Slippery Slopes

The last resort. A view of Dogpatch in autumnal splendour. The heavy chair begs a question or two.

We slide down the slippery slope called autumn. Our first frost of this fall glitters on the roofs this morning as the reluctant sun rises under a clear cold sky. There’s no turning back so we may as well ride it out and get on with it. If we gain enough momentum, perhaps we’ll zoom across the valley called winter and find ourselves well on the way to spring before we know it. Yeah right! It was only a month ago that I slept out on a dock. Now here we are digging in the closet for winter coats.

Things that go bump in the night. Now it is safely stranded at the high tide line. Imagine confronting this iron-studded monster in the dark. The black stuff is coal dust.

Like springtime, if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it will change. There are periods of lovely sunlight, then bursts of cold rain. Within the advance to winter we are having the cold approach of a federal election later this month. The wearisome political signs are everywhere. Posters line our streets and highways, dot lawns and store fronts much to vandal’s delight. A televised “debate” earlier this week between the federal leadership hopefuls left me squirming in disdain as everyone tried to outshout and insult each other. Other inane election stories on television leave me inclined toward indignant rage. A friend and I recalled how as kids, for Halloween costumes we would black our faces with burnt cork. No one considered it a racial innuendo. That candidates would use twenty-year old photos of a young man at a costume party to try and slander another is pathetic. It is childish and self-demeaning; I know who has persuaded me away from voting for them.

Rare election humour
Wearing only bones in their noses, they danced naked around the crackling flames as Pluto rose and aligned itself with the orifice in the shrine.
…Or something like that.
There are jokes about the Ugga Bugga tribe.

Beyond our Canadian borders, US politics also amuse and confuse me; England too. With all the politicians stumbling about peeing in each other’s cornflakes, how the hell do they ever get around to actually doing the job their constituents hired them to do? If you are old enough to know what a gong show is…well! The bong of the gong goes on. There are no alternatives. Party politics, in the end, are ridiculous, no matter whom you decide to support. At least, in our system, we are still free to leave, any time, anywhere. Real estate is very affordable in Syria, or Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Bangladesh, just to name a few. No need to name this dude, but how to you sit idly by when anyone tweets that they “have a great and unmatched wisdom?” (No, that is not taken out of context) It seems to be a neo edition of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes.’ Seriously! And apparently, they are all as goofy.

Now here’s a green memorial. Old industrial junk as been cleverly adapted and piece of beach is cleaner.

A neighbour who has held a major bucket-list item of seeing Africa finally dreamed and schemed herself onto her trip of a lifetime. Several countries were on her two-month itinerary and on her arrival in South Africa, she sent a photo of herself paragliding. I joked that was a slow way to fly the length of such a big continent. Nearly a month into her adventure her ankle exploded during a white water rafting adventure in Zambia. She never got to see Victoria Falls. The hospital there was so basic that the doctors had to hold her x-rays up to the sun to read them. Struth! It took a few days to get to Johannesburg where that hospital would not accept her medical insurance. Miraculously she found a flight home via Hong Kong and made it through that airport without any political demonstrations. I cannot imagine the misery of her travels.

Finally, in Vancouver, after a jaunt around the world, the hospital there turned her away and directed her back to Vancouver Island. By the time she arrived in Nanaimo her fragmented ankle had been injured for well over a week and so then the hospital here tried turning her away; no beds. Finally, in desperation, she persuaded them to look at her x-rays again and so she found a bed in a hall. The ankle was in such bad shape by then, they waited another six days and have finally operated and pieced the mess back together. I worry that she is able to keep her foot. And we thought we had troubles!

Fall blooms
Hunting season in the alley. Four different sets of fresh tracks.

Back from our morning walk Jack and I huddle by the gas fireplace. It was crisp and lovely with a light Westerly wind rising. Municipal workers were blowing the water out of the sprinkler system on the lawn of the town hall. It is indeed time to focus on things south. It occurred to me this morning that the local anchorage dubbed as Dogpatch was once regarded by myself, I’ll confess, with low regard. Folks living off the grid, for whatever reason often impose themselves on the tolerance and benevolence of others. They undermine their own dignity by doing that. Now I am on the beach, boatless. What a change in perspective! And in humility.

Now THESE are mushrooms, at least for a little while. Known as ‘Shaggy Manes’ or ‘Inky Blacks’ they have a delightful delicate flavour. But within hours, they bell out, their edges become inky black and they have become toxic.
Toadstools.
Love me, love my slug. Somebody had a nibble.
Ok, OK! Enough with the ‘shroom photos! I couldn’t resist this little guys nestled beneath the leaves. They were not even a quarter this size in reality.
La loo! In an effort to provide affordable public washrooms in the woods…actually the town had this venerable arbutus felled and cut up. Someone considered it a danger tree and wanted to “help” nature. It would probably have fallen over, in another two hundred years.
Remember this? My little utility trailer in transformer state 2 with metal sides removed and bunks installed to turn it into an inflatable boat trailer.
Now this, a dream in a box! That’s my home-made storage box mounted on the front. Didn’t that work out well? Now with a cover that hinges up on one end, insulation, a bed, some wiring, a fireplace, a hot tub…..
Good things come in small packages.

I cannot come up with resources, or even employment, to sustain myself. In an effort to stay positive and active I have put myself to work building an enclosure on my little trailer to haul camping amenities behind my truck on my next trip south. (Yes, I AM determined.) I have been thinking that an older, small camper for the back of the truck is all I need. Then I would have a four-wheel-drive RV of sorts. Now it has occurred to me that all I need is a safe, dry place to sleep comfortably. Why not turn the trailer into a small camping vehicle? One of the best trips ever was with a teardrop trailer. I can build this into a fold-up camper with standing headroom at one end. It already has a ramp which can double as a small porch, snake and scorpion-proof. I already have plenty of camping gear so why not do something big in something tiny? My cameras and laptop don’t know what sort of RV I’m based in and I’ve learned from experience with my little teardrop trailer that this is the way to meet some awesome people. Those that pick you out because of your humble rig are the ones to get to know. So there!

Downtown Duncan, “City Of Totems.” Late season tourists admire the native art. Note the rusted tin roof over a main block in town.; a left-over from more rustic times in Vancouver Island’s history.
Granny’s moved. Near Duncan, this is a favourite house to me. It looks like a movie set. I can hear the distant echoes of children’s laughter and even faintly smell cinnamon buns in the oven of a wood stove.
Garry Oak forest. Fortunately, in the face of cancerous housing development, this patch of original woodland has been preserved. It wraps around the old house.
The barn. An overview of part of the old Swallowfield Farm and Chemainus River Estuary where Jack and I love to wander. What a wonderful area to live! The bright bank of cumulus cloud in the distance marks the shoreline of mainland Canada.

I’ve just discovered something worth sharing if you happen to like genuine Mexican food. This Michoacán rural grandma has become a YouTube star with her very basic cooking show. No glitz, no make-up, just out in the rustic backyard with the chickens. You don’t need to speak Mexican to see how she does things. She has some very neat tricks.

Here is the link to one show, check it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WCni7y8i44 You may want to subscribe. The title of her series is “De Mi Rancho A Tu Cuchina” (From my farm to your kitchen) Mucho Gusto!

On October paths. The big stump above Jack tells a story about the original old-growth forest.
To the sea, alway back to the sea. Soon the rains will swell the course, the leaves will wash away and perhaps salmon will return to spawn.

Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.”
― Cheryl Strayed

Death Of A Passion Flower

When push comes to shove
When push comes to shove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

s.v. 'AQUARIAN'
s.v. ‘AQUARIAN’

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

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

To underscore that anecdote, I learned

Cowichan Bay skyline
Cowichan Bay skyline

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

Autumn by the bay
Autumn by the bay

A new blog arrived from my pals Tony

Cow Bay floathome
Cow Bay floathome

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

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

Bite me!
Bite me!

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

No, bite me!
No, bite me!

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

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

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

Autumn blush
Autumn blush

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

A view to the south
A view to the south

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

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

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

Again!
Again!

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

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

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

Say goodnight
Say goodnight