Mexican Sunrise

Mi Casa a playa y la cuchina
Mi Casa a playa y la cuchina
Mi cuchina
Mi cuchina

I know I’ve finally arrived somewhere important when there is absolutely no wifi available. I’m sitting on the beach a few feet from surf’s edge on the Sea Of Cortez. The surf is light, the stars are bright, the lights of shrimp boat at work dot the black horizon. Some

Inside track
Inside track

young folk sit a way off around a fire with their boom box.  I’m on the outskirts of a small fishing town named San Blas. It is ubiquitously grotty, with squalor everywhere, lots of stray dogs, people sitting around dinner tables outside so that some chairs are actually in the street, boom boxes blare and thump. Trucks, cars, scooters and bicycles weave their way around each other

The rest of the story
The rest of the story

on the cobbled streets. In the event that something should happen to me (I’ll explain later) let me stress how much I abhor categorization, especially about people, in any regard.

However, if demanded at gun point to summarily describe Mexicans I would probably use words like ‘Gracious hunter-gather suicidal stunt recyclers,’  but let’s start with my entry into Mexico two and a half days ago at Sonoyato.

San Blas sunrise
San Blas sunrise
San Blas shrimper
San Blas shrimper

I was advised to cross there because it was a “Nice quiet” place. The guards waved me through; there was no office to pull into for official paperwork. Suspiciously intrigued I carried on through the immediate contrast of how life is lived in Mexico. There is no doubt about where you. About one hundred kilometres on I arrive at a checkpoint where the lady guards are incredulous that I have no tourist visa nor any importation papers for the truck and trailer. They loved the little silver bullet and called it “Chiquito.” However they also made it clear that they thought I was an idiot to not have the documentation. They made it clear that I had to go immediately to the Nogales crossing, where the paper work could be done, or get back up across the border into the US…which is difficult to explain when you don’t have your papers in order for the country you’re leaving.

The old bells of San Blas
The old bells of
San Blas

Two hours later, in the dark and, yes, spattering rain, I arrived at the Aduanes and the Mexican bureaucratic shuffle began. Fill out forms, get photocopies over there, take all your papers to the bank wicket, go back for more photo copies, pay a six month tourist visa (Because I’ll be in the country more than six days) pay an import duty on truck and trailer, discard all the unnecessary photocopies. Fortunately there was a very kind soul there who took me under his wing and helped me through it all and then refused any gratuity.

Dos Corazones
Dos Corazones

Off into the night I went, now legally. I pulled into the edge of a field next to the lights of a Pemex station. (Most gas stations in Mexico are government -owned Pemex, always with an OXXO junk food store attached. Immediately a vehicle pulled in to check me out.

Now what?” I wondered. A kind couple with a beautiful little daughter were making sure I wasn’t in trouble.

I later discovered that I could have done all of this paperwork at Guaymas, a port further south which I intend to visit anyway. It is just within what they call “The Hassle-Free Zone,”  (Yes, go ahead and laugh) an area immediately south of the border for day-trippers. Ah bueno!  That’s Mexico. This all gives me an excuse to come back for more, now that I know some of the local protocol.

Downtown San blas
Downtown San Blas

Exhausted, I slept well despite the din of heavy trucks at a nearby “Topé.” This is speed bump found everywhere on paved roads and highways. They are a various sizes, some are marked, some are not, some have signs warning they’re ahead except they’re not there. Then suddenly Topé! I have bent the hitch on my trailer from hitting them too hard.

There also plenty of potholes or baches as per the translation. Anyway, the trucks braking down the hill for the Topé use their engine brakes and the uphill-bound trucks roar as they shift up and away once past. It is a din that somehow is exceeded at around 04:30 by the roosters, everywhere. Somewhere at the edge of the field a radio began to play Mariachi music. I finally dragged myself out to the aroma of burning straw (also Mex-ubiquitous) and fresh cowshit (Ditto). As I hit the road a young fellow walking by on the road’s shoulder gave me several blasts of his trumpet.

"Quatro cervesas por favor!" A tribute to Lola, the opera singer.
“Quatro cervesas por favor!”
A tribute to Lola, the opera singer.
Old Rosario
Old Rosario

I drove south for a  few hours until I found a spot safe  to turn off and make some breakfast.Then the wind shifted. It turns out I was now downwind of a very ripely dead burro.Yet another aroma of the country but I finished with my “Breakfast Burro” and moved on.

Heuvos el Toro
Heuvos el Toro

Despite the usual graciousness of the average Mexican it seems to disappear when many get behind the driver’s wheel. There is nothing like Latino testosterone. I’m told it’s the same all the way to the end of Chile. Speed limits, all signs, center lines, double lines are meaningless. They’ll pass anywhere, even between meeting vehicles that at times already have a closing speed in excess of two hundred miles an hour!

Sinaloa farmland, smell the pesticide.
Sinaloa farmland,
smell the pesticide.

The amazing number of memorial crosses, sometimes in clusters of many, and the eternal roadside shrines, bear solemn testament to this lemming need for speed and recklessness, on the open road, and in town. I mused angrily at another near-miss today, that in a country where the popular religion still condemns birth control, perhaps this is nature’s way of trying to balance things. I witnessed one horrific accident today where a wild highway truck ran everyone off the road before knocking a young mother and child, in a new car, down the bank into a swamp. The driver promptly locked the brakes on the left shoulder, lept out and ran off into the bushes!

After passing a huge prison in Hermosillo where bus loads of women and children clogged the road, waiting to visit inmates, I understand.

Of course there are the copious old beaters lurching and belching along. Bicycles with huge loads of firewood being pedalled down the freeway, small motorcycles billowing  smoke, putt-putting along at the head of the parade, oblivious to everyone else. It all confounds my sensibilities and leaves me fully terrified. There’s little chance of falling asleep at the wheel as you drive for yourself and everyone behind, beside, and ahead. Last night, in the dark I came very close to hitting a man and woman in a wagon pulled by a desperately trotting mule as they crossed the freeway in front of me. A buggy whip flailed furiously as they headed for safety.

no matter how poor, the Mexicans appear to love their horses
no matter how poor, the Mexicans appear to love their horses

This brings me to some dos and don’ts for anyone contemplating a drive to Mexico.

I thought I had it all figured out because I’ve been in the country twice before. Until you have to drive and navigate, alone, you’ll never get it. Let me tell you that if you arrive by air you are in a gringo-oriented area. Many locals speak a bit of English and a lot of nearby Mexican reality is glossed over. I thought because I’ve rented cars and ridden on the local busses, knew a few words of Spanish, have a big smile and good street smarts, that I had it aced. No! Nada! Nunca! The hot spots like Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Matalan and so forth do very little to represent the real Mexico. If you have been down here on an all-inclusive vacation, I’m sorry, but you have not seen the country, at all.

Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way.

– If you don’t see yourself as a very seasoned and alert driver, it’s simple.

Don’t drive here!

If you do, use the main highways where you’ll pay an onion sack of pesos in toll fees, at random distances and in random amounts. If you use the secondary roads, or “caminos libre” it is all white knuckle, full-time driving.  No sight-seeing while driving. Shoulders seem to be considered a decadence, there are few places to pull over. Rare viewpoints make excellent garbage dumps. I’ve missed a huge number of fabulous photographs because I just couldn’t find a safe place to stop. That’s really frustrating.

Even if another vehicle has almost killed you, let it slide. Don’t use your index finger to signal your frustration, there is a reason the copious number of Policia are heavily armed. Avoid driving in the dark, vehicles without lights and roaming livestock can appear anywhere, even in town. I almost hit an elephant!  The circus was in town. I was the clown!

– Don’t expect anyone out of gringo-town to speak even a little English. I find some locals are even a bit contemptuous of my inability to speak their language well. A big smile, a few polite words and phrases go a long way, especially if you demonstrate an interest in learning the language. They’ll really try to be helpful. However, I doubt that even Spanish language immersion classes can prepare you for the machine gun staccato that the locals speak.

– Don’t expect American dollars, or credit cards to be accepted outside of tourist areas. Mucho pesos amigo! I filled up with gas at one Pemex and offered a credit card that bounced. The card was fine, but the machine didn’t like it. I didn’t have enough cash and the attendant immediately began shouting “La policia, la policia.”  A backup card did the trick. In the next town, Navolato, I see the welcome sign of Scotiabank, which is entirely a Mexican institution here. It would not accept my debit card. The ATMs at Banamex were both out of service. I was told there were no more banks. I was very happy to discover an HSBC which liked my card. I hit an all-time low realizing the depth of my situation. No money for gas, for toll fees, or for police mordida, should that rear its ugly head. What if the truck breaks down? What if, what if? Onwards and southward, all’s well that ends. Don’t assume Mexico is dirt-cheap. In places some things are, but everywhere that the gringo has intruded, prices are rising.

– Treat everyone with respect, even when some are being pushy and rude. Most are just trying to feed their kids today. One of the great things about Latinos, is that no matter what their station in life, they have a strong sense of dignity. Many of the dirt-poor peasants you meet, living in apparent abject misery, can look you in the eye and smile. I was amused yesterday to see an old man, clad in filthy rags, whip out his mobile phone and begin texting. The young, in black cars with dark windows have an arrogant aggressiveness. Always remember that you’re in their patch. Bad manners are something we have taught them.

-Don’t think motels are motels to our gringo sensibilities. I didn’t understand why they were all walled enclaves with each unit having a garage with a closing door. Men appear from the darkness to explain that the units were rented by six hour increments and were quite puzzled about why I needed a room with a telephone and why I was alone. Then I got it!

– Don’t carry raw eggs in you food box or cooler, they won’t survive the topés and the baches.

Hi mom, I'm home!
Hi mom,
I’m home!

It has been marvellous watching the scenery evolve as I drove southward from desert scrub land to very rich, vast volcanic farmland. I made a daily meal today in a gravel pit and as crop dusters droned and buzzed in the distance. At times the choking smell of pesticide was overwhelming during the day’s drive. Slowly the vegetation has changed from arid desert to swamp and then to lush, sub-tropical jungle. Finally you are driving along sections of beach and see pelicans skimming the waves.

Lunch
Lunch

I spent my second night in Mexico camped on the beach at San Blas with the music of surf on sand soothing my weary soul. In the morning a glorious sunrise broke over the mountains behind me. An old man sat himself facing the sea and began to sing. He was immersed in passion, gestured freely and wiped tears from his eyes. I wondered to whom or what he sang. A bank of fog lingers for a while then is gone. Church bells, flat yet resonant, toll in the distance. Roosters crow and burros bray. Another ancient hombre comes to feed the gulls. He expressed wonder at my little trailer, delight to learn that I am Canadian. I am terrified that this is a dream and I will wake up.

San Blas is a delightful harbour and fishing town. The church, still standing, was open for business in 1749. Longfellow visited here! An excerpt from his poem about the bells of San Blas is mounted above the town square. It is shivery stuff for me. There is some sort of festival going on. I soon learn that there is always some sort of festival going on. If you’ve missed one, wait a few days, there’ll be another. I think it is why this Catholic country has invented so many saints. Each one deserves a holiday.

A local American ex-pat has lived here for twenty years. He briefed me on things to expect and not expect. He told a story about when the town was smitten with Dengue Fever and how tank trucks drove the streets spraying copious amounts of chemical antidote. The children ran beside the trucks, cavorting in the spray!

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I drive on through the states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit and finally Jalisco. Three long days south of the border I arrive in an unmapped fishing village where friends winter.

I have survived the drive. The roads and drivers deserve at least a full blog. I have survived, by nan o-seconds, a horrific accident and I cannot estimate how many crosses mark fatal accidents throughout the country. They are everywhere.

Ant's nest
Ant’s nest
Cocodilo 12 feet long
Cocodilo
12 feet long

The laws here require seat belts and helmets on motorcycles, for drivers. That means that the eighteen men in the back of a careening pickup truck which has justed passed you on a double-line, with more standing on the bumper, are fine. It means that a family of four, riding a scooter are fine so long as dad is the only one wearing a helmet. A police car with one headlight zooming around a curve on a hill, halfway over the center line is fine.  I muse that in a country where the prime religion condemns birth control’ perhaps this is nature’s way of trying to balance things. I have abandoned a life of bizarre incongruity for new incongruous dramas here. I have no problem staying awake while driving here. Egret

On the main highways there are government toll stations at random distances which charge random amounts. The tolls prove to equal an amount about half of my fuel costs. Finally despairing at paying and paying, I abandon the main highways for the secondary routes, or “Libres”. It is where you find the real Mexico and pass through hundreds of unmapped villages. Rounding a curve I hit the brakes as I enter Quente Ellano. The road is blocked with youngsters on burros and caballeros and the whole damned village celebrating something that is entirely obscure to me but it is wonderful.

Festival, Quente Ellano
Festival, Quente Ellano

I drive on and on and on.  The sights, sounds and smells of Mexico inundate my brain and I am in love with this place. Yes there are many negatives but the local philosophies will help me overcome. That, in part, is why I came here.

Roadblock in Quente Ellano
Roadblock in Quente Ellano

Where I am now camped on the beach the sun rises on another cloudless day. Condensation drips from the canopy of palm branches over my head. Coconuts threaten to fall. Acrid smoke from a copra cook fire fills the air as a local woman begins to make salsa from bushels of green tomatoes. Exotic birds dart and chatter. Gringo joggers on the beach pass Mexicans standing waist-deep in the surf, fishing.  Pelicans crash into the sea, fishing. Beyond, swimmers parallel the beach. Beyond that, whales often cavort and leap clear of the water. Their landings are heard as deep booms. On the horizon, pangas work the opean ocean. I am at a loss to describe the feeling of this place. It has vastly exceeded my expectations. I never want to leave.

A partridge in a palm tree
A partridge in a palm tree

Future blogs from Mexico will have a minimum of text and be mostly pictorial. For the moment I end with a quote from a neighbour. He explains the difference between gringos and Mexicans.

Yes, Really!
Yes, Really!

We live in a state of doing. These people live in a state of being.” He had been paddle-boarding out on the bay when a grey whale breached close to him. My friend said, “Yeah, I felt the wave but I didn’t see the whale. I was too busy doing.”

Wake up and taste the tequila!
Wake up and taste the tequila!

Cow Pie On My Mud Flaps

 cows in the sunset

Cows in the misty sunset

Another long day on the road ends in a motel in Alamo, Nevada. After last night’s freeze-out I need a hot shower and am dead-tired, in part, from not sleeping well last night. So I’m cheating, but I had only one snacky sort of meal all day.  I can report a heightened sense of smell and taste. My jeans want to fall down even more easily than usual! It was a grand day despite a wrong turn that cost me an hour’s worth of time and fuel to sort myself out. So much for Fred the old fly boy and his compass! 

I thought I have known a few "Areseholes of the earth." Maybe this is the real one!?
I thought I have known a few
“Areseholes of the earth.”
Maybe this is the real one!?

I’ll post lots of photos with this blog but it is impossible to describe or photograph the vastness and beauty of these high, wide valleys. Some winding passes had summits over 7600′ and the little old truck complained about the thin air. Mining is prevalent throughout the state is seems, with some mountains apparently being ground to dust. This is offset by sprawling range land everywhere. Occasionally you come on the ruins of a stone ranch house and it seems sad to see someone’s hard work and love abandoned. Modern technology has little respect for its foundations it seems.

The way we were
The way we were

For part of the day my route followed the old Pony Express trail and I wondered at how quickly this vast region has been conquered with a web of highways, fences, railways and mines. A sign proclaimed this to be the loneliest drive in America. That suited me fine.  I felt an urge to ride off over a ridge on a horse through the sage brush and stunted junipers. There was a time very long ago when I worked on a ranch and had a horse and was in lust with the girl on the ranch down the road. But this! My cowboy days didn’t resemble anything in the movies, not like the country around me now! People really do say “Howdy” here. Git along now. I got me cow pie on my fenders and great big tires to spread it all around. Whoo haw.Liitle house, big lawn

I find myself trying to see the whole country as the indigenous people must have.  What a rich homeland!  Theirs was certainly not the utopic existence some idealize, but it must have been incomprehensible to be invaded by an alien race who wanted everything for themselves, taking more than their immediate needs, dividing and owning and destroying wantonly. I saw a herd of pronghorn antelope grazing on the wild plains today. I imagined the days when their numbers, as well as deer, elk and bison were abundant and almost became teary thinking about what we have done in our headlong rush to self-destruct.

The last tree
The last tree

Speaking of self-destruction the lonely roads are in beautiful condition, the speed limits are often up to 75 mph which of course are well exceeded.  My little truck and trailer chug along at 55, 35 on some of the high steep grades. Heavy trucks rocket past me and leave me feeling as vulnerable as the squashed rabbits on the pavement. There are plenty of crosses planted along the shoulders of the road; I suspect many folks probably fall asleep at the wheel as they hurtle along the long straight miles. Certainly, many people wave from their vehicle when we meet on the road. It is that lonely. I’ve often spent more than an hour without meeting anyone as I drive along.

The long way
The long way

I turned into this motel after I could begin see the vivid red glow of Las Vegas against the high clouds. It’s still a little over one hundred miles away! It looked biblical.  ‘A Tale of Sin City, sod ’em and go for more!’ I have no interest in seeing the place. Dreading having to pass through on my to visit friends in Arizona, I have found a sneaky little route around the place which takes me right by Hoover Dam. If this blog gets posted, I made it through.

Hoover Damn! What incredible engineering.
Hoover Damn!
What incredible engineering.

On a final note of bizarre desert contrasts, the owner of this motel calls himself an ‘Aviation Archeologist’. With all of the military airbases and test facilities out

No comment!
No comment!

there in the vast desert, there are crashes. These guys go off into the outback to find bits of the wrecks. I held some interesting airplane bits in my hand tonight including a turbine

Find the sheep
Find the sheep

blade from the famous crash of an S-71 Black hawk. These past days leave me feeling a bit alien.

It seems all roads lead to downtown Las Vegas, like it or not. Fortunately the signs are good and soon I’d swirled through the spaghetti network of overpasses and swoop-de-loops and found myself heading toward Hoover Dam. I was stunned to realize that monster casinos go on and on and on. I saw a church that at first appeared me to be a casino with a hundred acre parking lot but then the god-botherer name was displayed in a monstrous neon sign. Las Vegas doesn’t do much for me but it draws folks from all over the planet. Hoover Dam is a project that makes you want to call it DAMN! It is an incredible piece of technology, especially considering the completion date of 1935. I was surprised to have to pass through a security inspection, but then paranoia is far reaching and Al Queda would, I’m sure, love to have this place on their resume.

I caused a minor distraction when I noticed a bighorn mountain sheep ewe who had managed to get herself trapped below a high cutbank. No one believed me at first because the critter blending so well with the rocks, but eventually my credibility was confirmed and the wildlife department was summoned.

I drove on southward and through the town of Bull Head City. I thought it would be another whistle stop but it proved to be yet another mega center of gambling temples and huge facades. It is located on the Colorado River and I made my way south through an endless strip mall that is filled with geezers. Tens of thousands of them. They teeter along on their Harleys, stumble over the crosswalks, lurch along in their vehicles which include everything from huge motorhomes, ATVs and bicycles to fabulous hot rods. They’ve all come to expire in the warmth and everywhere, businesses cater to them. Geriatrics is a massive industry. Scooter shops, hearing aid stores, clinics, hospitals and everything geriatric within imagination is part of the shameless enterprise. Trailer parks and Rv resorts of massive acreage are endless. It is bizarre. Even out of town in the open desert, “Dry” Rv parks cover massive expanses of raw desert. I stopped briefly in Lake Havasu to confirm the madness of being where the London Bridge was shipped and reassembled in the mid-sixties. It was intended to be the navel of a new city and it worked. The American seem to be the masters of the incongruous and bizarre.

Falling down...falling down.
Falling down…falling down.

Interestingly, the bridge is sagging between its footings. This is the actual bridge that the nursery rhyme was written about and truly it is “Falling down, falling down!”

Eventually I arrived in Parker, another community crowding the banks of the Colorado River.

I made a surprise visit to some friends from Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, who live there in an Rv Resort for a good part of each winter. It was a wonderful surprise but unfortunately the miserable jerk who owns the place began pounding on my trailer at 06:30 and evicted me with no uncertain threats. Despite my intention to pay him, he didn’t want any of “Your Kind” in his “Private resort.” Walmart is apparently the navel of the Rvers world and you can park there welcomely, “Jest go on in and buy something.” I left and posted my last blog this morning from the Parker MacDonalds.

I drove on south, stopping on the roadside to put on shorts and a summer shirt as the day warmed. Taking my camera across the road to record the ever-amazing vista I promptly fell through the ground into an old gopher colony’s burrows. Suddenly I realized how alien I am in this country. At home, with just a pocket knife and a lighter, I came survive in the woods. Here I’d be doomed without a lot of good local knowledge. I want to learn, it fascinates me.

The Rig
The Rig

In Quartzsite I missed my turn because the place is overwhelmed with Rvs and motorhomes. In January, there is a massive orgy of Rvers, a trade fair, swap meet and general love-in for those who follow the Rv life style. The intersection where I needed to turn was clogged, heaped and snarled with motor homes, all towing something, wanting to go in opposite directions at the same time. It was the most amazing traffic jam I’ve ever seen and all at a quaint little cross roads. I finally managed to escape dead ahead and ended up driving to Yuma through a beautiful piece of country. Unfortunately a large piece of it is reserved as a proving ground for the US military and I wondered what covert skulduggery goes on out there in the cactus forest. Tonight I’m writing in Ajo Arizona a few miles above the Mexican border. The country is beautiful and by what and who I see here, it may as well be Mexico.

Beyond Yuma
Beyond Yuma

I must mention the clearly massive effort by the Americans to defend their border. There are checkpoints, helicopters and patrol vehicles in many places. It is interesting to note that the

Yuma Pastoral
Yuma Pastoral

Agricultural industry and other labour intensive industries in the US southwest would collapse without the sweat of the Mexican immigrant. The vast farms around Yuma are all supported by Mexican workers who clearly live in worker’s compounds like ants. Old buses, painted white and towing plastic outhouses on trailers were parked everywhere the fields were being worked. There may be billions of dollars of Rvs and other hi-tech toys in this part of the world, but some things have a long way to go yet. Chatting with locals, yes more geriatrics, who run the Rv park where, where I stopped last night was an affirmation of oxymoronic values. They hate Obama, are sincerely born-again, but thank you Jesus, “I don’t go anywhere without my pistol. It makes me feel better.”

Another neighbour here told me about his interest in finding wrecked aircraft in the desert.b the aftermath of WWII there is a plethora of crash sites throughout this region. It is, I’ve learned, a popular hobby. He described finding human skeletal remains. He claimed the corpse had Mexican identification.  I was again admonished not go out into the desert alone.

Just to the north, I passed through the Barry Goldwater Military Gunnery Range, of course it’s absolutely massive, where fighter jets rumble and scream all day and night. It’s a shock to have them pass fifty feet overhead with a thunderous roar. In the tent trailer next door, four young men, working on a job nearby, watched TV until they fell asleep, snoring loudly. The same program went on and on. It was all about guns, ammo and shooting. The dialogue was interspersed with the same damned bango tune. I used to like banjos. The boys are off to work now, the TV is still on. Now it’s endless game shows while the fighter jets practice with their ugly thunder overhead. The din never ends.

Beneath the thunder of fighter jets, doves cooed softly in the sunset.
Beneath the thunder of fighter jets,
doves cooed softly in the sunset.

In God we trust.” Now pass the rocket launcher. I’m gone to Mexico.

Posted in Ajo, Arizona

Fred Goes For A Drive

Fat Man In A Tiny Trailer       Part 1

This series, Fat Man In A Tiny Trailer, is the first in a series about my motor trip to Mexico and back home to Vancouver Island. I’m incorporating it into ‘Seafire Chronicles’ as part of that journey.

Orf to see the wizard
Orf to see the wizard
The little guy brings up the rear at the Coho Ferry terminal
The little guy brings up the rear at the Coho Ferry terminal

Aboard the M.V. Coho, Victoria is in the rear-view mirror, Port Angeles ahead. The journey has begun!  I’m feeling utterly ragged, old, obese, tired, even in some pain as I sit at this lap top computer blinking in the light of the sun setting over the Strait Of Juan De Fuca. There’s a fabulous sun dog hanging over Race Rocks. It’s twin lays to the south over the Olympic Mountains.  The seas are calm with a light Easterly wind and no swell. Never leave port on a Friday it is said, but I feel optimistic.

I love this old boat and its crew’s informal competence. The Coho runs as a successful example of free enterprise and should embarrass the hell out of British Columbia Ferry Corporation with its incessant whining and fare-raising. But…I’m leaving that all behind for a few weeks and hope I come back far better able to cope with life in the fat lane. (NO, not a typo!)

It’s been another day in the life of Fred, driving down to Victoria from Ladysmith, touring auto-wreckers along the way to find parts for the old truck I’m driving to Mexico. I actually found what I needed in only five stops, had a lovely visit with my daughter in Victoria, left Jack the dog in her care and I’m off.

God knows I can’t afford to do this, I already live the role of poor starving sailor-writer all too well but I also know that I can’t afford not to go. I can’t see anything clearly so I’m off to walk in the desert, literally and figuratively. It’s time for a pilgrimage. Thanks to a very supportive spouse and other good friends, I will see this through.

My personality flaws have me digging a grave with my fork. The fatter I become physically and mentally, the lower I feel and so even more comfort eating occurs. It is a deadly spiral. I’m two-hundred fifty-four pounds and with a surgically repaired heart it is overdue that I come to terms with living a whole life. I can plead to be a compulsive artistic type but I also know most artists aren’t recognized until they’re dead so better anonymous than stiff and famous. This will be a travel-log, more spiritual and esoteric than geographic but I hope its going to be as much fun as painful epiphany. 

I’m orf to see the wizard!

I’m armed with a down-loaded e-book call ‘FatLoser!’ It is about self discipline and mental toughness, explaining in blunt terms how to regain control of your life. It has grabbed my attention. I’ll share some quotes from time to time.

So rule one: Get used to feeling hungry and living with it.

I once smoked like a smelter and was only able to quit when I resolved to discipline myself to live with my compulsion. I knew that to stop smoking did not mean I would quit craving them for the while. So, a change of life style, a change of habits. Like so many in our culture I eat for every reason except to fuel a healthy mind, body and lifestyle.

Far out man!
Far out man!

This morning I’m writing in a tiny cafe on the Washington coast south of Forks. After buying a few groceries there last night I think it should be re-named ‘Knives.’ Wow! The store is the only game in town and bloody-well knows it. Their prices are

The seagull crossed the T
The seagull crossed the T

rapacious. I spent the first night in the trailer parked in a gravel pit under the waining gibbous moon. Rolls of fog drifted by, freezing in glittering beauty everywhere. All around me was the burned ruin of a raped forest and in the distance, I could hear the surf roaring on the beach. It was eerie. I managed to bend the truck’s back bumper against the trailer tool box while turning around on a muddy logging road and the trailer wiring needs some attention. But I’m taking the glitches as a good omen. I buy coffee and a small breakfast of biscuits and gravy, the sun is shining. I won’t eat for the rest of the day. The pavement where I’ll work on the ‘Rig’ is dry. Life is good.

Yeah Really.... A drift woody!
Yeah Really….
A drift woody!
As named by Lewis and Clark
As named by Lewis and Clark
Astoria Oregon and the bridge across the Colombia River as seen from Dismal Nitch, WA
Astoria Oregon and the bridge across the Columbia River as seen from Dismal Nitch, WA

In Astoria I stopped for a day to visit with my good friends Dave and Renee who live aboard their grand ketch ‘Aquarius’. I’ve met these folks through the Fisher Poet’s Gathering. I helped them in the early stages of their purchase when the boat was up in Cowichan Bay. I didn’t do much except to do a quick survey and help tie the boat deal up until they were able to close it for themselves. Mine was a tiny part but it sure is a treat to see how a plan can go right. The boat clearly is loved and responding nicely to their attention. It is very homey now and the two enthuse about the day they can cut her loose and sail South.

Astoria dawn
Astoria dawn

I then drove on down the coast as far as Newport, Oregon. The day was bright and warm and sunny. At times the road wound along a cliff-edge hundreds of feet above the pounding surf, where sea-spray clouded windshields and kept the road wet. Even though it is January the beaches

This marina is FULL!
This marina is FULL!

were filled with people. Happy children flew their kites and dogs pattered about happily. I acquired an indelible image that day while picking up a few supplies in a Fred Meyers store. This is a monster retailer that sells ever thang under one roof. I didn’t find the coffins and the used aircraft section, but I’ll bet they’re there. Some food isles ended near the sporting goods and there, next to the potato chips, I saw a father bending over with his very young daughter admiring the handgun display. Say no more!

Haystack rock, Oregon coast
Haystack rock, Oregon coast

Next morning the sky was clear and warm. I rose at five AM and headed inland to Bend. After the snowy cold of the mountain pass and the tourist town charm of Sisters the central and eastern Oregon Badlands are dramatically different from the coast. I felt a very long way from the sea and wanted to turn back. Eventually I turned south from the dying town of Burns into an ever expanding panorama of semi-desert high plains, volcanic rocks, cones and ridges and finally entered Nevada in the dark at a ghostly place called Denio. IMG_0105

A ghost from days past, when men were men, and nobody knew what a computer was
A ghost from days past, when men were men, and nobody knew what a computer was

It had been a T-shirt warm kind of day, but I awoke in my little trailer to find frost on my blankets and door windows, my water bottle was almost frozen solid.  I learned that the temperature was ten degrees Fahrenheit. Oh yeah, right, it’s still January!

Choose your ride
Choose your ride

Now writing in a dreary cafe in a deary place called Valmy Nevada, I’m catching up on my notes and taking another back road south from Battle Mountain. My diet is supported with a scarcity of restaurants in

Sport model, Sisters, OR
Sport model,
Sisters, OR

this big country with its many very big people.  I don’t know what they eat but WOW! My Fat Loser manual points our how libido and physical attraction diminish with the onset of obesity. Perhaps that’ll be nature’s way of thinning us porkers out!  It has occurred to me that a good analogy is how poorly a gasoline engine runs when it is out of adjustment and trying to burn a fuel mixture that is too rich. It just doesn’t operate smoothly, uses too much fuel, and is slowly self-destructing while offering diminished allround performance; just like a human!

Perhaps it’s the old pilot in me, but I’ve learn quickly to top up with gasoline at every chance in this big country. Signs promising ‘Next gas 127 miles’ may well be proven liar when and if you finally get there. I’ve filled a Jerry can with fuel that I carry in the back. Signs in fact are vague, sunburned blank, missing, or badly shot up. I’m glad I have a compass and altimeter which have actually proven their value, as well as the off-road floodlights I installed on the truck. Jackrabbits, deer, and antelope bound out of the dark vastness immediately in front of you.

IMG_0113

After studying maps and Google Earth I thought I had a handle on my route but nothing prepared me for the vastness and hugeness of this country. It is stunning. I have driven past a hundred fantastic photographs in my determination to get to Mexico as soon as possible. My bladder and aching bottom determine where the next photo opportunity arises. Maybe this will be known as the squirt and click trip.

The evenings are already clearly longer with the southing I’ve made but oh God how I miss the ocean! Sea of Cortez or bust! 

Posted in Parker, Arizona

Changing Pace

Well, it’s just another dreary winter night aboard ‘Seafire’.The wind and rain and darkness are a constant this time of year but I’m happy enough with what we have in comparison to the rest of Canada. Does anyone have a cure for webs between the toes? Hopefully, the little trailer is on the move within a few days and webegone for a few weeks. The blogs will continue from where they may.

A change of pace, a change of waters. This is the tideline during spring freshet in the Strait of Georgia showing the outflow from the Fraser River....here's to spring!
A change of pace, a change of waters. This is the tideline during spring freshet in the Strait of Georgia showing the outflow from the Fraser River….here’s to spring!

It has been occurring to me that ‘Seafire Chronicles’ is evolving from being merely a journal of the ‘Musings and mishaps of the crew’  to a description of a spiritual evolution of myself and some of my fellows. That, in large part, is what sailing is about but as I evolve I realize a growing interest in minimalism and movement away from the shallow waters of materialism. No worries, we’re still on track. (In my last blog, I mentioned a fascination with third world people and lifestyles. Let me recommend a NFB documentary I saw on Netflix called ‘The Chocolate Farmer’)

 I received an e-mail today from a friend who was celebrating an anniversary after realizing the cruel betrayal of a partner and then a horrible ordeal with health problems. This friend is a fighter and a survivor who, remarkably, is grateful for the better person they have become through their experience. I want to share a few lines from that e-mail. “So we love, we learn. I believe that our “stories” are always about ourselves, and the players within those stories are there for our own growth. There is no blame, no right or wrong, just discovery and truth. Finding our own truth is the key to serenity.”

 To parallel this dear friend’s inspiring words here’s a quote from Jean Gau, a solo mariner who sailed a very slow boat around the world twice. “They understood nothing of the great dream which charmed the seas of his passage since it was not the same lie taught in their village.”

 I have become convinced that you are probably doing something right when it does not agree with the status quo. If you are feeling ‘normal’ and generally fitting in, something is very wrong. Maybe I’m just a contrarian, but I have learned it is best to try to drink upstream of the herd. Popular opinion shouldn’t affect the course of your life.

Those people I admire most are able to stand out from the crowd and are not deterred from their goals by the contrary ideas of others. I am dead envious of folks who have found a partner with whom they have joined their lives and created a positive energy far in excess of their individual sums. What things they achieve! I’ve introduced my readers to a few of those couples. Recently I received an e-mail from another of these ‘Super’couples.

 A lady who was my Spanish teacher here on Gabriola Island moved home to her native Colombia with her partner. In two years Laura (Pronounced Loura, not Loro, which is Spanish for parrot. A bit of humour for a language teacher) and her partner Kelly, have cleared some land, started a small coffee plantation, built a house and started an English/Spanish language school. They are in Soccoro located in the foothills of the Colombian mountains where the climate is moderate, the soil is rich and the Eco-tourism industry is beginning to boom. The political climate has stabilized there. Cartegena is described by many as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and you can now feel at ease visiting there. If you are inclined to do something off the track and want a real Spanish immersion situation let me hook you up with Laura and Kelly. Most of the photos in this blog are courtesy of them.

Laura and Kelley have built this house in the mountains of Colombia...note the absence of insulation!
Laura and Kelley have built this house in the mountains of Colombia…note the absence of insulation!
L'escuela
L’escuela
A little piece of Canada in the Colombian Foothills
A little piece of Canada in the Colombian Foothills
Laura harvesting oranges on their finca (farm)
Laura harvesting oranges on their finca (farm)
Kelly and friend looking good at the end of the day
Kelly and friend looking good at the end of the day
YES. it works daily as the prime farm vehicle.That is really a 1966 F-100 truck. clearly, there's no road salt used there
YES. It works daily as the prime farm vehicle.That is really a 1966 F-100 truck. Clearly, there’s no road salt used there.
Doggy guards part of the coffee harvest
Doggy guards part of the coffee harvest

The drawing at the end of this blog is something I adapted with the intent of it being the logo for this boat when I was about to register it in Canada as the ‘Brass Monkey’. While in that process I learned that the name ‘Seafire’ which I had bestowed on a previous vessel had serendipitously become available. I took that as an omen. That’s why you’re reading the ‘Seafire Chronicles’ instead of ‘Tales Of The Brass Monkey’. I’m thinking of bestowing the drawing and the name ‘Monkey Business’ on my little teardrop trailer. Wotcha think?

Monkey business
Monkey business

THE WORLD OF Tiny

I swear I have been passed on the road by a shiny Hummer with a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker. All this enviro-speak is very trendy but when if comes to giving up personal comfort, well yeah but…!  I saw a photo recently of a fat man jovially sporting a T-shirt saying “I beat anorexia.” Yeah, it’s funny, but underscores how we love our extremes. We want to drive 300hp SUV’s and also get fifty miles a gallon. People’s vehicles are bigger than ever and obesity is worn by many as a badge of well-being but I’m just not that interested in global stupidity, I’ve got a full-time job dealing with my own.

A growing number of folks are taking pride in living fully by enjoying a fresh awareness of how little they need. Perhaps in result of recent economic events, it is a refreshing turn away from our perversion for lemming gluttony.  After living in a boat for years I can claim the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. Not much room for clutter here and if something aboard hasn’t proven its worth within a year; it’s gone. Use it or lose it! Forty-one feet up one side of the boat and the same down the other gives me eighty-two feet of untaxed waterfront property. I can change the view and the neighbours any time I want and, Yeehaw! You won’t find a damned lawnmower anywhere in this boat. Yes, I’d love to have a workshop aboard and I can think of other essential amenities but soon enough I could could end up with an aircraft carrier and still be wanting a little more room. Some of my happiest memories have to do with canoes and rowboats and backpacks; enough said.

Home on the bay. How much do we really need?
Home on the bay. How much do we really need?

I recently bought a teardrop trailer and that has led me onto some interesting paths of research. There is a quiet trend toward downsizing homes,  vehicles and RVs with folks taking pride in learning how little they realty need. That path helped me discover the tinyhouseblog.com which is a site dedicated to compiling stories about people who are discovering the joy of living in as small a space as possible. Boats, trailers, gypsy wagons, yurts and small buildings are all there. Not only are many designing, building and living in sensible homes, they are joyfully discovering the freedom of shedding the burden of being owned by mountains of “Stuff”. It is a trend which I hope gains momentum and flies in the face of consumerism. That is an insidious religion we have all been programmed to embrace. We worship in the malls and plazas that are our mosques and cathedrals.  Blind consumerism is as evil and deadly as any other fundamentalist dogma.

A matter of choice
A matter of choice
Floathouse community in Cowichan Bay
Floathouse community in Cowichan Bay

For years I have noted some folks stepping backward when they learn that I live in a boat. I can almost hear the thought at times, ‘He’s one of those!” That’s fine, your waters are too shallow for me; I doubt we’d have become friends anyway. This old boat hippy does however firmly believe that the price of freedom is responsibility.  No-one has the right to impose their personal preferences on others. I maintain my boat so that it is always tidy and seaworthy and self-sufficient at all times. There’s no point expecting respect from others unless you demonstrate you have some for yourself. I’m also learning that perhaps it is better to do big things in a small boat instead of little things in big boats. It is too easy to lose sight of the plan if you starting getting bigger boats and acquiring more stuff. Soon you are buried in a hole where your possessions own you. I know all too well! Not so long ago entire families went off to see some, or all, of the world in boats that were seldom over 30′ in length. Now the average cruising couple often has a boat at least 40′ long. Interestingly, each day’s dead reckoning is still calculated at a speed of 5 knots.

Home is where the boat is...41' of waterfront on either side!
Home is where the boat is…41′ of waterfront on either side!

Minimalism offers the joy of being able to go now. The encumbrance of stuff and where to keep it all, and the associated debt, is gone. I have wasted a huge portion of my life preparing boat after boat. Many of those have gone on to sail away over the horizon with a new owner. The first boat I owned could have taken me anywhere. I can’t openly admit any of the excuses which have kept me tied to the dock and which I thought were so important at the time.

When in fear or in doubt, raise your sails and bugger off out”…Tristan Jones

Emotional depression is an epidemic in the Western World. Sadly it is, I believe, a symptom of a huge malady relating directly to our consumerist culture. We all feel inadequate if we don’t look like this, smell like that, drive one of those, live in a faux castle and surround ourselves with other similarly deluded souls who desperately try to maintain a facade of bottomless wealth. Of course we can never catch up to those expectations imposed on us by a lifetime of spin doctors and marketing wizards.  So very many of us become bogged in a swamp of despair because we have been convinced that we just don’t measure up.  Rising crime rates, fiscally foundering governments? It is only an emulation of the mindset so prevalent in our own homes. If you have no self-love, it it is damned hard to respect and love anyone else. If the nation’s individual personal finances teeter on bankruptcy, how is it surprising that we have a national deficit?

Cheung Chow Harbour, at least three generations seemed to live on each boat and... half the fleet was out fishing at any given time!
Cheung Chau Harbour,
At least three generations seemed to live on each boat and… half the fleet was out fishing at any given time!

I’m bending toward people who live in so-called third world conditions. There is a lot to learn from them. For all they don’t have, sometimes not even shoes, they have dignity and self-esteem. They can look you in the eye and actually smile. They understand, because they live so close to the wire, that you only have the moment. They are not emotionally constipated by worrying about investment portfolios or many of the problems of the future. They have not bought the myth that they are somehow immortal. If they can feed their children today that is their best expectation; feeding them tomorrow, a bonus. Most of the world lives like this; we are the privileged few. If only we could remain aware of that single fact as our middle-class erodes.

People who are not busy trying to build a personal empire have a lot more time and mental space to be philosophically and spiritually aware.  A documentary I recently enjoyed, ‘La Camioneta’, is about the new life of a recycled American school bus as it moves from an auction yard in the US to a new home in Guatemala. A man there, who has a small business refurbishing buses for local commercial use is asked why he decided on his particular career. I paraphrase his reply in part, “The thing about a bus is, even if the passengers are not all friends, it is a place where for a little while, people share their journey through life together.” That thought is profound. Consider that the whole planet is a place where we must share our journey through life. There is so much we can do to make our journey together better for each other.

I woke up yesterday morning in a new year. The world was still here and so am I, not even hung-over or under. Again today, it is the usual drippy, grey dawn where thick darkness gradually gives way to medium gloom. By mid-afternoon the day will slowly slink back into a palpable darkness which invades your being a bit more with each breath.

So in this new year I have a great boat and a little trailer with which I intend to use the remains of my little existence to go unravel some of life’s mystery and rediscover basics we have left behind. (“Something to do, someone to love, something to look forward to while doing no harm”) No matter how much philosophizing and analyzing one does, a balanced life can’t be refined better than that…. in my opinion.
My little odyssey will be described in part through this blog.  In some small way, I hope my discoveries help enlighten others. The journey began long ago. Soon I must shut-up about “Gonnado” and actually leave town. The blogs will continue. Bring some good boots along if you like but, no bigger than you need.

Country road

By the way, Happy New Year!

HA BUMHUG!

Putting the coffee on, a sunrise view through the galley portlight
Putting the coffee on, a sunrise view through the galley portlight

I’m determined to squeeze out one more blog this year. It’ll be blog twenty-four, an average of one every two weeks. There’s been an excess of introspection and navel-gazing and I’d love to end this year on a cheery, warm and fuzzy note. Despite the blahs about lack of cash and daylight and warmth there has to something positive and uplifting to share on this dark night at the end of the dock. It’s late, I’m yawning, my toddy mug is empty and I’m reluctant about the inevitable clamber into the large cold empty bunk up front in the boat. Doggy, and his warm snuggly self, stayed in town this week where it’s warm and dry.

My bunk buddy, warm, dry and safe, the boat gently rocking, dock lines squeaking gently
My bunk buddy, warm, dry and safe, the boat softly rocking, dock lines squeaking gently

Last Friday I stood in a cashier’s lineup in a Chapters store. A small wide-eyed boy just ahead of me looked up to his mother and asked with deepest longing how many days there were until Christmas. I looked at him and smiled despite being the crotchety old curmudgeon I seem to have become, especially at Christmas. In that brief moment I was the saddest, loneliest man on earth.  How had I become so insensitive to the mysteries and joy and warmth that come at the coldest, darkest time of the year? I had become Scrooge!

Jack Frost2
Jack Frost, the joy of Christmas past

Time swirled back fifty-eight years to the first Christmas I can recall. I was three years old. Suddenly that wide-eyed look was mine, from inside. I won’t burden anyone with fruit cake memories but one of the two things that are indelible above all was the incredible intensity of the Christmas season. Maybe it’s because it began then in Mid-December, instead of August like it seems to now, but here I go again being jaded and cynical. The other thing I recall about Christmas was the wonderful smell of it all. Evergreen fragrance, snow, woodsmoke and kitchen aromas, wet wool mittens, wintery thick car exhaust, the hayloft, the livestock and the barnyard were among all those rich and real and delicious aromas. I remember how slowly time dragged by loaded  with the weight of anticipation. I compare that infinity to the incredible passing blur of this present year and the one ahead which seems a package already open and partially spent.

Of course we know Christmas is about a lot of things among which is innocent child-like wonder and belief in magic. All year-long my blogs have been, essentially, about the energy to set and achieve goals which grow from sheer faith and willpower. It occurs to me that it is the same thing as Christmas in esoteric, adult terms. Believing in something before you can see it, perhaps even in spite of the negatives thrown at you by other people and events, is what sets humans apart from the other critters. We can dream and we can work toward our ambition. We can also convince ourselves of impossibility and so do nothing. But…“Can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishing.”

Suddenly, as I write, I recall a fellow salesman back in a time when I sold logging equipment.  Old Tom was in his late seventies then and absolutely loved every aspect of the logging industry. He was always a tough act to follow. One night, (Remember the spotted owl years?) we were in an Oregon tavern entertaining a group of our clients. Tom regaled them with tales of his early days in the woods. As the evening wore on, one smart ass asked him if he could describe the best sex he’d ever had. Without missing a beat, Tom replied, “Dunno, haven’t had it yet!” Tom’s logger humour reflected his approach to life. Every day was a fresh adventure and he had more plans than he could ever achieve in two lifetimes. He inspired everyone who knew him and probably still does. Setbacks were merely challenges to keep things interesting.

‘En Theos’ is ancient Greek for ‘God within’. (My spell checker suggests “In thermos!”)

So that is what I wish for everyone, “Enthusiasm”. May our new year be filled with it as well as joy, peace, confidence, fulfilment. And this time next year, may we all meet in a palm-fringed anchorage where the water is clear and warm, the beer is clear and cold, laughter fills the air while the best will be yet to come.

Holly Flower
Holly Flower

Happy Christmas Everyone.

Polar Express2
Christmas Express, a long way from that tropical lagoon

 

HOME ALONE

A reluctant winter dawn
A reluctant winter dawn

I’m writing at the moment entirely for my own sake. Truth be told, that’s why most writers write but that’s another story. Any creative effort is an affirmation of life and hope. Home is where the boat is and tonight I’m aboard without even my beloved dog for company. It’s dark out and it is cold.  It seeps into the boat and into my bones. I wonder if I feel the cold because I’m getting older and arthritic, or if it is a psychological issue and I have a sense of coldness.

Certainly there was a time when cold was nothing to hold me back. I once hitch-hiked around Northern Ontario job-hunting in January. All I owned was in my pocket and in my backpack. That’s the time of year, in that part of the world, when it can warm up to minus forty degrees and then blow a days-long blizzard. I have interesting yarns about that ordeal and how I lived to talk about it. Let’s just say I truly understand being cold, and being hungry, and feeling utterly alone. Thank God for a few kind people.

I was the guy who always tried to prove he was tougher, be it about cold, or heat, or endurance of long hours, moving heavy objects on my own and generally taking unnecessary chances to prove how manly I was. I should have been dead at least ten times before I was twenty-five… that I’m willing to remember. I didn’t expect or want to live into senior years. Others were too wise to attempt similar feats of stupidity and quietly went about managing their lives and their finances so they could enjoy an easier life time in later years. Of course, I finally understand that I was merely demonstrating a monstrous insecurity. I am now suffering physically and financially for all that younger recklessness. That empathy does not relieve the price I continue to pay for those days. Sadly, those who have loved me have had to share my misery. I will always carry a guilt above those whom I have hurt.

I’ve declared at times that I’m not nearly as afraid of dying as I am of not living. To paraphrase some lines from a movie I recently saw, the protagonist said that there’s a place somewhere between living and dying where some folks get stuck and it’s not a happy place to be.

I know what he means. I’ve also said that the greatest distance any sailor can travel is the six inches between one ear and the other. Tonight I wonder if I have actually made that crossing.

Other quotes have to do with how living one day as a lion is better than spending a thousand as a sheep and how the moment is all we have. Keeping your “Pecker up’, as the British say, is the key to surviving but damn!  It’s hard some days. Bad attitude brings bad luck which inspires more gloom until one very quickly finds themselves in a deadly spiral.

I know many other people have bouts of melancholy and regret, especially in winter. I wish I could offer magic words which could be an instant anecdote and at least bring contentment during the dark tunnels of life’s journey. All I can say at this point in my life, when I have more years behind me than ahead, that nothing is forever. This gig we call life leaves the station and constantly accelerates toward an inevitable wreck. The journey becomes a blur. Suddenly events of a half-century ago seem like mere weeks past. One day, somewhere, a clerk asks if you qualify for a senior’s discount. Shocked and horrified you go home and spend a long time peering at the wrinkled physog in the mirror. What a dark epiphany!

Then soon, you resolve that time and tide do not wait. You begin to capitalize by asking for senior’s discounts. Sadly no one asks to see ID. You really DO look that old! But, if you don’t like the look of things today, try missing a few. Sadly one absolute realization that comes with getting older is the value of seizing the moment. Friends and acquaintances start to fall ill and die ever more frequently. Time is of the essence.

I’ve spent the last year with my head down doggedly determined that I will realize my dream…..now. I haven’t yet, but things are a lot closer than if I’d done nothing and yet it has never looked bleaker. One wisdom of becoming an older bull is that you understand how often things look the most impossible just before they begin to fall into place. Sometimes you’ve got to stand your ground.

"Could you spare some sugar?"
“Could you spare some sugar?”

I don’t need a bucket list; I have the same ambitions now that I have held for the past thirty years. Nothing has changed there.  I know I’m missing too many joys of the moment for the hope of delayed gratification. Then I think about the utter waste of abandoning several decades of denial and singular focus. It’s a frustrating balance of perspectives and I wonder if I’ve learned anything.

I had a buddy with whom I learned to fly when we were in our teens. We would regularly try to twist the wings from whatever we were flying, as happy to be inverted as right-side up. Once we returned to the rental base with a two-foot piece of tree-top stuck in the fork of the nose wheel. When I last saw him I was recovering from heart surgery and lamenting about how I’d squandered my life flitting from one adventure to another. He had enjoyed an illustrious career as an airline pilot and had then become a successful businessman. Yet he said he’d trade histories in a minute. It’s the ubiquitous tale of far-away pastures looking greener. He’d had decades of boredom and thought I was the one who’d had all the fun. Go figure! 

Winter Harbour
Winter Harbour

Well I’m now finishing up this blog on the morning of December 1st. Time is going by so fast I’d best confirm what year it is! Work on the boat progresses according to the weather. A set of folding steps is slowly rising toward the masthead. I go up and dangle in my bosun’s chair whenever it is not raining and two or three more steps appear. I’m almost to the spreaders. It’s a job I’ve been avoiding since I bought the boat and once finally done will be the last of the major projects

The interior in the little Cheoy Lee is beginning to take shape and my teardrop trailer will soon be ready for me to head south. So like the thin light and warmth of a winter dawn, the dream burns on. Best wishes and bright dreams to all.

Have A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas
Have A Warm and Fuzzy Christmas

CALM

Dead calm. 08:20 Nov.Canon2

The sun finally rises above Tugboat Island. It will transit a low arc in the Southern sky and disappear below the trees in the Southwest by 15:30. Darkness will return by 16:30. We have sun and a clear, calm sky. The sea is like glass and steams in the cold air.

In the ‘Tao Of Sailing’ by Ray Grigg, there is a description of fog:

The air silently becoming water,

water silently becoming air.”

Every minute this morning seems especially precious.

Nov.Canon3

 

The docks are empty and silent. Surfaces glitter with frost. There is clarity everywhere. The chaos of summer gringos in garish clothing and their selfish acrimony seems a distant memory.

 

Jack Frost
Jack Frost

Jack indulges in the plethora of scents borne on the crisp air. Even I can smell a tang of fish and there is a faint perfume of alder smoke. Millions of herring and needle fish dart and flash beneath the docks. Horned grebes dive after them, filling themselves until they can barely fly. Sea lions bark far in the distance. Everything and everyone else have gone south, or are about to leave. I think of friends on their boats much nearer the equator and wonder about their weather this morning. But, I am alone here and I savour the moment.

 

Remember the ship's spider
Remember the ship’s spider

Two nights ago, the darkness seemed eternal. Buffeting rain and vicious wind slammed the boat all night. The rigging moaned and shivered. Jack crushed himself in my arms and shared my sleeplessness. Now I bath in the crisp golden peace of perfection and serenity. For now, there is no other place I’d rather be. The day is mine!

Betty Mc far, far from home
Betty Mc far, far from home

Death Of A Passion Flower

When push comes to shove
When push comes to shove

In my last blog I began with a photo of a then-mystery flower. Kate and Laura, two local ladies, each identified it as a passion flower. Thus armed, I was able to research and confirm that and also learn there are around five-hundred varieties of passion flower (Or passiflower) and this particular one originates in the mountains of South America, growing from Venezuela to Chile at altitudes to twelve and thirteen thousand feet. Noted for its beautiful and hardy bloom, indigenous people also use the flower, leaves and stem for various medicinal purposes. The leaves can also be dried and smoked. Cool huh? Interesting where a simple question can lead.

Last of the passion flowers
Last of the passion flowers
Blackberry blooms in October!
Blackberry blooms in October!

Well, some self-centred arse picked the few blossoms there were. I hope those last rays of summer were needed for a life-saving potion or, as a friend suggested, perhaps some child and their grandparent now has those blooms carefully pressed into a strong lifetime memory. As it turns out, a few days later, higher on the vine, another batch of these amazing flowers burst into bloom to herald our first frost. What else can I say?
It is another affirmation that this old grump needs to go sailing.

Meanwhile my buddy Jim Poirier cleared customs in Ensenada, Baha and headed for La Paz, non-stop. He rounded Cabo San Lucas with plenty of offing after the threat of a late season hurricane. I’ve never set foot there but I’m told Cabo is best avoided as it swarms with gringos on vacation and is an absolute mess. He’s taken the usual beating most cruisers do while clawing up into the Sea Of Cortez. Then his daily spot report showed him with the hook down in the Mogoté off downtown La Paz. He’s e-mailed me since and is settling in for a visit, trying to adjust to all the open hands trying to skim a little more out of his cruising budget. It’s called Mordida, which translates as “The bite.”

My Australian friends, Roger and Ali, whom I wrote about in an earlier blog, were back aboard their beloved Betty Mc for a few days here in the marina after a grand summer adventure in the Arctic. As usual they’ve managed an impressive set of exploits and now possess a more intimate knowledge of the Arctic and its people than the average Canadian will ever care to have. They’ll be back up there in the spring where they have stored their boat in Inuvik. They have plans to join their new friends in a hunting camp. Now back in Australia taking care of business the pair are already in preparation for next year. “Good on ya mates! ”

Waitng on the fog, and waiting
Waitng on the fog, and waiting

Another pal, Dave Densmore, an Alaska fisherman and fellow Fisher Poet, telephoned me recently a few hours from rounding Cape Flattery. He’s heading south to Astoria, just inside the Columbia Bar. Earlier this year I helped him with the early stages of the purchase of a 53′ Frank Fredette ketch. It’s one of the best-built ferro-cement hulls I’ve seen. The big beauty had to languish here in Canada after the purchase while he and his partner Renee fished the season through in Alaska. Finally they were able to come to their new old boat and get it ready for the trip home to Oregon. Everything was a battle. Engine troubles, plumbing, wiring and stove problems. Blocked toilets, dead circuits, missing items, it seemed a foolish battle. He needed to rig a second helm inside the pilothouse . Then genset wouldn’t run. I took some tools down to Cowichan Bay where the boat was moored and tinkered a day away but like everything else aboard, it wanted to fight. I began to think about calling a priest for an exorcism. The boat had sat for a very long time and, as old Nelson said, “Ships and men rot in port.”

s.v. 'AQUARIAN'
s.v. ‘AQUARIAN’

Dave reported last night that he was very happy. He was at sea and under way. He reiterated that all boats have souls and this one was in a sulk for being abandoned and ignored. “She finally got the idea we were trying to save her,” he explained, “suddenly everything started to light up and work. Soon she’ll be in her new home where she’ll get the loving she deserves.” I’m sitting aboard my boat, refit number bloody eight. I know all too well what he means. Boats do have souls and like rescuing puppies, the initial curve is steep but the payback is usually astonishing and well worthwhile. In the rush to get underway, Dave inadvertently hooked up the plumbing to the inside helm backwards. All the way home that wheel worked in reverse. Lefty Starboard! We’ve agreed it’s a trip which deserves a poem. I’m happy for Dave and Renee.

On the ways in Cowichan Bay
On the ways in Cowichan Bay

To underscore that anecdote, I learned

Cowichan Bay skyline
Cowichan Bay skyline

yesterday that a former acquaintance, whom I confess that I expected would never go anywhere, has now sailed her small boat ‘Puna’ to San Francisco.

Autumn by the bay
Autumn by the bay

A new blog arrived from my pals Tony

Cow Bay floathome
Cow Bay floathome

and Connie about his jaunt up to Bangkok. Yeah, his jaunt. He leaves Connie home alone on their boat ‘Sage,’ currently in Phuket, to re-varnish the interior of the boat. How does he manage that? These two continue to amaze me as proof that couples actually can function successfully on a continuing basis. They’ve been doing this for many years and their last boat, a tiny Vancouver 27, was home for them in the South Pacific for seven years. (See the link to their blog site in the right sidebar.) I live alone with my dog in a 41′ boat and some days this doesn’t feel big enough! Especially with the darkness and cold damp of winter. There again is the key, go south! A regimen of consistent light and warmth of lower latitudes seems to be the prescription. Even my doctor agrees, but…he didn’t offer to help fund my therapy!

Meanwhile I linger on here, now travelling to an adjacent island to help another friend. After a dinghy ride, Jack and I traverse the island in a shortcut through the woods, packing tools and supplies in an effort to get a small house winter-proofed and an old truck running. It’s an amazing and wonderful trek. The weather this fall has been perfect for mushrooms, they’re pushing up everywhere by the millions. I don’t know which are edible and which are not, I suppose the ones the deer have been eating are fine but I don’t relish sampling the after-effects of a toadstool omelette. I’m taking photos only.

Bite me!
Bite me!

It is amazing to see the incredible variety in all shapes,

No, bite me!
No, bite me!

sizes and colours. I marvel at how these delicate organisms push their way through cement-hard ground and shoulder aside sticks and moss to expand into their full glory. Soft sunlight ladders down into the fog sifting through the trees. Creatures scuttle or crash off into the undergrowth. Damp rich aromas fill the air and occasionally there is the faint perfume of woodsmoke from some distant chimney.

Pick me, pick me!
Pick me, pick me!

In the distance fog horns wail and roar from the marine traffic out in the Strait. We were fog bound for twelve days with only tantalizing glimpses of blue now and then. The fog is only about fifty feet thick and the usual splendid clear October weather is just up there. The autumn paint chores will just have to wait.

Autumn blush
Autumn blush

Well now, all this hand-wringing and angst and envy gets no-one anywhere and it’s time to resolve myself to hunkering down for the winter or finding a way to take my little trailer and go south for several weeks. I’m beginning to think that it might do me and those who have to endure me a lot of good to take a sabbatical and refresh my perspectives. Refitting ‘Seafire’ and grubbing for a living seems to have become an ordeal instead of the adventure it should be. There’s a part of me that just wants to get away from all boats for a while and recharge, or “Back up and reload” as a former employer used to say.

A view to the south
A view to the south

I do have one huge piece of gratification. A friend rescued an old Cheoy Lee sloop from behind a woodshed in Oregon and dragged it home to Gabriola. It is called a ‘Frisco Flyer’ and was built in Hong Kong in 1966. It was a time when boat builders were transitioning from wood to fibreglass. The designer was Tord Sundén, the same man who designed the Nordic Folkboat and several subsequent folkboat variations. If there is a single pivotal sailboat design this must be it. There are very many other boats drawn by various naval architects which are, in my opinion, all plagiarized variations of the ubiquitous Folkboat. The Frisco Flyer was a collaboration between Cheoy Lee and Sundén and it is a brilliant boat. Originally available with a hull of teak or fibreglass this boat is one of the latter with lots of teak overlaid on the cabin, inside and out, and on the decks.

Avanti strutting her stuff, Cliff robb at the helm
Avanti strutting her stuff,
Cliff Robb at the helm

Originally I installed a replacement diesel engine in ‘Avanti’ while I worked in the shipyard. The owner works globally and isn’t home a lot. Consequently, the little sloop languished again for a couple of years until I was persuaded to lend a hand as I could.
Well, she’s finally rigged and seaworthy enough to leave the harbour. There’s a ton of work yet to be done, but we had to affirm our labour of love and put her through some sea trials before a winter cover was fitted. What a boat!

Again!
Again!

There is an amazing amount of room inside this little 26′ gem and she sails on all points like a witch. The helm is light and responsive and easy to trim. The hull is very tender but the boat stiffens up at about fifteen degrees of heel and zooms off like the thoroughbred she is. She steers herself and tracks beautifully. She is pleasing to the eye from all angles.

It has been pointed out to me that fifty years ago, when this was a state-of-the-art yacht, families would clamber into a boat like this and sail off together to see the world. A VHF radio and electric depth-sounder were ultimate accessories and inboard engines in sailboats were called ‘Auxiliaries’, meant to be used only when manoeuvring in port or in dire circumstances. There were no banks of batteries and electrical equipment to keep fed with electrons. In fact, most auxiliaries were equipped with a hand-cranking handle. Engines were valued in large part by how easily they could be hand-started.
If you were at sea and there was no wind, well…you were on a sailboat and you waited. You travelled at a speed nature intended.
Cruising sailors were self-sufficient, independent and generally disdained following the herd. What a different world we live in now!

I’m not sure it’s a better one but we’re here (Because we’re not all there) and that’s the way it is. Yesterday a winter storm arrived with nightfall. Rain hammered the boat as the wind shrieked and thrummed in the rigging. This morning, as the tide rises, the swell from the open strait reaches into the bay and sets all the boats rolling crazily. Doggy won’t leave his bed.
Somewhere over the southern horizon, far, far away there is a clink of glasses and I can smell lime and tequila. I’m on the scent!

Say goodnight
Say goodnight

DUENDE

No one seems to know what this beauty is called
No one seems to know what this beauty is called!

I have never intended that my blogs should be a venue for any rant. This blog is supposed to be about getting a boat ready to sail away and the inner and outer journey before, during, and after that moment. As it turns out I recently found myself replying to a friend’s e-mail. A rant began to flow which I began to transcribe into a blog and then realized that this is something I can never do here. Real sailors are often non-conformists and also very opinionated especially when in opposition to bureaucracy and other men’s attempts to control their lives. The one thing of value I’ve salvaged from that discarded effort is a single line about global warming and social cooling.  I’ll ponder that a while yet.

End of summer
End of summer

I sat writing at a desk where in the background a television played the movie ‘Fiddler On The Roof.’ I caught the line, “If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.” Try to imagine that with a geriatric Yiddish accent! What an eloquent way of describing our tenuous existence on this planet. From environmentalism to politics and economics, it’s all the same hype in the end. Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf?  Well, I think we’re truly under the spell of those who have discovered the profit of paranoia and it is not the wolf we should fear nearly as much as the wolf hunters. End of rant. Each to their own and enough said.

Beep
Beep

Duende? It is a Spanish word possessing diverse related meanings but generally having to do with spirits and ghosts. I heard a flamenco artist explaining a deeper meaning having to do with the unfulfilled spirit within, always driving a person forward in passion and creativity but ultimately never sated. I suppose enthusiasm has a similar connotation coming from the Greek and meaning, “God within”. I like the lyrical sound of the word duende and think it would be a great name for a boat. I wish you mucho duende and also great peace. What a delicate balance!

Ticket to ride
Ticket to ride

It is suddenly October. It seems it was Easter three weeks ago. The summer has blurred past and the weather has now changed. The butter is hard again. The wind and rain have come. October usually has some very fine weather and that will be the final chance this year to lunge at the must-do chores outdoors. After the full storm that just passed we now know where the new leaks in our boats are.  The sky has to quit dribbling so everything is dry enough for the final touch of caulking and paint. Just as it is almost dry enough to do some work, another soaker descends. All summer we take dryness for granted and then comes the ugly reminder about why we want to move to Southern latitudes. Hopefully the October reprieve comes again this year.

Slab city
Slab city

Well, I’m still here and that’s the way the pickle squirts. I’ve had an insidious nasty flu for the past three weeks and so there are no grand adventures or epiphanies to describe. My dog Jack is still asleep in my bunk as I grope for words while waiting on the morning fog to burn off.  It is so damp that the Beaver float plane moored adjacent to me didn’t want to fire up this morning. One of the magnetos probably had some condensation in it and there was a prolonged effort of cranking, spluttering, backfiring and coughing. Finally the sweet growling clatter of the Pratt & Whitney announced that there would be work as usual. There is a clear sky somewhere above the gloomy blanket. Work continues on the boat and the dream burns on despite the sound of dripping. Duende!

Urban transit
Urban transit

I’m posting a random assortment of photos which are irrelevant to any particular blog but are interesting in their diversity.  From a local abandoned coal mine to downtown Vancouver and points in between there is always a new marvel to photograph. I’m soon going to sign up on Flickr and post my photos there for the world to see but for now, here are some shots which someone else might find interesting. I often use my Canon Digital SLR with a minimal assortment of lenses. The damned thing leaves me feeling like an idiot with all it’s various modes and options. I’ve made part of my living at times with film cameras but all of this digital stuff is overwhelming. I like to also carry a simple pocket camera for those grab-shot moments when you don’t have your bag of gear handy.

Infrastructure
Infrastructure
Yhe alter
The alter

A photo site I visit daily is called ‘Twisted Sifter’. The work there is amazing and inspiring, I recommend it to anyone interested in superb photography. For a while they ran an ad for an Olympus camera, the TG-2. I needed a new pocket camera and in the end, after a lot of research, I bought one. It’s amazing. Water proof to depths of 60′, it is shock proof, cold proof and can take up to an hour and a half of movies. It’s sound recording is fantastic and the darned thing even has a built in GPS and altimeter.  I don’t know what all else it can do, but for a little over $300. it is great value. All of these images are taken with this little pocket camera, yes even the flower. End of commercial.

Ghost dog
Ghost dog

The last photo posted with this blog is of a face carved into an Arbutus tree. It was skillfully done with an understanding of how it would turn out once the incisions of the carving healed.

Folly in the woods
Folly in the woods
Lost faith
Lost faith

Sunday morning commerce

Sunday morning commerce

In the rain forest
In the rain forest

Clearly it has been there for a long time. I only saw it a few days ago although I have walked the dog within a few feet of it for years. This, of course, becomes an essay on seeing.

Earth to earth
Earth to earth

Sometimes we become so fixated on distant stars we miss the beauty right at our feet. A while ago I made a point of finding interesting, safe anchorages close to home. They were ones I’d charged past on my way to distant exotic places. I’ve had to concede that there is as just as much beauty and mystery right here at home.

The watcher
The watcher

It is hard to rationalize going cruising at all except to have such a wonderful place to come home to.

Duende!