Some times when I’m poking around YouTube I stumble onto something special. I came across a performance on America’s Got Talent which is a live audition of selected acts. What I saw was a woman named Jane Marczewski aka Nightbirde. She was skinny as a rake and incredibly beautiful, even seeming to possess an aura. She sang a song she had written called ‘It’s OK’ and brought the house down as they say. She was fighting terminal cancer and she said some amazing things. “I’ve got a two percent chance of survival but that’s a lot more than zero.”
She also said “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore until you decide to be happy.” Wow! Isn’t that warm and fuzzy? Jane has since passed away after inspiring millions. Her appearance has inspired so many other lives. It got me thinking. Head happy or heart happy? It is indeed a mighty challenge to make yourself feel happy by choice but to be happy is very different. I cannot even define that very well. I suppose it has to do with living within a sense of well-being no matter what happens to you or those around you. Then I thought further and wondered if folks like Mr Putin have inner peace. Suddenly I was exploring madness. Religions offer a promise of that, for a price, and a lot of folks have written books and make speeches about living in a state of divine nirvana. I once heard a therapist describe clients who all wanted to be happy and his perspective was that it can be achieved when one gives up expectations of bliss. Who ever told us we deserved to be constantly happy. There’s a headful!
Perhaps simply being content in the moment, at peace with a current reality, knowing that nothing is forever and that all things pass, both the good and the other. For years, on the bulkheads of each of my various boats, I installed a framed black and white photo of a storm-wracked rocky beach. I had written on it “A storm always ends, enjoy it while it lasts.” Good advice if only I would pay attention.
One of my excuses for being tardy with my blogging is that I’ve been busy re-editing my second novel. I pushed it to the back of the shelf many years ago, having given up on the notion of ever getting published. This has been an especially tough year for me, emotionally it has been an all-time low, where I have often found myself simply staring at the wall. I decided that I had to do something to affirm my existence, perhaps find my “inner peace,” and so I began the odious task of correction and punctuation of every jot and tittle. Hey, it’s a pretty darned good read! Oddly, it is set here on the coast of the Pacific Northwest and is about an austere loner who can’t exist away from the sea. I don’t know what to do with it when I’m finished but the affirmation is wonderful. The sea and being on it is my passion and reason to be. No amount of denial can change that.
When I stepped off of my beloved ‘Seafire’ I wrote that if owning “stuff” defined who I was, then I was better off without it. Well, for me life is awfully dry without a boat. Most of my friends were seadogs as well, and so we have drifted apart. A boat is a tool to live my life where I do feel content and whole and somehow I must get back there. It is who I am.
My old truck, camper and trailer will continue to be part of my life and remain part of my plan. One of the intentions of the recent trip where I took my rig along some very rugged logging roads was that it would be a true “shakedown” trip. Anything that was going to fail, has. Guess what I’m up to these days. I’ve been sorting out the wiring for the lights and brakes. Nothing can humiliate a man quite as well. The builder of this trailer hired someone right off the farm. Wire colours meant nothing to them, nor did sharp corners. Twisting wire ends together, soldering them and wrapping them in tape seemed to be their protocol, unless…someone else down on a farm has since had a go. No worries, now I know what I’ve got. To add to the challenge my strata council has forbidden me to do repairs in any of our parking and storage areas so I’m sneaking around in public places to find an obscure corner to go tinker. Damn! I miss my boat.
“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
A friend, recently arrived in San Carlos Mexico, sent me a photo. He thought it was an interesting co-incidence that he’d found a boat named ‘Seafire.’ It was in fact, my old boat!
Here’s the rest of the story. When I arrived on Vancouver Island, I had a tiny trailerable sailboat called a Northwest 21. It was poorly built, not particularly pretty and certainly not intended for rugged upcoast sailing. Guess who sailed it to the top of Vancouver Island in March. Yep! “Smart as he looks.” This coast is still definitely in winter at that time of year but can switch back and forth between seasons in minutes. As spring comes sniffing around there are some huge battles between the elements of wind, rain, snow and very troubled waters where the massive North Pacific gyre collides with the mountainous coast of British Columbia.
That little boat was never intended for voyaging; anywhere. It had no insulation inside the thin, sweating fibreglass hull, no real heat, no cook stove, had only squatting head room and little sensibility aboard. Driven as I was I spent my days cold, wet and even terrified bashing slowly northward. I had a small propane catalytic heater which produced more water vapour than warmth. There was a tiny one-burner propane camp stove and I ate generally tepid, half-raw, half-burned muck. My nights, (long and dark) anchored in some black bubbling backwater were spent huddled in damp bedding wondering what the hell I was doing. Yet I was driven to get out on the ocean and so I ventured onward.
Late one soggy afternoon, (I think it was in Potts Lagoon) a couple on another boat took pity and invited me over for dinner. They were young newlyweds on their way to Alaska to skipper tour boats for the summer. They were then planning to cruise down to the Marquesas at the end of their work season. Their vessel was a gorgeous and immaculate wooden 38’ Atkin ketch. My life was forever changed when I went below into the soothing warm ambience of their Dickinsen diesel stove. I can still remember the inspiration of their mutual dreams and the encompassing sense of well-being aboard that cozy boat. The vessel’s name was ‘Seafire.’ I returned to the dank chill of my own little pisspot later that night transformed with a new awareness of who I was and what I wanted to do. Suddenly I understood the magic of the coastal labyrinth where I trespassed. I was not the only character playing with my needle out of the groove. The coastal back waters were loaded with the likes of we.
I learned the following year that on their southward trek that fall, the crew of ‘Seafire’ had allegedly been attacked and sunk by Orca whales somewhere to the west of Panama. The crew had survived but I heard no more of them. The memory of those few hours spent aboard with them is indelible. Almost forty years later I am still infused with their inspiration. I became familiar with, and fell in love with, a sailboat design known as a ‘True North 34.’ Ones built in Asia were known as ‘Noon Oceans.’ They were a Stan Huntingford design, a traditional heavy displacement boat intended for long passages. Their bigger brother was known as a ‘Rafiki 37’ Many folks mistook the True North as a Westsail 32,’ a standard of offshore cruising boats for decades.
The boat I bought was hull #1 out of the mold at Tradewind Yachts in North Vancouver. It had been the home for seventeen years to a fine fellow named Frank Poirier who was the caretaker at Malibu Lodge. That was far up Jervis Inlet, located on a neck of land beside a tidal rapids which one transits at slack water to enter Princess Louisa inlet. The lodge was built by a man named Hamilton. To this day a totem pole stands there and on its base is carved a three-bladed aircraft propeller. Hamilton was the inventor of the constant speed aircraft propeller and his timing coincided with the beginning of WWII. He made a fortune and built a retreat for the rich and famous. There’s the rest of the story. Frank had finished building the boat himself and his work was “rustic” but the boat held a certain charm in part due to the hundreds of books which filled its shelves and of course it had a Dickinsen oil stove with its wonderful cozy heat. The trip to pick up the vessel and bring it home was unforgettable. My brother came with me. We had been separated for over twenty years. The journey was a great way to bond and all these years later we still talk about it.
I ripped and tore and rebuilt that boat in a manic surge that went on for years. The name was changed from ‘Sunward II’ to ‘Seafire’ in honour of my inspiration of that young couple. Getting the vessel to Mexico was my ambition but alas it was not to be. My wife and I chartered her, hosting guests from Europe. I reluctantly decided to sell and build a bigger vessel more suited to chartering and living aboard. The plan was to have a boat that could earn her way as she travelled.
The years hurtled past. Plans and fortunes changed. Several boats later I’d found an ideal motor sailor to take from the West coast to the Baltic and on through Europe. Once again I embarked on an odyssey of refitting another boat. One of the first steps was to remove the vessel from US registry and re-document her as a Canadian vessel, home port Victoria. When I walked into the Transport Canada office in Victoria I was greeted as “Mr. Seafire.” They had come to recognize me from all the different boats I’d owned. I was told that my timing was co-incidental. One of the names available, because a routine registration renewal document had not been filed was, believe it or not, ‘Seafire.’ The boat had gone to Mexico and vanished.
It seemed, to me, like an omen and so the name ‘Seafire’ sailed again. That boat was my home for several years and our adventures up and down this coast are many. Then in bitter regret I had to sell her, my finances had crumbled and I had no choice. The day I last stepped off her decks, it seemed my life had ended. It still does. A friend has told me “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around.” Perhaps a high spring tide will yet float me free of the reef where I find myself stranded. I can tell you that life is mighty dry without a boat. I can also tell you that the old mantra about “Go simple, go now” is struth indeed. This moment is all we’ve got and what we regret most is what we don’t do. Just do it.
I know that if I found a rewind button for my life I’d make a whole new set of mistakes, but if I retained any knowledge from this life it would be an acute awareness of the “NOW” factor. All I can hope, is that even in its tiny way, and things ‘Seafire’ whisk through my being, it is indeed another omen of good things ahead. Have I come full circle? Perhaps, somehow, this blog will again be known as the ‘Seafire Chronicles’… part three.
A photo of my second ‘Seafire’ is in the right hand sidebar.
“One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach
I am an autodidact. The trouble is that I never payed attention in class. I did well enough in school and even graduated with a scholarship a year ahead of the rest of the class. Then my real education began and don’t, for a moment, confuse schooling with education. Some of the stupidest people I have known possess box loads of degrees and certificates. I attended the old school and the university of hard knocks. Some folks ask me from time to time where I went to university. I simply say that I graduated from Perdue, which really was the name of my high school. There’s no point in explaining further.
The problem is, that at my age, the clever self-taught one who thinks he is some sort of writer, has new-to-me words appear and I wonder why I’m only learning them now, words like autodidact which is the name for someone who is self-taught.
And if I am so damned clever why am I standing on an empty dock with my prized ‘Seafire’ moored somewhere else, now documented with someone else’s name? I should be softly singing “Free at last,” but I am now living in a big emptiness. It is, however, only temporary.
I have a plan. In the weeks leading up to this wistful day, I’ve been scouring on-line sites which advertise RVs and others which advertise trucks. Eventually, I want to own a displacement-hull powerboat, big enough to live in and seaworthy enough to voyage at least as far as Mexico. The right boat will be tough to find. First I need more funds. For the moment I will satisfy myself with land-based expeditions.
I do want to satiate my strong land travel-lust. I have considered every option. There was a time when crawling under a tarp stretched across an overturned canoe was perfect, even romantic, but now my knees are too shot for kneeling in a canoe. I am well past even the tenting concept. I have tried the camper van notion and am not inclined to repeat that. I’ve considered truck-mounted campers but don’t like that idea for a few good reasons. Motor homes are not my cup of tea. So I have settled on the trailer concept. For me a trailer that can leave the pavement and also be dropped while roaming about with the towing vehicle only.
I first owned a home-made teardrop trailer. My early blogs of five years ago described a trip to Mexico with that trailer. I loved it but soon the romance wore off. I almost froze to death in it one night in Nevada. It had only sitting head room; so the simple endeavour of getting dressed while inside was challenging. Getting dressed outside was also interesting. “Mommy, what is that man wearing,” and that before I’d pulled on a shirt! Sticking your bare feet outside into the darkness with a good chance of stepping on scorpions while going to pee did not pique my sense of adventure. The tiny, cute kitchen in the back, under a huge lid, was not so great or exotic when the rain and wind came.
My second trailer, was a beautiful conversion of a 12’ cargo trailer. I loved it. I could stand upright in it and I had a porta-potty for those night time functions. Cooking inside, or sitting to eat and write was next to impossible. There was a lovely retractable awning outside, which is where you spend most of your time as you go further south, but the notion of cooking or writing there in inclement weather soon paled as well. What would be perfect for me was a trailer small and tough enough to survive being towed on primitive roads. I needed separate, comfortable beds for at least two people, indoor cooking and dining facilities, some sort of bathroom facility and adequate storage as well. That will allow total self-sufficiency for 7 to 10 days without going to town. That’s a tough order to fill, especially on my budget. Building exactly what I need is very appealingbut the cost of doing it right would be formidable.
For a towing vehicle I also required an affordable, reliable short-wheel base 4×4 truck with enough power to tow the trailer yet be good on gas, have a canopy to store extra fuel and water, a small generator, a small air compressor, extra tools and also enough room to carry a small boat, outboard motor and a kayak. Most of the time, four-wheel drive is not necessary but when you need it, by gad you really need it. I wanted all of this for less than $20,000. I know! I am a dreamer. Both pre-owned trailers and good used trucks have ridiculous prices. My only hope was to find something online, even if it meant flying and driving across the continent. Importing any vehicle from the US is essentially straight forward, yet there are so many clauses and codicils, that one has to be quite wary. Imagine showing up at the border with a vehicle which may not be imported under any circumstance because the clearance lights are wrong. Vehicles over fifteen years in age are generally permissible but still vulnerable to subjective opinions of individual customs officers about things like the location of clearance lights. Yes, I did read that. And, every import is subject to GST which really chips into tsavings you’d calculated. Then, once over the border into Canada, there are two separate safety inspections to pass before the vehicle can finally be registered in your home province. Geez Louise! I looked anyway. Day after interminable day, all over the continent, for several hours at each sitting. This endeavour furthered my autodidact education and my standing as a masochist.
Simply put, we’ve all heard it before, “If it’s too good to be true, it is.” I think I can safely claim that three quarters of the ads I pursued were scams. Firstly, if something is advertised in an area a great distance from where it is alleged to actually be, raise a warning flag. There was a disconcertingly consistent bullshit story with an almost word for word same script. Repeatedly the story was that a lady officer in the military was about to be re-posted, usually overseas. Old dad had died and this beloved truck, or RV, was a too-sad reminder of him and they just wanted to clean things up before their imminent deployment. The transaction would be done through E-bay and the sale item would then be shipped to me. Photos of the vehicle were extensive and showed something in immaculate condition. I made several inquiries, simply out of bemusement and also the theory that once in a while the ad might actually be legitimate. WRONG! That gambling philosophy is what gets a lot of folks into trouble.
One ad, placed in Craigslist-Kootenays described a near-virgin Rialta motor home which, it turned out, was claimed to be located in Prince Rupert, several hundreds of miles away from the Kootenays. (First Alert) Considering the remoteness of this location, it did seem plausible that the price was less then half of other quotient prices especially with the story I was given. A senior lady from Prince Rupert was in a California hospital with her husband who was waiting on a donor to provide a heart for a transplant. Because she was so far from home, and desperately short of funds, she had arranged for a quick sale through a third party, a shipping company in Prince Rupert. If I met her price the RV, and all paperwork, would be shipped to me. In response I explained that I never buy shoes without first trying them on. I proposed to fly to Prince Rupert, inspect the RV, do a lien check and then pay by bank draft. Clearly, paying a shipping fee out of such a low price did not make sense, nor did the notion that some unnamed shipping company was quarter-backing the deal. I have not heard back from her. In previous years there was an experience with some Nigerian scammers claiming an interest in a sailboat I advertised. That is a whole story in itself.
There must be masses of stupid people out there. Scammers would not be plying their trade so vigorously if they weren’t making money. There was a strange pleasure pretending to be a potential dupe until I finally wearied of kissing all those frogs.
Well I did find both the right trailer and a great towing vehicle, right here on Vancouver Island and within a day of each other. Oddly, the same thing happened when I bought ‘Seafire’. I looked at boats all over the continent, as far away as North Carolina and Toronto. I found her languishing in Blaine, about forty miles away. Go figure eh! Including taxes and insurance I am well within my budget for truck and trailer. Now I just have to get rid of the frog breath. Speaking of which, today is a fine clear, warm and sunny day. While writing this I am in a beautiful, luxurious semi-rural home dog-sitting for some friends. At the bottom of this acreage lies a small swamp. The frogs are singing heartily. Wherever I look, I can see no snow. Is it really spring?
“Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” Kinky Friedman
Hunched over the steering wheel with bleary eyes I was once again in my old camper van driving into a town where I had never been before. It was raining and sleeting heavily. I was tired and hungry and just wanted to find a place to park for the night. The gas gauge was tsappingon empty. I worried that when I went to fill up the gas tank, my credit card would be rejected. Then I woke up from my terrible dream. There were a few nights much like that on my recent trip. That lost and lonely feeling is much how it is for me again tonight.
I am aboard my beloved ‘Seafire’ anchored in a beautiful nook known as Maple Bay. It will be my last night aboard this wonderful vessel. Tomorrow I meet with the buyers for a sea-trial. On the following day the boat will be hauled out for a survey and once that is past, the deal is near completion. I feel like a convict on the night before his appointment with the hangman. At least he has the sweet hope of oblivion. The ship’s chronograph rings out seven bells, right on time. It is nineteen-thirty hours (7:30 pm) I am reminded that the clocks are to be turned ahead tonight for daylight savings. The clear evening sky held a little light until about a half-hour ago. It is damned cold. There is snow along the shore right to the waterline.
So here I sit, the aging man who lived in this egg, surrounded by the teak and brass in what has been my world. The one oil lantern remaining in the boat is glowing brightly, its cloying bittersweet reek fills the cabin. The furnace is belting out a lovely warmth and I reminisce about all the nights through the years spent aboard sitting right here, at this table, while the rain hammered down or the wind howled while the boat slammed against a dock or tugged frantically at the anchor chain. There were summer nights when the hatches were open to let in the fragrant night air; sometimes there were swarms of mosquitoes. Around the boat, seals and sometimes whales or dolphins snorted and splashed. Occasionally while anchored in some remote north coast bay there would be wolves howling in the surrounding rain forest. Sometimes the northern lights would begin to pulse and throb in the black, star-studded sky. There have also been nights in the harbour of some city where the lighted buildings towered above me and sirens howled above the constant drone of traffic. I don’t like cities. There have been times when I have sat here feeling like the loneliest man in the world but so very often I wanted to be in no other place.
And the days, those magic days, when the world passed at a stately speed between five and eight knots. Grey days, sparkling sunny days, none of then were bad; even those long hours bashing through monstrous breaking, foaming, hissing mountains of briny water when you knew that what you were doing was insanity. Sometimes the boat was surrounded in thick fog. It always made sense to me. I and this beloved little ship have seen an awful lot. We never made it to Europe, or even to Mexico, which was the original plan, but without that dream I would not have experienced much of what I have. A friend e-mailed me today to remind me of my recent metaphor about having to draw the arrow backward to launch it forward. Life is a long series of rapidly passing moments which ricochet between choices, some good, some bad.
Today on the short three-hour voyage to this bay the wind freshened out of the north. It was cold and clear and beautiful. I hoisted the sails which have been tightly furled away far too long. For two hours I motor-sailed, then the wind faltered and died. It was as if the gods wanted me to have one last dance with the wind. I will miss this boat, dearly and desperately, I know that. I also understand that you can’t steer a steady course by looking back at your wake. There is no ocean voyage that is not made between points on shorelines. Land and sea are meaningless without each other. After days or weeks out upon the broad, curving eternal face of the open ocean you make a landfall, often in a port where you’ve never been before. You rest, re provision, find new charts, make repairs and modifications. Then recharged you sail off on a new course to a new destination. Life is an eternal journey. I will send postcards, many of them. Meanwhile, tonight will be very long.
Two days later, the sea-trial is completed, the buyers are happy. I am waiting for the surveyor this morning. There are only some simple formalities to complete the transaction. Then I will be boatless, for the moment.
I learned last night that a new friend, one I made on my travels in the desert, has died. For many years Frank was only an acquaintance until I spent a few days visiting with him in Ajo Arizona. We bonded like brothers and made plans about where and when we would meet again. We had met through a mutual friend who was a life-long close friend of Frank’s. Fortunately Jimmy was able to spend Frank’s final hours at his bedside. Any man who has a friend like that is successful indeed. When circumstances took Frank’s leg he was able to give it a positive spin and became an advocate, at a high level, for the disabled. He took his personal challenge and turned it into an advantage for himself and many others. He was courageous and positive. Nothing held him back. Only a few short weeks ago he took me for a drive in the desert. This one-legged guy drove his standard shift vehicle by using a stick to work the clutch. He didn’t miss a shift.
This short eulogyis all that I can do. My sadness is overwhelming. This is a reminder that one should live among their fellows like each goodbye is the last one. It just might be.
“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”
Well there’s my tired clichė about the beginning of March. It can go right on the shelf beside the lamb and the lion, and oh yeah, the groundhog. Spring must be coming. Herds of dock inspectors roamed the marina yesterday, peeking into windows, thumping hulls and scanning boat rigs. After empty docks all winter, they’re back. It is nice way to spend some time on a sunny day, drifting and dreaming. Despite my despondency about parting with my boat, I too savoured the warm sunny day and I tried to see the world through the eyes of a landlubber. Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, winter still holds Vancouver Island in its icy grip. We do spells of clear skies, there is a little snow melting during the day and I did see some snow drops growing among the bushes. Other years there have been daffodils at the end of January. Both scenarios have the doom-gloomers declaring clear evidence of global warming. I’ll leave them to sort it out. And yes, I am aware of all the gasoline I burned on my recent trip.
Of doom and gloom, the final transaction for the sale of ‘Seafire’ is a week away. I have spent days unloading the boat, one groaning, squeaking wagon-load at a time all the long way up the dock and ramp. Every time I have moved off of a boat I have been amazed at the “Stuff” a person accumulates. Now I’m giving my beloved her final scrub, removing winter’s grunge. And we all know that the deal is never done until it is done. The suspense is killing me. Oddly, there are two new inquiries, one of which involves delivering her to San Francisco, but truth be told, I am beseeching the gods for a last minute miracle which will allow me to keep my wonderful boat and travelling companion of so many miles. We have endured a lot together and I shall sorely miss her, and the whole idea of her, when the final day comes.
I have also decided to sell my old van. Wanna buy a camper van? It is a faithful little old bus but I know what I need now so I may as well clear the table and start over. I see other people settling into a comfortable retirement and the notion of a new beginning seems odd at my age but life is an adventure. I remind myself of Francis Chichester, who well into his seventies, and fighting cancer, set sail alone on an incredibly difficult-to-manage yawl ‘Gypsy Moth IV’, travelled around the world and then wrote his memoirs. Then a dark monkey on my shoulder asks, “So what’s your point?”
It can certainly be tough to stay positive and buoyant. On occasion I’ve let it slip that I have lived with clinical depression of all my life. I’m not complaining, just explaining. It has certainly been no sleigh ride and there are times when enduring another dreary day seems absolutely pointless. Being a blue-collar character I have lived in a world where such a thing is never admitted or discussed. That I live into “full maturity” (how’s that for a positive spin on ‘pre-geriatric’?) is, I think, a positive and happy story. On my recent trip I met inspiring people who deal with many challenges which would shatter others. Their life-force is a positive radiation and a wonderful influence which helps inspire their fellows forward. I consider how folks live elsewhere and marvel often at the obvious poverty and dreariness and wonder how people live a life which, to me, appears unbearable. There are secrets and courage which I do not begin to understand. As bleak as I’m feeling these days, I am struggling to finish reading a book called “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad. It is an amazing inside look at the everyday lives of Afghani people, incredibly well-written and depressing as hell. The normal life of these people, especially the women, could make a stone weep. Their lives can only be endurable because they know nothing else. Are our expectations the root of our unhappiness?
I also marvel at the new things I see. In the desert, with the eyes of a newcomer, and a sailor, I saw flora and fauna which survive and thrive in incredibly harsh conditions. There is a reason for life to go on against massive odds beyond my comprehension. A joy which helps life make sense and have purpose is seeing those things and realizing that we too have a place in those circles, even if we don’t understand the total sum of the all the parts.
Giving up my boat is a step forward. While it feels like an ending, I know it shall be the beginning of a whole new set of adventures. Seafire Chronicles will continue to be posted under the same name. Comments from readers tell me there is value in what I do and in response, the sense of mission that I am afforded, in part, by this blog helps carry me forward. To give is to receive. Thank you. I often use the Lord Nelson quote, “Ships and men rot in port.” Staying busy keeps me alive; I subscribe to the mantra of “use it or lose it.” Some of my busyness will be to continue to hone my video-making skills. The first video from my trip is now posted on YouTube. It is a simple short clip made with my cell phone and a very good essay on the winter we’ve had. Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REe71VHzJxU See ya in the movies.
“Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.”
(Remember that you can enlarge any image simply by clicking on it)
“Trade goats for canoe.” The ad. caught my eye immediately. I have neither goats nor a canoe but I certainly understand that urge to go to sea. My sea lust has not diminished even with the notion of selling my boat. The response to my notice that ‘Seafire’ can now be bought has been overwhelmingly negative. “You can’t be Fred without your boat!” “What will you do?” So far there have been no offers of cash nor potential partnerships in the boat. I am not selling my beloved boat because I am weary of it or the sea. I simply cannot meet the financial demands of owning a boat any longer, at least within my current financial perimeters. There are fixed costs to pay whether you use the boat or not and there are no more rabbits in my sack. One window closes and another opens. If I am boatless on the beach for a while I will still be a salty dog, something I can neither hide nor deny. There are a number of folks who are boat owners who are clearly not water people no matter how hard they try to impress otherwise.
I, of course, am hoping for something to happen which will alter my direction and I am not about to give my beloved away to the first punter. My truck is also for sale and I’m not too proud to take money for just about anything else. I just want to relieve the mental constipation of debt and say “Aaah” as my creative juices flow freely. I can’t live here on my small pension so I need to be where I can do that. Yes I’ll miss the boat which has been my snug home and mobile refuge but life is not always about happy choices. Maybe I’ll soon be able to announce plan F, (whatever that is,) has fallen into place and that ’Seafire’ and I are headed south. But I do have a lovely backpack which is free and clear and the blogs can continue from wherever I am.
This blog is supposed to be about the adventure I would find aboard ‘Seafire’ but I’m hard aground. So onward and sideways. As the old English slang goes, I’ll do my best to “Keep my pecker up.” Haar! There are millions of people out there who would feel deep delight simply to have a cold drink of clean water let alone one nutritious meal a day; let alone daring to have a dream. Ordeal or adventure, it is all up to each one of us. We, who are so blessed, and so naive, take so much for granted. We cannot dare even try to understand the depths of misery and poverty of human existence. The bums sleeping under a bridge tonight are royalty compared to masses of others. We would be horrified to have to live even one day as most of our fellow species do. I often think of writers from the past who despite cold, hunger, illness, addictions at times, wrote so eloquently without spell-checkers or any of the many amenities we now enjoy and take for-granted. If it had been me, I would probably have found a way to dump my inkwell over the completed manuscript.
Well, finally all the sanding and filling and painting are finished. New life lines are rigged, now plenty high enough to keep my own herd of goats on deck. The boat looks like a new penny. I’ll finish painting inside the cockpit later. Now it is time to cast off the lines and get out of Dodge. It’ll soon be mid-summer and I’m weary of the sound of laughing, drunken gringo yachters having fun while I toil away.
After having begun this blog I awaken the following morning in bliss The boat is anchored in Silva Bay, I’m in my bunk, there is a gentle pre-dawn glow coming through the open hatch. I put the kettle on the stove and soon enjoy the forgotten aroma and sound of my coffee press. I sit watching the rising sun play its light across the bay. A US yacht with no courtesy flag leaves the end of the dock, a straight-out departure yet the grinding din of the bow thruster shatters the tranquility. But then they are gone and only the soft call of mourning doves enhances the peace. A friend’s boat needs my help and I enjoy the moment before I crawl into a bilge and begin what could be a sweaty day.
The work was completed as far as it would go by noon. We had to lift the rear of the engine to get at the stubborn, rounded and rusted bolts which hold the old starting motor in place. It was a frustrating endeavour but such is life. I’ve had worse. I’m happy to have ended my career as a marine technician, this is no longer a gig for this chunky aging dude but for old time’s sake I have black grease back in my pores. I’ve spent the afternoon peacefully napping and reading, doing nothing. I’m trying to teach myself not to feel guilt about simply being. It’s hard, really. The descending evening is clear and calm, like warm milk. I’m wondering what to do with myself. It was full moon last night and I’m thinking… yeah you know what I’m thinking.
I weigh anchor just before eight pm and motor out onto the Strait of Georgia. There is no wind so the autohelm is set on a course for Howe Sound. I believe it is the most beautiful inlet on the coast but it is industrialized and heavily populated. Deep, with plenty of steep-sided rocky islands, the inlet’s shoreline is crowded with homes built with amazing feats of engineering and spending. This is the first inlet north of Vancouver and so first access into the wilderness of British Columbia. On clear days you can see the magnificent mountains towering over the skier’s mecca of Whistler. Altogether it is a grand place to be. I speculate that much of this urbanization was brought on in a mad rush to the Westcoast inspired in part by a CBC television show filmed here in Gibsons. ‘The Beachcombers’ episodes can still be found on YouTube. All of its stars are long-gone but the impressions and flavour of the series lingers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj9bd-4qu4IHopefully this link will take you to some clips of the series. You’ll have to clip and paste to make it work.
My crossing is swift with a flood tide in my favour. There is a spectacular sunset. Eventually, what was last night’s full moon rises through the murk of distant Vancouver Airport. I can clearly see the city and Lion’s Gate bridge. There are suddenly fireworks in English Bay. Above the scene, in the velvet purple sky, brilliant lights of far-distant aircraft descend in an arcing approach toward the airport like stars on a string. As I arrive at my anchorage that scene is backlit with another fireworks display in the town of Gibsons. WOW!
Later, in the lazy early morning light, I lay listening to seals snort and splash. There are photos and films to edit but for the moment the fullness of nothingness is wonderful. These are lonely moments but even that longing ads to the gentle intensity of Sunday morning rising up. CBC radio plays a tribute to Arvo Pärt, one of my favourite classical composers. Last night, I listened to a regular Saturday evening feature, “Saturday Night Blues’ hosted by Holger Petersen. It is a CBC tradition and always a pleasure of good music. A great jazz program follows. Yep, I’m actually plugging good old CBC.
A day later I’m absorbing the rising heat and activity of a Monday morning in downtown Vancouver. One phone call persuaded me to join some friends who are anchored in False Creek in Vancouver. I was curious, I haven’t been here in years. The buildings are higher and denser than ever. Crossing English Bay on my way in was a gauntlet of vessels going every way, threading their erratic courses between the anchored freighters with apparent oblivion to anyone else. Entering False Creek was mayhem. Every sort of floating object was pelting about, from pedal boats and kayaks to huge tour vessels. Skittering through all of that were a plague of water taxis, all apparently in defiance of any rules or basic courtesy. On shore, the walkways and beaches seemed to bulge with masses of folks. Finding a place to anchor was a challenge, nearly every possible spot was full. None of this circus is for me. I’m finishing my second mug of chewy black coffee then I’ll catch the ebb tide out of here. This is no place for old sailors. The anchor chain came up so fouled with slimy muck that I wanted to cut it.
I spend the day meandering around back in the mouth of Howe Sound, stunned at the number of fantastic new summer homes and the lack of anchorages. The waters are too deep, right up to the steep shorelines. I arrive in Gibsons and anchor off the beach in front of Gramma’s Pub, a waypoint for me for over thirty years. The air is hot and still with a hint of the pulpmill at Port Mellon, a few miles north up the sound. The next day rushes past in the company of two wonderful friends I’ve know for years. Their hospitality was grand, their cooking superb and I delighted in the warmth of their friendship.
It is too soon that I find myself sailing back toward my home dock. The wind, as usual is a little too fine on my bow and so, as usual, I find myself motor-sailing toward the Gulf Islands. This morning, I’m anchored off the docks of the Ladysmith Maritme Society. My space has been rented out in my absence to a transient boat. I don’t mind the inconvenience. The summer has brought a roaring trade in visiting boats. It is good for the town and the marina. I’m writing as the boat shifts in the tide and breeze so that the sun remains in my eyes, as usual.
“The most courageous thing is to think for yourself. Aloud.” …Coco Chanel
I’m feeling as worn as Willy Nelson’s guitar. Hopefully I too can still produce something good. But not today.
I learned this morning that a distant friend had died suddenly. He was the husband of my wife’s longest friendship and so after fifty-two years of marriage to his wife, Phillip had become an essential component of my wife’s friendship. I really liked him. I did not know him well, having only visited with him for a few days but I intended to befriend him more deeply. Now he’s gone, all those gonna-do moments have passed. The simple essay here is that we only have this moment, not the one in another minute’s time, only this one. And, every time you say goodbye, it may well be the last time. A few blogs back I briefly alluded to a dogma which includes being impeccable with your word. Don’t leave regrettable words without apology and preferably let your words be worth speaking and remembering. Believe me, this verbose writer and story teller wrestles with that one constantly.
As I absorbed the news about this distant friend now gone, I sat with the day’s first coffee in hand. The mourning doves continued their serenade. A soothing sound, comforting and reassuring, this morning it was almost a thunderous din that seemed overwhelming. I wanted to shout at them to stop, shut up, fly away. I was already disoriented with arriving home. Now I’ve accepted a new job offer in Comox for a yacht charter company. I’m a bit reluctant to head back northwards for a low-paying job but it seems the gods dumped this one in my path. I’d best not step in it, or around it. I’ll just go see what’s up.
Three days later I’m sitting in Seafire on a mooring buoy in Comox. Jill and I were still travelling south a week ago. I look ashore into the town, watching the traffic lights change on main street. They didn’t have any when we lived here thirty years. The community has grown up, a lot, and so have I. Well not actually, I’ve I just grown old. I truly believed I was coming south to retire but I need the money and here I go for some more work. These seem like nice folks and the job could prove to be fun. Every door leads a person to another door with yet more doors beyond. So…close the door, you’re letting the flies out!
One of the nice things about being at a more southerly latitude is that my mobile phone works inside my boat. No more huddling on deck ahead of the mast in the wind and rain, moving my head back and forth trying to find the best reception all the while swatting at squadrons of biting insects. Such decadence! I just finished a phone call with a friend who agrees that I should monetize my writing, my blog and my books and my photography. I find it hard to solicit myself and my work but I’m not too proud anymore to ask that if anyone knows someone who knows someone…. well, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishing. I’m not asking for any free lunch, just an agent who’s willing to take a chance on over twenty-five years of writing. That includes two novels, four other completed books plus a few on the back of the stove. I’m no one-hit wonder.
Yesterday proved to be an amazing day. Old ‘Seafire’ brought me all the way north from Ladysmith to an anchorage five miles south of Comox. That is a distance of—– miles in eleven and a half hours which included an hour out in Nanaimo for fuel. The shortest route from Ladysmith to Nanaimo requires transiting a notorious gap know as Dodd Narrows. Yesterday the tidal rate at maximum flood was 8.5 knots. I know the narrows, I know my boat and I know that the wild ride will keep most boaters away at maximum flood and ebb. I fear other yachts far more than tidal whirlpook. The worst part of turbulent water on a flood is downstream of the narrows and there is nothing to run into here, except other boats. One huge, overpowered motor yacht rushed up behind me and passed immediately after we’d exited the gap together. That wake mixed with the whirlpools and standing waves and produced a tsunami which broke dishes in the galley. ‘Seafire’ and I have know some rough going, but we’ve never before broken anything. The goon was towing a large fishing skiff on a long line and the entire show moved northward in excess of twenty knots. Somewhere there lurks a log. Thunk! Sunk!
While entering the narrows I was fascinated as I watched a bald eagle take a common murre. I’m no bleeding heart but it was painful to watch the murre’s agonizing demise and yet see the eagle’s strategizing and brilliant flying. He kept diving on his prey until it was too exhausted and injured to dive any more. The murre flew a last time, but now it dangled from the eagle’s talons. There is no place for warmth and fuzziness in nature and I’m sure that when feeding our offspring is a priority, we can all demonstrate our vicious nature.
Northbound from Nanaimo I lucked into a Qualicum wind which heeled the old boat over and had us hurtling on our way. Thirty knots of warm breeze on the beam is a gift and I revelled in it. At times the rails were in the water and we raced up the strait toward Chrome Island. I anchored in the lee of the island but the wind curled around the rock and arm-wrestled with the ebb tide from Baynes Sound. The stern stayed into wind and ‘Seafire’ bounded at the end of her anchored chain like a feral pony. I took the dinghy around the island and then started to go ashore. There are some incredible petroglyphs on the island, the evening light was clear and golden. It seemed meant to be.
Then the light keeper appeared. I was promptly advise that the island was his home and he was in the middle of dinner. “Come back tomorrow.” He flung out an apology; I told him I didn’t believe that. It the first time ever, anywhere I’ve been in Canada, that a light keeper has been less than welcoming to me. Usually a visitor’s concern is being able to get away again, company is usually cherished by lightkeepers. I had no intention of invading his home or demanding a cup of anything, nor trampling his beautiful lawns and gardens. I’ve reviewed this with other mariners who all agree that a Canadian light station is Canadian property and we have every right to visit our landmarks. I promised the grump that he’d been rude to the wrong writer and here ya go buddy!
The light that evening was magic. It drew me onward until finally at dusk I dropped my anchor in Henry Bay, a short distance in Comox. The trip covered sixty-five nautical miles in less than half a day. Brilliant!
And so here I am in Comox. On my first afternoon there I took the dinghy and visited the “Royston Wrecks” directly across the estuary. It has been decades since I was in this sacred place. A breakwater for a log-booming ground was built by scuttling 14 ships. Some were WWII liberty ships. Two of the hulks were former full-rigged clipper ships that had been cut down and used for log barges. One is the ‘Riversdale’ built in Liverpool in 1894. All that remains of her now is the forward section. The other, also built in Liverpool in 1876 is the ‘Melanope’. She, apparently was once an immigrant vessel to Australia. Her aft and forward sections remain to give you a clear idea of her overall size.
What grand things these were! The nautical author John Villiers describes the full-rigged ship as one of man’s highest achievements. Combining technology and art they moved passengers and massive amounts of freight around the planet without burning a single drop of fuel. That was all accomplished without computers, radios, satellites. I’ve included a photo, without permission, of a full rigged barque to illustrate the wonder and glory of those vessels. I believe the ship is the ‘Cuauhtemoc’ built in 1982 as a training ship for the Mexican navy. I’ve been aboard her and she is a floating cathedral, immaculate and glorious.
Meanwhile I’m settling into my daily grind on the docks of Comox. The bay here is surrounded by beautiful beaches and sandy spits. There is a huge glacier which looks down on the bay where dozens of tiny sailing vessels skitter about at the hands of children learning to sail. At low tide the shallow clam beds and boulders extend toward the glacier, several feet above our eye level in our floating dock house. The air is rich with the heady aroma of all that thick mud.
In the park above the docks folks exercise their dogs between happy playing children. A shelter has been built where sits a piano available for anyone to play. I’ve heard bagpipe tunes. Two nights ago, on coming out from dinner in the pub, there was some wonderful salty accordion music wafting out from a hidden corner.
It seems worth staying for a while.
“How could the Greeks, who knew that one never enters the same river twice, believe in homecoming.”
Where did this name come from? Why not God’s Sock, or God’s Knickers? And which pocket is it? One in his jeans? In the back, next to where the farts come out? Jill tells me I’ll find an answer. I think the name has to do with a sense of safety, a tiny place snugly out of the vicious winds that can blast this area. It is a dent in the shoreline of Hurst Island, just northwest of Port Hardy. It is not particularly notable yet provides fair holding ground and reasonable shelter in most winds. There is nothing here except a base for eco-tourism. There are no stores, no bright lights and no place to go ashore. Yet it is a name which yachties love to drop invariably in a clubhouse anywhere south. There’ll be a scrum of folks with wine glasses in hand and this name will float out repeatedly. “Oh yes it is lovely there. The problem is you see there’s no place to take Fifi ashore in God’s Pocket and she just won’t do her business on the afterdeck.
Then the widget spinner on the ice-maker broke and we had to go back to Port Hardy and wait three days for new parts to be flown in. You just don’t dare go into the north country without a reliable ice maker. Nonetheless you simply must stop at God’s Pocket. Be sure to anchor in the middle so there’s no room for anyone else.” I imagined an affected British accent with a Worshington undertone as I wrote the above.
Actually, we had the tiny anchorage all to ourselves. That seems odd, it is usually crowded in summer with some huge gin palace in the middle, sweeping around the rocky bight because it has far too much anchor chain out. Everyone else ends up in the kelp beds trying to stay clear of the lunging Fart Parkerson.
Enough sarcasm. We made our way here from Goose Island via Hakaii Pass and a night in Pruth Bay at the top of Calvert Island. It is a stunning place with amazing beaches. On our way south from there we made our way down Fitzhugh Sound passing dozens of Humpback whales along the way. The crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound was the easiest ever. We’ll stop in Port Hardy to get provisions before moving ever southward. Our trip is again best described with photos.
We arrive at the Goose Group in late morning. A sailboat is in the main anchorage. I know it is too exposed and has poor holding ground in that spot. I won’t anchor there for an overnight stay. I’ve been here before when the weather was questionable and I returned to the mainland archipelago in gathering darkness to find a secure anchorage. Now we tiptoe into a kelp-fringed bay between Snipe and Gosling Islands. We’re snug in twenty-four feet of water. The other boat leaves and we have all of the islands to ourselves. There is no way to describe this place as the unique, pristine and sacred place it is. Instead this blog is a photo essay. I hope the images convey my sense of wonder and perfection.
“If you are unhappy it’s not because of external factors. It’s nobody else’s fault or problem. It’s not because you are poor or live in a small house, or even because you are ill. It’s because you have an inner emptiness that needs to be filled with light, and only you can do that. It is every person’s responsibility to seek that light. Happiness is not a right; it’s an obligation, because without happiness you have nothing to give back to humanity”
From: Walking the Himalayas by Levison Wood quoting from an audience with the Dalai Lama
This is from my friend Tony Gibb’s blog, ‘Sage On Sail’. See the sidebar in my home page for a link.
Finally the clouds begin to break up and a glorious blue sky arcs overhead. A forecast of Nor’west wind begins to show promise and then I discover the leak. We’re sinking! Having to return to Shearwater to be hauled out is a notion which horrifies me but I turn in that direction and think furiously. Along the way, I resolve to relax so I break out the fishing gear as we approach Idol Point, a famous spot for big salmon. Even I can catch fish here. Incredibly my downrigger line breaks, I lose forty feet of line and the lead cannonball which holds the baitline down where the fish are. Bugga! It’s going to one of those days. I resolve to avoid Shearwater no matter what. If a worst-case scenario evolves, I have enough pumps aboard to keep us afloat until I can careen the boat in a suitable spot.
I turn southward into a narrow channel. I want Jill to feel and see the magic of these winding waterways. We pass pictographs and marvel at the miles of breathtaking scenery. Eventually we anchor in the Tribal Island Group and I attempt to make repairs. I find a broken clamp on a piece called the stern tube. It is behind and under a bundle of wiring and plumbing as far down and back into the bilge as I can reach. The trick is to install a new clamp. This requires finding one of the correct size, reaching in, wrapping it around the rubber stern tube, fitting one end back inside the screw guide which tightens it, getting that screw to start, moving the clamp into place and holding it while tightening the whole thing, but not so much that the threads are stripped and you have to start over again with another clamp…which I don’t have.
This is achieved by using one hand only with my arm contorted and extended fully into the abyss of the bilge. I cannot see anything with my arm in there and I must work by feel only. It hurts. Tools and parts fall into the bottom of the bilge and have to be retrieved. I repeatedly shred my arm on an invisible sharp point but it seems a little blood is always part of the mix in these scenarios. Old fat bastard knows his days as a marine technician are near their end. I joke that I used to do my best work in the dark with my eyes closed! Ha! This is a young man’s calling. Two hours later I’m able to announce success; the leak is under control. Jill has endured my curses and grunts by trying to read. I know that standing-by during these ordeals can be at least as difficult as actually doing the work. All’s well that ends. It’s funny now.
We spend the night in the Tribal Islands Group. It is a splendid place. The sky is clear, both the sunset and sunrise cast a splendid light. Under a clear sky and a light breeze we cross Queen’s sound to the Goose Group of islands. That is a blog all on it’s own.
“If you can’t repair it….maybe it shouldn’t be aboard!”