Hurricane Warning

Watch this guy. He's pointing something at us.
Watch this guy. He’s pointing something at us.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend; already. Time flies whether or not you are having fun. With a long weekend available I intend to get the hell out of here despite a weather forecast which includes a hurricane warning. The barometer this morning is descending through 990 Mb but so far, there has been only a strange moaning wind in the masthead. Current local weather reports have gusts to 97 knots in Central Haida Gwaii. Seas in Hecate Strait are forecast to rise as high as 9 metres. Here at Shearwater I’m moored within an archipelago of islands and inlets which appear to afford good shelter. Yet they can create a massive funnel effect under certain conditions and produce devilish, destructive forces. It is imprudent to leave a safe haven in rough weather so my sailing plans will vary from hour to hour as the day wears on. These are the leftovers from tropical storm Oho. In Masset, on the north end of Haida Gwaii, a group of surfers have gathered in anticipation of monstrous swells along the Northern Beach. One fellow being interviewed on the radio said “I’m going to tie down the woodpile and head for the beach.” Good for all of them!

A chance of wind and rain. The Thanksgiving weekend, hurry up and wait
A chance of wind and rain. The Thanksgiving weekend, hurry up and wait.

By noon the wind is gusting viciously. It is not a steady blast like a full hurricane but a random series of violent blows, punch by punch. These can be more destructive than a consistent pressure. The boat is healing and surging so sharply that cupboard doors are being flung open. The internet is now down, soon I expect, we’ll loose our electricity. In the afternoon, the wharfinger’s little float house begins to break loose from its mooring. Huge swirling waterspouts race across the bay.

In the evening the power and internet are fine but the wind and rain continue their sporadic vicious assaults. Old ‘Seafire’ skews about like a frightened cat, straining frantically at her heavy, doubled dock lines. It was inky dark by seven pm. I’ve decided to stay right where I am for the night and see what the morning brings.

You know you are getting really starved for company when you leave the VHF marine weather on to play the recorded forecast loop over and over. This morning a sailboat with a man and a dog northbound from Port Hardy have gone missing. One of the reasons I need a cool change is that the only companionship aboard the boat is this computer and CBC Bloody North on the radio. I am fed up to my teeth with the incessant fecal flow about our upcoming federal election. The interviews of silly people and mindless rhetoric does not end. I advocate that citizens have a responsibility to vote. However I will not vote for any candidate whose platform is the shortcomings of his competitors. And they’re all at it. I’m at a loss. No one ever wins an election. Invariably elections are held so that the incumbent government may be voted out. Sadly none of the goofs aspiring to pick up the reins are inspiring any confidence; at least not from this old cynic. Nix! Nada! Nyet! Unfortunately it will be all the non-voters who decide this one. Apathy rules. I suspect that is what the Harper gangsters are counting on and why the campaign has been so lengthy. Blah, blah, blah… baaah.

The kickers are spawning! A load of lease-return outboard motors heads south at the end of the sport fishing season
The kickers are spawning!
A load of lease-return outboard motors heads south at the end of the sport fishing season.
Some clever recycling at the Bella Bella Dock. An old pickup truck box has been converted to an all-weather pilothouse on a locally popular aluminum punt.
Some clever recycling at the Bella Bella Dock. An old pickup truck box canopy has  been converted to an all-weather pilothouse on a locally popular aluminum punt.


This Saturday morning the weather has eased, slightly. My plans for weekend exploration have been modified. I’ll wait till noon then tiptoe south to gunkhole among the islands in Cultus Sound, if I can get that far. The trick is to go no place from where you can’t get home due to weather. I have to second-guess the forecast and make sure home is going to be downwind. So long as I get around the corner and can’t recieve the feeble signals of CBC I’ll have a sense of having been away.

We made it! It is Monday evening, we’re back. The weather was horrific. I holed up in a familiar anchorage and endured two days and nights of extreme nastiness. I can offer a testament for the tremendous abilities of my Rocna anchor which held without dragging even in wind which was hurricane-force at times. The rain was a biblical deluge. Explorations away from the boat in the inflatable tender were all cut short by the onslaught of the next squall and the next. Now back at the dock I’m having to admit that this boat is going to be a huge challenge to live in through the coming winter.

Ruggedly built by the Downeaster boatyard in Santa Ana California, the hull is not cored or insulated. It is solid fibreglass. This is no problem in southern climates and the simple solution is, of course, to move south. The single-skin fibreglass hull in this very damp climate is a wonderful water maker when the dew point rises and the temperature falls. The hull sweats. Water condenses and drips and puddles within lockers which hold my clothing and equipment. This is curable either with aggressive ventilation which is impossible because of the locker contents, or can be reduced by insulating the hull in each storage area. Guess what I’m doing this weekend.

Damp, cold clothing is no fun, especially first thing in the morning before stepping out for a day’s work in the rain. My piece of dock space is a long way from my power supply so the electric heater is not operating at peak capacity. I have a forced-air diesel furnace in the boat but I don’t want to rely on it, especially when away from the boat. There is no place to install a radiant heater inside but I’d love to have a small wood stove. I’ll sort through this little dilemma and then there will be new problems to chew on. It’s the time of year when folks are seizing on every moment of dryness and sunlight. The past two afternoons have been sunny and warm. I scurry home from my job to work for a few minutes on my own vessel. Tuning up the cable steering and repairing davits have been my priorities but there’s more of course. There’s always more. Oddly, during these pleasant weather windows, aggressive black flies appear and chew viciously. These tiny monsters remind me of times past in the far north when the black flies must have frozen solid at night and then managed to eat anything alive during the day.

The dawn before the storm. Sunrise over Hunter channel.
The dawn before the storm. Sunrise over Hunter channel.
A moment of sunlight on a quiet shell beach
A moment of sunlight on a quiet shell beach
A small touch of autumn colour
A small touch of autumn colour

Here the autumn forest becomes greener as the wind and rain impose themselves. The storms clear the evergreen limbs of dead boughs and needles. My decks are littered with cedar debris after each storm. The cockpit drains could clog with the stuff and soon rainwater can then overflow into the main cabin. Wintering here is going to be a full time job. I must learn how to glow in the dark if I have to stay for the long months ahead. Right now one yellow alder or a show of crimson leaves would seem very nice.

Doing the Heron Hokey-pokey. "You put your left leg in, then you step right out."
Doing the Heron Hokey-pokey. “You put your left leg in, then you step right out.”

Almost a week has passed since I began writing this blog. The evenings are noticeably shorter in these few days and the morning light is more reluctant. Far to the south, I imagine the faint sound of Mariachi music.

The Mummy is watching you! An interesting rock formation on the shore of Kliktsoatli Harbour., Shearwater
The Mummy is watching you! An interesting rock formation on the shore of Kliktsoatli Harbour, Shearwater

I recommend a wonderful book to readers who are truly interested in this part of the world. All I’ll say is that you won’t regret you investment in this one. It describes the history and culture of this region in a unique and wonderful way. ‘The Golden Spruce’ is written by John Vaillant; I wish I could write as well as he does. Here’s a quote from that book.

Fancy cutting down all these beautiful trees…to make pulp for those bloody newspapers, and calling it civilization.”

Winston Churchill, remarking to his son during a visit to Canada in 1929

"Don't encourage him! Look the other way; maybe he'll leave."
“Don’t encourage him! Look the other way; maybe he’ll leave.”

Passing Cloud, Food Poisoning and Heavy Rain

Soggy Rock yet another rainy day on the midcoast
Soggy Rock
Yet another rainy day on the midcoast

Well yeah, I knew what I was getting into. During the summer I had every anchorage to myself. Now the whole coast is mine for the taking. It has everything to do with the weather.

The first day of autumn has already passed. It feels to me that it has been winter for weeks already and impossible to understand that a short while ago this coast was enduring a drought. Now the rain is incessant. This is normal local weather. I knew that. Vertical rain, horizontal rain, drizzling water, mist and fog, it is bloody wet, wet, wet and it keeps coming. The daylight is a little less each day and those long summer evenings, when there was still light in the sky near midnight, are long past. Today the rain was cold and there was that wintery smell in the air. Snow? Even when the skies brighten, with patches of blue, there are sudden bursts of rain. Locals tell me that October can often be a month of lovely weather. We’ll see. I regularly passed through this area on tugboats for years and only ever saw Shearwater as a glow in the fog and rain. Yes, I knew!

Behind the chains. September sunrise at low tide.
Behind the chains. September sunrise at low tide.

The mystique and spirit of this coast take on a new dimension now. This is its normal state, its true self, the raincoast. The infinite miles of grey-green dripping jungle offer a fog-bound respite from the hurtling culture in which most people are swept along on the south coast. The individuals who make their homes in these backwaters often recoil at the idea of even visiting the civilization down there. The notion of living in that chaos on a daily basis is beyond their comprehension or ability. I suppose we live up here within their urbane notion of wilderness. Perhaps it is the solace of that notion which in part sustains their tense urban sanity.

Being alone in this boat every night for the months ahead, through the long dark hours, often storm-buffeted while trying to write positively and creatively after grinding days of work, all the while enduring the pain of arthritis and old injuries…I could stay here in dank, dripping-slime solitude. Nope! Can’t do it! My finances demand that I stay and work but I’ll soon have to head south. I know that finding a job down there for a guy my age is damned hard but if I hang up my dream, I’m done. With my physical impediments, the short days and persistent rain, getting outdoors for some good extra curricular exercise is challenging. Sitting in the boat and eating compulsively is an easy pattern to fall into. That, in every sense, is a dead end.

Mexico seems so very far away at the moment. Will I ever see palm-fringed anchorages through the windows of this boat? Ordeal or adventure, the choice is mine. There has to be a way. As I sit at this computer I look up and all I see is my reflection in the dark window and a right goofy-looking old bugger at that. Haar! I was reminded recently that some folks choose to sail to polar regions and deliberately let their boats become frozen-in for nearly the entire next year. Who am I to ridicule another man’s dream? There is a fellow from Slovenia who calls himself Big River Man. He has swam down the lengths of four of the world’s major rivers including the Amazon. He’s now planning on swimming around the world. “The dream never dies, just the dreamer.”

Limber Up! A mutant branch in the rain forest/
Limber Up!
A mutant branch in the rain forest.
Green. I believe this is called Lungwort
Green. I believe this is called Lungwort

It has recently occurred to me that all substances are poison if consumed in excess. Even nasty stuff like cyanide and arsenic are deadly because their wicked potency is taken in too large a portion, no matter how miniscule that may be. There was a man in France, Michel Lotito, who bizarrely ate things like bicycles and even an airplane after they had been ground up and imbibed in portions small enough to be non-lethal; apparently a kilogram each day. How do you eat an airplane? He consumed nine tons of machinery in his lifetime. I don’t know, but there may have been a lot of wine involved. Too much air, too much water, too much exercise, too much inactivity, anything in excess is poison. I’ve decided that I’m suffering from food-poisoning. It makes me swell up. Especially around my middle. I’m eating too much. But, I promise, I won’t start eating anyone’s boat; certainly not this old prune barge.

This little light of mine. A customer's bright idea.
This little light of mine.
A customer’s bright idea.
The Tipping Point. A beer keg can be a slippery thing.
The Tipping Point.
A beer keg can be a slippery thing.

I’m still trying to do repairs and upgrades despite the weather. One of my davit bases failed recently due to a manufacturing flaw. The bow portion of my inflatable boat filled with a torrent of rain. That weight proved too much. It’s a big job and trying to do some fibreglass work between cloudbursts is quite a challenge. I’ve been meaning to upgrade the davits before heading to Mexico but after my immediate repairs the welding will have to wait until I’m back to where supplies are readily available. Everything up here has to be ordered in. Not only is that exorbitant, there is no guarantee that what one orders and prepays is what will arrive, if it ever does.

Aftermath, the confirmation of Newton's Law. At 3000rpm a piston came to a sudden stop. The rest of the engine kept on going... for a moment. In other words, pissed n' broke.
Aftermath, the confirmation of Newton’s Law. At 3000rpm a piston came to a sudden stop. The rest of the engine kept on going… for a moment.
In other words, pissed n’ broke.

Meanwhile at work there are exploded engines to deal with as well as endless computer glitches in the modern diesels in all our water taxis. I’m learning to employ a patience I didn’t know I possessed. That’s a good thing. Now that the Tupperware squadrons have all gone back south, and most of the fishing fleets are gone, the boats visiting now are serious cruising vessels, some still doing late-season charters who are hosting the last of the bear watchers.

Beyond words
Beyond words

One of these is a vessel which has long held a piece of my heart, ‘Passing Cloud’. This is beloved British Columbia-built boat and is a quintessential Westcoast icon. She is a seventy foot bald-headed wooden pilot-house schooner. For you land-bound folks this is a wooden sailboat which is seventy feet long on deck. A two-masted schooner has its main mast aft. Being bald-headed means she carries no bowsprit (That pointy spar which sticks out horizontally on most traditional boats) The pilot house is the cabin with big windows from which you can steer in any weather. That is almost essential for navigating these waters.

The Pilot House
The Pilot House
Beautiful From All Angles
Beautiful From All Angles

Two years ago I was blessed to tour the boat shed where ‘Passing Cloud’ was built. I was there to pick up a mizzen mast as the shed had been sold. It was being cleared out prior to demolition. What a tragedy! The place was a temple to me and many others I’m sure but times change. The location on Portage Inlet in Victoria had incredible value as waterfront property. New noise bylaws forbid any further industry, no matter who was there first. Some monstrosity yuppie box now occupies this hallowed ground. When I was there, a band saw still run by a Ford Model-T sat beside a large forge. The tools and artifacts were amazing. The place was a living museum. ‘Passing Cloud’ had been launched from this building in 1974. The boathouse is gone, right or wrong, but the boat, now over forty years old, sails on as a successful charter business and is maintained lovingly in as-new condition. Google up the schooner’s name and drool over the amazing photos of the vessel, inside and out, and of her voyages in these waters where she plies her trade.

A vision of glories past In the boat house where 'Passing Cloud' was born
A vision of glories past
In the boat house where ‘Passing Cloud’ was born. Note the nameboard stencil.
In The Temple. The old boathouse on Portage Inlet. It's gone now.
In The Temple.
The old boathouse on Portage Inlet. It’s gone now.


While I’m recommending online links, here’s one for those with social-political interests. It is American but suitably appropriate for Canadian interests, especially in the middle of this damned dreary election campaign. I’ll take a big breath and quote two sentences from an editorial on this site.

There will not be a recognition of the extent of poverty in the United States and the dire need for government action; there will not be any effort to correct the stagnation of wages and this nation’s extreme income inequality; there will not be a successful effort to control the deliberate abuses of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by a surveillance state; there will not be corrective actions to reverse the pervasive racism of this nation, there will be no corrective action on the proliferation of discriminatory voter identification laws, the endless and territorial limitless war on terror, including the violation of sovereignty by our illegal use of drones; there will not be any attempt to control a defence industry that markets 50 percent of the world’s arms and whose best interests are served by continued warfare. We accept that a habitual thought process is comfortable, but when it comes to our “democracy,” we cannot accept that it is productive, ethical, or anything but insane.”


That was from an editorial written by Roger deRoos, recently deceased. It was only two sentences, believe it or not, but there’s a headful of thinking there; if you’re so inclined. However, one of the nice things about getting out and about on a boat is that you can easily immerse yourself in the moment and leave all the shore shit and heavy thinking behind. We’re here because we’re not all there! And that’s the whole point.

On the Trans-Atlantic Single-handed race Mr Owen Smithers has been disqualified for using both hands.”……Heiki Luoma

Keep On Slugging, the steady slime will get you there.
Keep On Slugging, the steady slime will get you there.

Wot A Day!

Sky swimmer. Winter morning calm.
Sky swimmer.
Winter morning calm.

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.

Bark Owl. Some twist makes these wooden owls and attaches them randomly throughout the forest. They're quite startling at first glance,
Bark Owl. Some twist makes these wooden owls and attaches them randomly throughout the forest. They’re quite startling at first glance,

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?

Ditch Drops
Ditch Drops

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 beginning. Cold, dark, sodden, even in the depth of winter life continues.
The beginning.
Cold, dark, sodden, even in the depth of winter life continues.

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.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Thar be monsters in these waters!
Thar be monsters in these waters!
A star in the east
A star in the east