Well yeah, I knew what I was getting into. During the summer I had every anchorage to myself. Now the whole coast is mine for the taking. It has everything to do with the weather.
The first day of autumn has already passed. It feels to me that it has been winter for weeks already and impossible to understand that a short while ago this coast was enduring a drought. Now the rain is incessant. This is normal local weather. I knew that. Vertical rain, horizontal rain, drizzling water, mist and fog, it is bloody wet, wet, wet and it keeps coming. The daylight is a little less each day and those long summer evenings, when there was still light in the sky near midnight, are long past. Today the rain was cold and there was that wintery smell in the air. Snow? Even when the skies brighten, with patches of blue, there are sudden bursts of rain. Locals tell me that October can often be a month of lovely weather. We’ll see. I regularly passed through this area on tugboats for years and only ever saw Shearwater as a glow in the fog and rain. Yes, I knew!
The mystique and spirit of this coast take on a new dimension now. This is its normal state, its true self, the raincoast. The infinite miles of grey-green dripping jungle offer a fog-bound respite from the hurtling culture in which most people are swept along on the south coast. The individuals who make their homes in these backwaters often recoil at the idea of even visiting the civilization down there. The notion of living in that chaos on a daily basis is beyond their comprehension or ability. I suppose we live up here within their urbane notion of wilderness. Perhaps it is the solace of that notion which in part sustains their tense urban sanity.
Being alone in this boat every night for the months ahead, through the long dark hours, often storm-buffeted while trying to write positively and creatively after grinding days of work, all the while enduring the pain of arthritis and old injuries…I could stay here in dank, dripping-slime solitude. Nope! Can’t do it! My finances demand that I stay and work but I’ll soon have to head south. I know that finding a job down there for a guy my age is damned hard but if I hang up my dream, I’m done. With my physical impediments, the short days and persistent rain, getting outdoors for some good extra curricular exercise is challenging. Sitting in the boat and eating compulsively is an easy pattern to fall into. That, in every sense, is a dead end.
Mexico seems so very far away at the moment. Will I ever see palm-fringed anchorages through the windows of this boat? Ordeal or adventure, the choice is mine. There has to be a way. As I sit at this computer I look up and all I see is my reflection in the dark window and a right goofy-looking old bugger at that. Haar! I was reminded recently that some folks choose to sail to polar regions and deliberately let their boats become frozen-in for nearly the entire next year. Who am I to ridicule another man’s dream? There is a fellow from Slovenia who calls himself Big River Man. He has swam down the lengths of four of the world’s major rivers including the Amazon. He’s now planning on swimming around the world. “The dream never dies, just the dreamer.”
It has recently occurred to me that all substances are poison if consumed in excess. Even nasty stuff like cyanide and arsenic are deadly because their wicked potency is taken in too large a portion, no matter how miniscule that may be. There was a man in France, Michel Lotito, who bizarrely ate things like bicycles and even an airplane after they had been ground up and imbibed in portions small enough to be non-lethal; apparently a kilogram each day. How do you eat an airplane? He consumed nine tons of machinery in his lifetime. I don’t know, but there may have been a lot of wine involved. Too much air, too much water, too much exercise, too much inactivity, anything in excess is poison. I’ve decided that I’m suffering from food-poisoning. It makes me swell up. Especially around my middle. I’m eating too much. But, I promise, I won’t start eating anyone’s boat; certainly not this old prune barge.
I’m still trying to do repairs and upgrades despite the weather. One of my davit bases failed recently due to a manufacturing flaw. The bow portion of my inflatable boat filled with a torrent of rain. That weight proved too much. It’s a big job and trying to do some fibreglass work between cloudbursts is quite a challenge. I’ve been meaning to upgrade the davits before heading to Mexico but after my immediate repairs the welding will have to wait until I’m back to where supplies are readily available. Everything up here has to be ordered in. Not only is that exorbitant, there is no guarantee that what one orders and prepays is what will arrive, if it ever does.
Meanwhile at work there are exploded engines to deal with as well as endless computer glitches in the modern diesels in all our water taxis. I’m learning to employ a patience I didn’t know I possessed. That’s a good thing. Now that the Tupperware squadrons have all gone back south, and most of the fishing fleets are gone, the boats visiting now are serious cruising vessels, some still doing late-season charters who are hosting the last of the bear watchers.
One of these is a vessel which has long held a piece of my heart, ‘Passing Cloud’. This is beloved British Columbia-built boat and is a quintessential Westcoast icon. She is a seventy foot bald-headed wooden pilot-house schooner. For you land-bound folks this is a wooden sailboat which is seventy feet long on deck. A two-masted schooner has its main mast aft. Being bald-headed means she carries no bowsprit (That pointy spar which sticks out horizontally on most traditional boats) The pilot house is the cabin with big windows from which you can steer in any weather. That is almost essential for navigating these waters.
Two years ago I was blessed to tour the boat shed where ‘Passing Cloud’ was built. I was there to pick up a mizzen mast as the shed had been sold. It was being cleared out prior to demolition. What a tragedy! The place was a temple to me and many others I’m sure but times change. The location on Portage Inlet in Victoria had incredible value as waterfront property. New noise bylaws forbid any further industry, no matter who was there first. Some monstrosity yuppie box now occupies this hallowed ground. When I was there, a band saw still run by a Ford Model-T sat beside a large forge. The tools and artifacts were amazing. The place was a living museum. ‘Passing Cloud’ had been launched from this building in 1974. The boathouse is gone, right or wrong, but the boat, now over forty years old, sails on as a successful charter business and is maintained lovingly in as-new condition. Google up the schooner’s name and drool over the amazing photos of the vessel, inside and out, and of her voyages in these waters where she plies her trade.
While I’m recommending online links, here’s one for those with social-political interests. www.friendsoftheconstitution.info. It is American but suitably appropriate for Canadian interests, especially in the middle of this damned dreary election campaign. I’ll take a big breath and quote two sentences from an editorial on this site.
“There will not be a recognition of the extent of poverty in the United States and the dire need for government action; there will not be any effort to correct the stagnation of wages and this nation’s extreme income inequality; there will not be a successful effort to control the deliberate abuses of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by a surveillance state; there will not be corrective actions to reverse the pervasive racism of this nation, there will be no corrective action on the proliferation of discriminatory voter identification laws, the endless and territorial limitless war on terror, including the violation of sovereignty by our illegal use of drones; there will not be any attempt to control a defence industry that markets 50 percent of the world’s arms and whose best interests are served by continued warfare. We accept that a habitual thought process is comfortable, but when it comes to our “democracy,” we cannot accept that it is productive, ethical, or anything but insane.”
That was from an editorial written by Roger deRoos, recently deceased. It was only two sentences, believe it or not, but there’s a headful of thinking there; if you’re so inclined. However, one of the nice things about getting out and about on a boat is that you can easily immerse yourself in the moment and leave all the shore shit and heavy thinking behind. We’re here because we’re not all there! And that’s the whole point.
“On the Trans-Atlantic Single-handed race Mr Owen Smithers has been disqualified for using both hands.”……Heiki Luoma