Too Much On The Shelf

Heckle and Jeckle " I say old chap!"
Heckle and Jeckle
” I say old chap!”

Good things are always worth sharing. Are you familiar with Ted Talks? They’re a series of interesting, informative and inspiring dissertations available to view online. You can Google them up or find them via You Tube, pick a speaker or a subject and then be prepared to be impressed. If nothing else, you have to admire the wonderful speaking ability of most of these folks. Now you know.

Summer comes
Summer comes

I recently watched one clip of a comedian named Ruby Wax who spoke about bipolar disorder in a wonderfully funny and enlightening way. One of the things she said was that in our culture, our pets are usually happier than we are. I think she’s right. It is certainly something to think about. We have lost the art of living in the moment. That’s what I like about travelling to “Less developed” countries. Those people seem far better equipped as spiritual beings who can indeed live in the moment and know how little is enough. While in conversation recently with an acquaintance, I heard him describe our way of life as having “Too much on the shelf.”

Considering our average shelf-life, there’s a lot going to waste.

Three times lucky. This cherry tree lives impossibly at the high water mark in solid rock In the previous two years it was repeatedly attacked by tent caterpillars. Yet is bears fruit.
Three times lucky. This cherry tree lives impossibly at the high water mark in solid rock.
In the previous two years it was repeatedly attacked by tent caterpillars. Yet it still bears fruit.
Cherry Tree on the beach
Cherry Tree on the beach

TODAY IS THE OLDEST YOU’VE EVER BEEN, YET THE YOUNGEST YOU’LL EVER BE, SO ENJOY THIS DAY WHILE IT LASTS.” That is a quote I extracted from an e-mail received recently. I don’t know who wrote it. I disagree with it slightly in that we do not even have today. We have this moment, that is all. In this moment of fumbling profundity let’s hope to find the magic of simply being.

A "Real" boat visits the marina. No plastic here.
A “Real” boat visits the marina.
No plastic here.

Last weekend saw the Silva Bay Marina hosting yet another fishing derby. I’ve had enough drishing and finking derbys and chose to visit the dock of the Ladysmith Maritime Society. It’s a wonderful new facility, built largely by communal volunteer labour. The docks are in great shape now and the main clubhouse is second to none. The food and the folks are all splendid. I created a bit of a fluster on arrival with the tide working against me. I was spinning the boat in a narrow channel into an available berth and would have been fine but there’s got to be one at every dock!

Wotcha mean dis is da wrong boat? Deck surgery on the Cheoy Lee continues.
Wotcha mean dis is da wrong boat?
Deck surgery on the Cheoy Lee continues.

I know people mean well and most want to help. I’m not complaining here, just explaining that a cardinal sin of basic nautical etiquette is to grab a boat and its lines without first asking if the skipper would like a hand. However, there is almost always a man (Yes a man) who seizes the moment to try and prove they are somehow superior by presuming the right to take command of an arriving boat.

Suddenly there was a merry gang on the dock reaching for cap rails, stanchions and lines while one dude began shouting orders. I asked calmly to please let me dock the boat alone, but testosterone-laced taunts were hurled back at me as ‘Seafire’ was twisted in by hand against the boat moored aft of me. “See! Ya DON’T know how to handle your boat!” I recall calling him “Sweetheart” at that moment but what’s the point in instigating fisticuffs? There was no harm done and it is kind of funny but dammit, why can’t folks understand this? Unsolicited advice and assistance are inevitably a signal of inexperience. It is not really what you need when trying to finesse your baby in to kiss the dock. Do these same people lurk in parking lots waiting to help nudge and tug vehicles into their slots? There’s a Gary Larson cartoon I think.

The next morning I investigated odd noises at the back on my boat. An older fellow from the boat tied behind me had a strange home-made plywood device he was using to poke at my stern lines. When confronted he explained that he was leaving in “45 minutes” and wanted to shorten my stern line to draw my boat in as closely as possible to the dock. This would give him more clearance for his scheduled departure. He had a small enough boat and why he needed more manoeuvring room is really not a puzzle. Another cardinal rule is to leave another vessel’s lines alone unless there is an obvious danger. I was flabbergasted. This guy actually complained that my mooring lines were tied, as usual, in what he called a “Lock knot” so he could not untie them. I replied, “YES”.

Mast steps complete. Nowhere to go but down.
Mast steps complete.
Nowhere to go but down.

I double the bitter end of my lines back aboard after passing them through the eye of my dock hitch so that no-one on the dock can mess with my lines. It’s a very easy hitch to undo but there is no way it can “Untie itself.” I’ve actually seen boats cast off in the middle of the night as some sort of bizarre joke. I explained to this old son that you can’t tighten lines on one end of a boat without first loosening them on the other end. He returned to his boat muttering and shaking his head. I wonder which yachting magazines he uses for reference. As it turned out, the boat moored behind him left in ten minutes and so provided loads of room, even for this guy to do his thing, which as it turned out, had him departing with his shore power cord still attached to the dock receptacle. Have a nice day! Think of his poor wife.

My 'Lock Knot' Note the fray moved into the center
My ‘Lock Knot’
Note the fray moved into the center

Later in the morning, the neighbour ahead of me came to complain about the tiny Purple Martins leaving their droppings on her boat. Incredulous, I explained that the lovely, rare little birds were one of the star attractions of the marina, drawn in part by the numerous bird houses built for them. Each pellet of their droppings represents a large number of mosquitoes consumed. I told her to come back later in the season when boats are targeted with blackberry-tinted bird bomblets. Fibreglass gel coat readily absorbs the blue stains. “Well so long as they leave my boat alone” she declared. Life and shit happen. What has happened to our perspectives and sense of entitlement so that the miracle of life encroaches on our personal agenda? People! I did manage to finish installing my mast steps at this dock and, wonderfully, no-one wanted to chat while I was up there. All’s well that ends. After the morning variety show I enjoyed a fabulous barbequed oyster sandwich which alone made the visit worthwhile and reason enough to return.

Wrecker's Beach A Dogpatch scene
Wrecker’s Beach
A Dogpatch scene

Next door to the Ladysmith Maritime Society is a part of the bay known as “Dogpatch.” This is an enigmatic community of characters who, for many reasons, have chosen to live a very alternate lifestyle. Poverty is clearly a common denominator and the boats which are their homes can mostly be described as derelict. Few of these people appear to have much nautical sensibility and have chosen this lifestyle as a cheap way to live. When the boats become too difficult to keep afloat they are abandoned to sink or be scuttled on the beach and sometimes set alight. Someone else can clean up the mess. Last fall, the Municipality paid to remove a large, rotten, wooden barge abandoned on the beach. Now, several more junked boats litter the old coal beach. Three are are of significant size. One large old fish boat has been partially burned. Pretty, even in death, these abandoned hulks will cost the community another sizable sum to be removed. Dogpatch Bay is an elephant’s graveyard.

Scenic Downtown Dogpatch aka the Black Beach, once a coal-loading terminal
Scenic Downtown Dogpatch
aka the Black Beach, once a coal-loading terminal

The price of freedom is responsibility. Unfortunately the ones enjoying the freedom are not shouldering their responsibility. They do seem to enjoy flaunting their imposition. Still there is a romantic charm about it all and I think most of us harbour a certain jealousy about an apparently carefree lifestyle. (“Footloose and fancy-free” my mother used to say.) The community targets a group of people they can love to hate and direct all blame, just like the ubiquitous gypsies, and we can all be reminded of how close to the wire we all live. Maybe that’s what frightens us. I’ve always tried to live on my boat as discreetly and non-obtrusively as possible but on occasion my existence as riff-raff is made clear by some self-righteous landlubber. Coincidentally here in Silva Bay, three nights ago, an ancient and decrepit wooden trawler appeared at the prime dock in the middle of the night.

What the derelict boat fairy left at our dock
What the derelict boat fairy left at our dock

Dawn’s early light made it obvious that the poor old girl has been abandoned here. Anything of value had been stripped, including the steering wheel although it had apparently steamed to the dock on it’s own. Obviously full of rot and clearly a sinker here it is, abandoned in our patch The marina operators are flummoxed about what to do. They are losing revenue from the invaded dock space. If they move the hulk into a smaller slip, and it sinks, there will be a very expensive environmental disaster. Canada Coastguard was here yesterday but reluctant to actually do anything other than shuffle papers. They are bound by edicts from Ottawa. Whoever touches the old boat will be liable. What a sad end for a once noble working vessel!

Character boat for sale Regularly inspected
Character boat for sale
Regularly inspected

It’s rainy this morning and I rather feel like that old boat looks. I do hope that I’m not turning a hideous green colour, a sure sign on imminent demise. My friends, Rodger and Ali have arrived with Betty Mc in San Diego and are preparing to head north for this year’s Arctic adventure. My buddy Jim has now dropped the hook in Fatu Iva in the Marquesas. We are now officially into summer, the year is half-done already. I’m still here waiting on the rain and for my fortunes to change. The dream flickers on.

A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind. Live passionately, even if it kills you, because something is going to kill you anyway.”

…Webb Chiles, Sailor.

By Comparison, another wooden boat
By Comparison,
another wooden boat
Into the sunset
Into the sunset
Why the birds flew
Why the birds flew


Jack's nemesis.
Jack’s nemesis.

It is another glorious late spring morning. New spider webs stream and sparkle in a rising Westerly wind. A small fleet of sport fishing boats has appeared at the docks, probably driven in by the wind. There’ll be a gang of frustrated fellows wandering the docks with drinks in hand. Testosterone and booze make a bad mix. The day will wear on. The fish stories will get bigger as the tide in the bottles falls.

That's me in the corner...from where the bloggings flow. Seafire is on the left with the inflatable dinghy hanging from aft davits. My DeHavilland alrm clock is moored on the other side of the fuel shack
That’s me in the corner…from where the bloggings flow.
Seafire is on the left with the inflatable dinghy hanging from aft davits. My DeHavilland alarm clock is moored on the other side of the fuel shack

It was my birthday two days ago, absolutely not noteworthy to anyone but me. There’ll be no long weekends held in my honour. Such is life when you’re not a queen, not even an old one.

I spent the day working and trying not to mention the date to anyone. Being sixty-something is nothing to celebrate. It is not something I’ve put any effort into. But by the evening I was sequestered away here on the boat feeling rather sorry for myself. I feasted on corn chips, hot salsa and cheese followed with a brick of marbled halva. This was all washed down with copious amounts of very good scotch. At least I celebrated with a healthy, balanced diet. Well, scotch is organic! No gluten I’m aware of; just one glutton. By the way, what ever happen to trans-fats, the poison of popular paranoia last year? Next day some dear friends, Bob and Deb, had learned my secret, baked me a cake, made a lovely gift (A bouquet of fresh herbs) and bought me a card. I went over to help them with a project and was greeted with a cake with candles and the B-day song. It was all quite touching. The warm and fuzzy feeling lingers. Thanks guys.

Jack discovers yet another little boat
Jack discovers yet another little boat

There is another warmth and fuzziness in my life at the moment. Fibreglass! The 1966 Cheoy Lee Frisco Flyer I’ve been working on for the past year needs new decks. There are, as Steinbeck said “Boats built to sail and boats built to sell”. This is a great sailing boat, well built for sailing offshore and very pretty. It was built in an era when yacht building techniques were transitioning from wood to fibreglass. Solid plank decks were once the way things were done on boats. On yachts the ultimate wood of choice is teak. The bare teak is pretty and an excellent traction surface and of course can be a sign, or often facade, of quality. Most teak decks are a composite sandwich of wood between two skins of fibreglass. The teak is then set on top of that strata in a poly sulfide bedding compound and attached with the copious use of screws which pierce the upper layer of fibreglass and set in the wood core. It is a recipe for self-destruction as each screw hole will eventually allow water to seep into the core and then the rot sets in. This darned thing is only forty-eight years old and needs rebuilding!

The Deck job.
The Deck job.

The first step is to saw, chisel and grind the old rotten decks away. All the while, I must be careful not to compromise the inner skin. It is the foundation for the new deck. That will be made from new layers of fibreglass matting and roving, a foam board core, more roving and matting on top, then a coat of gel coat and finally paint. Then all the fittings need to be cleaned, polished and reinstalled. Sounds easy right! First I have to remove the deck fittings which involves unfastening or breaking each rusted nut and bolt. That means for every fastening a weird dance of clambering above and below to attach wrenches to each nut. Sometimes the wrenches leap overboard, sometimes they slip and fall off below. One becomes adept with a magnet on a string. Once that masochism is complete, the deck needs to be supported with props and beams from beneath to keep its shape and prevent a stout lad like me from falling through. I won’t try to describe the incessant itching as minute glass fibre slivers work their way into your skin. Then there will be the overpowering tang of the liquid resin. For a change of misery try a fibreglass under a finger nail. It’s the romance of the sea Billy! Who but old sea farts like me have the patience to see this horrible job through. Arrrrgh! Nought’s forever! It just feels like it.

Bee Happy! you knew I was going to sneak a flower photo in. Right?
Bee Happy! You knew I was going to sneak a flower photo in. Right?

Meanwhile an email arrives to announce that my buddy Jim Poirier and his daughter Karmen are now anchored in French Polynesia. They are in a bay at Rikitea on Mangareva Island in the Gambier Group. This is a group of islands, islets and reefs surrounded by a huge, almost square atoll. It is certainly worth looking up on Google Earth. So Jimmy, you’ve no reason to be thinking of me (But thanks for the e-mails!) I’ll have my mind on other places like that as I endure the sweaty itches and noxious fumes of my penance on deck. Another acquaintance is off to visit friends in Wales for a few weeks. Tony and Connie will now be in the south of France and I keep thinking of Rodger and Ali who are somewhere, by now, far south down the coast on ‘Betty Mc’ on their way to leave that boat in San Diego for the summer. Then they’ll fly to Inuvik to their other boat where they’ll work a course eastward, as ice permits, in the Northwest Passage. It’s not just my job that is leaving me with an itch.

This morning we had a new visitor. A sea lion was hauled out on our docks for the first time that anyone here can remember. I managed to grab a photo a nano-second before Jack attacked. He actually nipped it on the backside! It is amazing how nearly a half-ton of blubbery creature can levitate and plunge into the sea so quickly. What incredible strength! I always marvel at the power of these beasts. They have a generally gentle nature but also are quite territorial and stubborn if they lay claim to a specific spot; especially if they have the strength of numbers. Jack is a dauntless little dog with an indelible memory. He has encountered sea lions in Oregon and wisely respected their numbers. Perhaps he saw this as an opportunity for a one on one encounter. The math about a forty-pound dog against an eight-hundred pound sea lion clearly eluded him. The beast apparently returned to the dock once my little black monster moved on. I shall always remember a boy’s remark after I’d shown his family a large heard of the noisy smelly creatures. “Sure glad they can’t fly!” Close your eyes and imagine. Pigeons and gulls pale in comparison!

Cheating on Jack! Playing stick with Olive, a buddie's lovely friend.
Cheating on Jack! Playing stick with Olive, a buddie’s lovely friend. Photo by Bob Wyche



Then and now. A gorgeous 26' 1955 Chris Craft posed beside a contemporary yacht, How much is enough?
Then and now.
A gorgeous 26′ 1955 Chris Craft, once an ultimate yacht,  posed beside a contemporary yacht. How much is enough?

On the subject of bad smells, my deck job is certainly drawing a lot of interest every time I open a container of fibreglass resin. It is an indelible aroma that instantly grabs you by the throat, from inside. No matter which way the wind is blowing, folks come from all directions to complain. They have a wonderful sense of timing, arriving just when I’m up to my elbows in the goop which is hardening as I apply it. It is not the best time for an amiable conversation. I try to gently explain it’s just another smell of the sea and point out that I’m at ground zero. I AM aware of the funk and absolutely hate anything to do with fibre glassing. I’m not doing this job because I like it. In fact, I’ve been around this stuff so much that I actually can’t smell it when I’m bent over an open pot of resin. That’s scary! The only good part of working with fibreglass comes when the work is all done. “Now bugger off!”

This blog is now running through the second weekend in June. We locals are enduring another annual fishing derby; or should I say drinking derby. Some of these folks drink into the wee hours and are not able to get up at first light and go fishing. As the day evolves, the wind rises and soon it’s too rough to leave the dock, especially hung-over. The drinking begins again. It is amazing how folk’s sense of entitlement rises with the amount of booze consumed. The docks become clogged with drunks lolling in deck chairs who had no regard for letting other people pass. I passed, several times with my gear and supplies, enough said. By 04:00 the ruckus was dying down. At 05:00 the first boat headed out fishing after idling next to my bow, and bunk, for a very long time.

Six steps from the top. Installing mast steps on 'Seafire'.
Six steps from the top. Installing mast steps on ‘Seafire’.

By 08:00 it was again too windy to head out on the heaving seas. (Yes, a pun!) By 11:00 the deck chairs were again occupied and the bottles were out. Apparently the wharfinger’s office was inundated with folks looking for Tylenol. Of course old grumpy hisself was slathering the fibreglass resin liberally, the wind was blowing across the marina. Haaar! Take that you louts! Any more bother tonight and I’ll call in the Waltzing Wazulas Naked Pagan Lady Mariachi Klezmer Brass Band to parade the docks at first light. I’ll bring up the rear with a tuba.

They're gone now...till next spring
They’re gone now…till next spring

Then again, I have a lovely recording of Gregorian chanting. Hmmm, set the Cd player on repeat and full volume on the cockpit speakers. Then I could go ashore to sleep in my trailer. Vindictive thoughts may cross my mind but I really do pity people who have to punish themselves to escape the desperation of their daily lives. Too bad they have to impose it on everyone else. They’ll take their agonies back home with them tomorrow and spend the next week telling people about how much fun they had. Some will even have a dead fish to show for their investment. I’ll be able to again shlock and grind my fibreglass in peace. I can also go back up my mast to install a few more steps without someone wanting to chat.

Entrance to the magic garden. a local property.
Entrance to the magic garden. A local property.

Writing that had me recall the night I walked into the Silva Bay Restaurant and greeted one of the servers. I told her how seeing her, “Made my day.” With a straight face she replied, “Oh Fred, that’s so sad!” God bless everyone with a sense of humour.

(By the way, just so you know, I have a friend who has a sweet original, classic Davidson D9 sailing dinghy. It’s for sale with all the sailing and rowing gear. The asking price of $850. is less than quarter that of new clones of this famous sailing skiff/rowing boat. It’s a grand accolade when someone begins to make reproductions.)

Splendour In The grass. My pal Jack.
Splendour In The Grass.
My pal Jack.

Another Sunday morning dawns with a high thickening overcast and a pale sun shining through it. A few boats head out to the killing grounds and the rest of the mob are too hung-under to give a toss. Well, they may have to toss once or twice yet. It’s peaceful. There is a gleaming plastic castle afloat moored across from me. It blocks my view of half the world and I want to rename it ‘Sound Barrier’. The boat hasn’t moved in days and all I’ve seen is one older fellow who appears on deck from time to time. It’s none of my business but still I ponder about boats and wealth and how people go about things. I’d love some fresh perspectives.

Waterfront home Narrow beach, good moorage. "Dunno, he went down to the boat a few minutes ago!"
Waterfront home.
Narrow beach, good moorage.
“Dunno, he went down to the boat a few minutes ago!”

In the evening, as I returned to my boat at dusk, a small drama unfolded. Some die-hard fishermen were cleaning their catch over the side of the dock. There was a sudden loud squeal of indignant panic and fear. A Seal had ambushed a lovely Chinook the fisherman had and the tug-o-war was on. The seal lost but it did my heart good to see nature fighting back.

Now on Monday morning, the wind is roaring. Despite a forecast for rain, there is not a cloud in the sky. One lay-up of fibreglass is drying and as I finish this blog the wind gusts to gale force. The Beaver float plane just left with another load for Vancouver. It’ll be white knuckles and loaded sick sacks today. Meanwhile a gorgeous cold-moulded wooden ketch has appeared at our dock. Nothing pretentious here, just an obvious love of the sea, sailing and the shape of boats. Her teak decks are properly done with an absence of mechanical fastenings. All teak plates appear to be simply and firmly bonded without any damnable screws.

A proper teak deck. More perfection aboard 'Wildwood II'
A proper teak deck. More perfection aboard ‘Wildwood II’
Someone's gorgeous woodworking project.
Someone’s gorgeous woodworking project.

I’ve no witty remarks with which to end this blog. There is only so much you can write about fibre glassing and other folk’s fishing and drinking or is that dishing and frinking? The voyaging dream is very much alive even as the days thunder by and sooner in, sooner out, sooner done. Back I go for more. Then there’ll be some sailing to be done.


Men in a ship are usually looking up and men ashore are usually looking down.”

…John Masefield