We are currently enjoying our “Indian Summer.” Perhaps that term is now politically incorrect, but then what the hell isn’t? With no ethnic slurs intended, it is the only term I know for the spell of fine weather that comes in autumn after a significant frost or two. The weather is gorgeous. I was in Victoria on Sunday and the streets were thronged with folks who seemed out and about simply enjoying the solar celebration. In the face of the West Coast winter’s darkness and chill wet ahead it is almost a biological need to savour sunlight and cloudless sky. Despite all of our modern distractions, we still possess a primal, pagan instinct for the star which gives this planet its life.
In Victoria I attended a splendid gathering held in honour of two dear friends just returned from nine years of voyaging on their sailboat. After sailing the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic, the Caribbean and then the Eastern Seaboard They finally sold their beloved cutter ‘Sage’ in Nova Scotia and drove back to Victoria, camping along the way. They previously spent seven years in the South Pacific on a much smaller boat. After sixteen years of cruising and living “tiny” they’re still together and looking forward, I’m sure, to new adventures. They have been a great inspiration to me and many others. Their blog is ‘Sage On Sail.’
After the visit I strolled part of old-town Victoria and took photos of different spectrums of living. Times, for many, are tough and getting tougher. Affordable housing is a challenge requiring ingenuity and the artful business, for some, to stay ahead of the “Man” who is bent on punishing non-conformists. I’ve lived on boats for many years and can easily rant ‘ad nauseum.’ Even when ones tries to be discreet and fly below the radar, there is always someone looking to jam a stick into your spokes. It is odd how in our culture where the individual is glorified, the non-conformist is punished. End pre-rant!
A recent BBC television documentary hosted by Neil Oliver was simply titled ‘Vikings.’ In what I saw of it ,he divided those much-love nautical thugs into three groups, the Norwegians, The Swedish and the Danes.
The Danish Vikings, basing themselves in Ireland, conquered most of England. It is entirely possible that my fair hair and blue eyes are from long-ago-bestowed Nordic DNA among my ancestors. I don’t mind that idea at all. Apparently the Swedish Vikings travelled across the Baltic and down the rivers of Europe, plundering their way as far as Constantinople where some became revered as the fierce martial masters they were. Some were even recruited as personal bodyguards of the Sultan. In the grand Blue Mosque of today’s Istanbul, where the Sultan once attended, and his bodyguards would have stood watch, ancient Nordic letters are carved into a solid marble banister saying something like “Olaf was here.” What an amazing tangible connection to history!
An old Gary Larson cartoon depicts a long table. Around it sits a group of Vikings. At the head stand two more. The chairman is saying, “Now that the business portion of the meeting is out of the way, Lars would like to talk about his new idea for hats.” Lars is holding a fabled (and fictitious) horned helmet. All of the Vikings are wearing a duck on their heads. “Ya vell Olly, now dats fonny!”
Friends recently visited Scandinavia and sent back fantastic photos from Viking museums and others dedicated to Thor Heyerdahl and to the Arctic explorer Nansen and his rugged ship the ‘Fram’. I have long ached to get to the Baltic region and see some of these amazing examples of iconic marine history. There is a flair to old Baltic vessels which is instantly recognizable. The lines of those Viking boats are the most amazing of all. Sensual, flexible, rugged and incredibly seaworthy, those boats underscore how much we humans have lost as we think we advance with technology. Perhaps those old boats are a pinnacle of human technical achievement, an ultimate blend of art and function. I doubt that with all our electronic wizardry and tools, that we can match the intuitive high skill evidenced in these amazing icons of nautical achievement. And… not a drop of oil or one electron was employed in the whole process from harvesting living trees for material to landfalls on far distant shores, and then coming all the long, long way home again. Heil og sael. Takk!
This past weekend our ferry service was down for more than a day due to high winds and seas. I doubt that would have held those ‘Old School’ Vikings back. If you look at the new hi-tech sailing boat hulls which begin to plane like a powerboat after reaching specific speeds, then carefully study those old Nordic hulls, you’ll see some amazing similarities. Truly! Are we progressing or regressing?
“Never stop because you are afraid – you are never so likely to be wrong.”
My wife has a great idea. She’s come up with what she calls a B.N.D. or, Buy Nothing Day. In our consumer culture we nearly all have the craving to spend money. We’re incessantly prompted and programmed to do it. “How do you like it? How do you like it? More. More! More!” was a jingle for a local supermarket chain. In remote locations yachters who’ve been confined to their boats for a few days have an overwhelming compulsion to buy anything, something, as much as possible even though it may be useless, over-priced crap that they never needed until they saw it. I know that when I’m down and out, it makes me feel momentarily better to buy something. Prozac is a prescribed medication for compulsive shopping disorder. Yep, it’s considered a medical condition! The compulsion to acquire is a certain symptom of depression just surely as Prozac is a common drug for that illness. And tomorrow is Black Thursday which precedes the Black Friday and Pink Monday sales events.
Anyway I’m happy to recommend B.N.D. as a means of achieving some empowerment and control over one’s life. It sounds easy but I dare you to try it. For those of us driven to spend on credit I recall an old Welsh lady who once asked me, “If ye canna pay for it once, how will you pay for it twice?” That is sage thinking that I still have difficulty with.
Anyway, I’m often informed that sailors are cheap buggers the world over. Sailing is often described as being like “Standing in an ice cold shower while ripping up thousand dollar notes” and that the word boat is correctly spelled with two T’s. Break Out Another Ten Thousand. I’m one of those backwater types who really doesn’t care about impressions. Let’s just say that I’m not a snappy dresser but I keep my old boat seaworthy if not always shiny. If it is a choice between new underwear or a box of flares, you know what will be burned. So, it’s not that we sailors are compulsively cheap, it’s just that all our money goes into the boat. If anything, we’re compulsively broke. And before someone spews out the weary cliché about boats being holes in the water I’ll reiterate that houses are holes in the beach to shovel your money into, and the scenery never changes. You can’t untie your house and sail away when you’ve had enough of your neighbours. See ya later!.
Another symptom of depression is hoarding. I was recently horrified to realize that maybe I’m inclined toward hoarderism myself. I’ve been living on ‘Seafire’ for years in remote locations. I wear only work clothes and can destroy outer wear sometimes daily. When in town I cruise my favourite second-hand clothing store and acquire shirts, jeans and other outer wear “just in case” I run out of togs. My brother once said of me that “Somewhere there goes a naked clown!” Today was spent unloading the boat. Sacks of manky clothing, bedding, towels, extra tools and never-used boat parts filled my truck. And there’s more to come! I realize that when I go south I won’t need nearly as much “stuff” crammed into every locker. I’m sure only one parka will do. I swear the boat has visibly risen on her marks. If hoarding is a symptom of depression then our culture is seriously ill. You can’t go far without finding extensive storage facilities. Folks have so much “stuff” they can’t cram it into their too-big houses so they rent space to store even more “stuff.” Once, all I owned could be fit into a backpack. Then it became what went into a pickup truck. After all the years wasted acquiring “stuff” now my joy is getting rid of it. If you see an old geezer on the roadside, stop and offer a ride; it could be me.
Now ‘Seafire’ is safely tucked into a berth for the winter. The space is available permanently.
That is a frightening prospect. I won’t let her sit and gather green, but for the moment there are no voyages planned. November wears on. I tidy out my tool boxes, tend to little jobs around the house and wonder where the money is coming from. When I first arrived I never wanted to see the boat again and I’ve forced myself to stay away from her for over a day at a time. Now there is a building tension. I check my lotto numbers; yeah right! I check the weather; yeah right. The rain and wind continue.
Last week I visited with my friend Pär Domeij. He was passing through Victoria on his way home to Sweden for the winter. His beautiful boat ‘Sjoa’ is stored in Shearwater and he’ll return in the spring to continue filming and exploring the mid and north coast. His short films are stunning. You can see several of his works on YouTube. The camera skill and editing are brilliant. His narration is gently understated and the final result is superb. One of his recent films is posted as “An Ode To An Estuary.” His work and his deep enthusiasm for the backwoods of Coastal B.C. will inspire you.
Less than two weeks after my return, I’m becoming antsy. I’ve worn out the blog themes of autumn colours and yet another storm. Now there’s a part of me that wants to shout “Bollox” in sheer frustration. I’ve tidied up my tools, which was no small job, and now I’m beginning a serious clean up of old “Seafire.” We’ve removed the cooking-grease-stiff curtains which were also coated with coagulated dust. I was disgusted to realize how badly things had become. I do regularly clean the boat but after a few years of living aboard I have to admit to some root-bound grime in my hermit’s man-cave. Jill is helping me bring things back to life and I’m very grateful. If nothing else, the curtains were a serious fire hazard as Captain Olive Oil sizzled up yet another one-dish meal. When the boat’s interior is again immaculate, there’s plenty of writing to dust off, edit and market. There are certainlyno excuses to ever be bored.
And that’s how it is in my world for the moment. No dramas, no thrilling events. I’m not dressed up, nor sitting out in the pouring early morning rain waiting for any trains. I know I’ve missed the last one. There’s even plywood on all the station windows. Haar! Life goes on.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland and see what the army does with those wee red knives.” … Billy Connolly
I’m feeling as worn as Willy Nelson’s guitar. Hopefully I too can still produce something good. But not today.
I learned this morning that a distant friend had died suddenly. He was the husband of my wife’s longest friendship and so after fifty-two years of marriage to his wife, Phillip had become an essential component of my wife’s friendship. I really liked him. I did not know him well, having only visited with him for a few days but I intended to befriend him more deeply. Now he’s gone, all those gonna-do moments have passed. The simple essay here is that we only have this moment, not the one in another minute’s time, only this one. And, every time you say goodbye, it may well be the last time. A few blogs back I briefly alluded to a dogma which includes being impeccable with your word. Don’t leave regrettable words without apology and preferably let your words be worth speaking and remembering. Believe me, this verbose writer and story teller wrestles with that one constantly.
As I absorbed the news about this distant friend now gone, I sat with the day’s first coffee in hand. The mourning doves continued their serenade. A soothing sound, comforting and reassuring, this morning it was almost a thunderous din that seemed overwhelming. I wanted to shout at them to stop, shut up, fly away. I was already disoriented with arriving home. Now I’ve accepted a new job offer in Comox for a yacht charter company. I’m a bit reluctant to head back northwards for a low-paying job but it seems the gods dumped this one in my path. I’d best not step in it, or around it. I’ll just go see what’s up.
Three days later I’m sitting in Seafire on a mooring buoy in Comox. Jill and I were still travelling south a week ago. I look ashore into the town, watching the traffic lights change on main street. They didn’t have any when we lived here thirty years. The community has grown up, a lot, and so have I. Well not actually, I’ve I just grown old. I truly believed I was coming south to retire but I need the money and here I go for some more work. These seem like nice folks and the job could prove to be fun. Every door leads a person to another door with yet more doors beyond. So…close the door, you’re letting the flies out!
One of the nice things about being at a more southerly latitude is that my mobile phone works inside my boat. No more huddling on deck ahead of the mast in the wind and rain, moving my head back and forth trying to find the best reception all the while swatting at squadrons of biting insects. Such decadence! I just finished a phone call with a friend who agrees that I should monetize my writing, my blog and my books and my photography. I find it hard to solicit myself and my work but I’m not too proud anymore to ask that if anyone knows someone who knows someone…. well, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishing. I’m not asking for any free lunch, just an agent who’s willing to take a chance on over twenty-five years of writing. That includes two novels, four other completed books plus a few on the back of the stove. I’m no one-hit wonder.
Yesterday proved to be an amazing day. Old ‘Seafire’ brought me all the way north from Ladysmith to an anchorage five miles south of Comox. That is a distance of—– miles in eleven and a half hours which included an hour out in Nanaimo for fuel. The shortest route from Ladysmith to Nanaimo requires transiting a notorious gap know as Dodd Narrows. Yesterday the tidal rate at maximum flood was 8.5 knots. I know the narrows, I know my boat and I know that the wild ride will keep most boaters away at maximum flood and ebb. I fear other yachts far more than tidal whirlpook. The worst part of turbulent water on a flood is downstream of the narrows and there is nothing to run into here, except other boats. One huge, overpowered motor yacht rushed up behind me and passed immediately after we’d exited the gap together. That wake mixed with the whirlpools and standing waves and produced a tsunami which broke dishes in the galley. ‘Seafire’ and I have know some rough going, but we’ve never before broken anything. The goon was towing a large fishing skiff on a long line and the entire show moved northward in excess of twenty knots. Somewhere there lurks a log. Thunk! Sunk!
While entering the narrows I was fascinated as I watched a bald eagle take a common murre. I’m no bleeding heart but it was painful to watch the murre’s agonizing demise and yet see the eagle’s strategizing and brilliant flying. He kept diving on his prey until it was too exhausted and injured to dive any more. The murre flew a last time, but now it dangled from the eagle’s talons. There is no place for warmth and fuzziness in nature and I’m sure that when feeding our offspring is a priority, we can all demonstrate our vicious nature.
Northbound from Nanaimo I lucked into a Qualicum wind which heeled the old boat over and had us hurtling on our way. Thirty knots of warm breeze on the beam is a gift and I revelled in it. At times the rails were in the water and we raced up the strait toward Chrome Island. I anchored in the lee of the island but the wind curled around the rock and arm-wrestled with the ebb tide from Baynes Sound. The stern stayed into wind and ‘Seafire’ bounded at the end of her anchored chain like a feral pony. I took the dinghy around the island and then started to go ashore. There are some incredible petroglyphs on the island, the evening light was clear and golden. It seemed meant to be.
Then the light keeper appeared. I was promptly advise that the island was his home and he was in the middle of dinner. “Come back tomorrow.” He flung out an apology; I told him I didn’t believe that. It the first time ever, anywhere I’ve been in Canada, that a light keeper has been less than welcoming to me. Usually a visitor’s concern is being able to get away again, company is usually cherished by lightkeepers. I had no intention of invading his home or demanding a cup of anything, nor trampling his beautiful lawns and gardens. I’ve reviewed this with other mariners who all agree that a Canadian light station is Canadian property and we have every right to visit our landmarks. I promised the grump that he’d been rude to the wrong writer and here ya go buddy!
The light that evening was magic. It drew me onward until finally at dusk I dropped my anchor in Henry Bay, a short distance in Comox. The trip covered sixty-five nautical miles in less than half a day. Brilliant!
And so here I am in Comox. On my first afternoon there I took the dinghy and visited the “Royston Wrecks” directly across the estuary. It has been decades since I was in this sacred place. A breakwater for a log-booming ground was built by scuttling 14 ships. Some were WWII liberty ships. Two of the hulks were former full-rigged clipper ships that had been cut down and used for log barges. One is the ‘Riversdale’ built in Liverpool in 1894. All that remains of her now is the forward section. The other, also built in Liverpool in 1876 is the ‘Melanope’. She, apparently was once an immigrant vessel to Australia. Her aft and forward sections remain to give you a clear idea of her overall size.
What grand things these were! The nautical author John Villiers describes the full-rigged ship as one of man’s highest achievements. Combining technology and art they moved passengers and massive amounts of freight around the planet without burning a single drop of fuel. That was all accomplished without computers, radios, satellites. I’ve included a photo, without permission, of a full rigged barque to illustrate the wonder and glory of those vessels. I believe the ship is the ‘Cuauhtemoc’ built in 1982 as a training ship for the Mexican navy. I’ve been aboard her and she is a floating cathedral, immaculate and glorious.
Meanwhile I’m settling into my daily grind on the docks of Comox. The bay here is surrounded by beautiful beaches and sandy spits. There is a huge glacier which looks down on the bay where dozens of tiny sailing vessels skitter about at the hands of children learning to sail. At low tide the shallow clam beds and boulders extend toward the glacier, several feet above our eye level in our floating dock house. The air is rich with the heady aroma of all that thick mud.
In the park above the docks folks exercise their dogs between happy playing children. A shelter has been built where sits a piano available for anyone to play. I’ve heard bagpipe tunes. Two nights ago, on coming out from dinner in the pub, there was some wonderful salty accordion music wafting out from a hidden corner.
It seems worth staying for a while.
“How could the Greeks, who knew that one never enters the same river twice, believe in homecoming.”
( When I posted the last blog, the cyber gods decided to reformat it while whizzing out through the sky from Port Hardy. All the content is there, it was just reorganized. I decided not to tear it apart and put it back together again my way. If an idea has been reinforced for me at Shearwater it is that when something works, don’t mess with it.)
We left God’s Pocket with a forecast of gale force winds to help blow us homeward. That kept the sport fishing boats in the lee of the northwest point of Hardy Bay. As usual they tacked and swerved and wandered unpredictably with little sense of seamanship or right of way. We picked our way through the mob and set a course into the harbour of Port Hardy. I was standing on the starboard locker of the cockpit leaning up over the aft cabin bulkhead to keep a good lookout for more fishing boats. I woke up with the gentle swishing, crunching noise of clam shells and mud under the keel. Yep, goddamnit! Even old salts do it and a big finger to any armchair admiral who wants to say something sarcastic. At least I’ve admitted it and there was no damage done except to my pride. That, of course, was due entirely to luck and no good management.
Now to properly run aground you must do it in broad daylight, on the wrong side of a light, in the middle of a harbour you know well; and of course, on a falling tide. So I screwed that up too. It was a rising tide. We floated off and backed away as gently as we had arrived. I can tell you how hard it is to steer when you are my weight but only three inches tall! It’s healthy to laugh at yourself and it’s good to be reminded of how easy it is to screw up. For once I got off easy. No drama at all! Many marine incidents occur because somebody fell asleep at the helm. Yes, you can take that as a metaphor.
The gale warning was still up next day. We headed south in the late morning and arrived in Port Harvey, well down Johnstone Strait, in seven hours. That’s an excellent passage of fifty miles, our ground speed topped over ten knots at times. Then while dropping the anchor, the entire windlass electrical system quit. . , out went the chain, with only old Armstrong hisself to hoy it back aboard. A puzzler to troubleshoot, I slept on it. There was power in all the right places, but not enough to turn the windlass motor. Eventually I found a bad connection that had heated enough to melt some plastic which in turn rendered the continuity too low to work. My incentive was that 150′ of chain, plus a forty-five pound anchor to be humped back aboard by hand. The problem with repairing your own boat is that there’s nobody else to blame and no-one else to do it for you. Self-sufficiency, I say it again, is the mantra of a successful mariner.
After repairs in the morning, we travelled the short distance down Johnstone Strait to Port Neville. The wind forecast was correct. It blew like hell and the tide runs furiously there. I was plenty happy to have a fully functional windlass and let out as much chain as I wanted. There is a long inlet behind the famous old store and docks. It would be worth taking a few days to explore. There are some great petroglyphs in the area which will take some time to find and so I will return. It’s fun to discover the wonders of a place which you’ve been passing and ignoring for over thirty years.
Today we travelled from Port Neville, left Johnstone Strait and managed to transit five sets of notorious rapids. Yes five. Employing some old tug-boaters tricks we transitted The Wellbore Rapids, Greene Point, Dent, Gillard and finally the Yuculta Rapids. Now we are a few miles from the northern portion of Georgia Strait which is home waters. I want to stretch this voyage as long as possible. I’ve made the entire jaunt previously in seven days. On this trip, today is our eleventh and I’d as soon stay out for the entire month. We’ll wander southward and see where we end up. There’s always a chance of getting lost in a fog.
We found a tiny ledge to set the anchor on the edge of Whiterock Passage. In the morning we headed south again and were soontreated to the fabulous display of two humpback whales at play,,,or whatever it is they’re doing when they leap out of the water and crash down in an explosive, booming welter of spray. It is always an incredible sight even when too far away to photograph but we got close enough for a fine round of fluke waving. We stopped in Whaletown on Cortes Island, then toured the gorge in Gorge harbour and finally anchored for the night by the docks at beautiful Mansons Landing on Cortes. I’ve been aching for years to photograph a petroglyph a ways down the beach from here so off I scooted in the dinghy knowing full well I’d never it. By an incredible stroke of luck the sun broke through the overcast just as I looked up at this particular boulder and there it was! Shadows revealed the etching in the boulder which is monstrous, about 4 metres long, the carving was made as high as a man can reach. What I find stunning is that the rock is solid blue granite, the kind of incredibly hard rock with sparkly bits of glinting mica. However did they do it? What tools did they use and how long would it have taken? I’m guessing it is a talisman to summon spawning salmon but what does this white man know? We also discovered that Cortes Island has it’s own co-op radio station which plays some fabulous music in the afternoons and evenings. KPLZ 89.5 or online as Cortes Radio.ca from Cortes Island, “Where everybody has something to hide.” You’ve got to love that!
The following morning brought light winds,then a breeze right on the nose, but we motor-sailed the long grind down to Jedediah Island. This place, for me, is the centre of my universe. I spent two years helping to fight to save this fabulous island as a natural park from the provincial brownshirts. We won, and the island retains it’s magic and wildness, but that’s another story. If, when the time comes, there’s enough of me left to burn, I want my ashes spread from from Gibraltar Rock, the peak of Jedediah.
Friday morning dawns clear, calm and perfect. I don’t want to leave this place but another life calls, or should I say, demands. It has been two weeks since we flew to Vancouver to begin this tiny odyssey. Of course, it seems like two days. We drop the hook in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay a few hours later. On Saturday, the fifteenth, we arrive at the Maritime Society docks and are greeted by old friends with hugs and welcomes. So ends a chapter of my life spent aboard Seafire. I sit dozing in my easy chair listening to the sirens and Harleys Davidsons buzzing along the highway. How will the next chapter go?
Where did this name come from? Why not God’s Sock, or God’s Knickers? And which pocket is it? One in his jeans? In the back, next to where the farts come out? Jill tells me I’ll find an answer. I think the name has to do with a sense of safety, a tiny place snugly out of the vicious winds that can blast this area. It is a dent in the shoreline of Hurst Island, just northwest of Port Hardy. It is not particularly notable yet provides fair holding ground and reasonable shelter in most winds. There is nothing here except a base for eco-tourism. There are no stores, no bright lights and no place to go ashore. Yet it is a name which yachties love to drop invariably in a clubhouse anywhere south. There’ll be a scrum of folks with wine glasses in hand and this name will float out repeatedly. “Oh yes it is lovely there. The problem is you see there’s no place to take Fifi ashore in God’s Pocket and she just won’t do her business on the afterdeck.
Then the widget spinner on the ice-maker broke and we had to go back to Port Hardy and wait three days for new parts to be flown in. You just don’t dare go into the north country without a reliable ice maker. Nonetheless you simply must stop at God’s Pocket. Be sure to anchor in the middle so there’s no room for anyone else.” I imagined an affected British accent with a Worshington undertone as I wrote the above.
Actually, we had the tiny anchorage all to ourselves. That seems odd, it is usually crowded in summer with some huge gin palace in the middle, sweeping around the rocky bight because it has far too much anchor chain out. Everyone else ends up in the kelp beds trying to stay clear of the lunging Fart Parkerson.
Enough sarcasm. We made our way here from Goose Island via Hakaii Pass and a night in Pruth Bay at the top of Calvert Island. It is a stunning place with amazing beaches. On our way south from there we made our way down Fitzhugh Sound passing dozens of Humpback whales along the way. The crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound was the easiest ever. We’ll stop in Port Hardy to get provisions before moving ever southward. Our trip is again best described with photos.
Friday night, beginning of the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. I finish work at five and ‘Seafire’ is leaving the dock by 6:30 pm. It will be dark in an hour and I need to have the hook down by then. I don’t want to be mooching around these rock-infested waters in the dark, no matter how many electronics I have. I sneak along the beach where last weekend I explored forest grave sites. Suddenly I see a light ashore and then in the gathering dusk, more crosses. I’ve just spotted yet another burial sight. It is an eerie moment seeing that solar light. I’m told that the next small island to the north is covered in gravesites as well.
By seven thirty I’ve got the anchor well-set and a few minutes later, total darkness descends. I write seeing my reflection in the darkened window across the cabin. The scribe alone in his garret, no-one else in the world knows where I am. Outside low peaceful bits of cloud drift beneath a waxing quarter-moon and a star-studded sky. Two miles distant the lights of the Dryad Point Light Station cast long reflections on the calm water. I am utterly alone, and lonely, but I am at peace cocooned in my little boat. I think of my wife and my dog and my friends and wish they could all be here. I’ve also made some wonderful friends in Shearwater this year, we’ll be able to help each other through the winter ahead. There’s comfort in that. In the morning I’m up at the break of dawn. I make some coffee and complete my morning ritual by writing at least a few lines. I’m free to go wherever I want and while I sit writing, I’m wasting precious daylight.
I anchor in mid-afternoon in Clatse Bay, a deep sub-inlet hooking back eastward from Roscoe Inlet. The entrance to Roscoe starts just above Troup Narrows, a divide between Cunningham and Chatfield Islands. I‘ve found very old, faded pictographs in the narrows and drawn onward I find one more at the entrance to Roscoe. There I enter one of the fiords which penetrate well into the interior of mainland Canada. The land masses on either side are now peninsulas, not islands. The only way out is the way I came in. The weather is glorious and I am compelled onward, reluctantly turning back a few miles until I drop the anchor here. I’ve travelled beyond the edge of my last paper chart for this area and prudence demands I go no further relying on only electronic charts. I have to practice what I preach. The water at the head of the bay is filled with detritus and covered with gull feathers. There are hundreds of birds and very many seals. I can hear the calls of gulls, eagles, ravens and crows all at once. Salmon are still spawning and there is a feeding frenzy at the mouth of the stream running into the bay. I take the kayak and video camera and inch my way forward.
Wheeling birds fill the air above me and I glide over the sunken corpses of thousand of fish. A pungent dead salmon reek fills the air, the water bears foam and bubbles from the excess of protein. Wary of bears defending this feast I paddle cautiously until the kayak is almost aground. Darting schools of salmon surround the kayak, thumping against it at times, in their frenzy to complete their life cycle. As the light fades and the tide begins to ebb, I retreat, awed as always to see this timeless drama. I leave the birds to gorge, knowing that within the thick brush all around there may well be both wolves and bears watching me depart the scene of their autumnal feasting. How I wish for a glimpse of them. There is a waxing quarter-moon tonight and a clear sky, the feast may well continue in the dark. The lean, cold, wet days of winter are not far off. Now is the time to be putting on the Ritz.
Thanksgiving Sunday morning arrives with the same clear sky. The stars last night were amazing. I sit in ‘Seafire’ writing and watching the shadowed silhouette of the mountain to the east slowly descending the face of the mountain on the other side of the inlet. When the line of brightness finally hits the waters where I am, the dripping dew will begin to burn away. Any dew in the shade will remain all day. That moment arrives nearly two hours later as the sun climbs free of the land. The mist dissipates over the water and the plexiglass windows on the boat gently click and pop as they expand within their frames. Sunlight reflecting on my computer screen makes writing difficult as I peer through it at the image of my wrinkled visage on top of these words. Birds over the mouth of the stream rise and swirl, calling raucously. All are species which are natural enemies of each other. Here they are drawn by their mutual fixation of plenty.
The season for painting brightwork has slipped away. Even on a day like this, by the time the wood has dried sufficiently to apply any sort of finish, it is already accumulating a fresh coat of dampness from the approaching evening. In the coming winter there will be many days with no sunlight at all. Keeping ahead of the ubiquitous black mould and green slime will be a constant chore. We’ll think it is a fair day when the wind eases to allow the rain a vertical descent. I may as well be content to simply savour this moment.
If I could I’d take the boat back south, haul her for storage ashore, then take my little trailer down to where the cactus and palm trees grow. If I had my druthers, uh huh! As it turns out, I may well have to sell my beloved ‘Seafire’ to break out of the spiral I seem to be stuck within. The thought breaks my heart but I know that as sacred to me as she may be, a boat is only “stuff.” Invariably it is our stuff which in fact owns us. Some of my finest memories are from times when all I possessed could be kept in a backpack and my pockets. My downfall was my first credit card. It seems I’ve owed someone money ever since. I don’t need money to enjoy the day ahead and that is what I’m determined to do.
I go on deck to savour the sun’s radiation on my old bones and bend to a repair on my kayak. It’s not really a repair but more of a pre-fix. I see a tiny crack and surmise that an application of special epoxy will prevent the blemish from becoming a serious leak. I apprenticed as a helicopter engineer and was indoctrinated that anything less than perfect was never ‘Good enough.” I muse now how that has so often taken me from a functional imperfection to a perfectly nonfunctional situation. I’ve also learned that “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and that “If it’s working, leave it alone.”
Einstein suggested that you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created it. I knew the parameters of life here and chose to come back anyway, a humble financial refugee. My experience and knowledge have to put aside and I just do my job. The hardest part of being here is dealing with a few people who demand respect which they not are prepared to reciprocate. It’s a small community and folks have to get along whether they like each other or not. There is a very long winter ahead. Negativity is often ambient here and I do my best to find humour in most things. That is my best effort at being positive and trying to buoy my fellows. I am reminded of Richard Burton’s response to a question about his success as an actor. “I say the lines, I take the money and I go home.” That, I tell myself, is a mantra to cling to as I strive toward my personal goals. I remind myself, the failed entrepreneur, that if I know so much, I wouldn’t be here in the first place working for wages. Enough thinking, enough writing, it’s time to weigh the anchor and see what’s around the corner on this beautiful weekend.
Being in this wonderful area is indeed a perk of my employment here. I head out and around the corner away from my workplace as often as I can. This weekend I’ve gone a few inches off the chart, both in my comments and where the boat is anchored, somewhere onto chart #3940, which I don’t have aboard. It is at the top of my grocery list. Fat lot of good that does me today. There is not a breath of wind. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been able to use my sails. I find more pictographs on the eastern side of Roscoe Inlet, and three hours after raising my anchor I’ve dropped it again in Morehouse Bay on the west side of an island named Chatfield. I’m not far from Shearwater and a Thanksgivng dinner invitation. I’ll make a bet that tomorrow the wind will rise and produce seas right on my nose.
While editing today’s photos I discover pictographs that I had not clearly seen while photographing them. They are so faded that they don’t show up until I enhance colour saturation. I am stunned and delighted. I wonder how many people pass by this very important first nations art and never know. I suspect there are many native people who themselves are unaware. How I would love to find an elder who can explain more than the little I know but the paintings truly seem to be a lost art. I do understand that many pictographs were painted as a rite of passage. That may explain why so many are found in places which would have been very difficult and dangerous to climb or descend to. Perhaps modern graffiti placed in conspicuous places such as on a water tower or a bridge-span crossing a busy highway or above a rushing river is a good contemporary metaphor. The daring-do of young people, especially males, declares “Look at me, I’ve taken this risk to tell the world that I am brave beyond doubt and I claim my place in the world. Don’t mess with me. Women should take note of this macho dude.”
Perhaps I’m over-simplifying the mystery of pictographs. They probably have many meanings. They may mark the edge of territories, or work as roadsigns or warnings. They may have simple commercial connotations. “Aunt Thelma’s Best Dried Berries And Oolichan Grease” or “Old Joe’s natural remedies,” or maybe, “Honest Jimmy’s Good Used Canoes.” I do know that if you look specifically for pictographs, you probably won’t find them. Look instead for the type of location where they are found. Occasionally these natural billboards will reveal pictographs. It is usually an over-hanging rock face, often covered in part by a yellowish type of lichen or mould. This seems to indicate a permanently dry spot that is seldom, if ever, washed with precipitation. The paintings are made by using ochre. This is a colouring (According to my Oxford dictionary) which is “A mineral of clay and ferric oxide, used as a pigment varying from light yellow to brown or red.” All that I have seen on the West Coast are evident in varying tones of brick red. When completely faded, there is still a dark undertone left behind. No-one has found a way of dating pictographs. In other locations around the world they are deemed to sometimes be thousands of years old. I am awed to see them, no matter what their age. I can’t explain my fascination with this primal art form but looking for more, as well as petroglyphs, is as good a reason as any to continue exploring this amazing region of twisting waterways, bays, islets, inlets and archipelagos. The images are from an age when indigenous people truly lived in acknowledgement of their environment.
Thanksgiving day finds me blasting back to Shearwater with all sails out before a steady north wind. I sailed a broad reach all the way home. Damn it felt good!
“The way to kill a man or a nation is to cut off his dreams, the way the whites are taking care of the Indians: killing their dreams, their magic, their familiar spirits.” …William S. Burroughs
“THIS JUST IN…”
That’s what they say during a newscast when a new story breaks. Today is Thursday the 13th, apparently close enough to Friday 13th. A pusher tug ran aground with an empty fuel barge in the wee hours this morning. The grounding was at the mount of Seaforth Channel, eight miles west of here, immediately south of the Ivory Island Light, in an area I dearly love. The ramifications will be huge, especially with the ongoing controversy about gas and oil pipelines and terminals here on the central coast. Speculations are already a fathom deep.
Once the muck and frenzy has settled and I can put together an accurate story, I’ll have the fodder for my next blog. By the way, the marine weather forecast at the moment is for gale force winds.
My little boat project has been completed with rave reviews and even a kudu from the marine surveyor. Fellow yacht tinkers have expressed their approval which has left me very chuffed indeed. It has been a very expensive ordeal for the owner but he now has a head-turner that will take him everywhere he wants to go. She sails as well as she looks. ‘Avanti’ is a 1966 Frisco Flyer Mk III, built by Cheoy Lee (Hull1691) and designed by Tord Sundén, creator of the famous Folkboat. Essentially this Cheoy Lee is a Folkboat with standing headroom and a very cleverly designed interior. She sails like a dream and with all her teak she has very traditional feel. She may be tiny but she’ll never be a sandwich at anyone’s banquet.
Now another Cheoy Lee has arrived at the dock. Oddly, just like ‘Avanti’ I installed an engine in her while I worked in the shipyard. Here we go again! A new owner has brought her back to Silva Bay and yep! He wants me to do a bunch of work on her. I don’t want to see another Cheoy Lee at the moment, but a monkey on my shoulder is whispering something about looking a gift horse in the mouth. We’ll see.
And where do I want to go from here? I’ve been here on Gabriola Island for nearly four years. I came for a job offer and what I thought would be a great opportunity. I truly believed it was where the gods were leading me and that soon enough it would
make sense. It’s all turned sour; well at least I certainly have. I love the beauty of this place and the wonderful friends I’ve made. There are also a few folks here at the end of the road at the end of the island who
make living here a misery. Without any grand prospects ahead it maybe time to move on. My personal life is under deep duress and I’m becoming a bit over-reactive to foolishness and rudeness. Of course when your karma is dented it seems some people have an acute predatory sense. I’m sure that somehow signals are unconsciously sent and received. Suddenly “Punching Bag” seems to be tattooed on your head. If one’s personal spiritual health is good, the normal bumps of life go virtually unnoticed. When you’re bruised, every touch and poke is painful and it is hard not to react. It can be a spiral or a growing experience and some lessons seem to need to be relearned.
Every morning now comes with a heavy dew and the rainstorms are becoming more frequent. Soon they will be a daily or week-long fact. Boat owners are busy finding and repairing the leaks which have developed through the long, hot summer. I find myself marking the passing rush of time by the ‘Best by’ dates on the milk cartons I buy. We’re into October dates already, November soon. It was September 1st a blink ago. The evenings are cool and dark and damp. The tree frogs are beginning to sing. Mist and fog are common now and there is wood smoke in the evening air. Soon the clocks will go back to “Daylight Savings” (Which, I think, is yet another piece of stupidity we accept.) It is time think south.
My buddy Jimmy Poirier has arrived home from his great South Pacific marathon on his Corbin 39 cutter ‘Noroue’. He’s deeply tanned, grinning broadly and minus a lot of weight.
He looks great despite not having cut his remaining hair(s) for the whole adventure. It is an inspiring personal achievement and I’m happy that he’s happy. I don’t know how many miles he’s travelled in less than a year. I’m much more of a flower-sniffer but I’m looking forward to sharing a jar or two with him and hearing the whole story. I’m also delighted that he repeatedly offers praises for Donna, the steadfast wife who has been his base support all the way. This is yet another story about how there’s a good woman behind every successful man.
My friends Tony and Connie are about to finish a wonderful adventure in France and go back to their boat ‘Sage’ where it is dry-stored in Phuket. Check out their blog ‘Sage on Sage’ which can be accessed through the sidebar of this blog. The photography is wonderful.
I am left feeling quite frustrated that I’m not making any apparent progress toward my own goals. It is now the beginning of October and old ‘Seafire’ should be on the move down to Mexico. After the devastation of Hurricane Odile a few weeks ago I’m sure I can find gainful endeavours there.
I know that dreams are realized when things look bleakest and one refuses to quit. That is often when a glimmer of new possibility begins to glow. But like the old buzzard said, “Patience my ass, I want to kill something!” I’ve got another month’s work here on Gabriola so I must soon make some important decisions. Ordeal or adventure, it is a matter of choice in how we deal with life. The hardest part of a voyage is untying the knots in the dock lines.
Now here I am at 04:00 on the final day of September. I’ve just returned from an exploration under the pilings on the jetty. A few weeks ago I lost a treasured silver pendant through the cracks of the deck above. It is the lowest tide of the month this hour today and so there I was beneath the slimy, dripping pilings, slithering over the barnacles with a flashlight and one gumboot full of seawater. I knew it was a hopeless quest but I had to go look. I’m always fascinated at the night life in the shallows and so it was not a wasted venture. The shrimp with their fluorescent red eyes, big Dungeness crabs, little fish in an inch of water and other wriggling creatures were all out in the middle of the night. Jack has gone back to bed, disgusted I suspect, with my nocturnal interlude. “Nutter human!” After a couple more hours of sleep, Jack the dog is on deck enjoying the sunrise in a clear blue sky. The DeHavilland beaver woke us as usual as its engine clattered to life for the first scheduled flight of the day. Not many people have a float plane for an alarm clock. There is a load of chores to address on this beautiful morning, life goes on.
It has been few weeks since the last blog. There’s not a lot to talk about, it has been mostly head-down drudgery. Enough said, ‘Avanti’ is finished. There was a hangar-tour at the Victoria Airport which stirred this once upon a time helicopter mechanic into nostalgia and even regret for leaving that industry. The absolute hi-light of the month was a concert in Nanaimo. Carlos Nunez is a Spanish piper from Galicia. If you are interested in Celtic culture you may know that it’s influence was spread from Spain and Portugal north to Brittany and as far east as the outer islands of Ireland and Scotland. We tend to think of Bagpipes as being unique to Scotland but they are in fact a fairly new arrival there of only a thousand years or so. Bagpipes, of varying design and sound were once common across Europe. In many areas the instrument is enjoying a renaissance even in places like Sweden and Syria and India.
If you don’t appreciate the sound of tortured cats (As many people describe traditional Scottish piping) you may be blown away, (Yes, that’s a pun) to learn how piping, including flutes, whistles and other wind instruments have evolved into contemporary music genres including rock and jazz. Carlos Nunez, Susana Seivane, Cristina Pato as well as many others are all on Youtube and well worth checking out if you have eclectic musical tastes. For humour check out our own Johnny Bagpipes from Vancouver Island who can play ‘Thunderstruck’ as well as AC/DC. There’s also a dude who calls himself the ‘Bad Piper’ who actually has flame throwers built into his pipes! And while we’re in the mood for exploration let’s go the extra inch and explore some Portuguese Fado music. Names like Mariza, Madredeus and Cristina Branco will lead to some rich, mesmerizing entertainment. It’s musical talent at its basic best. I wandered on to discover Scottish tribal drumming and then a guitarist named Tom Ward. Check out his rendition of Asturia. Which leads to an interesting question: Why dos so much of the music we listen to sound the same? Dull, dull, dull.
Funny how a blog about sailing and boats can include a mini-essay about random musical interest. It’s especially odd coming from an old salt like me who couldn’t carry a tune on a barge. “You are the wind beneath my kilt, You could make a bloody thistle wilt…” that’s where I take the gong. Once a sailor, always a sailor! Gentlemen need not apply.
I thought that in closing I’d research a clever wee quote about bagpipes. Little did I know!
I have found fistfuls! I’ve refined them to four.
– “Bagpipes– the secret behind crop circles.”
– From the journal of Alvisa da Cadamosto, a Venetian explorer in Portuguese service in Senegal in1455 “The sound of one of our country pipes, which I had played by one of my sailors, also caused wonderment. Seeing that it was decked out with trappings and ribbons at the head, they concluded that it was a living animal that sang thus in different voices, and were much pleased by it. Perceiving that they were misled, I told them it was an instrument and placed it deflated in their hands. Whereupon, recognizing that it was made by hand, they said it was a divine instrument, made by god with his own hands, for it sounded so sweetly and in so many different voices. They said they had never heard anything sweeter.”
– “At a funeral I played, the priest pointed at me during the eulogy and said, “so long as there are bagpipers, there will be free people.”
– “See you, Jimmy…..you’d best throttle that shite down now..”
Thank you! It’s working. My Flickr photostream is becoming easier to find due, in part, to your interest. https://www.flickr.com/photos/flickrfred/ will get you there; I have over two hundred forty frames up so far.
I’m hoping to earn some income from my writing and photography as I travel. In today’s world, if you have no cyber presence, you don’t exist. It would be much nicer to sit with pen and paper beneath a palm tree writing the world’s ultimate novel but that is only fantasy long lost. I know that I cripple myself by avoiding the mad scrum of twitter, titter, squeak, squack and honk yet I have to do something to validate my creative existence in the cyber world. A few years ago a publisher told me that e-books weren’t “Real”. Now it seems, writing is not legitimate if it isn’t an e-book. So, that’s what I’m up to with all this effort at seeking attention.
I’ll admit I’m a dinosaur in this modern world of computer-everything but I’ll hold my low regard for the sheep-like manner in which people eagerly accept persuasion to follow corporate marketing innuendo. Our culture has become hopelessly addicted to cyber devices. It seems that even a primal survival instict, fear, has a declining sensitivity. We are rapidly loosing the ability to fend for ourselves to the point of wandering into danger’s way while texting, tweeting and gaming. People drive and walk with head-down texting focus as they stumble through traffic, crowds, the woods and even on the docks. Kerplunk!
Amazingly, in our enlightened age, few ask questions. Our thumbs keep twitching out unimportant messages and we stumble along without looking where we’re going. Letter-writing has become a lost social art. Correct spelling and grammar are a foundation of clear communication. Language and communication is a cornerstone of civilization and we apparently don’t much give a toss about those basics. I recently saw a dictionary of texting abbreviations. (Lol ddba wm yy2.) No! I don’t want to have children with you! Huh? Coincidentally, as I write, a radio announcer reads a story about how people “Are married to their smart phones”.
Don’t we see how addicted and reliant we have become? Whenever the electricity goes down or we lose one of our devices we panic. Even in the backwoods of Mexico people appear entirely dependant on their cell phones. It seems like a deadly epidemic to me and I’ll admit that like it or not, I’m infected with the cyber bug as well. But I do care and will maintain a questioning attitude. You wouldn’t imagine the blank look I got in the cell phone store when I said I wanted a phone that only made calls, took calls and messages. Neanderthal!
I will readily admit that I heavily utilize the internet for research. A few minutes online can easily replace a day in the library. But, it doesn’t replace the collective intellectual energy of a building full of books.
It is important to remember who is slave and who is master.
Most offshore sailboats don’t even have a sextant aboard anymore. We DO have access to all sorts of satellite rescue systems when our incompetence prevails. If Uncle Obama flips the switch and there is suddenly no GPS available it will be a total disaster. I’ll admit that my sextant lies dormant in its case and I’ve forgotten how to use it. Mind you, leaving the dock is the first step to needing it. Here comes an embarrassed, pregnant silence.
I’m having a bout of writer’s block and as I poke away at my laptop the tely is on playing the 1961 movie ‘The Misfits’. It is a beautiful film made on location in Nevada. Marilyn Monroe is outstanding, her acting is incredible and Clark Gable is grand. He utters lines like “People can get so afraid of dying that they don’t ever live. Of course there’s danger in most worthwhile things”. In real life he died within days of finishing this film. Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter and Montgomery Clift all turn out stunning performances. A believable script encompasses human longing and weakness within a parable about greed versus the environment. I love the clever use of light in black and white films and this one is certainly no exception.
The old Waco biplane had me lusting heartily. John Huston was the director and the messages about fiscal wealth versus integrity and compassion, from over forty years ago, are stunning. Not surprising, it was a flop at the box office. Few know of it. I think it should be re-released.
Now it’s Sunday, a week before Easter. Another stellar weather day dawns. We will almost be able to hear the leaves bursting out and see the flowers opening. Fluorescent white flesh is on display everywhere and I smugly flaunt the remains of my Mexico tan. Then as the evening sun settles behind the trees, it’s back into our woolies. Drifts of fir and maple pollen fill the air and everyone’s sinuses. Folks are finally back on the docks checking to see if their boats have survived the winter. They offer the usual annual cliché yucks about how boats are holes in the water that you shovel full of money. I offer my standard responses about how a “Stitch in time saves nine” and that houses are holes in the beach that you shovel money into while the scenery never changes. A few visiting cruisers are appearing at the marina now. Next weekend the marina circus will begin for another year.
A friend en route with his yacht to Easter Island and then the Marquesas stopped at the Galapagos two days ago, for forty hours! He had a passage From La Paz, Baha with light winds and he ran low on fuel but forty hours? I’m sure he has his good reasons but I can’t imagine how hard it would be to put to sea again without a decent rest and a long reconnoitre of that fabled place.
Jimmy has his daughter Karmin aboard and I hope they find a place to stop and can make their marathon a wholly pleasant odyssey. He’s put so much into preparing for this journey.
Other friends have left their boat ‘Sage’ in dry storage for the monsoon season in Northern Phuket and are coming home to Victoria for a break away from the heat and humidity where they have been sailing. Connie and Tony did this once before on a tiny Vancouver 27. They spent seven years exploring the South Pacific and Japan. Their blog ‘Sage on Sage’, is what prompted me to start my own. I am deeply inspired and humbled by folks who are able to achieve their dreams.
Good on you all.
Now it is Monday morning. As the sun rises in the East (As usual) a high thickening overcast is rapidly approaching from the South. The barometer is holding steady, for the moment, but it looks like rain to me. It didn’t rain. In fact this afternoon my pallid shanks were sticking out again beneath a pair of tattered work shorts. This evening there is a new overcast blocking any view of tonight’s lunar eclipse.
It was quite a day. I don’t know why but I’m experiencing a massive lethargy and depression accompanied with all sorts of strange pains, swollen glands, and a generally pathetic state of being. I know, I know, it shows in my writing. Spring fever, allergic reactions to all the pollen in the air, a chronic attack of self-pity, I can’t explain it. Other folks report they are laid low with flu so I’ll go with that.
In the midst of this gloom a friend recommends going online to a ‘TED Talk’ and looking up an essay by a conductor and classical musician named Benjamin Zander. “Yeah right”, I thought as I typed in ‘The Transformative Power Of Classical Music.’
It was spell-binding, a midday epiphany.
This brilliant man explained things about classical music which I never understood and then leads the viewer on to some wonderful concepts. “Who I am being, if my children’s eyes aren’t shining?” Who am I being, if other people’s eye aren’t shining?”
His message, I think, is to apply your unique gifts in such a way that other people are inspired and enlightened.
“Become a bird that flies above the fields. Fences are no longer obstacles”.
Now it is Tuesday morning already and I’ve awakened cynical and jaded as ever. That might have to do with the aches and pains of my battered old frame. (I used to wonder why old folks were so often grumpy!) Jack the dog is out on deck surveying the world and absorbing the moment in the light of the rising sun. He has, as usual, the correct philosophy and is immersed in the moment. I’m sitting with my morning coffee pecking away on this blog trying to find a clever ending. Perhaps a final quote from Zander will work.
“Never say anything that won’t stand if it is the last thing you ever say!”
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.
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! ”
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.”
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.
To underscore that anecdote, I learned
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.
A new blog arrived from my pals Tony
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.
It is amazing to see the incredible variety in all shapes,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Monday morning. It’s tough waking up. The dog is curled into the crook of my arm snoring softly. There is the occasional drip of water on the deck. It is so quiet! Then comes the clatter of my Pratt & Whitney morning alarm. The Beaver float plane moored just past my boat is fired up to warm the engine in anticipation of the day’s flying ahead. I resolve to hit the deck as soon as I hear it start up the second time. This means the passengers and freight are aboard and the flight is leaving the dock, but this morning there is only quiet.
I finally get up to see that we are fog-bound. All is calm. A kingfisher sprints past, its chattering flight pierces the calm for a moment. Fog drifts through the tree tops and slowly burns away to reveal the sun climbing above a cloud-mottled golden sky. The flight is still bound by the fog lying across the Strait and blanketing its destination in the Fraser River. The pilot uses his time to scrub the airplane. Passengers caught up in the thrust of their day pace the docks, texting messages or gesticulating with cell phones jammed to their ears. There are no float planes droning overhead. Slowly the sounds of busyness pervade the sanctity and the day moves forward. The sun begins to heat the bay, steam rises languidly from all the damp surfaces.
In my last few blogs I have used a derogatory tone in describing certain tourist yachters who haunt the docks during the summer season. I grudgingly admit that it is their dollars which provide the foundation for this facility where I live. They are necessary to my existence here, like it or not. They are also a microcosm of a society, of which I am part, whose values are alienating me.
There are, thank the Gods, other folks. ‘Native Girl’ is living evidence that there is indeed another breed of character on the docks. Across the slip from me, my neighbour boat ‘Native Girl’ rests awaiting the day’s industry. The owners are a younger generation than mine yet they hold a passion for a way of life built around the ancient art of maintaining wooden boats and building new ones. They respect traditional nautical values and their enthusiasm for the art of maritime skills and perspectives is a hope in itself. Jon and Ryan are the proper owners for ‘Native Girl’. They live aboard her as their careers allow. Together the couple are methodically maintaining and restoring their historic vessel to her former glory.
This boat has a special place in my heart. I once missed buying her by two hours; it just wasn’t meant to be. I was an acquaintance of Allen Farrell, the designer and builder of ‘Native Girl’. He and I were friends as were hundreds of others who knew him and his wife Sherry. All I’ll say here is that they were the only real hippies I have ever known. They didn’t talk about it, they lived it. Whether it was sustainable living, peace and love or thinking green, they were role models. I miss them both, dearly. I ache for the idea of them and their living proof that financial abundance has nothing to do with real wealth. Allen once told me that true wealth was knowing how little you need and realizing how free that left you. As I write I look around inside the expanse of this boat and wonder what it is that I truly need. What the hell has driven me from one fine boat to the next and then the next? The first one could have taken me anywhere in the world I wanted to go. Then I remember how Allen also told me that a boat needs to be big enough for everyone aboard to have their own “Pouting space.” He was a wise man.
There are several other folks dedicated to a lifestyle of eating, breathing and sleeping wooden boats and following diverse personal disciplines in the pursuit of their common passion. There are some wonderful examples of boats, big and small, built and rebuilt here in Silva Bay and various other settings around Gabriola Island. I’m glad to be in their company, even though I’m a fibreglass boat kind of guy; ‘Classic Plastic’ is my niche.
So then, plan B. As the window closes on being able to take the boat south this fall I know I will not be able to endure another long dark, wet, winter. I hear folks talking about winter vacation plans and my body begins to ache in dread of being left behind. You can tell me all you want about adjusting my attitude but I can tell you we all have a tangible physical reaction to the long darkness of winter. It is a primal thing and some of us are more sensitive to it than others. I’ve spent a lot of my life working like a mule at sea and in the woods so often, it seems, in the dark. It didn’t bother me then but I’m not nineteen anymore so I while I respect the bears and other hibernating creatures I’ll try migration to sunnier latitudes for a while. This old flower needs a regular dose of UV rays and that demand seems to increase with the passing years.
It seemed the gods put a practical solution right in my path. These creaky bones don’t like lying on the ground overnight anymore so how about a compromise? I’ve been contemplating small holiday trailers for a while. They seemed too awkward to tow to places I like to go. Ones I could afford were not in good condition. Tent trailers were overpriced and didn’t really suit my needs. The wobbling tin-foil condos lurching down the highway behind a monstrous diesel pickup truck appear to me to be the antithesis of easy rider freedom.
Well now, suddenly I have a mobile bed and a light utility trailer. I drove around a corner on Gabriola and there it was with a for sale sign, exactly perfect for my needs. Of course, the right thing always shows up when you’re dead broke so I had to solicit help from my wife. Thank you Jill.
I now own a beautiful tear drop trailer. It is home-built and very well put together. Clad in a sturdy sheet of aluminium it is an essentially a bed on wheels with room inside for a comfortable double berth. The back of the trailer hinges up to form an open-air roof over a tiny galley area. It is very light and easy to tow with enough ground clearance to tow behind my little 4×4 truck into the back lands of Baha or wherever I have an urge to go. It can also double as a utility trailer for hauling my tools around. It might even fit in a large inflatable boat.
What’s this got to do with the sailing dream? The boat and my finances aren’t ready to ‘Do South’ this fall but if I camp along the way with my sleepy-time bubble I can hopefully afford to get away for a while during the middle of the coming winter. I can leave the rig anywhere I want or even play leap-frog with the boat as I move down the coast. Then I’ll have access to all of the country inland from the beach. There is plenty more to Mexico and all those other places south than just their coastline.
Two more days and it is officially autumn. The fleet of white plastic boats is gone. Only a few committed yachters visit the marina. The little birds have flown south, the daylight is noticeably less each day, the morning dew lingers until noon and in the late afternoon it settles again. Painting brightwork is now an urgent order of business. I’m two weeks short of the deadline for sailing away. It is not going to happen this year but life should be an adventure so we’ll find a creative way of dealing with winter and all its dark gremlins.
One of the secrets to good writing is to quit before the reader does. My first blog, almost a year ago already, was a commitment to go sailing and indulge a very long-lived dream. It would be very easy at this point to produce big fat excuses and pack it all in for an existence in front of the television.
That won’t happen. I owe it to my readers, myself and my wife, (Whom I have tortured with this passion for decades.) The dream is alive, I’ll blog on. One day soon I’ll be able to post a photo in a blog of clear, warm green water surging through the scuppers with a palm-fringed shoreline in the background. I hope you’ll be there with me; it is going to be a grand day. In the meantime, the journey continues one stumbling step at a time.
By the way, one of the reasons I ended up with this boat is that it has an extra double bunk in a separate cabin. There are two other comfy bunks and lots of room topside to sleep under the stars in southern climates. Guests are welcome, especially….. if they can help defray costs and want to enjoy a unique, inexpensive vacation. Think about it. The ‘Seafire’ Hotel will be opening soon somewhere down there. See ya in the movies!