Three In A Row

It is happening for the third morning in a row. A sunrise! Clear skies! Only a light frost.

Yep, the same old view. Freighters wait for their cargos. They’ve been here for weeks. For the crews, it is the hardest part of their voyage, the waiting without being able to go ashore.
And then God said… “This’ll teach ’em.”
Actually, I’ve simply inverted a photo of a reflection during a walk on a recent sunny morning.

It has been a most reluctant spring so far. A daily E-bulletin board from Mexico to which I subscribe now has banter about the best border crossing to use on the spring trek home and what the flowers will be like in the Sonora Desert. Clearly, I’m not going to make it to Mexico this winter.

My friend Jack. Nothing pleases him more than to explore a new trail…
…especially if it leads to water.
Spring stream, before the water rises.
Nanaimo river before the spring freshet. (This and the next two photos are mobile phone shots)
Potholes on the river bank.
Jack was impressed with all the water bowls…just for him.
Darkness will suddenly fall, time to hoof it back up the river bank.

My beloved ‘Seafire’ has long been the focus of my existence and the tangible evidence of a wonderful dream. This blog has its foundation built on that idea, the dreaming and scheming, the preparations to realize those notions and adventures, both inner and outer. Now comes the reality that due to poor health and finances, ‘Seafire’ probably should be sold. I’m trying to convince myself that this will be a step forward into a higher state of being that has nothing to do with the stuff I possess or which tries to own me.

Modern petroglyphs
…still with secret meanings.

During the time I’ve been writing this blog friends have sailed their boats almost around the world and continue their voyage even as I write. Another good buddy set out on his boat and sailed many of the perimeters of the Pacific Ocean. They both deserve a big note of gratitude for their inspiration and their achievements. I’m still here. ‘Seafire’ has never sailed out of sight of these shores. I have logged thousands of miles up and down this coast, often in stormy winter weather and all on my own. The boat has also been my home for many years so there is nothing to regret as I arrive at this moment of painful decision. Yet I acquired the boat and refitted it for a voyage south and then on to Britain and Europe. None of it will ever happen. That leaves a very hollow feeling and the only way to make sense of it is to find the window that this journey has led me to. Wanna buy a really nice boat?

I’m prolonging the moment when the “For Sale” sign goes up. I truly love this old boat.

Someone once told me that there are many ways to interpret the same script. The folks at Bombay Gin held a short film competition, the results of which can still be seen via Google.

The rules were simple. Five minutes was the time limit, everyone had to incorporate the same script. The five finalists each produced an entirely different film, including one animation. They are all wonderful, with the winner being titled ‘Room 8.’ It is amazing to realize the diversity of human creativity, even when forced within narrow parameters. Not only can we interpret a script any way we want, we each have the freedom to write any script any way we want.

I remind myself of this as I write while the sun reflects off my neighbour’s wall and through the narrow window beside my desk.

The blinding and inspiring  view from my desk as I write. Not even an ocean glimpse!

A television documentary last evening inspired me again to travel the back roads of Mexico in exploration of that country’s huge cultural history and wonderful natural eco-system. I have my little trailer which is perfect for that. I also have my blog to carry forward. Each week there are more new subscribers. Your comments and criticisms underscore your support and I sincerely thank all my readers. I can commit that the blog will continue no matter what.

Fizzy Brook, beneath a small waterfall found while out and about on another exploration.
There goes the neighbourhood!
Federal money has been provided to clean up the derelict vessels on the Black Beach in Ladysmith. That makes room for more.

In the meantime, ‘Seafire’ is having a good spring clean-up. Jack and I are also exploring local places that we have been passing by for years. Isn’t it amazing how we can look at so much and see so little? Here are some local photos and a little piece of my writing.

Back Alley Ladysmith, there’s always something to see…if you look.
Back Alley tilt,
Laundry on a line, a rare sight anymore and yet another back alley view.
Secrets revealed. An old hotel on mainstreet has sold. An excavation of contaminated soil in the back reveals two hidden entrances.


The little town where I live was built on a hillside

above the docks

where there are now more yachts than fishboats.

To go down there you must pass

through a four-way stop

where the oldest building on main street stands.

It is built of local stone and brick

thick walls mortared together

with high-arched windows

and apartments above.

There was once a newspaper office there.

They called me from among their list

of handymen advertisers and wanted me to look

at a job rebuilding their entrance.

Someone had almost fallen through the old wood.

I proposed replacing it with concrete

then took on the project alone.

The work had to be completed in one afternoon

after closing time

and ready for next morning.

I’m no concrete man,

but I was broke.

Of the values that come with working on boats

is a portfolio of diverse skills

a deft bravado that comes from incessant poverty

and often being somewhere with no-one to help.

I hung out my shingle

when work on the water was scarce.

The cement truck arrived while I was still cleaning out old wood

and building a new form with plenty of rebar

because I wasn’t sure how much was required.

The August sun blasted that entry way like a bake oven

I worked like a fool to get the mix in place and trowelled out

but in the heat it began to set

and I kept adding water to stay ahead of the game.

I knew that was wrong

but then, somehow

all my problems are resolved with water.

Just in case the job went bad

I did not leave my initials.

Years later

that slab is still there

uncracked, solid, permanent

down there at the old corner of First and Last

where I can see my boat from the main street.

It is my monument,

my piece of the town

now an entrance to a fish and chip shop

where thousands have trod

in and out

never thinking about an old sea dog

slaving madly on a hot summer afternoon

maintaining their ease and safety.

Why should they?

It is my secret.

Only I know what lies down there

underneath their feet as I pass smugly

on the way to the docks.

My Monument, beneath the door mat.
You’ve got to keep your sense of humour! I decided I needed to comment about all those HY-BRID automobiles.


Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny…. Stephen Hawking

Bearing Up

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Sunday morning calm in downtown Shearwater. Actually, the orange object in the left background is an excavator that began smashing and bashing just after first light. The fishboat in the foreground bears the grand name ‘Pubnico Gemini’
Summer Beach
When the afternoon tide rises over the sun-warmed beach, children come to swim and play on the rope swing.

On the chart it is named Kakushdish Harbour. The locals called it “Gustafson’s.” I much prefer the Heiltsuk name but I have no idea what sort of spices are used in a kakushdish .(She fed him some kakushdish and he was up all night) Seriously, the name rolls off one’s tongue in a lovely way and I’d guess it means something to do with shelter or safety. This is a short, shallow inlet only a few minutes from downtown Shearwater but a world away from the industrial ugliness and near incessant dirty clatter. I’ve avoided coming here, partly because it’s too close to home base but mostly because one has to pass under an electrical power line. I just don’t like overhead wires while on a moving sailboat. On the chart there is a clearance indicated of twenty-three metres. That is plenty enough for Seafire’s mast of sixteen metres but still I have a bad feeling about overhead wires and bridges. Unless the overhead obstruction is very high, it always looks as if you’ll go bump or zap; that tense anticipation is a nasty sensation.

Salal Flower Kakushdish
I could see a prehistoric family making their home in this niche
One of the aboriginal fish traps at Kakushdish
Kakushdish backwater
A forest grave site along the shores of Kakushdish
Kakushdish Harbour. A lovely place to hang out. The bare ground on the hills behind is a naturally occurring bog land where the ground is too wet and barren for forest to grow,

Once under the wire the bay is wide and calm. In places there are long grassy shores to stretch your legs. With our late spring, the colours seem especially intense. This morning there’s a high overcast but the bay is still lovely. The season is very near summer solstice and nights have long lingering dusks. It is a time of richness and plenty. All creatures are busy feeding, raising their young, and preparing for the coming winter. The last one seems to have barely passed. As I get older the seasons, for me, spin faster and faster. Summer is the apex before the long descent into the next cycle of cold, dark and wetness. Yeah you know it, south, south!

A big one. The  68 foot ‘Island Roamer’ comes up for fibreglass repairs after finding a rock in Haida Gwaii. Despite an amazingly good chart system, there ARE uncharted rocks. Full prudence is always required. If the pro’s came run aground, so can anyone else. Note the diminutive size of the worker beside the keel. The fibreglass crew had the vessel back in business in less than three days!
A big little one. Up for a “shave and a haircut” or in other words, bottom cleaning and fresh anti-fouling paint. This is a lovely example of the ubiquitous folk boat design, also often found in these waters as a ‘Contessa 26’. This design is famous for being sailed alone around the world. Several different sailors have done it. The design sails wonderfully and is very seaworthy.

A few days ago I crawled out from beneath a customer’s boat to find myself fifty feet from a young black bear. He was a beauty. My immediate concern was where the mother bear might be but it was soon obvious that this character was alone. There were a few people watching him but he was oblivious as he perused the aromatic garbage bins. Wild animals that accustom themselves to humans almost invariably meet a nasty end. I threw my hammer at him, several times. Bumbles, I named him, belonged in the safety of the forest, not in the middle of a shipyard at midday. He ambled slightly away but was determined to find a meal. We finally steered him up the hill, towards the school; plenty of lunch buckets up there. A yearling, probably orphaned, he has not been taught to forage for wild food and will need some strong persuasion to avoid the temptations of civilization. He has been spotted several times within the community. I fear for his future.

Bumbles Goes Bad
A poster on the grocery store bulletin board warns that my pal does not understand the danger of being fearless.

Because I am in my last days at Shearwater time is passing slowly for me, just as it did when I sat in a public school classroom this time of year so long ago. Friday afternoon finally arrived. I slipped the boat’s lines. We were quickly around the corner and out of sight. I spent the night and following day in Kakushdish most pleasantly. After a morning exploration of the bay by dinghy I settled down to work on the boat’s teak. I almost sanded my fingertips to the bone but tonight one cap rail is done. It has been scraped and sanded, had two coats of teak oil applied and all the metal fittings are back in their place. I enjoyed my simple honest work. A cool breeze hummed and whistled in the rigging. I knew a great sense of well-being. Funny how contentment can come from such a simple thing.

What manner of beast is this? Actually it’s only a large stump on tidal ground above yet another fish trap at Kakushdish.
Back to Beales, looking into the entrance to the lagoons beyond.
Once through the tidal rapids, one comes upon a loading bulkhead from a former limestone quarry, now long-abandoned.
Into the marsh. It is stunningly beautiful, in large part because of the natural open space.
Saltwater streams meander through the marshland.
Sandhill cranes feed in the marsh and nest in the bogs on the hills.

Late in the day I moved ‘Seafire’ to Beales Bay, a short distance around the rocks and reefs of Gunboat Passage. ‘Sjoa’ is anchored st the far end of the bay, I wonder what magic video footage Paer has made. I look out one last time just before bed. Last night’s full moon shines down between the scudding clouds. In the morning I awake with my eyes glued shut. I have to peel them open. Insect bites, or teak sanding dust, my whole head feels puffy. It’s snot funny. I force myself into the day; and soon happy for what it becomes. Paer comes over to ‘Seafire’ for a visit and we finally get to know each other a little. What a delight to meet someone new who closely shares similar perspectives and philosophies. I learn of adventures in Sweden along the Arctic Circle and in Lapland. Paer tells of sailing there and how life is in summers of the midnight sun and intense winters of near eternal darkness. He has an advantage of being able to see things from an outsider’s perspective and finds a positive view of things where I see only the negative. He points out that Shearwater, a tiny oddball community of misfit refugees from urban latitudes, manages to survive in relative harmony. He also points out, that despite our industry, we are able to make a minimal environmental foot print. The morning flew by as, in happy discovery, we plumbed each other’s philosophies, values, perspectives. Affirmation is very good for the soul.

I’ve been wanting to explore this huge wetland and estuary. Today the weather and the tides are in my favour. There is a lively and shallow, drying tidal rapids which guard the entrance. I’m able to pass through with a few inches of water beneath my kayak and slalom around three points and rocky islets into the marshland. It is unique as it spreads broadly around three saltwater streams which almost dry out at each low tide. Certainly they are navigable only on a rising tide. I am able to penetrate the green marsh by bumping along the bottom only as the tide rises up the stream bed and lifts me along a little further at a time. It is fantastic. The bottom of the streams are very course sand with glinting bits of mica. The water is slightly tea-coloured but clear. I am able to penetrate the grassy marsh and see birds and minnows in abundance. It is a place where I expect to see deer and bear at any time. I’m not disappointed.

Paer films a deer which came out of the forest directly across the stream from us. While this occurred the tide was bubbling up around our feet.

Up one reach of the stream network I find Paer hiking in the marsh. We chat at the stream’s edge, marvelling at how quickly the tide rises. As we stand there a deer emerges from the forest, walking directly toward us. Eventually she senses our presence and we all stand motionless regarding each other across the flowing water. Mesmerized, we don’t notice how the tide is rising over the mud at our feet. Paer has to scramble for higher ground. I paddle out against the flood arriving back at the narrows just as the tide is about to turn again to ebb. I imagine how the marsh streams must be when salmon are spawning. They will be lined with bear and churning with spawning salmon. My one regret is that it has taken me so long to discover this wonderful place. Paer spends days there, always alone. He loves the marsh and lagoon and has developed an intimate knowledge of this area. His film work is of superb professional quality. Clearly he loves filming wildlife and wilderness. He points out that he has never made a living with film; it is something he does in amateur passion to share his vision of the natural world. I note again that his film vignettes are published for viewing on Vimeo and YouTube.

Look for his name: Paer Domeij or titles like ‘Ellerslie Lagoon Waterfalls,’ ‘Two birds and a bear’ or ‘Sommarpromen i Lulea.’ ‘Gransfors Yxmedja’ is fascinating and ‘Cruise Canada’ is my favourite. I have not mentioned his exploits as a man who built a boat and went voyaging as he still is. I am both impressed and inspired by Paer. High praise indeed from this cynic.

The nook. one of thousands of streams running to the sea.

Monday was the usual hectic day with transient boaters lining up at the shop door to present their tales of woe. We serve folks on a first come first serve basis but somewhere else there be a place that serves people on the basic of the best dramatic account of their perceived problem. Uncle Harold’s ingrown tone nail and that the cat had diarrhoea six weeks ago really don’t have nothing to do with solving your present mechanical failure mister. You are number seventeen in the line-up so far this morning. We’re working on work order three from yesterday. Uh huh.

Bella Bella as seen from the mouth of Kakushdish

At least my little bear came back, he’s still alive and hungry. He did not seem as cavalier about the presence of people today and in fact scrambled up a vertical rock face to escape me. There are reports of a mother bear loitering in the surrounding forest. Hopefully, as the berries ripen during our late spring, our furry friend will prefer eating in the rough to biting the bullet if he continues to scrounge around people. Run Bumbles, run.

You’re IT! Appearing to be playing a child’s game, Bumbles is actually about to scale a 20′ vertical rock face to escape me. I’m trying to educate him that he is not welcome around people.

I’d rather see a blackbird in the forest than an eagle on TV”

Paer Domeij quoting his teenage son.

The Farting Tiger

What happens if I push this one? A much-manipulated photo taken from the boat in Saint John Harbour.

After all the writing I’ve done in the last seven months about dreary rain-soaked darkness I’m happy to report that I sit at my laptop this morning while enjoying a perfect dawn. The sky is clear and windless. The rising sun sun brings a warmth that seeps right in to my heart and provides a rich golden light unique to this part of the world. The silence is eerie. There is no grunting machinery, no throb of marine diesels, no yammer of someone’s acid radio tones. All I can hear is the squeal of tinnitus in my mechanic’s ears but gradually I pick out the pip and chatter of little birds, even the wing-whistle of a passing raven. There is a plip-plop of tiny fish jumping on the surface of the sea. This bliss comes in Kynumpt Harbour, a few miles west of Shearwater. I’ve escaped for the May long weekend and anchored here last night. For the moment I savour just being. The cabin entry is wide open and it is grand.

Ahh! A little over an hour west of Shearwater I have the world and the sunset to myself.
Kynumpt Dawn. Wanting to be nowhere else.
The sound of children playing on the beach. I could almost hear them echoing from the past when Kynumpt cradled a small community.

My days at Shearwater are drawing to a close. That, of course, allows me to see things more objectively. I’ve turned in my notice. With that sense of freedom I can allow myself to think and say things I dare not before. I see myself at the end of my working life but still needing a working income. It is rather like holding a farting tiger by the tail. While you cling on desperately, you know that it is inevitable that you are going to be shat on or have your head ripped off; or quite possibly, both. Yesterday I happily proclaimed that I had worked on my last Bayliner ever (they’re miserable boats to work on) Now I sit here pecking at this keyboard with my grease-imbued banana fingers and watch the tranquillity slowly unfold. Ashore an eagle has perched in a cone-laden Sitka spruce. Reflected patches of light disco-ball across the green of the trees along the beach. Once the site of a native village, this bay has in turn been a failed Scandavian settlement and then a logging camp. The clearings are growing over but a few fruit trees cling on to their feral life. But it is time to move on. The trouble with this sort of weekend is that my freedom is clouded with a sense of brevity. Hurry up and relax!

Well blow me down! This pair of Humpbacks must’ve passed beneath me heading in the opposite direction.

The day passed quickly. I headed westward under a brilliant sun. Humpbacks emerged in the distance behind me as I passed Edge Reef. This is where the Nathan E. Stewart ran aground last fall and created such horrific drama and expense. Seals and gulls bask on the reef at low tide and all appears pristine to my eye. There may well be contamination in the clam beds but today one would never suspect. In less than three hours I arrive in Saint John Harbour, a lovely place providing shelter from the open ocean. It is a few miles south of the entrance to Seaforth Channel. With an open horizon to the southwest it is a different world. Of course I want to keep on going, due south. I anchor in a fine nook eager to explore the backwaters but then it hit me. As the tiger said, “It must have been something I ate!” I suddenly found myself gripped by a vicious stomach flu and was forced to remain close to the head. I slept for several hours and awoke to find a gloomy overcast had settled in. Groggy, wobbly and weak, I realized my day was finished. I went back to my bunk defecated…. I mean defeated! Bummer!

Edge Reef, scene of the crime. This was the site of the grounding of the ‘Nathan E. Stewart’
Cape Swaine and the open ocean. Turn left, sail due south until the butter melts, turn left, you’re there!
The mouth of Seaforth Channel. Beyond the rocks of Cape Swaine, Ivory Island light station can be seen in the distance on the northern side.

In the morning neither my plumbing nor the sky had improved. I felt as grey as the low overcast and couldn’t decide what to do. I went back to bed for a while then grimly set out to see the world. This was my weekend damnit! The swell of the open ocean soothed me and I looked west across Hecate Strait to Cape Saint James. It is the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. The high ground of those islands stood above the horizon that day and called me to come on over. A mirage effect allowed me to see across the ninety-five nautical miles. The light flashes white every five seconds. It stands ninety-six metres above sea level with a nominal range of visibility fourteen miles. Aboard ‘Seafire’ it is sixteen hours distant. Yet I could see it clearly. Reluctantly I turned eastward at Cape Mark on the bottom of Athlone Island. The area is a maze of rocks, reefs, islets and tenuous channels which are sometimes a dead end. It is a deadly place in the dark or fog. While picking my way through some of those reefs and islets of Queens Sound my flu symptoms returned with a vengeance and I crawled into the bay in Stryker Island. A few hours of weird dreams later I had a strong urge to get out of this place. It is a beautiful bay but I had a bad feeling and I knew it was best to move on. I’ve learned to trust my feelings without trying to analyze the intangible.

The original version of photo one. This was taken before sunset from the boat while looking to the northwest from Saint John Harbour.
Land Ho! A view toward Milbanke Sound and one of it’s peaks.
Believe it or not. That’s Cape Saint James, ninety-five nautical miles distant across Hecate Strait. The optical effect is enhanced with my telephoto lense.
Into the rock garden. These reefs and rocks are everywhere for many miles. It is not really a place to be doubled-over with stomach cramps.
Fingal Island
Tuft Island.


A West Coast moment. One of a million Islets along the British Columbia coast.
Joassa Seals wondering, no doubt, what the hell this idiot was up to.
Looking back is so easy! Fortunately the narrows is as deep as it is narrow.
How Rait Narrows look on the chart.

There are several routes back toward Shearwater from there. The most open and direct route is Raymond Passage which leads up to join Seaforth Channel a few miles from the home dock. Branching off this easy open passage is Boddy Narrows which becomes Joassa Channel and then impossibly tight Rait Narrows. I’ve previously dared myself to try this gap and deferred to prudence. My weekend has been spoiled by a flu bug and I needed something to cheer myself. With names like Joassa how can I resist? Woodsmoke billowed through the trees on a small wooded islet near Quinoot Point. I glimpsed a cabin secreted in the dense forest. That presence added to the magic of this secluded pass. I couldn’t be seen turning back now. It looked as if the boat’s rigging was about to knock squirrels from the overhanging trees. I inched through the narrow twisted gap. Finally I was in waters where I had turned back on a previous attempt from the northern side. The biggest barriers are always the ones we make in our own mind. Last night I anchored in Lockhart Bay, only a few miles from Shearwater.

Back to Shearwater reality. Meet you at the old bollard, a relic of days when coastal freighters were the only link to the south.
A man-hater’s dream…just give them a big stick! Anenomes on the bottom of an old dock hauled out for cleaning.

Noon Monday finds me back at my dock in Shearwater. A disappointing weekend, no wind, no saiing, no fishing and I’m way over on my toilet tissue ration. Such is life. I’ve been talking about loosing weight. Living in a boat is a marvellous thing. As I sit writing I am in the same boat I cruised about in all weekend. This hull rose and fell and rolled on the swells of the open ocean. The cabinetry squeaked and loose items slid about. There is a lovely thrumming harmonic hum from the engine which pulses through the boat when we motor along. It is all lovely and a bad day at sea is generally better than a good one at the dock. Now all is quiet, old ‘Seafire’ is again a small floating condo with the potential to go anywhere in the world. Nothing happens until I untie her. All I have to do is decide how to deal with the farting tiger. Phffffft!

The Tin Schooner. Occasionally some unique and beautiful boats pass through. This steel schooner is a beauty to me. Dreams!

Tiger hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest. Hmmm!

We are at the bottom of the food chain. Nothing else on this planet needs us. Yet we need all other living things to survive.” Christi Belcourt, Metis artist