( No offence Billy Connolly) The title line once appeared in a previous blog about a campground in Arizona. I used it again as I left a campground in Sooke. The campground operator was preparing for a Bluegrass festival on the upcoming weekend. He was rolling his eyes already as tents sprouted all round and practising bands picked their way through the morning. “You’re got a a wild weekend ahead I see,” I intoned. “By Monday morning you’ll be saying, I used to like banjo music.” his smile was so forlorn. At least the weather was perfect.
The weather has eased into rainy days which we so desperately need. It is cool and variable. Those of us wanting to get some brightwork done on our boats are a bit frustrated but there will be plenty of hot, dry days ahead and every drop of rain is precious. Meanwhile I’m muddling with some major changes in my personal life. It’s a time of darkness. I’m not feeling particularly articulate at the moment but I’m still finding joy in life through my photography.
Here are lots of pictures for my readers, many taken on a recent orbit to the West of Victoria.
I’m baaack! I’ve beaten my long bout with terminal snyphlis. God, three weeks can be a long time! I can take a deep breath once in a while without coughing up any weird biology. Yeehaw! Once in a while you get a sense that maybe, just maybe, things are going to work out. A simple clear breath is such a wonderful thing!
I found a like-new compass on e-Bay, a Dirigo, one of the best names to be had. I made an offer, which time-expired, but I sleuthed out that of all the places on the planet, it was sitting in a pawn shop in Victoria right here on Southern Vancouver Island less than an hour away. I went and bought it for a very good price. The weather was gorgeous and for the first time in weeks I felt fit for living. Jack was along and he deserved a break at his favourite Victoria dog park, Macaulay Point Park, an old artillery fort built in the late 1800s.
Once home the suspense mounted as I headed for the dock to see how well the new compass fit the old box. With some simple inventiveness, one gimbal ring fit inside another and the whole plan fell into place as if it were pre-destined for a long time. A double-gimballed Dirigo! Eat your heart out. Wow! What a feeling after all the weeks of abject misery. Now all I have to do is swing the new compass and we’re ready for sea. What the hell do I mean by “swinging the compass?”
OK, it’s as good a time as any to explain the rudimentary principals of using a good old-fashioned magnetic device and yes, I’ll over-simplify as much as I dare. Contrary to some beliefs a compass does not tell you what direction you are going, nor does it actually even show in what direction True North lays.
Sadly there are a lot of pilots and mariners who don’t really know how a compass works anymore. Once, so long ago, it was the only navigational tool used by many travellers.
We live in the age of GPS which is a network of satellites. By simple triangulation they can very accurately determine where you are on the planet within inches. Unfortunately, all it takes is for Uncle Obama or, God forbid, Commander-In-Chief Trump, to flip a switch, and we loose our Global Positioning Network. With millions depending on this device in their car, boat, aircraft, mobile phone, camera, wristwatch, it would be a disaster. Many folks would be utterly screwed. The military allowed GPS to become available to the civilian world because it has something else even better. It doesn’t need GPS anymore now than muzzle-loading cannons. This becomes part of my eternal essay about how people are rendered dependant on technology. Eventually we become enslaved to convenience instead of having the freedom of relying on knowledge, wisdom and intuition. And so we become very easy to control.I know there are countless sailors who have crossed oceans only using their GPS, and electronic charts are universally accepted now. Many vessels even have a sextant aboard anymore. I don’t ever want to have to find my home in the dark with my eyes closed. I insist that one of the mantras of a real sailor is self-sufficiency. There is some deep value in retaining wisdoms of the old school.
So here’s how a magnetic compass works. There is a simple acrostic that reads: True Virgins Make Dull Company. I’ll explain.
TRUE north is any imaginary straight line on the planet that intersects the equator (another imaginary line) at 90° and crosses through both the North and South Poles (two more theoretical points) These north/south lines are called lines of longitude but I’m trying to keep this simple and we’ll avoid any description of latitude and longitude here. Using one of those lines on your chart you layout your course from A to B and then determine the true course to which you’ll add or subtract your adjusting values.
VARIATION is the local angle between Magnetic North and True or Theoretical North. Unfortunately The Magnetic North Pole is a considerable distance from the True North Pole so depending on where you are on the planet, the angle between the two poles naturally has to change. To further confuse the issue, the Magnetic North Pole slowly moves around. That precession must be accounted for to provide complete accuracy. Any chart or map will have a variation rose which will tell you how much the angle is changing annually. A navigator needs to calculate the current value of variation and then subtract if the variation is Easterly, or add if it is Westerly. Hang in there, it gets more interesting.
MAGNETIC This is the angle, or heading to steer once you have added or subtracted the variation as required.
DEVIATION Within any boat, aircraft, or other vehicle there are various magnetic properties. It may be the engine, electronic equipment, the steel plate in your head, stereo speakers and so forth. This magnetic pull is an influence on a compass and so each compass installation must be “Swung” to determine the amount of deviation, east or west, on every ten degrees of the compass card. It is then all recorded on a deviation card and posted within sight of the compass.
COMPASS Finally, now that you have added or subtracted the deviation closest to the heading you intend to steer, you have the actual number on the compass card to try and steer steadily toward.
Of course, you can set your GPS to steer either true or magnetic and it is not affected by any deviation until it goes bleep and becomes a dark, empty, lost screen. In the old days of sail, when you had to adjust your helm constantly to compensate for the vagaries of the wind in your sails, the helmsman “Boxed” the compass. He did not steer by degrees but rather the point the skipper ordered. A point, for example, of East Nor’East could be altered by the point (11.25 degrees) either way. One point to Starboard would make the heading ENE by East. You had to pay attention, even with the wind rumbling in your ears. The other navigation tool was a sextant, so that you could work out your position according to the angle of altitude to specific stars at a given moment. That required an accurate chronometer but here we teeter on the fine line between art and science and this is a blog and not a navigational tome.
A good friend and accomplished sailor just emailed me from Sydney Australia where he had toured the ‘James Craig’ a fully restored and working barque. He was gob-smacked.(A barque was a full-rigged ship, with at least two masts square-rigged) There are very few of these beauties left, especially in seaworthy condition. You can actually buy a ticket to go for a harbour cruise aboard her. I’ve trod the decks of ‘Cutty Sark,’ the famous preserved tea clipper stored in Greenwich, England and I fully understand Jimmy’s enthusiasm. There is a spirit in the fibres of these fabulous old icons. All of the emotion and drama of the long-ago passages, the storms, the rich characters of the crews are an energy which is easy to feel. It is tangible and very real, something much larger than mere imagination.. (A clipper had three masts square-rigged and was very fast.) ‘Cutty Sark’ once logged off 363 nautical miles in 24 hours, with a full cargo. She did that without burning one drop of fuel for propulsion! How’s that for green thinking?
My favourite full-rigger is the Mexican training barque ‘Cuauhtemoc,’ partly for my affinity of things Mexican but also for the love and spirit with which she is sailed and maintained. However, she was built in 1982 as a training ship and is not an original working ship like the ‘James Craig or ‘Cutty Sark.’
In addition to the skill required in simply steering such a vessel without auto-pilot or GPS the ‘James Craig’ apparently has 140 pieces of running rigging each held, or belayed, in place by a belaying pin. Each of those lines has its own name and place, which every crew member was expected to know. In storm or in dark, whether ill, hungry, or off-watch, a seaman was expected to know exactly what to do on demand, on deck, or in the rigging. To make a mistake, either at the helm or in the rigging could cost the ship a mast or worse. Injuries and fatalities were all too common and you didn’t want any on your head.. Many of these men could neither read nor write but the old term about “knowing the ropes” was a high accolade. The confidence in yourself and your shipmates had to be enormous. Men were appointed to their positions by their skill and experience. It had nothing to do with any piece of paper. It was not uncommon for a man in his mid-twenties to have been made captain. One of my two favourite nautical writers, Alan Villiers, (the other being Sterling Hayden) once served aboard the ‘James Craig’ when she plied her trade in the Tasman Sea. I’ve never laid eyes on her, but I feel I know her a little.
I truly believe that sail-training ships are one of the finest ways for young people to develop solid personal character as well as invaluable nautical experience. Sadly, Canada, with the longest navigable coastline of any nation, has only the lovely little old ketch ‘HMCS Oriole’ as our sail training vessel and flagship. Compared to Japan’s ‘Nippon Maru’ or the USCG ‘Eagle’ or Mexico’s ‘Cuauhtemoc’ it is rather embarrassing; eh?
Easter weekend has thundered up on us and the weather is grudgingly yielding to spring. Buds and leaves and flowers are emerging and this week I saw a huge flock of swans heading northward. Now there’s an example of real navigators. The dreary business of the US presidential pre-nuptuals wears on and on. As I write, the Ladysmith Volunteer Firehall has just sounded its general alarm once again. In minutes emergency vehicles wail off on their next mission of mercy and self-importance. (They love any opportunity to use their sirens.) Dogs around this little town howl in response to the sirens. Meanwhile, on the television, more horrific terrorist attacks in Europe have the media humming with speculations and innuendo. It’s clearly time to go swing my compass.
I’m starting to write this aboard ‘Seafire’ while moored at the Victoria Harbour Commission Wharf Street dock. Victoria was a very old queen and it is the Victoria Day holiday long weekend when we celebrate that long-lived monarch. There are also a few more old queens here in Victoria, English or not. (It’s up to you how you take that) So one excuse is as good as another to have a celebration. It’s a sunny Sunday with a lovely westerly breeze. Folks are out having a good time. Food concessions are booming, the squares are full of live music while vendors in white kiosks tempt the crowds with wonderful treasures. There is a happy din of buskers, marching bands and general mayhem. I’m sitting in the boat watching and hearing it all, feeling weary and waiting for guests.
I’ve been up since one o’clock this morning when I weighed anchor in Port Townsend. It seems that whenever I need to make this wonderful crossing, the best ebb tide to ride back home to Canada is in the wee hours. There wasn’t much wind, thankfully. When a Westerly blows against the tide in the Strait of Juan De Fuca a small boat is left bashing and swirling like a bug in a toilet. On the tugs we called it the Strait of “Wanna Puke Ya”. The strait is like an inland sea. It is huge. It drains the entire massive Strait of Georgia and all its tributaries, as well as Puget Sound and its mountain tributaries. Mixing with the infinity of the vast North Pacific, the tides swell back and forth twice a day.
The Southern side of the Strait is guarded by the imposing Olympic Mountains so-named, allegedly, by Juan De Fuca, a Greek pilot with the earliest Spanish Explorers. I’ve no way of knowing if the story is true but it always come to mind when I’m out there dodging freighters, nuclear submarines, fishing boats, tugboats, and miscellaneous other vessels from anywhere around the world. If rough seas and marine traffic don’t keep you awake, there are copious logs and other flotsam to go bump in the night. I try to imagine being in this cold, remorseless piece of ocean, with not one light ashore, where only the towering timber crowded down to the shore. Neither were there any lights to mark the reefs and banks and points waiting to snag the luckless or unwary. Was this possibly the fabled Northwest Passage, the express lane back to the other side of the planet? Was it the edge of the world? Imagine the imaginings while standing aboard a small wooden ship that was slowly being eaten by ship worms as you sailed into the unknown. You had no engine, no charts, no electronics. Only your intuitive seamanship kept you alive as you sailed into this uncharted realm. Eventually, amazingly, you found your way all the way back home to Europe again.
Last night I Listened to an Asian accent on my VHF radio calling repeatedly for Tofino Traffic Control on the frequency for Victoria Traffic. He insisted despite being advised several times of the correct radio channel to use. A small matter about a twenty-thousand ton or more freighter confused about places a hundred miles apart in the ‘Graveyard Of The Pacific’. (Perhaps the terror about foreign tankers invading our coastal inlets to export our crude oil is justified.) When I pulled into my berth here, the wharfinger expressed amazement at my ability to dock my boat alone. I, in turn, am amazed at his wonder. Is basic seamanship becoming worthy of mention? Mind you, the fabulous million-dollar Ocean Alexander power yacht tied ahead of me is registered to Bend, Oregon! Huh? That’s a very long way from the sea, nearly half-way to Kansas in fact. “Dorothy? Hello Dorothy!’ “Is that you Roger? Roger!”
Have you ever noticed how Bureaucrats love to move their, excuse me, our facilities and offices around. One of the great Canadian games has become trying to find a post office. No don’t go to the old post office building, it’s something else now. Victoria is a great example. It is quite unreasonable to expect a government office to be in the same place two years running. The new address is seldom in the newest phone book. On my way into the harbour I noticed a new dock in front of the Coast Hotel Marina. There was no legible sign saying CANADA CUSTOMS, only little grey signboards and a tiny phone box on a post in the middle of the dock. It looked suspiciously official so I swung the boat in for a closer look at the little signs. Sure enough!
I made fast and went to the phone box with ship’s documents and passport. I lifted the receiver. A recorded voice explained in French that if I wanted service in English to please press button one. There were no buttons! I imagined a burly Amurican son in the same situation. “Dang, these Canajians sure do parlé the old Espanol kinda funny!” Eventually a live Anglophone voice began asking who I was and where I was calling from. I explained in puzzlement that I was using the official telephone on the Canada Customs dock in front of the Coast Hotel. Eventually it occurred to me to add “In Victoria….BC…. Canada”. There was a pregnant pause, I assume while this person, in Ottawa or New Brunswick (Or Washington DC) in an underground office, confirmed there was such a place. I was promptly given a clearance number after a few more cursory questions. “Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”
I’m not complaining about the cavalier treatment. After all the searches and surly interrogations I’ve endured from both Canadian and US Customs and Immigration officials this was too easy. I at least expected a quiz about illegal bananas or swarthy terrorists lurking in my bilge. Nada. Nothing. Rien. Eh bien! I expect we’ll be having our taxes raised yet again.
By another stroke of luck I actually found fifty feet of empty dock space into which I could tie my forty-four feet of boat (Including her guns and appurtenances). So I did. After the wharfinger made it clear whom he felt was boss (The Victoria Harbour Commission has always made it clear ‘Zat you VILL occomodate Zem’ …. this despite being the first live folks you talk to in the biggest tourist town in Canada) but then went on to compliment me on my boat handling. I’ll forgive him his officiousness….this time. I suppose it IS normal to see boats crashing into other boats with a plenitude of shaking fists, waving boat hooks and high drama. My flat response is that I read about how to do it in a magazine. There’s no point in trying to explain about a lifetime at sea.
Do people compliment a flight crew on a successful landing? There are some things you’re expected to do right. Aren’t there?
Victoria was throbbing with the various activities of a long weekend as well as the wind-up for the Swiftsure race next weekend. This is a famous non-stop sailing race from Victoria out to Swiftsure Bank and back to the harbour. The race leaves one day, runs through the night and ends sometime the next day depending on wind and current, and the management thereof.
It has evolved into a huge international event and the preparlibations require a week’s head start. I had a great visit with my good friend Tony Gibb who with his partner Connie are visiting their old home port. Their boat is currently stored in Phuket for the monsoon season. Their adventures and photos are documented on their blog “Sage On Sail.” (There’s a direct link in the side bar of this blog)They have both been a tremendous inspiration to me and their blog provided the impetus for this one. Tony and I visited on the same dock where I last saw him and Connie. They threw a huge party with the carefully traditional ceremony of officially renaming their sailboat ‘Sage.’ That was three years ago. Already. I also had a lovely visit with my daughter and her friends and felt ready to deal with life for a few more days, especially after the flu ordeal. I’m almost feeling whole again.
This morning I’m lolling about in Montague Harbour, half-way home to Silva Bay from Victoria. I’m in no rush, I have to wait out a substantial ebb tide. There’s no point in trying to fight a tide when a bit of waiting will put you at the same place at the same time without burning a large amount of fuel. Sailing, in part, is about dealing with what you are handed. My work will be still be there when I get back. I’m listening to a wonderful radio station based on nearby Saltspring Island. It’s called CFSI Green FM and is one of the best music mixes I’ve heard. It is a commercial station, but even the ads are nicely done. And… it has no news broadcasts! Dead luvly! You can find it online by taping in Green FM.ca and I’m happy to make this plug.
By the way, what does the term” Sustaining member” bring to mind? This raunchy old salt immediately conjured up some very bawdy images. Yeah baby! It is actually what I heard NPR radio calling folks who donate funds. Sponsor, donor, patron are words now supplanted by “Sustaining member.” God bless the politically correct. Or as Billy Connolly says, “Bloody Beigeists!”
Speaking of politically correct, I conversed this past weekend with a brassy American woman who told me she hated Mexico because it was “Full of Mexicans.” I replied that I understood the US had the same problem. “ Huh?” she ruminated. “Well,” I said, “It’s full of Mexicans too. They do your dirty work!” Nope, no phone number from that one.
I’m now finishing this blog back in Silva Bay. The flu symptoms cling on but it’s time to go back to grubbing for some income. The weather is fine with a threat of rain and the latest spring flowers are putting on their show. The Arbutus trees are in full bloom and the air has a cloying tang as if someone got carried away with the bathroom air freshener. My sinus passages are quivering. I hope it does rain and scrub the air.
Old Lord Nelson once said that ships and men rot in port. After five days away from the dock I’ve been reacquainted with the reality of what this old boat is really about. That was long overdue. It’s meant to go places. She does that very well. The old prune barge is fast, stable, comfortable and easy to run and she’s paid for. She draws compliments from all who see her, even other seasoned mariners and land lubbers too. I’ve left her lines singled so we can cut loose again. Soon.
“ Inner Weight
A ship heels in wind and sails well because it has inner weight.
With inner weight, we yield to the way of things and move just-so in the winds of the world.
When inner weight has been found, trust its deep and constant balance.
From this centre that no one can explain, the difficult is made easy and adversity is mastered. But no one knows how.”