Labour Day Musings

The shining dinghy. A moment of reflection at high slack tide. The boat house would make a lovely wee home.

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.

TILT! In a town on a hill. This shed has been leaning like that for over ten years. Would you park your car in it?
The leaky pipe grows the grass. Part of the water supply for our local pulp mill. These wooden pipe lines run for miles. Superb engineering, some of these pipes are several feet in diameter. This one is only about two feet.

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.

The keeper. Carved in a rock at the entrance to a popular forest path. I wonder how many folks ever see it. Later in the day, as the light shifts, it is almost invisible.
I’ll give it a buzz. Another keeper of another path. Wasps seem to be on standby in the nest’s entrance. Nice berries!
Please park older trailers in the back. I rent a space in this storage yard. All those RVs just sitting…and all I need is one!
Yep, she’s almost paid for! This 1967 Mercury F250 was built two years before I graduated in the town where the Ford assembly plant was located. The truck looks in better shape than I do! The owner ran a venerable power saw repair business. Clearly, logging is his passion. Note the horn!

It is now a 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.”

I know, you’ve seen it before, but it is my trademark photo of all time. This was taken over twenty years ago while sailing alone aboard my first ‘Seafire.’ The image is indelible in my brain and says everything about what sailing means to me. In troubled moments, like during a dental procedure, I close my eyes and this vision sustains me.

…”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.”

… Annie Dillard, from ‘The Abundance’

FROGS

Say Goodbye!
A last glimpse of Seafire with a new owner at the helm. It’s all over but the drinking. There shall be no looking back. This blog will continue to bear the same name for the time being.

I am an autodidact. The trouble is that I never payed attention in class. I did well enough in school and even graduated with a scholarship a year ahead of the rest of the class. Then my real education began and don’t, for a moment, confuse schooling with education. Some of the stupidest people I have known possess box loads of degrees and certificates. I attended the old school and the university of hard knocks. Some folks ask me from time to time where I went to university. I simply say that I graduated from Perdue, which really was the name of my high school. There’s no point in explaining further.

The problem is, that at my age, the clever self-taught one who thinks he is some sort of writer, has new-to-me words appear and I wonder why I’m only learning them now, words like autodidact which is the name for someone who is self-taught.

And if I am so damned clever why am I standing on an empty dock with my prized ‘Seafire’ moored somewhere else, now documented with someone else’s name? I should be softly singing “Free at last,” but I am now living in a big emptiness. It is, however, only temporary.

Now that I’m beach bound all I can do is watch the boats head out. Leaving Ladysmith Harbour, someone greets the morning light and  fading fog. That will be me again. Just watch me!

I have a plan. In the weeks leading up to this wistful day, I’ve been scouring on-line sites which advertise RVs and others which advertise trucks. Eventually, I want to own a displacement-hull powerboat, big enough to live in and seaworthy enough to voyage at least as far as Mexico. The right boat will be tough to find. First I need more funds. For the moment I will satisfy myself with land-based expeditions.

Nice RV dude! Precariously perched, the shack’s straps have come loose. I scooted on by.

I do want to satiate my strong land travel-lust. I have considered every option. There was a time when crawling under a tarp stretched across an overturned canoe was perfect, even romantic, but now my knees are too shot for kneeling in a canoe. I am well past even the tenting concept. I have tried the camper van notion and am not inclined to repeat that. I’ve considered truck-mounted campers but don’t like that idea for a few good reasons. Motor homes are not my cup of tea. So I have settled on the trailer concept. For me a trailer that can leave the pavement and also be dropped while roaming about with the towing vehicle only.

I first owned a home-made teardrop trailer. My early blogs of five years ago described a trip to Mexico with that trailer. I loved it but soon the romance wore off. I almost froze to death in it one night in Nevada. It had only sitting head room; so the simple endeavour of getting dressed while inside was challenging. Getting dressed outside was also interesting. “Mommy, what is that man wearing,” and that before I’d pulled on a shirt! Sticking your bare feet outside into the darkness with a good chance of stepping on scorpions while going to pee did not pique my sense of adventure. The tiny, cute kitchen in the back, under a huge lid, was not so great or exotic when the rain and wind came.

My first rig. Cute but a bit too tight for a fat-arse like me. It was a memorable trip.
Everyone loved that tear-drop trailer. The Mexicans called it ‘La Chiquita.’ The smell of coffee first thing in the morning always brought someone by to say hello and beg a mug.

My second trailer, was a beautiful conversion of a 12’ cargo trailer. I loved it. I could stand upright in it and I had a porta-potty for those night time functions. Cooking inside, or sitting to eat and write was next to impossible. There was a lovely retractable awning outside, which is where you spend most of your time as you go further south, but the notion of cooking or writing there in inclement weather soon paled as well. What would be perfect for me was a trailer small and tough enough to survive being towed on primitive roads. I needed separate, comfortable beds for at least two people, indoor cooking and dining facilities, some sort of bathroom facility and adequate storage as well. That will allow total self-sufficiency for 7 to 10 days without going to town. That’s a tough order to fill, especially on my budget. Building exactly what I need is very appealing but the cost of doing it right would be formidable.

My second attempt at dreams on wheels. I was proud of this trailer, but had not thought about what to do in foul weather.
When finished it had a lovely interior and the most comfortable bed ever with loads of storage space beneath. The bunk also converted instantly into a great work bench.

For a towing vehicle I also required an affordable, reliable short-wheel base 4×4 truck with enough power to tow the trailer yet be good on gas, have a canopy to store extra fuel and water, a small generator, a small air compressor, extra tools and also enough room to carry a small boat, outboard motor and a kayak. Most of the time, four-wheel drive is not necessary but when you need it, by gad you really need it. I wanted all of this for less than $20,000. I know! I am a dreamer. Both pre-owned trailers and good used trucks have ridiculous prices. My only hope was to find something online, even if it meant flying and driving across the continent. Importing any vehicle from the US is essentially straight forward, yet there are so many clauses and codicils, that one has to be quite wary. Imagine showing up at the border with a vehicle which may not be imported under any circumstance because the clearance lights are wrong. Vehicles over fifteen years in age are generally permissible but still vulnerable to subjective opinions of individual customs officers about things like the location of clearance lights. Yes, I did read that. And, every import is subject to GST which really chips into tsavings you’d calculated. Then, once over the border into Canada, there are two separate safety inspections to pass before the vehicle can finally be registered in your home province. Geez Louise! I looked anyway. Day after interminable day, all over the continent, for several hours at each sitting. This endeavour furthered my autodidact education and my standing as a masochist.

Next, I considered something a little bigger yet still affordable.
The chickens were not included. I declined.

Simply put, we’ve all heard it before, “If it’s too good to be true, it is.” I think I can safely claim that three quarters of the ads I pursued were scams. Firstly, if something is advertised in an area a great distance from where it is alleged to actually be, raise a warning flag. There was a disconcertingly consistent bullshit story with an almost word for word same script. Repeatedly the story was that a lady officer in the military was about to be re-posted, usually overseas. Old dad had died and this beloved truck, or RV, was a too-sad reminder of him and they just wanted to clean things up before their imminent deployment. The transaction would be done through E-bay and the sale item would then be shipped to me. Photos of the vehicle were extensive and showed something in immaculate condition. I made several inquiries, simply out of bemusement and also the theory that once in a while the ad might actually be legitimate. WRONG! That gambling philosophy is what gets a lot of folks into trouble.

One ad, placed in Craigslist-Kootenays described a near-virgin Rialta motor home which, it turned out, was claimed to be located in Prince Rupert, several hundreds of miles away from the Kootenays. (First Alert) Considering the remoteness of this location, it did seem plausible that the price was less then half of other quotient prices especially with the story I was given. A senior lady from Prince Rupert was in a California hospital with her husband who was waiting on a donor to provide a heart for a transplant. Because she was so far from home, and desperately short of funds, she had arranged for a quick sale through a third party, a shipping company in Prince Rupert. If I met her price the RV, and all paperwork, would be shipped to me. In response I explained that I never buy shoes without first trying them on. I proposed to fly to Prince Rupert, inspect the RV, do a lien check and then pay by bank draft. Clearly, paying a shipping fee out of such a low price did not make sense, nor did the notion that some unnamed shipping company was quarter-backing the deal. I have not heard back from her. In previous years there was an experience with some Nigerian scammers claiming an interest in a sailboat I advertised. That is a whole story in itself.

There must be masses of stupid people out there. Scammers would not be plying their trade so vigorously if they weren’t making money. There was a strange pleasure pretending to be a potential dupe until I finally wearied of kissing all those frogs.

I’m sure it will be here in a day or two. I know I put it in the mail. The side of this old mail truck was too good to walk away from.
One more shot I could not resist. This is part of the remaining old town in Nanaimo

Well I did find both the right trailer and a great towing vehicle, right here on Vancouver Island and within a day of each other. Oddly, the same thing happened when I bought ‘Seafire’. I looked at boats all over the continent, as far away as North Carolina and Toronto. I found her languishing in Blaine, about forty miles away. Go figure eh! Including taxes and insurance I am well within my budget for truck and trailer. Now I just have to get rid of the frog breath. Speaking of which, today is a fine clear, warm and sunny day. While writing this I am in a beautiful, luxurious semi-rural home dog-sitting for some friends. At the bottom of this acreage lies a small swamp. The frogs are singing heartily. Wherever I look, I can see no snow. Is it really spring?

Maple Bay spring dawn. It is spring! Beneath the fog lays a flooded field where swans swim and feed up for the long flight northward.

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” Kinky Friedman

Tracks

Recently I watched a Netflix called film ‘Tracks’. It is also available elsewhere online. Based on a book of the same title written by a woman named Robyn Davidson, it is a great movie. The world first learned of her in a National Geographic article in 1978. As a young woman this tenacious character decided to trek 2000 miles of the Australian Outback in the company of the few camels she needed to pack her supplies and gear. Managing the camels was no small feat let alone enduring the ordeal of desert survival. It is a brilliant film and the sort of folks who read this blog would enjoy seeing it. A quote from that film says “Some nomads are never home and some always are.”

A bumper sticker I’ve seen says “Not all wanderers are lost.” If I find one, I may smack it onto the back of my little trailer which is now essentially complete. I must throw in a plug here for a small RV dealer in Southwestern Ontario. They’re so down home-small that they don’t have a website. In 2015 that’s an accomplishment! I discovered them on Kijiji while looking for some small windows for the doors on my trailer.

Nor-O-Tech Trailers Inc. (519-468-8772) are located in Norwich Ontario, a little east of London on Norwich Rd. Google Map shows that when you pass through Hinks Corners, you’re getting close. Mine was a small order, due in part to their very reasonable prices, but they treated me like a king. The windows were carefully packed and shipped safely lickety-split via UPS (Three days from east of Hinks Corners!) It is sad that integrity and good service are remarkable and noteworthy. Victoria and Don definitely deserve kudus. If you need RV stuff (That I couldn’t find online in BC!) check these folks out.

My new back door windows. The lower fitting on the door allows it to be locked open
My new back door windows. The lower fitting on the door allows it to be locked open

I’m now ready to do south again with a trailer. I’m supposed to be a sailor and this blog is about getting my boat ‘Seafire’ south but somewhere along the way I became distracted by the idea of teardrop trailers. One day by chance I saw a lovely home-made one for sale and I was hooked. I rationalized that I could also use the teardrop to haul my tools between jobs. The deal was completed and soon I was tinkering up that little wagon to suit my needs.

My beloved teardrop on the beach in Mexico last year
My beloved teardrop on the beach in Mexico last year

Along the way I met a lot of truly wonderful people who were drawn to the little trailer and it was easy enough to pull behind my four-cylinder truck. Despite some blunders on my part, it was a wonderful trip down to Jalisco State and back. Waking up on the beach in Mexico in that mobile bed was marvellous but I began to rationalize. Tip-toeing barefoot in the dark to appease Captain Bladder among the scorpions wasn’t really that romantic and I began to think of the decadence of standing up inside a trailer to enjoy the luxury of a bucket. On the drive home I began to consider converting a small cargo trailer or even a horse trailer. It was not an original idea I soon learned, other people commonly refer to these as “Stealth trailers”. The teardrop sold and I began to peruse online marketing sites.

The New Rig. Apart from the windows and the awning, it doesn't shout "Look at me."
The New Rig. Apart from the windows and the awning, it doesn’t shout “Look at me.” The yellow thing is a security device that came with the trailer.

 

Eventually I found a 6×12 almost-new trailer with dual axles and torsion-bar suspension, perfect for towing off-road. It had been camperized by a dealer and came with an awning, a screen door, windows, insulation, wiring, some nice cabinets and a fair price. It would tow easily and was far more road-worthy than any recreational trailer I looked at. With the versatility of a cargo trailer I could also use it as a mobile work shop, storage shed and general haul away to hide away. I’ve had some time on my hands lately and so I’ve finished the trailer to suit my whims. I’ve panelled the sides to match the existing cabinetry and installed a little laminate flooring forward to make it seem homier. The main portion of the huge bed doubles as a workbench with a smaller portion on one side which lifts up or can be stored away as required. My little windows are now fitted in the back door so I have a view directly out from the bed as well as a little more passive ventilation. I’ve installed a drop bar on those doors. I can secure them from inside. A lock for the door handle outside prevents being locked in. That bar also clips onto the top of the open doors. With a simple curtain I have a private shower area.

The interior. The bed/workbench with removable portion in place, storage underneath. Shelving with reading lights overhead. Curtains and mattress coming soon.
The interior.
The bed/workbench with removable portion in place, storage underneath. Shelving with reading lights overhead. Curtains and mattress coming soon.

There are now overhead shelves along either side over the bed each fitted with LED reading lights. There is massive storage space on the shelves beneath the bed/workbench. The centrepiece that inspired the whole project is a portapotty which nestles inside a reworked wooden box. It doubles as a foot stool and seat. Everything must be multi-functional. That, of course, will be known as ‘Pandora’s box’. There’s a stereo and a small 12 volt refrigerator. As much material as possible was salvaged from places like ‘Restore’. One of those treasures is a table I found and adapted as a removable outdoor table which clips onto the side of the trailer. Two drywall jacks have been cut down and transformed into adjustable legs. I’m quite pleased with the overall result.

Pandora's Box revealed. The pop-up table is where future blogs will be written
Pandora’s Box revealed. The pop-up table is where future blogs will be written

I nag myself that the expense and effort should have been focused into the boat but I’ve discovered that there is a wonderful world inland beyond sight and smell of the sea. Last year I watched as the gringo cruising boats anchored in beautiful little bays dictated to their crews about what they could not do if able to go ashore. Security, surf and holding ground for the anchor made for a classic situation of how stuff ends up owning and controlling the owner. I love my boat and the idea of having a home afloat in which I’m free to go when and where I like. It is a financial albatross. Certainly, I’ll admit, I do consider compromises but this old salt can’t imagine a landlubber’s existence and for the moment, maintaining the foundation of my dreams is imperative. Every day I go aboard, inhale her fragrant unique aroma and see all that I’ve put into her, I know that I am the willing slave of old ‘Seafire.’ Eventually I hope to have both boat and trailer south. They will compliment each other so that this gringo could stay all year.

Forward storage. I had to find and finishing panelling to match. Fridge and stereo work great!
Forward storage. I had to find and finish the panelling to match. Fridge and stereo work great!
A recycled table bought as if made to order for $15. I added the mounting clips and modified the drywall jacks for adjustable legs. They fold and lock away for storage. A few margaritas and cervesas will be spilled here.
A recycled table bought as if made to order for $15. I added the mounting clips and modified the drywall jacks for adjustable legs. They fold and lock away for storage. A few margaritas and cervesas may be spilled here and a novel written as well.

That being said, I marvel at folk’s determination that bigger is better. Huge cruising boats still have an average crew of only two and seem to spend a majority of their time incarcerated in a marina with all the other look-at-me-boats. It’s the same on the highway. Huge mobile condos are dragged along behind a monstrous diesel truck. Bus-sized motor homes tow suvs or boats. Usually these RVs carry only two people. Some holiday! I am certain that for many people, owning one of these monstrosities is more about making an impression on strangers than it is about travel and discovery. Look at my big box! Maybe it makes them feel manly. Certainly you can’t get far off the pavement into the real world without getting stuck or shaken to bits. There must be a huge contingent of Rvers who travel only from Walmart to Walmart. It’s safe, convenient, free and dreadfully monotonous. It certainly does not look like an edifying or pleasant experience for me.

View from Manzanilla toward Tenacatita. The sunsets are incredible.
View from Manzanilla toward Tenacatita. The sunsets are incredible.

Minimalism, alternate lifestyles and under-the-radar discretion. Good enough. Freedom is understanding how little you need. With adequate room to stand up, lay down, and be safe from the elements what else do you really need? Someone to love, something to do, something to look forward to…while doing as little harm as possible.

There’s a lot to be said for a camel and a blanket.

The road less travelled. on the way to Barra De Navidad
The road less travelled. On the way to Barra De Navidad