What’s In a Name?

Dogpatch Dawn A community of under-the-radar liveaboard folks
Dogpatch Dawn
A community of under-the-radar liveaboard folks
Bicycle Blues Part of the price of living off the grid. "First they chain my frame, Then they steel both wheels!"
Bicycle Blues
Part of the price of living off the grid.
“First they chain my frame,
Then they steal both my wheels!”

 seafire- phosphorescence at sea. Also known as bio-luminescence, attributed to light-emitting organisms in sea water. When present, it is especially noticeable at night in waves, in the wake of a boat or the passage of fish. It appears as a green glow or as flecks of light. Seafire was also the name given to the naval version of the famous fighter plane, the Spitfire.

A recent contact from a long-lost friend who had discovered this blog noted that I still owned ‘Seafire’. I replied that the present Seafire is a namesake of my first vessel of that name. Here’s how it happened.

In 1986 I was living in the Northern Interior and dead sick of it. Prince George is a place where it seemed you spent six months of the year shovelling snow onto your lawn and then six months shovelling it back onto the street in hope of having a few weeks of green lawn before the flies quit biting and it began to snow again. I’ve lived in more remote locations but there was something quite dreary about Prince George. It had a lot to do with three very large pulpmills in that city and a general “Log it, burn it, pave it” mentality. I’ll always remember those pitch dark winter mornings with temperatures down to -40° and joggers in spandex, with a scarf around their faces, thumping down the polished ice streets between huge berms of plowed snow, a swirl of pulpmill ice smog around them. I think they did this in the name of good health!

Expo 86 brought me down twice to Vancouver that year, the second time to see the launching of the “Pacific Grace’ which had been built on the fair site. I was every inch an aviator at the time but the sea and this coast also occupied a huge piece of my heart and so a decision was made. It was time to move to the coast. For less money than owning an airplane, I could possess a sailing vessel which would take me anywhere I chose and also be my home. I reasoned that trying to live in a small aircraft while picking one’s way around the planet was really not practical. By the spring of the following year I had left a lucrative career behind and launched a tiny Northwest 21 trailerable sailboat in False Creek, not far from where the ‘.Pacific Grace’ first kissed the water.

I made my way northward as far as Port Hardy that March in the persistent winter weather in a boat with squatting headroom and no heat. My only source of warmth was a tiny propane stove which produced more water vapour than heat. My English roots were thrilled at my masochism and a sense of homecoming to be back on the sea. (No comforts please, we’re English!)

During that trip I enjoyed an evening aboard a beautiful William Atkin-designed Ingrid 36. She was a wooden double-ended ketch, very stout and very, very salty. Her name was ‘Seafire.’ She was owned by a young Alaskan-bound couple going north to summer jobs before heading for southern seas in the fall. It was, in part, the radiant, dry warmth of their Dickinson galley stove, in part the soft glow of the kerosene cabin lights, in part the lovely glow from the rum but mostly the gleam of the mutual dream held by this young pair of dreamers. What a wonderful thing!

I learned later that the boat had been sunk somewhere west of the Panama Canal in the fall of that same year. It was, apparently, attacked by Orca whales, a not uncommon story for those waters. I never learned the fate of her crew but assume they survived to be able to recount their ordeal. Two more boats passed through my hands, both very capable offshore vessels, ‘Jenta’ was a Gulf Island 29 and then ‘Anya’ a Vancouver 27. The next boat was a True North 34. She was a fibreglass double-ended cutter, massively built, cozy, clumsy, but imminently sea-worthy and steered with a huge, heavy oak tiller. That helm kept you out in the open, no matter what the weather. It was all very salty, and I was much younger. She came with the name ‘Sunward II’ which I could not abide and so, still deeply inspired, I renamed her ‘Seafire.’

This was now the forth sailboat I’d owned and refitted. I loved her dearly and she loved me. I will hold precious memories forever of the adventures and people aboard that boat. She was also chartered out for cruises with various guests from Europe. I believe my ‘Seafire’ inspired a passion for some other people to answer the calling of the sea.

Each day of chartering was hard work, especially when your guests got your own berth at the end of the day. You roughed it somewhere else on the boat. I began to scheme to build a larger, steel vessel, better-suited for chartering and reluctantly I sold ‘Seafire’ to a fellow with offshore dreams for her. The last I heard she was somewhere in Mexico. I don’t know what ever happened to her.

A True North 34 The way I used to go to sea
A True North 34
The way I used to go to sea
My office The way I do it now
My office
The way I do it now
Seafire again Pretty from all angles
Seafire again
Pretty from all angles

Life goes on. The steel boat was never built. I had a serious accident at work on the tugs and ended up experiencing major heart surgery. Unable to return to a career on the tugs I started a business on borrowed funds. That ended disastrously in bankruptcy. Somehow I staggered back up onto my knees and acquired another fixer-upper. ‘West Moon’ was a delightful Fortune 30, funky and very seaworthy but some friends were selling their beloved Sapphire 30,’ an Australian-built sloop named ‘Pax.’ Built for racing in the Southern Ocean she was massively constructed and had completed a 14 year round-the-world odyssey. I soon had her ready to go again. We had many adventures together including a summer trip around Vancouver Island and like any fine boat, she’ll always hold a piece of my heart. However I still ached for a boat which allowed me the option of chartering, could carry tools enough to help pay my way and offered an inside helm for days of extreme heat, rain, or cold.

Happy Harry Heiltsuk My Heiltsuk mask on the bowsprit, a souvenir of Bella Bella. The Stainless steel mast pulpit and the boom gallows are some of my upgrades. Thanks to my pal Bob Wyche
Happy Harry Heiltsuk
My Heiltsuk mask on the bowsprit, a souvenir of Bella Bella carved to order by Ivan Wilson. The Stainless steel mast pulpit and the boom gallows are some of my upgrades.
Thanks to my pal Bob Wyche.

I’ve long-dreamed of cruising to Europe but have lost my sense of romance for being outside up to my armpits in ice-cold green seawater. My perspectives on the romance of the sea were evolving. I’m not getting any younger. I needed a boat with an interior that did not require a steep vertical ladder. I wanted my dog and I to be able to enter and exit the cabin easily. And I wanted to be able to sit inside and to see out while I wrote. ‘Pax’ sold so quickly that it seemed meant to be. Suddenly there I was on the beach with no debts and a little cash in hand, a very dangerous place for sailor to find himself.

Pax My Australian sailing machine
Pax
My Australian sailing machine

I searched everywhere in the Pacific Northwest and also made two different trips to the east looking at boats. I have long lusted after a type of motor-sailor designed after North Sea fishing trawlers. There is an English-built boat called a Fisher which I love as well as a Dutch boat called a Banzer. Motor sailors are usually displacement-hull motor boats with sail rigging. Traditionally they are rugged and seaworthy but not particularly good sailing vessels. The sails help steady the vessel in rough seas and offer poor to reasonable sailing ability when the wind is in your favour. There can be no expectation of windward ability. A motor sailor can be the best and worst of both worlds but is generally a happy compromise. The Downeaster 41 which I now own is built on a well respected 38′ offshore sailing hull and indeed sails rather well compared to many other motor sailors.

A sailing hull ...and a big propeller. October haulout in Shearwater
A sailing hull
…and a big propeller.
October haulout in Shearwater

After all that searching I found ‘Heart Of Gold’ almost at my front door in nearby Blaine. She was a perfect picture of despair when I first saw her. Covered in verdigris and bird droppings she listed hard to port. She had long sat at the dock and below deck reeked a sewerific blend of nasty neglect. It was obvious why she hadn’t sold. I’ve made my living fixing boats for a long while and knew that I could give this faded flower the loving she needed. This boat was perfect for my needs although the refit is still a long way from being complete. I describe the boat in my blog of May 24th, 2013 titled “It Must Be Spring.” It is easy to find in the archives on the right sidebar.

Heart Of Gold Really!
Heart Of Gold
Really!

Once I’d finished the business of importing the boat, which I did on my own with no problems, I needed to enter it into Canadian Ship’s Registry. A vessel’s name is the first piece of data in recognition of its official status as a Canadian vessel. (Until recent times a vessel’s owner could only ever own 64 shares of the vessel. The remaining 36 belonged to the British Monarchy who had a one-third claim on the boat and all “Her guns and appurtenances thereof.”) In remote areas I carry only one old shotgun and wore out my appurtenances long ago. However, I can still be considered somewhat impertinent.

As ‘Heart Of Gold’ had been entered in US Coast Guard registry I had all the formal measurements and tonnages and the process was straight forward. I’d struggled with the vessel’s name as being rather corny but resolved that if it were available I’d keep it to assuage nautical superstition. Oddly, the name had been available until the previous week and so I laid down my first choice for a new name.

‘Brass Monkey’ drew a wondering stare from the ladies in the office and then one said, “I know you! You’re Mr. Seafire.” I’ve been in that office so often through the years, she remembered me! In the Canadian Ship Registry system, a vessel’s name must be re-registered every few years. ‘Seafire’ had not been and so the name was mine for the asking. It seemed propitious, a sign from the gods and so once again I am the master of a Canadian-registered vessel named ‘Seafire.’ She’s a gorgeous old friend, unique and capable. She has been my home for the better part of the past five years and has carried me pleasantly along thousands of sea miles.

And so here I sit on a dark January night. The wind is calm but the rain hammers relentlessly as if I were still in Shearwater. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. The dream is very much alive but at the moment everything seems hopeless. The exciting part is, I know, that this is often a moment just before something really good comes down the pipe.

A wineglass transom. This clever design leaves a minimum disturbance behind the boat as it passes through the water.
A wineglass transom.
This clever design leaves a minimum disturbance behind the boat as it passes through the water.

By odd coincidence, while I have been writing this blog, a True North 34 has moored next to me. They are not a common boat. I can’t believe that I actually sat in such a cockpit day and night, in sun, rain, snow and flying spray. The tiller was heavy and the boat demanded good sail trim to be manageable. The narrow hatch tops a steep ladder down into the cabin which is a very snug place to ride out a storm. I loved that boat but the new ‘Seafire’ suits me very well. I am happy with my new old boat. I have yet to hold a renaming ceremony which nautical tradition demands. This is a mandatory ritual, long overdue, where the gods of the sea are supplicated for their blessing and protection. There are copious libations and affirmations among fellow nautical zealots. Then you sail away.

Let’s have a party; soon.

An old poster. The view is taken from a magic moment aboard the first 'Seafire'
An old poster.
The view is taken from a magic moment aboard the first ‘Seafire’

Coming Down

 

THANK YOU! My little eight-day odyssey is over, I’ve arrived in Ladysmith. Many of you sent notes of concern and well wishes. I am very touched and thank you all. The next two blogs will describe my little adventure.

Lamma Pass Sunday Morning coming down
Lamma Pass
Sunday Morning coming down

Sunday morning, December 13th, 06:30. Viscous dark, flat calm, barometer steady. I’ve spent the whole night in my bunk sleeping fitfully, waiting for a forecast wind which hasn’t come. As soon as my coffee is finished, I’ll tidy the decks and cast off. Six months of my life in Shearwater are now in the rear-view mirror. I’m just as broke as when I arrived but richer for having made some fine friends and the intimacy one achieves by staying long enough to know a place and its people. It is time to move on, my aching bones demand release from the dampness here. I swear some days you can wring moisture from any handful of air. I’m hot feeling good about any of this, going or staying, but the die is cast. I think I’m getting a cold but I can be just as sick down there somewhere as I can hanging around here. I’m on my way.

Denny Island Behind aview of my plotter screen, or electronic chart, as I turn southward from Lamma Pass into Fitz Hugh Sound
Denny Island Behind
A view of my plotter screen, or electronic chart, as I turn southward from Lamma Pass into Fitz Hugh Sound
Pointer Island The same place looking out the window. In the phot avove, it is the island on the corner behind my track index arrow
Pointer Island
The same place looking out the window. In the previous photo, it is the island on the corner behind my track index arrow

At first the autohelm won’t work properly. I’ve been concerned about the massive load of steel tools stowed near the autohelm flux compass. I’m dreading to have to hand-steer the whole trip. The further we go the better the device works and I’m beginning to suspect there may be some magnetic anomaly in the area. An hour south everything is fine. The day begins to brighten, despite windy-looking clouds. There is just enough breeze for me to run out the jib. I keep an eye on the barometer. It climbs rapidly, a few millibars each hour. The rate of change is alarming, a harbinger of sudden high winds. It comes from the northwest, cold and damp, clean air from Siberia perhaps. I retreat into the warmth of the cabin where the little furnace chuffs out a steady supply of toasty air. I once scoffed at such decadence, stoically enduring endless hours in an open cockpit bundled up like a pile of wet laundry. Now I have these achy bones and joints to show for all that manliness. I guess it’s my English blood that demanded such masochism but I’ve decided the romance of the sea doesn’t always have to be something that feels good only when you stop.

Wind warning The lenticular cloud and the mirage on the horizon are fair warning that big wind is coming
Wind warning
The lenticular cloud and the mirage on the horizon are fair warning that big wind is coming
Mount Buxton, Calvert Island.
Mount Buxton, Calvert Island.

I began to contemplate raising more sails, but there is a storm warning posted. It will come quickly. Sure enough the wind picks up as the tide turns against it. I take a quick turn through Namu, the abandoned fish plant so nostalgically famous to many commercial fishermen. The whole site is in ruins and I hurry on my way. I’m not staying here, it’s eerie and depressing. The endless miles of untouched forest are far less lonely than these ghost communities. I wonder at the tremendous investment so hurriedly left behind. Tongue in cheek I observe that many of the buildings seem in reasonable condition. Perhaps this would make a great rehab location. Refurbishing the housing could be part of the process. Yeah right!

Beautiful Downtown Namu
Beautiful Downtown Namu
The Old Bunkhouse
Namu has gone namu
The Old Bunkhouse
The Old Bunkhouse
Fuel Dock Closed
Fuel Dock Closed

A few miles down the coast is a spot called Koeye Bay, a revered location at the mouth of a beautiful river where the Heiltsuk have built a new “Big House.” The tiny bay is now on an exposed lee shore and the minutes of remaining daylight are roaring by. Sadly, I go past after planning all summer to visit. Next year! Soon the wind is blowing storm force and gusting over fifty. Some waves are four metres tall and almost that close together. It is always stunning to see how quickly the seas can build. All that energy!

Here it comes
Here it comes

Foolishly, I have left my inflatable boat hanging in it’s davits with the outboard mounted and the little boat full of gear. I constantly admonish other people not to do this. A stern-slung dinghy is susceptible to being caught and filled with water, or torn off the mother vessel and inflicting serious damage in the process. Now here I am with no place to go except straight downwind. Fool! The only places to seek shelter have very narrow entrances. I’m not going to charge through a line of building beach surf attempting an unknown entrance. By now a rogue wave has flipped my beautiful Achilles dinghy out of one of its slings. I’m dragging the bow of the inflatable sideways through the foaming sea. I fear the rest of the davit system is going to snap at any moment and I’m about to lose a very valuable hypalon boat and my outboard motor. I managed to rig a temporary sling with the dinghy’s painter. Somehow that held for the next ten miles and tonight I’m sitting in a placid anchorage with everything put right. All’s well that ends. I did lose some gear from the dinghy, a small price to pay for my stupidity. The joy of the day was to experience how old ‘Seafire’ held her own in the nastiest seas I’ve ever had her in. She rode and handled like a magic carpet. This vessel is a superb sea boat. I am thrilled. The autohelm performed flawlessly even in the big following seas, an ultimate test.

Bam! No turning back now.
Bam!
No turning back now.
Surf's Up! If you've ever tried photographing big waves, you know how hard it is to make them look as big as they really are. Yeehaw!
Surf’s Up!
If you’ve ever tried photographing big waves, you know how hard it is to make them look as big as they really are. Yeehaw!

Monday morning arrives with the sky beginning to brighten by eight o’clock. The anchorage I chose is tucked into the side of Illahie Inlet; it was as calm as cream. The sky is cloudless. Last night’s stars burned brilliantly and everything is coated with a heavy frost. Now it is time to sneak out of one of the narrow entrances. I’m hoping for the safety of Port Hardy tonight. We’ll see what fortunes the gods have in store.

Monday Morning Green anchorage, Illahie Inlet
Monday Morning
Green Anchorage, Illahie Inlet

Happiness is Cape Caution in the rear view mirror. The barometer sprang up and then down as a warm high pushed its way ashore. The straight edge of the warmer overcast passed by overhead at a phenomenal speed. Entering Queen Charlotte Strait from Queen Charlotte Sound can leave a person feeling like a bug in a washing machine. Water from the open North Pacific has been moving this way for thousands of miles. Now that energy has to dissipate on our rocky shores. Tide and wind have been moving other bodies of water up and down Johnstone Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, Fitz Hugh Channel and the many deep inlets which penetrate far into the mainland. Billions of tons of water are constantly colliding and mixing as the world goes on spinning around. It is not a place for the timid or for landlubbers. However without humility and respect for mother ocean she’ll administer some indelible slap therapy to the careless and insolent.

Why I don't like travelling in the dark
Why I don’t like travelling in the dark
The Deadhead " Thunk......sunk." Smitty Smith
The Deadhead
” Thunk……sunk.”
Smitty Smith

The coast mountains were crusted with a thick mantle of fresh snow, as brilliant as the exploding surf on the black rock foreshore. Mount Buxton, on Calvert Island, only 3325 feet above sea level was spectacular. The miles and landmarks crawled past. Opening my fridge is an old skill learned in my tug boat days. Open the door when that side of the boat is rolling away. Grab, slam and lock before the boat begins to roll back. If the door isn’t closed in time, the fridge projectile-vomits its shattering splattering contents at your feet.

Tonight finds me in another placid anchorage. This time it is on the side of Slingsby Channel, near the world- famous Nakwakto Rapids. They are second only in ferocity to the Maelstrom in Norway. The maximum velocity in today’s tide book is 13.5 knots! Even in this secure bay, a few miles from the narrows, a boil of tide reaches in occasionally and spins the boat on its anchor I awake each time to the rumble of the anchor chain on the rocky bottom below.

The beautiful, deadly shoreline near Cape Caution
The beautiful, deadly shoreline near
Cape Caution

I’ve chosen the mainland side of Queen Charlotte Strait instead of crossing to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island as I’d first planned. The weather is forecast to bring a series of strong southeasterly winds. Hopefully I can tip-toe southward along the old log-towing routes that twist and meander along a labyrinth of mainland channels and inlets. It is a tortuous route but certainly beats sitting and waiting for favourable weather which may not come. I once sat for nearly three weeks aboard a tugboat with four other restless rednecks waiting for the wind to drop enough to make towing logs possible. It is fine to talk to yourself, it is even alright to answer; so long as you remain aware of who it is answering. Now then, if only that invisible dog would stop barking.

Wentworth Rock some mariners call Queen Charlotte Strait "The rock garden," Few rocks and reefs have a light.
Wentworth Rock
Some mariners call Queen Charlotte Strait “The rock garden,” Few rocks and reefs have a light.

December 15th, Tuesday morning, 06:00. This was to be my last day of work at Shearwater, but here I am well below Cape Caution with one last leg on the open sea before dodging into the shelter of interconnecting waterways and inlets which will take me south to the Strait Of Georgia. There is one short stretch in Johnstone Strait and, of course, a few tidal bores, but I’m back in home waters. With a quick transit down the tidal ditch that is called Schooner Channel I found myself back out on the rock ‘n roll of Queen Charlotte Strait. I love the feel of the open water. These are swells with a feel of the shore to them. Further off the coast they become more rhythmic. There is a lovely cadence of climb, glide and surf and it can carry one all the way to Hawaii or Mexico or anywhere beyond. Fresh coconuts anyone? Instead I’m heading southward for the shelter of Wells Passage. The forecast is for sou’east gales so I’ll forgo Port Hardy and stick to the mainland side. I pass within 12 miles of the town and can actually grab a bar of cell service but opt for my solitude and frugality. I know that if I go to Port “Hardly” money will vaporize right out of my pocket. The only money-management scheme this sailor seems to understand is to stay at sea.

Below Cape Caution Beautiful, but a dangerous lee shore.
Below Cape Caution
Beautiful, but a dangerous lee shore.

If I were to find myself weather-bound there for several days, the moorage alone could be horrific. Besides, it is a glorious day to be out here. Such a wonderful thing to want to be no other place than right where you are at the moment. I‘m savouring it, the days ahead may not be so pleasant. The seas gently ease, and as always, the light in this region is incredible. Even with a lowering overcast the sun has the whole world glowing. My cameras whirred. Because of the blur of the boat’s motion in this low light, only one photo in ten will survive editing. In early afternoon I pass Numas Islands, I often referred to it while on the tugs as “Numb Ass.” Take that as you will. It seems an old friend today.

 Finally! South of Numas Island looking toward Vancouver Island
Finally!
South of Numas Island looking toward Vancouver Island

Eventually I sneak into Monday Anchorage on Mars Island, just one tiny piece in the jigsaw puzzle of islands and waterways. I’m greeted by a pod of Orcas. A perfect end to a perfect day. The boat has once again performed flawlessly, even when bonking the ubiquitous wood debris in the water. I marvel how there aren’t more strikes. Somehow my worries about what lays ahead ease for the moment. I’m at sea, I’m at peace. There are subtle changes to the forest and the shoreline as the journey progresses southward. I can never exactly define the evolution of topography and forest but it is indeed an incredible trip. Everyone should undertake this at least once in their lifetime. It leaves one fully aware of how tiny we are.

Last light in Monday Anchorage looking west over Queen Charlotte Strait
Last light in Monday Anchorage looking west over Queen Charlotte Strait
Dawn, Monday Anchorage
Dawn, Monday Anchorage

Wednesday morning, day four, finds me up long before dawn pecking away at this laptop while I savour a mug of hot, thick black coffee. Again the stars burn and throb in a cloudless sky. The forecast is indeed for prolonged strong southeast winds. I’ve made the right choice. I’d as soon stay here, I love the tranquillity and the sense of being embraced by both the emerald sea and forest but in a few minutes the engine will shudder to life, the anchor chain will rattle aboard, and off this old boat and its skipper will go to see what’s around the next corner, and the next. There are plenty of those ahead.

Dozens of corners later finds me in Port Neville, on the edge of Johnstone Strait. I ran out of daylight here, only 5 miles short of being able to turn out of the Strait into the next Labyrinth which will provide reasonably sheltered water all the way to the Strait of Georgia. I travel the routes I’ve know as a tug boater and realize how much I love this particular part of the coast. It is a transition zone where the thick cedar jungle becomes predominantly fir, the rocks have a different colour, the light is different, there are a few more moments of daylight. There’s always a delight. Today it was a pod of dolphins who joined the boat on and off for several hours. Always a good omen, they cheered me immensely. Earlier, as I passed Gilford, a remote first nations village, a crow landed on the foredeck and then peered intently in through the windshield at me. He then hopped along the side deck, turned his back to me and leisurely surveyed his kingdom from his royal barge. Parochial superstition often indicts crows as souls of the dead, and generally regards them as harbingers of darkness. I was happy to accept this character’s trust and disregard. Usually crows never take their eyes off you, ever! And so I passed on through the kingdom of underwater angels, the dolphins. I’ll accept whatever blessing comes my way.

Gilford....That's it!
Gilford….That’s it!
Gilford Ghost
Gilford Ghost

I once passed Gilford almost daily. Cramer Pass was part of our route back and forth to the fish plant. I was engineer on a fish packer. The rest of the crew were all first nations. Gully, a fellow from Alert Bay, was a wealth of local native lore and knowledge. He was delighted in my interest. I learned a lot about fishing techniques, burial islands, pictographs, dugout canoes, fishing boats native legends and who was who. His mentor had been an elder he respectfully called Jimmy Seaweed. As we passed Gilford one day, he told a story about a young boy being snatched from that dock by a large octopus. He insisted this was God’s truth and even showed me a headstone at the waterline which was allegedly for the child. I may never digest that story, but I’ll certainly never forget it. I have since learned that some of these amazing creatures will actually come out of the water to stalk prey. Soooo? Today, as I passed, I also recalled Gully’s car. It was a very large rock, visible at low tide, and to Gully’s eye looked like a car. Each time we passed I also began to see it. Eventually it did look remarkably like a small boxy-looking car. Today, with enough tide, there was a large white seal sitting on the roof of Gully’s car. Damn it Gully! I miss you old pal.

A dolphin flashes by in Knights Inlet
A dolphin flashes by in
Knights Inlet

Tonight, in Port Neville, the boat is bobbing her bow in a residual swell that works its way in from the Strait. There is a gale warning up, tomorrow could be a long day.

Downtown Minstrel Island, once a rollicking hub of the logging and mining communities in the Knights Inlet area
Downtown Minstrel Island, once a rollicking hub of the logging and mining communities in the Knights Inlet area
Minstrel Island Post Office in Chatham Channel. No double-docking please.
Minstrel Island Post Office in Chatham Channel. No double-docking please.

Thursday morning, day five of the trip. It took me seven days to get to Shearwater in the spring. With the short winter daylight, and the adverse weather, I’m delighted with my progress homeward. The continuing forecast is for southeasterly gales of 30 to 40 knots. Johnstone Strait is no place to be in those conditions. It’s a monstrous wind tunnel. With only five miles to go I’m going to give it a try. I can always turn back. I’d hate be stuck here for days when a couple of hours of slogging would see me into more sheltered waters. The day is so dark I turn the illumination down on my plotter, it’s just too bright this day.

Dawn in Port Neville, the whole darned town! The cabin on the right offered great company during the evening with the warm glow of lanterns inside.
Dawn in Port Neville, the whole darned town! The cabin on the right offered great company during the evening with a warm glow of lanterns inside.

With great relief I slid in behind the shelter of Yorke Island, hoping the worst is over. Sunderland Channel leads to the first of the big rapids on the back route. Sometimes Sunderland is as vicious as Johnstone Strait but today it is only moderately adverse. The rain is pelting down and then come the snowflakes. Thick, sticky numbers, like blobs of mashed potato. They coat the windscreen but the sea spray coming over the bow washes it clean.

Plunge, sploosh, splat. I arrive in Wellbore Channel about four hours too late for slack water. The tide is ebbing and my choice is to wait another few hours or try to buck through. It is past maximum flow so the current will be easing and I dive in. My bottom speed is down to two knots which means I’m fighting a current of over four knots. I jig and jake around the whirlpools and finally break out at the far end. It takes two hours to crawl the four mile length of the channel but now I can tackle the next set of rapids just as they turn in a favourable direction. At the end of this pass is a solitary arbutus tree. Still hanging its beautiful flesh-coloured limbs over the water, it has been a monument to those with eyes for it as long as I know. As far as anyone can tell, it is the most northerly arbutus growing on the coast.

The tide is slow to turn today, probably because of the added push of the southeast storm winds. It impedes my progress all the way through the Green Point Rapids and my faint hope fades of making it all the way to Dent Rapids in time to catch the next flood. I know I could still be sitting in Port Neville waiting for a better forecast. I’ve done well. Years travelling these waters on the tugs have me given me instincts which only experience can bring. I offer a note of thanks to those crusty old skippers who passed on what they knew.

Snow becoming sea. Nearing Whirlpool Rapids
Snow becoming sea.
Nearing Whirlpool Rapids

The snow on the slopes is thick and nearly comes down to the water. This weather is great for deer hunting and I think of days like this when I’ve clambered about looking for fresh tracks under the quiet cover of blanketing fresh snow. The smell of the forest on such as day is magic and taking a deer was never the real objective. My musings wander over the topography of the passing islands. I find my finger tracing the contours of West Thurlow Island. On it’s ridge there is a lake named Woolloomooloo. It has amused me for decades. Who in the hell would hang a small remote lake with a handle like that? It would be a hell of a hike. The word conjures an image for me of a short swarthy ugly fellow in a loincloth with a bone in his nose pointing a knobby blood-stained stick at me and angrily uttering, “Woolloomooloo!” “Sorry chief! I’ll never point my camera at your goat again.”

Christmas time in Shoal Bay
Christmas time
in Shoal Bay

Day five ends with ‘Seafire’ anchored in Shoal Bay. It is the closest safe anchorage to the final three sets of rapids. Dent, Gillard and the Yuculta rapids are notoriously fierce. In a slow boat like mine they must be run close to slack water (When the tidal current eases then reverses direction) but early enough to be safely through when the current begins to build the opposite way. Even big tugs wait for slack water. I’ve ridden log bundles here through the sucking whirlpools when a log tow breaks apart. There’s no romance of the sea in any of this. I’ve great respect for this body of water. After the rapids I’m almost in home waters. Only a day or two to go, if the weather eases. “Woolloomooloo!”

Sundog over Gilford
Sundog over Gilford

“hark, now hear the sailors cry

smell the sea, and feel the sky

let your soul and spirit fly, into the mystic…”

                                                                                             Van Morrison

Unfinished Business

A November view toward Canada over the dock in Bella Bella. Note that there are no kids swimming nw!
A November view toward Canada over the dock in Bella Bella. Note that there are no kids swimming now!

My time in Shearwater is coming to an end. This may be the last blog I post from here. By mid-December old ‘Seafire’ and I will be making our way south to whatever lays ahead. Of course I’m waiting for some really heavy weather to make the trip. There’s little drama with fair weather. I may still not be home to Ladysmith for Christmas if I flounder into a typical winter weather system. In my tugboat days, I’ve waited in one spot for up to two weeks. I’m sure the trip southward will provide some interesting material for a future blog, one way or the other.

"Heckle? No, I'm Jeckle! These Bella Bella crows will raid your grocery bags on the water taxi dock...right under your feet!
“Heckle? No, I’m Jeckle!
These Bella Bella crows will raid your grocery bags on the water taxi dock…right under your feet!

Things just haven’t worked out for me here. I didn’t amass the funds I had hoped to; in fact I’m further behind financially than when I arrived. I can’t say that I’ve discovered any other good reason for having come here, perhaps that will be revealed in the future. Life is like that. A rear view is often very clear but for the moment I have a sense of unfinished business. I don’t know what it is. That aside, recently the weather has turned cold, clear, and calm. There’s been no rain for a week! If a stormy winter night is an adventure, a dead-calm darkness of nearly fifteen hours is an ordeal. Staying warm is a challenge and condensation inside the boat is an eternal battle.

Where have all the gringos gone? The Shearwater transient dock requires no reservations these days.
Where have all the gringos gone?
The Shearwater transient dock requires no reservations these days.

Certainly, the notion of leaving a job to go into a situation with no money and no prospects seems suicidal and it will be a challenging time. I’m not expecting any warmth or fuzziness for a while. These thoughts are punctuated by photos emailed by friends in Mexico.

The Frosty Dock. when the sun is out, it's always in your eyes and it is no warmer.
The Frosty Dock.
When the sun is out, it’s always in your eyes and it is no warmer. ‘Seafire’ whispers “South, let’s go south.”

 

. I recently read that the pursuit of happiness should be secondary to the happiness of pursuit. We’ll see. Certainly it is up to me whether my life is an ordeal or an adventure. There is not much to write about when life is a daily grind of dreary work and long, lonely evenings. The boat is ready to go, I just need a couple more pay cheques before I can untie and sail away. This is the same country which had me spellbound during the summer months but there is something about winter which brings on a profound loneliness and depression. Certainly there are some folks left here who have not already gone south. They live their lives one way or the other. I am not prepared to socialize in the local pub and so here I sit poking away at my laptop alone in the night. Stay tuned, more to come.

Heiltsuk Dawn. Wet with melted frost this totem pole commands the Shearwater foreshore
Heiltsuk Dawn.
Wet with melted frost this totem pole commands the Shearwater foreshore.
The Barnacle Express. Is it a bridge? A cattle trailer? A what? A boat trailer! This innovative locally-built trailer was salvaged fro the ocean floor where it has sat for the past year.
The Barnacle Express.
Is it a bridge? A cattle wagon? A what? A boat trailer! This innovative locally-built trailer was salvaged from the ocean floor where it has sat for the past year.
A chance to go back in time when I was a tugboater. On the way to drag up the trailer. Bella Bella in the background.
A chance to go back in time to when I was a tugboater. We’re on the way to drag up the trailer. Bella Bella in the background. Note the natural open bog in  the distance on Campbell island.

 

He said, " I'd love to swim in your ocean." She said, "You'll have to settle for Pool 13." A mysterious Department of Fisheries decal, circa 1998.
He said, ” I’d love to swim in your ocean.”
She said, “You’ll have to settle for Pool 13.”
A mysterious Department of Fisheries decal, circa 1998.
Bogtrotter's Lane This corduroy road was built across this Denny Island swamp during WWII. It is a testament to the durability of Yellow Cedar, also known as Cypress.
Bogtrotter’s Lane
A corduroy road was built as a jeep trail across this Denny Island swamp during WWII. It is a testament to the durability of Yellow Cedar, also known as Cypress.
WWII happened here! A 70 year old roll of concertina wire in the bog marks the former camp perimeter. would it have delayed a horde of Japanese infantry attacking the air base?
WWII happened here! A 70 year old roll of concertina wire in the bog marks the former camp perimeter. Would it have delayed a horde of Japanese infantry attacking the air base?
Welcome To De Swamp! Hundreds of hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest are open swamp and bog, even on steep slopes. With solid granite beneath, there is inadequate drainage or topsoil for the rainforest to grow. These open, wet areas are important ecosystems and wildlife habitat. Here there were calls of ravens all around but none to be seen.
Welcome To De Swamp!
Hundreds of hectares of the Great Bear Rainforest are open swamp and bog, even on steep slopes. With solid granite beneath, there is inadequate drainage or topsoil for the rainforest to grow. These open, wet areas are important ecosystems and wildlife habitat. Here there were calls of ravens all around but not a one to be seen.
All is calm, all is bright. Whiskey Cove on a rare clear November afternoon. The gorgeous and famous old tug, 'Charles Cates' is careened high and dry at the head of thee jetty.
All is calm, all is bright.
Whiskey Cove on a rare clear November afternoon. The gorgeous and famous old tug, ‘Charles Cates’ is careened high and dry at the head of thee jetty.
Murphy knows! The mascot of the Hodge Podge store in Shearwater seems to know I'm leaving. I'll miss him.
Murphy knows!
The mascot of the Hodge Podge store in Shearwater seems to know I’m leaving. I’ll miss him.

I won’t belong to any organization that would have me as a member.”

…..Groucho Marx

Wolves Howling

Wotcha lookin' at? Edgar the eafle returns to his winter perch on the waterfront of shearwater.
Wotcha lookin’ at?
Edgar the eagle returns to his winter perch on the waterfront of Shearwater.

Isn’t it interesting how things work out? It is early on Wednesday morning, the brightening of the day is occurring reluctantly after a very rainy night. My toilet clogged first thing and I’m taking time off from work to resolve the problem. It might become a shitty day. As I returned to the boat after booking out from the job and grim-lipped at the task ahead, I heard something unusual.

Hi slack gleam. The sun catches surface tension in a backwater. Interestingly, a friend first saw this as a picture of city lights.
Hi slack gleam. The sun catches surface tension in a backwater. Interestingly, a friend first saw this as a picture of city lights.
Brined-burned branches. a super-high spring tid pushed even higher by the advancing wind of a storm front. (thanks to the full moon)
Brined-burned branches.
A super-high spring tide pushed even higher by the advancing wind of a storm front.
(thanks to the full moon)

I paused and listened. To my delight what I could hear was a chorus of wolves howling. The music drifted down through the timber on the slopes above. A sacred sound to me, it is a terrifying and hellish siren to many who chose to believe the dark myths and embellished lies about wolves. Curse or blessing, that is up to each of us. My point in mentioning any of this personal moment is that had the timing of my movements not been exactly as they were, I would not have heard those uplifting notes. I think that’s pretty cool. Now…Dung ho!

My life as a worm. The convoluted casings of sea worms on the end of an old plastic barrel. The picture could be a social comment don't you think?
My life as a worm. The convoluted casings of sea worms on the end of an old plastic barrel. The picture could be a social comment don’t you think?

On the note of a wolf howl let me direct my readers to an incredible website. pacificwild.org is how you will find the incredible photography and video work of Ian McAllister and his organization, Pacific Wild. The endeavour is based here on Denny Island and does wonderful work to heighten awareness of the beauty and fragility of the Great Bear Rainforest as this area is known. The stunning images leave me feeling like an amateur photographer and wanting to throw my cameras away in humility. If those photos don’t stir your heart, you’re dead. Stay in your city, zombie!

Fall colours. Desperate for some autumn gold I turned my attention to individual plants. a day later, these leaves were brown mush.
Fall colours. Desperate for some autumn gold I turned my attention to individual plants. A day later, these leaves were brown mush.
A shave and a hair cut. Seafire on the hard last weekend for bottom inspection, cleaning, paint touch-up and new zinc anodes. While working on the bowsprit, a humpback whale swam past the docks...always a wonderful sight.
A shave and a hair cut.
Seafire hauled up on the hard last weekend for bottom inspection, cleaning, paint touch-up and new zinc anodes. While working on the bowsprit, a humpback whale swam past the docks…always a wonderful sight.
A murder of crows. A seafood buffet of mussels scraped from the bottom of someone's boat.
A murder of crows. A seafood buffet of mussels scraped from the bottom of someone’s boat.
Autumn sunrise on the model Stranraer. It's been making some very interesting noises during the storms.
Autumn sunrise shining on the model Stranraer here in Shearwater. It’s been making some very interesting noises during the storms. Soon it’ll be stored away for winter.
Vigorous II in dawn's early light. An old wooden tug converted to a yacht. What lines! Sunshine, as you can see, becomes a most treasured commodity now that summer is past.
Vigorous II in dawn’s early light. An old wooden tug converted to a yacht. What lines!
Sunshine, as you can see, becomes a most treasured commodity now that summer is past.

Two days later, the wolves are at it again. Two packs, one on each side of the bay, called back and forth to each other through the morning. The serenade of quavering howls and yodels went on for hours until the cold autumn rain began again. Soon it was pelting down. Its rising roar drowned out the wolves. I imagine them snuggled up together under a thick cedar tree, warm, dry and loved. Yes, even wolves are very capable of great love.

"Bloody hell it's cold!" "Wouldn't be so bad if we cuddled up." "Wot? We're eagles!"
“Bloody hell it’s cold!”
“Wouldn’t be so bad if we cuddled up.”
“Wot? We’re eagles!”

This is a short blog. I’ll be away south taking care of business but I’ll be back to my beloved Seafire as soon as possible to see where the universe might lead me. Here’s a short piece I wrote the other morning just before the wolf songs began.

Rising

When I awoke this morning

in the dark before the dawn

the sky was cloudless after days of storm.

High in the east two stars rose

side by side, newly joined

bright, equal, clear

it was all I needed to know.

_______________________________________________________

(Then, to my chagrin, I later learn that one of those stars is in fact a Russian space station.)

Life on the edge ...and the value of a good route system.
Life on the edge …and the value of a good route system.

Sea And Fog

Sea and fog…water silently becoming air…air silently becoming water.

…Ray Grigg, The Tao Of Sailing

Well all right! One more eagle photo.
Well all right! One more eagle photo.

Wot A Day!

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

Christmas Eve, the weather today was fabulous. It was so darned fine I went for a swim. But I’ve discovered free diving in a rain parka is a bit awkward.

Today I moved the boat. My new berth at the old shipyard proved to have problems with the electrical service. There was low, fluctuating voltage which is death on “Smart” electronic devices like the large (As in expensive) charger inverter in my boat. Low voltage is as nasty as too much; my heater is now producing that scorched wiring aroma. It’s toast. Because there are massive development plans afoot for the old shipyard, nobody is about to put money into ancient wiring systems which will be soon ripped out. I found a temporary berth at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and decided to move today.

I spent last night on the boat in Nanaimo with no heat but slept well under a copious layer of wool blankets. Mr bladder blew his whistle at 03:00 but it was warm and snug in my nest and I reluctantly emerged up to address the call one toe at a time. I guess that’s one of the gold marks of approaching geezerhood; waking up warm and…dry.

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

The day began with a mug of stout black coffee. Then it was time to twist the old girl’s tail. Those old batteries, cold as they were, ground the good old Lehman over and she sputtered into life ready as ever to take on the world. It’s funny how a man can be in love with a lump of assembled metal parts but I truly do hold great affection for this old-school menagerie of basic up and down, round and round simplicity. Bugger electronics! Thirty seconds after flash-up, she spluttered into silence. There was air in the fuel system which I soon bled out and the faithful old beast purred contentedly while I prepared to cut loose. Off we went bound for the fuel dock to slip a little dinosaur juice into one tank and with one more item to add to the repair list.

This boat holds well over a thousand dollars of fuel. So I’ve yet to ever fill her up. And yes, this old aviator well knows the evils of condensation in partially filled tanks. One hundred dollars put eighty-four litres in the port tank, which raised the fuel gauge only a flicker but at least I knew the engine was not sucking any air from the tank holding the least fuel. There was a nasty, dirty dock hickey on the hull which I decided to scrub off given the opportunity, so leaning over a metal pipe dock rail I scrubbed vigorously, pushing hard on the hull. It inched away from the dock, I inched out to finish the job.

There was no kerplunk. Damn, that new raincoat is slippery! It all happened in slow-motion and I participated in disbelief. No, it can’t be, just relax and pull back yourself in. But down i slid. God! The water was clear. My glasses squirted off of my face and began a falling leaf descent to the distant bottom. I desperately groped for those beloved goggles and swam myself deeper and deeper. That’s when the full body ice-cream headache hit. I turned back for the light up top. Screw those bi-focals. There’s some crab down there sporting his wire-rimmed Christmas present as I speak.

You know, it’s funny. I’ve been pretty down and out lately, wrestling with the winter blues, lack of money and other personal problems to the point where the old Hari Kari demon begins whispering dark suggestions. I left him down there. One simple deep gulp of ice-cold water could have quickly ended my problems in an apparent innocent tragedy. No-one would have been the wiser, just another old fart doing something stupid but there was a choice that was beyond my reasoning. Back to the top for more of this thing called life. My slow motion adventure probably lasted less than two minutes but when I broke surface with my pockets full of water I was amazed to realize that I was already becoming hypothermic. I had no strength and couldn’t haul myself out. There were some folks attending another boat at the dock and I began with an escalating voice, “Hello, excuse me. Hello, helloo!”. (Bloody stupid polite Canadians!) All’s well that ends and here I am tonight, warm dry and sipping the very last of my Jamesons.

As I backed the boat away from the dock I noticed a ladder on the end of the dock and around a corner not fifteen feet from where I floundered. Damn that pump jockey! I am so glad I didn’t ruin his Christmas. After all my years at sea, and fully aware of how it is the little things that getcha, little reminders still come now and then.

Heading out of the harbour I flipped the auto pilot on. It died in a heartbeat. Something bloody else to fix! It was going to be an Armstrong steering situation and so it was that I came south. It turns out there were a million logs in the water because of the winter solstice and the spring, or extreme, tides. The auto pilot would only have caused more trouble had it been working. The day was glorious and clear and warm and the goddamned sun was right in my eyes most of the way! Turning to miss one log lined the boat up to hit another two and so the trip to Ladysmith went. I’m still half- blind from following that bright path and happy that I rammed only two logs. Finally in the marina in Ladysmith, I backed perfectly into my new berth, made all the lines fast and doubled, plugged in my shore power cord and discovered that someone forgot to turn on the power for my slip. So why did I leave Nanaimo?

Ditch Drops
Ditch Drops

Well some days that’s how the pickle squirts. Unless, you’re too poor for pickles. Bugga!

It’s Christmas and may your priorities fall in the correct order. Here’s to life, however it unfolds.

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

The alternative is pretty dark. And cold! Isn’t it interesting? Whether we are wealthy or poor, happy or sad we all share a common priority….our next breath. The moment, no matter what we choose to believe, it is really all we have.

Wishing us all very many moments, and happy ones at that.

Happy Christmas everyone.

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

BUMHUG TIME AGAIN!

Stay warm, Stay dry
Stay warm, Stay dry

Christmas nears. The contemporary festive season of joy and hope has shifted into high gear with Black Friday. The marketing machine has been warming up for the past several months and now everyone is charging around like the ‘Terminator’. They seem consumed with rabid fervour to acquire as much as possible and indulge excess in every way. The pounds of pulp fiction (Or is that friction?) which come in the mail to exhort me to join the orgy must have demanded the levelling of a forest somewhere. The latest versions of children’s video games are being advertised. All it seem, have new and improved slam bam splatter violence. A perfect gift for a time allegedly set aside to celebrate the birth of the prince of peace. A whole round of new movies, just in time for Christmas, is being released and many will contain graphic violence, copious explosions, spectacular crashes and vulgarity. Most of this frenetic frenzy occurs on credit. A wise old Welsh lady once admonished me, “If ye canna pay for it once, how will ye pay for it twice? ” Yet, despite what we’re told is an ongoing weak economy I could barely find a parking spot at the mall today. It’s Monday and there is a severe winter storm with torrential rain and high wind. Nothing shall disrupt the frenzy.

My annual festive joke is about a dyslexic scrooge who’s indignant toast is “Bumhug”. However, I truly wish everyone inner peace, and hope you are warm and dry and fed and sharing that comfort with someone of mutual affection and respect. May you have a dream and good hope of fulfilling it.

The ghostly pale of winter descends
The ghostly pale of winter descends

My last two blogs, in part about war and the military and the futility of it all, have stirred up a small furor, both in agreement and in objection. To convince me of my political incorrectness I have been forwarded a video originally from someone anonymous named “Joe Nobody”. Now that sounds like a reliable source! It shows a group of Islamic ISIS radicals assassinating a long row of kneeling men allegedly guilty only of being Christian. Probably so. Once each is dispatched with a bullet to the head, the entire heap of corpses is then riddled with wanton gunfire. It is horrific, disgusting and very hard to watch. Then a misquote from the Koran is used to imply that this will be our fate eventually if we don’t stand up to these evil hordes.

I responded by questioning how many masses of God’s children have been annihilated in the name of Christian peace, love, greed and zealotry. It goes on and on and on. When the dust settles, if it ever does, we are a very nasty primal organism, alien it seems, on this beautiful planet. If we’re worried about finding harmony with nature, we’d better first figure out how to get along with each other. Whether it be our atrocities against our fellows, or the environment, let’s each accept our personal roll in the mess and take individual responsibility for ourselves and those whom we can love as we would be loved. And if you are determined to pass on hate-mongering at least have the intellect and courage to confirm the source and validity of your information. You discredit your argument by doing anything less than that and by the way, afford youself the dignity of spelling correctly.

Ezra Pound once said, “A man of genius has a right to any mode of expression.” I agree, obviously, but by God, make sure it is informed opinion!

Wishing you many berries of happiness
Wishing you many berries of happiness

An acquaintance who is now an Anglican minister was once a chaplain in the Canadian NATO forces. He was stationed in Damascus and, as part of some bizarrely conceived humanitarian enforcement, was required to witness over forty executions. Imagine that fellow’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!

He said, “Life can be cheap, until it’s your own!”

Not understanding the ordered chaos of the natural forest, men destroyed the old trees and replaced them with new ones planted in straight rows.
Not understanding the ordered chaos of the natural forest, men destroyed the old trees and replaced them with new ones planted in straight rows.

The non-conformist, the sailor in the case of this blog, holds an open, inquiring mind about all things. I have learned a long time ago, that to go against the flow and to challenge popular sentiment, can be a lonely path but it is often the right path, at least for me. Drinking upstream of the herd may not be the best way to popularity, but what sort of man goes against his conscience? Too many do, if they have one at all.

Un requited love. Seafire languishes in her winter berth on a rare sunny winter day. Note the skim of ice ahead of the boat
Unrequited love. Seafire languishes in her winter berth on a rare sunny winter day. Note the skim of ice ahead of the boat

Life seems even more disjointed this month. I’m jaded about Christmas, perhaps because family and friends are scattered around the planet and as usual at this time of year funds are scarce. My renovation project is on hold for the moment so, with Mexico ever in my sights, I’m using my unexpected free time to tinker up the trailer to suit my needs. I’m planning to use it both as a travel trailer (Stealth campers I think they’re called) and a work trailer. The aim is to use as many recycled materials as I can and to have the trailer ready to go as soon as possible. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of projects and with some refitting yet to be done on ‘Seafire’ before she’s ready to head south, I’d like to take a break. There won’t be much progress during the winter weather so, it may as well be due south, somehow. My beloved boat is languishing alone and empty for the moment at her berth in Nanaimo. She’s secure there and oddly enough is staying clean. In Silva Bay, she was constantly coated with gull and crow guano, mussel shells, and a horrid, grey film which could only be fall-out from Vancouver and all the other upwind urbanity over on the mainland.

New offshore-tough companion way doors made from mahogany. Interestingly, this project was the first on my list when I bought the boat. Now almost four years later it is one of the last important jobs.
New offshore-tough companion way doors made from mahogany.
Interestingly, this project was the first on my list when I bought the boat. Now almost four years later it is one of the last important jobs.

In turn the green slime of winter creeps everywhere. We’ve had a miniscule accumulation of snow; now we’re back to the dark, cold dripping of a Northwest Pacific coastal winter. Tonight the rain slants horizontally and the wind thunders and moans through the rigging. We’re two weeks away from the official first day of winter, the solstice.

A Christmas present for the ship. New teak trailboards, carved in relief sport new led running lights.
A Christmas present for the ship. New teak trailboards, carved in relief,  sport new led running lights.

I close my eyes and see warm, green seawater sluicing through the scuppers. I’m sailing full and by toward an anchorage in a palm-fringed bay. Small, bright houses nestle along the beach and up the hill behind the tiny town. The air holds an aroma of coconut and lime and a melange of unknown flowers. There is the fragmented sound of Mariachi music and then the braying of a burro. I’m in Mexico once again. Then comes a sound of drumming, fast and irregular. I awake to realize the sound was only rain hammering on my skylight.

The trailer project begins
The trailer project begins

The rain eases despite a forecast for horrific wind and rain today. Dawn breaks reluctantly and Jack leads us for a walk along the Nanaimo River. To my delight someone has decorated a small fir tree. That random, small act of Christmas joy, those few glass balls, lift my spirit. For a moment, I remember the surge of wonder and delight I knew as a young boy.

Deep in the forest, the seasons delights appear
Deep in the forest, the season’s delights appear

Thank you,

whoever you are.

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The emotionally motivated performer is inherently irrational. When logic dictates that it’s rational to quit, the emotionally charged image in his mind won’t allow it. Any attempt to stop this man will fail.”

…Steve Siebold

Trailers, Boats, Trailers, Stuff

Trailers, Boats, Trailers, Stuff

Missing: One teardrop trailer. May contain a piece of my heart.
Missing:
One teardrop trailer. Contains a piece of my heart.

I miss my teardrop trailer. Actually, I think I miss having it. I loved the statement it made about minimalism and how it Iead me to meet a lot of great folks and kindred spirits who were drawn to it. I’m cool, I own a teardrop trailer. This begs the question: “Is it the idea of escape that helps sustain our dreary lives?” We know that the idea of wilderness keeps the urbanite happy in their world. I‘m returning from Vancouver and can’t imagine many of the folks there, with whom I shared air, surviving for long in the BC backwoods. But, they can look up to the mountains and still see the beginning of infinite forest. Is it that concept of potential escape that helps keep them contentedly locking bumpers with their fellows? The presence of getaway tools and toys helps make life more bearable. And what do people look out to in flatland cities for inspiration?

Organic Island The first sign on Gabriola Island, just past the pub.
Organic Island
The first sign on Gabriola Island, just past the pub.

I have to mind my words. I admit that I am the guy who makes derogatory comments about “Stuff” and how it can own you. After seeing the monstrous boxes people like to wrestle along paved routes in pursuit of their personal bliss I can assure you I know what I don’t need. I did soon realize that it would be good to stand up inside a trailer, for several reasons. Changing clothes lying down is  a challenge better left to the young. It would be good to have enough room to use a bucket inside in the middle of the night. Tip-toeing around large Mexican scorpions in the dark was a convincing argument in favour of up-sizing my parameters of minimal. If I don’t want to travel alone, I do need a little more room. But, that’s it! I want to keep it simple.

The Photographer, another fat-arsed nut taking pictures in the rain
The Photographer
Another fat-arsed nut taking pictures in the rain.

Spending fortunes to connect the dots between the Wal Mart parking lots of North America or visiting campgrounds to park a few feet from another RV is a passion which eludes me. I suppose travelling thousands of kilometres to compare notes on microwave ovens, electric canopies, satellite television, or sewage mascerators can hold a special mystique for some but it’s beyond my interest. And yes, the same is true of boats. Almost invariably, the bigger the boat, the less it is used. Those hulls are filled with electronics and luxurious comforts irrelevant to making safe passages and when a gin palace does leave the dock it merely moves to another marina. A massive industry exists to maintain all of this decadence. (As I was perusing my dictionary I discovered the word ‘Epizoon’: An animal that lives on another animal.)

Geeze, can't we have a little privacy?
Geeze, can’t we have a little privacy?

Home again from my Mexican Teardrop Trailer Marathon, once that tiny trailer was sold, I began looking at small commercially built trailers. I considered a Boler, the famous seventies-era fibreglass bubble trailer. Over-priced, inadequate ground clearance, and poor use of interior space were reasons that turned me away. I went to a few RV dealers and looked at their fare. I was appalled at the cavalier workmanship and poor construction materials. The pricing was certainly first rate. The canned sales pitches chased me off. Trailers that were going to “Be gone any minute now if ya don’t grab it” are still on the lots in the same spot.

Epizoon!

Use it or lose it? This is what happens when you leave your sails furled all winter.
Yeech! Use it or lose it!
This is what happens when you leave your sails furled all winter.

I love the idea of multifunction. I always try to install upgrades on my boat that do more than one thing. For example: dinghy davits over the stern which also hold solar panels. That concept also makes sense for trailers. Few commercially slapped-together travel trailers appear able to stand up to rough roads or packing heavy toolboxes. I’d like a minimal yet rugged mobile shelter where I can stand up inside, lay down comfortably, perform basic human functions including cooking in bad weather and also store necessary personal belongings and supplies. If that shelter could also be used as a mobile workshop for this old yacht tinker, so much the better. A workbench can double into a large bed which also houses tidy storage space. If not in use for either work or play, the trailer can warehouse belongings where I’ll need them when I return from a sailing trip. It seems like a winning idea to me. I intend to spend much of my future time in southern climates where one need only be inside to sleep securely. An outside awning provides the main living space and a sheltered work area when a trailer is earning it’s keep. See! A person can rationalize anything. I’ve now got the vehicle to handle a slightly larger trailer, which a month ago seemed an impossible step without any money, so onwards and sideways. There is magic in the process of setting goals and working toward them despite long odds. All it takes is attitude and determination, or in other words, brute force and ignorance. I wrestled with the notion of having both a boat and a trailer but it does make sense for me and the future I’m working toward.

Easter weekend anchorage looking toward Mt. Benson behind Nanaimo
Easter weekend anchorage looking toward Mt. Benson behind Nanaimo

So, that’s why I’m on the BC Ferry ‘Coastal Renaissance’ this morning heading to the mainland. It’s a grey day with thick clouds hanging low over the peaks of the north shore of Georgia Strait and Howe Sound. A fleet of seven sailboats races before the Sou’east wind. Their fluorescent white sails remind me of my organic green sails on ‘Seafire’. The verdigris after a long wet winter is amazing. I could have avoided it by using them occasionally through the winter and next year they’ll have to go to Mexico to avoid this travesty again.

REFORM SCHOOL Actually, St. Anne's Convent, a national historic site in Victoria BC
REFORM SCHOOL
Actually, St. Anne’s Convent, a national historic site in Victoria BC

Yeah, Mexico again. I know! That brings me back to this trailer stuff. I’ve decided that a 6×12 enclosed aluminium work trailer could encompass all my needs. I’ve found one that has been converted. It has side windows, insulation, a bed, lighting, cabinetry, a roll-out awning on one side, a side door with screen, and for much less money than buying one and taking the time to fit out. As usual, I don’t have any money. I manage to live hand to mouth and the tax man has not been kind to me this year despite, or because of, my minimal income. I’m also going to look at supplies for the next rebuild phase on the little Cheoy Lee that seems to have become my career. My brain says the trailer is the way to get those supplies home. I’ll report on my floundering progress at the end of he day.

The bench, in the heart of Victoria
The bench, in the heart of Victoria

Spring here marches inexorably onward. Friends from Mexico forward me photos that show spring there. In January and February there were plenty of blooms. Now there’s a profusion of brilliant colours everywhere. (Maybe it’s a celebration that most of those damned gringos are gone for the summer.) Especially brilliant are the Prima Vera flowers. Drifts of brilliant yellow crown the trees and litter the alleys of the town. The serious gringos stay on, most of their compadres have fled back to northern latitudes. I’m told that it is the humidity, not the temperature that increases drastically. One simply has to adjust to the local lifestyle. That involves getting up with the roosters, siesta time in the afternoon, and then out and about in the evenings. That is the traditional approach in warm climates everywhere and it certainly seems very civilized; especially in comparison to how we run our lives according to the clock. Ever notice what happens when someone is asked if they’d like to have a meal? I can almost guarantee that they will first check the time, which of course has nothing to do with being hungry… which is one reason many of us are so chubby.

This, yet again, brings me back to this trailer business. If Mexico in summer becomes too severe for a gringo to live on a boat, (Which can indeed become a miserable, airless sweatbox on hot, windless days)take the trailer up into the interior mountains and explore the heart of the country at cooler altitudes. Bear in mind that locals in Mexico have no options about vacations or escaping summer heat or hurricanes. Their finances barely let then survive where they are. The concept of a vacation must be entirely alien.

Jack still on track. This is taken two weeks afer the previous photo in the same location.
Jack still on track.
This is taken two weeks afer the previous photo in the same location.

As I’ve previously mused, I’ve held considerations about selling old ‘Seafire’ but the yacht market is very soft. These days, regardless of the surveyed value, a boat seems to draw only about twenty-five percent of that dollar figure. Sadly, some boater owners refuse to accept reality. A lot of cheap boats are out there these days but they’ve had little invested recently in their care and maintenance. You do tend to get what you pay for.

Fiddlehead uncurling
Fiddlehead uncurling

The law of supply and demand, however, governs prices. That’s the way the pickle squirts. Besides, sad as it may be, this old boat is the sum total of what I have to show for thirty years of buying, fixing and selling boat after boat and, it’s my home. Do I really want to give it up? If I advise anyone on what sort of boat to buy, I suggest assessing your needs now and in the future. Even if it means waiting a bit, go for the future needs and do it right once. How I envy folks who have done that and own a boat for several decades. It is a comfortable union and amortizing the cost of ownership over a longer period is clearly most sensible. There is also nothing like having an intimate knowledge of a vessel and its quirks and capabilities. I should add, by the way, that smaller boats, easily stored and travelled on trailers, are beginning to hold a premium value because their operating costs are considerably less than boats which require a dock or mooring.

Moss growing in the shadow of a fern
Moss growing in the shadow of a fern

I’m told that in the RV world, people move from tents to tent trailers to a bigger trailer to ever larger motor homes and finally back to a small trailer or a camperized van. I am amazed, despite all the reports of a faltering economy, at the hundreds of thousands of RVs I’ve seen on the road and circulating through dealerships. On Vancouver Island alone, there are billions of dollars in RV inventory which appears enough to outfit the whole damned country. Once on the mainland, the acres of RVs for sale are massive. Surely, not all folks are abandoning their houses to live in a trailer or motor home. There is so much I just don’t understand.

Casa Yerba Buena, a favourite house on Gabriola island, over 100 years old, lovingly restored
Casa Yerba Buena, a favourite house on Gabriola island, over 100 years old, lovingly restored

Now I’m writing on the last ferry for the day out of Horseshoe Bay for Nanaimo. It’s been a long day. I have not been in the Vancouver Area for a long time. I could not live there. Vancouver and its surrounds once held an almost quaint charm, but I guess that was forty years ago. It is now just a soulless mess of concrete, glass and metal like any other contemporary city. I did my business and got out of town. Old Jack the dog rode shotgun for me today. I wonder what goes on in his brain as he placidly sits with nose pressed to window watching the world swirl around him. Just the smells and sounds of this alien place must be utterly befuddling but he takes it all in stride. His presence has a calming effect while I drive on streets where people seem aggressive and confrontational. I recall that once they seemed to be relaxed and courteous. Vancouver roads now remind me of the Toronto I left behind forty years ago. Is it time to move on again? Where south? I inched along in the homeward bound traffic snarls to Port Coquitlam to look at the trailer conversion. Damn! It is exactly what I need and is in incredible condition, like new. Negotiations are under way. I have to raise the mucho dineros for this one. If it is meant to be, it will all fall into place.

Spring moss
Spring moss

I bought some fibreglass products for a job. An old man, in a decrepit warehouse in the middle of a muddy yard, sells fibreglass supplies and offers excellent advise. Next door a monstrous glittering edifice of greed, the “River Rock Casino” towers over this little remnant of life as it used to be. There are no computers in sight, everything is calculated by hand and head. His prices were far less than elsewhere and he loaded me up with free catalyst, mixing pots, pens and other sundries. Happy at my interest in his obvious experience, he was also appreciative for my commerce. Relieved to learn that I had not waited for him earlier in the day he explained that his wife has Alzheimers and he spends the mornings tending to her needs. In turn I noted his integrity and tenacity in the face of the modern way. ‘Well”, he responded, “I’m here to help people, not bullshit them. Call anytime you need some advise.” Gotta love the ‘Old School’.

They disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again.
They disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again.

I’m writing in the ferry’s cafeteria. Three decks below, towering over my vehicle, sits a travel trailer such as I’ve never seen before. It is huge, seemingly the size of a boxcar! It has at least two entrances with folding steps, remote self-levelling jacks hang down in several places, there are several bits that “Pop out”. For all I know this thing could have a swimming pool. Someone wants to rough it in style. The whole thing disgusts me.

 Spring One picture, one word
Spring
One picture, one word

It would be nice to be able to afford it. Money isn’t everything but a change of problems would sure as hell be interesting. Remember, a capitalist can be defined as a socialist who’s found an opportunity. Epizoon!

DIVERGENCE AND CONVERGENCE OF THOUGHT

Dionisio Point moonrise
Dionisio Point moonrise

Huh?

…Well that’s what I first thought when I read the title back.  What the hell does this have to do with a blog about realizing a dream against all odds? Specifically, getting the boat I’m sitting in at this moment out of here and sailing south within the next three months. 

To paraphrase something Einstein said, you’ll never be able to solve a problem by using the same thinking that created it in the first place.  And…the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over always expecting a new result. I guess I know where I am.

I’m reading a book loaned to me which I’m finding timely to my situation and it’s quite inspiring: ‘Ship Of Gold In The Deep Blue Sea’ by Gary Kinder. The title is a bit lugubrious and probably some editor’s idea of a commercially viable handle that does no justice to a very absorbing read. It is about the sinking and ultimate finding of a gold-laden ship, the ‘S.S.Central America’. One of the central characters is obsessed with process and linear thinking. He lives with a conviction that the only things impossible are those which we think are impossible. It is about how the quest for one solution leads to other discoveries and solutions. That happens in the divergence and convergence of conversation and thought about one specific problem. New possibilities arise out of the quest for a single solution.

An anecdote is provided about a young man from Ohio who was deeply inspired by the accounts of a sea captain about his travels in the Amazon jungle. Highly motivated by that account he decides to go to Brazil and duplicate the adventure. Travelling by boat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers he arrives finally in New Orleans to discover that no ships ever sail from there to Brazil. He has, however, experienced a rich life on the great rivers where he often heard the boatman’s sounding cry of “mark twain”.  Samuel Clemens becomes one of America’s most beloved writers and the world becomes a better place because of a simple dead end. Divergence becomes a happy new convergence.

Hanging in therre
Hanging in there

I’ve been trying to make sense of my sojourn in Silva Bay. Why did the gods put me here? I held the job which brought me here for the best part of three and a half years. I have made some wonderful friends, learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the location and its archipelago of small islands. However, I’ve made only a survival income, spent a lot of dark and lonely nights on one boat or another, parted with my beloved ‘Pax’ which was ready to sail away, started yet another refit and am left pondering what I’m really doing here; especially during the apex of summer with grand weather and all these gringo boaters around the marina trying to have ‘Fun’. I thought I’d simply let the universe unfold as it will and discover the big reason why I’m here but no epiphanies yet. I am anxious to move on.

I’ve recently been in touch with a long-lost cousin who used the term “Cognitive remodelling”. I love the linguistics of that but frankly I think I already do too much of that and should perhaps apply a little more  “Kinetic remodelling” and get this damned old boat out of here. So I’m tackling the project I’ve been dreading most. It began in January when I upgraded the galley counter and cupboards. I fitted a new water heater in a dead space there and have now decided it needs to be relocated lower. One of its heat sources is the engine and I thoughtlessly installed the heater at too high a level for the engine coolant to flow correctly. I may as well change it now. Damn my teeth for the oversight! So, lower it ten inches,;sounds easy right? It proved to be a day’s work and seemed to be rather like trying to perform heart surgery through the rectum.

The old water heater was stored in a cavernous storage locker beneath the bunk of the guest cabin. There is also a large sewage holding tank and an amazing snot-garble of plumbing, wiring and furnace ducting. It is a sad waste of much-needed stowage. The settees in the main cabin are on top of two monstrous fuel tanks. There is nothing other than chart storage there so it is imperative that I have as much space for stores elsewhere. The next mega-project begins.

First the guest bunk-junk moves onto the forward cabin bunk. Hopefully it will all end up neatly stowed in the new storage space or in the dumpster if I don’t have a valid use for it. I’ll sleep, for the time being, on one of the settees in the main cabin. Those have new foam cushions and I’ve redesigned and built new seat-backs to hinge up and allow for some comfortable snoozing space. Next the old mattress from the guest bunk goes. God! It reeks of three decades of fermented human presence, my imagination decides that’s it is just spilled wine but I don’t know who it’s been through before permeating the mattress. I’m stunned that I have lived with this disgusting element for so long. Out, out foul demons! Then it’s dunging out the space below the bunk area and realizing how poorly it was utilized. The aged water heater, rusted and leaking, is torn out. It’s a miracle that it still worked. There’s a hodge-podge of plumbing and redundant pumps. Each line needs to be traced, removed and relocated.

The storage space
The storage space

But next, more foul demons. I decided it was propitious to remove the old holding tank. I like to get the worst out of the way as soon as possible. I discovered that some rocket-scientist installed the pump-out fitting almost a third of the way from the bottom of this twenty-five gallon tank. That means that only two-thirds of the tank was ever usable and the bottom third was full of a very ripe sediment. (The boat is thirty years old, so…?) Of course, the tank had to be slid out of it’s fastenings, (Every screw-head is filled with paint) then wriggled upright so the sawn-off fittings were on the top side. Next, the tank, one third full of fecal delight, had to be manhandled out of the boat without spilling anything.  I hugged that stinky, sloshing puppy as if my life depended on it. It was 30 degrees Celsius outside but it felt cool when I finally landed the tank on the dock. The folks going by to the float-plane  passed quickly. The dog reappeared an hour later.

Bunk junk
Bunk junk

Now I can start putting it all back together The fun-part!  Pressure water system first. Remember divergence and convergence. Well this too shall pass and it  should be remembered that it’s all about the romance of the sea.

Simple pleasures
Simple pleasures

Whiskey And Tea

 

As a writer I often hear clever lines or turns of phrase which leave me wishing I’d written them.

One of the dreads of being an artistic sort is to be accused of plagiarism, which is of course what we all do, at least subconsciously. We hope our work isn’t recognized as the subtle, or not-so-subtle, paraphrasing it really is, but none of us are that clever all that time. This morning I caught the lines of a song on the radio.Some like smokey whiskey, some worry their tea’s too strong”.Damn! I wish I’d written that! How do I reword this one and make it sound like a Fred original?

Flight to forever
Flight to Forever

It is Canada Day Monday, July 1st. Damn again! It has been over six months since my first blog, that commitment to set sail before the end of this year. Whiskey or tea for me? I like to think I’m a single-malt kind of guy but I’d better put some razzle in my dazzle, the days are flying by. Time and tide wait for no man. It’s been several weeks since the door closed on my job in the shipyard but the work accomplished on ‘Seafire’ is pitiful. The weather has been nasty and wet and I’m helping refit a friend’s boat but then busy people are the ones who get things done without making excuses. Yeah right! I just can’t seem to get motivated and don’t know why. Well I do, but it’s hard to admit openly.

Instead, I’ll revel in the glory of the day. The temperature in the main cabin yesterday was over 100° F and it felt good! More of the same today with no wind. Summer is here.

Ladysmith Maritime Sociey Clubhouse
LMS Clubhouse

I’ve broken away from the long-weekend madness at the docks in Silva Bay.

107 years old!
107 years old!

‘Seafire’ spent Friday night at the Ladysmith Maritime Society marina. What an amazing job those folks have done! The docks have been upgraded wonderfully. A stupendous clubhouse and visitor facility have been built. There is a great little floating museum with a lovingly restored and maintained fleet of vintage vessels. It even includes a gig from HMCS ‘Ontario’. These immaculate boats are used to provide harbour tours and certainly help provide a glowing example of what happens when people work together.

Varnish
Varnish

I’ve been a member of the LMS for a few years and am amazed at the transition in such a short time. It was not so long ago that these docks were decrepit and even dangerous. It was an extension of ‘Dogpatch’, a neighbouring fleet of derelict boats and liveaboard owners or squatters known for low-life activities and their ever-sinking vessels. The society then seemed to be a ‘Good old boys club’ strangled in bickering and personal agenda. There was a grudging acceptance of newcomers and a resistance to growth and change. Dogpatch is still there, abandoned vessels still litter the foreshore. But there is now a distinct divide among the two entities.

Pipe me aboard
Pipe me aboard

The old guard attitude seems gone now and there is a cordial welcoming atmosphere. With some new blood at the helm there has been a massive communal volunteer undertaking to upgrade the entire site. It is a wonderful success. There is plenty of guest moorage and some stunning new facilities which include clean washrooms and showers, a laundry room, a place to buy snacks and a huge area to mix and mingle or just hang out. The much-loved Purple Martins return each year to nest in their condos on the pilings and it’s great to see such progress in sleepy old Ladysmith. Kudus to all! It’s a great place to visit.

A gig's helm
A gig’s helm

The docks often host some interesting visitor vessels. This weekend it was the ‘Sarah Elizabeth Banks’. Now registered to the port of Seattle, this old steel-hulled beauty was originally a fireboat in Sunderland, England. A little online sleuthing shows ths vessel entered into service in 1906, with a pair of coal-fired steam engines! This vessel endured two world wars in a port famous for shipbuilding. Imagine the stories she knows!

Secret Beach
Secret beach

The last two nights have been spent anchored in Preedy Harbour on Thetis Island. The weather remains stunning, clear and gloriously hot; the water is quite swimmable and almost all is languorous bliss. This archipelago known as the Gulf Islands must be a jewel of the planet but I, for one, regret the influx of affluent gentry who seem to have overrun the entire area. No matter where you go among the islands there is no escape anymore from people. Solitude is not a sense I find in the Gulf Islands, at least in the summer months. Yesterday I watched a near-disaster as a small powerboat ran over the fallen water skier he was following. There were no bobbing bleeding baby yuppy bits and it all ended well as two boatloads of now-subdued drinkers absorbed their hard-earned lesson. I guess they were just trying to relax?

The Race
The race

This morning as I write, I can only hear the guttering of gulls and the gossiping of two ravens. Well… that changed as I typed that last line, now comes the whine of an outboard to which I’ll soon add my harmony as I take the dog ashore. Soon there will be the clatter of float planes, the drone and snarl of various boats, the incessant splatter of colliding wakes, and on shore there’ll be shrieking children, barking dogs and loud vehicles. In the background I can see and hear the sonorous presence of the Crofton pulp mill. Here again comes the Thetis Ferry emitting its piercing hydraulic howl.

Petrified Reboot
Petrified Reboot

I wonder what these islands were like before we white folks arrived to ‘civilize’ and otherwise desecrate this incredibly rich and beautiful region. Well that’s the way it is and I know I’m part of the problem. I’m here. I wonder how my perspectives would change if I were able to own one of these islands where I could erect my own garish and huge unoccupied mansion with accompanying monster dock and guest house. I understand the urge to stake out one’s own patch but with the evident multi-million dollar extravagances so prevalent I wonder why the hell they seem so little used. Money isn’t everything, but Oh Christ! I sure wouldn’t mind a change of problems!

Drifting and dreaming
Drifting and dreaming

Bitching and pondering will only underscore my envy of all the disposable wealth. I may as well admit that no matter where I travel I can think of no finer place to call home. So I’ll adjust my straw hat and sit back with some whiskey the colour of good tea. Oh by the way, ‘Happy Canada Day’. I raise my glass to thee. Eh?

Keep yer pecker up
Keep yer pecker up

IT MUST BE SPRING

 

They’re back! Victoria Day weekend has just passed and now we’re careening toward the first day of summer in another four weeks. First the swallows and Purple Martins reappear, then with the long weekend in May other weird birds show up. Now I know that when I use the term, weird, it means someone or some thing is beyond my comprehension. When the entire Status quo trends that way, I understand that I’m the one who’s weird. Or am I ?

My perception of what is correct in the nautical world is complex yet steeped in simple tradition. I value things being done ‘The old way’ and feel that self-sufficiency, independence, and simplicity are essential components in being a proficient mariner. Clearly, masses disagree.

I was evicted, for the weekend, from my spot on the dock by noon on Friday. The weekend warriors happily pay premium moorage fees.  (Those with the gold make the rules) A gleaming white Tupperware armada began to arrive. I retreated to anchor across the bay in a secluded spot. Long before nightfall all the marinas in the bay were bursting with gleaming plastic, pulsing light and noise. As darkness settled, the boats kept on coming. For once, no-one ended up aground on the reef at the harbour entrance.

The docks, choked with shouting boaters in folding chairs sitting at folding tables, were impassable. Caustic music of different flavours throbbed from various stereo systems around the bay. The din was constantly punctuated with the squeals and forced guffaws of drunken people trying to convince themselves they were having fun. There is a braying, frantic tone that betrays the desperate existence so many of these folks were trying to escape for a few hours. They only manage to bring it with them. There are four months ahead when we have to endure these vicarious wannabe Vikings stumbling into the bay and overrunning our generally peaceful existence. Here on the West coast I don’t know what ‘Going boating’ or ‘Boating season’ means. There are those of us who’s existence is intrinsic with being on and near the sea; all year long. It’s the way some of us live, all the time. Weird huh? I should mention here that I realize I am categorizing. There are plenty of competent and experienced mariners out there doing what they love and don’t give a damn for making impressions or joining herds. I also know that these kindred spirits tend to avoid the madness I describe.

This old cynic left the bay when the small anchorage I had chosen became littered with ever more boats anchored too close. It happened twice again during the weekend as I retreated to more secluded anchorages. As usual, there was yet another kayaker who thought that this boat at anchor was a captive venue for his demands for attention as he clung, shouting, to our cap rail. As I recall, key words I used were “Privacy, respect, solitude, and piss-off!”

Yeah I know I’m a grumpy old fart. ‘Hey you, get off of my cloud!”

The old prune barge herself
All dressed up with everywhere to go

I’ve previously promised to describe my boat ‘Seafire‘, the dream machine after which this blog is named. The design is called a Downeaster 41, entirely a misnomer in a couple of ways, all in the cause of marketing. Actually the hull is 38′ with the extra 3’ being added in the form of a bowsprit/platform. The designer, Henry Morschladt, drew several sizes of vessel for Downeaster Yachts of Santa Ana, California. Apparently, if you hang an Eastcoast handle on a boat, it is supposed to seem saltier. This line of sailboats is famous for being over-built and seakindly. Many have have successfully completed extensive offshore voyages. ‘Seafire’ is one of twelve 38′ hulls built and sold as 41′ motorsailers. Allegedly my hull was produced in 1981, near the end of the company’s history when so many businesses failed in that great recession. I wonder sometimes, if my hull wasn’t one of the last built. Some of the fibreglass work in out-of sight places is very, very rough and the plumbing and wiring were clearly installed by amateurs. The teak wood work is gorgeous.

Home of the blog, the meditation both, dining salon and board room. Galley, guest cabin, skippers quarters and stowage forward
Home of this blog, the meditation booth, dining salon and board room. Galley, guest cabin, skippers quarters and stowage forward

Those criticisms out of the way there is not one osmosis blister on the hull after 32 years of soaking in the briny deep. That’s a very good sign of her integrity. The engine is a trusty old 65 Hp Ford Lehman, recently rebuilt. (That is an American engine, not at all related to the British Leyland, an entirely different product. )The transmission is a ubiquitous Borg Warner velvet drive; it’s all good. There is an inside helm, massive water and fuel tankage, a huge forward berth and a separate private cabin with a comfortable double berth. The galley is better than some which I’ve known in tugboats and is located in the belly of the vessel, where it is easiest to produce a hot meal in heavy weather.

Sadly, the boat had apparently not know much of a life as other than a ‘Gin Palace’, one of those boats that is used to entertain and impress people and seldom leaves the dock. Her neglected state made her affordable to me, the effort to bring her up to my standard of seaworthy has financially shattered me. I knew better !

Pretty from all angles
Pretty from all angles

She is cutter-rigged with furlers on both headsails which makes her easy to handle and the old ‘Prune Barge’ sails pretty well for a motorsailor. She looks after herself and her crew just fine in nasty weather and I have grown quite fond of her. Now, I just have to finish enough of her refit to get her to La Paz Baha for Christmas. There have been plenty of recent setbacks so I know I’m doing the right thing although there are days when I nearly drown myself and those close to me in despair and doubt. If I drop this dream, my life becomes meaningless, my writing and everything else hinges on sailing and so I can’t give it up.

Exposed
The whole situation exposed

‘Seafire’ is the eighth sailboat I’ve bought and refitted. There was a power boat or two along the way as well. Six of the sailboats were all very capable offshore boats. If only I’d just buggered off in the first little sloop ‘Jenta’, what a different tale I’d have to tell. You cannot steer a steady course by looking back at your wake so there’s no point in regrets. The boat previous to ‘Seafire was ‘Pax’, an Australian-built IOR half-tonner which had been raced in the Southern Ocean for ten years before embarking on a fourteen-year East-about cruise around the world. One of her claims to fame was when she had been rolled 360 degrees by a rogue wave off the mouth of the Platte River in Uraguay. Even the mast stayed in place!  She is one tough little ship to have survived that well enough to sail on in to shore. I had ‘Pax’ fully refitted and ready to go again.

Pax
Pax

However, I wanted a boat which I could sail from inside and which had the capacity for enough tools for me to be totally self-sufficient and also earn some cash along the way. I also wanted some private quarters for a few guests. I want to be able to offer friends the chance to join the boat, wherever in the world she may be. This will help with the expenses and also provide folks the chance to affordably see a bit of the world away from home in a unique perspective.

Yes, you’re invited.

The open Pacific, Todos Santos, Baha
The open Pacific , Todos Santos, Baha
La Paz Baha
La Paz