It is suddenly all around me. I race to absorb the magic of it all. The grey eternity of winter and the crawling advance of early flowers have past. It is like waiting at a crossing for a train. You can hear it in the distance, slowly, it seems, approaching then suddenly roaring past. A few days ago thousands of geese and swans flew northward again high into the thin cold sunsets. Suddenly, friends gone south for the winter are back and on the same day, the martins returned, squabbling and flitting about as if they’d never left their little purple turds staining whatever they fall on. It has been an especially vibrant spring for trilliums and fawn lilies. Each time now I bend to photograph another flower the little voice on my shoulder says “Fer chrissakes, how many more do you need? A flower is a flower is a flower. C’mon!” But the breath-taking perfection is irresistible to me. There is an intensity of colours and a hope for better times ahead. For a few days in the past week the temperatures soared and I was among the winter survivors who emerged wearing shorts, my fluorescent knobbly legs absorbing the delicious warmth. I want to sop it up like a sponge, taking nothing for granted and storing it away for the next winter ahead which we know is not really that far away. As you get older you begin to see things that way.
It rained today. Painting boats was out of the question. On the old Saltair highway south of here there is a lovely little bookshop. The owner doesn’t much care if he sells any books. He likes being surrounded by books and sits placidly reading while his ubiquitous Polynesian music plays softly. He says he simply enjoys the company of others who like books. A few minutes further there is a wonderful Thai restaurant in Chemainus that makes incredible food. A lunch was in order. The restaurant nestles on a quiet, old residential street. The repast was superb, elegant, exotic. The proprietor’s five-month-old baby girl, a black-eyed smiling beauty, greets patrons from her carriage in the corner. Within a few doors of the old building I’d found enough good photos in just a few minutes to complete this blog. Photography is a grand way to celebrate life, finding beauty and inspiration in simple things we look at and seldom see.
Meanwhile my struggle with the holy grail of making a first film continues. It is a noble quest while I shall win. I am learning all the things which won’t work. That’s progress!
.A natural law: A dog at rest tends to stay at rest.
BUSINESS FIRST: I’ll be doing a writer/salty dog presentation at the Ladysmith Maritime Society dock on May 12th at 2pm. There’s a link to a nifty poster bellow. Also I’ll be participating in the River’s End Poets Gathering in Steveston in the Cannery Museum on September 22nd in the afternoon.Talk on the Dock -3 sml file
CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE
Friday, April 13th. A January gale complete with slashing ice-cold rain hammers horizontally outside. Jack and I went out in the rising blast this morning to photograph flowers. We got some good shots and came home cold and wet.
I’ve been trying to teach myself how to use a popular film-editing program. I am frustrated and humiliated. Page 1 in the manual immediately referred me to page 249 and so it has gone. When I learned to fly, and to drive, I was turned out in the local cow pasture with some basic cautions. I taught myself what happened when you pushed this, pulled that, turned the round thing and stomped on that. Yep, I made mistakes, but progressed steadily and gained confidence to the point of competence. I’ve never had an accident on the road or in the air.
My life at sea has gone similarly and no-one knows me for being timid. Now I’m confronted with a set of neo parameters which immediately demand a total fluency in a new blither-gabble all the while pushing this, double-clicking that while holding F49. I’m sure I’ll learn, thousands of others have, but golly durnit! Let’s start with the foundations and the framing before we worry about the flower boxes and the heat pump. All I want to do is make a few simple films. Surely I don’t have to run away to film school. Ummm well…!
After deleting the first film-editing app. in frustration, installing another program then uninstalling it, I’ve re-installed a slightly different version of the first film app. It is called “Lightworks.” It is apparently a professional grade system and did allow me to print a 200 plus page paper manual. I can have this for referral while I plod into this. The other program had plenty of tutorials but I don’t know how to have the program up and running while at the same time watching an online tutorial. There have been lots of walks in the woods this week! I have been called a “Bog-trotter” by a certain in-law; that is essentially correct.
I have, however, just had a wonderful local experience out of the bog. They’ll soon have a fresh coat of paint on their facade but they are easy enough to find here in Ladysmith. The IRONWORKS CAFÉ and CRÉPERIE are on the main highway between the 7/11 and City Hall. There’s parking around the corner and immediately across the highway below the shoulder. Please use the crosswalk. The coffee and food and staff are all excellent. Soon, as the weather improves, their patio under a huge spreading chestnut tree will be open to enjoy an excellent fare. Check it out when passing by. There’s nothing like a fresh crepe to make your day. It leaves me feeling good to mention someone doing something right. And no, creeps are something entirely different. We have some of those too.
For some reason of coincidence I’m posting four photos of interesting trucks I’ve recently found along the way. The big Volvo 4×4 from Germany certainly caught my fancy. I could hear the waves on a remote Baja beach the moment I saw it.
On the subject of trucks I’m going to wade into this one as delicately as possible. I am impressed with the tremendous collective expression of condolence for the Saskatchewan hockey team that met with such tragedy last week. I am intrigued by the mass mourning for lost hockey players. Yes hockey was the common thread which brought them to be together in a bus yet while they were part of a hockey team they were also human beings with the full range of fears, hopes, dreams and problems we all have. Should these sixteen dead have been young children or senior citizens or a group of indigenous folks would there be the same outpouring of grief? Would flags being flying at half-mast? What if this tragic loss was innocent civilians killed as collateral damage in a rocket attack in Syria? How about a sunken boatload of Middle-Eastern refugees? Are their lost lives of less value? Well, we may never even know about their tragedies, so how can we grieve, but my point is that participants in a national sport seem to hold a higher value than other mere mortals. This trendy scramble to join the funeral parade demeans the entire grieving process. Even my on-line banking site is thick with photos of hockey sticks. You’re right; I don’t get it. Sorry if I’m being obtuse. I’m not saying it is wrong because I am out of this particular loop but surely there are some obvious questions to be raised about our cultural values.
And I find myself lacking another comprehension. Argentine prawns in our superb local butcher shop. I just watched the daily return of our local prawn fleet to our docks which are just down the hill within sight of the butcher shop. What are we doing?
Hockey, prawns, film-making; is there nothing that makes sense. I am down on the dock a lot these days tinkering on ‘Seafire’ and other boats nearby. That, at least, is something I fully understand and clearly where I fit in. This old bilge ape knows his place.
“Once you’ve become a pickle you can’t be a cucumber again” … Steve Earle
WOW! I knew a lot of this blog’s readers liked my photos but I was not prepared for the reaction to moving pictures. Thank you. So, you really liked the film clip! Guess what? I’ll start inserting more. I’ve always wanted to learn how to edit, cut, and splice films as well as dub-in music, narrative, titles and so forth. I will learn. For the moment you’ll have to endure raw, unedited film shorts but I’m working on improving. We’ve got a good thing going on. Here’s one I shot this morning.
The feedback from readers about selling old ‘Seafire’ is almost divided equally. Some say, “Yeah, you’re right, cut yourself away from the stuff.” Others say, “Wot! Swallow the anchor?” Not you old chap. That’d be totally daft. How can you be Fred without a boat.” I am torn. This afternoon, I went down to the boat as usual to do a little tidying and cleaning and eventually ended up in one of the bunks for a nap. With two sleeping cabins I do have a way of producing a little income from chartering. I have forgotten this is one reason I bought this particular vessel. I drifted off to sleep during a spring squall and awoke later to find it was still pounding rain on the cabin top. The wind moaned in the rigging and I felt a deep sense of well being. The old chubby chap snug in his big fibreglass egg. I contemplated giving up my deep passion for flying and spending thirty-five years refitting and selling boats until I’ve ended up in this, my eighth boat. What all have I sacrificed for this? What has my wife endured and sacrificed for my dreams? Can I really walk away from this huge investment and be content and feel fulfilled? The happiest time of my life, as I recall, was when I only owned a backpack. Stuff, bloody stuff.
I’m posting an old standard poem which I wrote many years old. ‘The Water Rushing By’ is also the title of my first published collection of writing about being a mariner on the waters of the Pacific Northwest. I need to get another run printed. Perhaps this one piece says everything worth saying. There is another short video at the end.
Never have I had such a reaction to any blog such as the last one. You, my readers, have moved me deeply. Thank you all so much about your concerns for my dreaded decision about needing to sell the boat. Everyone of you have suggested that I do not separate myself from such a large piece of who I am. I do not take your suggestions lightly. Thanks again. I appreciate your empathy and support. We’ll see how the pickle squirts in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately I am a cyber-Neanderthal and while trying to sort out one fumble, my banana fingers changed a privacy setting which prevented some of you from contacting me. I’ve fixed that and look forward to hearing from you. Interaction with my readers is one of my joys.
One of the photos in my last blog was of laundry on a line. To me it is a now all-too-rare signal of domesticity and frugal, simple living. In my childhood nearly everyone had a clothesline. One of my jobs was to hang the laundry out and retrieve it once dry. First you wiped down the line to clean off any soot or other air contaminants. Then you hung the heavy items first so that they would go closest to the far pulley. In winter everything froze almost instantly, sheets, long underwear, socks, all stiff as a board. Then, slowly, the process of sublimation occurred and everything ended up freeze-dried as the softest, fluffiest laundry possible and all done without any chemicals. Apparently in both Canada and the US there are bans now falling into place to overrule previous bans preventing outdoor laundry lines. Apparently, some folks take offence at the sight of someone’s clean scanties flapping in the wind and all the think-green rhetoric means nothing when vanity overrules. I’ve heard of municipal fines in California imposed on citizens who did not water their lawns despite ongoing droughts. In Victoria, here on Vancouver Island, during dry summers businesses spring up that actually paint your dry grass a rich green. Appearance is everything to some folks. I’ll even admit that I have certain sensibilities about what appear to me as an “Ugly Boat.” That could be a blog in itself.
Although the blossoms of spring have finally tip-toed out, there is still an icy chill in the air. We even had fresh snow low on the mountains a few days ago with ice pellets falling at sea level. The ambient temperature needs to be considerably warmer to accomplish many of the tasks on my boat. Paint and epoxy require temperatures above 16°C to cure correctly so most work is on hold. In the meanwhile Jack and I have taken to exploring the three major rivers south of Nanaimo. This area was developed around its abundant timber and coal resources and then the rich agricultural land once the forest was devastated. Now there arelargeventures in the wine industry. There are vineyards everywhere, with tasting rooms and boutique bistros at many of these locations. There are also cideries, organic produce farms, free-range poultry and meats, local cheeses, home-spun clothing and a plethora of cottage arts. It is a wonderful region to explore and with some views, you might begin to think of Provence or Tuscany.
The three rivers all flow eastward. The Cowichan, The Chemainus and The Nanaimo all drain large watersheds and run swift and clear down to the sea and the beautiful archipelago of the Gulf Islands. Sadly, all these watersheds have been logged rapaciously since the mid 1800’s and many sawmills are gone now due to lack of raw logs. (We do, however, manage to export several shiploads of those same logs every week!) The environmental and visual devastation of these valleys is demoralizing. While the rivers still run clear and swift, usually with a fringe of old-growth timber along their banks, there is no sense of pristine wilderness. The old cut- blocks are garbage-dump ugly. Many salmon streams are now clogged with debris and unusable by traditional ish stocks. Still, the logging roads provide access to public forest lands and despite the carnage there is hope of seeing various species of wild life and also finding small pockets of untouched wild areas. Sadly those maintained roads are there so that second and even third cuttings of regenerated forest can be accessed. It would take centuries for the rain forest to return to its original state. So long as people are here, that will never happen. Exploring each of these river valleys we’ve found abandoned rail grades, mines, buildings and other mysterious endeavours. There are small untouched pockets of forest with ancient trees and crystal clear water rushing through gaps in hard rock which must have taken millions of years to carve and polish. Invariably you will also find discarded beer cans and bits of junk, but you have to learn to focus elsewhere.
Hopefully you can open this this 1 minute video. The stream runs along the edge of some old logging. Imagine how long it took to carve this pool in solid granite. The water is delicious.
If the landmass which is Vancouver Island had developed at a slightly lower elevation, it would be divided into three islands instead of a single rock which is the size of some small countries. The most northerly island would be bounded on the south by ocean which is now a pass we know as the Alberni Valley and the Qualicum Valley. Further south the next dividing gap would be the Cowichan Valley. The eastern portion of this valley is fed by Lake Cowichan, a deep, beautiful body of water which has been logged right to its shoreline in most places. The water is clear and warm in the summer and so the lake is overrun with people roaring its lengths in noisy speedboats and jet skis. I curse them as an affront to the natural beauty of this place. A few miles to the west of Lake Cowichan is Nitinat Lake which drains westerly out through its shifting narrows directly into the open Pacific. Salmon migrations were once so huge that seine boats would risk the coastal surf and the tortuous narrows to fish the rich waters of this lake. Local indigenous men would earn huge fees to guide the boats through the narrows. Sadly this valley also fell prey to the rape of the timber trade and the verdant slopes are now mostly second growth forest. A few miles to the south of Nitinat lays the Carmanah Valley, home of some of the largest remaining old growth trees on the BC Coast. Ironically it was loggers who provided access and exposure to these incredible living giants.
It can be argued that the farmland is also a blight to the natural world but at least it is producing something life-giving and organic and picturesque. Hopefully we don’t poison our streams with manure and fertilizer. Unfortunately, the south island has become one of the most desired retirement areas in Canada. Suburban sprawl has become rampant in most areas. The only way to avoid it is to move to the wild and rugged northern end of Vancouver Island.
It will be a while longer before that region is also overrun with suburbanites and condomites and mallites. But, it’s coming. Meanwhile supply and demand has unreal estate prices rocketing far beyond any hope of affordable housing for average working folks.
What a wonderful place this must have been before Europeans arrived. While there are no records of explorer’s crews attempting to jump ship here, the locals weren’t always that friendly and even a simple meal of mussels might kill you. However the raw beauty here would have been overwhelmingly grand and mysterious. Each newly discovered inlet just might be the long-sought shortcut back to the old world. Some explorer’s journals reported that the area could never amount to much because the land was covered with massive, far too difficult to clear for farming. It didn’t take long to figure out. Many ships returned home with a deck cargo of spars. The rape continues centuries later.
A Straight Stick
Dog and I walked miles of forest trails that twisted and wound, up and down river banks, over roots, around boulders and quagmires, all the while searching for one simple perfect thing. I wanted a handle for a boot hook and determined that it should be maple. West coast maple grows along the edges of human intrusion, old farms, railways, logging sites. There are huge maples which are clearly ancient arboreal giants. Maples, with their large leaves, make a wonderful display in the autumn and then provide a thick, rich layer of humus to the forest floor. Nature designed some to grow quickly, die, rot and nourish the soil. This occurs where several have germinated thickly and need thinning which is accomplished by natural attrition.
It was one of these which I sought. When peeled and allowed to cure the wood is very strong. Larger maples provide beautifully patterned lumber for furniture and ornamental trim. All I wanted was one stick. Young fir and cedar grow straight with a correct taper but they are soft woods which will not be as tough as a piece of cured maple. My challenge was to find one that was straight and true. I wanted it to be eight feet long with a gentle taper and an average diameter of one and a half inches. It had to be almost perfectly straight. There are, of course, millions growing out there. All I needed was one. It became an eye-crossing endeavour.
Every maple sapling I considered was nearly perfect but each one of an adequate length and diameter had a curve or a twist that made it unsuitable. After too many days of searching I found one that was very close to perfection. I had no saw with me so I memorized nearby features which would help me find it again. A few days later I returned to harvest my treasure. Now I noticed all the other leaning trees, odd roots, and puddles with big rocks nearby. I tramped back and forth three times until I found it again. It is in my workshop now, peeled and almost perfectly straight. It has been cut to exactly eight feet. Several months from now it will be mounted on one of my boat’s shrouds, bronze hook and tip installed and ready for a lifetime at sea as a useful tool. If I stay ashore, I’ll have my own personal Gandalph’s staff.
Dog and I walked into the woods
on an afternoon sunny and fine.
We followed a tortuous trail
down to a river running fast,
cold, clear like sweet white wine.
We sat and surveyed the scene
inhaling the perfect and pristine,
enjoying our time alone.
Then up the river
flying fast and low
a goddamned drone.
“The environment is everything that isn’t me.“ …Albert Einstein
It is happening for the third morning in a row. A sunrise! Clear skies! Only a light frost.
It has been a most reluctant spring so far. A daily E-bulletin board from Mexico to which I subscribe now has banter about the best border crossing to use on the spring trek home and what the flowers will be like in the Sonora Desert. Clearly, I’m not going to make it to Mexico this winter.
My beloved ‘Seafire’ has long been the focus of my existence and the tangible evidence of a wonderful dream. This blog has its foundation built on that idea, the dreaming and scheming, the preparations to realize those notions and adventures, both inner and outer. Now comes the reality that due to poor health and finances, ‘Seafire’ probably should be sold. I’m trying to convince myself that this will be a step forward into a higher state of being that has nothing to do with the stuff I possess or which tries to own me.
During the time I’ve been writing this blog friends have sailed their boats almost around the world and continue their voyage even as I write. Another good buddy set out on his boat and sailed many of the perimeters of the Pacific Ocean. They both deserve a big note of gratitude for their inspiration and their achievements. I’m still here. ‘Seafire’ has never sailed out of sight of these shores. I have logged thousands of miles up and down this coast, often in stormy winter weather and all on my own. The boat has also been my home for many years so there is nothing to regret as I arrive at this moment of painful decision. Yet I acquired the boat and refitted it for a voyage south and then on to Britain and Europe. None of it will ever happen. That leaves a very hollow feeling and the only way to make sense of it is to find the window that this journey has led me to. Wanna buy a really nice boat?
Someone once told me that there are many ways to interpret the same script. The folks at Bombay Gin held a short film competition, the results of which can still be seen via Google.
The rules were simple. Five minutes was the time limit, everyone had to incorporate the same script. The five finalists each produced an entirely different film, including one animation. They are all wonderful, with the winner being titled ‘Room 8.’ It is amazing to realize the diversity of human creativity, even when forced within narrow parameters. Not only can we interpret a script any way we want, we each have the freedom to write any script any way we want.
I remind myself of this as I write while the sun reflects off my neighbour’s wall and through the narrow window beside my desk.
A television documentary last evening inspired me again to travel the back roads of Mexico in exploration of that country’s huge cultural history and wonderful natural eco-system. I have my little trailer which is perfect for that. I also have my blog to carry forward. Each week there are more new subscribers. Your comments and criticisms underscore your support and I sincerely thank all my readers. I can commit that the blog will continue no matter what.
In the meantime, ‘Seafire’ is having a good spring clean-up. Jack and I are also exploring local places that we have been passing by for years. Isn’t it amazing how we can look at so much and see so little? Here are some local photos and a little piece of my writing.
The little town where I live was built on a hillside
above the docks
where there are now more yachts than fishboats.
To go down there you must pass
through a four-way stop
where the oldest building on main street stands.
It is built of local stone and brick
thick walls mortared together
with high-arched windows
and apartments above.
There was once a newspaper office there.
They called me from among their list
of handymen advertisers and wanted me to look
at a job rebuilding their entrance.
Someone had almost fallen through the old wood.
I proposed replacing it with concrete
then took on the project alone.
The work had to be completed in one afternoon
after closing time
and ready for next morning.
I’m no concrete man,
but I was broke.
Of the values that come with working on boats
is a portfolio of diverse skills
a deft bravado that comes from incessant poverty
and often being somewhere with no-one to help.
I hung out my shingle
when work on the water was scarce.
The cement truck arrived while I was still cleaning out old wood
and building a new form with plenty of rebar
because I wasn’t sure how much was required.
The August sun blasted that entry way like a bake oven
I worked like a fool to get the mix in place and trowelled out
but in the heat it began to set
and I kept adding water to stay ahead of the game.
When I stepped outside there was a gentle roaring in the air. All the ditches and the nearby creek were running madly. The West side of Vancouver Island had received over 220mm of rain in twenty-four hours; here on the East side we’d only endured a little over 100mm. Roads and bridges are washed out. Rivers and streams are over their banks. An idiot kayaker drowned. It is sunny at the moment, more rain and snow are in the forecast.
And so the year seeped into February, still wet, still winter. Wet news is no news any more.
A friend in Sweden e-mailed to say the temperature there was – 26°C and there was so much snow it was being piled in the town square. I couldn’t bring myself to e-mailing him a photo of snow drops emerging in the local woods. There was a time when enduring, and even enjoying, cold and snow was a manly thing for me but the romance now eludes me..
All that rain, for the moment, has passed. The interior of the province continues to deal with heaps of snow and the ski hills are doing wonderfully. Spring is slowly creeping back. For the last three mornings, we’ve actually had a sunrise, little buds and tiny flowers are poking their noses out. Yesterday I watched a hummingbird try to scavenge a meagre breakfast from the flowers on a hazelnut tree behind my fence. Life has been so dull there’s not much else to write about except the weather. Little projects on ‘Seafire’ continue but the old saw about “when you have the time you don’t have the money” is certainly true.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and so to give my wife a well-deserved break I’m out on the boat; alone. I know I wouldn’t want to be house-bound with the likes of me so here I am boat-bound with the old bugger hisself. Ostensibly, I’m out here to harvest some prawns. I made one set today and brought one up. Yes, one spotted prawn. I ate it.
There’s a gale warning up but for the moment it is tensely calm. I’m anchored in a few feet of water in Pirates Cove near the north end of the Gulf Islands. It is one of those ‘World Famous’ cruising destinations which is jammed with yachts for many months of the year. Tonight I am blissfully alone, just me and the raccoons ashore. One other yacht is tucked into a far corner, stern line rigged ashore, just as the ‘book’ demands.
They’re close on a lee shore. If the forecast proves itself and their anchor pulls in the thin mud there…..they’ll be screwed.
In the morning I’ll see which part of the weather forecast is correct and make my decisions from there. I always feel complete and at home when aboard any boat, especially my old friend ‘Seafire,’ but retrieving a prawn set alone in rough water is especially challenging. Not only do you have to be able to find your floats, you need to manoeuvre the boat and hook the line aboard without getting it tangled in the boat’s propeller. Then you need to bring all the line and the traps aboard. Thank the gods for my electric windlass. If you use a big, bright float it is easy to find but in high wind and large seas big floats tend to sail off with your gear. So you need to have everything anchored adequately which means more weight to haul up. High visibility also makes it easy pickings for prawn pirates and there are plenty out there. Bastards! There are low-lives who will take your set; traps, floats, prawns and all. The cost of new floats, 400’ to 500’ of line, weights, traps and bait is easily a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately in these southern waters you need to stay within sight of your floats for a few hours while the traps “soak.” Hopefully you can catch a fish or two while you wait. I am one of the world’s worst fisherman so I can offer no advice on that subject.
The high price in the store of fresh seafood is breath-taking but still much cheaper than the cost of getting it yourself. There are also all the multiple costs of the boat itself. And, for perspective, it is worth noting that there are millions of people out there at this moment who would love to be able to experience this sort of problem. Instead it’s couscous again… if they’re lucky!
Thursday morning arrives as a “No hurry” sort of day. The low clouds hurtle past the writhing tree tops. There’s no point in wrestling with prawn gear until the wind settles down. I can find enough trouble without looking for it. My neighbour leaves. The sloop is a large neo-look-at-me shining black phallus. It is loaded with short dark-eyed folks who penguin about on deck in bulky cruising suits. They come close alongside as they depart. I stay inside. There is a lively debate on the foredeck as several crew peruse a fluttering chart. The boat veers toward the wrong side of the buoy in the narrow shallow channel. I brace myself and notice their home port is marked as Seattle although a Canadian ensign cracks in the wind. At the last moment they swerve into the correct channel and mercifully disappear around the point. I unpucker.
I have often lamented the droning rhetoric of CBC Radio, especially in regions where it is the only sound on the airwaves. Here, where the sky is bulging with radio signals, I’m listening to CBC Radio 2. which seems to have been reformatted. They play music, a good eclectic mix. Last night I listened to a wonderful mix on a four hour program called “After Dark.” Go figure!
Now that I’ve consumed an entire pot of bilge bitters seadog coffee it’s time to vibrate my way into the remains of the day. By the time I had washed the breakfast dishes the surf was up in this anchorage which is usually a millpond. There is a brisk Norwester blowing into the open end of the cove.
The end of the second day finds me anchored in my favourite spot on the south coast, Kendrick Island. It lays on the south side of Gabriola Pass which separates Valdez and Gabriola Islands. The view is spectacular, especially with the crystalline clear air which comes with the cold northwest wind. I look up at Mount Baker, miles away across the Strait Of Georgia. There are no shore lights here. Now that night has fallen the stars throb brilliantly. I am refreshed simply to be here.
I made one set today in the relatively sheltered waters of Trincomali Channel. Recovering the traps took over an hour. With a rising wind blowing against the boat and nasty steep seas it was a challenge but I would be damned to give it up. “Give me my prawns or giv e me death!” There are enough for a meal, hard-won tasty. I’m writing in the main cabin back lit with two oil lanterns. At the moment the radio is playing a program called “Reclaimed.” It throbs with global indigenous hip-hop and punk rock. So much Hey hey, hey hey. Some of this neo-native music is brilliant. Kudos! It IS warm and fuzzy in here tonight.
If the wind continues tomorrow, I’ll leave the prawns in peace and head back to the marina. It’s time to get ready for my gig at Fisher Poets in Astoria next week. There’s no wind, yet. But a bright red sunrise shows it’s sullen colour for a few minutes and the forecast is utterly confusing with wind to come from all directions. I give up; it is time to head home, for now.
Here are two quotes from Annie Proulx’s latest book, thick and well worth the read.
“And who could count the new inventions and occupations? Colleges emerged from raw ideas; daring men invented river flatboats to penetrate the wilderness; shipmasters, not content with trade or passengers, began to pursue whales for the costly and fine oil; teacups finally had handles, an effete fad that Nicolaus thought would soon die out. And that fellow Franklin’s inventions: the lightening rods, which had saved hundreds of churches and houses from destruction, and the stove, which encased fire safely. It was an exciting time to live.”
“Nothing in the natural world, no forest, no river, no insect nor leaf has any intrinsic value to men. All is worthless, utterly dispensable unless we discover some benefit for ourselves in it – even the most ardent forest lover thinks this way. Men behave as overlords. They decide what will flourish and what will die. I believe that humankind is evolving into a terrible new species and I am sorry that I am one of them.”
(No disrespect intended, it’s what some of us call Bella Bella. Bella Coola is Bunga Cunga)
On arrival at the YVR South Terminal I flopped my big old wheeled travel bag onto the weigh scale. The ticket agent raised an eyebrow at the readout. I looked down at the bag and said, “Don’t move around granny, you’re almost through.” The young lady raised her eyebrow again and asked with a posh English accent, “You are joking!?” I grinned.
“Well, we have to be sure!” I wasn’t actually feeling jovial, I was just trying to mask my dismay about returning to Shearwater. Lately it has not been the magical destination one could hope for; more of a ‘Club Dread.’ As I pocketed my boarding pass, I looked away over my shoulder and said, “Hi Jack.” Then I smiled to the ticket lady. “Nothing like a sense of humour to stir things up at the airport.”
“Rather!” But then she began to smile.
I’d ridden the float plane across from Nanaimo with two former neighbours. They were on their way to Varadero in Cuba, a five hour flight from Vancouver. As I edit today’s snowy photo’s back aboard ‘Seafire’ they’ll be sipping mojitos on the hotel patio and watching the sun set over the Carribbean. BUGGA! Some co-workers have quit and left during the week I’ve been away. Will I be next? One of those folks has since been in contact from Thailand. Good for him.
There was brilliant sunshine on the south coast today. We flew north over a broken overcast. Near Bella Bella we slid down through a hole in the cloud and began our final descent. I hope I didn’t curse aloud. More fresh snow! Bloody hell! Three hours earlier I’d been watching a woman blow huge soap bubbles for kids on the Nanaimo waterfront in the warm spring sunlight. Now back to this! What the hell? I throw my gear aboard ‘Seafire,’ slam the hatch, turn up the heater and hunker down for the long night ahead. The forecast for the week ahead calls for rain and snow flurries, just like last week. The next light on my horizon will be the Easter long weekend and I’m resolved to gloomy weather then.
The poor old boat is suffering mightily thanks to the weather. The finish on the exterior woodwork has been seriously damaged this winter. I cannot do anything about it or the other jobs waiting for a little warmth and dryness. The general spirit of the whole community seems diminished as we wait for signs of a reluctant spring. Yesterday morning, in Nanaimo, while walking Jack, a flock of wild swans flew low overhead. They weren’t heading north.
It will be a while until we see them flying over up here.
“Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.” Chuck Berry
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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!
Thank you! It’s working. My Flickr photostream is becoming easier to find due, in part, to your interest. https://www.flickr.com/photos/flickrfred/ will get you there; I have over two hundred forty frames up so far.
I’m hoping to earn some income from my writing and photography as I travel. In today’s world, if you have no cyber presence, you don’t exist. It would be much nicer to sit with pen and paper beneath a palm tree writing the world’s ultimate novel but that is only fantasy long lost. I know that I cripple myself by avoiding the mad scrum of twitter, titter, squeak, squack and honk yet I have to do something to validate my creative existence in the cyber world. A few years ago a publisher told me that e-books weren’t “Real”. Now it seems, writing is not legitimate if it isn’t an e-book. So, that’s what I’m up to with all this effort at seeking attention.
I’ll admit I’m a dinosaur in this modern world of computer-everything but I’ll hold my low regard for the sheep-like manner in which people eagerly accept persuasion to follow corporate marketing innuendo. Our culture has become hopelessly addicted to cyber devices. It seems that even a primal survival instict, fear, has a declining sensitivity. We are rapidly loosing the ability to fend for ourselves to the point of wandering into danger’s way while texting, tweeting and gaming. People drive and walk with head-down texting focus as they stumble through traffic, crowds, the woods and even on the docks. Kerplunk!
Amazingly, in our enlightened age, few ask questions. Our thumbs keep twitching out unimportant messages and we stumble along without looking where we’re going. Letter-writing has become a lost social art. Correct spelling and grammar are a foundation of clear communication. Language and communication is a cornerstone of civilization and we apparently don’t much give a toss about those basics. I recently saw a dictionary of texting abbreviations. (Lol ddba wm yy2.) No! I don’t want to have children with you! Huh? Coincidentally, as I write, a radio announcer reads a story about how people “Are married to their smart phones”.
Don’t we see how addicted and reliant we have become? Whenever the electricity goes down or we lose one of our devices we panic. Even in the backwoods of Mexico people appear entirely dependant on their cell phones. It seems like a deadly epidemic to me and I’ll admit that like it or not, I’m infected with the cyber bug as well. But I do care and will maintain a questioning attitude. You wouldn’t imagine the blank look I got in the cell phone store when I said I wanted a phone that only made calls, took calls and messages. Neanderthal!
I will readily admit that I heavily utilize the internet for research. A few minutes online can easily replace a day in the library. But, it doesn’t replace the collective intellectual energy of a building full of books.
It is important to remember who is slave and who is master.
Most offshore sailboats don’t even have a sextant aboard anymore. We DO have access to all sorts of satellite rescue systems when our incompetence prevails. If Uncle Obama flips the switch and there is suddenly no GPS available it will be a total disaster. I’ll admit that my sextant lies dormant in its case and I’ve forgotten how to use it. Mind you, leaving the dock is the first step to needing it. Here comes an embarrassed, pregnant silence.
I’m having a bout of writer’s block and as I poke away at my laptop the tely is on playing the 1961 movie ‘The Misfits’. It is a beautiful film made on location in Nevada. Marilyn Monroe is outstanding, her acting is incredible and Clark Gable is grand. He utters lines like “People can get so afraid of dying that they don’t ever live. Of course there’s danger in most worthwhile things”. In real life he died within days of finishing this film. Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter and Montgomery Clift all turn out stunning performances. A believable script encompasses human longing and weakness within a parable about greed versus the environment. I love the clever use of light in black and white films and this one is certainly no exception.
The old Waco biplane had me lusting heartily. John Huston was the director and the messages about fiscal wealth versus integrity and compassion, from over forty years ago, are stunning. Not surprising, it was a flop at the box office. Few know of it. I think it should be re-released.
Now it’s Sunday, a week before Easter. Another stellar weather day dawns. We will almost be able to hear the leaves bursting out and see the flowers opening. Fluorescent white flesh is on display everywhere and I smugly flaunt the remains of my Mexico tan. Then as the evening sun settles behind the trees, it’s back into our woolies. Drifts of fir and maple pollen fill the air and everyone’s sinuses. Folks are finally back on the docks checking to see if their boats have survived the winter. They offer the usual annual cliché yucks about how boats are holes in the water that you shovel full of money. I offer my standard responses about how a “Stitch in time saves nine” and that houses are holes in the beach that you shovel money into while the scenery never changes. A few visiting cruisers are appearing at the marina now. Next weekend the marina circus will begin for another year.
A friend en route with his yacht to Easter Island and then the Marquesas stopped at the Galapagos two days ago, for forty hours! He had a passage From La Paz, Baha with light winds and he ran low on fuel but forty hours? I’m sure he has his good reasons but I can’t imagine how hard it would be to put to sea again without a decent rest and a long reconnoitre of that fabled place.
Jimmy has his daughter Karmin aboard and I hope they find a place to stop and can make their marathon a wholly pleasant odyssey. He’s put so much into preparing for this journey.
Other friends have left their boat ‘Sage’ in dry storage for the monsoon season in Northern Phuket and are coming home to Victoria for a break away from the heat and humidity where they have been sailing. Connie and Tony did this once before on a tiny Vancouver 27. They spent seven years exploring the South Pacific and Japan. Their blog ‘Sage on Sage’, is what prompted me to start my own. I am deeply inspired and humbled by folks who are able to achieve their dreams.
Good on you all.
Now it is Monday morning. As the sun rises in the East (As usual) a high thickening overcast is rapidly approaching from the South. The barometer is holding steady, for the moment, but it looks like rain to me. It didn’t rain. In fact this afternoon my pallid shanks were sticking out again beneath a pair of tattered work shorts. This evening there is a new overcast blocking any view of tonight’s lunar eclipse.
It was quite a day. I don’t know why but I’m experiencing a massive lethargy and depression accompanied with all sorts of strange pains, swollen glands, and a generally pathetic state of being. I know, I know, it shows in my writing. Spring fever, allergic reactions to all the pollen in the air, a chronic attack of self-pity, I can’t explain it. Other folks report they are laid low with flu so I’ll go with that.
In the midst of this gloom a friend recommends going online to a ‘TED Talk’ and looking up an essay by a conductor and classical musician named Benjamin Zander. “Yeah right”, I thought as I typed in ‘The Transformative Power Of Classical Music.’
It was spell-binding, a midday epiphany.
This brilliant man explained things about classical music which I never understood and then leads the viewer on to some wonderful concepts. “Who I am being, if my children’s eyes aren’t shining?” Who am I being, if other people’s eye aren’t shining?”
His message, I think, is to apply your unique gifts in such a way that other people are inspired and enlightened.
“Become a bird that flies above the fields. Fences are no longer obstacles”.
Now it is Tuesday morning already and I’ve awakened cynical and jaded as ever. That might have to do with the aches and pains of my battered old frame. (I used to wonder why old folks were so often grumpy!) Jack the dog is out on deck surveying the world and absorbing the moment in the light of the rising sun. He has, as usual, the correct philosophy and is immersed in the moment. I’m sitting with my morning coffee pecking away on this blog trying to find a clever ending. Perhaps a final quote from Zander will work.
“Never say anything that won’t stand if it is the last thing you ever say!”