Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Bog Trotter And A Bilge Ape

BUSINESS FIRST: I’ll be doing a writer/salty dog presentation at the Ladysmith Maritime Society dock on May 12th at 2pm. There’s a link to a nifty poster bellow. Also I’ll be participating in the River’s End Poets Gathering in Steveston in the Cannery Museum on September 22nd in the afternoon.Talk on the Dock -3 sml file

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Race Rock Light from the west

Deep sea vessels anchored in the Gulf Islands waiting for cargo. Mainland Canada in the distance.

Friday, April 13th. A January gale complete with slashing ice-cold rain hammers horizontally outside. Jack and I went out in the rising blast this morning to photograph flowers. We got some good shots and came home cold and wet.

Nettles in the rain.

So many flowers look so similar I’m afraid to hang a name on these.

Tension and balance

Fawn Lilies and Oregon Grape flowers. It has been a fabulous spring for these lilies.

The misfit. Weeds are only plants someone else says are bad.

I’ve been trying to teach myself how to use a popular film-editing program. I am frustrated and humiliated. Page 1 in the manual immediately referred me to page 249 and so it has gone. When I learned to fly, and to drive, I was turned out in the local cow pasture with some basic cautions. I taught myself what happened when you pushed this, pulled that, turned the round thing and stomped on that. Yep, I made mistakes, but progressed steadily and gained confidence to the point of competence. I’ve never had an accident on the road or in the air.

My life at sea has gone similarly and no-one knows me for being timid. Now I’m confronted with a set of neo parameters which immediately demand a total fluency in a new blither-gabble all the while pushing this, double-clicking that while holding F49. I’m sure I’ll learn, thousands of others have, but golly durnit! Let’s start with the foundations and the framing before we worry about the flower boxes and the heat pump. All I want to do is make a few simple films. Surely I don’t have to run away to film school. Ummm well…!

A nickel and a robin’s dead egg. I found it where it must have fallen out of the nest.
The coin is show its size.

A troll brain. Actually a spring fungus.

Jack is my faithful companion. He loves snuffling about while I take my photos.

A rare purple trillium

After deleting the first film-editing app. in frustration, installing another program then uninstalling it, I’ve re-installed a slightly different version of the first film app. It is called “Lightworks.” It is apparently a professional grade system and did allow me to print a 200 plus page paper manual. I can have this for referral while I plod into this. The other program had plenty of tutorials but I don’t know how to have the program up and running while at the same time watching an online tutorial. There have been lots of walks in the woods this week! I have been called a “Bog-trotter” by a certain in-law; that is essentially correct.

Current flowers

I have, however, just had a wonderful local experience out of the bog. They’ll soon have a fresh coat of paint on their facade but they are easy enough to find here in Ladysmith. The IRONWORKS CAFÉ and CRÉPERIE are on the main highway between the 7/11 and City Hall. There’s parking around the corner and immediately across the highway below the shoulder. Please use the crosswalk. The coffee and food and staff are all excellent. Soon, as the weather improves, their patio under a huge spreading chestnut tree will be open to enjoy an excellent fare. Check it out when passing by. There’s nothing like a fresh crepe to make your day. It leaves me feeling good to mention someone doing something right. And no, creeps are something entirely different. We have some of those too.

Vanilla Leaf.
These plants can be bunched and hung to use as an insect repellant.

The picnic table. Now, wine, cheese, smoked fish, warm fresh bread.

For some reason of coincidence I’m posting four photos of interesting trucks I’ve recently found along the way. The big Volvo 4×4 from Germany certainly caught my fancy. I could hear the waves on a remote Baja beach the moment I saw it.

The Lurchenwagon
A Volvo 4×4 motor home from Germany parked at the docks in Ladysmith

A lo-brid truck with a little flare.

Another whimsical effort at a home-built truck. no airbags, no crumple zone.

Mack Attack. This old Thermodyne looks as if it could haul a few logs yet…if there’s someone man enough to drive it.

Now that’s a driveway marker! There’s always something interesting around the next corner.

More headwork up another back road.

A lovely country home nestled in the woods

And so the three little pigs lived happily ever after.

A rock house.

On the subject of trucks I’m going to wade into this one as delicately as possible. I am impressed with the tremendous collective expression of condolence for the Saskatchewan hockey team that met with such tragedy last week. I am intrigued by the mass mourning for lost hockey players. Yes hockey was the common thread which brought them to be together in a bus yet while they were part of a hockey team they were also human beings with the full range of fears, hopes, dreams and problems we all have. Should these sixteen dead have been young children or senior citizens or a group of indigenous folks would there be the same outpouring of grief? Would flags being flying at half-mast? What if this tragic loss was innocent civilians killed as collateral damage in a rocket attack in Syria? How about a sunken boatload of Middle-Eastern refugees? Are their lost lives of less value? Well, we may never even know about their tragedies, so how can we grieve, but my point is that participants in a national sport seem to hold a higher value than other mere mortals. This trendy scramble to join the funeral parade demeans the entire grieving process. Even my on-line banking site is thick with photos of hockey sticks. You’re right; I don’t get it. Sorry if I’m being obtuse. I’m not saying it is wrong because I am out of this particular loop but surely there are some obvious questions to be raised about our cultural values.

Magnolia blooms in an alley off main street Ladysmith

And I find myself lacking another comprehension. Argentine prawns in our superb local butcher shop. I just watched the daily return of our local prawn fleet to our docks which are just down the hill within sight of the butcher shop. What are we doing?

The mannequin looking out. It’s very eerie to see at first. This grand old building in Ladysmith is reputed to be a former brothel. It looks over the harbour.

Hockey, prawns, film-making; is there nothing that makes sense. I am down on the dock a lot these days tinkering on ‘Seafire’ and other boats nearby. That, at least, is something I fully understand and clearly where I fit in. This old bilge ape knows his place.

How’s this for distracted driving? Something else that is hard to make sense of. I’ll bet there’s a mobile phone in there somewhere.

Heartbreak. This is the saddest photo I’ve taken in a long while. In the spring of 2000, just after major heart surgery, I finished building this Gloucester Gull dory and rowed and camped my way through the Gulf Islands. It was a lovely bright yellow boat that rowed like a dream. I later sold it. It has rot in both ends and has clearly seen no love since I last saw it. Her sweet lines are still obvious.

A photo taken from the same dory on a happier day.

Once you’ve become a pickle you can’t be a cucumber again” … Steve Earle

Onwards And Sideways

It’s Official. Spring has arrived. Now that the trilliums are in bloom there can be no denying that, reluctant as it may be, spring is finally here.

WOW! I knew a lot of this blog’s readers liked my photos but I was not prepared for the reaction to moving pictures. Thank you. So, you really liked the film clip! Guess what? I’ll start inserting more. I’ve always wanted to learn how to edit, cut, and splice films as well as dub-in music, narrative, titles and so forth. I will learn. For the moment you’ll have to endure raw, unedited film shorts but I’m working on improving. We’ve got a good thing going on. Here’s one I shot this morning.

The feedback from readers about selling old ‘Seafire’ is almost divided equally. Some say, “Yeah, you’re right, cut yourself away from the stuff.” Others say, “Wot! Swallow the anchor?” Not you old chap. That’d be totally daft. How can you be Fred without a boat.” I am torn. This afternoon, I went down to the boat as usual to do a little tidying and cleaning and eventually ended up in one of the bunks for a nap. With two sleeping cabins I do have a way of producing a little income from chartering. I have forgotten this is one reason I bought this particular vessel. I drifted off to sleep during a spring squall and awoke later to find it was still pounding rain on the cabin top. The wind moaned in the rigging and I felt a deep sense of well being. The old chubby chap snug in his big fibreglass egg. I contemplated giving up my deep passion for flying and spending thirty-five years refitting and selling boats until I’ve ended up in this, my eighth boat. What all have I sacrificed for this? What has my wife endured and sacrificed for my dreams? Can I really walk away from this huge investment and be content and feel fulfilled? The happiest time of my life, as I recall, was when I only owned a backpack. Stuff, bloody stuff.

Even the dock critters are showing a renewed interest in life.

 makes for someinteresting results

Taking photos in the rain

The Watcher

A path too-well travelled

Like rivers, all paths eventually lead to the sea. This petroglyph,near Sooke, faces the Strait Of Juan De Fuca and is a dramatic location at any time. Some morons have tried to scratch  some graffiti on top of it. A nearby brass palague admonishing the dire penalties of defacing a cultural land mark, sports four bullet holes.

Up the creek! Jack explores a backwater in the Chemainus River.

I’m posting an old standard poem which I wrote many years old. ‘The Water Rushing By’ is also the title of my first published collection of writing about being a mariner on the waters of the Pacific Northwest. I need to get another run printed. Perhaps this one piece says everything worth saying. There is another short video at the end.

The Water Rushing By

Oh accursed dreamer who is called sailor

you cannot explain the longing

that leaves you restless for open ocean

out of sight of land

and those who would love you.

You are compelled eternally

to seek the solitudes of the undulating plane

that separates the heaven and the abyss

and you cannot feel complete without

the water rushing by.

Perhaps it is a lifepulse that calls you

a beating like the fetal heart throb

that sustained you in the warmth

and liquid of your mothers womb

now rising, then falling

caressing all around you

the harmony of hull in water

you surround yourself again in embryonic shelter

safe from all that would harm you

protected by the rhythm

of the water rushing by.

You go there beyond reason

of land bound men

so that again you may seek

the sight of yet another shore

from the only place remaining on the planet

where the world is seen almost as it always was.

There upon the tumbling mirth

of unchanged ever changing ocean

alone under ancient blue light

of beckoning stars and lonely distant worlds

receiving radiations of timeless wisdom

infinite love, endless yearning

of the universe eternal

and all the atoms of

the water rushing by.

Your life is become like your vessel

fusions of unlikely substance

that were in the earth, or grew upon it

joined together in brutal process

burning, bending, grinding cutting, pounding, poisoning.

Complex angles curving outward

inward, up and down

vertical, horizontal all at once

incongruous, inspired joinery

to craft a device of grace and beauty

for function, purpose, yet unplanned journeys

containing the conundrumed equation

of ballast against volume

to prevent capsize and stay floating outward

away from the now alien land where it was born

A convoluted, easy, tensioned balance

and buoyant synergy.

Yet no sum of parts will ever matter

so long as there ever is the simple music

of the water rushing by.

Man and vessel married

a happy oneness

dancing to the callings

of the sea bitch goddess.

Caressing her face and writhing body

with never ending, soon unmarked passage

of foaming wake across

the heaving breasts and belly

you are unable to abandon

the addictions of your passion.

Oh accursed sailor ever lusting

for just another moment, lonely then fulfilled

with peace and terror

lostness and homecoming

and the potent pleasure

of the water rushing by.

Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” …Voltaire

Inroads

Spring has arrived, White schooners and Fawn Lilies.
This gorgeous wooden schooner, designed by Bill Garden, is recently built. You’d have to be dead for your heart to not skip a beat. She’s about 67′ long overall.

Fawn Lily

Never have I had such a reaction to any blog such as the last one. You, my readers, have moved me deeply. Thank you all so much about your concerns for my dreaded decision about needing to sell the boat. Everyone of you have suggested that I do not separate myself from such a large piece of who I am. I do not take your suggestions lightly. Thanks again. I appreciate your empathy and support. We’ll see how the pickle squirts in the coming weeks.

Green, green, green.

A salmon stream.

Nurse stumps.

Huggers.

Unfortunately I am a cyber-Neanderthal and while trying to sort out one fumble, my banana fingers changed a privacy setting which prevented some of you from contacting me. I’ve fixed that and look forward to hearing from you. Interaction with my readers is one of my joys.

One of the photos in my last blog was of laundry on a line. To me it is a now all-too-rare signal of domesticity and frugal, simple living. In my childhood nearly everyone had a clothesline. One of my jobs was to hang the laundry out and retrieve it once dry. First you wiped down the line to clean off any soot or other air contaminants. Then you hung the heavy items first so that they would go closest to the far pulley. In winter everything froze almost instantly, sheets, long underwear, socks, all stiff as a board. Then, slowly, the process of sublimation occurred and everything ended up freeze-dried as the softest, fluffiest laundry possible and all done without any chemicals. Apparently in both Canada and the US there are bans now falling into place to overrule previous bans preventing outdoor laundry lines. Apparently, some folks take offence at the sight of someone’s clean scanties flapping in the wind and all the think-green rhetoric means nothing when vanity overrules. I’ve heard of municipal fines in California imposed on citizens who did not water their lawns despite ongoing droughts. In Victoria, here on Vancouver Island, during dry summers businesses spring up that actually paint your dry grass a rich green. Appearance is everything to some folks. I’ll even admit that I have certain sensibilities about what appear to me as an “Ugly Boat.” That could be a blog in itself.

Cedar corpse in the woods, slowly becoming soil again from which it first sprouted.

Although the blossoms of spring have finally tip-toed out, there is still an icy chill in the air. We even had fresh snow low on the mountains a few days ago with ice pellets falling at sea level. The ambient temperature needs to be considerably warmer to accomplish many of the tasks on my boat. Paint and epoxy require temperatures above 16°C to cure correctly so most work is on hold. In the meanwhile Jack and I have taken to exploring the three major rivers south of Nanaimo. This area was developed around its abundant timber and coal resources and then the rich agricultural land once the forest was devastated. Now there are large ventures in the wine industry. There are vineyards everywhere, with tasting rooms and boutique bistros at many of these locations. There are also cideries, organic produce farms, free-range poultry and meats, local cheeses, home-spun clothing and a plethora of cottage arts. It is a wonderful region to explore and with some views, you might begin to think of Provence or Tuscany.

A very well travelled deer trail.

The three rivers all flow eastward. The Cowichan, The Chemainus and The Nanaimo all drain large watersheds and run swift and clear down to the sea and the beautiful archipelago of the Gulf Islands. Sadly, all these watersheds have been logged rapaciously since the mid 1800’s and many sawmills are gone now due to lack of raw logs. (We do, however, manage to export several shiploads of those same logs every week!) The environmental and visual devastation of these valleys is demoralizing. While the rivers still run clear and swift, usually with a fringe of old-growth timber along their banks, there is no sense of pristine wilderness. The old cut- blocks are garbage-dump ugly. Many salmon streams are now clogged with debris and unusable by traditional ish stocks. Still, the logging roads provide access to public forest lands and despite the carnage there is hope of seeing various species of wild life and also finding small pockets of untouched wild areas. Sadly those maintained roads are there so that second and even third cuttings of regenerated forest can be accessed. It would take centuries for the rain forest to return to its original state. So long as people are here, that will never happen. Exploring each of these river valleys we’ve found abandoned rail grades, mines, buildings and other mysterious endeavours. There are small untouched pockets of forest with ancient trees and crystal clear water rushing through gaps in hard rock which must have taken millions of years to carve and polish. Invariably you will also find discarded beer cans and bits of junk, but you have to learn to focus elsewhere.

Sacred, secret, sweet.

Hopefully you can open this this 1 minute video. The stream runs along the edge of some old logging. Imagine how long it took to carve this pool in solid granite. The water is delicious.

If the landmass which is Vancouver Island had developed at a slightly lower elevation, it would be divided into three islands instead of a single rock which is the size of some small countries. The most northerly island would be bounded on the south by ocean which is now a pass we know as the Alberni Valley and the Qualicum Valley. Further south the next dividing gap would be the Cowichan Valley. The eastern portion of this valley is fed by Lake Cowichan, a deep, beautiful body of water which has been logged right to its shoreline in most places. The water is clear and warm in the summer and so the lake is overrun with people roaring its lengths in noisy speedboats and jet skis. I curse them as an affront to the natural beauty of this place. A few miles to the west of Lake Cowichan is Nitinat Lake which drains westerly out through its shifting narrows directly into the open Pacific. Salmon migrations were once so huge that seine boats would risk the coastal surf and the tortuous narrows to fish the rich waters of this lake. Local indigenous men would earn huge fees to guide the boats through the narrows. Sadly this valley also fell prey to the rape of the timber trade and the verdant slopes are now mostly second growth forest. A few miles to the south of Nitinat lays the Carmanah Valley, home of some of the largest remaining old growth trees on the BC Coast. Ironically it was loggers who provided access and exposure to these incredible living giants.

A reproduction of a petroglyph found near Clo-ose, near Nitinat Narrows. clearly an essay on fertility, both human, and the sacred migration of salmon, an eagle guards the scene on the left. A full moon, relevant to timing of a salmon run, smiles from the sky. On the right a warrior stands with an enemy’s head in his right hand. This hangs above my desk. I have contemplated it for years, and would love to go see the real thing.

Hawk Mask by Hayward Russell, 1998. This equisite carving is another of my treasures. Believe it or not, I found it in a pawn shop at a bargain price when I had just enough money left to my name to buy it. To me, it is priceless.

It can be argued that the farmland is also a blight to the natural world but at least it is producing something life-giving and organic and picturesque. Hopefully we don’t poison our streams with manure and fertilizer. Unfortunately, the south island has become one of the most desired retirement areas in Canada. Suburban sprawl has become rampant in most areas. The only way to avoid it is to move to the wild and rugged northern end of Vancouver Island.

It will be a while longer before that region is also overrun with suburbanites and condomites and mallites. But, it’s coming. Meanwhile supply and demand has unreal estate prices rocketing far beyond any hope of affordable housing for average working folks.

Jack crosses to the other side, and then comes back again. He has the balance of a cat.

What a wonderful place this must have been before Europeans arrived. While there are no records of explorer’s crews attempting to jump ship here, the locals weren’t always that friendly and even a simple meal of mussels might kill you. However the raw beauty here would have been overwhelmingly grand and mysterious. Each newly discovered inlet just might be the long-sought shortcut back to the old world. Some explorer’s journals reported that the area could never amount to much because the land was covered with massive, far too difficult to clear for farming. It didn’t take long to figure out. Many ships returned home with a deck cargo of spars. The rape continues centuries later.

A Straight Stick

Dog and I walked miles of forest trails that twisted and wound, up and down river banks, over roots, around boulders and quagmires, all the while searching for one simple perfect thing. I wanted a handle for a boot hook and determined that it should be maple. West coast maple grows along the edges of human intrusion, old farms, railways, logging sites. There are huge maples which are clearly ancient arboreal giants. Maples, with their large leaves, make a wonderful display in the autumn and then provide a thick, rich layer of humus to the forest floor. Nature designed some to grow quickly, die, rot and nourish the soil. This occurs where several have germinated thickly and need thinning which is accomplished by natural attrition.

It was one of these which I sought. When peeled and allowed to cure the wood is very strong. Larger maples provide beautifully patterned lumber for furniture and ornamental trim. All I wanted was one stick. Young fir and cedar grow straight with a correct taper but they are soft woods which will not be as tough as a piece of cured maple. My challenge was to find one that was straight and true. I wanted it to be eight feet long with a gentle taper and an average diameter of one and a half inches. It had to be almost perfectly straight. There are, of course, millions growing out there. All I needed was one. It became an eye-crossing endeavour.

Every maple sapling I considered was nearly perfect but each one of an adequate length and diameter had a curve or a twist that made it unsuitable. After too many days of searching I found one that was very close to perfection. I had no saw with me so I memorized nearby features which would help me find it again. A few days later I returned to harvest my treasure. Now I noticed all the other leaning trees, odd roots, and puddles with big rocks nearby. I tramped back and forth three times until I found it again. It is in my workshop now, peeled and almost perfectly straight. It has been cut to exactly eight feet. Several months from now it will be mounted on one of my boat’s shrouds, bronze hook and tip installed and ready for a lifetime at sea as a useful tool. If I stay ashore, I’ll have my own personal Gandalph’s staff.

The stick. It is warping a bit as it dries, we’ll see how it looks once completely dry.

DRONE

Dog and I walked into the woods

on an afternoon sunny and fine.

We followed a tortuous trail

down to a river running fast,

cold, clear like sweet white wine.

We sat and surveyed the scene

feeling primal

inhaling the perfect and pristine,

enjoying our time alone.

Then up the river

flying fast and low

came

a goddamned drone.

Pecking Order . Huge flocks of Trumpeter Swans are heading north… a sure sign of spring.

The environment is everything that isn’t me.“ …Albert Einstein 

Three In A Row

It is happening for the third morning in a row. A sunrise! Clear skies! Only a light frost.

Yep, the same old view. Freighters wait for their cargos. They’ve been here for weeks. For the crews, it is the hardest part of their voyage, the waiting without being able to go ashore.

And then God said… “This’ll teach ’em.”
Actually, I’ve simply inverted a photo of a reflection during a walk on a recent sunny morning.

It has been a most reluctant spring so far. A daily E-bulletin board from Mexico to which I subscribe now has banter about the best border crossing to use on the spring trek home and what the flowers will be like in the Sonora Desert. Clearly, I’m not going to make it to Mexico this winter.

My friend Jack. Nothing pleases him more than to explore a new trail…

…especially if it leads to water.

Spring stream, before the water rises.

Nanaimo river before the spring freshet. (This and the next two photos are mobile phone shots)

Potholes on the river bank.

Jack was impressed with all the water bowls…just for him.

Darkness will suddenly fall, time to hoof it back up the river bank.

My beloved ‘Seafire’ has long been the focus of my existence and the tangible evidence of a wonderful dream. This blog has its foundation built on that idea, the dreaming and scheming, the preparations to realize those notions and adventures, both inner and outer. Now comes the reality that due to poor health and finances, ‘Seafire’ probably should be sold. I’m trying to convince myself that this will be a step forward into a higher state of being that has nothing to do with the stuff I possess or which tries to own me.

Modern petroglyphs
…still with secret meanings.

During the time I’ve been writing this blog friends have sailed their boats almost around the world and continue their voyage even as I write. Another good buddy set out on his boat and sailed many of the perimeters of the Pacific Ocean. They both deserve a big note of gratitude for their inspiration and their achievements. I’m still here. ‘Seafire’ has never sailed out of sight of these shores. I have logged thousands of miles up and down this coast, often in stormy winter weather and all on my own. The boat has also been my home for many years so there is nothing to regret as I arrive at this moment of painful decision. Yet I acquired the boat and refitted it for a voyage south and then on to Britain and Europe. None of it will ever happen. That leaves a very hollow feeling and the only way to make sense of it is to find the window that this journey has led me to. Wanna buy a really nice boat?

‘SEAFIRE’
I’m prolonging the moment when the “For Sale” sign goes up. I truly love this old boat.

Someone once told me that there are many ways to interpret the same script. The folks at Bombay Gin held a short film competition, the results of which can still be seen via Google.

The rules were simple. Five minutes was the time limit, everyone had to incorporate the same script. The five finalists each produced an entirely different film, including one animation. They are all wonderful, with the winner being titled ‘Room 8.’ It is amazing to realize the diversity of human creativity, even when forced within narrow parameters. Not only can we interpret a script any way we want, we each have the freedom to write any script any way we want.

I remind myself of this as I write while the sun reflects off my neighbour’s wall and through the narrow window beside my desk.

The blinding and inspiring  view from my desk as I write. Not even an ocean glimpse!

A television documentary last evening inspired me again to travel the back roads of Mexico in exploration of that country’s huge cultural history and wonderful natural eco-system. I have my little trailer which is perfect for that. I also have my blog to carry forward. Each week there are more new subscribers. Your comments and criticisms underscore your support and I sincerely thank all my readers. I can commit that the blog will continue no matter what.

Fizzy Brook, beneath a small waterfall found while out and about on another exploration.

There goes the neighbourhood!
Federal money has been provided to clean up the derelict vessels on the Black Beach in Ladysmith. That makes room for more.

In the meantime, ‘Seafire’ is having a good spring clean-up. Jack and I are also exploring local places that we have been passing by for years. Isn’t it amazing how we can look at so much and see so little? Here are some local photos and a little piece of my writing.

Back Alley Ladysmith, there’s always something to see…if you look.

Back Alley tilt,

Laundry on a line, a rare sight anymore and yet another back alley view.

Secrets revealed. An old hotel on mainstreet has sold. An excavation of contaminated soil in the back reveals two hidden entrances.

Monument

The little town where I live was built on a hillside

above the docks

where there are now more yachts than fishboats.

To go down there you must pass

through a four-way stop

where the oldest building on main street stands.

It is built of local stone and brick

thick walls mortared together

with high-arched windows

and apartments above.

There was once a newspaper office there.

They called me from among their list

of handymen advertisers and wanted me to look

at a job rebuilding their entrance.

Someone had almost fallen through the old wood.

I proposed replacing it with concrete

then took on the project alone.

The work had to be completed in one afternoon

after closing time

and ready for next morning.

I’m no concrete man,

but I was broke.

Of the values that come with working on boats

is a portfolio of diverse skills

a deft bravado that comes from incessant poverty

and often being somewhere with no-one to help.

I hung out my shingle

when work on the water was scarce.

The cement truck arrived while I was still cleaning out old wood

and building a new form with plenty of rebar

because I wasn’t sure how much was required.

The August sun blasted that entry way like a bake oven

I worked like a fool to get the mix in place and trowelled out

but in the heat it began to set

and I kept adding water to stay ahead of the game.

I knew that was wrong

but then, somehow

all my problems are resolved with water.

Just in case the job went bad

I did not leave my initials.

Years later

that slab is still there

uncracked, solid, permanent

down there at the old corner of First and Last

where I can see my boat from the main street.

It is my monument,

my piece of the town

now an entrance to a fish and chip shop

where thousands have trod

in and out

never thinking about an old sea dog

slaving madly on a hot summer afternoon

maintaining their ease and safety.

Why should they?

It is my secret.

Only I know what lies down there

underneath their feet as I pass smugly

on the way to the docks.

My Monument, beneath the door mat.

You’ve got to keep your sense of humour! I decided I needed to comment about all those HY-BRID automobiles.

_______________________________________________________

Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny…. Stephen Hawking

A Quick Trip South

The front of my new Fisher Poet’s shirt created by the famous Ray Troll who some times performs at the gatherings with his band.

(Remember, that to enlarge any image, just click on it.)

FV ‘COHO’ in Victoria This grand old ferry has plied the waters between Victoria and Port Angeles since 1959; almost  sixty years. It is backed gracefully out from its mooring, turned in the busy harbour and idles regally out to sea. To my knowledge, there has never been an accident with this venerable old lady.

 The ferry crossing from Victoria to Port Angeles Washington was smooth and uneventful. The border goons were unusually cordial, even cavalier, which left me quite suspicious but I have learned never to argue or jest with them. The crossing was spent in philosophical conversation with another sailor (We have ways of finding each other, like dolphins in the sea) and the ninety minute voyage passed quickly. I soon found myself heading west out of Port Angeles, driving in driving snow.

Port Angeles in snow, well, how about a view from Port Angeles. See the buoy?

Next years’ Christmas card photo. The gorgeous boat is named ‘Turning Point’

Later that day. Highway 101 emerges from the mangled forest for a while to meander along the Washington coast line for a while.

Not a bikini sort of day. A wintery view out onto the open sea.

Off to work. A troller heads out of Grays Harbor.
Chances are when it returns home past the breakers, it will be dark.

A joy of back roads is never knowing what you’ll find. The remains of this whirly gig, one partner faceless, the other with head and legs rotted off, dance on, still twirling in the wind. I assume it once advertised a dance hall.

Look up and be amazed! These two kites, flying on Long Beach Washington were managed by one man who had anchored then with metal stakes in the sand. The black one, undulating in the wind, was about forty feet long.

Yes really! This little town is just up the road from Humptulips and Cosmopolis.

Retro wheels. Imagine what it would take to pull this thing! I found a tiny trailer park filled with these old trailers, all in good shape, all apparently inhabited.
Back roads!

A blurry view in the rain looking westward to the Astoria Bridge. A pilot boat heads in to its berth, a deepsea freighter is anchored upstream of the bridge and illustrates the size of this huge mechano project.

It is a bleak passage along highway 101 through raped forests, past abandoned mills and homes, derelict machinery, and run-down villages; a weary drive in a mangled world, a movie set for a film about the omega man. After hours of travel I arrive on the southern border of the State of Washington at a place on the Columbia river called Dismal Nitch. It was so-named by the explorers Lewis and Clark. They at least got to see this stunning part of the world in a virginal state, before we raped it. Imagine what they would name it now! Perhaps it was the snow but I’ve never before noticed how devastated the countryside and the communities seem. Perhaps that is why Astoria seems to have so much soul and vibrancy. It lays on the south bank of the Columbia River, across a bridge which is four miles long.

You can get used to anything. Imagine living under the bridge.

The weather was typical for late winter at the mouth of the Columbia River. Rain, wind, snow and clear brilliant sunlight, all in any half-hour. Much of the town seemed infected with a nasty flu and I hope I did not bring home any souvenirs. One performer came all the way from her studies in Brussels. We all performed our gigs, reinforced our affirmations as writers and water people, made new friendships and had a splendid time. The event has outgrown itself. There were 110 performers scheduled this year to perform in 14 venues. it was a spectacular time as usual and I know no-one went home disappointed. The originators and organizers, now past its 21st anniversary, deserve the highest kudos for their dedication and endeavour. FPG is an inspiration to thousands of people. (The website is fisherpoets.org)

I wonder how many tools were dropped on roofs during construction.Actually, there are no buildings immediately beneath the bridge, but it would drive me nuts living there.

Remember Major Hoople’s Boarding House?
Astoria has a strong Finnish history and this is one of the original buildings, late 1800’s I think.

Brokeback caboose. Through the years I have known it, this relic has slowly decomposed. It would have made a cool home or business location on main street beneath the bridge. There were steel versions of this in service for a very long time. This one is wood and who knows how old.

One more shot from beneath the bridge. We know how old this pub is. Note the hammer and anchor logo.

I love wandering the streets with a camera after dark.

Believe it or not, a mobile phone shot.

The Liberty Theatre, a lovingly restored venue from the 1920’s. It is a sumptuous location for Fisher Poets.

The last one standing. Once the waterfront was crowded with canneries. Now the only other one, Pier 39, is a cannery-turned-museum.

Astoria is loaded with relics and reminders of its proud fishing heritage.

On the side of a truck.

Heading for the bar, the notorious Columbia Bar that is. The pilot boat has just dropped the pilot off to clamber up that ladder on the port quarter.

A gorgeous drake Widgeon enjoying an algae salad.

Sundown, a rare delight on a cold and blustery weekend.

I am one of them. I drove back to the border through Seattle, where it is now always rush hour and arrived safely at the Blaine border crossing for an uneventful re-entry to Canada. I had a wonderful, long-overdue visit with some very dear friends and travelled back to Vancouver Island on the ferry under clear sunny skies.

You may well wonder what all this “Fisher Poet” stuff is all about. A group of people, who make their living in the fishing industry and on the water, gather once a year to read some of their work, sing some of their songs and enjoy the affirmation of being among fellow blue-collared creative people. I am always humbled in their presence. I’ll conclude this blog with a quick sample of my work, written about the ferry ride home.

Herring Season (1)

Last Monday in February ( Background music:

Northbound in the middle of the Strait of Georgia “Tiny Fish For Japan homeward from an annual Fisher Poets Gathering … Stan Rogers) On a BC Ferry, the ‘Coastal Inspiration.’

The mid-winter sunlight has some warmth

but the wind is cold and dense and fine.

I have been drawn toward the bow by music.

I could hear traditional Acadian shanties

accompanied with the throb of our huge engines

and in the shelter of the forward observation lounge

a young man wearing a large home-spun wool toque plays an accordion.

The acoustics under the glass are superb.

I want to praise the musician but cannot bring myself to interrupt,

So I listen with hungry ears to songs I have not heard in decades

and loiter on the starboard forward quarter snapping pictures.

Bliss!

Along the sharp clear blue curve of the strait I can see for sixty miles.

On a common heading, in a row, a mile apart

an armada of fishboats parading northward.

Each has a large power skiff in tow

Each worth a small fortune

Each optimistic for an opening

to earn half a year’s income

which after a wait of weeks

may last for only minutes.

There is an occasional glint of sunlight

reflected from a rolling boat’s wheelhouse window

a white wake streaming out behind.

The intensity of the annual drama begins,

herring season.

A herring we will go, a herring we will go!

Northwest!

Herring Season (2)

The fleet jammed into the harbour

waiting for the opening of herring season.

Volcanic tensions mounted over the next six weeks

until finally DFO declared the sacred event

would occur on the next Saturday.

Two of the boats were skippered by men

who were Seventh Day Adventists

and would not work on their Sabbath.

Herring Season (3)

If masses of people were randomly slaughtered

while in the peak of procreation

chances are the “managed stocks,”

which we are,

would be much smaller.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACK!
12 years old and still just getting started.
He is a beloved friend.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Gandhi

A Gentle Roaring

A Gentle Roaring

When I stepped outside there was a gentle roaring in the air. All the ditches and the nearby creek were running madly. The West side of Vancouver Island had received over 220mm of rain in twenty-four hours; here on the East side we’d only endured a little over 100mm. Roads and bridges are washed out. Rivers and streams are over their banks. An idiot kayaker drowned. It is sunny at the moment, more rain and snow are in the forecast.

“If I pretend I can’t see you…? Blue Herons are a favourite bird, aloof, wary, self-reliant and a wonder to see in flight. Folks often describe them as looking like Pterodactyls.

And so the year seeped into February, still wet, still winter. Wet news is no news any more.

Between storms. At the head of Oyster Bay inland from Ladysmith.

A friend in Sweden e-mailed to say the temperature there was – 26°C and there was so much snow it was being piled in the town square. I couldn’t bring myself to e-mailing him a photo of snow drops emerging in the local woods. There was a time when enduring, and even enjoying, cold and snow was a manly thing for me but the romance now eludes me..

Nanaimo river raging. A spring cleaning and why the crabbing is so good in the river estuary.

All that rain, for the moment, has passed. The interior of the province continues to deal with heaps of snow and the ski hills are doing wonderfully. Spring is slowly creeping back. For the last three mornings, we’ve actually had a sunrise, little buds and tiny flowers are poking their noses out. Yesterday I watched a hummingbird try to scavenge a meagre breakfast from the flowers on a hazelnut tree behind my fence. Life has been so dull there’s not much else to write about except the weather. Little projects on ‘Seafire’ continue but the old saw about “when you have the time you don’t have the money” is certainly true.

Home on the range. This home made range has guided yachters safely into the rocky entrance of Pirates I’ve come and gone, there has never been anyone home.Cove. In all the decades

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and so to give my wife a well-deserved break I’m out on the boat; alone. I know I wouldn’t want to be house-bound with the likes of me so here I am boat-bound with the old bugger hisself. Ostensibly, I’m out here to harvest some prawns. I made one set today and brought one up. Yes, one spotted prawn. I ate it.

A small meal, very hard-earned. The two perch were in the trap, dead already, they’ll make good bait.

There’s a gale warning up but for the moment it is tensely calm. I’m anchored in a few feet of water in Pirates Cove near the north end of the Gulf Islands. It is one of those ‘World Famous’ cruising destinations which is jammed with yachts for many months of the year. Tonight I am blissfully alone, just me and the raccoons ashore. One other yacht is tucked into a far corner, stern line rigged ashore, just as the ‘book’ demands.

They’re close on a lee shore. If the forecast proves itself and their anchor pulls in the thin mud there…..they’ll be screwed.

In the morning I’ll see which part of the weather forecast is correct and make my decisions from there. I always feel complete and at home when aboard any boat, especially my old friend ‘Seafire,’ but retrieving a prawn set alone in rough water is especially challenging. Not only do you have to be able to find your floats, you need to manoeuvre the boat and hook the line aboard without getting it tangled in the boat’s propeller. Then you need to bring all the line and the traps aboard. Thank the gods for my electric windlass. If you use a big, bright float it is easy to find but in high wind and large seas big floats tend to sail off with your gear. So you need to have everything anchored adequately which means more weight to haul up. High visibility also makes it easy pickings for prawn pirates and there are plenty out there. Bastards! There are low-lives who will take your set; traps, floats, prawns and all. The cost of new floats, 400’ to 500’ of line, weights, traps and bait is easily a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately in these southern waters you need to stay within sight of your floats for a few hours while the traps “soak.” Hopefully you can catch a fish or two while you wait. I am one of the world’s worst fisherman so I can offer no advice on that subject.

The high price in the store of fresh seafood is breath-taking but still much cheaper than the cost of getting it yourself. There are also all the multiple costs of the boat itself. And, for perspective, it is worth noting that there are millions of people out there at this moment who would love to be able to experience this sort of problem. Instead it’s couscous again… if they’re lucky!

Tony, this view’s for you, wherever you are in the Caribbean.

This photo of Mount Baker is taken from my favourite anchorage at Kendrick Island. The mountain is 88 miles away. It towers over much of Puget sound and much of the Southern Strait of Georgia. It is visible over a tremendous radius and distance. This frame was taken with a 100-300 Sony zoom lense, hand-held on the foredeck of ‘Seafire.’ Not bad huh? (The summit is 5089 ft./1551 m. above Sea Level)

Thursday morning arrives as a “No hurry” sort of day. The low clouds hurtle past the writhing tree tops. There’s no point in wrestling with prawn gear until the wind settles down. I can find enough trouble without looking for it. My neighbour leaves. The sloop is a large neo-look-at-me shining black phallus. It is loaded with short dark-eyed folks who penguin about on deck in bulky cruising suits. They come close alongside as they depart. I stay inside. There is a lively debate on the foredeck as several crew peruse a fluttering chart. The boat veers toward the wrong side of the buoy in the narrow shallow channel. I brace myself and notice their home port is marked as Seattle although a Canadian ensign cracks in the wind. At the last moment they swerve into the correct channel and mercifully disappear around the point. I unpucker.

A local hazelnut orchard in full bloom.

Nutflower!

I have often lamented the droning rhetoric of CBC Radio, especially in regions where it is the only sound on the airwaves. Here, where the sky is bulging with radio signals, I’m listening to CBC Radio 2. which seems to have been reformatted. They play music, a good eclectic mix. Last night I listened to a wonderful mix on a four hour program called “After Dark.” Go figure!

Finally!

Now that I’ve consumed an entire pot of bilge bitters seadog coffee it’s time to vibrate my way into the remains of the day. By the time I had washed the breakfast dishes the surf was up in this anchorage which is usually a millpond. There is a brisk Norwester blowing into the open end of the cove.

Condo Peckmore.
Folks like to make the owls from bits of fir bark.

The end of the second day finds me anchored in my favourite spot on the south coast, Kendrick Island. It lays on the south side of Gabriola Pass which separates Valdez and Gabriola Islands. The view is spectacular, especially with the crystalline clear air which comes with the cold northwest wind. I look up at Mount Baker, miles away across the Strait Of Georgia. There are no shore lights here. Now that night has fallen the stars throb brilliantly. I am refreshed simply to be here.

Gull Gotha.
Nobody ever makes a bird house for seagulls.

I made one set today in the relatively sheltered waters of Trincomali Channel. Recovering the traps took over an hour. With a rising wind blowing against the boat and nasty steep seas it was a challenge but I would be damned to give it up. “Give me my prawns or giv e me death!” There are enough for a meal, hard-won tasty. I’m writing in the main cabin back lit with two oil lanterns. At the moment the radio is playing a program called “Reclaimed.” It throbs with global indigenous hip-hop and punk rock. So much Hey hey, hey hey. Some of this neo-native music is brilliant. Kudos! It IS warm and fuzzy in here tonight.

If the wind continues tomorrow, I’ll leave the prawns in peace and head back to the marina. It’s time to get ready for my gig at Fisher Poets in Astoria next week. There’s no wind, yet. But a bright red sunrise shows it’s sullen colour for a few minutes and the forecast is utterly confusing with wind to come from all directions. I give up; it is time to head home, for now.

Red sky in the morning, it is time to give it up and go home.

Here are two quotes from Annie Proulx’s latest book, thick and well worth the read.

And who could count the new inventions and occupations? Colleges emerged from raw ideas; daring men invented river flatboats to penetrate the wilderness; shipmasters, not content with trade or passengers, began to pursue whales for the costly and fine oil; teacups finally had handles, an effete fad that Nicolaus thought would soon die out. And that fellow Franklin’s inventions: the lightening rods, which had saved hundreds of churches and houses from destruction, and the stove, which encased fire safely. It was an exciting time to live.”

Nothing in the natural world, no forest, no river, no insect nor leaf has any intrinsic value to men. All is worthless, utterly dispensable unless we discover some benefit for ourselves in it – even the most ardent forest lover thinks this way. Men behave as overlords. They decide what will flourish and what will die. I believe that humankind is evolving into a terrible new species and I am sorry that I am one of them.”

… Charley Duke Breitsprecher

Both quotes from ‘BARKSKINS’ by Annie Proulx

Jewels of dawn.

Hove To

“Lantern lantern burning bright
who is out on the ocean
this stormy night?”
It only took me seven years to get around to repairing this lovely old storm lantern. It works brilliantly. Ha!

First you cut a hole. It seems that everything you do on a boat involves drilling yet another hole. This is where a new fuel vent goes in the cockpit coaming. It is well over an inch thick.
The boat is massively built.

Job Done

New and improved.

EEECH! The old vent hoes sees the light of day after 37 years. It was a battle to extract it.

Any little bit of light is a treasure.

Ah, the light!

 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.

Beauty in the wet.

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.

In the sunlight above the Cowichan Valley looking Sou’eastward over Saltspring Island.

Driving up a mountain in search of the sun.

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 ‘Red Herring.’ This a 40′ J Simpson steel pilothouse cutter. She’s a floating bomb shelter! The young couple who own her are Alaska-bound.

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.

On the rain coast, it is easy to lose track of where you’ve parked your vehicle.

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.

Sundown at Dogpatch

In the morning the fog settled in.

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.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s vessel.” But I do. This Goldrup 50 appeared at our guest dock. Locally built as a fishboat hull, she’s a go-anywhere yacht.

POLICE AT THE MARINA!
The RCMP have a new patrol boat and seem to spend a lot of time messing about on it. Each officer brings down their own official vehicle. Note the shotgun muzzle and the siren/light switch panel, the computer, and the VHF radio. They also seem to constantly use their cell phone. This is what they use to bust “Distracted drivers.”

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.

Do I amuse you? Jack at standby station number 1.

Wot de duck?
An experiment with a new lense.

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. “

…Henry Ford