Snowy Palms

First Frost. One of my favourite trees. In the heat of summer, a herd of cows lounges in it’s shade.

On October 22nd The latest Volvo Ocean Race began in Alicante Spain. I am not a racer but it was fascinating to watch the beginning of the race. The start began like any sailing race with competitors jostling for a good position. The fleet then competed through several legs in the bay before heading out to race each other around the world. I prefer simple, traditional boats to these modern hi-tech floating computers but to see such massive boats (65 feet long, their hinged keel draws 15 feet! ) manoeuvring like dinghys with crews smoothly handling sail changes at each mark is a wonder. Sailing boats, in my opinion, are one of man’s higher achievements. I don’t know if high tech vessels are an advance or a retreat.

The race route stitches itself around the globe with monstrous legs like Lisbon to Capetown and twice dips down into the ice-filled, wind-ripped Southern Ocean, a vicious body of frigid water. The boats hurtle along at speeds in excess of 20 knots. When not beating themselves to death while cold and wet, these sailors have to face massive parties in each of the many far-flung ports which mark the end and beginning of each leg. This madness will continue for nearly 9 months when the race ends in Sweden. How are you spending your winter?

One boat is named ‘Clean Oceans’ and draws attention to the massive global pollution of all our seas. One recent report suggests that the tonnage of plastic clogging the waters and beaches of oceans worldwide matches the mass of our remaining fish stocks.

That is a sobering consideration. As I ruefully watch this boat knifing through the green Mediterranean waves, the irony of it’s own synthetic composition was not lost. From mast to hull to sails and clothing of the crew, everything is a plastic derivative. When I was a child fibreglass boats were beginning to find acceptance. One concern was about how long a ‘Tupperware’ boat would last. From what I’ve seen while wandering our Westcoast beaches the answer is forever! The plastic, in places, is a thick strata along our high water lines.

In Mexico, old bits of plastic littler the country. Fence lines and cacti are decorated by the wind with fluttering bits of tattered plastic to the point that it could be a national flag. Mexico is a place that I love despite the litter. I’ve seen many clever examples of recycling in that country. “Necessity is the mother of all invention” is an old wisdom. It is one of the reasons I go there. The seasonal window for getting ‘Seafire’ to Mexico is now closed. Local sailors generally agree that mid-October is the latest that one should depart our waters for a direct voyage to Mexico.

“Don’t laugh;she’s almost paid for!” Remember Ben’s Johnson? This old beast was once someone’s pride. Doel fins on the motor, tow post, galvanized trailer, c’mon, make an offer and answer the call of the sea.
‘Shroom Nav. Growing on the cabin top of the old runabout, could these fungi actually be some sort of stealth-nav. system?

Halloween morning finds me up for another day at work, there are only a few of those left. I’ll soon be unemployed. It is still pitch-dark at 7am. It is cold and clammy-damp. We’ve had a few days of spectacular sunny fall weather, the forecast is now for a few days of payback weather which includes snow flurries. I’ll be heading southward with ‘Seafire’ next week, foul weather can be expected; naturally. In the meantime, I’ll post this as another short blog with photos of fall colours. I doubt readers will notice anything different, but I’ve acquired a new-used dslr camera. I couldn’t afford the purchase, but I couldn’t leave a good deal behind. My old Canon gear is showing it’s age. You can only drive so many nails with your camera, they just don’t make them like they used to. Seriously I’ve been coveting the quality and abilities of Sony and so here I go. Some of the slick photo technology has me stumbling but I’m sure I’ll be quite happy. I’ve proven all I can using my mobile phone as a camera. Now I look at the keys worn shiny on my laptop, or notebook, or whatever we’re supposed to call them this week. I know what’s coming next.

In Ladysmith, the anchorage known as “Dogpatch” has claimed another vessel. The venerable ‘Anipaya’ now sits on the bottom of the bay. No-one seems to know her real history. The old wooden lady, about 90 feet long, with plenty of shear and a lofty crow’s nest, cut a salty profile. She looked like a former whaling vessel to my eye. The problem is that old boats are sold off as affordable housing because they’re too old and tired to be worth repairing. They’re rotten. When they become too difficult to keep afloat they are either abandoned on their moorings or dragged ashore and left derelict. Sometimes they’re burned. Someone else (Usually the taxpayer) is left to clean up the mess which is often toxic and dangerous.

That’s me in the middle! Anipaya’s crow’s nest looked down on the Dogpatch fleet. Now she sits on the bottom.
The ‘Spud Queen’ Once a Westcoast nautical icon. The absentee owner discovered that people were squatting aboard. The story is that it was dragged ashore and burned . One man’s problem becomes everyone else’s.

Currently the politicians are discussing appropriate legislation to deal with the growing number of derelict vessels along our shoreline. I think it is simple. Live as you wish, so long as you are not imposing yourself on others. If a life afloat is what you choose then your boat must be maintained in a seaworthy condition at all times. If you are not able or willing to do that then you should be legally obligated to be responsible. No-one else should need to clean up your mess. The price of freedom is responsibility. Have I said that before?

A popular topic among mariners at the moment is about the two women rescued in the Pacific a few hundred miles of the coast of Japan after drifting with their dogs for five months. My information comes only from the media so I can merely speculate. The interview I did see placed their credibility as being very low. What they were claiming made little sense to this seasoned old salt. If indeed this is some sort of hoax, I truly hope they both pay a suitably heavy penalty. They’ve certainly done nothing to further the cause of voyaging sailors anywhere.

In Victoria, politicians are discussing making yet another law. It will try to deal with “distracted pedestrians!” Personally I am amused and saddened by those cannot even walk along a street without feeding their device addiction. No matter how many laws we make, there will never be a way to legislate stupidity.

A morning whisper. One of the first photos taken with my new used camera.

Late-breaking news. As I post this blog…   BUGGA!

Woof’s Dis? Ziggy seems fascinated with his own footprints. The weather caught us all by surprise.
Yep. TOO RIGHT! November 2nd, Comox.
Thinking of all my chums in southern latitudes.

Be whom it was you needed when you were younger.” anonymous

Too Much On The Shelf

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

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

Summer comes
Summer comes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Webb Chiles, Sailor.

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