with only minor sail adjustments. Good for you Jimmy and mucho kudos to Donna, the wife who has provided ground support for him throughout the journey.
This place called British Columbia where we live is an ultimate home, especially for the mariner. We have 17,000 nautical miles of shoreline to explore. Even in the harshness of winter our weather is often better than summers elsewhere on the planet. Despite the rising social economic issues we’re having to face, we are privileged to still hold a claim on this piece of the planet. Unfortunately the politicians on our payroll won’t respect our will and are intent on wholesaling our assets to the first bidder. We pay retail prices at the gas pumps while there is a determination to pipe oil for many hundreds of kilometres from the environmental mess that is Northern Alberta to coastal shipping facilities. It is incredible, it is stupid. We are posing a monstrous environmental threat on our land and our waters to wholesale raw resources outside the country. We in British Columbia will receive little benefit once the project is completed. The oil will be shipped in vessels manufactured from some of our own iron ore and coal. Other ships line up to load raw logs from the docks of shut-down sawmills. I repeat my weary metaphor about the chicken farmer who goes to town to buy eggs.
Whose pockets does the money go into? What the hell is going on? I know this is all weary rhetoric but the threat of impending disaster seems to skip off the top of our heads. We should be in every politician’s office, on the lawns and in the chambers of every government building with our pitchforks and chainsaws and environmentally friendly weed eaters until we regain control of politicians and their weighty bureaucracy which is pledged to serve US, the people who hired them. If it were anyone else in our hire, we’d fire them. This blog is not a venue for rants. I can easily slip into pages of diatribe about the rape of our fisheries, our forests, our water and mineral resources but we’ve all heard it before.
The real problem is our complacency. We let the corporations and bureaucrats run our lives while insidiously steering us deeper into their carefully designed consumer rut. Until our own personal comfort zone is clearly threatened we won’t lift our heads from the drinking pool. It pisses me off! Wake up! Look around! Ask questions! Don’t believe everything, perhaps anything, thrown at us. We evolved with questioning minds for good reason. Use them!
Jill, my wife has just returned from a visit to her old homeland of Scotland. (Where the price of gas is double ours despite their own tremendous petroleum resources. Yep, more inept politics) She had two gruelling weeks of dealing with her ailing mom. For once the weather there was quite agreeable but she was held to a regimen of caring for the needs of family. She came back to Canada with a delightfully funny story about a dead parrot. Her brother and his wife live in an old school house. It is a wonderful building with two-foot thick sandstone walls, high ceilings curling stones on the front steps and rolling farm fields for a view. Even their mailing address is wonderfully quaint, being in part: The Old School House, Drumlithie. One morning one of the dogs noticed a bright flash of colour in the back garden which proved to be a dead parrot and an interesting toy. This is not an ordinary find anywhere, let alone in Scotland, a country definitely not known for any abundance of tropical birds.
After a wondering discussion, it was decided there wasn’t much else to do but put the mystery of the dead bird out in the trash. Of course the bird was soon mentioned at the local pub and the thistle telegraph buzzed with the story. Within hours the telephone rang with a call from a neighbouring village, a few miles across the fields. Someone wanted to come and claim the remains for burial. Old Hagis, we’ll call him, was retrieved from the tip bin and carefully cleaned of coffee grounds, bits of eggshell and other detritus. Two women arrived, mother and adult daughter. Both, apparently, were beyond Rubenesque These two very round people, both dressed entirely in black, had come to take their beloved Hagis off to the big limb in the sky.
It’s a wonderful story with a vivid splash of Monty Python.I can see both John Cleese and Michael Palin having fun with this one. Apparently the remnants of the Monty Python gang are getting back together to work up five more shows. They don’t have to pretend to be geezers anymore. Also, in the wake of the ‘Two Fat Ladies’ cooking show, BBC is now airing something called ‘The Hairy Bikers’.Two middle-aged blokes are trying to follow in the wake of Jessica and Clarissa. Fat chance!
I’m now writing on the first Sunday morning in August. The boat is anchored in a tiny bay in the Gulf Islands which I’ve been passing by for over 25 years. I can see through Porlier Pass to the mainland mountains over thirty-five miles away. Ancient fir trees lean over this little bight. Eagles call, kingfishers chatter, schools of tiny fish roil the water. The morning breeze is fresh and warm and fragrant, the day is full of promise. Jack is anxious to go ashore. There is some wonderful exploring to be done here and I can post an entire blog dedicated to this lovely secret place.
In fact, I will.
“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom.
It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability.
…for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.
…And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”
“On The Collision of Wasp and Hobson” Wall Street Journal – Editorial 14 May 1952