Friday, January 25th. It seems like ten months since Christmas! This morning I crawled out of bed well before dawn and decided that no matter what, I’d catch up on my blogging. Six hours later I was done and packed up the van, ready for the road. After bidding a fond farewell to my Ladysmith amigos, I went and provisioned up, then hit the road. Aghast at the size of the RV dealer’s lots I finally cleared through a Homeland Insecurity checkpoint and began to feel free again. I’d beaten the mechanical gremlins and was off to see the wizard. But then I began to smell something. My weary old farm boy brain decided it must be the faint aroma of some chemical being applied to the fields that I was passing.
At a place called Wellton, I pulled off to gas up before pursuing an alternate route along a back road which is always my bliss; exploring a new rural track. At the gas pumps I shut off the ignition. Pshhhhhh!!! Balls of steam erupted from under the hood. I swore softly. Yeah right! When I crawled underneath I could see coolant running down behind the new water pump. I swore softly again. As it is turns out an old heater hose had ruptured. It should have been replaced when the pump was changed, but, that’s the way the pickle squirts.
After slowly cooling the engine down I made a temporary repair then ventured into the tiny farm town and found the new hose and coolant I would need for a permanent fix in the morning. The NAPA clerk assured me that Geronimo’s Mexican Restaurant across the street was excellent. Noting the vultures circling above I came on in. It is five pm as I write and the place is filling with local seniors. Muy Beuno! I last ate a small bowl of hot cereal at 05:30 and this place has fantastic authentic food especially when feeling famished.
Well, now I’ve made several repairs to the accommodation infrastructure, and three to the engine room so, damn your teeth Murphy, I’m confident the worst is behind me. On the wall beside me, is a ubiquitous black and white photo of the area which I’ve seen several times. It was taken in Yuma in 1950 when two men in a small Aeronca sedan flew in circles for forty-five days non stop. They were served with fuel, oil and food from a convertible car racing beneath. What they did for matters of personal hygiene is a nagging question for me. I once had an airplane which held nine hours worth of fuel. My bladder never outlasted that fuel tank and I tried several creative and sometimes humiliating ideas. Both machines have been recovered, restored and are now on permanent display inside the Yuma City Hall.
There are still two hours of daylight, I forge on eastward and look for a place to spend the night. Just at dusk I pull off the old highway I’ve been travelling and over a hump, behind a hill, I find a spot in raw desert that seems perfect. As I manoeuvre for a level spot I notice a small tent and a motorcycle a mere one hundred yards away. I go to apologize for cramping his solitude. The fellow is amiable enough but won’t shake my hand or give me his name.
The night is splendid with a moon-lit desert and brilliant stars. Up[ before dawn, I make my repairs, then take a short hike. In the distance I can hear crump…crump, crup..crump. I check the map. It is artillery from a distant practise range. It is far enough away to somehow add an air of peacefulness to my scene.
A day later, I’m blogging from ‘Belly Acres’ Rv Park in Ajo Az,a place I’ve stayed before. The sun is just breaking through the van windows, mourning doves are cooing away from the palm tree above me. Today I’ll be off to Baboquivari. There ’ll be no peace in the valley.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
He’s back. One of the disappointments on my return to Shearwater this year was that Edgar was gone. Someone, with a burst of artistic genius, installed the gnarled top of a tree on the waterfront. It accents our sweeping panorama of the Great Bear Rainforest and proved to be a perfect perch for an eagle which the locals had named Edgar. Last year he sat placidly twenty feet above the ground while people stood beneath and clicked their cameras merrily. The old tree sat empty this year. Yesterday, there he was! Even if he moves on I know that yet he lives. It is tiny moments like that which make life here survivable for me.
I’m starting to write this blog only a day after I posted the last one. Apparently the containment boom around our sunken tug in Seaforth Channel has broken in heavy weather. While I’m concerned about environmental aspects I’m getting damned weary of the whole situation. CBC’s “On site” report by Chris Brown yesterday was skewed and poorly researched. The story he presented was largely uninformed opinion and quite misleading to the broadcast audience, most of which swallows anything viewed on television as God’s truth. If Mr. Brown would like to report on environmental devastation he should return when the gillnet fleet is at our docks when, for months, there is a thick film of diesel and oily bilge water punctuated with copious beer cans and every sort of plastic garbage. All of that on the ocean which these fishermen depend to provide the bounty of their livelihood. Report on that Mr. Brown. Perhaps he could spend more time, than that between flights in and out of here, and review the rape which our sport fishing industry annually imposes on our fish stocks. Perhaps he could review some of the hypocrisies and environmental travesties our indigenous population imposes on the land and sea they claim to cherish so dearly. Report on that Mr. Brown.
As for quoting local environmental activists who consume the same products and fuels we all import on barges by burning, yes diesel, try reporting on how ALL of us are consumers and part of the problem. If we really don’t want the bulk transport of fuel in our waters, fine. I live on my boat, I’ll be OK. Stop our fuel deliveries and let’s see how long it takes for the squeaking to rise in a different direction. And as for quoting Heiltsuk executives who are criticizing the alacrity of the clean-up process, perhaps you could check on the accuracy of their claims. There were vessels on site within six hours of the grounding. Fifty-four million dollars were spent in the first week and I’m told the daily operational costs are around $1.3 million. And by the way, check out how many folks from the Heiltsuk Nation are being paid obscene hourly rates to merely wander the beaches with a bundle of absorbent pads. Furthermore, what IS the wildlife death toll? Report on that Mr. Brown. I am damned weary of hearing about what someone else is supposed to do. We are ALL part of the problem. What are YOU doing about it? Hello? Mr. Brown?
As I sit writing this morning, for a few minutes, there was a burst of golden sunlight on the trees above the dock. Now the forest is again plunged into various dim tones of grey and green. I find that my life here scuttles between those moments of light and rainlessness. Now pelting rain is clattering against the pilot house windows. Last evening, the schooner “Spike Africa” returned briefly to the dock. I managed to grab some photos with my mobile phone in the soft afternoon light. I love traditional boats and it was an inspiration to see this beautiful, lovingly-maintained, wooden vessel. Just about every boat here is a utilitarian conveyance and the notion of keeping a boat clean, tidy and shipshape is considered frivolous. This morning, at first light, the schooner was gone. But that is the way of sailors.
The afternoon today was warm, calm and sunny. Back at my secret petroglyph site more moss was cleared away. More carvings, some under up to six inches of soil, roots and moss. It has been a while since anyone else looked on this ancient art. I wonder at how these images were made in such hard rock and what spiritual energy inspired the endeavour. I wonder what these ancients would have thought of their descendants. I have no illusions about the noble savage, past or present. I choose to see us all as human beings first, complete with our amazing strengths and pathetic weaknesses. I look at evidence of a time when we humans were apparently in harmony with our environment. I can only wonder when our slide backwards will stop and when technology and profit will cease to be our god.
All the while, as they have for the past several days, thousands of snow geese wing their way southward. They fly high, fast and strong, constantly shifting their formation to take a turn at sharing the effort of breaking the way. Even the birds know. They know and do not forget.
“The superior man understands what is right, the inferior man understands what will sell.” .…Confusius
They tried to be furtive, at least when they were leaving. The long weekend had drawn to an end. A collective thunder rose as the armada of white fibreglass boats started their engines. A collective funk of cold diesel engine fumes choked the marina and then the shouting began. Few skippers backed or turned their vessel into the dock when arriving. Then began the ordeal of getting pointy ends facing the right way.
Despite the easy manouverability of twin engines, and bow thrusters, even on some sailboats, there was an improv dance involving waving book hooks, tangled lines mis-thrown as some boats were turned by hand. More than one vessel had a matriarch on the foredeck bellowing instructions. Sometimes there was a nimrod on the dock shouting even more orders although he had no attachment to any boat. (I know these fellows are trying to be helpful but I wonder if some don’t go off to the local mall and try to shoulder and tug cars in or out of their parking spaces.) It is all great entertainment. I hope no marriages came to an end.
Bemusing when it occurs on one vessel, sometimes there are half a dozen boats or more at it all at once. It becomes a scene from a bad movie. “Cirque Du Mer.” Eventually they all slink off toward open water, their cold engines blurping and belching, a mixed din of twin engined vessels
with names like ‘Serenity,’ ‘ Tranquility,’ ‘Zepher’ or ‘Time Out.’ A collective sigh of the regular marina residents rises above the wafting exhaust cloud. They’re gone! Finally! Then today’s new transient armada begins to arrive. This will go on all summer. One new boat, a single engined fibreglass trawler hull, quietly idled in. She spun sweetly into the dock and kissed it, now facing the right way. An elderly couple calmly stepped onto the docks, easily secured their lines and settled in with no drama. It was bliss to watch, poetry in motion. The name of the boat was perfect, ‘Schmoochee.’ Seamanship; yet it lives.
A sail charter boat, with a cargo of very-far-inland folks arrived adjacent to my berth and began attempting to back into the night’s slip. The crew, in gaudy storm gear and silly hats, milled about
on deck, each flailing their own boat hook. The skipper furiously manipulated the bow thruster, throttle and helm, but all manoeuvres proved pointless (Now that’s a clever pun) The tide was slack, there was no wind, it was clear and warm. The more frustrated he became, the more random his efforts proved. Finally one stout lady lept intrepidly and impatiently off the stern quarter and began heaving the vessel into position. A tall gangly fellow, holding the breast line, and who should have been first onto the dock, finally stretched his long heron legs down onto the float all the while continuing to text with one thumb!
The things I wanted to say! Even my old dog Jack, usually gregarious, wanted nothing to do with this mob. Their karma had run over his dogma. When the portly leaper began effusing endearments at Jack like “C’mere Honey” and “Hi Darling” I looked up from the project I knelt at on my dock and offered “Oh! You’re talking to the dog!” She huffed over to a neighbouring boat where a geriatric St. Bernard reclined on deck and began coo-cooing at him. Bernie’s response was a rumbling throaty growl. “Jeez,” she exclaimed, “Nobody’s very friendly around here!”
The next weekend was cold, wet and blustery, yet the marina hosted a wooden boat gathering. It was bliss indeed to see these examples of much loved old wood, copious varnish and gleaming brass. Despite the poor light, I did my best to take some worthy photographs. Now the weekend has passed, the skies are again clear and calm.Did anyone really expect something different. Sadly, we are experiencing what seems to be the beginning of a severe drought this summer. Every drop of rain is precious. I suspect it might have something to with the US Presidential Race. All that hot air!
Finally I slipped my own lines and left the harbour. A friend on Gabriola had an engine problem in his boat. ‘Seafire’ needed some water rushing past her bottom to clean off the spring aquatic growth and so here I am in Degnen Bay. I awoke after a calm night to the sound of roosters and sheep. Farmland comes down to the tide line and life seems as it should. The bay is allegedly named after a local pioneer but it is worth noting that many nearby place names were bestowed by Spanish explorers. Descanso means “to rest” and I wonder if degnen is not a derivative with similar meaning. In any case, it is hard to shake off the peaceful lethargy here. I’m savouring my coffee this morning well aware of my proficiency at dissecting the Spanish language. Nada!
Back in Ladysmith I plod away at a few projects and wonder what to do for income. I certainly don’t feel like trying to hold a regular job but there are bills to pay and dreams to chase. Meanwhile a third weekend arrives since I began this blog. Now the Maritime Society is holding its annual “Pirate Day’. There are certain folks now wandering the docks dressed in outlandish Hollywood costumes and playing at being children again. I can’t condemn it just because I don’t understand it and know millions of people love festivals and occasions to wear disguises and pretend to be someone else. There’s a bullhead fishing competition for the children. I’ve been warned in consideration of Jack to beware abandoned wiener bait with hooks attached. They were right. I got one stuck in my tongue!
Finally, she cried “JATOBA!” totally in delight. “I thought you’d never finish!” I’ve just completed designing and building a cockpit table for some marina neighbours. It was a challenging design-as-you-go project requiring lots of innovative thinking between steps. Of course, looking at the job now, I’m left wondering what was so difficult working it all out. Yeah right. I did not have to buy any more wood because of an oops and I still have all of my fingers.
Because teak is priced beyond belief and I found some Jatoba lumber at a very fair price; guess what? Jatoba has many names including “Brazilian Cherry” It is a stable wood, very dense, resinous, and very, very heavy, and very beautiful. It is also incredibly hard and is most commonly used here for flooring. Whilebeing milled, the rough lumber repeatedly stalled a friend’s industrial planer. It is also sinewy stuff and destroyed one new $45.00 router-bit in minutes.
Sadly, this wood comes from Central America and each massive tree taken is a death knell to a rich eco-system of old growth forest. I do feel a twinge of guilt using the wood and I realize that saying the lumber was already in the pile is a lame excuse. I do feel the sacred fibre was used for a noble project and that by flagellating myself in published word I am raising awareness of our consumer compulsions. I hope my humble alter to exploitation is washed in free-trade rum many times in the years ahead. This, the third weekend through which this blog has been written, is blistering hot, airless and languid. Even the summery din of motorcycles on the nearby highway is gone. There are no sirens. I close my eyes and think of Mexico. Then a parrot farts.
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
If tonight I die in my sleep, it will be as a happy man. Lately nearly everything has been going wrong, and I am not content, but today was wonderful, a respite from other realities. I left immediately after work yesterday afternoon with the intention of sailing around Campbell Island, final homeland of the Heiltsuk. I awoke this morning at my leisure aboard my beloved ‘Seafire’ while anchored miles away from where I work. I eased into the day.
It is now Saturday night and I am well along my route. I’ve picked my way past submerged rocks invisible to the eye but noted on the chart. I wonder about all the ones not noted but I’m always amazed at how intricately accurate modern navigation charts are. Today, for reasons of tide, the waters were often clogged with huge mats of forest debris. It is all natural, but floating logs are always a hazard to navigation. I’ve seen spectacular new country, found three beautiful Heiltsuk pictographs, spent the afternoon surrounded by a pod of killer whales gorging on salmon and am now anchored in an incredible secluded and peaceful anchorage. A light westerly wind blows at the correct speed and angle to work out four random chords with some fitting on the mast. It warbles and flutes exquisitely. I find it lovely and very relaxing; a zen wind.
There is an archipelago of islets at the south end of Campbell island. Once anchored I decided to go exploring with my inflatable tender, as I often do, and soon meandered my way into an infinite maze of convoluted waterways at low tide. JR Tolkien would have loved it. It was very shallow in places, and still ebbing, rapidly, but I picked my way finally back to the west side of the maze where I’d earlier travelled with Seafire. I decided to return by simply circumnavigating the whole group of islets. It was close to sundown and getting cooler. I have a rule about always taking plenty enough clothing, surplus fuel, as well as survival gear, a VHF radio, some food and water and a chart of the immediate area. I did not plan on going far, or for long, and so did not bring the chart and extra gas.
The bay where I’m anchored has an islet bearing the remnants of a native fish camp. There is a fish trap and a cabin as well as the remains of a dock and a few out buildings. It is an idyllic spot, secluded with a narrow rock-studded entrance. It is also easy to miss. I did exactly that. I must have glanced away for a moment and kept on going.
A few miles beyond I realized my mistake. The shoreline is so indented with bays and islets that I zoomed right past the entrance to where ‘Seafire’ is anchored. I was getting mildly hypo-thermic , and realized with a stab of panic that I must also nearly be out of gas. (The outboard motor too!) I knew that I was ill-prepared to spend a night on the beach if the engine did die. Fool! The chagrin about my stupidity was exceeded only by the cold rapidly creeping into my old bones. I would be in for a very unpleasant night if I didn’t make it back to ‘Seafire’.
All’s well that ends. I’m back aboard ‘Seafire’ writing this with yet another mug of hot chocolate at hand. I hope to be fully thawed out by morning. My own mantras are ringing in my head about prudent single hand seamanship. I keep wondering how it would be at the moment on some dank dark piece of shore trying to keep a fire going while shivering the night through. There’s no fool like an old fool!
These moments of carelessness so often lead to a debacle which can rapidly assume epic proportions. It is how people disappear, or even die, because of a simple missed turn. And, I should add, I’m no novice at this trekking about business. It even happens to old salts! The sun’s warmth is now beaming through the windows as I write. It is Sunday morning and my core temperature is back where it should be. A hot coffee sits by the laptop and the promise of a fine-weather day lays ahead of me. The butter is hard this morning, a sure sign of summer’s inevitable passing and a promise of what lays ahead. Stan Rogers is playing on the stereo, his profundity and timelessness always uplift me. Sadly, like most of my favourite singers, he’s dead but then, that’s how one becomes immortal. He, at least, was much beloved before his tragic passing.
Last night at midnight I went topside to check the anchor’s set. The sky was black and cloudless. Stars shimmered and burned across the dome of infinity. In the entire Northern quadrant of the sky the Aurora Borealis provided a surreal and spectacular show. A pale green light waned then pulsed and grew brighter again as curtains of radiation danced slowly to a bizarre rhythm. What a way to end a spectacular day. My only regret is that there was no-one along to share it all. Well, maybe not that nearly lost bit. I did sleep well and I’m warm again.
How I savour mornings such as this! No one knows where I am, I’m indulging in the pleasure of writing and I’m aboard my wonderful old boat in a beautiful anchorage. I’ll soon have to reluctantly head back to Shearwater for another dreary week of greasy bilges and rusted bolts while aching to be out here. That too shall pass. I’ll move on.
Slowly the boat progresses toward readiness for Mexico. I’ve just installed a replacement control head for my auto pilot. It is a used one which arrived from Florida within a week. It performs flawlessly. The old one died a slow death and I haven’t been able to trust it for a long time. Sailing any distance alone, for me, requires a reliable auto pilot and now I’m back with all guns on that deck. The dream is alive.
Before I weighed anchor I went back into the labyrinth with the dinghy. A few hours before high tide, it is safe enough , there is no urgency about being stranded in there…unless the outboard quits. It is as confusing and disorienting as before and I marvel at how the hell I made it out of there on an ebbing tide. Even with the flooding tide there are swirling, narrow tidal rapids, a perfect place to break a propeller on a rock. My curiosity satiated, for the moment, I head for another week at Shearwater.
“There are three sorts of people; those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.”
– From an old capstan chanty attributed to Anacharsis, 6th century BC
Finally! A few days ago, as I prepared my morning toast, I realized that the weather had warmed enough for the butter to have gone soft. It’s still pliable today. A friend who was once giving me advise on sailing to warmer climes suggested that “You hold a heading due south until the butter melts, then turn left!”
Lately, other friends seem to parrot each other in their advise to me that the boat is looking good, “Just untie it and go!” They’re right I know. Sometimes you just have to shut your eyes and jump. Still, there are bills to clear up and I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder once I leave. And, like it or not, there are a few items of prudence to be addressed before venturing out onto the briney deep. You can’t steer a steady course by looking back at your wake for bits bobbing behind or men in brown shirts with pieces of paper to serve to you. So the plod forward continues into the warmth and brightness of late spring and early summer. I know I have the positive emotional support of many; so with all that good karma I can proceed with confidence believing that this will work out quite well and that by Christmas of this year, I’ll be blogging away from somewhere in the Sea of Cortez. There seems to be, in all worthwhile endeavours, a steep climb through fog where one’s faith is severely tested. From previous experience I know that fog may not clear until you are crawling onto the summit. So, in the meantime, may all of our karmas not run over any of our dogmas.
Now then, discussing karma, I do intend to take a little time and enjoy life a bit this summer. Gabriola is a wonderful place to do that, especially in summer with most folks are in generally good spirits. There are all sorts of summertime art and musical events happening here on this island which is populated with so very many talented people. Currently, I’m trying to set up a gig for a friend who will be here in mid-summer. Richard Grainger is someone I describe as the Stan Rogers of England and he’ll be playing Vancouver Island at various venues in mid summer. A link to his website and wonderful music can be found in my ‘Blog Roll’.
At the moment the local museum has an exhibit up about the Hippy era when so many islanders first arrived here. Now advancing into a pre-geriatric age these old flower children have come a long way. Last night I reviewed a long series of snapshots of life back then. Some of those young hopefuls are now entering their geezerhood. I peer into the faces of of those I encounter and wonder at how quickly forty years and more have passed. Some of them still look vaguely recognizable against their aged photographs. Now some have their own grandchildren out in the marijuana patch breast feeding their own progeny. The beat goes on!
Political and social protest now seems to have largely devolved to online petitions. Of course, with broader comfort zones it is interesting to see how perspectives change. Now these once barefooted squatters whose mantras included ‘Share the wealth man’ have come by inheritances that allow then to wear designer gumboots while driving an exotic foreign SUV (Stupid Urban Vanity) sporting a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker, listening to satellite music stations and grumping that texting on their BumbleBerry cell phone is not possible everywhere on the island; the signal here is intermittent. The trees on the perimeter of their private estates are festooned with ‘Private Property’ signs. I’ve heard a capitalist defined as “A socialist who’s found an opportunity”. It’s true! I know of people who were threatened with violence for the offence of anchoring in front of someone’s beachfront holdings. That was on a local Gulf Island especially noted for it’s free thinkers and liberal lifestyle.
Not everyone became a happy heir or a successful entrepreneur. I see the dead look in some eyes which seem to grieve for how life turned out so unjustly. (Or maybe…..it’s just drugs) I don’t know if many of us deserve our fate, good or bad, but for those who realize that their hope of communal enlightenment and nirvana generally turned out to be bullshit, here’s a quote from Winston Churchill: “The inherit virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” Then again in all fairness, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”.
That is being relayed by this failed capitalist who has come to truly wonder at the sad concepts we all hold of being owned by our stuff and of people actually feeling we can have exclusive possession of own piece of the planet. Other folks do seem to have truly found themselves a comfortable niche and apparently live a contented and harmonious existence. Kudus indeed!
A few of the island’s residents are quite opposed to concepts of people living as they choose, for example, on their boats. I guess that I may well be regarded as just another old boat hippy who doesn’t know the war is over. For some, it’s not. If you insist on employing the hyper-anality you came to escape, go for it. If it bothers you more than me, who’s got a problem?
Most folks understand that the price of freedom is responsibility and you can’t “Do your thing” if it means getting in someone else’s face. Unless, of course you are one of those devil’s advocates whose thing is peeing in someone else’s cornflakes. So put on a tie-dyed T shirt with a slogan that says something like “Nuke A Gay Whale For Jesus”. Different strokes for different folks dude! If you like to ride naked on an alpaca while playing a didgeridoo, there is plenty of real estate available here. Just make sure you have a good water well and don’t dare to cut down any of your own trees!
A grand thing about living on this beautiful and diverse island is how so many different flavours of humanity, from career-welfare potheads to semi-retired multi-millionaires, are generally able to mix and mingle and live together peacefully on this little rock. Gabriolans are noted for their loyalty to each other as fellow islanders and often joke about the ferry link to Nanaimo as ‘Going to the other side”. Thankfully, it is a reliable ferry service.