Jack and I walked our normal morning loop down at the waterfront and around the old coal terminal here in Ladysmith. I call it the “Black Beach” because of all the coal left over from that era. Jack loves it there. Blackberries and rabbits thrive and he often gets to socialize with other wonderful dogs. The sun hung as a huge white ball low over the glassy waters of the harbour. No boat stirred its surface. There was not a breath of wind. The morning air was cool in the shade and warm in the light. A heavy dew had settled this morning. The seasons progress.
For some reason I recalled a labour day sixty-two years ago today. It was 1957, I was five years old. My father was a manic gardener and could produce amazing heaps of vegetables out of the red clay soil of Southern Ontario where we lived. Across the street from where we rented a tiny house there sprawled a large playing field. Several games of soccer often went on at the same time. I can still hear shouts in Italian and Portuguese as flashing balls ricocheted back and forth on the broad field and see swarthy men pelting about in pursuit. Every spring a circus came to the Oakville arena on the far side of that expanse. When it left town there remained warm pungent heaps of manure. Elephant, camel, horse, monkey, lion, tiger; dad swore by the properties of these exotic mounds and he would trot with his wheel barrow back and forth across the park with his freely-acquired aromatic garden elixir late into the night. He certainly could conjure monstrous vegetables out of that brick clay mixed with circus dung.
On the particular Labour Day I’m recalling, he built a fire in the backyard and installed a cauldron over it. We harvested from the garden and mom boiled and canned a large part of our winter’s preserves. We were living in town, newcomers from dairy farms, but even then, in post-war suburban Canada, it was an unusual thing for folks to do. Dad had survived the war in rural England, mother grew up on a prairie homestead through the depression and survivalist sensibilities came naturally to them. They possessed and taught me skills which I now take pride in when most people around me live in a push-button culture. It was hot, dirty work but even at that tender age I was expected to work like a little man. A friend from up the street wandered by to ask me to come play but was told I had to stay home until the day-long job was done. I complained that it was a holiday and dad responded that on Labour Day everyone was expected to work, no matter what other folks were doing. I believe he was serious.
The very next day was my first ever at school. I walked, on my own, the better part of a mile to find my way to kindergarten. When, years later, I visited these old haunts as an adult, I could not believe that my parents had pushed me out into the world like that. I suppose that is how baby birds learn to fly, flap or crash. I learned skills which have served me well throughout my existence. My parents were martially strict yet would allow me great latitudes in how far and how long I wandered. Apparently, when I was outside of their presence, God was expected to babysit. When I pass a high-school and see the parade of vehicles transporting teenage students I wonder at these kids and their skills to go out into a digital world and cope with basics like food and shelter. I cannot even operate a modern mobile phone competently but I do know how to survive without one.
A few weeks later that fall, Sputnik orbited over our house. I recall, even now, how everyone stood out in their backyards staring up at the clear night sky not sure what they were looking for. Suddenly someone cried, “There it is!” and soon we all spotted, in muted awe, a very bright star hurtling across the darkening cosmos. The world changed forever that night. We seldom look up now to count all the satellites stitching across the sky in all directions. We don’t even look up from our texting as we step into the traffic.
My parents, consummate fundamentalist evangelical Christians had been indoctrinated that Soviet Communism was the epitome of Satanic evil and surely the mark of the “end of days.” This mysterious Russian weapon (or whatever Khrushchev was scheming) now violating God’s heaven and spying down on us surely heralded Armageddon. We were living through the era leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis and paranoia of being fried to a crisp was rampant. I recall the air-raid sirens and the drills at school when we would all crawl under our desks and kiss our little asses goodbye, again. A gas explosion destroyed a house a few blocks away that winter. There was a huge thump, everything rattled horrifically. I can still remember my deep terror that this was IT. The Pinkos had struck!
Well, here I am well over a half-century later. I survived it all including my high-school years which is a fabulous story in itself. All I’ll offer of those days is that there was grave concern for a few years about the next encroaching ice age. Yes really! Then Ralph Nader came along and the tiger crap really hit the fan. The profit of paranoia is still imposed on us as never before history began to be recorded.
It is nowa beautiful, flawless late summer day. I need to get up from this desk and do something. Despite backyard burning being illegal in this town I am tempted to find some beets to boil and go make a fire. I could explain to the volunteer fire department that I was following a cultural tradition. Yeah right. There is a rising breeze and if I turned on my marine radio I’d hear a string of Maydays. It happens every summer long -weekend. Yachters from mainland Canada must return across the Strait Of Georgia and as soon as a tiny whitecap appears, panic sets in among the Tupperware armada. It used to amuse me but now that I’m boatless a dull knife twists in my gut. I know that all those millions of dollars of nautica, which never leave sight of land, belong to most folks for nearly every reason other than a love of the sea. Once in the home marina most of these “look at me possessions” will languish abandoned until Easter. Money isn’t everything but I sure could stand a change of problems.
“C’mon Jack, let’s go for a walk.”
…”The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
I have a natural inclination to apply humour to all my human interactions. It comes from a hard-wired insecurity which tells me that for successful interpersonal relations, I need to win folks over with a laugh and a smile. Most of the time that strategy works and I can get along well with folks, even those I don’t actually like. Once in a while I encounter some poor soul who is so broke they have no sense of humour. Then I’m stuck.
Recently I found myself in a large box store at a check-out counter. I was purchasing a new sewage-connection plumbing kit for my little trailer. The box it was in refused to stay closed. Plastic bits and long uncoiling brown springy hoses insisted on leaping out of their containment every time I managed to almost stuff them back into place. It was annoying but I could also see the funny perspective of my poo-pipe Jack-in the-box. I recall thinking, “Where’s the hidden camera?” A lady standing in line behind me asked, “Can I give you a hand”? Without thinking I responded with my usual come-back to that particular question. “Oh sure, I can always stand a little applause.” Invariably this brings a smile and laughter and I’ve made a new friend. Not today, even though others nearby saw the humour in my remark.
“Look I was just trying to be helpful and you give me sarcasm. Goddamned men and their chauvinist attitudes! You don’t think women can do the same things men do!” Actually I do, I may even be more of a feminist that some women because I know many ladies who are more skilled than men doing anything that is considered within the manly realm. Pilots, doctors, welders, mechanics, machinery operators, ship’s captains, engineers, educators, politicians, on and on, gender is irrelevant to ability whether men can admit that or not. I refuse to categorize based on gender. That I even write about this is ridiculous. With that sensibility, I also have little patience with chauvinist remarks. I responded, “Look, I’m just trying to check out my shit pipes. I tried offering you a little humour in exchange for your kind offer. Now, please, get off my tits.” She shut up. I instantly regretted my last quip although I was implying that we are all equal, we are all mammals, now lay of the gender babble. She had intended to be helpful and I had worked at shattering her day simply because she has a different view of life.
When I rewind that scenario I realize that it would have been best to simply keep my pie-hole wide shut. I just can’t keep from responding to other folk’s remarks. Only I can allow their words to affect the course of my day in any way. Ultimately, the only person responsible for our feelings is ourselves. A woman once said to me in a very condescending tone, “You men are all the same!” Nope; I couldn’t resist. “Oh,” I replied, “Just how many men have you known?” Like the sign above says, “Do not make eye contact with the gorilla.”
Another equalizer is being overweight. “My doctor told me I was obese and I replied that after a recent trip through the US, I was not obese, thank you very much. I am certainly not spandex-tight wattle-revealing waddling sideways porky, but I’ll concede I am not the flat-bellied willowy self of decades past. With a few health problems spiralling around each other, packing around an extra forty pounds is detrimental to my well-being and longevity unless… I am a bear about to den up. Other folks I know have had great success with the trendy “Keto Diet” and so I have eliminated the consumption of carbohydrates and gluten including wheat, rice and pasta, beer, and most of the other foods which give me pleasure. I am left with meat fish and poultry, nuts, green vegetables which grow above the ground, cheese and a little dark chocolate. I am actually not missing the addiction to carbohydrates (Yeah right!) and things are starting to look down. There is also a certain pleasure in realizing that I have rejected the garbage diet most of my culture swallows without question. It is an easier regimen to assume than I thought and I am enjoying the results of a little self-deprivation. My jeans are beginning to hang from my suspenders like clown pants. Maybe, as I lose my big shape, I’ll actually be able to again use a belt successfully. For that you need hips. Don’t buy me any thongs just yet. Yuck! There is already a pair of Speedos I can’t bring myself to wear in public anymore.
Losing weight is not the only effort to trim the results of personal over-consumerism. I am trying to reduce the accumulations of belongings. If I never use it, or have even forgotten I possess it, it is junk. While I can’t bring myself to throwing out books or tools, I also am chagrined to realize that there is no point in storing boxes of things like plumbing fittings, bits of exotic wood, old useless boat parts and so forth. I’ve been dunging out and truly have ended up with loads of bits and bobs of no value to anyone. Potentially useful materials go to people like ReStore but otherwise, why keep stuff just for the bizarre comfort of owning “Stuff.” I’ve previously written about relatives who were hoarders to the point of reducing the value of their property because it was heaped with “Stuff.”
I will confess to having rented a storage locker for the interim to store equipment and components left over from the sale of ‘Seafire.’ In the storage yard where my locker is, there is row after row of old cars, RVs and boats that are clearly worn out, rotting away and otherwise not used. Yet someone is paying to keep their belongings. Folks in our culture have so many belongings they can’t fit them into their over-sized homes. The storage business is a growth industry in North America. ($38 billion in the US alone.) As I was driving away and musing on our capitalist instinct, yet another news story on the radio ran on with more weary statistics about global warming. I often rant on about the “Profits of paranoia” so it was with some joy to sit at this desk and open a short YouTube presentation emailed on to me by a friend.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiPIvH49X-E This link will take you to an excerpt from the 9th annual International Conference On Climate Change. It covers a short presentation by a renowned scientist named Art Robinson. Here are few things he has to say: “We are on a democratic playing field trying to save a constitutional republic.”…”All democracies fail and descend into mob rule.” In summation of what he presents the man says, whatever you choose to believe we ask you to “Think.” He presents a very different and qualified perspective on Global Climate Change and I found myself sitting at this desk applauding what he has the courage to say. I think some of his perspectives are skewed, we do need to think and act in a more responsible way toward our environment, but think, damn it, think.
I’ve recently forwarded two presentations of polemic, satirical political comment from YouTube to select friends. It was very interesting to consider the reactions each evoked. Some were in complete agreement with the views presented, others were enraged and very polarized against the ideas put forth. Interesting, in all negative responses I detected that only selected portions had been absorbed and the overall message had been missed. I have to always keep that in mind with what I write and leave no doubt in my comments and messages.
I have learned to keep my abstract social/ political views to myself past a certain point. There is no advantage for me to repel subscribers yet I also feel obliged to present thought-provoking suggestions that inspire folks to ask themselves questions which take them out of their personal comfort zones. Perhaps of all the things that separate the human organism from any other life form is our ability for introspection and self-questioning. To avoid doing so is to wilfully deny yourself your humanity. Goose-stepping out onto thin ice is foolish but sometimes, like it or not, you do have to look the gorilla in the eye.
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” …Albert Camus
Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that the format and appearance of this blog have suddenly changed. I have found a local cyber wizard whose magic fingers worked their wonder before my eyes. He left me feeling like a cave man! The blog is hopefully now more appealing and easier to navigate for both myself and visitors to find specific subjects. My ulterior motive is to increase my readership and thereby make the site a good place for businesses to advertise. I thank all my regular readers for their support but it’s time to try and monetize. All donations gratefully accepted even though I have no Phoenix church fire fund. I should explain why the blog is now called “Part II.” It is simply referring to the blog as it evolves past the sale of the boat for which this work was first named. The crew lives on.
A few days ago my old dog Jack and I walked around what know as our river loop. It is within a local regional park and our regular route is a little over a mile. That’s not far but Jack, with all his sniffing side-explorations, he is usually exhausted by the time we arrive back at our vehicle. The return leg is along one bank of the Nanaimo River where we often see interesting wildlife and flowers. At the moment fawn lilies and current bushes are in full bloom. We usually meet other fine dogs in the company of their lovely owners. Despite a gloomy damp overcast, we enjoyed our trip there. That evening a message from Google appeared on my mobile phone. “Did you enjoy your visit to the Nanaimo River Regional Park today?” What the hell? This old dude was frightened and angry. What cyber eye watches when I go to the bathroom? Or hug my dog? Or anyone else for that matter! Is there no privacy or any more respect for the individual? I have no secrets nor conduct any nefarious activities, so why are my daily activities being monitored. I know it has to do with the settings on my phone but what an affront! I am not broadcasting my activities. Why can’t they focus on the bad guys?
Damn I miss my boat! I suddenly ache to again be in places without cell phone coverage. On the water, I’m less vulnerable to other’s invasive snooping. Obviously, by using GPS tracking, big brother monitors who is where doing what. The thing is, I did not use my phone while on my walk today and I am totally mystified. If I’d made or received a call I would understand. If I go online to research any item I’ll soon get popups about similar available products. That I understand, irritating as it is. But this! Some days the biblical prediction about “The Mark Of The Beast” seems entirely possible. Suppose we all were required to bear a micro-chip which would work not only as an electronic transaction facilitator but also as a constant tracking device. If you did not have one, you could buy nothing, get no medical services, have no employment, in short, do nothing within society. Not having one would be an ultimate crime. Big brother would know where and how long you slept, with whom and how often you went to the bathroom. If one truly wanted to live “off the grid” they would have to become like a Sasquatch and probably be hunted as vermin. A wild, far-fetched idea perhaps; but try travelling without a credit card. Really! We’re not that far away from such madness.
George Orwell knew his stuff, just like Alfred Einstein knew his black holes. I understand that I use the internet to to do my research, communicate with folks, post my blogs and videos. Every time we look at any imaginable item online we have to endure pop-up cyber sales pitches from several sources for that item for days afterwards. Privacy is what we give up for modern convenience. It is part of what we call being on the grid. We live like sheep with ear tags, which, by the way, are now often herded with drones. Shepherd for hire!
Work on the truck and trailer is finally atan end. (for now) The time has come to actually hook up and go somewhere. As usual the spending curve has been steep and alarming but I now have all the gear to be fully self-sufficient for extended periods. I have tools including a massive jack-all, shovel, axe, mechanical tools, a power saw, an air compressor and a lovely little generator to run it and charge the trailer’s batteries as needed be. There is also a solar panel. I have a kayak to perch on my home-made roof rack and an inflatable boat which I can roll up and transport in the back of the truck along with a new outboard motor and all the other gear. To complete my heap of “stuff” there is also an old bicycle. It is rebuilt but looks suitably shabby to help discourage thieves. I know it works. I look shabby and no-one ever tries to make off with me!
I know I’m doing the same old thing as I have with all my boats. I put my time and resources into trying to make a perfect vehicle and never get around to actually leaving. The funds have all gone into my notion of perfect road worthiness. Other folks just go and deal with issues along the way. Learning a little more spontaneity is clearly something I need to work on. My positive negativity was learned during my aviation indulgence and usually, I have few nasty mechanical surprises on my adventures. Of course, there was the old van which I recently took south that, despite careful preparations, still managed to provide plenty of troubles. Those issues did lead me to meet new folks and have new adventures. Blessings and curses, they go hand in hand.
Here’s a link to my eighth completed video posted on You Tube. As my self-taught skills slowly evolve I already look on my first efforts with a little bit of chagrin. Videography is a challenging and frustrating art. I had to start somewhereand have a huge new respect for accomplished video artists, especially those who produce brilliant wildlife works. Maybe, one day I’ll be able to humbly approach their ranks and stand among them. That’s something to work toward!
Seen one, seen them all. Well maybe for you, but not for me. I am still in a state of numbness at the moment, my recent blogs explain why well enough. It’s called mourning. However, spring is reluctantly advancing and although late, there is a profuse display of flowers. First the snow drops, then the fawn lilies and next as berry blossoms and periwinkles appear, so come the trilliums. A long-ago refuge from southern Ontario I revere them as the rare and official provincial flower of that province. Here in BC, they are much more common but just as magically beautiful. Despite their delicate appearance they are hardy and grace the forest for two or three weeks each spring. I find each one is unique. It is impossible for me to settle on one single photo as representative of their fleeting spring extravagance. So here are a bunch . Not one was picked. Enjoy them while they last. All photos in this blog were taken with my mobile phone. My serious photo gear languishes on the shelf. As usual, all images in my blogs can be enlarged simply by clicking on them.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” …Maya Angelou.
September 10th. I’m back in Silva Bay. I have some work to do on the engine of a small wooden schooner. I know and love the little boat and hope I can put things right for the new owner. I scan the bay with my first morning coffee in hand, recognizing a mast here, a power boat there and realize how much of this place is in my heart. A bleak rain borne on a southerly wind intermittently lashes down. Summer is drawing to a close. On the journey from Ladysmith sunlight between the squalls lit the sponge-brown meadows along the shoreline. The earth drinks greedily. For the first time in months I pulled on a pair of jeans. I slid them up over my sponge-brown legs but I won’t be stashing the shorts away just yet. After this bout of rain we should have at least another month that we can wear our summer gear. Meanwhile the crickets still sing their dry rasping late-summer song “Winter’s coming, winter’s coming…” and yesterday I heard a tree frog, a sure sign of damper weather ahead. Where did summer go? It was just the long weekend in May! Wasn’t it?
I raft ‘Seafire’to ‘Aja’ which is secured between a mooring buoy and an anchor to the aft. She is facing off the prevailing wind so every time the hatch and companionway are open the rain wants to pelt right in. It makes for miserable work. The boat broke loose from her mooring two years ago, running aground, then filling with seawater on the next high tide. The engine was started after the boat was pumped out, but without all the electrical connections being thoroughly cleaned, there is a mess to deal with with. Electricity requires good wire and clean contacts to flow correctly so there is a challenge at hand. I remove all of the brine-seized components and head back to Ladysmith to find and repair the parts I need; a “back up and reload” situation.
In Ladysmith, the first block of the main street is being feverishly transformed. That block is being made over to become Green Hills Montana. Paramount is shooting part of a movie called “Sonic The Hedgehog” starring Jim Carrey with James Marsden and Tiva Sumpter. Tsunamis of money ($7 million) are being splashed around. I’ve got to manoeuvre downwind and try to catch some of the spray. Up-island a section of highway has been closed for several days, with traffic being re-routed while segments of the same film are being remade. This island, with its wonderful scenery and stable climate, I always remember the final scene in “Five Easy Pieces” with Jack Nicholson. When driving south one crosses a bridge over the Chemainus River. This is the background for that scene when Jack hitches a ride with a loaded logging truck and heads off into the sunset. There are many places om this beautiful island which I am sure would make great settings for filming. At the moment, looky-loo tourists are filling the streets, all adding to the excitement and annoyance in our sleepy little town. I wonder if somewhere in darkest Kansas there is not a movie set being erected called Ladysmith, British Columbia.
I recently watched part of an interview on YouTube between Joe Rogan and Elong Musk, our contemporary Techno Guru who is pushing the boundaries of many technologies including Tesla and SpaceX. His conjecture is that Artificial Intelligence is a real and growing reality, an insidious and unstoppable force. He suggests that the force is gathering intellect by taping into social media. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter or any of the other Cyber venues, you are feeding the monster. I don’t understand anything about this, or the parameters of the coming age but what I can grasp scares the hell out of me. I hope I do not live long enough to experience what George Orwell so clearly predicted. I think I’ll keep the boat.
“ While there may be such a thing as artificial intelligence, so far all stupidity is real.”…hisself
(Remember that you can enlarge any image simply by clicking on it)
“Trade goats for canoe.” The ad. caught my eye immediately. I have neither goats nor a canoe but I certainly understand that urge to go to sea. My sea lust has not diminished even with the notion of selling my boat. The response to my notice that ‘Seafire’ can now be bought has been overwhelmingly negative. “You can’t be Fred without your boat!” “What will you do?” So far there have been no offers of cash nor potential partnerships in the boat. I am not selling my beloved boat because I am weary of it or the sea. I simply cannot meet the financial demands of owning a boat any longer, at least within my current financial perimeters. There are fixed costs to pay whether you use the boat or not and there are no more rabbits in my sack. One window closes and another opens. If I am boatless on the beach for a while I will still be a salty dog, something I can neither hide nor deny. There are a number of folks who are boat owners who are clearly not water people no matter how hard they try to impress otherwise.
I, of course, am hoping for something to happen which will alter my direction and I am not about to give my beloved away to the first punter. My truck is also for sale and I’m not too proud to take money for just about anything else. I just want to relieve the mental constipation of debt and say “Aaah” as my creative juices flow freely. I can’t live here on my small pension so I need to be where I can do that. Yes I’ll miss the boat which has been my snug home and mobile refuge but life is not always about happy choices. Maybe I’ll soon be able to announce plan F, (whatever that is,) has fallen into place and that ’Seafire’ and I are headed south. But I do have a lovely backpack which is free and clear and the blogs can continue from wherever I am.
This blog is supposed to be about the adventure I would find aboard ‘Seafire’ but I’m hard aground. So onward and sideways. As the old English slang goes, I’ll do my best to “Keep my pecker up.” Haar! There are millions of people out there who would feel deep delight simply to have a cold drink of clean water let alone one nutritious meal a day; let alone daring to have a dream. Ordeal or adventure, it is all up to each one of us. We, who are so blessed, and so naive, take so much for granted. We cannot dare even try to understand the depths of misery and poverty of human existence. The bums sleeping under a bridge tonight are royalty compared to masses of others. We would be horrified to have to live even one day as most of our fellow species do. I often think of writers from the past who despite cold, hunger, illness, addictions at times, wrote so eloquently without spell-checkers or any of the many amenities we now enjoy and take for-granted. If it had been me, I would probably have found a way to dump my inkwell over the completed manuscript.
Well, finally all the sanding and filling and painting are finished. New life lines are rigged, now plenty high enough to keep my own herd of goats on deck. The boat looks like a new penny. I’ll finish painting inside the cockpit later. Now it is time to cast off the lines and get out of Dodge. It’ll soon be mid-summer and I’m weary of the sound of laughing, drunken gringo yachters having fun while I toil away.
After having begun this blog I awaken the following morning in bliss The boat is anchored in Silva Bay, I’m in my bunk, there is a gentle pre-dawn glow coming through the open hatch. I put the kettle on the stove and soon enjoy the forgotten aroma and sound of my coffee press. I sit watching the rising sun play its light across the bay. A US yacht with no courtesy flag leaves the end of the dock, a straight-out departure yet the grinding din of the bow thruster shatters the tranquility. But then they are gone and only the soft call of mourning doves enhances the peace. A friend’s boat needs my help and I enjoy the moment before I crawl into a bilge and begin what could be a sweaty day.
The work was completed as far as it would go by noon. We had to lift the rear of the engine to get at the stubborn, rounded and rusted bolts which hold the old starting motor in place. It was a frustrating endeavour but such is life. I’ve had worse. I’m happy to have ended my career as a marine technician, this is no longer a gig for this chunky aging dude but for old time’s sake I have black grease back in my pores. I’ve spent the afternoon peacefully napping and reading, doing nothing. I’m trying to teach myself not to feel guilt about simply being. It’s hard, really. The descending evening is clear and calm, like warm milk. I’m wondering what to do with myself. It was full moon last night and I’m thinking… yeah you know what I’m thinking.
I weigh anchor just before eight pm and motor out onto the Strait of Georgia. There is no wind so the autohelm is set on a course for Howe Sound. I believe it is the most beautiful inlet on the coast but it is industrialized and heavily populated. Deep, with plenty of steep-sided rocky islands, the inlet’s shoreline is crowded with homes built with amazing feats of engineering and spending. This is the first inlet north of Vancouver and so first access into the wilderness of British Columbia. On clear days you can see the magnificent mountains towering over the skier’s mecca of Whistler. Altogether it is a grand place to be. I speculate that much of this urbanization was brought on in a mad rush to the Westcoast inspired in part by a CBC television show filmed here in Gibsons. ‘The Beachcombers’ episodes can still be found on YouTube. All of its stars are long-gone but the impressions and flavour of the series lingers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj9bd-4qu4IHopefully this link will take you to some clips of the series. You’ll have to clip and paste to make it work.
My crossing is swift with a flood tide in my favour. There is a spectacular sunset. Eventually, what was last night’s full moon rises through the murk of distant Vancouver Airport. I can clearly see the city and Lion’s Gate bridge. There are suddenly fireworks in English Bay. Above the scene, in the velvet purple sky, brilliant lights of far-distant aircraft descend in an arcing approach toward the airport like stars on a string. As I arrive at my anchorage that scene is backlit with another fireworks display in the town of Gibsons. WOW!
Later, in the lazy early morning light, I lay listening to seals snort and splash. There are photos and films to edit but for the moment the fullness of nothingness is wonderful. These are lonely moments but even that longing ads to the gentle intensity of Sunday morning rising up. CBC radio plays a tribute to Arvo Pärt, one of my favourite classical composers. Last night, I listened to a regular Saturday evening feature, “Saturday Night Blues’ hosted by Holger Petersen. It is a CBC tradition and always a pleasure of good music. A great jazz program follows. Yep, I’m actually plugging good old CBC.
A day later I’m absorbing the rising heat and activity of a Monday morning in downtown Vancouver. One phone call persuaded me to join some friends who are anchored in False Creek in Vancouver. I was curious, I haven’t been here in years. The buildings are higher and denser than ever. Crossing English Bay on my way in was a gauntlet of vessels going every way, threading their erratic courses between the anchored freighters with apparent oblivion to anyone else. Entering False Creek was mayhem. Every sort of floating object was pelting about, from pedal boats and kayaks to huge tour vessels. Skittering through all of that were a plague of water taxis, all apparently in defiance of any rules or basic courtesy. On shore, the walkways and beaches seemed to bulge with masses of folks. Finding a place to anchor was a challenge, nearly every possible spot was full. None of this circus is for me. I’m finishing my second mug of chewy black coffee then I’ll catch the ebb tide out of here. This is no place for old sailors. The anchor chain came up so fouled with slimy muck that I wanted to cut it.
I spend the day meandering around back in the mouth of Howe Sound, stunned at the number of fantastic new summer homes and the lack of anchorages. The waters are too deep, right up to the steep shorelines. I arrive in Gibsons and anchor off the beach in front of Gramma’s Pub, a waypoint for me for over thirty years. The air is hot and still with a hint of the pulpmill at Port Mellon, a few miles north up the sound. The next day rushes past in the company of two wonderful friends I’ve know for years. Their hospitality was grand, their cooking superb and I delighted in the warmth of their friendship.
It is too soon that I find myself sailing back toward my home dock. The wind, as usual is a little too fine on my bow and so, as usual, I find myself motor-sailing toward the Gulf Islands. This morning, I’m anchored off the docks of the Ladysmith Maritme Society. My space has been rented out in my absence to a transient boat. I don’t mind the inconvenience. The summer has brought a roaring trade in visiting boats. It is good for the town and the marina. I’m writing as the boat shifts in the tide and breeze so that the sun remains in my eyes, as usual.
“The most courageous thing is to think for yourself. Aloud.” …Coco Chanel
“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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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. “
The proverbial ‘Barefoot Shoemaker’ is someone who is so busy plying their trade that they have no time (or money) to make shoes for themself. This old yacht tinker is in a similar boat. (yes, that’s a pun) I’m so often at work in someone else’s boat. When there is so much to do on my own. When living aboard ‘Seafire’ I don’t have the energy at the end of the day to work on my own upgrades if it is possible at all while living in that same small space. I bought the boat four years ago and immediately had lists of “To do” lists. As soon as one item is crossed off, two more are added to the bottom. Some days it is just not fun and sadly the best days for working on your boat are also the nicest days to be out sailing. But it does beat mowing a lawn. Always!
It is the time of year when people are stumbling down onto the docks to see if their boat has survived the winter and is yet afloat. I’ve been moored in the Ladysmith Maritime Society Docks since Christmas. I am there nearly every day and can confidently state that many boats have not had a visit by their owners in all that time. Now the May long weekend is coming and there is a panic to get the old bateau ready for voyaging. “Damn boats, fix, fix, fix, nothing but a hole in the water to shovel money into.” Yuck, yuck, yuck! There are some frantic requests for me to “Git ‘er dun for the weekend” but I’ve decided that, for once, my own boat comes first. Love your boat, she’ll love you back.
As I write this somewhere in the Indian Ocean, my friends Tony and Connie, are aboard their boat ‘Sage’ between the southern Maldives and the East Coast of Africa. They expect to be out of touch for up to eight weeks. My thoughts and best wishes sail with them on their long crossing.
With news of the horrific earthquake in Nepal, Deadly hail storms in Texas, a monster volcano in Chile, Israeli military strikes into Syria and renewed drug wars in Mexico, I am happy enough in my own bilge. I’ve had to go backward by about three thousand dollars with the necessary installation of a new charger/inverter. This is a machine that not only keeps the batteries charged when the boat is at the dock but converts DC electrical power to AC power when at sea. This allows the use of power tools and other luxuries like microwave ovens and even, if I want, an air conditioner. If I have to make my way south by fixing other boats, I do need AC power away from the dock.
There was a time when a small gasoline engine in a sailing yacht was a decadence used only to move the boat in and out of marinas. They were aptly called auxiliaries. (For many years, part of my criteria was that the auxiliary had to have a back-up hand crank to manually starting the engine… just in case) Engines were also used to charge a battery for starting and to run another luxury, a VHF radio. Boats have become much bigger, the list of appliances and gadgets is extensive as is the amount of power required to run it all. Now some sailboat owners brag about their turbo-charged diesel. There is far more than enough power to charge the electrical system and propel the boat but excess is now often a normal state.
During my years on the tugs, sailboats were often referred to as “Blowboats” or “Stickboats.” We jokingly used them as a wind monitor. While the sails were up and flapping, wind was nil or light. When the sails were stowed, it was getting a bit breezy. Seriously! If a sailboat was motoring with only the mains’l up, chances were good that someone was trying to declare their right-of-way as a sailing vessel, a perverse misinterpretation of collision regulations. Sometimes I took a lot of flak from the rest of the crew because they knew I was a “Ragboater.” There are also those who are determined to prove their saltiness by insisting on, and trying to sail, no matter how light the wind and no matter how they interfere with other marine traffic. In fact I suspect that is part of the fun for them.
An undue sense of entitlement, or perhaps a quest for empowerment, seems to a prime motivator in our culture. It is often displayed as an attempt to shoulder everyone else aside or to hold as many people back as possible. You can see this behaviour any time on the roads or in the supermarket and at times on the water. We are saddled with a media culture that attempts to diminish our sense of self-worth unless we look like, smell like, live in, drive one of those and generally consume ourselves into a wretched existence. No wonder so many folks subconsciously crave empowerment, entitlement and recognition simply because they exist.
An Audi advertisement on the television this morning stated their automobiles were about “Presence” and provided a statement of “Dominance and intimidation.” Really?
What about reliability, economy, and safety? Oh yeah, and environmental sensibility?
A few days ago I had an adventure with a dog stuck in a culvert. Neighbours were complaining about ongoing barking and howling that had kept them awake. I assumed that someone had left their spoiled-rotten dog alone in a nearby house. The noise continued and, hours, I finally went to investigate.
I found an old, very large Labrador retriever stuck in a culvert, about twenty feet in. He had been laying in cold, running water for at least twelve hours. Then this old fat boy hisself wriggled into the pipe. For a moment I worried about also becoming stuck but all’s well that ends. Slowly both of we old dogs came out backwards, me dragging the other an inch at a time until we both emerged, wet and mucky, into daylight. We must have quite a sight! Then came a trek with the rescued dog over my shoulder until I could get him laying on a blanket in the sun. He probably weighed seventy pounds and was of course soaking wet, chronically hypothermic and totally exhausted. He couldn’t even lift his head.
Eventually, reluctantly ,some of the neighbours were persuaded to help. Soon after the ubiquitous self-acclaimed expert dog whisperer arrived to demonstrate her superior knowledge. She had little actual sympathy for the dog, he was merely a platform for her warped ego, and yes I finally lost my patience with her arrogant declarations about how much she thought she knew. I cannot abide someone trying to capitalize on another’s misery. Things got quite ugly but eventually I got Wyatt to a veterinary hospital. That was his name as it turned out. (Wyatt Twerp) The vet called me today to say that poor old Wyatt had had to be put down and thanked me profusely for my efforts. Not a word of appreciation from the locals, which I didn’t expect, but ain’t folks funny? If Wyatt had expired in the culvert, I wonder how long it would have taken someone to go find the source of the smell. And if I’d expired in there too…yeeech!
I recalled this story with a fellow dog lover/walker whom I met out on the trail. I said something about militant feminism. “No, no,” she said, “You were dealing with a womanist. They are the female equivalent of a misogynist and loath men in general. Their perspective is as archaic as the notion of nuns and priests.” Her view was refreshing, but I don’t like to genderize the behaviour of people who live with the sad, desperate need to constantly pee in other folk’s corn flakes.
It seems that I’ve found myself recently dealing with folks who are easily upset, determined to take offence and speak condescendingly. It happens at times to all of us and when I find myself in that groove I see myself as the common factor and sit in front of the mirror and review what the hell’s happening. I always tend to feel responsible for whatever might be wrong and acrimony leaves me upset for days after.. This time I can’t figure what’s up. Later, I was talking with someone else who remarked that he had just seen an article describing recent, extra large solar flares and their effects on this planet, including electrical grinds, communication systems, and yes, people’s moods. Apparently there is a general wave of hostility and aggressiveness in human behaviour that might be attributed to celestial influence. Dunno! Maybe? We do know that lunar cycles effect human behaviour among many other things so let’s just keep an open mind. Blame it on the sun.
In the face of all the recent miseries of the world I’ve been wandering around Ladysmith with my cameras looking at what we have right here. Don’t we take so much for granted? It is a lovely little town. One of my constant joys in this community is how young families are buying up the older miner’s, logger’s and fishermen’s houses and lovingly restoring them. Many of those house are small, but if previous generations could raise large families in them, surely, one-point-something baby yuppies will do just fine there. The bonus is the large yards, many with mature fruit trees and space for large gardens and room for kids to stay at home and play, physically outdoors. I’m loading this blog with photos of Ladysmith and the local area. A popular bumper sticker here reads, “Ladysmith, where you’re never over the hill.”
There is a movement afoot for many folks to downsize their homes to the point of silliness. There seems to be a notion that they are re-inventing the concept of minimalism and living with less is a great new idea. The trendy yachting magazines are now glorifying those who’ve dumped their grand yacht and are enjoying life with trailer-able sailboats. They’re discovering a new sort of freedom where their possession are truly serving their interests rather than ruling their life.
Of course a lot of this is rationalization which comes in the wake of recent economic disasters in North America which have decimated the middle class and the notion of our identities being determined by the stuff we accumulate. We are all out of touch with reality in this part of the world and really have no idea of how most of the world’s population lives, forcing itself to be content with rudimentary shelter and no clear idea of when or what their next meal might be. Gluten? Trans-fat? Yes please.
By the way, a happy note from this old cynic. I often slam modern technology and express my dismay at our growing dependance on machines. But today I reviewed a wonderful application of that technology. A blind pregnant woman in Brazil, entering her third trimester, received an ultrasound of the foetus. Those images were then transferred to a 3D printer and so she was able to feel the face of her unborn baby. That made my face leak.
One last note from the media. We’ve long known that dolphins are one of the few other species which indulge in recreational sex. Now we’re learning they also partake in recreational drug use. I’ve just just watched a video which clearly shows a pod of dolphins gently harassing a puffer fish. Once it defensively inflates itself it floats on the ocean’s surface immobilized . The spiky little bugger than begins exuding neurotoxins, which in large doses can be fatally toxic. In mild doses you get stoned so in turns the dolphins nuzzle the little guy and the effects are obvious. One the part is over, the puffer deflates, heads back to its life on the bottom and the dolphins find other distractions. Interesting!
I’m reading two wonderful books at the moment. One, ‘The Shadow Of the Sun’ is by Ryszard Kapuscinski, a Polish journalist who in the late 1950s witnessed the end of colonialism in African, the rise of independent states and the ensuing madness which still grips most of that continent. He affords a graphic explanation of so many things I didn’t think about and certainly did not understand. It is a wonderful essay on Africa and I am glad to have read it. Social studies aside, his writing style is beautiful and I heartily recommend this book for those who like to learn and understand.
The second book is ‘The Inconvenient Indian’ by Thomas King. I believe this is a fine and even exciting text for anyone who wants a better understanding of native perspectives about their place in contemporary North American culture and how they got to their present situation. It is of course, biased, but forgivably so, and the wit and insight this writer offers is refreshing and very enlightening.
I’ll close this blog with a quote from that book.
“Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories.”…”I simply have difficulty with how we choose which stories become the pulse of history and which do not.”
Christmas Eve, the weather today was fabulous. It was so darned fine I went for a swim. But I’ve discovered free diving in a rain parka is a bit awkward.
Today I moved the boat. My new berth at the old shipyard proved to have problems with the electrical service. There was low, fluctuating voltage which is death on “Smart” electronic devices like the large (As in expensive) charger inverter in my boat. Low voltage is as nasty as too much; my heater is now producing that scorched wiring aroma. It’s toast. Because there are massive development plans afoot for the old shipyard, nobody is about to put money into ancient wiring systems which will be soon ripped out. I found a temporary berth at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and decided to move today.
I spent last night on the boat in Nanaimo with no heat but slept well under a copious layer of wool blankets. Mr bladder blew his whistle at 03:00 but it was warm and snug in my nest and I reluctantly emerged up to address the call one toe at a time. I guess that’s one of the gold marks of approaching geezerhood; waking up warm and…dry.
The day began with a mug of stout black coffee. Then it was time to twist the old girl’s tail. Those old batteries, cold as they were, ground the good old Lehman over and she sputtered into life ready as ever to take on the world. It’s funny how a man can be in love with a lump of assembled metal parts but I truly do hold great affection for this old-school menagerie of basic up and down, round and round simplicity. Bugger electronics! Thirty seconds after flash-up, she spluttered into silence. There was air in the fuel system which I soon bled out and the faithful old beast purred contentedly while I prepared to cut loose. Off we went bound for the fuel dock to slip a little dinosaur juice into one tank and with one more item to add to the repair list.
This boat holds well over a thousand dollars of fuel. So I’ve yet to ever fill her up. And yes, this old aviator well knows the evils of condensation in partially filled tanks. One hundred dollars put eighty-four litres in the port tank, which raised the fuel gauge only a flicker but at least I knew the engine was not sucking any air from the tank holding the least fuel. There was a nasty, dirty dock hickey on the hull which I decided to scrub off given the opportunity, so leaning over a metal pipe dock rail I scrubbed vigorously, pushing hard on the hull. It inched away from the dock, I inched out to finish the job.
There was no kerplunk. Damn, that new raincoat is slippery! It all happened in slow-motion and I participated in disbelief. No, it can’t be, just relax and pull back yourself in. But down i slid. God! The water was clear. My glasses squirted off of my face and began a falling leaf descent to the distant bottom. I desperately groped for those beloved goggles and swam myself deeper and deeper. That’s when the full body ice-cream headache hit. I turned back for the light up top. Screw those bi-focals. There’s some crab down there sporting his wire-rimmed Christmas present as I speak.
You know, it’s funny. I’ve been pretty down and out lately, wrestling with the winter blues, lack of money and other personal problems to the point where the old Hari Kari demon begins whispering dark suggestions. I left him down there. One simple deep gulp of ice-cold water could have quickly ended my problems in an apparent innocent tragedy. No-one would have been the wiser, just another old fart doing something stupid but there was a choice that was beyond my reasoning. Back to the top for more of this thing called life. My slow motion adventure probably lasted less than two minutes but when I broke surface with my pockets full of water I was amazed to realize that I was already becoming hypothermic. I had no strength and couldn’t haul myself out. There were some folks attending another boat at the dock and I began with an escalating voice, “Hello, excuse me. Hello, helloo!”. (Bloody stupid polite Canadians!) All’s well that ends and here I am tonight, warm dry and sipping the very last of my Jamesons.
As I backed the boat away from the dock I noticed a ladder on the end of the dock and around a corner not fifteen feet from where I floundered. Damn that pump jockey! I am so glad I didn’t ruin his Christmas. After all my years at sea, and fully aware of how it is the little things that getcha, little reminders still come now and then.
Heading out of the harbour I flipped the auto pilot on. It died in a heartbeat. Something bloody else to fix! It was going to be an Armstrong steering situation and so it was that I came south. It turns out there were a million logs in the water because of the winter solstice and the spring, or extreme, tides. The auto pilot would only have caused more trouble had it been working. The day was glorious and clear and warm and the goddamned sun was right in my eyes most of the way! Turning to miss one log lined the boat up to hit another two and so the trip to Ladysmith went. I’m still half- blind from following that bright path and happy that I rammed only two logs. Finally in the marina in Ladysmith, I backed perfectly into my new berth, made all the lines fast and doubled, plugged in my shore power cord and discovered that someone forgot to turn on the power for my slip. So why did I leave Nanaimo?
Well some days that’s how the pickle squirts. Unless, you’re too poor for pickles. Bugga!
It’s Christmas and may your priorities fall in the correct order. Here’s to life, however it unfolds.
The alternative is pretty dark. And cold! Isn’t it interesting? Whether we are wealthy or poor, happy or sad we all share a common priority….our next breath. The moment, no matter what we choose to believe, it is really all we have.
Wishing us all very many moments, and happy ones at that.