Ride The Tide

Ride The Tide

( When I posted the last blog, the cyber gods decided to reformat it while whizzing out through the sky from Port Hardy. All the content is there, it was just reorganized. I decided not to tear it apart and put it back together again my way. If an idea has been reinforced for me at Shearwater it is that when something works, don’t mess with it.)

Seine Boat Sunday Morning, Port Hardy

We left God’s Pocket with a forecast of gale force winds to help blow us homeward. That kept the sport fishing boats in the lee of the northwest point of Hardy Bay. As usual they tacked and swerved and wandered unpredictably with little sense of seamanship or right of way. We picked our way through the mob and set a course into the harbour of Port Hardy. I was standing on the starboard locker of the cockpit leaning up over the aft cabin bulkhead to keep a good lookout for more fishing boats. I woke up with the gentle swishing, crunching noise of clam shells and mud under the keel. Yep, goddamnit! Even old salts do it and a big finger to any armchair admiral who wants to say something sarcastic. At least I’ve admitted it and there was no damage done except to my pride. That, of course, was due entirely to luck and no good management.

Now to properly run aground you must do it in broad daylight, on the wrong side of a light, in the middle of a harbour you know well; and of course, on a falling tide. So I screwed that up too. It was a rising tide. We floated off and backed away as gently as we had arrived. I can tell you how hard it is to steer when you are my weight but only three inches tall! It’s healthy to laugh at yourself and it’s good to be reminded of how easy it is to screw up. For once I got off easy. No drama at all! Many marine incidents occur because somebody fell asleep at the helm. Yes, you can take that as a metaphor.

Mornin’ Big Daddy! Waking up and looking out found this monster bow looming over us. It arrived quietly in the night. “Spare a cup of sugar?”
Alert Bay, the old shipyard. Note the totem poles in the background.
“Could you show us your regulation stern light?”
Traffic in Blackney Sound. In the morning we were in Port Harvey, the ‘Crystal Serenity’ was in Vancouver.
The dreamer. At the top of Johnstone Strait and heading north. Safely out of the way before the cruise ship came around the corner.
Whale Watcher’s shack. High on a bluff across from Robson Bight, university students have spent their summers here for decades studying Orca whales.

The gale warning was still up next day. We headed south in the late morning and arrived in Port Harvey, well down Johnstone Strait, in seven hours. That’s an excellent passage of fifty miles, our ground speed topped over ten knots at times. Then while dropping the anchor, the entire windlass electrical system quit. . , out went the chain, with only old Armstrong hisself to hoy it back aboard. A puzzler to troubleshoot, I slept on it. There was power in all the right places, but not enough to turn the windlass motor. Eventually I found a bad connection that had heated enough to melt some plastic which in turn rendered the continuity too low to work. My incentive was that 150′ of chain, plus a forty-five pound anchor to be humped back aboard by hand. The problem with repairing your own boat is that there’s nobody else to blame and no-one else to do it for you. Self-sufficiency, I say it again, is the mantra of a successful mariner.

Native pictographs in Port Harvey. I see five canoes, but maybe it’s the place of many smiles.
Downtown Port Neville. Here are three visiting boats taking up the space for six. Yep, I pointed it out to the owners. I know; there are several names for guys like me.
The old Port Neville store
I sneaked a peek through a dirty old window. The sight took me back to my childhood when the farmhouse kitchen was where folks visited. I could smell wood smoke, spilled milk, fresh baking and coffee.
Clever corners. The logs are square-hewn with a broad axe, the dove tail corners are cut so that all angles shed water.
The old homestead
A gate swinging in the wind. Imagine what it has known.
The oil shed. A relic of days gone forever.
Early morning walks in the dark and driving rain form the house to the barn. A recent carved sign by the barn door says “Man Cave”

After repairs in the morning, we travelled the short distance down Johnstone Strait to Port Neville. The wind forecast was correct. It blew like hell and the tide runs furiously there. I was plenty happy to have a fully functional windlass and let out as much chain as I wanted. There is a long inlet behind the famous old store and docks. It would be worth taking a few days to explore. There are some great petroglyphs in the area which will take some time to find and so I will return. It’s fun to discover the wonders of a place which you’ve been passing and ignoring for over thirty years.

The old swimmin’ hole
This backwater warms up nicely as the tide floods in on a summer afternoon. You could almost hear children laughing.
Now you’re logging! A raft, a gas motor, a two-drum winch, some cable, an axe, a saw and a jack makes a full one-man logging company. Men were men back then, and some lived to talk about it!
Gears, slightly used. It’s been a long time since these gears were cast and cut in England.
The water rushing by. Tidal stream beneath the dinghy where it’s lashed alongside ‘Seafire.’
A midden. This monstrous terraced pile of clam shells inspires me to go back to Port Neville and spend time poking around. Middens are sites where native disposed of their garage, mostly clam shells. Imagine what else must be in there!
How old?

Today we travelled from Port Neville, left Johnstone Strait and managed to transit five sets of notorious rapids. Yes five. Employing some old tug-boaters tricks we transitted The Wellbore Rapids, Greene Point, Dent, Gillard and finally the Yuculta Rapids. Now we are a few miles from the northern portion of Georgia Strait which is home waters. I want to stretch this voyage as long as possible. I’ve made the entire jaunt previously in seven days. On this trip, today is our eleventh and I’d as soon stay out for the entire month. We’ll wander southward and see where we end up. There’s always a chance of getting lost in a fog.

There is nothing so uplifting as a visit from dolphins. How wonderful it must be to swim like that.
The wave-off.
Humpback whales perfecting their routine.
West coast sailing, you never know what’s coming next.
Bye, bye y’all.
“Whales? Wot whales?
Oh just Humpbacks, no Orcas, no worries.”
More pictographs, the Gorge, Cortes Island.
The ‘Romano’
A tired old North Sea side trawler and…someone’s tired old dream
Another lost dream, but… she’s still afloat.

We found a tiny ledge to set the anchor on the edge of Whiterock Passage. In the morning we headed south again and were soontreated to the fabulous display of two humpback whales at play,,,or whatever it is they’re doing when they leap out of the water and crash down in an explosive, booming welter of spray. It is always an incredible sight even when too far away to photograph but we got close enough for a fine round of fluke waving. We stopped in Whaletown on Cortes Island, then toured the gorge in Gorge harbour and finally anchored for the night by the docks at beautiful Mansons Landing on Cortes. I’ve been aching for years to photograph a petroglyph a ways down the beach from here so off I scooted in the dinghy knowing full well I’d never it. By an incredible stroke of luck the sun broke through the overcast just as I looked up at this particular boulder and there it was! Shadows revealed the etching in the boulder which is monstrous, about 4 metres long, the carving was made as high as a man can reach. What I find stunning is that the rock is solid blue granite, the kind of incredibly hard rock with sparkly bits of glinting mica. However did they do it? What tools did they use and how long would it have taken? I’m guessing it is a talisman to summon spawning salmon but what does this white man know? We also discovered that Cortes Island has it’s own co-op radio station which plays some fabulous music in the afternoons and evenings. KPLZ 89.5 or online as Cortes Radio.ca from Cortes Island, “Where everybody has something to hide.” You’ve got to love that!

Whaletown Cortes Island
Post Office
Whaletown Library
The Kirk
Whaletown Harbour
Jill shots the photographer
Twin-engine double-ama dinghy. I know better than to laugh, it’s probably been to Hawaii and back.
Manson’s Landing Jetty.
A scene from days past, a boat on a grid, a telephone booth.
It actually works!
Manson’s shellfish lagoon at low tide.
They’re safe to eat!
The stile, lagoon, Manson’s Landing
A cultural beach marker,
Cortes Island.
A work of love. The top of the fish is a high as I could reach to work. I’ve been wanting find this one for over twenty-five years,

The following morning brought light winds, then a breeze right on the nose, but we motor-sailed the long grind down to Jedediah Island. This place, for me, is the centre of my universe. I spent two years helping to fight to save this fabulous island as a natural park from the provincial brownshirts. We won, and the island retains it’s magic and wildness, but that’s another story. If, when the time comes, there’s enough of me left to burn, I want my ashes spread from from Gibraltar Rock, the peak of Jedediah.

Sabine Channel, southbound. Texada Island on the port side, as big as some countries.
Jill in the fields of Jedediah once again
Find the deer.
Will’s Grave
Gone 14 years, he’s still honoured.
Run! It’s another one. Feral sheep in the old orchard on Jedediah.
Apple Bandit. I used to feed these apples to Will.
Never Give Up.
This old Juniper still clings to life on the edge of Home Bay, Jedediah

Friday morning dawns clear, calm and perfect. I don’t want to leave this place but another life calls, or should I say, demands. It has been two weeks since we flew to Vancouver to begin this tiny odyssey. Of course, it seems like two days. We drop the hook in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay a few hours later. On Saturday, the fifteenth, we arrive at the Maritime Society docks and are greeted by old friends with hugs and welcomes. So ends a chapter of my life spent aboard Seafire. I sit dozing in my easy chair listening to the sirens and Harleys Davidsons buzzing along the highway. How will the next chapter go?

Shack Island, Nanaimo.
These were subsistence homes built during the depression of the 1930s. Passed down through generations they are a cherished local landmark.
Some newcomers want the old homes torn down,. They say they are an ‘Eyesore’ and want them gone. Hmmmm. Tear what down?
That’s us in the middle.
A view from a friend’s home on Departure Bay, Nanaimo.
Sirens, ferry horns, motorcycles. Let’s just check the mail and…
A thousand words.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Author: Fred Bailey

Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor / writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer. He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs. His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lives aboard 'Seafire' the boat he is refitting to go voyaging, exploring new horizons both inner and outer. This blog is about that voyage and the preparations for it. In spite of the odds against it, the plan is to sail away this fall and lay a course southward. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey. Namaste Contact him at svpaxboat@gmail.com

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