All To Ourselves

This boat left soon after we arrived.

We arrive at the Goose Group in late morning. A sailboat is in the main anchorage. I know it is too exposed and has poor holding ground in that spot. I won’t anchor there for an overnight stay. I’ve been here before when the weather was questionable and I returned to the mainland archipelago in gathering darkness to find a secure anchorage. Now we tiptoe into a kelp-fringed bay between Snipe and Gosling Islands. We’re snug in twenty-four feet of water. The other boat leaves and we have all of the islands to ourselves. There is no way to describe this place as the unique, pristine and sacred place it is. Instead this blog is a photo essay. I hope the images convey my sense of wonder and perfection.

It was all ours! But we planted no flags.

Jill sets out to explore.

So do I.

Life is tenacious, even in solid rock.

Flowers too, if you take the time to look.

Fresh wolf tracks in the sand

The tracks led to this well-used trail.

One is left with a sense of how life always was.

The forest is primal, mysterious, forbidding and inviting all at once. I had a sense of being watched.

There are many beaches to explore.

I found wolf tracks nearly everywhere.

A delightful bay, one of many.

Wildflowers grew in profusion.

This is a part of Canada few get to see.

A net float from Japan. Sadly there is plastic everywhere. I recently heard a marine biologist claim that soon the increasing tonnage of plastic waste in the world’s oceans may outweigh the remaining fish stocks.

Goose Barnacles on a piece of flotsam.

Miles above me, hundreds of people hurtle by, oblivious to the amazing beauty below.

An old vertebrae and sea weed.

The force of life seems as powerful as the force of gravity.

Count the rings. Some days I feel that I have nearly as many.

Hot sand warms the icy water returning from the North Pacific.

Jill takes care of business aboard the old prune barge.

In the fading light, I make a final foray ashore.

I imagine a sound of distant drums.

Time to escape the bugs, drink some hot chocolate and go to bed. It’s nearly ten pm.

Dusk fell gently

Dawn followed.

100 pounds of kelp on the hook. I had to get into the dinghy to remove it before I could cat the anchor up for open water.

We sail on into another perfect day. We’re clearly sailing a southward rhumb line. It is called IFC navigation. I Follow Contrails. There are stories of novice sailors actually finding their way to Hawaii by doing this. Mount Calvert in the distance.

Seasoned salts know to grab sleep whenever and wherever they can. A shout of “Whale” ended her dream.

 

If you are unhappy it’s not because of external factors. It’s nobody else’s fault or problem. It’s not because you are poor or live in a small house, or even because you are ill. It’s because you have an inner emptiness that needs to be filled with light, and only you can do that. It is every person’s responsibility to seek that light. Happiness is not a right; it’s an obligation, because without happiness you have nothing to give back to humanity”

From: Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood quoting from an audience with the Dalai Lama

This is from my friend Tony Gibb’s blog, ‘Sage On Sail’. See the sidebar in my home page for a link.

It’s Funny now!

Dawn, Roar Islets

A long shot of the same view.

A westward view from the roar Islets. You can see in the distance how they earned their name.

Finally the clouds begin to break up and a glorious blue sky arcs overhead. A forecast of Nor’west wind begins to show promise and then I discover the leak. We’re sinking! Having to return to Shearwater to be hauled out is a notion which horrifies me but I turn in that direction and think furiously. Along the way, I resolve to relax so I break out the fishing gear as we approach Idol Point, a famous spot for big salmon. Even I can catch fish here. Incredibly my downrigger line breaks, I lose forty feet of line and the lead cannonball which holds the baitline down where the fish are. Bugga! It’s going to one of those days. I resolve to avoid Shearwater no matter what. If a worst-case scenario evolves, I have enough pumps aboard to keep us afloat until I can careen the boat in a suitable spot.

I called this shot ‘Goodbye Weirdwater.’ I didn’t want to go back there again.

I turn southward into a narrow channel. I want Jill to feel and see the magic of these winding waterways. We pass pictographs and marvel at the miles of breathtaking scenery. Eventually we anchor in the Tribal Island Group and I attempt to make repairs. I find a broken clamp on a piece called the stern tube. It is behind and under a bundle of wiring and plumbing as far down and back into the bilge as I can reach. The trick is to install a new clamp. This requires finding one of the correct size, reaching in, wrapping it around the rubber stern tube, fitting one end back inside the screw guide which tightens it, getting that screw to start, moving the clamp into place and holding it while tightening the whole thing, but not so much that the threads are stripped and you have to start over again with another clamp…which I don’t have.

Bilge Blues. Yep, in there, stick your head and arm in there. No, no ALL the way in, to the back, about a foot past where you can see the big hose.
Yep, I know the wiring is a mess, it is another job I’m saving for Mexico. Yeah right!

Repairs complete. We move on but Jill decides to ride the foredeck while the bad karma dissipates.

This is achieved by using one hand only with my arm contorted and extended fully into the abyss of the bilge. I cannot see anything with my arm in there and I must work by feel only. It hurts. Tools and parts fall into the bottom of the bilge and have to be retrieved. I repeatedly shred my arm on an invisible sharp point but it seems a little blood is always part of the mix in these scenarios. Old fat bastard knows his days as a marine technician are near their end. I joke that I used to do my best work in the dark with my eyes closed! Ha! This is a young man’s calling. Two hours later I’m able to announce success; the leak is under control. Jill has endured my curses and grunts by trying to read. I know that standing-by during these ordeals can be at least as difficult as actually doing the work. All’s well that ends. It’s funny now.

I visit this place a second time. It is magic to see this from the boat.

100% natural. Another part of the same pictograph …unretouched.

We spend the night in the Tribal Islands Group. It is a splendid place. The sky is clear, both the sunset and sunrise cast a splendid light. Under a clear sky and a light breeze we cross Queen’s sound to the Goose Group of islands. That is a blog all on it’s own.

The gap. Looking westward from our anchorage by Iroquois Island, in the Tribal Group. We passed through there on our way to the Goose Group.

Islet and kelp bed in the same anchorage.

The winter gardener has shaped this tree well.

Green. Again taken from the same anchorage looking Northwest at low tide.

More green. Some mornings the light is magic.

Salmon oil, after it was poured down the galley sink drain.

If you can’t repair it….maybe it shouldn’t be aboard!”

Lin & Larry Pardey

Meandering

A journey begins. The seaplane base in downtown Vancouver. A quick, easy and scenic way to travel between southern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. Clear proof that people are willing to pay for a rapid connection.

An unintelligible din bursts from the intercom speakers then dies with a strange strangled gurgling noise. All the stranded passengers look quizzically at each other. We’re stuck at Port Hardy airport. There’s a light drizzle here and low cloud. The weather in Bella Bella is below landing minimums. We’re stuck here until it lifts. We all endure random explosions of babbled gibberish from the airport speakers. Every edifice has one, that ubiquitous someone who loves to hear themselves while trying to find empowerment over a captive audience, There is no cafe, no well-stocked vending machines, no wifi. It’s miles into town. We’re supposed to just sit and wait…and wait. The weather was sunny and warm at the YVR airport, in Richmond, a little over an hour ago. I’d rather be here.

On the edge. A grab shot taken with my mobile phone while walking on the waterfront of downtown Vancouver.

After a long time in the isolation of Shearwater, everything in the city was too much for me. Our expensive hotel room was grim. (Nothing like a non-smoking room that reeks of cigarettes)The traffic and dirt and noise outside seemed overwhelming. We were some of the few Caucasian faces anywhere as we wandered an urban nightmare of concrete, steel, glass and racket. Richmond is not a pleasant place and everywhere there is more construction. Office towers, high-rise condos, even more shopping spaces are shooting up on every available patch of land. The streets are clogged with traffic. Overhead skytrains squeal and rumble while an endless stream of aircraft descend and depart nose to tail. It is hell. But, the food is good. Asian restaurants are prolific and their fabulous aromas fill the air with erotic enticements. We ate, and ate, then walked by a Chinese sex toy shop called the “Harmony Store.” What fun! How about “Wonton Whoopee?”

The Cardinal Buoy Rose. A beautiful example of the shape and colour of all four marine cardinal buoys. These mark safe passage around an obstruction in Nanaimo Harbour. Safe passage is to the north of the north-hand buoy on the left, then clockwise, east, south and west. Each shape and colour code has the same meaning wherever you find them. There’ll be a quiz later. (That’s not my boat in the background!)

Carpe Sittum. Somebody provided this grubby old chair at the bus stop in Richmond.

And so sit she did.

A Buddhist shrine in a mall in Richmond. The faces, architecture and food aromas remind me of Hong Kong.

The story of my life.

That’s all in the memory bank now. Jill and I are finally aboard ‘Seafire’ in Shearwater. It is cold and raining and we are spending the evening lurking in the warmth and solitude of this old boat. A friend has dropped by to donate some fresh salmon and say goodbye. July 1st celebrations continue ashore somewhere and somehow. We’ll stay here for the night.

Culture Shock. Back in the Shearwater restaurant for a last breakfast. This magnificent plaque, carved by Larry, a master carver from Bella Bella, has just been mounted in celebration of Shearwater’s 70th anniversary. It measures about four feet by five feet.

In the morning the low cloud and intermittent drizzle persist. After another round of hugs and backslaps, we’ve fuelled up and finally Shearwater disappears behind us. I flush the mud of the place from my scuppers and have no intention of ever going back. Well, certainly not to work there. We amble and meander through some beautiful country, new to both of us, inching our way through places with names like Lady Trutch Passage and Jackson Narrows to finally drop the hook in Clothes Bay, a beautiful anchorage just a short distance from Klemtu, a little over six hours from Shearwater, now a world away. We’ve travelled northwest, further into the Great Bear Rainforest but we now have clear Marine VHF Radio and intelligible marine weather reports. And, wonder of wonders, Klemtu has connections to a commercial radio station, CFNR “Your Nation, Your Station” from Prince Rupert. Some of the music doesn’t suit my tastes, but it is so very refreshing to have an option to CB bloody C. The rain patters down and we tuck into our gift of salmon. Bliss.

First greeters, Klemtu. I’ve mentioned Heckle and Jeckle previously. If you know who they are, you’ve dated yourself.

Downtown.
Klemtu. Main street.
Say no more.

Huh?

The uptown welcome committee. Bernie, on the right, was skilled at howling bass from a prone position.

If howling isn’t your gig, you can always build yourself a drum.

You too can own a tribal canoe. This fibreglass replica of a west coast dugout canoe looked like it belonged in Klemtu.

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s a sign.

In the morning the rain still pisses and splatters and dribbles with waves of mist between the downpours. I persuaded Jill to come here and I ache to go further, right to the end of some of the inlets where bears parade in legislated protected innocence of the threat of man. Great portions of the rainforest here have been set aside as official untouchable wilderness. Finally we are getting the ideas of protecting samples of the natural planet from ourselves.

Beautiful traditional house posts. Hey, that’s me on the right, second from the bottom!

Klemtu Volunteer Fire Department

Can’t miss it! Go to the corner of Seemore and Do Less. Go up the hill.

Old Sliver Face…on the bottom.

On the waterfront.
Klemtu Harbour.
That’s it!

The source?
This stream, where the salmon still come to spawn, may well be the reason a community developed here. There is now a salmon hatchery up this stream.

Eco tourism. A hope for the future.

Kitasoo Big House.
Klemtu’s first and last vision.

Walking around the village we are both disheartened by an air of melancholy and decay. There are hardly any folks about, Despite toys abandoned in ditches, we see only two children. Some folks drive vehicles which run poorly and have no mufflers. They pass us every five minutes. I wonder if that goes on all day. Folks we meet are friendly. A few dogs we meet greet us with a chorus of howling then return to their somnolent posts. Sadly, Klemtu makes Bella Bella seem like a thriving metropolis. I try to imagine life here through a rain forest winter and cannot. Even the newest buildings seem dilapidated. Weather-proof vinyl siding on the houses is coated with years green grunge. The swirling clouds and incessant precipitation persuade me to turn south, the forecast is, after all, for westerly winds and that promises some good sailing. However a stout breeze rises from the sou’west, right on the nose. We finally motor into Moss Passage to escape the mounting potential wrath of Milbanke Sound. I know this place all too well from my tugboating days. I drop the hook sheltered by the Roar Islets, behind Ivory Island, and hope the forecast for Westerly winds is true for the morning.

Ten Pm. Roar Islets

The wind is cool, but the sunlight is glorious. We savour the afternoon and evening in this snug anchorage which we have all to ourselves. At ten pm it is still light enough to read without a light. A sailboat picks it’s way into the anchorage from Seaforth Channel. The wind has died, it is flat calm here. Outside the islets, the swells burst on the reefs. I now know why they are called “roar.” Tomorrow we cross our Northward loop of meandering and truly begin the voyage home to our little town on the 49th parallel. That is only 240 nautical miles of latitude southward, but we will traverse at least five hundred miles along the ragged coastline.

Only Sea Meeting Sky.

In the west…sets a round, full sun. In the east…rises a round, full moon.

What is here in the full middle that thoughts cannot understand?

What are thoughts that they cannot dispel awe in the heart….. Between the fullness of everything, there is a special something that thoughts cannot quite remember, that the heart cannot quite forget.”

Ray Grigg, The Tao Of Sailing

Poised for Flight

Goodbye Edgar
As if in farewell, Edgar watches from his favourite perch

The weather has eased into spring- like conditions and I’ve managed to complete scraping, sanding and refinishing the cap rails on ‘Seafire.’ I’ve used a new-to-me product called Semco, a very expensive teak sealer. I’ll see how it stands the test of time. I’ve given up on my beloved Cetol; it failed miserably to withstand the challenge of an up-coast winter. I feel better now that the worst part of restoring the boat’s exterior woodwork, or “Brightwork” is behind me but there is plenty to do yet. That can be achieved while sailing along.’

Poised for Flight
‘Seafire’ sits ready to go exploring

Seafire’ shows her scars and wrinkles proudly, she’s earned them, and I’ll give her a good clean-up once back in Southern latitudes. I cannot, however, bear a buildup of grunge. There has been a patina of winter filth on the bottom-side of the mast spreaders and on the radar scanner’s cover. A large storm is coming with high winds and heavy rain so I‘ve scooted up the mast this Sunday morning and scrubbed away the green stuff before the rain comes again. Now I feel “Gooder.” Checking my e-mail, I find that friends on their boat ‘Sage’ have hunkered down in a mangrove swamp in Martinique in anticipation of a potential hurricane. You can access their blog “Sage On Sail” through the sidebar on the cover page of this blog. They later posted a quick blog with a note of relief. Their storm threat had passed.

The weakest link.
A very risky way of holding your rigging up. The bent tang of this turnbuckle is holding this bobstay to the sprit, which in turn holds the forestay which holds the mast. It is often the way things get done here.

 

Evidence. It’s actually fish blood, there was more inside the boat as well as prawn heads. In remote areas, police are permitted to use official vessels for personal reasons.

That’s the easy one. This is an autohelm drive motor installed in the binnacle of a German-built yacht. The visible bolt is one of four that have to somehow be  removed. The stainless steel base was bolted in place, then the bolts were welded.
Goodensafe!

Bleary eyes, after a bug-bitten night.

Heiltsuk grow-op. A community garden in Bella Bella. At the time of the next full moon, tiny alien warriors will emerge from their pods.

A lobster boat replica. It is one of the prettiest power boats to come to our docks…in my opinion.

Sunday evening in Shearwater comes with the forecast rain. I was debating about what to do for supper when there was a knock on the boat’s deck. My neighbour has just returned from a successful day’s fishing. He offered me two huge slabs of white spring salmon. Guess what I had for supper and will again tomorrow. There is nothing finer than fresh fish, What a treat!

The squirrelly heist. Learning how to swallow uphill was the hard part.

A week later, I’m poised for flight. ‘Seafire’ is now moored on the “Hobo” dock, a jetty for fishing boats, tugs, workboats, and any transient freeloaders who can find a spot here. Perfect! It is, in fact, a much better spot than where I’ve been. It was made clear that since I was beyond my usefulness and no longer an employee then I could “Git yer pitchin’s and go!” Fair enough, thanks for the memories. What I find interesting is that despite urgent repeated requests to move and make space for a fifty-five foot boat, which so far has not yet appeared, no one saw fit to advise me of the impending blast in the adjacent rock quarry. At one pm I noticed other boats leaving and learned of the coming rock blast at three pm. Last time some rock was shot, one piece went through the end of a house and more bits were found on the end of the dock. Nothing personal, I’m sure, it’s just the way things are done here.

A “Culturally Modified” tree. Cedar bark and planks have been stripped from this tree.

Heiltsuk grave marker, hand-carved board

Returning to mother earth.
Another grave marker’.

Gone but not forgotten.

An ancient petroglyph carved in granite. How did they do it? I’ve just washed it with water to help enhance it’s lines.

 

 

A beautifully painted box left on a grave.

Flowers everywhere

A flooding tide

It is an odd thing, the vagaries of human personality. Most of us have experienced them from time to time, both of our own making and from others. Many folks here have bid me a fond and warm farewell. I’ve been touched by that. Then a fellow here whom I considered a good friend and a solid character suddenly subscribed to a false rumour about something I was alleged to have said. He invented an accusation which others know is raw fabrication. There are witnesses who can confirm what actually happened and whom my accuser won’t approach. I can’t fathom his motivation and thats the big question for me. He wants his fiction to be true. Why? This old bird has to admit to feeling quite hurt and bewildered but life goes on and this will soon be forgotten. I do wonder about the snowball effects of the Franken-monster this guy has created. It will come home to bite his ass. I’m counting the days until the end of the month when I leave this place. There is a tension and darkness in the air here which no-one can define and yet most readily acknowledge. Even without my health issues, I believe I’d move on.

Salmon Berry

Flowers becoming berries

The ‘Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz is an outline of Toltec dogma. One of those agreements is to be impeccable with one’s words and for the responsibility of the good and the harm they can do. Another agreement is to not make assumptions. It is just too small a community here to wilfully create acrimony and invent false scenarios. I’ve made some wonderful lasting friendships here, and despite the corporate ineptitude, I hold many fond memories. I won’t miss the bullshit but this country will always have a piece of me. It seems sad to leave on such a sour note. So, the other two agreements are to always do one’s best and especially for me at this moment, to take nothing personally. Enough said.

Meanwhile the weather has turned gorgeous. It is clear and warm. Summer solstice passed a few days ago and my first horsefly of the summer has been swatted. I’m spending the weekend tinkering and cleaning on the boat and simply defragging. Today I found a very old friend on the dock. ‘Shukran’ is a boat I loved over twenty years ago. She’s a Fisher Noreaster 30, one of the biggest little boats you’ll ever find. ‘Shukran’ was the original name bestowed when purchased new. The owner had earned her price while working on a dream contract in the middle east. Shukran is Arabic for “Thank you”. I looked up her current owner in the restaurant here to commend him for the loving care he has bestowed on one of my passions from days gone by. He was quite pleased at the praise from a stranger.

Shukran

On Sunday my friend Paer and I took a tour around the Archipelago which protects Kliktsoatli Harbour where Shearwater is located. We visited native burial sites, pictographs, beaches and islets where a profusion of flowers and berries grow. We saw what we now think is a female Northern Elephant Seal and then journeyed back to Shearwater; all in about six hours. What an amazing rich area. Up and down the inlets and around the islands there are thousands of miles of natural wonder as well as the secure feeling that this coast is nearly infinite in it’s vibrancy and size. Soon old ‘Seafire’ will meander southwards toward new horizons and unimagined adventure. To know that this wild labyrinth and sanctuary exists will always be a reassurance. That, I think, is the best reason for preserving wilderness; just to know that it is there.

Nakwakto Rapids, One of the world’s most notorious tidal rapids.
It is a poor photo taken through the aircraft window and jet exhaust but you can see why the island in the rapids is called Trembler Rock.

Sea becoming sky, sky becoming sea.

Now at the beginning of the next week I’ve flown south once again for another round of jiggery pokery in the hospital. The flight was idyllic. I napped, waking regularly, looking out on a new vista of the passing scenery. What a fantastic place we live! Tonight I’m sitting at my desk in Ladysmith. My belly is full with Jill’s cooking, Jack is asleep at my feet and the television is on with a program about obesity. What a different world from the one I left this morning. In a few day’s we’ll be aboard Seafire to begin our meandering trip south. What comes next?

Plaque on a Heiltsuk Grave

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” Vincent Van Gogh

Bearing Up

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Sunday morning calm in downtown Shearwater. Actually, the orange object in the left background is an excavator that began smashing and bashing just after first light. The fishboat in the foreground bears the grand name ‘Pubnico Gemini’

Summer Beach
When the afternoon tide rises over the sun-warmed beach, children come to swim and play on the rope swing.

On the chart it is named Kakushdish Harbour. The locals called it “Gustafson’s.” I much prefer the Heiltsuk name but I have no idea what sort of spices are used in a kakushdish .(She fed him some kakushdish and he was up all night) Seriously, the name rolls off one’s tongue in a lovely way and I’d guess it means something to do with shelter or safety. This is a short, shallow inlet only a few minutes from downtown Shearwater but a world away from the industrial ugliness and near incessant dirty clatter. I’ve avoided coming here, partly because it’s too close to home base but mostly because one has to pass under an electrical power line. I just don’t like overhead wires while on a moving sailboat. On the chart there is a clearance indicated of twenty-three metres. That is plenty enough for Seafire’s mast of sixteen metres but still I have a bad feeling about overhead wires and bridges. Unless the overhead obstruction is very high, it always looks as if you’ll go bump or zap; that tense anticipation is a nasty sensation.

Salal Flower Kakushdish

I could see a prehistoric family making their home in this niche

One of the aboriginal fish traps at Kakushdish

Kakushdish backwater

A forest grave site along the shores of Kakushdish

Kakushdish Harbour. A lovely place to hang out. The bare ground on the hills behind is a naturally occurring bog land where the ground is too wet and barren for forest to grow,

Once under the wire the bay is wide and calm. In places there are long grassy shores to stretch your legs. With our late spring, the colours seem especially intense. This morning there’s a high overcast but the bay is still lovely. The season is very near summer solstice and nights have long lingering dusks. It is a time of richness and plenty. All creatures are busy feeding, raising their young, and preparing for the coming winter. The last one seems to have barely passed. As I get older the seasons, for me, spin faster and faster. Summer is the apex before the long descent into the next cycle of cold, dark and wetness. Yeah you know it, south, south!

A big one. The  68 foot ‘Island Roamer’ comes up for fibreglass repairs after finding a rock in Haida Gwaii. Despite an amazingly good chart system, there ARE uncharted rocks. Full prudence is always required. If the pro’s came run aground, so can anyone else. Note the diminutive size of the worker beside the keel. The fibreglass crew had the vessel back in business in less than three days!

A big little one. Up for a “shave and a haircut” or in other words, bottom cleaning and fresh anti-fouling paint. This is a lovely example of the ubiquitous folk boat design, also often found in these waters as a ‘Contessa 26’. This design is famous for being sailed alone around the world. Several different sailors have done it. The design sails wonderfully and is very seaworthy.

A few days ago I crawled out from beneath a customer’s boat to find myself fifty feet from a young black bear. He was a beauty. My immediate concern was where the mother bear might be but it was soon obvious that this character was alone. There were a few people watching him but he was oblivious as he perused the aromatic garbage bins. Wild animals that accustom themselves to humans almost invariably meet a nasty end. I threw my hammer at him, several times. Bumbles, I named him, belonged in the safety of the forest, not in the middle of a shipyard at midday. He ambled slightly away but was determined to find a meal. We finally steered him up the hill, towards the school; plenty of lunch buckets up there. A yearling, probably orphaned, he has not been taught to forage for wild food and will need some strong persuasion to avoid the temptations of civilization. He has been spotted several times within the community. I fear for his future.

Bumbles Goes Bad
A poster on the grocery store bulletin board warns that my pal does not understand the danger of being fearless.

Because I am in my last days at Shearwater time is passing slowly for me, just as it did when I sat in a public school classroom this time of year so long ago. Friday afternoon finally arrived. I slipped the boat’s lines. We were quickly around the corner and out of sight. I spent the night and following day in Kakushdish most pleasantly. After a morning exploration of the bay by dinghy I settled down to work on the boat’s teak. I almost sanded my fingertips to the bone but tonight one cap rail is done. It has been scraped and sanded, had two coats of teak oil applied and all the metal fittings are back in their place. I enjoyed my simple honest work. A cool breeze hummed and whistled in the rigging. I knew a great sense of well-being. Funny how contentment can come from such a simple thing.

What manner of beast is this? Actually it’s only a large stump on tidal ground above yet another fish trap at Kakushdish.

Back to Beales, looking into the entrance to the lagoons beyond.

Once through the tidal rapids, one comes upon a loading bulkhead from a former limestone quarry, now long-abandoned.

Into the marsh. It is stunningly beautiful, in large part because of the natural open space.

Saltwater streams meander through the marshland.

Sandhill cranes feed in the marsh and nest in the bogs on the hills.

Late in the day I moved ‘Seafire’ to Beales Bay, a short distance around the rocks and reefs of Gunboat Passage. ‘Sjoa’ is anchored st the far end of the bay, I wonder what magic video footage Paer has made. I look out one last time just before bed. Last night’s full moon shines down between the scudding clouds. In the morning I awake with my eyes glued shut. I have to peel them open. Insect bites, or teak sanding dust, my whole head feels puffy. It’s snot funny. I force myself into the day; and soon happy for what it becomes. Paer comes over to ‘Seafire’ for a visit and we finally get to know each other a little. What a delight to meet someone new who closely shares similar perspectives and philosophies. I learn of adventures in Sweden along the Arctic Circle and in Lapland. Paer tells of sailing there and how life is in summers of the midnight sun and intense winters of near eternal darkness. He has an advantage of being able to see things from an outsider’s perspective and finds a positive view of things where I see only the negative. He points out that Shearwater, a tiny oddball community of misfit refugees from urban latitudes, manages to survive in relative harmony. He also points out, that despite our industry, we are able to make a minimal environmental foot print. The morning flew by as, in happy discovery, we plumbed each other’s philosophies, values, perspectives. Affirmation is very good for the soul.

I’ve been wanting to explore this huge wetland and estuary. Today the weather and the tides are in my favour. There is a lively and shallow, drying tidal rapids which guard the entrance. I’m able to pass through with a few inches of water beneath my kayak and slalom around three points and rocky islets into the marshland. It is unique as it spreads broadly around three saltwater streams which almost dry out at each low tide. Certainly they are navigable only on a rising tide. I am able to penetrate the green marsh by bumping along the bottom only as the tide rises up the stream bed and lifts me along a little further at a time. It is fantastic. The bottom of the streams are very course sand with glinting bits of mica. The water is slightly tea-coloured but clear. I am able to penetrate the grassy marsh and see birds and minnows in abundance. It is a place where I expect to see deer and bear at any time. I’m not disappointed.

Paer films a deer which came out of the forest directly across the stream from us. While this occurred the tide was bubbling up around our feet.

Up one reach of the stream network I find Paer hiking in the marsh. We chat at the stream’s edge, marvelling at how quickly the tide rises. As we stand there a deer emerges from the forest, walking directly toward us. Eventually she senses our presence and we all stand motionless regarding each other across the flowing water. Mesmerized, we don’t notice how the tide is rising over the mud at our feet. Paer has to scramble for higher ground. I paddle out against the flood arriving back at the narrows just as the tide is about to turn again to ebb. I imagine how the marsh streams must be when salmon are spawning. They will be lined with bear and churning with spawning salmon. My one regret is that it has taken me so long to discover this wonderful place. Paer spends days there, always alone. He loves the marsh and lagoon and has developed an intimate knowledge of this area. His film work is of superb professional quality. Clearly he loves filming wildlife and wilderness. He points out that he has never made a living with film; it is something he does in amateur passion to share his vision of the natural world. I note again that his film vignettes are published for viewing on Vimeo and YouTube.

Look for his name: Paer Domeij or titles like ‘Ellerslie Lagoon Waterfalls,’ ‘Two birds and a bear’ or ‘Sommarpromen i Lulea.’ ‘Gransfors Yxmedja’ is fascinating and ‘Cruise Canada’ is my favourite. I have not mentioned his exploits as a man who built a boat and went voyaging as he still is. I am both impressed and inspired by Paer. High praise indeed from this cynic.

The nook. one of thousands of streams running to the sea.

Monday was the usual hectic day with transient boaters lining up at the shop door to present their tales of woe. We serve folks on a first come first serve basis but somewhere else there be a place that serves people on the basic of the best dramatic account of their perceived problem. Uncle Harold’s ingrown tone nail and that the cat had diarrhoea six weeks ago really don’t have nothing to do with solving your present mechanical failure mister. You are number seventeen in the line-up so far this morning. We’re working on work order three from yesterday. Uh huh.

Bella Bella as seen from the mouth of Kakushdish

At least my little bear came back, he’s still alive and hungry. He did not seem as cavalier about the presence of people today and in fact scrambled up a vertical rock face to escape me. There are reports of a mother bear loitering in the surrounding forest. Hopefully, as the berries ripen during our late spring, our furry friend will prefer eating in the rough to biting the bullet if he continues to scrounge around people. Run Bumbles, run.

You’re IT! Appearing to be playing a child’s game, Bumbles is actually about to scale a 20′ vertical rock face to escape me. I’m trying to educate him that he is not welcome around people.

I’d rather see a blackbird in the forest than an eagle on TV”

Paer Domeij quoting his teenage son.

The Next Corner

The Next Corner

The swallows are back. One day in the past week they were suddenly here, flitting and swooping and chattering like no other creature can. Photographing them is very hard. They tend to nest in the rafters of the old hangar here where it is safely dark and out of reach from the likes of me. They feed, in part, on the plague of black flies that has arrived in the same week. By blackfly standards these are tiny specimens, but like scorpions, it is the smaller ones which produce the nastiest reaction. The bites become tiny, itchy bumps that last two days or more and they’ll be in any exposed place the little pests choose to attack. They still don’t hold a candle to the ones I recall in the tundra of the Northern Canadian Shield. Soon to arrive here will be swarms of horseflies which, hopefully, I’ll avoid by leaving in another month. Also out and about are what I call Shearwater flies. They look like half-scale houseflies and hover silently in small groups in front of your face. They don’t bite but are damned annoying. They disappear for a few days then come back to perform their mysteries yet again. There is a small patch of lawn at the head of the ramp. Yesterday a flock of ten mourning doves fed in that grass. It seems incongruous to find these birds here. Their gentle cooing is exactly the same as from those I have heard in the Sonoran Desert. It is one of the most relaxing and reassuring sounds I know and also another call southward.

A Swallow’s Eye View.
Up the mast on ‘Seafire’ tweeking a radio antenna connection.

The next few weeks will pass slowly. Soon I’ll be back to a life based at home in Ladysmith. It will be wonderful to have a regular life at home but this area will be forever in my heart. I’ll take some time at month’s end to explore this region a bit more.

The Pipe…
…Source of all that is wet. Actually one of many million streams in the rainforest. During a rainfall the pipe is half-full and a rushing torrent. In the fall, schools of salmon swim round and round trying to spawn. One time Orcas followed them in this little bay. This photo was taken just after low slack during the May spring tides. It was such a gorgeous day I washed my blankets. One is hanging over my boom. If you look carefully you can see the eelgrass is pointing into the stream, the tide is now flooding.

A week has passed since I wrote the preceding sentence. That clear warm sunny day seems as if it had never happened. Winter’s weather has returned with steady rain, night and day. Today, there is first a torrential downpour then a clearing and some drying before the next torrent begins. The boat’s exterior woodwork desperately needs to be scraped, sanded and refinished after last winter’s devastation. Even now, at the beginning of June, every effort is thwarted with more rain. Today, as I write, my tools sit beside me in anticipation of being able to rush outside in the next lull. Crews from the transient yachts, now thickly cluttered along the dock, wander aimlessly looking for distraction. We may be stcuk with the same people all summer. They loiter in the laundromat for hours, with amazing heaps of laundry and endless e-mails to and from the outer world. They hang about the yard and shop looking for entertainment. Questing a better wifi signal is an ongoing pastime for them. They’re often a nuisance and a danger. Some even find their way down onto the decrepit residential dock to peer and poke where they have no business being. I once told one gormless fellow “I know that i look lile a clown but I’m not here to entertain you.” I find myself wanting to untie old ‘Seafire’ and head for the backwaters. Soon, my restless boat, soon.

My pal Squirelly.
What could be finer than sitting on a bank on a perfect day eating dandelion seeds? Some days he’ll sit on my feet hoping for a handout.

One visitor has been here since last year. He’s spent the whole winter here, disappearing for a while then coming back to Shearwater for a few days. Paer Domeij is from Sweden. He lives and travels aboard his beautiful, sturdy cutter ‘Sjoa’. Paer is a professional videographer. Some of the short films he has made of this area are breath-taking. You can find his work on Vimeo and on YouTube. Each short piece is a diamond beautifully filmed and edited with a perfect amount of narration and background audio. You owe it to yourself to look up his films. His love for this wilderness is clear. Hopefully, once I’m back in a world buzzing with full cyber service, I can put up a link to Paer’s work.

Primordial Soup, from which we came?

One of my frustrations about leaving here is that I have not begun to explore this region as much as I’d like. That could take the rest of my life. However the arthritic pain of the last few rainy days reminds me of why south is the right direction for me. Still, there is the lure of what’s around the next corner, and the next. That mystery will always haunt me. Fortunately there are corners everywhere.

A chance of showers.
Sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, rain, rain. Welcome to the rainforest.

A soggy life. I open this portlight above the galley stove to let the cooking vapours out. Despite a visor, when it is raining, there’s a little problem.
Usually I put a small storm window in place to shed the rain.

For the time being focus is on work. The transient yachts, (I call them Gringo boats) have an infinite variety of troubles. The owners sometimes arrive at the shop in groups, each with what is to them he only problem in the world. Being told they must wait in line doesn’t suit their sense of urgency to hurry up and relax. In any season you’ll see it all. From clogged toilets to suppurating hydraulic systems, dead engines and mangled drive systems, in they come. We haven’t yet this season had a boat that tried plowing through a reef so there’ll probably be a pair of those arrive together. In the midst of the shipyard mayhem, these folks will continue living aboard their vessels while we hammer and grind and heave on wrenches and curse beneath them. They ascend and descend rickety ladders as we can provide and may need help with their big dog each time. I feel pity for these family beasts who endure a plethora of noxious aromas and sounds and are then exercised in the toxic mud and dust of the shipyard among hurtling machinery.

Camper copter. Four rotor blades and a bed built for two. Once a helicopter guy, I guess I’ll always be one. I’m certainly dazzled with this machine.

Nein, nein zat Fokker ischt unt Messerschmidt!
The Eurocopter 105 is rugged and versatile it is a pilot’s and mechanic’s dream. The Red Bull Company uses one of these, unmodified, to fly a full airshow with plenty of inverted manoeuvres.

Heck! I get it.

Rightfully, stranded crews should stay in our hotel while we ply our trade. It would be safer, more expedient and profitable. ( Often these repair jobs are covered with insurance and so are carte blanche) Other skippers are determined to loiter with their chins on our shoulders while we try to make their repairs in spite of them. I often employ a carefully practised surliness to retain some elbow-room in the shop. One character planted himself on my work stool in the middle of our doorway. I asked him to move out of the way and he replied that wanted to ensure he’d get some attention. I advised him that he’d be sure to get some “F…ing attention” if he didn’t move immediately. Simply getting the correct parts shipped in a timely manner is an eternal, complicated frustration. Happy customers are a rarity. Many white-knuckled buccaneers stop here in a frantic rush to escape the helter-skelter of home. They only manage to bring it with them.

Well, if this old wrencher knew so much about running a resort and a wilderness marine repair facility perhaps I’d have my own remote island business. Or perhaps, I’m clever enough not to. It is certainly bemusing to endure such a dystopic existence within a wonderland. Certainly, I’m not going to miss any of it. I just want to go sailing. Here’s to what’s around that next corner.

Rafted to ‘Gulf Tide’ an old tug converted to a beautiful liveaboard. Deb, the lady of the boat, does great canvas work.

The Shearwater Breakwater. A new forest breaks out on the old boom sticks.

Midday Fogsneak. The wind changed and dampened, the temperature dropped, and the sky became obscured. The rain returned a few hours later.

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.”

… Will Rogers

The Farting Tiger

What happens if I push this one? A much-manipulated photo taken from the boat in Saint John Harbour.

After all the writing I’ve done in the last seven months about dreary rain-soaked darkness I’m happy to report that I sit at my laptop this morning while enjoying a perfect dawn. The sky is clear and windless. The rising sun sun brings a warmth that seeps right in to my heart and provides a rich golden light unique to this part of the world. The silence is eerie. There is no grunting machinery, no throb of marine diesels, no yammer of someone’s acid radio tones. All I can hear is the squeal of tinnitus in my mechanic’s ears but gradually I pick out the pip and chatter of little birds, even the wing-whistle of a passing raven. There is a plip-plop of tiny fish jumping on the surface of the sea. This bliss comes in Kynumpt Harbour, a few miles west of Shearwater. I’ve escaped for the May long weekend and anchored here last night. For the moment I savour just being. The cabin entry is wide open and it is grand.

Ahh! A little over an hour west of Shearwater I have the world and the sunset to myself.

Kynumpt Dawn. Wanting to be nowhere else.

The sound of children playing on the beach. I could almost hear them echoing from the past when Kynumpt cradled a small community.

My days at Shearwater are drawing to a close. That, of course, allows me to see things more objectively. I’ve turned in my notice. With that sense of freedom I can allow myself to think and say things I dare not before. I see myself at the end of my working life but still needing a working income. It is rather like holding a farting tiger by the tail. While you cling on desperately, you know that it is inevitable that you are going to be shat on or have your head ripped off; or quite possibly, both. Yesterday I happily proclaimed that I had worked on my last Bayliner ever (they’re miserable boats to work on) Now I sit here pecking at this keyboard with my grease-imbued banana fingers and watch the tranquillity slowly unfold. Ashore an eagle has perched in a cone-laden Sitka spruce. Reflected patches of light disco-ball across the green of the trees along the beach. Once the site of a native village, this bay has in turn been a failed Scandavian settlement and then a logging camp. The clearings are growing over but a few fruit trees cling on to their feral life. But it is time to move on. The trouble with this sort of weekend is that my freedom is clouded with a sense of brevity. Hurry up and relax!

Well blow me down! This pair of Humpbacks must’ve passed beneath me heading in the opposite direction.

The day passed quickly. I headed westward under a brilliant sun. Humpbacks emerged in the distance behind me as I passed Edge Reef. This is where the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground last fall and created such horrific drama and expense. Seals and gulls bask on the reef at low tide and all appears pristine to my eye. There may well be contamination in the clam beds but today one would never suspect. In less than three hours I arrive in Saint John Harbour, a lovely place providing shelter from the open ocean. It is a few miles south of the entrance to Seaforth Channel. With an open horizon to the southwest it is a different world. Of course I want to keep on going, due south. I anchor in a fine nook eager to explore the backwaters but then it hit me. As the tiger said, “It must have been something I ate!” I suddenly found myself gripped by a vicious stomach flu and was forced to remain close to the head. I slept for several hours and awoke to find a gloomy overcast had settled in. Groggy, wobbly and weak, I realized my day was finished. I went back to my bunk defecated…. I mean defeated! Bummer!

Edge Reef, scene of the crime. This was the site of the grounding of the ‘Nathan E. Stewart’

Cape Swaine and the open ocean. Turn left, sail due south until the butter melts, turn left, you’re there!

The mouth of Seaforth Channel. Beyond the rocks of Cape Swaine, Ivory Island light station can be seen in the distance on the northern side.

In the morning neither my plumbing nor the sky had improved. I felt as grey as the low overcast and couldn’t decide what to do. I went back to bed for a while then grimly set out to see the world. This was my weekend damnit! The swell of the open ocean soothed me and I looked west across Hecate Strait to Cape Saint James. It is the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. The high ground of those islands stood above the horizon that day and called me to come on over. A mirage effect allowed me to see across the ninety-five nautical miles. The light flashes white every five seconds. It stands ninety-six metres above sea level with a nominal range of visibility fourteen miles. Aboard ‘Seafire’ it is sixteen hours distant. Yet I could see it clearly. Reluctantly I turned eastward at Cape Mark on the bottom of Athlone Island. The area is a maze of rocks, reefs, islets and tenuous channels which are sometimes a dead end. It is a deadly place in the dark or fog. While picking my way through some of those reefs and islets of Queens Sound my flu symptoms returned with a vengeance and I crawled into the bay in Stryker Island. A few hours of weird dreams later I had a strong urge to get out of this place. It is a beautiful bay but I had a bad feeling and I knew it was best to move on. I’ve learned to trust my feelings without trying to analyze the intangible.

The original version of photo one. This was taken before sunset from the boat while looking to the northwest from Saint John Harbour.

Land Ho! A view toward Milbanke Sound and one of it’s peaks.

Believe it or not. That’s Cape Saint James, ninety-five nautical miles distant across Hecate Strait. The optical effect is enhanced with my telephoto lense.

Into the rock garden. These reefs and rocks are everywhere for many miles. It is not really a place to be doubled-over with stomach cramps.

Fingal Island

Tuft Island.

 

A West Coast moment. One of a million Islets along the British Columbia coast.

Joassa Seals wondering, no doubt, what the hell this idiot was up to.

Looking back is so easy! Fortunately the narrows is as deep as it is narrow.

How Rait Narrows look on the chart.

There are several routes back toward Shearwater from there. The most open and direct route is Raymond Passage which leads up to join Seaforth Channel a few miles from the home dock. Branching off this easy open passage is Boddy Narrows which becomes Joassa Channel and then impossibly tight Rait Narrows. I’ve previously dared myself to try this gap and deferred to prudence. My weekend has been spoiled by a flu bug and I needed something to cheer myself. With names like Joassa how can I resist? Woodsmoke billowed through the trees on a small wooded islet near Quinoot Point. I glimpsed a cabin secreted in the dense forest. That presence added to the magic of this secluded pass. I couldn’t be seen turning back now. It looked as if the boat’s rigging was about to knock squirrels from the overhanging trees. I inched through the narrow twisted gap. Finally I was in waters where I had turned back on a previous attempt from the northern side. The biggest barriers are always the ones we make in our own mind. Last night I anchored in Lockhart Bay, only a few miles from Shearwater.

Back to Shearwater reality. Meet you at the old bollard, a relic of days when coastal freighters were the only link to the south.

A man-hater’s dream…just give them a big stick! Anenomes on the bottom of an old dock hauled out for cleaning.

Noon Monday finds me back at my dock in Shearwater. A disappointing weekend, no wind, no saiing, no fishing and I’m way over on my toilet tissue ration. Such is life. I’ve been talking about loosing weight. Living in a boat is a marvellous thing. As I sit writing I am in the same boat I cruised about in all weekend. This hull rose and fell and rolled on the swells of the open ocean. The cabinetry squeaked and loose items slid about. There is a lovely thrumming harmonic hum from the engine which pulses through the boat when we motor along. It is all lovely and a bad day at sea is generally better than a good one at the dock. Now all is quiet, old ‘Seafire’ is again a small floating condo with the potential to go anywhere in the world. Nothing happens until I untie her. All I have to do is decide how to deal with the farting tiger. Phffffft!

The Tin Schooner. Occasionally some unique and beautiful boats pass through. This steel schooner is a beauty to me. Dreams!

Tiger hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest. Hmmm!

We are at the bottom of the food chain. Nothing else on this planet needs us. Yet we need all other living things to survive.” Christi Belcourt, Metis artist