The Electric Beaver

I try to keep my blogs like the proverbial box of chocolates “You never know what you’re going to get.” So, after the last posting’s polemic social comment here’s something much different.

Thursday morning coming down, for hours. The rain finally stopped after Jack and I were home again. Of course!
Clean feet and soggy bandana, keep the fireplace burning and take me home.
Gathering winter fuel. Driftwood collects in this tiny bight on the windward side of a  point in the harbour. Folks cut and try burning the soggy fibre fresh-in on the last tide in their boat stoves. It doesn’t occur to them that the black stuff there is coal. Just dry it out and be warm.

Aviation has been a cornerstone of my life. One of my favourite all-time airplanes is the de Havilland DHC2 otherwise known simply as the Beaver. Once while I was using a payphone on a Gulf Island dock a Beaver began it’s takeoff from the harbour. The usual ear-splitting snarl filled the air and awestruck, the person on the phone, from Southern California, asked what the noise was. I replied casually that it was just a Beaver. “Oh my Gawd” was the stunned response. I left the magic in the air and did not explain further that this beaver was an airplane.

C-FHRT (aka Seafart)  A standard DHC2 Beaver
Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
A face every mother can love
Part of one of Harbour Air’s docks. This is in Burrard Inlet,  downtown Vancouver.
Bumper to bumper dream machines. Turbo Otters and Beavers.
Bomber dawn. Beavers and other float planes are sometimes referred to in local terms as “Bombers.”
A Beaver cockpit view of Degnen Bay on Southern Gabriola Island. I wonder how old the airplane was when its pilot was born.
YVR Jake.  A wonderful artistic tribute to the Beaver in Vancouver Airport’s South Terminal

Famous around the globe in an amazing variety of roles, this aircraft design is almost seventy-five years old. It is famous along this coast and is synonymous with the word float plane. There are books written about all its accomplishments and I could produce another. I love its raw, rugged simplicity and see this machine as an ultimate piece of Canadian technology.

It’s engine, the Pratt& Whitney R985 of 450 horsepower is little-changed since its inception in 1935. It still runs beautifully and dependably without computers and despite being archaic WWII technology it will be clattering through the sky for many years to come. As time wore on some Beavers were re-powered with the incredible PT6 turbine. This cut engine weight drastically and increased power by almost fifty percent. This engine has been one of the best improvements to aviation ever, powering a fantastic array of aircraft and is incredibly reliable. It made the Beaver into a whole new airplane.

Now there has been yet another upchange. Harbour Air, a local schedule and charter float plane service, with over 40 aircraft and 500,000 passengers annually, has just flown its first electric Beaver. Powered with a magniX 750 hp electric engine, this new generation of Beaver will currently have a range, plus reserve, to safely fly across the Strait Of Georgia and back. The batteries are NASA-approved lithium (An environmental conundrum) and as they are improved, will allow electric aviation to advance. Even a new style of propeller has been fitted and that lovely old Beaver banshee take-off howl may one day no longer echo between shorelines. There are skeptics, there are bugs, but it’s a giant step in a wonderful new direction. It is not so long ago that electric model airplanes were novel. I muse at the following scenario as a pilot makes this announcement. “Ladies and gentlemen, you will have noticed the recent jolt as we came to the end of our extension cord. However….!”

Sadly, as I wrote the word “thonk” beneath my caption about the photo of the little bird in my last blog, a similar but much louder and sickening din occurred on the beach of nearby Gabriola Island. A local and highly seasoned pilot augered his twin-engined Piper Aerostar onto a vacant woodlot between two homes. He and two passengers died after an apparent instrument failure during dark and foggy conditions only a few minutes from the safety of the end of the runway at nearby Cassidy Airport. The flight had started in Mexico with one stop for fuel in California, a long and tiring trek in a single day for a single pilot. It is a huge local tragedy yet also a miracle that no-one on the ground was taken as well.

As a former pilot I can tell you about the day of advanced flight training when you are put “under the hood.” It is a contraption that looks a bit like a welding helmet and prevents the student from seeing outside the cockpit. The flight instruments are carded over and then you are to maintain level flight simply by instinct and the feelings in the seat of your pants. After a few very long and sweaty moments the hood is removed and you are horrified to see that you have put the airplane into a flight attitude which is rapidly about to become catastrophic. I remember wondering why the engine revs were running away and then I saw! It is a very memorable event, both humbling and sobering. The lesson is simple: “ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTRUMENTS.” Eventually you learn to control the aircraft while wearing the hood despite what you instincts are shouting at you. It is very, very hard to do at times and flying under real instrument conditions regularly is a necessary practice. Regular proficiency exams are mandatory to maintain a valid IFR rating. Commercial aircraft have back-up systems and crew. I won’t speculate and leave that to the armchair aviation experts who rear their lofty views as always at such times.

Now for some new home-spun creativity. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

This is how it all began. I bought this little work trailer, removed its metal sides and converted it to carry my inflatable boat. It worked well.

It has evolved. I built the toolbox at the front to fit the back of an RV and is big enough to even  hold a twenty pound bottle of propane as well as all the tools I should need. It fits the trailer as if I’d planned it that way. The plywood was purchased new, but much of the  project has used recycled parts and hardware. I re-installed the axle beneath the springs for more ground clearance and to allow room for bigger wheels and heavier tires which desert roads will demand.

Who’da thunk? The upper back part slips out and the sides fold down onto a removable support for travel. A friend donated the locking door handle and upper windows.  Thanks Jimmy. The lower window was found in a sailor’s garage sale and has waited years to find its place.  The top is coated with a special HD deck paint found for sale at half-price. The sides are treated with Cetol, a marine wood oil which  I happened to have. It will be easy to repair if scratched along the trail. Hardware is from second-hand shops or out of salvage boxes I’ve stowed away for years.

With standing headroom inside at the back This will provide a snug shelter where I can sleep warm and dry or sit and write when the weather is harsh. I could even cook in there if necessary. The top, when laying flat, is an excellent platform for photography and shooting video.  I MADE IT!

I’m calling this my “Hobbit Box. ” The flooring came from a ‘Restore’ The bed base unclips and folds out of the way. The trailer will hold my outboard motor and rolled-up inflatable boat, a bicycle or small motorcycle, generator, compressor, chainsaw, gas and water containers or accomodate one or two friendly people. The bunk is 36″ wide folded down. I still need to acquire a custom-made mattress and finish insulating the top and sides. My generator will easily run a small electric heater and charge other batteries at the same time.

Once a sailor, always one. The cables and turnbuckles hold the lid down securely in the up and down positions. Beneath the corner brace, a sturdy bracket holds an outboard motor in place, handy to the door and yet safely upright.

So how many Hobbit Boxes have a porch? Now all  I need is a rocking chair and a banjo! A friend provided the two jack stands. Thanks Niels! They’ll be handy for many things, including roasting wild game over a campfire. This hinged ramp will double as a work table and the trailer can be a cargo transporter, a workshop, a camper and general storage box. What about a taco stand?”Fred’s Mexican Curries.”Tha, tha, thaz all folks! With the hinged ramp locked in the up position we also have a bear trap/ paddy wagon. The section of pvc pipe is intended to facilitate loading kayaks and other gear on top. It has proven to also be an excellent rain catcher! The closest ideas to this trailer were on Russian YouTube videos. Hopefully the next photos of the Hobbit Box will have cacti in the background.

Same old view with an ever-changing scene. Two naval vessels were skulking about this morning.

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.” …Jay Leno

 

Night Sounds

Night Sounds

A neo-traditional totem pole.
It stands in front of the band office of the Tseshaht people in Port Alberni.  After tremendous oppression for decades from both outside and inside their community, First Nations people are regaining their dignity, their voice and a modicum of control over traditional lands. Hopefully we will soon all see ourselves as equals while retaining our individual cultural identity.

A barred owl begins its night time serenade of hoo-hoo-who-hoo. Darkness settles over the calm water as frogs croak into the darkness and from somewhere out on the lake a loon utters its plaintiff cry. Here in the campsite there is the crackle of a freshly-lit fire and the steady gnawing crunch of Jack dogging on a bone. We are in a campsite on the west end of Horne Lake on Vancouver Island. The view over the darkened lake is framed by the black silhouette of newly-leafed branches and a few subtle lights twinkle over the glassy water from cottages on the distant shore. It is tranquil and lovely, lonely, complete. Jack has now gone to bed. I will join him shortly. This setting is perfection, yet it is not the ocean.

By my Horne Lake campsite, a neighbour who is travelling by motorcycle, settles in for a night.
The Morning After

Twenty four hours have passed. We did not do much. It was a grand day. The same scene as last night lays beyond the extravagant fire I have set. Haunting Yiddish violin music from a treasured old Cd I have found sifts out of my stereo at a low volume. I let it repeat around and around; it blends perfectly with the night sounds. The pulsing glitter of a jet’s trajectory crosses from behind the lofty rock cliffs above the lake and is paralleled by its reflection on the water. The owl repeats his booming hooting again, slowly coming closer to our campsite. Jack snores gently in his bed at my feet. Soon we will both retire to the comfy bunk inside the trailer. There is an extra bed. I wish you could be here.

The camp on Horne Lake.
It’s wonderful but… I miss the boat.
Here’s the dinghy for the next boat. Achilles are my favourite inflatable and Tohatsu outboards need no sales pitch. This old marine mechanic thinks they are the best.
Horne Lake sea trial. It all went well…but it’s not the ocean. My brand-new Tohatsu purrs beautifully. The wheels, by the way, are for hauling the boat up out of the water.

Another twenty-four hours finds Jack and I in another Provincial Campground on the other side of the mountain. Now we are on Sproat Lake a few kilometres west of Port Alberni. As the crow flies, we are only about 15 kilometres from where we set out this morning. The drive from one valley to another took well over an hour. There is a climb and descent up and over a steep grade which is a good test for truck and trailer after recent adjustments. The Alberni Valley is famous for fierce summer heat and here, before mid-May, the mercury climbed well above thirty degrees Celsius. The forest fire hazard rating rose from moderate to high today and will rapidly become extreme if the weather persists. I’m enjoying the campfire tonight as the evening cools. There may soon be a ban on any fires for the rest of the summer.

Sproat Lake Petroglyphs. There are nine carvings on this rock face on the lake’s edge. It is also a parry site for the local young folk. Hopefully this photo gives a glimpse of the way it has looked for a long time.
The crack tells how long the carvings have been there.
Now THAT’S a steak. One of the joys of a low-carb diet.
Jack loved the bone.

The lake was liberally dotted with white and pink bodies of squealing exuberant youth frolicking in the water. After Jack’s refreshing swim we plodded back to our campsite along the dusty trail where we met motley groups of young folk in various states of intoxication. The aroma of marijuana smoke wafted through the forest. Worldly as I think I am, it was still a rattler to meet gorgeous scantily clad young ladies who met Jack ever so gushingly yet chattered sweetly all the while in the rawest, four-lettered sailor-speak I’ve ever used. It seemed incongruous for a moment, and then, I just felt old.

Some folks have garden gnomes or plastic flamingos on their lawns. Then there are those with some of the world’s biggest aircraft. That is a Martin Mars. Coulson Air Crane converted a pair to serve as water bombers. They are now world famous and have proven their worth many times over. Not as big as the ‘Spruce Goose’ they were intended for the same purpose: To provide rapid mass transport for troops to the South Pacific. The end of WWII rendered them redundant.
The back yard is impressive too. These are the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars, which is in its original colours of the United States Navy Air Transport Command. These were the world’s largest flying boats ever manufactured. There were seven built.

A day later, a day older. I have yet to master the art of doing nothing without feeling guilt. Jack (A master at living without guilt) and I walked our walks, I visited with a dear friend whom I learned was in Port Alberni. The day passed, now it is dark again. The sound of neighbour campers visiting around their fires mingles with the happy din of children playing. A huge shining (Yes, gold in colour) motor home appeared at dusk and now runs its generator despite the rules. Such is life when you accept the challenge of co-mingling with strangers. Come morning the grand escape vehicle fired up its diesel engine to idle for a half-hour of exhaust stench before hoisting the automatic levelling jacks and buggering off somewhere else after a hard night of roughing it.

Traditional First Nations carving.
Note the pendant on her belly. Or, is it a fetus?
Pedestal detail. I find this work stunning.

Other folks were making coffee over a wood fire after a night in a tent behind their car; a very good aroma.Some folks still possess a primal urge to be close to the earth. Organized campgrounds may be as primitive an experience as they will ever have but at least they are off the couch and away from the goon box. I am not a fan of these places but this weekend they served my purpose. It’s better to have some of these folks organized and protected than to have their edge-of-the wilderness forays and random fires occurring hodge-podge. The problem on Vancouver Island is that it is hard to find untainted wilderness. There is evidence of man’s exploitation everywhere and of course the roads we use to get to the back of beyond were all built by logging companies.

I found this life-sized diorama incredible. Badly in need of a good cleaning it depicts a native whaling crew at the moment a whale is harpooned. To go out on the cold ocean in a hand-made, hand-propelled cedar canoe to harpoon a whale with primitive weapons was a courage that no-one possess today. Even the water in this work is entirely hand-carved wood. “Oh shit, I forgot my life jacket …and my pants!”
DANG! The motor in my truck is a 5.3 litre V-8. This 425 hp “Kicker” is 5.6 litres! As an old salt I cannot imagine why anyone needs something like this. We won’t try to guess the price!
Jack watches a native fishery on the Somass River in Port Alberni.
A native spring fishery. This gill net is set across the Somass River on a flood tide.

Now that I’ve joined the ranks of the Rv world I find it interesting that despite the massive effort to charm folks into coming to indulge in “Super Natural BC” there is a paucity of camp grounds and facilities like sani-stations and places to fill tanks with potable water. One is now charged everywhere for a dribble of air or water and who wants to try manoeuvring a clumsy large vehicle near the awkward places where those hoses and their coin boxes are located. It is intriguing that we know face shortages of water in a place abounding with snow-capped mountains, streams and lakes. Of note is a recent news item I heard which claims that despite our long snowy winter, Coastal BC snow sheds hold a sixty percent less than normal amount of water. If it doesn’t rain all summer, which is entirely possible, it may be a paint your lawn season once again. Now back in Ladysmith, the skies have gradually become overcast and this morning shows evidence of overnight showers. Soon, it begins to rain steadily. Of course, I’ve yet to see a Victoria Day weekend when the weather was not foul, cold and wet. That having been said I recall once being advised that “Only fools and newcomers predict the weather.”

As I raised my camera a beautiful grass snake vanished into the nettles and periwinkles and one dandelion.
Jack sees a rabbit. it was not concerned.
Wild and free. These are blooming at the concrete base of a crane once used to unload logs.
Perhaps one of the last dogwood flowers I’ll see this year.
Welcoming the waxing moon of May.

Bad weather always looks worse through a window.” …Tom Lehrer