Inroads

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

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

Green, green, green.
A salmon stream.
Nurse stumps.
Huggers.

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

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

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

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

A very well travelled deer trail.

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

Sacred, secret, sweet.

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

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

A reproduction of a petroglyph found near Clo-ose, near Nitinat Narrows. clearly an essay on fertility, both human, and the sacred migration of salmon, an eagle guards the scene on the left. A full moon, relevant to timing of a salmon run, smiles from the sky. On the right a warrior stands with an enemy’s head in his right hand. This hangs above my desk. I have contemplated it for years, and would love to go see the real thing.
Hawk Mask by Hayward Russell, 1998. This equisite carving is another of my treasures. Believe it or not, I found it in a pawn shop at a bargain price when I had just enough money left to my name to buy it. To me, it is priceless.

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

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

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

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

A Straight Stick

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

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

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

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

DRONE

Dog and I walked into the woods

on an afternoon sunny and fine.

We followed a tortuous trail

down to a river running fast,

cold, clear like sweet white wine.

We sat and surveyed the scene

feeling primal

inhaling the perfect and pristine,

enjoying our time alone.

Then up the river

flying fast and low

came

a goddamned drone.

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

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

Hove To

“Lantern lantern burning bright
who is out on the ocean
this stormy night?”
It only took me seven years to get around to repairing this lovely old storm lantern. It works brilliantly. Ha!
First you cut a hole. It seems that everything you do on a boat involves drilling yet another hole. This is where a new fuel vent goes in the cockpit coaming. It is well over an inch thick.
The boat is massively built.
Job Done
New and improved.
EEECH! The old vent hoes sees the light of day after 37 years. It was a battle to extract it.
Any little bit of light is a treasure.
Ah, the light!

 Hove to” is a nautical expression that deals with a situation at sea, especially for a sailing vessel. After putting a sail “aback” which means that sail is now wind-filled so that it sets backwards across the deck of the boat, one sets the helm downwind so that the boat lies gently off the wind and slowly drifts leeward. The wake of the boat drifting sideways acts as a breakwater to advancing seas. This manoeuvre is used when conditions are too stormy and unsafe to hold your intended course and/or when the crew is to weary to stand a watch and requires a rest. I’ve used it a few times and it is an amazing experience. The boats sits easily, almost as if at a dock, while the ocean rages all around you. One can sleep, cook a meal, make repairs, do some writing and chart work and generally prepare to set the right sails and steer a course when conditions ease. It is important to know where you are and be aware of any land mass or rocks lying downwind of your drift.

At the moment, I’m hove-to. It is mid-winter, the wind and rain are incessant. I am not complaining; I vividly recall last winter up in the real rainforest at Shearwater. This winter seems to be especially wet, the interior of the province is heaped with snow; local ski resorts have received over 100cm of snow in one night. I can’t imagine what things are like in the ‘Great Wet North.’ My next projects on ‘Seafire’ require a few dry hours so here I sit, house-bound, waiting for a break. Fisher Poets (fisherpoets.org) is coming up. I’m working on new material for that, as well as sorting through my archives. Good grief! There are over twenty-five years of serious writing. Yes, I know, it’s time to get published and that is a story in itself.

Beauty in the wet.

It is also a time for reading. That is an eternal obligation of the writer, to read. Not only to enforce a healthy degree of humility, but to stimulate new ideas. The current tome on my night table is ‘Bark Skins’ by Annie Proulx. I am not in the business of selling anyone’s books, but Annie Proulx is one of my favourite writers and literary inspirations. ‘Bark Skins’ is the quintessential novel, all 713 pages. It draws the reader forward in a magnificent yarn covering centuries and dissects environmental, gender and racial issues brilliantly. If you aren’t familiar with this Nobel-winning author, I dare you to read it, or any of Proulx’s other works. You’ll discover a fantastic mind. End of book plug.

In the sunlight above the Cowichan Valley looking Sou’eastward over Saltspring Island.
Driving up a mountain in search of the sun.

Despite a forecast today for snow, we were blessed with a sunny afternoon. I worked like crazy and finished the next project: new fuel tank vents. It may sound mediocre, but it is a job which has been on my list since i bought the boat seven years ago. It is important not to allow water to get into your fuel tanks, especially seawater. Engines require clean, fresh fuel and contaminated fuel will cause devilish problems, especially at the worst possible time. My old tank vents were in the transom where it was both possible to inhale seawater and also to spew fuel directly into the ocean. The tanks have been slow to fill, which is usually a venting problem. Often I would have diesel fuel burp back out of the filler pipe which caused a great mess. One drop of fuel into the ocean looks as if the ‘Exxon Valdez’ has run aground again and that is not politically correct.

I installed two new vents about forty centimetres higher than the old ones and now face onto the side decks close to the filler pipe. I can now monitor what’s going on when I am fuelling the boat. If the vents do leak it will be aboard the boat and onto a fuel-absorbent pad. I also replaced the hose between the tank and the new vent with correct, and very expensive, fuel-grade hose. The new hose is half the length of the old one which, I discovered, was heater hose that drooped below the level of the tank top. Through the years the fuel had rotted that incorrect hose so that it was collapsing on itself and preventing adequate ventilation. After thirty-seven years the hose was certainly overdue for upgrading. I also replaced the flush-deck fuel filler caps with short standpipes and a proper pipe cap. Now no water can leak into the tanks although there is something new to bash your feet on. There was the usual squirming and groping and wrench-dropping, including cuts and fibreglass slivers. It was an affirmation that I won’t do boat repairs for a living anymore. Keeping ‘Seafire’ shipshape is plenty enough for me anymore.

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

The trick to boat maintenance and repairs is to not let jobs pile up. One deficiency is bad enough, let a few develop and they’ll rear their ugly heads all at the same time. Preventive maintenance is the key to successful voyaging. There is also a bonus in getting intimate with your boat’s innards. On that dark and stormy night when “Shit happens” you’ll have a good idea of where to look for what. Be self-sufficient. I you don’t like that idea, stay home. God knows, there is enough that can go wrong at the best of times without begging for trouble through poor maintenance. Love your boat, it will love you back.

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

I’m not sure my essay on boat repairs has captivated everyone but this blog is supposed be about a life which ultimately orbits around owning, or being owned by, ‘Seafire’ and the dream that brought this boat into my life.

Sundown at Dogpatch
In the morning the fog settled in.

Ladysmith has been my home town for several years. It sits on the East side of Vancouver Island behind the embrace of the Gulf Islands and on the northern edge of the Cowichan Valley. It is a lovely area, dotted with small communities and is a popular semi-rural area of Canada. The Pacific ocean moderates our climate, the population is eclectic and sometimes quirky. There are several small newspapers, worth reading for snippets of parochial attitude. A recent letter to the editor complained about “Excessive nudity” in the men’s change room of the Duncan swimming pool. I’m not sure what the prurient objection was really about, but one letter, written in response quipped, “Excessive nudity? How much more than naked can you get?” So much for broad-minded tolerance in a haven for geriatric flower children.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s vessel.” But I do. This Goldrup 50 appeared at our guest dock. Locally built as a fishboat hull, she’s a go-anywhere yacht.
POLICE AT THE MARINA!
The RCMP have a new patrol boat and seem to spend a lot of time messing about on it. Each officer brings down their own official vehicle. Note the shotgun muzzle and the siren/light switch panel, the computer, and the VHF radio. They also seem to constantly use their cell phone. This is what they use to bust “Distracted drivers.”

And so we pass the days of winter, each one a little closer to spring. Tonight however, there is a forecast for snow. The rain drums on the skylight above my desk. My muse snores gently as he sleeps on the chair beside me. His front legs twitch. Perhaps he dreams of little yellow flowers. Any day now, little yellow flowers and the worst of winter will be past.

Do I amuse you? Jack at standby station number 1.
Wot de duck?
An experiment with a new lense.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. “

…Henry Ford

TAKE THAT !

The Organic Mechanic
The Organic Mechanic… on the old highway in the Cowichan Valley

What if everything you’ve done so far in your life has all lead up to this moment when you realize it was all wrong? At this epiphany, does everything suddenly become meaningful and worthwhile? Does that make all previous events right if they lead to this?

Something for everyone
Something for everyone

Yes, if it effects a new plan, a deliberate change in direction and velocity. At sea, when on a collision course, there are two ways of avoiding disaster. One is to change your course, usually by steering for a place behind the point of imminent impact. The other means of avoidance is to change your speed.

Cheeky bugger! Black...with cream
Cheeky bugger!
Black…with cream

Usually, slowing down is the prudent and courteous way to prevent that theoretical collision. If every moment of your life has, with all the changed directions, the starts and stops, the collisions and near-misses, placed you here at this moment, on the heading and speed as it is with the intentions and attitudes you have acquired, then perhaps there is a cosmic plan for our brief existence. Dunno? Me either!

Duncan town hall (and gallows?)
Duncan town hall clock tower (and gallows?)

Some days I feel like the fabled hoop snake. When threatened, It swallows it’s tail to become a hoop which rolls away downhill to escape. The trouble with that is the acceleration is constant until the inevitable abrupt stop. A friend, lost for more than thirty years suddenly appeared on the dock last week. All work came to a stop after the tearfully happy reunion with this person and their travelling companion. The next twenty-four hours were very intense and rich with a lot energy being exchanged. I felt drained at the end of it. It was a wonderful time of affirmation and closure about certain things but I felt the need to take the weekend off and recharge rather than carry on with the completion of my Cheoy Lee project.

OY VEY! Two travelling German students play and sing Yiddish tunes at the Duncan Farmer's Market....INCREDIBLE!
OY VEY! Two travelling German students play and sing Yiddish tunes at the Duncan Farmer’s Market….INCREDIBLE!

I have a home in Ladysmith, in the Northern part of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. I live on my boat, but it is rather nice to get away on occasion; especially with all the gringo yachters roaming the docks. I love the valley. It is splendid to explore and discover new things that have been here under my nose throughout the quarter- century I have lived in the region. I also confess to a great envious inner stirring with the blogs from my friends Tony and Connie presently touring in the South of France. So this blog is a photo essay on the Cowichan Valley, “Guys, don’t forget your homeland. Take this!”

Under the groaning grape arbour in a bistro in Duncan
Under the groaning grape arbour in a Duncan bistro
Top that Frenchie!
How about this Frenchie!
Raisins to be on the vine
Raisins to be vine-dried
Dog day afternoon in the market
Dog day afternoon in the market
Yeehaw!
Yeehaw!
Jill in the market
Jill in the market
Dog Pub in mid-street
Dog Pub at the center-line
A lesson in the carver's booth
A lesson in the carver’s booth
Summer fresh orgasmic vegetables
Summer fresh orgasmic organic vegetables
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the valley, life goes on much as it always has
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the valley, life goes on much as it always has
Grapes forever. What all our lawns should look like.
Grapes forever. What all our lawns should look like!
Afternoon break at the winery tasting room
Afternoon break at the winery tasting room
Junk mail
Junk mail
Merlot Corners
Merlot Corners
And this little piggy
And this little piggy…
Into the woods over the bridge.
Into the woods over the bridge.
Many berries
Many berries
Fabric of Life
Fabric of Life
Tree fungus... The visible fart
Tree fungus…
aka visible fart
Limber up
Limber up!
The High Road
The High Road
Regeneration doing fine all on its own
Regeneration doing fine all on its own
Source of Life
Source of Life
Wheels
Wheels
Trailer for sale or rent chickens for sale for fifty cents
Trailer for sale or rent
chickens for sale for fifty cents
Joining forces
Joining forces, Cowichan River

 

“The environment is everything that isn’t me.”

….. Albert Einstein