Death Of A Passion Flower

When push comes to shove
When push comes to shove

In my last blog I began with a photo of a then-mystery flower. Kate and Laura, two local ladies, each identified it as a passion flower. Thus armed, I was able to research and confirm that and also learn there are around five-hundred varieties of passion flower (Or passiflower) and this particular one originates in the mountains of South America, growing from Venezuela to Chile at altitudes to twelve and thirteen thousand feet. Noted for its beautiful and hardy bloom, indigenous people also use the flower, leaves and stem for various medicinal purposes. The leaves can also be dried and smoked. Cool huh? Interesting where a simple question can lead.

Last of the passion flowers
Last of the passion flowers
Blackberry blooms in October!
Blackberry blooms in October!

Well, some self-centred arse picked the few blossoms there were. I hope those last rays of summer were needed for a life-saving potion or, as a friend suggested, perhaps some child and their grandparent now has those blooms carefully pressed into a strong lifetime memory. As it turns out, a few days later, higher on the vine, another batch of these amazing flowers burst into bloom to herald our first frost. What else can I say?
It is another affirmation that this old grump needs to go sailing.

Meanwhile my buddy Jim Poirier cleared customs in Ensenada, Baha and headed for La Paz, non-stop. He rounded Cabo San Lucas with plenty of offing after the threat of a late season hurricane. I’ve never set foot there but I’m told Cabo is best avoided as it swarms with gringos on vacation and is an absolute mess. He’s taken the usual beating most cruisers do while clawing up into the Sea Of Cortez. Then his daily spot report showed him with the hook down in the Mogoté off downtown La Paz. He’s e-mailed me since and is settling in for a visit, trying to adjust to all the open hands trying to skim a little more out of his cruising budget. It’s called Mordida, which translates as “The bite.”

My Australian friends, Roger and Ali, whom I wrote about in an earlier blog, were back aboard their beloved Betty Mc for a few days here in the marina after a grand summer adventure in the Arctic. As usual they’ve managed an impressive set of exploits and now possess a more intimate knowledge of the Arctic and its people than the average Canadian will ever care to have. They’ll be back up there in the spring where they have stored their boat in Inuvik. They have plans to join their new friends in a hunting camp. Now back in Australia taking care of business the pair are already in preparation for next year. “Good on ya mates! ”

Waitng on the fog, and waiting
Waitng on the fog, and waiting

Another pal, Dave Densmore, an Alaska fisherman and fellow Fisher Poet, telephoned me recently a few hours from rounding Cape Flattery. He’s heading south to Astoria, just inside the Columbia Bar. Earlier this year I helped him with the early stages of the purchase of a 53′ Frank Fredette ketch. It’s one of the best-built ferro-cement hulls I’ve seen. The big beauty had to languish here in Canada after the purchase while he and his partner Renee fished the season through in Alaska. Finally they were able to come to their new old boat and get it ready for the trip home to Oregon. Everything was a battle. Engine troubles, plumbing, wiring and stove problems. Blocked toilets, dead circuits, missing items, it seemed a foolish battle. He needed to rig a second helm inside the pilothouse . Then genset wouldn’t run. I took some tools down to Cowichan Bay where the boat was moored and tinkered a day away but like everything else aboard, it wanted to fight. I began to think about calling a priest for an exorcism. The boat had sat for a very long time and, as old Nelson said, “Ships and men rot in port.”


Dave reported last night that he was very happy. He was at sea and under way. He reiterated that all boats have souls and this one was in a sulk for being abandoned and ignored. “She finally got the idea we were trying to save her,” he explained, “suddenly everything started to light up and work. Soon she’ll be in her new home where she’ll get the loving she deserves.” I’m sitting aboard my boat, refit number bloody eight. I know all too well what he means. Boats do have souls and like rescuing puppies, the initial curve is steep but the payback is usually astonishing and well worthwhile. In the rush to get underway, Dave inadvertently hooked up the plumbing to the inside helm backwards. All the way home that wheel worked in reverse. Lefty Starboard! We’ve agreed it’s a trip which deserves a poem. I’m happy for Dave and Renee.

On the ways in Cowichan Bay
On the ways in Cowichan Bay

To underscore that anecdote, I learned

Cowichan Bay skyline
Cowichan Bay skyline

yesterday that a former acquaintance, whom I confess that I expected would never go anywhere, has now sailed her small boat ‘Puna’ to San Francisco.

Autumn by the bay
Autumn by the bay

A new blog arrived from my pals Tony

Cow Bay floathome
Cow Bay floathome

and Connie about his jaunt up to Bangkok. Yeah, his jaunt. He leaves Connie home alone on their boat ‘Sage,’ currently in Phuket, to re-varnish the interior of the boat. How does he manage that? These two continue to amaze me as proof that couples actually can function successfully on a continuing basis. They’ve been doing this for many years and their last boat, a tiny Vancouver 27, was home for them in the South Pacific for seven years. (See the link to their blog site in the right sidebar.) I live alone with my dog in a 41′ boat and some days this doesn’t feel big enough! Especially with the darkness and cold damp of winter. There again is the key, go south! A regimen of consistent light and warmth of lower latitudes seems to be the prescription. Even my doctor agrees, but…he didn’t offer to help fund my therapy!

Meanwhile I linger on here, now travelling to an adjacent island to help another friend. After a dinghy ride, Jack and I traverse the island in a shortcut through the woods, packing tools and supplies in an effort to get a small house winter-proofed and an old truck running. It’s an amazing and wonderful trek. The weather this fall has been perfect for mushrooms, they’re pushing up everywhere by the millions. I don’t know which are edible and which are not, I suppose the ones the deer have been eating are fine but I don’t relish sampling the after-effects of a toadstool omelette. I’m taking photos only.

Bite me!
Bite me!

It is amazing to see the incredible variety in all shapes,

No, bite me!
No, bite me!

sizes and colours. I marvel at how these delicate organisms push their way through cement-hard ground and shoulder aside sticks and moss to expand into their full glory. Soft sunlight ladders down into the fog sifting through the trees. Creatures scuttle or crash off into the undergrowth. Damp rich aromas fill the air and occasionally there is the faint perfume of woodsmoke from some distant chimney.

Pick me, pick me!
Pick me, pick me!

In the distance fog horns wail and roar from the marine traffic out in the Strait. We were fog bound for twelve days with only tantalizing glimpses of blue now and then. The fog is only about fifty feet thick and the usual splendid clear October weather is just up there. The autumn paint chores will just have to wait.

Autumn blush
Autumn blush

Well now, all this hand-wringing and angst and envy gets no-one anywhere and it’s time to resolve myself to hunkering down for the winter or finding a way to take my little trailer and go south for several weeks. I’m beginning to think that it might do me and those who have to endure me a lot of good to take a sabbatical and refresh my perspectives. Refitting ‘Seafire’ and grubbing for a living seems to have become an ordeal instead of the adventure it should be. There’s a part of me that just wants to get away from all boats for a while and recharge, or “Back up and reload” as a former employer used to say.

A view to the south
A view to the south

I do have one huge piece of gratification. A friend rescued an old Cheoy Lee sloop from behind a woodshed in Oregon and dragged it home to Gabriola. It is called a ‘Frisco Flyer’ and was built in Hong Kong in 1966. It was a time when boat builders were transitioning from wood to fibreglass. The designer was Tord Sundén, the same man who designed the Nordic Folkboat and several subsequent folkboat variations. If there is a single pivotal sailboat design this must be it. There are very many other boats drawn by various naval architects which are, in my opinion, all plagiarized variations of the ubiquitous Folkboat. The Frisco Flyer was a collaboration between Cheoy Lee and Sundén and it is a brilliant boat. Originally available with a hull of teak or fibreglass this boat is one of the latter with lots of teak overlaid on the cabin, inside and out, and on the decks.

Avanti strutting her stuff, Cliff robb at the helm
Avanti strutting her stuff,
Cliff Robb at the helm

Originally I installed a replacement diesel engine in ‘Avanti’ while I worked in the shipyard. The owner works globally and isn’t home a lot. Consequently, the little sloop languished again for a couple of years until I was persuaded to lend a hand as I could.
Well, she’s finally rigged and seaworthy enough to leave the harbour. There’s a ton of work yet to be done, but we had to affirm our labour of love and put her through some sea trials before a winter cover was fitted. What a boat!


There is an amazing amount of room inside this little 26′ gem and she sails on all points like a witch. The helm is light and responsive and easy to trim. The hull is very tender but the boat stiffens up at about fifteen degrees of heel and zooms off like the thoroughbred she is. She steers herself and tracks beautifully. She is pleasing to the eye from all angles.

It has been pointed out to me that fifty years ago, when this was a state-of-the-art yacht, families would clamber into a boat like this and sail off together to see the world. A VHF radio and electric depth-sounder were ultimate accessories and inboard engines in sailboats were called ‘Auxiliaries’, meant to be used only when manoeuvring in port or in dire circumstances. There were no banks of batteries and electrical equipment to keep fed with electrons. In fact, most auxiliaries were equipped with a hand-cranking handle. Engines were valued in large part by how easily they could be hand-started.
If you were at sea and there was no wind, well…you were on a sailboat and you waited. You travelled at a speed nature intended.
Cruising sailors were self-sufficient, independent and generally disdained following the herd. What a different world we live in now!

I’m not sure it’s a better one but we’re here (Because we’re not all there) and that’s the way it is. Yesterday a winter storm arrived with nightfall. Rain hammered the boat as the wind shrieked and thrummed in the rigging. This morning, as the tide rises, the swell from the open strait reaches into the bay and sets all the boats rolling crazily. Doggy won’t leave his bed.
Somewhere over the southern horizon, far, far away there is a clink of glasses and I can smell lime and tequila. I’m on the scent!

Say goodnight
Say goodnight


No one seems to know what this beauty is called
No one seems to know what this beauty is called!

I have never intended that my blogs should be a venue for any rant. This blog is supposed to be about getting a boat ready to sail away and the inner and outer journey before, during, and after that moment. As it turns out I recently found myself replying to a friend’s e-mail. A rant began to flow which I began to transcribe into a blog and then realized that this is something I can never do here. Real sailors are often non-conformists and also very opinionated especially when in opposition to bureaucracy and other men’s attempts to control their lives. The one thing of value I’ve salvaged from that discarded effort is a single line about global warming and social cooling.  I’ll ponder that a while yet.

End of summer
End of summer

I sat writing at a desk where in the background a television played the movie ‘Fiddler On The Roof.’ I caught the line, “If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.” Try to imagine that with a geriatric Yiddish accent! What an eloquent way of describing our tenuous existence on this planet. From environmentalism to politics and economics, it’s all the same hype in the end. Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf?  Well, I think we’re truly under the spell of those who have discovered the profit of paranoia and it is not the wolf we should fear nearly as much as the wolf hunters. End of rant. Each to their own and enough said.


Duende? It is a Spanish word possessing diverse related meanings but generally having to do with spirits and ghosts. I heard a flamenco artist explaining a deeper meaning having to do with the unfulfilled spirit within, always driving a person forward in passion and creativity but ultimately never sated. I suppose enthusiasm has a similar connotation coming from the Greek and meaning, “God within”. I like the lyrical sound of the word duende and think it would be a great name for a boat. I wish you mucho duende and also great peace. What a delicate balance!

Ticket to ride
Ticket to ride

It is suddenly October. It seems it was Easter three weeks ago. The summer has blurred past and the weather has now changed. The butter is hard again. The wind and rain have come. October usually has some very fine weather and that will be the final chance this year to lunge at the must-do chores outdoors. After the full storm that just passed we now know where the new leaks in our boats are.  The sky has to quit dribbling so everything is dry enough for the final touch of caulking and paint. Just as it is almost dry enough to do some work, another soaker descends. All summer we take dryness for granted and then comes the ugly reminder about why we want to move to Southern latitudes. Hopefully the October reprieve comes again this year.

Slab city
Slab city

Well, I’m still here and that’s the way the pickle squirts. I’ve had an insidious nasty flu for the past three weeks and so there are no grand adventures or epiphanies to describe. My dog Jack is still asleep in my bunk as I grope for words while waiting on the morning fog to burn off.  It is so damp that the Beaver float plane moored adjacent to me didn’t want to fire up this morning. One of the magnetos probably had some condensation in it and there was a prolonged effort of cranking, spluttering, backfiring and coughing. Finally the sweet growling clatter of the Pratt & Whitney announced that there would be work as usual. There is a clear sky somewhere above the gloomy blanket. Work continues on the boat and the dream burns on despite the sound of dripping. Duende!

Urban transit
Urban transit

I’m posting a random assortment of photos which are irrelevant to any particular blog but are interesting in their diversity.  From a local abandoned coal mine to downtown Vancouver and points in between there is always a new marvel to photograph. I’m soon going to sign up on Flickr and post my photos there for the world to see but for now, here are some shots which someone else might find interesting. I often use my Canon Digital SLR with a minimal assortment of lenses. The damned thing leaves me feeling like an idiot with all it’s various modes and options. I’ve made part of my living at times with film cameras but all of this digital stuff is overwhelming. I like to also carry a simple pocket camera for those grab-shot moments when you don’t have your bag of gear handy.

Yhe alter
The alter

A photo site I visit daily is called ‘Twisted Sifter’. The work there is amazing and inspiring, I recommend it to anyone interested in superb photography. For a while they ran an ad for an Olympus camera, the TG-2. I needed a new pocket camera and in the end, after a lot of research, I bought one. It’s amazing. Water proof to depths of 60′, it is shock proof, cold proof and can take up to an hour and a half of movies. It’s sound recording is fantastic and the darned thing even has a built in GPS and altimeter.  I don’t know what all else it can do, but for a little over $300. it is great value. All of these images are taken with this little pocket camera, yes even the flower. End of commercial.

Ghost dog
Ghost dog

The last photo posted with this blog is of a face carved into an Arbutus tree. It was skillfully done with an understanding of how it would turn out once the incisions of the carving healed.

Folly in the woods
Folly in the woods
Lost faith
Lost faith

Sunday morning commerce

Sunday morning commerce

In the rain forest
In the rain forest

Clearly it has been there for a long time. I only saw it a few days ago although I have walked the dog within a few feet of it for years. This, of course, becomes an essay on seeing.

Earth to earth
Earth to earth

Sometimes we become so fixated on distant stars we miss the beauty right at our feet. A while ago I made a point of finding interesting, safe anchorages close to home. They were ones I’d charged past on my way to distant exotic places. I’ve had to concede that there is as just as much beauty and mystery right here at home.

The watcher
The watcher

It is hard to rationalize going cruising at all except to have such a wonderful place to come home to.



Tomorrow's weather
Tomorrow’s weather

Monday morning. It’s tough waking up. The dog is curled into the crook of my arm snoring softly. There is the occasional drip of water on the deck. It is so quiet! Then comes the clatter of my Pratt & Whitney morning alarm. The Beaver float plane moored just past my boat is fired up to warm the engine in anticipation of the day’s flying ahead. I resolve to hit the deck as soon as I hear it start up the second time. This means the passengers and freight are aboard and the flight is leaving the dock, but this morning there is only quiet.

I finally get up to see that we are fog-bound. All is calm. A kingfisher sprints past, its chattering flight pierces the calm for a moment. Fog drifts through the tree tops and slowly burns away to reveal the sun climbing above a cloud-mottled golden sky. The flight is still bound by the fog lying across the Strait and blanketing its destination in the Fraser River. The pilot uses his time to scrub the airplane. Passengers caught up in the thrust of their day pace the docks, texting messages or gesticulating with cell phones jammed to their ears. There are no float planes droning overhead. Slowly the sounds of busyness pervade the sanctity and the day moves forward. The sun begins to heat the bay, steam rises languidly from all the damp surfaces.

Fog bound
Fog bound

In my last few blogs I have used a derogatory tone in describing certain tourist yachters who haunt the docks during the summer season. I grudgingly admit that it is their dollars which provide the foundation for this facility where I live.  They are necessary to my existence here, like it or not. They are also a microcosm of a society, of which I am part, whose values are alienating me.

There are, thank the Gods, other folks. ‘Native Girl’ is living evidence that there is indeed another breed of character on the docks. Across the slip from me, my neighbour boat ‘Native Girl’ rests awaiting the day’s industry. The owners are a younger generation than mine yet they hold a passion for a way of life built around the ancient art of maintaining wooden boats and building new ones. They respect traditional nautical values and their enthusiasm for the art of maritime skills and perspectives is a hope in itself. Jon and Ryan are the proper owners for ‘Native Girl’. They live aboard her as their careers allow. Together the couple are methodically maintaining and restoring their historic vessel to her former glory.

Labour of love
Labour of love

This boat has a special place in my heart. I once missed buying her by two hours; it just wasn’t meant to be. I was an acquaintance of Allen Farrell, the designer and builder of ‘Native Girl’.  He and I were friends as were hundreds of others who knew him and his wife Sherry. All I’ll say here is that they were the only real hippies I have ever known. They didn’t talk about it, they lived it. Whether it was sustainable living, peace and love or thinking green, they were role models. I miss them both, dearly. I ache for the idea of them and their living proof that financial abundance has nothing to do with real wealth. Allen once told me that true wealth was knowing how little you need and realizing how free that left you. As I write I look around inside the expanse of this boat and wonder what it is that I truly need. What the hell has driven me from one fine boat to the next and then the next? The first one could have taken me anywhere in the world I wanted to go. Then I remember how Allen also told me that a boat needs to be big enough for everyone aboard to have their own “Pouting space.” He was a wise man.

Allen Farrell
Allen Farrell

There are several other folks dedicated to a lifestyle of eating, breathing and sleeping wooden boats and following diverse personal disciplines in the pursuit of their common passion.  There are some wonderful examples of boats, big and small, built and rebuilt here in Silva Bay and various other settings around Gabriola Island. I’m glad to be in their company, even though I’m a fibreglass boat kind of guy; ‘Classic Plastic’ is my niche.

So then, plan B. As the window closes on being able to take the boat south this fall I know I will not be able to endure another long dark, wet, winter. I hear folks talking about winter vacation plans and my body begins to ache in dread of being left behind. You can tell me all you want about adjusting my attitude but I can tell you we all have a tangible physical reaction to the long darkness of winter. It is a primal thing and some of us are more sensitive to it than others. I’ve spent a lot of my life working like a mule at sea and in the woods so often, it seems, in the dark. It didn’t bother me then but I’m not nineteen anymore so I while I respect the bears and other hibernating creatures I’ll try migration to sunnier latitudes for a while. This old flower needs a regular dose of UV rays and that demand seems to increase with the passing years.

It seemed the gods put a practical solution right in my path. These creaky bones don’t like lying on the ground overnight anymore so how about a compromise? I’ve been contemplating small holiday trailers for a while. They seemed too awkward to tow to places I like to go. Ones I could afford were not in good condition. Tent trailers were overpriced and didn’t really suit my needs.  The wobbling tin-foil condos lurching down the highway behind a monstrous diesel pickup truck appear to me to be the antithesis of easy rider freedom.

Well now, suddenly I have a mobile bed and a light utility trailer. I drove around a corner on Gabriola and there it was with a for sale sign, exactly perfect for my needs. Of course, the right thing always shows up when you’re dead broke so I had to solicit help from my wife. Thank you Jill.

I now own a beautiful tear drop trailer. It is home-built and very well put together. Clad in a sturdy sheet of aluminium it is an essentially a bed on wheels with room inside for a comfortable double berth. The back of the trailer hinges up to form an open-air roof over a tiny galley area. It is very light and easy to tow with enough ground clearance to tow behind my little 4×4 truck into the back lands of Baha or wherever I have an urge to go. It can also double as a utility trailer for hauling my tools around. It might even fit in a large inflatable boat.

Uh huh!

An option
An option

What’s this got to do with the sailing dream? The boat and my finances aren’t ready to ‘Do South’ this fall but if I camp along the way with my sleepy-time bubble I can hopefully afford to get away for a while during the middle of the coming winter. I can leave the rig anywhere I want or even play leap-frog with the boat as I move down the coast. Then I’ll have access to all of the country inland from the beach.  There is plenty more to Mexico and all those other places south than just their coastline.

Two more days and it is officially autumn. The fleet of white plastic boats is gone. Only a few committed yachters visit the marina. The little birds have flown south, the daylight is noticeably less each day, the morning dew lingers until noon and in the late afternoon it settles again. Painting brightwork is now an urgent order of business.  I’m two weeks short of the deadline for sailing away. It is not going to happen this year but life should be an adventure so we’ll find a creative way of dealing with winter and all its dark gremlins.

One of the secrets to good writing is to quit before the reader does. My first blog, almost a year ago already, was a commitment to go sailing and indulge a very long-lived dream. It would be very easy at this point to produce big fat excuses and pack it all in for an existence in front of the television.

That won’t happen. I owe it to my readers, myself and my wife,  (Whom I have tortured with this passion for decades.) The dream is alive, I’ll blog on. One day soon I’ll be able to post a photo in a blog of clear, warm green water surging through the scuppers with a palm-fringed shoreline in the background.  I hope you’ll be there with me; it is going to be a grand day. In the meantime, the journey continues one stumbling step at a time. 

By the way, one of the reasons I ended up with this boat is that it has an extra double bunk in a separate cabin. There are two other comfy bunks and lots of room topside to sleep under the stars in southern climates. Guests are welcome, especially….. if they can help defray costs and want to enjoy a unique, inexpensive vacation. Think about it. The ‘Seafire’ Hotel will be opening soon somewhere down there. See ya in the movies!

Mexico on my mind
Mexico on my mind

Birds On A Wire


The dog days of summer are over. It is wasp season. The little buggers, drunk on fermenting blackberries, buzz in your face and drive Jack the dog mad. Spiders are weaving big webs everywhere. Young swallows sit on the lifelines around my boat twittering, hovering, preening and shitting in my scuppers. I don’t mind a bit. They’re getting ready for the long flight south and I find marvel in the tenacity of this tiny yet feisty creature. How I want to fly away with them!

Yeech! I hate wasps!
Yeech! I hate wasps!

It has been a few weeks since my last blog. The days blur by in a grind of stoic effort to get ready for the coming winter. Hopefully there is still a way of getting old ‘Seafire’ south before it’s too late in the season but that leaves me a four to six week window to find the money I need and do the remaining things that need to be done. Whether or not the boat goes south, there are also annual maintenance items to be accomplished before the big wet dark winter descends. If this plan utterly falls down for autumn then I’m scheming how to take a small travel trailer south to Mexico for the winter. I’d leave it there, and maybe my truck, coming home in the spring to pick up the boat. There is an an awful lot of Mexico inland that the average yachter can’t access.

Plan F involves leaving next spring to harbour-hop south until the late summer hurricane season again eases enough to prudently move into Baha. After over twenty years of dreaming and planning it is very hard to resolve myself to waiting another year. I’d really rather get out there and just do it, without even seeing the beach until entering Ensenada, Baha to clear customs into Mexico. My Buddy Jim Poirier, on his Corbin 39, has just made the passage from Vancouver to Morro Bay, in Southern California in 13 days. He’s poised now to enter Baha waters on his way to the South Pacific. I’m very happy for him but I can’t say that his achievement cheers ME up. I’m still here.

For reasons of respect I won’t explain the personal circumstances that keep me tied to the bedpost but they must be resolved before I can leave. Being responsible can be onerous and frustrating but I want no reason that means I must come back. I want to do things I want to do instead of having to. Carrying this dream alone is a plodding ordeal of ‘I must do’ instead the serependipitous adventure it should be. Well now I’m beginning to whine and that definitely contravenes the standing orders on this little ship. Everything would look very different if I had a little money and only my attitude and persistent determination will change things to full launch mode.

It’s a cool, foggy Saturday morning on Labour Day Weekend. The butter has gone hard for the first time in months. All is blessedly quiet on the white plastic gringo boats. We locals are all counting the minutes until the weekend is over and the summer ‘Cruising’ season officially ends.  I know one is supposed to try and love all of God’s creatures but damn! Some of these folks make it bloody difficult! Going about one’s daily life should not be part of someone else’s intrusive amusement.  While bent to a very focused task I had one fellow who kept trying to tell me how to insert a screw in a hole!

After several brusk but restrained one-word responses I finally vented and bust forth in full red neck eloquence. His response; “Oh wow!”

I told another guy who was drowning me in free advise that if he “Truly knew that much about what I’m doing, then he’d know enough to shut up and leave me alone instead of yapping at my ass.” I’ve tried to explain to some about the little signs in garages which joke about doubling the rates when customers want to get involved. I’ve told folks that this is “Not an amusement park and just because I look like a clown doesn’t mean I’m here to entertain you!” I try to be a little more reasonable if there are kids in tow but when I look at a man’s hands and see that he has never done a stitch of real work, well, it’s time he tasted a pinch of blur collar perspective.

A couple of years ago, one summer visitor began quizzing me about the wind generator mounted on my boat. I seized the moment. I told him that it was a fan that enabled me to continue to sail when the wind quit. He was impressed and wondered, “What’ll they think of next?”

I know, I know, it’s time I went sailing.

Ubiquitous Pirates Cove Landmark
Ubiquitous Pirates Cove Landmark

September 1st this morning. Wow! Already! The way time flies it’ll be the 15th by this afternoon. I spent the night in Pirate’s Cove on DeCourcy Island. It was the home of Brother Twelve, an infamous local cult leader and generally slippery character, who lived here in the 1930’s. His old communal farm lives on as a lovely working farm. His group was so bizarre and paranoid that you can still find the remains of machine gun entrenchments in the encroaching woods.(After having spent yet another summer in the marina at Silva Bay I can imagine how he felt.) Last night was, despite a gale warning, absolutely flat calm. It was warm and the sky was crystal clear. The stars filled the night sky and were reflected on the water. There were a few meteorites. Satellites and high-flying aircraft crossed the arcing dome on stately courses.  There must have been a festival on Gabriola Island. Across the water came the echoing throb of drumming, all night. It took little imagination to conjure exotic images. The seals fishing outside the reef became crocodiles and the drifting log, a dugout canoe.

I know, I know, it’s time I went sailing.

You thought I was kidding about machine gun posts
You thought I was kidding about machine gun posts!
Things that go go bump in the night
Things that go bump in the night

I chatted up some folks aboard a Banjer 37 in the morning.  This, in my opinion, is an ultimate motor-sailor, Dutch-tough and very salty. It turns out to be the very same boat I was bidding on at the time I bought ‘Seafire’. ‘Wanderer’ of the Salish Sea is apparently in good hands and being well loved by Al and Lyndi, two nice people.  I’m a bit jealous of their jewel, but happy to say I love my own boat and all her unique quirks.


Home again now in Silva Bay, the long weekend is over, it’s safe to be back. The bulk of the weekend warriors are now gone till next Easter. There is a mass mindset about  “Boating Season” which I won’t try to understand and in fact feel thankful for. From now on through the winter, most cruisers will be those with the sea actually in their blood, and will generally be reasonable and interesting folks to chat with. Yes, I’m a snob. But after nearly half a year of again enduring mobs of the nautical wannabes and lookatmes, I’m more than a bit jaded.

Yeah; I know, I know, it’s time I went sailing.

A passing beauty
A passing beauty

The Spandex Brigade

Seafire in Dogfish Bay
Seafire in Dogfish Bay

How the hell did the human race survive and thrive before  modern inventions like the discovery of spandex? Understand that the guy writing this is a jaded old curmudgeon. He knows that if he tried squirming his Michelin man wattled physique into a body condom dogs would howl and babies would cry.  Perhaps I am somewhat envious but I can’t comprehend the human need for generics. What is the need for sameness, especially when we like to glorify the indivual? Why do so many folks feel the need to wear a costume? What does looking like an insect clone have to do with fitness? Why do people drive to the gymn to exercise instead of going for a walk? Think green?

As I began to write this blog I researched Spandex on Wikipedia. Let’s just say it is not a ‘Green’ product. Apparently up to 80% of North American clothing contains at least some Spandex. Of course, if you’re charging around the ocean in a five-hundred horsepower boat, thinking green is not part of your mantra. Synthetic clothing, by the way, is not something to wear near any possibility of fire. It is nasty stuff.

I recall a classic photo poster of a Tour de France race in the mid-thirties. As he rides, one competitor leans out from his bicycle to light another rider’s cigarette. Perspectives! How they change.

It’s high summer now. (My panic factor is growing with an awareness of the noticeably diminishing daylight.) The marina is chockablock full with generic white plastic boats.

(“Daddy, why are so many boats named Bayliner?”) The bay is liberally sprinkled with more at anchor. Folks scoot about in their generic white RIB dinghies loaded with generic yapping, squeaking little dogs and children. These activities bemuse me but it’s the Spandex brigade that confounds me. This morning I’ve watched several people arrive at the dock in their Leakmore inflatables loaded with bicycles. They are all similarly costumed in Spandex with helmets, gloves, wrap-around sunglasses (Even though it’s cloudy today) and other speedy accessories. Off they go to explore Gabriola Island. Other landlubber bicyclists, yes, clad in Spandex, arrive from shore-side to ponder the gleaming mayhem of the summer fleets. There also non-cyclists who wander the docks extruded into a Spandex sheath,  even on blistering hot days. They are often mesmerized with texting and I wonder how many actually walk off the end of the docks into the cold embrace of the sea. I grumped at one texting dude in oblivion to others walking on the dock, “Didn’t you come here to get away from that bullshit?” Well I know that just because I don’t understand, that it’s wrong; but it all seems incongruous.

The refit on Seafire continues. I’ve now completed the pressure water retrofit complete with new water heater and cockpit shower. After several circular efforts all leaks are finally exorcized and my four-letter vocabulary is well-lubricated. There are few Rubenesque marine technicians for good reason. It’s really hard to fit into all the tight, awkward places one needs to access on a boat and  get yourself out again, without sawing off an arm! There’s often some painful contortion to reach that place an inch-too-far but eventually a new ingenuity arises and the job gets done. Chiropractors must make a bundle from we bilge-apes.


Day two of the weekend marathon sees  the new holding tank in place and plumbed. All of the storage space is now opened up and cleaned up. Cuttting two access lids gained me about a cubic meter of previously never-used space, an addition of huge value on any boat. I was also able to clean out thirty years of smelly muck that had accumulated in the void. A coat of paint and all of the essentials odds and sods and tools can now be stowed out of sight beneath a useable double guest bunk. (Well that depends on how friendly they are with each other , (“ Henry, we’ll have you kip in with Dirk”… So then the fight began!)

New and Improved
New and Improved

Day three; finished! The new crapper is in place, plumbed and working without any leaks. All of the bunk junk is now stuffed beneath it awaiting further sorting, culling and stowing. I slept on top of it all last night too exhausted to savour the victory. I woke up this morning, still exhausted but now smug with my success. I’ll have to admit that it will make a rather tight double-bunk. Still much better than some of the coffin-like sleep holes I’ve endured. Some nights, on a stormy passage, being wedged into the sail locker is the perfect place to try and rest.


Of further relief, the fleet of weekend warriors dissipated about noon yesterday. There was much angst and loud speculation about the wind. The weather report boomed  in high fidelity from vhf radios all over the marina. Apparently crossing back to the mainland is risky business if there is a white-capped ripple anywhere in sight. Perhaps it has something to do with hangovers. There was much revelry the night before. Several boats entered into a stereo competition, each demonstrating a personal bad taste in music. One neighbour boat was crewed with a couple and their copious spawn, complete with a squeaking shitlick dog, who were determined to hurry up and relax, no matter what the price… to their neighbours.

The female component was a hefty lass who, just at dusk, leapt overboard to declare that the icy, dirty water was “Beautiful”. She then began castigating her bookend-jumbo partner into joining her with loud invectives about his general manliness. He shrugged, poured himself another drink, and cranked up his stereo in the ‘repeat track’ mode. For the next half-hour the  marina endured Jimmy Buffet’s “Let’s get drunk and screw”, over and over, and over.

In the morning they joined into the deck-chair folding competition, which also involves struggling with shorepower cables, coolers, crab traps and other accessories to be restowed aboard. Then the race evolves into who who can leave the dock first. Usually the ones trapped in the back  of the marina are the first to cut loose. A few seconds ahead of the boats in front, they may swap gelcoat as they scrape past. In their haste they sometimes cut a few too many corners and run aground on the falling tide. There’s a reason it’s named “Shipyard Rock”.

You know I really don’t miss working in the shipyard;

At all.

Home waters
Home waters


Dionisio Point moonrise
Dionisio Point moonrise


…Well that’s what I first thought when I read the title back.  What the hell does this have to do with a blog about realizing a dream against all odds? Specifically, getting the boat I’m sitting in at this moment out of here and sailing south within the next three months. 

To paraphrase something Einstein said, you’ll never be able to solve a problem by using the same thinking that created it in the first place.  And…the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over always expecting a new result. I guess I know where I am.

I’m reading a book loaned to me which I’m finding timely to my situation and it’s quite inspiring: ‘Ship Of Gold In The Deep Blue Sea’ by Gary Kinder. The title is a bit lugubrious and probably some editor’s idea of a commercially viable handle that does no justice to a very absorbing read. It is about the sinking and ultimate finding of a gold-laden ship, the ‘S.S.Central America’. One of the central characters is obsessed with process and linear thinking. He lives with a conviction that the only things impossible are those which we think are impossible. It is about how the quest for one solution leads to other discoveries and solutions. That happens in the divergence and convergence of conversation and thought about one specific problem. New possibilities arise out of the quest for a single solution.

An anecdote is provided about a young man from Ohio who was deeply inspired by the accounts of a sea captain about his travels in the Amazon jungle. Highly motivated by that account he decides to go to Brazil and duplicate the adventure. Travelling by boat down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers he arrives finally in New Orleans to discover that no ships ever sail from there to Brazil. He has, however, experienced a rich life on the great rivers where he often heard the boatman’s sounding cry of “mark twain”.  Samuel Clemens becomes one of America’s most beloved writers and the world becomes a better place because of a simple dead end. Divergence becomes a happy new convergence.

Hanging in therre
Hanging in there

I’ve been trying to make sense of my sojourn in Silva Bay. Why did the gods put me here? I held the job which brought me here for the best part of three and a half years. I have made some wonderful friends, learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the location and its archipelago of small islands. However, I’ve made only a survival income, spent a lot of dark and lonely nights on one boat or another, parted with my beloved ‘Pax’ which was ready to sail away, started yet another refit and am left pondering what I’m really doing here; especially during the apex of summer with grand weather and all these gringo boaters around the marina trying to have ‘Fun’. I thought I’d simply let the universe unfold as it will and discover the big reason why I’m here but no epiphanies yet. I am anxious to move on.

I’ve recently been in touch with a long-lost cousin who used the term “Cognitive remodelling”. I love the linguistics of that but frankly I think I already do too much of that and should perhaps apply a little more  “Kinetic remodelling” and get this damned old boat out of here. So I’m tackling the project I’ve been dreading most. It began in January when I upgraded the galley counter and cupboards. I fitted a new water heater in a dead space there and have now decided it needs to be relocated lower. One of its heat sources is the engine and I thoughtlessly installed the heater at too high a level for the engine coolant to flow correctly. I may as well change it now. Damn my teeth for the oversight! So, lower it ten inches,;sounds easy right? It proved to be a day’s work and seemed to be rather like trying to perform heart surgery through the rectum.

The old water heater was stored in a cavernous storage locker beneath the bunk of the guest cabin. There is also a large sewage holding tank and an amazing snot-garble of plumbing, wiring and furnace ducting. It is a sad waste of much-needed stowage. The settees in the main cabin are on top of two monstrous fuel tanks. There is nothing other than chart storage there so it is imperative that I have as much space for stores elsewhere. The next mega-project begins.

First the guest bunk-junk moves onto the forward cabin bunk. Hopefully it will all end up neatly stowed in the new storage space or in the dumpster if I don’t have a valid use for it. I’ll sleep, for the time being, on one of the settees in the main cabin. Those have new foam cushions and I’ve redesigned and built new seat-backs to hinge up and allow for some comfortable snoozing space. Next the old mattress from the guest bunk goes. God! It reeks of three decades of fermented human presence, my imagination decides that’s it is just spilled wine but I don’t know who it’s been through before permeating the mattress. I’m stunned that I have lived with this disgusting element for so long. Out, out foul demons! Then it’s dunging out the space below the bunk area and realizing how poorly it was utilized. The aged water heater, rusted and leaking, is torn out. It’s a miracle that it still worked. There’s a hodge-podge of plumbing and redundant pumps. Each line needs to be traced, removed and relocated.

The storage space
The storage space

But next, more foul demons. I decided it was propitious to remove the old holding tank. I like to get the worst out of the way as soon as possible. I discovered that some rocket-scientist installed the pump-out fitting almost a third of the way from the bottom of this twenty-five gallon tank. That means that only two-thirds of the tank was ever usable and the bottom third was full of a very ripe sediment. (The boat is thirty years old, so…?) Of course, the tank had to be slid out of it’s fastenings, (Every screw-head is filled with paint) then wriggled upright so the sawn-off fittings were on the top side. Next, the tank, one third full of fecal delight, had to be manhandled out of the boat without spilling anything.  I hugged that stinky, sloshing puppy as if my life depended on it. It was 30 degrees Celsius outside but it felt cool when I finally landed the tank on the dock. The folks going by to the float-plane  passed quickly. The dog reappeared an hour later.

Bunk junk
Bunk junk

Now I can start putting it all back together The fun-part!  Pressure water system first. Remember divergence and convergence. Well this too shall pass and it  should be remembered that it’s all about the romance of the sea.

Simple pleasures
Simple pleasures


What a week! An e-mail came from a friend declaring that he’s on track for his scheduled departure for a year-long cruise to the South Pacific and back. Another pal sent me a blog about his small armada of friends in yachts leisurely circumnavigating Vancouver Island. Rodger and Ali have arrived with ‘Wave’ in Hay River, are all rigged up and waiting on winds to ease so they can leave on their odyssey. They’re probably out there and at it as I write. One more friend has spontaneously decided to leave on Monday for two weeks in Portugal. Tony and Connie, on ‘Sage’ are in Langkawi, Malaysia trying to get some paint on their boat during the Monsoon Season. Well I love you all and wish you well but I’m still in Silva Bay singing ‘Sitting on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away……’ you know how the song goes!

Hold on to the dream

I am grudgingly admitting that while the dream is very much alive that I have to fall back to Plan F. I’m destroying myself trying to find a way to raise funds and get old ‘Seafire’ ready enough to safely and boldly venture forth this fall. Many items on my ‘To do’ list are slowly osmosing on to the ‘Mexico Mañana list but some things must be done here first.  I’m finding life too stressful, and I’m too miserable, as the days whizz by with not enough happening and the departure window of early October rushing toward me like a train in a tunnel. If a sack of money falls on me, (And doesn’t kill me) I can still meet the challenge. However the present reality will probably prevail (Now there’s a mouthful!) I cannot meet the deadline as things stand at the moment. It’s time to back up and reload. So, still clinging to Plan A, I’m now considering sliding toward F.

Plan F involves working on ‘Seafire’ until the winter rains become horizontal then laying the boat up for a couple of months. I’ve acquired a little old Nissan 4×4 truck in good shape which is perfect for Baha driving conditions. I’m thinking of also finding an older small travel trailer and meandering down to the San Carlos/Guaymas area  at the top of the Sea Of Cortez. I can leave the truck and trailer there and then return to fetch the boat. If I can get ‘Seafire’ as far as Astoria Oregon for the Fisher Poet’s Gathering at the end of February, then I’m definitely on my way. The Columbia Bar and the entire Pacific Northwest Coast is an ugly piece of work at that time of year. I’d much prefer to stay 300 miles off the beach until abeam Los Angeles then angle in to Ensenada, Mexico to clear customs. However, if I were to tip-toe from port to port southward from Astoria along the Oregon Coast, making one final jump in a good weather window to San Francisco I can hang out there for the summer. It is a great place to tinker up the boat with a ton of places to check out between the Bay area and the Sacramento Delta. Hurricane season in Mexico lurks until approximately mid-October so you don’t want to be too far south too soon. So, Plan F for Frisco Bay. Of course there are plans B through E and failing to plan is planning to fail; right? And…too many plans are like no plans at all.

On a definitely upbeat note, I think I have finally solved my dinghy and life raft quandary. I had a fine little inflatable boat with a hard aluminium bottom. I loved it and deemed it perfect for pulling up on rocky shorelines anywhere. The problem was carrying it on open water passages. I’ve also been unsure about what to do for a life-raft.

There are three enemies on a lightly-crewed vessel:

-Fatigue, which leads to all sorts of dumb-assed mistakes even to the  point of       sitting on your own shoulder and watching as you wilfully do something stupid and dangerous.

-Fire, the most serious dumb-assed mistake. For whatever reason a fire starts, there are only a couple of minutes to get it out or it is time to abandon ship . I feel that an onboard fire is more reason to carry a life raft than the possibility of sinking. If you’ve ever seen a small vessel, especially fibreglass, catch fire you’ll never forget.

-Chafe, yes even on various body parts when failure to maintain good personal hygiene, (Probably due to fatigue) produces debilitating symptoms. More importantly, there is chafe occurring to all moving parts of a boat during the constant motion of being at sea. It is especially critical with sails and rigging but like anything else, an inflatable dinghy will wear somewhere.  Stored on deck and deflated it is still in the way and chafing somewhere. Hanging in davits over the stern of the boat it is even more susceptible to chafe and is also likely to be swamped with a big wave. Not only does one risk losing the dinghy, there is a good chance of seriously damaging the mother ship where the davits attach.

Life rafts are a great idea but even on a forty-something foot boat like ‘Seafire’ storage space is a challenge. Rafts are expensive, must be regularly serviced and not entirely reliable. In fact, in heavy weather they are a terrible place to be and are not especially inclined to stay right-side up. If you’ve ever sat in one afloat you know that bobbing around in a life raft with a few other puking people might be a fate worse than death.

So, I’ve compromised.

I was able to sell the dinghy I had in the hope of finding something more suitable and also able to serve as a life raft should the need arise. There are two types of material used in the manufacture of inflatable boats: Hypalon and PVC. The latter is much less costly but very susceptible to wear and punctures. It is especially unable to tolerate even moderate exposure to UV damage. If you are heading south, you are going to have trouble. A boat made of Hypalon is approximately twice the price but it will live an infinitely longer time. There are some here in the marina easily twenty-five years old looking a bit scruffy but still going strong.

I looked feverishly everywhere for a good used boat or an affordable new boat which meant accepting a big compromise in quality and so ultimately, value. While checking all the online advertisements twice daily one boat suddenly leapt out at me. The timing was perfect and I’m taking it as a good omen that I’m moving in the right direction. I now own a ten-year old, but never used, 11-foot Achilles Hypalon inflatable boat. It has a high-pressure inflatable keel and floor so it is dead easy to store and to inflate on the decks of ‘Seafire’. It came with a set of wheels for rolling it up the beach and even a second, electric pump for rapid inflation.  The price was reasonable and so I’m set. All I have to do is figure out a  bright tough canopy which will install easily and it can double as a life raft. Now I have to see how she goes with the outboard motor I have. I’ll be back shortly…

First ride, barnacles and oyster shells, Perfect!
First ride, barnacles and oyster shells, Perfect!

Well she goes like hell ! The Achilles is a virgin no more. Even with a full load this little baby planes easily and scoots along nicely. The floor flexes a bit like a flying carpet. It’s a keeper. ‘Seafire’ and her tender ‘Backfire’. Progress in the right direction, hope springs eternal.

???????????????????????????????Passing neighbour

I’m definitely not one to be impressed with high-end, look at me boats, especially power boats. ‘Fart Parkersons’, I call them. On a rare occasion I’m forced to make an exception. I arrived back at my boat  the other day to discover I had a temporary neighbour in the form of a gleaming perfect blend of burgundy fibreglass, varnished teak and polished stainless steel. No strutting skippers or bikini-clad trophy barbies aboard, just a very nice couple meeting some family arriving on the float-plane. The boat is a 40-something foot Hinckley ‘Picnic boat’. So there are folks who can manage affluence and civility all at once. Now I know having money isn’t everything, but I could sure stand a change of problems!

Hinckely logo in teak
Hinckely logo in teak

Let me add that managing poverty and civility is also a bit challenging. If only my dog knew how well-off he is. ‘Eat it, copulate with it, piss on it, have a nap’.

Not a bad philosophy at all!

Fetch yer ass!
Fetch yer ass!

Whiskey And Tea


As a writer I often hear clever lines or turns of phrase which leave me wishing I’d written them.

One of the dreads of being an artistic sort is to be accused of plagiarism, which is of course what we all do, at least subconsciously. We hope our work isn’t recognized as the subtle, or not-so-subtle, paraphrasing it really is, but none of us are that clever all that time. This morning I caught the lines of a song on the radio.Some like smokey whiskey, some worry their tea’s too strong”.Damn! I wish I’d written that! How do I reword this one and make it sound like a Fred original?

Flight to forever
Flight to Forever

It is Canada Day Monday, July 1st. Damn again! It has been over six months since my first blog, that commitment to set sail before the end of this year. Whiskey or tea for me? I like to think I’m a single-malt kind of guy but I’d better put some razzle in my dazzle, the days are flying by. Time and tide wait for no man. It’s been several weeks since the door closed on my job in the shipyard but the work accomplished on ‘Seafire’ is pitiful. The weather has been nasty and wet and I’m helping refit a friend’s boat but then busy people are the ones who get things done without making excuses. Yeah right! I just can’t seem to get motivated and don’t know why. Well I do, but it’s hard to admit openly.

Instead, I’ll revel in the glory of the day. The temperature in the main cabin yesterday was over 100° F and it felt good! More of the same today with no wind. Summer is here.

Ladysmith Maritime Sociey Clubhouse
LMS Clubhouse

I’ve broken away from the long-weekend madness at the docks in Silva Bay.

107 years old!
107 years old!

‘Seafire’ spent Friday night at the Ladysmith Maritime Society marina. What an amazing job those folks have done! The docks have been upgraded wonderfully. A stupendous clubhouse and visitor facility have been built. There is a great little floating museum with a lovingly restored and maintained fleet of vintage vessels. It even includes a gig from HMCS ‘Ontario’. These immaculate boats are used to provide harbour tours and certainly help provide a glowing example of what happens when people work together.


I’ve been a member of the LMS for a few years and am amazed at the transition in such a short time. It was not so long ago that these docks were decrepit and even dangerous. It was an extension of ‘Dogpatch’, a neighbouring fleet of derelict boats and liveaboard owners or squatters known for low-life activities and their ever-sinking vessels. The society then seemed to be a ‘Good old boys club’ strangled in bickering and personal agenda. There was a grudging acceptance of newcomers and a resistance to growth and change. Dogpatch is still there, abandoned vessels still litter the foreshore. But there is now a distinct divide among the two entities.

Pipe me aboard
Pipe me aboard

The old guard attitude seems gone now and there is a cordial welcoming atmosphere. With some new blood at the helm there has been a massive communal volunteer undertaking to upgrade the entire site. It is a wonderful success. There is plenty of guest moorage and some stunning new facilities which include clean washrooms and showers, a laundry room, a place to buy snacks and a huge area to mix and mingle or just hang out. The much-loved Purple Martins return each year to nest in their condos on the pilings and it’s great to see such progress in sleepy old Ladysmith. Kudus to all! It’s a great place to visit.

A gig's helm
A gig’s helm

The docks often host some interesting visitor vessels. This weekend it was the ‘Sarah Elizabeth Banks’. Now registered to the port of Seattle, this old steel-hulled beauty was originally a fireboat in Sunderland, England. A little online sleuthing shows ths vessel entered into service in 1906, with a pair of coal-fired steam engines! This vessel endured two world wars in a port famous for shipbuilding. Imagine the stories she knows!

Secret Beach
Secret beach

The last two nights have been spent anchored in Preedy Harbour on Thetis Island. The weather remains stunning, clear and gloriously hot; the water is quite swimmable and almost all is languorous bliss. This archipelago known as the Gulf Islands must be a jewel of the planet but I, for one, regret the influx of affluent gentry who seem to have overrun the entire area. No matter where you go among the islands there is no escape anymore from people. Solitude is not a sense I find in the Gulf Islands, at least in the summer months. Yesterday I watched a near-disaster as a small powerboat ran over the fallen water skier he was following. There were no bobbing bleeding baby yuppy bits and it all ended well as two boatloads of now-subdued drinkers absorbed their hard-earned lesson. I guess they were just trying to relax?

The Race
The race

This morning as I write, I can only hear the guttering of gulls and the gossiping of two ravens. Well… that changed as I typed that last line, now comes the whine of an outboard to which I’ll soon add my harmony as I take the dog ashore. Soon there will be the clatter of float planes, the drone and snarl of various boats, the incessant splatter of colliding wakes, and on shore there’ll be shrieking children, barking dogs and loud vehicles. In the background I can see and hear the sonorous presence of the Crofton pulp mill. Here again comes the Thetis Ferry emitting its piercing hydraulic howl.

Petrified Reboot
Petrified Reboot

I wonder what these islands were like before we white folks arrived to ‘civilize’ and otherwise desecrate this incredibly rich and beautiful region. Well that’s the way it is and I know I’m part of the problem. I’m here. I wonder how my perspectives would change if I were able to own one of these islands where I could erect my own garish and huge unoccupied mansion with accompanying monster dock and guest house. I understand the urge to stake out one’s own patch but with the evident multi-million dollar extravagances so prevalent I wonder why the hell they seem so little used. Money isn’t everything, but Oh Christ! I sure wouldn’t mind a change of problems!

Drifting and dreaming
Drifting and dreaming

Bitching and pondering will only underscore my envy of all the disposable wealth. I may as well admit that no matter where I travel I can think of no finer place to call home. So I’ll adjust my straw hat and sit back with some whiskey the colour of good tea. Oh by the way, ‘Happy Canada Day’. I raise my glass to thee. Eh?

Keep yer pecker up
Keep yer pecker up



No Spiders
No spiders

Superstitions of the sea. That’s a subject often drowned in copious amounts of alcoholic beverage and sceptical conversation. Men don’t easily admit they hold with various supersticions, but nearly every sailor has developed their own fears and respects.

Don’t begin a voyage on Friday. Never open or store a container of anything upside down. Don’t whistle in the wheelhouse. Every one knows about Murphy’s Law and how the worst possible scenario is what one should expect. My intimate and dark relationship with Murphy has taught me that monster is probably female. She’s far too devious to be male! Personally, I’ve come to suspect any boat with a hull painted green or blue and I can tell you vehemently to avoid any boat that comes with shag carpeting. There’s a practical reason for that one; but then most superstitions have a tangible origin.

As a marine mechanic I’ve developed a habit of flipping some small shiny object overboard, a stainless steel nut or screw is adequate. Much better to offer a small sacrifice to the old man of the deep than give up a treasured wrench or a pair of eye glasses or a cell phone. Kill a spider and make it rain.

Actually I’ve come to value the presence of spiders aboard as a good omen! It can be argued that with enough flies aboard to attract predators arachnids might be a bad sign but I reckon that the wiley insect will not be found aboard any vessel about to sink or burn. I am fascinated by the spider’s incredible tenacity and engineering skills. I’ve known webs in the rigging to withstand full gales. If damaged or destroyed a spider web is repaired promptly. I’ve seen their silk spun between two masts and in other places ridiculously impossible. Despite their capacity for massive industry, spiders also have incredible stealth and amazing patience.

There are nasty ones, best avoided, and even some of the tiniest spiders have formidable venom in their bite. Once a backwoods boy who could shoot the brains out of anything without remorse, I now find myself trying to move spiders and other innocent creatures from situations dangerous to them or someone else. I hope that an evolving respect for life is positive growth and that my little friends hold a reciprocal respect.

Speaking of intrepid tenacity I’ll dedicate the rest of this blog to two dear and inspiring friends. Two years ago, through friends of friends, Rodger and Ali first came to Silva Bay aboard their boat ‘Betty Mc’, registered to the Port of Melbourne, Australia. This vessel was built in Tasmania as a lobster boat. (Or, as pronounced in Aus: “Crybote”) Rodger explained that crayfishing is often done in the surf and so the boats must be built to withstand the occasional bash on the rocks. ‘Betty Mc’ certainly is. She’s a floating bomb shelter! The boat still has a livewell and could be put back to work fishing with little effort. Built of exotic timber like “Red shaggy Bark” and “Celery Top” she’ll outlive us all despite the many miles that have passed beneath her keel. With amenities like a head spurned, ( No-one has ever had to unclog a bucket!) the boat is filled with tools, spare parts and materials for repairs, extra outboards and even a motorcycle. She’s not a gaudy girl but has an immaculate engine room, snug accomodation, is wired beautifully and practically, and has an interior which is elegantly simple and practical. Her wheelhouse is clearly thought out by a seasoned mariner and holds the boat’s single luxury, a stainless steel expresso machine handy to the helm! ‘Betty Mc’ carries fuel enough for a three-thousand mile range and has a sailing rig to help her get there eventually, no matter what.

Betty Mc
Betty Mc

Her rugged good looks stand her out from the crowd to the eye of the seasoned mariner yet she is generally unnoticed by weekend warriors and other Tupperware pirates. Perfect! After working for a living for decades, she was refitted by Rodger and Ali and has since voyaged northward through the South Pacific to Japan then on to the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and southward to Silva Bay. Last year she returned to Alaska for the summer and so far this year has gunkholed down into the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound more miles than most yachts travel in years.

Boats have been described as the ultimate work of man; a marriage of function to perform specific work and commerce  while there is also an artful form of infinite variety and beauty. A proper vessel is pleasing to the eye from angles. ‘Betty Mc’ is a perfect example. Previous to acquiring ‘Betty Mc’, Rodger and Ali cruised extensively by sail ‘Down under’ and have also travelled an enviable number of places overland Their adventures are a massive achievement by any standard and they’re definitely not over yet.


Last fall the intrepid pair bought a surplus Canadian Coast Guard vessel at auction for a bargain price. ‘Wave’ is under thirty feet in length, is built ruggedly of aluminum and powered by a screaming Detroit diesel. She once served as a support vessel for the CCG Cutter ‘John P Tulley’. Returning from a winter break in Australia, Rodger and Ali have worked very long hours for the past months to refit and prepare her for their new odyssey. They left today.


They are taking ‘Wave’ to Sidney where they’ll load her onto a truck for the long haul to Hay River, in the Northwest Territories. There, the boat will be launched on the Southern shore of Great Slave Lake. They’ll travel northward over a thousand miles downstream  on the MacKenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk and then onward in a personal exploration of the Arctic and the Northwest Passage. When winter sets in (Usually sometime in September) they’ll haul her up on a safe beach and come back to her next spring. Who knows how many years they will be at that adventure! I have the honour of baby-sitting Betty Mc while they’re away from her and I look forward to learning the plans for her next jaunt; I’ve heard then mentioning Europe and Scandinavia.

Rodger and Ali
Rodger and Ali

What intrigues me most about Rodger and Ali is their personality. I say that singularly because that is how they function, as a single unit, a perfect balance of ying and yang. Theirs is a marriage where one plus one equals much more than two. They are quiet and unassumming while being warm and charming at all times despite the long weary hours that  they often work shoulder to shoulder. It took a long time for me to learn of their high academic standing and then not from them; they are very humble. I’ve never heard them brag about anything though they’ve certainly earned the right. These two are an absolute antithesis from the stereotyped Australian who projects a wannabe Crocodile Dundee image and says things like “Brace yourself Sheila!” They prefer living as simply as possible without frills and seem to always be caught within the joy of the moment. This team constantly inspire me. Yes, I envy them. I feel quite humble to count myself among the many friendships they must cultivate everywhere they go. I wish them many spiders!

NOTE: If you are interested, there is an excellent article online about Betty Mac’s epic voyage up from Tasmania to Alaska. Google up: Rodger Grayson Betty Mc. (The url is far too long to post here as a link.) Look for the heading, Sturdy Workboats. This is a New Zealand periodical dedicated to real boats.


I’m cheating on this blog. Most of it has already been written for months.

I am repeatedly asked why I’m on my own now instead of working in the shipyard. Apart from my penchant for doing jobs suitable for much younger men, I can assure you that wriggling around in bilges and lockers is not ideal for Rubenesque old bilge apes like me. I’ve got to get ‘Seafire’, my own prune barge, ready for the deep blue sea.

I guess that having a white muzzle has its advantages, like finally having the patience to endure finicky tasks, and having the same thing go wrong seventeen different ways and remembering even worse jobs in the past. Then your greasy glasses, which weren’t doing you much good anyway, drop into the bilge and you blow your old back out trying to retrieve them, and life clearly can’t go on and on like this.You know that nothing is forever, including yourself, and it’s time to savour the warmth of the fire before it becomes a heap of dying embers, then ash.

Some folks asked me why I kept on working in the yard. So now I don’t. The same people ask me why I’m not there any more! I used to call myself ‘Shipyard Fred’. Now I’m just a wharf rat…but one with still a dream or two, or ten. I’d prefer to finish life as a lump of shark shit instead of ending up sitting in a corner being spoon-fed and having my diapers changed. No one is going to stand around the edge of a

The 'U&I'

six-foot hole telling each other what a hard worker I was. Bugger that!

Bilge Ape
Bilge Ape

The following is something I wrote for the Fisher Poets Gathering in February of this year. People liked it. I hope you do.

Shipyard Summer Romance

It is hard to find the romance of the sea in anything, while working in a shipyard.

Most days I don’t have it as bad as the guys

Who purge dripping filth from hulls left too long unattended

They scrape the bearded muck then the caked bottom paint away

So they can replace it with fresh poison which fills the air and your brain with a putrid tang.

My wages aren’t quite as meagre as the rest of the crew’s

Because I have the lofty honour of working inside the hulls

Where the slurping black bilge muck defies you to reach on down for dropped tools

If you can wriggle your hand that far; and get it out again.

Each job may require painful contortions inside the bowels of a vessel,

Size of the boat has nothing to do with it, big ones have places just as tight

Every bolt rusted solid with no room to heave on a wrench

There’s a tangle of circuitry you’ll rip apart if you’re not careful.

Nothing to it
Nothing to it

Wiring, now there’s a joy!

You spend half the job trying to figure out what the hell the last man

Was thinking before you eventually rip out all the old stuff and start over again

Coming up with a bitter joke about the ‘Home-Prairie Frigger-Rigger Manual of Marine Wiring.’

You also curse the landlubber marine designers who, themselves, have clearly never been to sea,

Let alone ever turned a wrench.

Sewage jobs seem to show up on the hottest days of the year.

You battle with a clogged toilet pump tucked well beneath the sole plates

Surgical gloves ruptured, you don’t give a damn, you just want to get the job done

Gagging on the stench of someone else’s rancid DNA

While they implore with toe-tapping anxiety that they’d really like to make the next tide

As if you’re squirming there, with their organic discharges running down your arm, just to pass the time.

Of the few cash tips you make in the summer, none are ever from the crapper jobs.

There is work that comes back, no matter how careful you were the first time.

The boss looks at his watch and wordlessly makes it clear that you’re costing him revenue,

We’ll talk about the lost time later, just get it done, stay late if you have to, jobs are heaping up.

You emerge from a locker gulping for a breath of air, your body chaffed, bruised, scratched and

bleeding, massaging knots out of contorted muscles before going back down for more

Fibreglass slivers under broken, blackened fingernails, bloody knuckles

Only God understands what grows in pink fungal splendour in the locker where you struggle and gasp

Knowing you’ll probably only wriggle back out of this hell hole if you stay sweat-wet.

Engines and gearboxes, more bliss!


Outboard motors than will not run despite everything appearing perfect

The pull-start poltergeist turns out to be the customer’s son.

He put diesel in the two-stroke tank

Now four carburetors need to be removed, stripped, cleared, reassembled, reinstalled and tuned,

Magically in the next hour and a half.

An ancient stubborn diesel engine worn beyond reasonable hope

Hard to start, water in the oil, a crack in the block, stripped bolts,

Yet you spread its greasy guts across the bench after hearing the poor-broke-sailor lament

Sung ever better than your own version.

The only parts you could find are somewhere on their way from Scandinavia on a slow boat

Hopefully you can patch things up for this guy to make it through to season’s end

Meanwhile you fumble a transmission together with pieces from two other busted ones

It’s for a tired old working boat and Chum season is only a few days long, so you do the best you can.

A desperate power-boater comes through the door, as usual, two minutes ahead of closing time

He has to be in Vancouver for the morning and he’ll make it worth your while,

Yeah right; you’ve never heard that before!

Laying across the hot engine, bolt heads poking into your guts you wonder

How and why the hell he left the last dock with a pump leaking that badly.

You don’t have the correct parts of course

So you stay on another half-hour trying to persuade Mr. Yuppie-yachter that it’s alright

Run home on only one engine, that’s why it’s there, backup so you can make it to your meeting.”

Turns out he doesn’t really need to, afraid to try the crossing only one 400 hp engine. he’ll wait; Liar!

Another evening shot to hell now, you’ll order parts in on the morning floatplane.

On the blocks
On the blocks

You go back to your own boat, your home,

The reason you live like the transient scum dock-hermit whom certain folks think you are

No point trying to explain your dream to beach huggers.

Too weary to put in a couple of hours on your own long list of work to do

You open a beer and fry up some supper

A proper diet and your dreams pushed back another day

Smiling you recall a time when you longed for a life ashore.

You had hoped to sail your old prune barge south this fall, finish her refit down there somewhere

At the helm there’s a framed picture of a palm-fringed, azure green tropical anchorage

But you know you’re in for yet another long dark, wet, arthritic winter

You know that soon the e-mails will start coming in from friends already south of thirty-eight.

You fear you’ll never pay the bills as you crawl into the cold, lonely bunk for another weary night

Knowing that old Nelson was right, ‘Ships and men rot in port.’

Around the marina, dock-warriors on their plastic clone boats

Party into the night, music blaring, drunken laugher, giggling children maraud the docks

You toss and writhe, jealous of their apparent pleasure,

Angry at their obvious decadent leisure

Numbly you wonder if you know how to have fun anymore.

For a few minutes you fall into the dark bliss of sleep

Then there’s a tentative knocking on the hull

The boat shifts slightly under someone’s weight on the cap rail

Probably looking for a mechanic you think

You lay unmoving until finally they go away

Now you’re awake for hours embraced by your regrets and worries

Then it occurs to you that maybe the caller

Was that gorgeous woman on the boat two docks down wanting to borrow some sugar…

Yeah right! Well, even old bilge apes can indulge in fantasies, OK!

In the morning, pot-bellied men in flowered shirts mop the dew from their shining white decks

You trudge back up the dock, stepping around fresh poodle piles, to another day in the yard

Pausing for a moment to savour the perfect summer morning

Wondering why you don’t just untie your own boat and bugger off

No goodbyes, no final paycheque, just gone

But you know you don’t steer a steady course looking back at your wake

So you stay on to pay off the bills.

No cash, no splash
No cash, no splash

Your attention turns to the spectre of a gleaming bright phallus with huge propellers

The crew has brought it up on the ways during the night flood tide.

There was a noble time when this yard’s machinery sculpted wood here

At the hands of those who knew and loved the shape of boats

The air was filled with the staccato beat of caulking hammers,

The song of band saws, a tangy aroma of yellow cedar dust and pine tar

As dedicated men built boats right here to go to sea, and to war.

That was a long time ago

Hard to believe now in the choking muck of ground rust and fibreglass

Grating nasal scream of grinders and other machinery,

Now this!

Barbie the trophy wife stands up on her swim grind trying to give orders

Manoeuvring constantly so you have a view up her short skirt

You’re a sailor who’s certainly no prude but you keep your eyes averted

And wonder why on earth she blatantly flirts

With this grotty old bilge ape in tattered coveralls covered in dirt

Her cell phone buzzes and chirps all day

She reiterates that her old man is a very fussy fellow

While you think that ‘He can’t be if he’s hooked up with you lady.’

Barbie invites you to come aboard for beer later

But the chance to decline her invitation leaves you feeling better

Smiling thinly you get to work knowing there’ll be no pleasing anyone on this job,

So just get ‘er done and be gone

You tunelessly breathe an old shanty you know

About how every turn of the screw brings me closer to you.

It goes on through the year

Too rarely you get to work on a real boat that smells of fish

Or rust and grease and diesel and work

The summer spins by as dizzy as a barnacle on a propeller

The gods put you here, you’ll see it through

But it seems a long way from steering a course across the heaving belly of the open ocean

Where life actually makes sense.

You’ve always loved the sea and boats

You have a place in your heart for those who share this passion and understand why you hang on

They know how the summer wind is warm and steady and calls you to cut her loose and just sail away,

No further explanation needed about why you’re working in the yard

Those few know that it’s all about the romance of the sea.

Jame's boat
Jame’s boat