Degnen Bay

Degnen Bay morning
Degnen Bay Morning

One thing about working on boats has always bemused me. No matter what the repair or refitting job, there is always a requirement to make yet more holes. Whether a drilled hole, or a sawn-out opening, every improvement requires: Yep! More holes. Go figure! A boat is supposed to be a floating vessel which keeps as much water out as possible out. Making ever more holes seems a complete antithesis and sometimes it can indeed go wrong, very wrong.

Chocolate Lily Only for a few brief days in spring.
Chocolate Lily
Only for a few brief days in spring.

Once I was twisted into a tight spot on a beautiful 53′ Spencer sailboat, installing a battery box on a small platform fibre-glassed to the hull. The drill bit was dull but in order to hurry up and get the job done, instead of wriggling out to sharpen it, I pressed on. In fact I pressed and pressed until suddenly I felt moisture. I’ll never forget the feeling of that moment as I realized what I’d done. I did not have to taste it to know it was seawater. In my panic to remove the drill, I broke off the bit which plugged the hole reasonably well until the boat could be hauled out for a proper repair. I certainly recall the chagrin as I sat humbly at the bosses desk and told him what I’d done. Yeah, it’s funny now and once in a while someone will joke “Oops here comes Fred, hide the drills!” Well, we all screw up, no matter how experienced we are and so long as no-one is hurt and a lesson is gained, it’s all good. And, I might add, the only folks who don’t make mistakes are those who never do anything. My brother, an airline pilot, once quoted a friend who said, “All’s well that ends.” Imagine hearing that over the intercom as a flight comes to its conclusion!

Seafire anchored in Degnen Bay behind 'Snug' a Truant 33 I almost bought. Valdez Island across Gabriola Pass in background.
Seafire anchored in Degnen Bay behind ‘Snug’ a Truant 33 I almost bought. Valdez Island across Gabriola Pass in background.

So old ‘Seafire’ and I are on the lam and tonight we’re anchored in Degnen Bay on Gabriola Island. It’s been a lovely day and evening with an invigorating Northwest wind howling. We were immersed in seawater several times on our little passage over from Ladysmith. The various residues a boat accumulates while sitting at the dock are washed away. Actually we’re here because there is some confusion about mooring at the Ladysmith Maritime Society where ‘Seafire’ has spent the winter but one excuse is as good as another and here we are. Monday will look after itself.

Golden moment. 'The wooden schooner 'Aja' returns home at sunset
Golden moment. ‘The wooden schooner ‘Aja’ returns home at sunset

While that is being sorted I have a little job here in Degnen Bay on a friend’s boat. Tonight we’re anchored about hundred feet from the dock where that boat is tied. She is a rare old beauty. A friend purchased an old wooden cruiser with a beautiful layout and the classic lines of a wooden powerboat. ‘Django’ is a 1946 35′ Chris Craft and she’ll be a head turner wherever she goes. There are two lovely GM 4-cylinder gas engines She’s in good shape but like all fine boats is in a state of constant refit and upgrading. The job is a good reason to be here and for the moment I feel whole again.

On Golden Pond
On Golden Pond

Degnen Bay is named after an early family who homesteaded here. Degnen is apparently also an old Spanish term meaning ‘to rest’ and I like to think that perhaps the first explorers found and named this lovely spot as a point of rest. It is surrounded by homes and more are being built. They must have splendid views. The bay is littered with mooring buoys and the docks have no empty berths. Yet there is a feeling of tranquillity here. The bay is guarded by a rocky shoreline and the restless waters of Gabriola Pass. Beautiful, wild Valdez Island forms the far side of the pass with miles of trails there to wander and explore as well as an old farm which is now part of a Provincial Park. Sheltered from damaging winds Degnen’s bottom mud is very thin in places and anchoring securely can be a challenge. Hence all the buoys which in turn make anchoring properly even more difficult.

Beauty under wraps. 'Django' a 1946 Chris Craft.
Beauty under wraps.
‘Django’ a 1946 Chris Craft
That's a lot of bronze!A Stephens electric windlass, now a rare find.
That’s a lot of bronze! A Stephens electric windlass, unique in 1946, now a very rare find.
Access! The engine bay in the Chris. It's a joy to work on these with all that room around them.
Access! The engine bay in the Chris. It’s a joy to work on these with all that room around them.

This morning is placid and the sun rises into a cloudless sky.. With my morning coffee I survey the surrounding view. I realize the local public wharf possesses a relic; a telephone booth. It sits beside the dock crane and represents an era now passed. We’ve had wireless mobile phones for thirty years and now pay phones, anywhere, are almost impossible to find. Cellular reception is minimal here so perhaps that is why the booth remains. Dark stormy nights, creeping into the blackness of the bay with the dull glow of the phone booth as a beacon. It is an icon of a lingering welcome-home hug, dry clothes and a warm supper. Then the trudge up a slippery ramp in the driving rain under the baleful glare of a mercury dock lamp. There’s not enough change in your pocket. There’s no-one at home to take a collect call. It will be a two hour trudge in the wet and dark or another night in a damp bunk with only macaroni for supper. Too tired to decide. Been there!

Not all relics at the bay are meant to float. This is a late-fifties Volvo 444. No electronics, no radial tires or fuel injection...25 miles per gallon. Tell me you don't believe in plots!
Not all relics at the bay are meant to float. This is a late-fifties Volvo 444. No electronics, no radial tires or fuel injection…25 miles per gallon. Tell me you don’t believe in plots!

In my last blog I described the art of careening. Today my favourite boat, “Lil’ Abe’ was careened on the beach here. With her hard-chined dory-like bottom she takes the ground well and tonight floats with a fresh coat of bottom paint. she scampered back to her berth at the dock looking as lovely as a new puppy. (See photo in Blog 61, Mind The Gap)

A face only a mother could love... and guys like me.
A face only a mother could love… and guys like me.
Look ma no air bags. Four black feet and factory heat- a basic car. No padded dash, no seat belts, no GPS, no power-steering, no power brakes, not even a radio but those are real leather seats, the smell of them in the sun brings back memories
Look ma no air bags.
Four black feet and factory heat- a basic car.
No padded dash, no seat belts, no GPS, no power-steering, no power brakes, not even a radio but those are real leather seats, the smell of them in the sun brings back memories. That black knob on the dash…it’s called a choke. Pay attention kids, you needed that to start the engine when it was cold.  Really!


Lil Abe careened on the beach of Degnen Bay. With the old house in the background this could be a scene from 70 or more years ago
Lil Abe careened on the beach of Degnen Bay.
With the old house in the background this could be a scene from 70 or more years ago.
The tide came back and 'Lil Abe' heads for the dock. A fresh, clean bottom always feels so good!
The tide came back and ‘Lil Abe’ heads for the dock. A fresh, clean bottom always feels so good!
Rhapsody in wood. 'Fraser' a classic salmon troller.
Rhapsody in wood. ‘Fraser’ a classic salmon troller.
'Seafire' me old prune barge
me old prune barge.
Elegance. "If it looks good, it works good."... Allen Farrell A beautiful yacht conversion of a wooden salmon. fishing boat.
Elegance. “If it looks good, it works good.”… Allen Farrell
A beautiful yacht conversion of a wooden salmon troller.
Another man's dream
Another man’s dream

Then came a show of a different sort of nautical ineptitude. A gleaming, huge phallic sloop appeared in the bay, its manufacturer and length displayed prominently on both sides of the hull. It is the sort of yacht I like to call a ‘Fart Parkerson 69.’ For an hour the young couple aboard set and reset their anchor, always too close to yet another boat. Finally they came to rest less than a boat length away from ‘Seafire’s transom. I noticed how pristine everything was, like an ad from a yuppy yachting magazine. The young couple aboard each wore the latest in extravagant yachty fashion, I’d guess thousands of dollars worth. Soon they came over in a virgin-looking dinghy, awkwardly rowing it backwards, to ask if I was content with their proximity. I replied that they were downwind of me and wished them a good night.

'Nootka Rose' A converted life boat being loved to death. (The plastic wrapping prevents desperately essential ventilation.)
‘Nootka Rose’
A converted life boat being loved to death. (The plastic wrapping prevents desperately essential ventilation.)

Later, in the gathering darkness they were off again trying to find a spot between other boats and buoys. There was a continuous drama and din of their windlass paying out all their chain then reeling it back in again, all the while plowing up more bottom mud. Meanwhile outside of the immediate anchorage there are acres of good, empty anchorage. I guess some folks are determined to be close to the shore. They’re still here this morning! They’ve made it through the night, probably lying exhausted in their luxurious ten-foot-wide bunk, empty champagne bottle sitting beside big fluffy slippers and heavy bathrobes with anchors embroidered on the pockets. “Honey I broke a nail,” he says.

The sloop 'Fart P' on the hook. Neo-decadence beside classic an ultimate boat.practicality and what was once
The sloop ‘Fart P’ on the hook. Neo-decadence beside classic practicality and what was once an ultimate dream.

A few days ago in a muddy parking lot an old man and I were approaching each other as we walked our dogs. Suddenly, between us, hurtled a shining black Lexus, backing and filling a few times before it finally came to rest in two parking spaces. We each held our dogs, well back, until the frantic manoeuvring ceased.  “Thanks,” proclaimed the driver,adjusting designer sunglasses as he rushed off self-importantly on foot. As we finally met, the other fellow proclaimed loudly, “Guess just ’cause you can afford it don’t mean you can drive it!”

Who am I to laugh at someone else’s dream? Mucho Gusto!

Down at the bow. a sad end for a once-beautiful fishboat.
Down at the bow. a sad end for a once-beautiful fishboat.
"For a good close second look, come back at low tide.' A hazard to navigation in a anchorage of sunken dreams.
“For a good close second look, come back at low tide.’ A hazard to navigation in a anchorage of sunken dreams.
A plywood reef
A plywood reef
Wot Lawnmower? The outboard motor raises some obvious questions.
Wot Lawnmower? The outboard motor raises some obvious questions.
Waterfront Condo. Purple Martins in the nesting boxes.
Waterfront Condo. Purple Martins in the nesting boxes on a piling.
Spanish moss on a flowering maple tree.
Spanish moss on a flowering maple tree.
Add Cherry Blossoms
Add Cherry Blossoms
The old net loft.
The old net loft.


Waterfront blues
Waterfront blues
The Ramp "Damn ye all whom have passed this portal."
The Ramp
“Damn ye all whom have passed this portal.”
At the corner of telephone and telephone. "Degnen Bay Harbour Authority" says the green sign. Phone boxes and hand cranes will all soon be gone forever.
At the corner of telephone and telephone.
“Degnen Bay Harbour Authority” says the green sign. Phone boxes and hand cranes will all soon be gone forever.
 Another view of Degnen which the Regional district will find a way to eradicate.

Another view of Degnen which the Regional district will find a way to eradicate.
Wet coast textures on a sunny day.
Wet coast textures on a sunny day.
Seal vertebrae in the tideline.
Seal vertebrae in the tideline.
Old Fish Face. This rock looks to me like a spawning humpback salmon.
Old Fish Face. This rock looks to me like a spawning humpback salmon.
A modern pictograph
A modern pictograph
Icon of Gabriola. This petroglyph isw often used as a log for things Gabriolan. It was carved on the sandstone beach of Degnen Bay where it is covered at high tide. Sadly, it is eroding rapidly.
Icon of Gabriola. This petroglyph is often used as a logo for things Gabriolan. It was carved on the sandstone beach of Degnen Bay where it is covered at high
tide. Sadly, it is eroding rapidly.

All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy!”

A sure cure for sea-sickness is to sit under a tree.”

… Spike Milligan

The Empty Signifier, Eva’s Loo and The April’s Fool

Feeling Frisky? Feral Gabriola road runners do their spring fan dance.
Feeling Frisky? Feral Gabriola road runners do their spring fan dance.

(To enlarge images, click on each picture)

March zoomed past in a frenetic blur. And I can’t see much that I’ve accomplished. I have finally finished a home renovation project for a friend and now I’m trying to move on toward my own goals. There has been a round of medical appointments which have left me puzzled and a bit angry. After copious testing and consultation the end result is yet more prescriptions. I’m becoming convinced that it is a mix of all the damned pills that has me feeling so poorly. I quit taking them and soon felt much better. The type II diabetes I allegedly have is something I can beat with diet and exercise and perhaps my other health issues will abate as well. With several prescriptions mixing around in one’s plumbing, I’m not sure what chemical combinations are formed nor what their effects are on an individual. I can say that the tentacles growing out of my back can be darned near as itchy as the third eye which appeared on the top of my head. Whadya mean it’s only a bald spot?

Flock this! gorging gulls enjoy the annual herring spawn.
Flock this! Gorging gulls enjoy the annual herring spawn.

Once again, it appears, our Western medical acumen is eager to treat symptoms rather than address cause. It is good for business and I wonder how many Porsche SUVs I help keep on the road. I’m researching my health issues very thoroughly and am now beginning to pursue more natural sensibilities. If I’m going to sail away I need to be healthy and one doctor at least, bless him, has told me that the sailing away is on its own the best cure. Certainly, the prescription I received for diabetes soon had me feeling near death and I do want a solution more positive than that. I flushed my pills down the loo. Much better! I suppose one should consider the environmental effects of doing that, but what is the proper way to dispose of medications?

We are a culture of excess. I know I have certainly allowed myself to be programmed to consume far more than I need. Now I pay for my foolishness. This bog trotter’s research about diabetes has turned up some interesting approaches. Insulin is a hormone which the body produces to help cells absorb glucose. A lot of the crap food we eat and drink, over time, reduces the body’s ability to produce sufficient insulin hormone, which causes an increase of belly fat which in turn further degrades our ability to produce enough natural insulin. The spiral deepens.

From this. Showing old window opening and new windows framed in.
From this.
Showing old window opening and new windows framed in after walling-in an adjoining closet then opening the back to enlarge the bathroom.

Speaking of loos I have, among other things, been busy refinishing a friend’s bathroom for his wife Eva. Both go to work in far off places so communication has not been the best. The job has lasted far too long, punctuated with long delays. Now it’s done. It has turned out well and my efforts to do something exotic with affordable materials has proven a grand success. I’ve decided, however, that I am finished with this sort of work. I’ve earned my bread rebuilding boats and doing home renovation work but I’m having to concede that I’m now too stove-up to continue peddling my talents. My hands have become so arthritic that I have difficulty holding my tools at times. Working on my knees and contorting myself into awkward places is really becoming challenging. I’m not complaining, just explaining. All those years that I wasted trying to prove how tough I was. And I was! But the geezers of that time warned me. Yeah right!

To this... Heated tile floor, wainscoting, acrylic clawfoot tub, recycled shower glass becomes toilet divider. Well I'm chuffed about it!
To this…
Heated tile floor, wainscoting, acrylic clawfoot tub, recycled shower glass becomes toilet divider.
Well I’m chuffed about it!

Now it’s my turn. I recently found myself cautioning a cocky young fellow to never mess with an old bull. I think I’ve heard that somewhere before.

WET! Gabriola Organic taxi. Some folks proudly refuse to wash their cars.
Gabriola Organic taxi. Some folks proudly refuse to wash their cars.

This brings me to a new grammatical term I’ve learned. Empty signifier, apparently a word which absorbs meaning rather providing some. Wikipedia delves into a description using words like semiotics and postmodernism, which always has me back-pedalling rapidly. Apparently words like race, gender, oomph and mana are floating, or empty, signifiers and are said to possess “symbolic value zero”. If this is what having a degree in literature does for you I’m glad I missed it. It is not one of the things which keeps me awake at night. Most people to whom I’ve mentioned this respond by saying “Yeah I know some people like that.” I have to be careful that this doesn’t become an empty signified blog. If I don’t leave the dock soon, it will be. God knows there is plenty enough emptiness out there already. What a name for a boat! ‘Empty Signifier.‘ I’ll bet there’s one somewhere!

Say no more!
Say no more!
The bakery on Gabriola Island. It is wood-fired, the bread is delicious. Many people say they expect to see Hobbit folks scurrying about
The bakery on Gabriola Island. It is wood-fired, the bread is delicious. Many people say they expect to see Hobbit folks scurrying about.

The job site where I’ve been is a prime waterfront location with a priceless view. It has allowed me to watch the annual drama of the spring herring fishery. It appears that in these waters it was a good year for the herring fleet. Seine boats and gill netters made some spectacular sets. I saw several big seiners heading for the packing houses with decks awash, they were so deeply laden. Often, there will be an incident where an overloaded boat enters the Fraser River. Buoyancy in fresh water is considerably less. The vessel promptly sinks.

Beach Caviar with a hint of kelp. Mounds of Herring roe accumulate on the beach after the spawn
Beach Caviar with a hint of kelp.
Mounds of Herring roe accumulate on the beach after the spawn
Rows of roe. Wake up and smell the sea Billy!
Rows of roe. Wake up and smell the sea Billy!
Big Boats for Tiny Fish. Tensions rise as the weeks pass while waiting for the arrival of the herring
Big Boats for Tiny Fish.
Tensions rise as the weeks pass while waiting for the arrival of the herring

The annual herring spawn occurs later in the season further north up the coast. The Heiltsuk and Haida nations are demanding a moratorium on the herring fishery. They say the stock is too low for the extensive harvest of a datum species. Herring are a link in the marine food chain, both up and down, to which everything else relates. Ninety percent of the herring volume harvested volume does not feed any human. It all becomes fish meal and fertilizer while the highly prized roe is sold to Japan. After the herring spawn, and the fishing boats are gone, there are streaks of milt in the water. Then, after the next spring storm, mounds of herring roe, or eggs, wash up on the beach to decompose in a rich, heavenly reek. The gulls gorge themselves until they can barely fly and there is a frenzy of activity along shorelines of British Columbia. In turn, all that fish fornication and decomposition provides a huge nutrient base for marine life.

The herring arrive. At low tide one line of sea foam, one line of herring milt.
The herring arrive. At low tide one line of sea foam, one line of herring milt.

I would like to see a two or three year moratorium placed on the herring row fishery. I can hear the howls of outrage! Catch what you want for food, take the roe for personal consumption as the natives here have always done. Many fisherman claim they make little profit from herring, despite the very expensive speciality equipment they use to maximize their catches. Somebody is turning a profit when a modern aluminum herring skiff can cost several hundred thousand dollars and fishing openings, which some years, run for less than an hour.

Salmon Berry Bloom
Salmon Berry Bloom

Coincidentally, I was fortunate to recently catch a BBC documentary about a seventy-one hundred hectare reserve at Cabo Pulmo on Southern Baha, Mexico. The Mexican Government imposed a moratorium on this once heavily fished area. To the north, and to the south, rapacious sport and commercial fisheries continue, yet this reserve now again teams with fish at original population levels. It is spectacular to see. Locals are making a decent living now from eco-tourism instead of the meagre existence they knew as fisherman in this once fished-out area. The experiment is proving so successful that the Mexican government is seriously considering similar conservation strategies for up to ten percent of Mexican coastline. It is obvious once again that nature needs no help or manipulation. It just requires being left alone. We must learn that we are an alien influence on this planet. The natural planet does need our constant interference. There is a huge difference between need and greed and we all have to learn the joy of taking as little as possible instead of how much.

Port San Juan
Port San Juan

Tonight I’m spending my first night in my trailer. Jack and I are warm and cozy and dry inside while huge blobs of rain fall from the limbs of monstrous Sitka Spruce towering above us. The wind is incessant and there is fresh snow on the mountains. There is no hint of spring tonight. Less than a hundred meters away surf from the open Pacific thunders on a broad shoreline. We’re staying at the Pacheedaht campground. It is located on a long sandy beach running between the mouths of the Gordon River and the San Juan River next to Port Renfrew. It is spectacular. In the distance lies Cape Flattery, land’s end for continental USA. The two kilometre beach is rightly part of the local native reservation and I believe provides a steady source of income. The surfers come year-round. Despite the intermittent cloudbursts and the subsequent boggy trail beneath the trees, the facility is nearly full. It is not hard to imagination times past when huge dugout canoes would be hauled up on the beach, resting between fishing, whaling and warring expeditions. They had to have been amazing sea people. To manouver one of these cumbersome vessels through the surf with paddle-power only would take amazing skill. I have difficulty remembering native names correctly so here ‘Pacheedaht’ becomes ‘Patch this, patch that, there’s a leak in your canoe”. I know. It’s silly but it works.

The confluence of the Gordon River and the Pacific Ocean. This is the southern end of the famous West Coast Trail
The confluence of the Gordon River and the Pacific Ocean. This is the southern end of the famous West Coast Trail

It’s Good Friday evening. The place we are camped is on the bank of the Gordon River where it runs into the sea. I think it is that outflow at certain points of tide that makes the surf so appealing. God knows I’m a sailor, surf is something I don’t want to know a lot about. At this point in my life, being deliberately cold and wet with a chance of drowning is losing its charm. At dusk, in the salt marsh across the river, a huge heard of elk came out to graze. Now in the darkness, the surfers crowd around huge bonfires despite the pelting rain. The old days of van camping are apparently gone. These surfer dudes have a convoy of generic white travel trailers with pop-out portions and huge diesel pickup trucks. So much for counter-culture. I’ll bet most of these characters don’t even know who Dick Dale is. I couldn’t see one VW van parked anywhere.

The things we do for a few moments of bliss. Surfers off the beach at Pacheedaht
The things we do for a few moments of bliss.
Surfers off the beach at Pacheedaht. Cape Flattery in the distance, open  Pacific beyond.
Camping at Pacheedaht. Jack loved the mud.
Camping at Pacheedaht.
Jack loved the mud.

The drive here from Mesachie Lake on Lake Cowichan is a piece of cake. It is paved all the way now and is named ‘Pacific Marine Road.’ I remember when it was all gravel, a series of connected main logging roads. Public use was then lowly regarded. The dust and rocks flew and you were noted as someone from out of town if your windshield wasn’t broken. All too often, out of the swirling dust, an off-highway truck would appear with a grill eight feet tall and a load of logs that loomed as big, it seemed, as New York City. How times have changed! Once it was considered prestigious to be a white, male, heterosexual making a living as a logger. That is now politically incorrect. I recently saw a logger’s truck with a logo describing his enterprise as “Vegetation Management.”

BIGFOOT Harris Creek Giant Sitka Spruce over 4 metres in diameter
Harris Creek Giant Sitka Spruce over 4 metres in diameter
Look up, waaay up!
Look up, waaay up!
Pink Fawn lily
Pink Fawn Lily

Now then, all of you who eat bread made from selectively harvested grain please raise your hands. WOT!? Good help em. Those freakin’ clear-cuttin’ gluten farmers. Send in the owls! Or is it spotted gophers? Well, so long as it’s somebody else’ fault. Well it’s Easter. Hope you’re not eating too many hot-cross buns and chocolate eggs. And if, like me somedays, you’re stricken with a flickering memory, which is certainly no joke, perhaps you can have fun hiding your own eggs.

Adventure is dealing with the unknown while moving toward the unknown.” …anon

Island in the Rain Forest
Island in the Rain Forest

Hard Butter And Strange Birds

Hard Butter and Strange Birds

Blackberry season began in July, with a little rain at the right time it'll be a bumper crop
Blackberry season began in July, with a little rain at the right time it’ll be a bumper crop

The seasons have moved from late spring to mid-summer. We’ve had blistering hot weather, then a few days of rain. Now the evenings and mornings are cool. The butter in the galley is once again hard at breakfast time. It’s great weather for sleeping. My dog Jack and I wake up one toe at a time. The rain has helped produce a profusion of blackberries and some are already ripe for picking. It seems the plants are producing their treasures a month earlier this year.

Silva Bay is blessed with an annual migration of Purple Martins and Barn Swallows. They’re delightful as they chatter and zoom about through the rigging. I wonder if the annual influx of yachters aren’t a clever device which the birds use to attract the biting insects they in turn feed upon. This year’s brood of baby birds is well on its way to being ready to fly south. That magic is amazing. Birds return to mate and nest and produce tiny eggs. Those eggs in turn become ugly little dinosaurs which rapidly evolve into beautiful creatures born with a navigational intuition which which will take them as far away as Central America then back to this bay next spring.

Don't look now but I'm tellin' ya, somebody's watching us! (to guage their size, the wire they're perched on is about 1/4"thick)
Don’t look now but I’m tellin’ ya, somebody’s watching us!
(To guage their size, the wire they’re perched on is about 1/4″thick)

An e-mail I received recently advised not to worry about old age: it doesn’t last that long. I forwarded that message on, explaining there are things to do before I end up as a few puffs of smoke in the crematorium chimney. A song playing on the radio has the lyrics, “If I die, I wanna die old.” Hey baby, there’s no if about it! As I rushed about the business of the day a lady discovered an inert heron floating by the docks. It was freshly killed. The bright crimson at the back of its head was evidence of a mortal tangle with an otter or a collision of some sort. In my haste I debated briefly about taking a photo but then rushed off to the tasks at hand. I can still see that dead heron. Beak slightly parted, bright, sharp yellow eye staring serenely into my soul, an image more indelible than any photo. This morning I open the hatches to a perfect dawn with the birds calling and chattering. There is a perfume of fresh newness as if the world had just been unwrapped, an incredible gift which we so often don’t quite see. Baby birds, dead birds, life, death, dawn, sunset, the days whirl by. Life has no apparent meaning for me. How I wish I could learn to enjoy life’s plateaus and find the ability to live fully in the moment!

Stainless Steel Bowtie, A custom-built SS CQR anchor at the front of a visiting mega yacht
Stainless Steel Bowtie,
A custom-built SS CQR anchor at the front of a visiting mega yacht

Now the hot weather has returned. Yesterday afternoon when I stepped into the boat it felt cool. The thermometer read 29ºC. This morning the bird’s noises are subdued. Old men wipe the dew from their white boats. Flags lift and drop flaccidly. It’s going to be a blister! Forest fires rage across the continent and the global warming faction is saying, “See, I told ya!” Uno cervesa por favor.

Pilot Bay afternoon, Gabriola Island
Pilot Bay afternoon, Gabriola Island

Days later, the grand summer weather continues, thankfully today we have a moderate Westerly breeze. Yesterday was windless and airless, an absolute torture to work bent over in the sun, at least for this aging old fair-haired boy. Days like that leave me wondering at the feasibility of my Southern dreams. I say that even as I continue my research on Mexico and Costa Rica. That seems ludicrous in this paradise which is my home; but the nights are shortening. Another long, grey wet arthritic winter is coming. I’m also questioning the sanity of staying in a place that seems doomed to self-destruct politically, economically and environmentally.

High Summer
High Summer

My pal Jim has now arrived in Hilo, Hawaii with his boat. He has sailed a hurricane- pace tour of the South Pacific. His next stop will be back here in British Columbia. I admire Jimmy totally in his ability to realize his long-held dream and I look forward to helping welcome him back. Much of his journey was cursed with a lack of wind. When you’re out there with your little windship rolling and rolling day after day, your rigging is self-destructing while your precious fuel and water supplies dwindle and the nearest ports are thousands of miles away, you are left feeling very tiny and somewhat doubtful. Fortunately on the leg from the Marquesas to Hawaii Jim had perfect winds and describes it as the sail of his life. The passage was made on one tack with only minor sail adjustments. Good for you Jimmy and mucho kudos to Donna, the wife who has provided ground support for him throughout the journey.

A winter scene in the Broughton Archipelago, something the summer sailors never see. That's a dolphin chasing a school of Oolichan. Imagine it all covered in thick, black crude oil.
A winter scene in the Broughton Archipelago, something the summer sailors never see. That’s a dolphin chasing a school of Oolichan. Imagine it all covered in thick, black crude oil.

This place called British Columbia where we live is an ultimate home, especially for the mariner. We have 17,000 nautical miles of shoreline to explore. Even in the harshness of winter our weather is often better than summers elsewhere on the planet. Despite the rising social economic issues we’re having to face, we are privileged to still hold a claim on this piece of the planet. Unfortunately the politicians on our payroll won’t respect our will and are intent on wholesaling our assets to the first bidder. We pay retail prices at the gas pumps while there is a determination to pipe oil for many hundreds of kilometres from the environmental mess that is Northern Alberta to coastal shipping facilities. It is incredible, it is stupid. We are posing a monstrous environmental threat on our land and our waters to wholesale raw resources outside the country. We in British Columbia will receive little benefit once the project is completed. The oil will be shipped in vessels manufactured from some of our own iron ore and coal. Other ships line up to load raw logs from the docks of shut-down sawmills. I repeat my weary metaphor about the chicken farmer who goes to town to buy eggs.

Whose pockets does the money go into? What the hell is going on? I know this is all weary rhetoric but the threat of impending disaster seems to skip off the top of our heads. We should be in every politician’s office, on the lawns and in the chambers of every government building with our pitchforks and chainsaws and environmentally friendly weed eaters until we regain control of politicians and their weighty bureaucracy which is pledged to serve US, the people who hired them. If it were anyone else in our hire, we’d fire them. This blog is not a venue for rants. I can easily slip into pages of diatribe about the rape of our fisheries, our forests, our water and mineral resources but we’ve all heard it before.

The real problem is our complacency. We let the corporations and bureaucrats run our lives while insidiously steering us deeper into their carefully designed consumer rut. Until our own personal comfort zone is clearly threatened we won’t lift our heads from the drinking pool. It pisses me off! Wake up! Look around! Ask questions! Don’t believe everything, perhaps anything, thrown at us. We evolved with questioning minds for good reason. Use them!

1964 Cheoy Lee Bristol, A first cousin to Avanti, the Cheoy Lee I'm finishing up. The Bristol owner reports that the boat, formerly his father's, is on its third teak deck!
1964 Cheoy Lee Bristol,
A first cousin to Avanti, the Cheoy Lee I’m finishing up. The Bristol owner reports that the boat, formerly his father’s, is on its third teak deck!

Jill, my wife has just returned from a visit to her old homeland of Scotland. (Where the price of gas is double ours despite their own tremendous petroleum resources. Yep, more inept politics) She had two gruelling weeks of dealing with her ailing mom. For once the weather there was quite agreeable but she was held to a regimen of caring for the needs of family. She came back to Canada with a delightfully funny story about a dead parrot. Her brother and his wife live in an old school house. It is a wonderful building with two-foot thick sandstone walls, high ceilings curling stones on the front steps and rolling farm fields for a view. Even their mailing address is wonderfully quaint, being in part: The Old School House, Drumlithie. One morning one of the dogs noticed a bright flash of colour in the back garden which proved to be a dead parrot and an interesting toy. This is not an ordinary find anywhere, let alone in Scotland, a country definitely not known for any abundance of tropical birds.

After a wondering discussion, it was decided there wasn’t much else to do but put the mystery of the dead bird out in the trash. Of course the bird was soon mentioned at the local pub and the thistle telegraph buzzed with the story. Within hours the telephone rang with a call from a neighbouring village, a few miles across the fields. Someone wanted to come and claim the remains for burial. Old Hagis, we’ll call him, was retrieved from the tip bin and carefully cleaned of coffee grounds, bits of eggshell and other detritus. Two women arrived, mother and adult daughter. Both, apparently, were beyond Rubenesque These two very round people, both dressed entirely in black, had come to take their beloved Hagis off to the big limb in the sky.

It’s a wonderful story with a vivid splash of Monty Python.I can see both John Cleese and Michael Palin having fun with this one. Apparently the remnants of the Monty Python gang are getting back together to work up five more shows. They don’t have to pretend to be geezers anymore. Also, in the wake of the ‘Two Fat Ladies’ cooking show, BBC is now airing something called ‘The Hairy Bikers’.Two middle-aged blokes are trying to follow in the wake of Jessica and Clarissa. Fat chance!

Rear view of a flower bent away from the sun
Rear view of a flower bent away from the sun

I’m now writing on the first Sunday morning in August. The boat is anchored in a tiny bay in the Gulf Islands which I’ve been passing by for over 25 years. I can see through Porlier Pass to the mainland mountains over thirty-five miles away. Ancient fir trees lean over this little bight. Eagles call, kingfishers chatter, schools of tiny fish roil the water. The morning breeze is fresh and warm and fragrant, the day is full of promise. Jack is anxious to go ashore. There is some wonderful exploring to be done here and I can post an entire blog dedicated to this lovely secret place.

In fact, I will.

Making honey on a very big flower
Making honey on a very big Cardoon flower

On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom.

It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them accountability.

…for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.

…And when men lose confidence and trust in those who lead, order disintegrates into chaos and purposeful ships into uncontrollable derelicts.”

“On The Collision of Wasp and Hobson”
Wall Street Journal – Editorial 14 May 1952

Going South?
Going South?

Walking and Thinking

I’m on the ferry again. It’s May 7th already, two days past Cinco de Mayo, or Independance Day in Mexico. Apparently there are signs of the coming rainy season as it becomes unbearably humid and hot. It’s time to head inland to the higher altitudes of the mountains. The locals stay where they are and survive as best they can. Next year I’ll be able to do that, go to the mountains that is. I’ll have my trailer. I’m on my way to pick it up today. I’m excited that another piece of the plan is falling into place although I’m a bit subdued with a bout of flu. Don’t worry, I’ve washed my hands and I’ll turn my head to cough.

Camas Flower, The natives used the bulbs of these as a food source.
Camas Flower,
The natives used the bulbs of these as a food source.

It is a lovely time of year to become infected with some ugly bug. I suspect it has something to do with the nasty, mouldy old sanding dust that sneaks under my mask while working on the vintage Cheoy Lee. I’ll soon have the interior finished and as our rainy season finally eases I’ll start ripping up and rebuilding the decks. Hopefully I’ll have the antibodies for whatever lurks within that spongy mess. This project has become what feels like a career. It goes on and on. I intend that this be the last boat project I ever take on. I find it frustrating that everything takes so long to accomplish, due in part to the simple fact that I no longer possess a younger man’s zeal and energy. The boat’s owner is happy with my work and certainly observers (Yes, with spring comes the return of the ubiquitous dock inspectors) all offer favourable reports. This is a job that requires an older man’s patience but the ability to wiggle and contort into awkward places is getting much harder. I’m definitely no longer the willowy kid whose clothes I once wore.

While I work I often listen to CBC radio. Usually it’s Radio 2 where the odd gem of music is heard within the manure pile of repeated cliché cacophonies. I understand the need for Canadian content but surely there are more than the same ten tunes. Sometime for a break in monotonies I listen to Radio 1 which, quite often, is an endless diatribe of interviews about meaningless issues. Occasionally someone actually has something to say worth listening to. Recently, a professor from an obscure Midwestern university offered a very interesting conjecture on the relationship between physical activity and creative thinking. He offered several examples of writers and composers whose daily artistic regimen includes walks of several hours. Thoreau is an easy example. Then there was Forest Gump.

Where the giants fell, second growth forest, now a nature preserve on Gabriola Island
Where the giants fell,
second growth forest, now a nature preserve on Gabriola Island

This academic extrapolation explained that the human brain is a computer which is maximized by the electro-chemical stimulus produced by prolonged moderate physical activity. It is the way we are biologically engineered. We need to get up to operating temperature for full function. Walking, jogging, bicycling, rowing and swimming in their many forms, or any other ambulant activity, are fundamental to clear creative thinking and problem-solving. This now rather Rubenesque writer can recall all the years of mornings that began with a long swim in the nearest pool. Even when travelling on business, if at all possible, my first event of the day was that swim. I joked about going to the “Think tank”. Often, while doing my lengths, I’d be able to think out a business problem or some other conundrum. I wrote two novels and many stories sifting through the many plot challenges and character developments, in part, while swimming.

Surrealscape, Jack, tidal pool inspector at Gabriola Pass on a low tide
Jack, tidal pool inspector at Gabriola Pass on a low tide

I know, I know, I live on a boat, what’s my excuse now? There is no swimming pool available on Gabriola Island. Somehow the romance of wriggling into a still-damp and cold wet suit to leap off the dock into murky ice-cold water and plunking around the bay eludes my personal discipline. I suppose rowing is the next logical routine and I offer no excuse other than the many nasty weather days. Certainly, in places like Mexico, each day begins for me with a long swim out to sea. Breakfast is taken nearer to noon, one meal of the day is eliminated and life is good. At home my dog Jack demands his daily constitutions and apart from the ambling we do, all that shouting for him to come back is good for the lungs.

Jack on point, dawn patrol
Jack on point, dawn patrol

While on the subject of higher creativity I should thank all those who take the time to send positive comments and questions about the photos in this blog and on my Flickr photostream. And actually no, there have been no negative remarks. Really! You’re all so kind. One person has even asked for longer blogs!

I don’t want to write any photography manuals in response to the questions about how I take succesful photographs but I will try to respond succinctly. There is no subsitute for practice. I began taking photographs when I was was seven or eight years old. I found someone’s discarded Kodak Brownie camera. It used 120 roll film available, I believe, in eight and twelve frame rolls. I remember having to seal the camera case with adhesive tape to block light leaks and saving pennies and nickles to get the film. There was a mail service that provided a fresh roll of film with each set of prints. The cost was probably about two dollars. Every frame was a carefully considered captial expense.

Even then I was more interested in composing an artistic image rather than accumulating contrived mug shots like everyone else. Yeah I was always weird. Having a talent for sketching I slowly evolved to painting with watercolours. Then I began photographing scenes so the light remained constant for my paintings. I eventually discovered the darkroom and became a madman locked away in a tiny compartment, hot and fumey, as I learned the art of photographic printing in black and white, colour and cibachrome. Over decades I’ve catalogued thousands of stock images. It doesn’t seem so long ago that when submitting a magazine article, one was required to provide slides with the manuscript. No one was geared up yet for digital images.

Now digital photography is standard technolgy and film manufacturers like the giant Kodak are gone. There’s a generation now which doesn’t at all understand the Simon and Garfunkle song about Kodachrome. The great thing about digital images is that people can freely treat photography as any blend of science and art they chose. Some old arguments can be put to rest. The one that used to inflame me was that the photographer didn’t take the picture, the camera did. My retort was to ask if it were the brush or the artist who painted a picture.

Manipulated Image
Manipulated Image

With the photo programs now available anyone can manipulate their images to suite needs and whims. It is easy now to prove that photos can indeed lie. There is no more chemical trickery required to process film and prints in carcenogenic darkrooms and there is no concern about cost each time you release the shutter. One other joy of digital photography is the immediacy it provides. The shot I’m posting of the swallows, taken through a blurry plexiglass window, was a digital file number ready to share with the world within two minutes of taking the shot. It’s a technically weak image because of the plexiglass, but it was available in seconds. Nevertheless, the basic principles remain, no matter how easy it is to collect images. The first is that light travels at a constant speed. The second is that no camera can ever determine composition, envison what your creative imagination can see nor determine what lighting will best produce the desired final image.

Birds on a wire, two Purple Martins outside a window on 'Seafire'
Birds on a wire,
two Purple Martins outside a window on ‘Seafire’

Good photographs cannot be attributed to what sort of equipment you use. For the past few months I’ve tried to limit my photography to one simple pocket camera. I’ve used an Olympus T-2 which is a pretty basic camera. It is frustratingly slow some times and is not able to handle certain light conditions well but it can produce some great photos and takes me back to working the basics. There is no hope with this little camera of machine-gunning an image and hoping to find the best shot later. Even mobile phones can produce great photos if the photographer understands lighting and how the camera lense works.

It is simple. Because the speed of light is a uncompressible constant, a correct exposure requires that only a specific amount of light can be used to make a proper image. So if an aperture is opened to a value of f4 for an exposure time of, let’s say, 1/60th of a second, the same exposure value can be made at f8 for 1/30th of a second, or half the light for twice as long. An advantage of a slower speed and smaller aperture is greater depth of field in the image. The slower shutter speed however means that the chance of blurring the image due to camera movement is greater. Faster shutter speeds offer shallower depths of field but also facilitate sharply freezing a moving subject.

If I’m trying to be technical I should explain briefly about f-stops. They are simply a way of expressing a ratio of the diameter of a lense aperture to the focal length of that lense. If a lense is 100mm long, an f-stop of 4 means the aperture is open at a diameter of 25mm. F8 would be a diameter of 12.5mm. We need to be able to control that opening in order to control depth of field and to control the speed, or amount of time the lense is open, to shot moving objects. Some older cameras were considered fast if they had a shutter speed of of 1/500th of a second. Now cameras can freeze action at speeds measured in several thousandths of a second. Digital cameras can provide shutter speeds so incredibly fast that we can see the progress of things in freeze-frame like the progress of a bullet piecing the skin of a balloon.

Another explanation is to regard a camera as a crude copy of an eyeball. The shutter is a copy of the pupil opening and closing in response to the amount of available light. A great way of understanding this is to check out ‘F Numbers’ on Wikipedia. They provide diagrams and math equations. Most photographers simply keep their cameras in auto and let the camera do the thinking but until you understand the unholy trinity of aperture, focal length and shutter speed, you own’t be in total control of your photography.

Some photography classes required students begin by using disposable film cameras until it was understood that the photographer makes the photo, not the camera.  That is why I never display technical information about any photograph. Shutter speeds, f-stops, lenses, filters, ISO and any other techno-gibberish are irrelevant, even perhaps detracting, to appreciating an image; in my opinion.

Expensive high quality cameras, and the myriad of available lenses only reduce the effort required in achieving a specific image. Most modern cameras are so loaded with optional functions that the process of taking good photographs can be quite bewildering. Don’t worry about all those sales features, just stick to the basics.

A poor photographer might have difficulty making good images with an expensive Hassleblad and a good photographer can take winners using any camera.

Seize the moment, see the moment
Seize the moment, see the moment

Photography is the art of seeing, it is as simple as that. I’m always happy to answer questions on this subject but first open your eyes to really see what’s there. Take plenty of photos until you began to understand the process for yourself. This takes us back to walking and thinking.

This winner was taken by a friend in Mexico. How many people passed this amazing frame without ever seeing it?
This winner was taken by a friend in Mexico. How many people passed this amazing frame without ever seeing it?

For me, the process of walking and thinking while taking photographs can be very cathartic and uplifting. To be able to break down the world around me into single, simple moments of focused observation and clear interesting images helps me re-establish my tiny place in the universe. When I come home without any images I know I’m having a bad day. Of course taking a dog along almost guarantees some good pictures.

The most indelible images are the ones which you never manage to get into a camera. For example I was whizzing along a highway in Mexico, with heavy trucks behind trying to push me even faster. There was no daring to stopping. Then, in the gathering night, I saw an amazing sight in one fleeting moment. A brickmaker had fired up his kiln and the golden glow of that inferno will be forever imbedded on the hard drive in the back of my skull. The fire-tinged outline of each brick, the sillouette of the workers, the reflected light on a huge stack of waiting firewood and some children’s faces, it’s all there, a full stop. Whatever works for you, take some time to stay in touch with the planet that sustains you. It’s a wonderful place. Class dismissed!

The trailer!
The trailer!

The trailer! It’s mine now, bought and paid for. Yep, more damned stuff! Two weeks ago it all seemed impossible. I’m cashless for the moment but I’ve got a huge component in the progress of my dream. I’m posting some grab shots taken of it on the way home. For now I’m scheming the best way to arrange versatile accomodations inside to suit my needs. Then I’ll be hitting the road. Meanwhile ‘Seafire’ needs plenty of attention. I can see a very busy summer ahead.

Jack approves
Jack approves
The rest of the story
The rest of the story

By the way, a final note on the art of seeing. Remember that washed-out photo of tiny birds sitting on a lifeline after a morning rain? I forgot to mention the most wonderfully obvious thing of all. The purple martins are back!

Trailers, Boats, Trailers, Stuff

Trailers, Boats, Trailers, Stuff

Missing: One teardrop trailer. May contain a piece of my heart.
One teardrop trailer. Contains a piece of my heart.

I miss my teardrop trailer. Actually, I think I miss having it. I loved the statement it made about minimalism and how it Iead me to meet a lot of great folks and kindred spirits who were drawn to it. I’m cool, I own a teardrop trailer. This begs the question: “Is it the idea of escape that helps sustain our dreary lives?” We know that the idea of wilderness keeps the urbanite happy in their world. I‘m returning from Vancouver and can’t imagine many of the folks there, with whom I shared air, surviving for long in the BC backwoods. But, they can look up to the mountains and still see the beginning of infinite forest. Is it that concept of potential escape that helps keep them contentedly locking bumpers with their fellows? The presence of getaway tools and toys helps make life more bearable. And what do people look out to in flatland cities for inspiration?

Organic Island The first sign on Gabriola Island, just past the pub.
Organic Island
The first sign on Gabriola Island, just past the pub.

I have to mind my words. I admit that I am the guy who makes derogatory comments about “Stuff” and how it can own you. After seeing the monstrous boxes people like to wrestle along paved routes in pursuit of their personal bliss I can assure you I know what I don’t need. I did soon realize that it would be good to stand up inside a trailer, for several reasons. Changing clothes lying down is  a challenge better left to the young. It would be good to have enough room to use a bucket inside in the middle of the night. Tip-toeing around large Mexican scorpions in the dark was a convincing argument in favour of up-sizing my parameters of minimal. If I don’t want to travel alone, I do need a little more room. But, that’s it! I want to keep it simple.

The Photographer, another fat-arsed nut taking pictures in the rain
The Photographer
Another fat-arsed nut taking pictures in the rain.

Spending fortunes to connect the dots between the Wal Mart parking lots of North America or visiting campgrounds to park a few feet from another RV is a passion which eludes me. I suppose travelling thousands of kilometres to compare notes on microwave ovens, electric canopies, satellite television, or sewage mascerators can hold a special mystique for some but it’s beyond my interest. And yes, the same is true of boats. Almost invariably, the bigger the boat, the less it is used. Those hulls are filled with electronics and luxurious comforts irrelevant to making safe passages and when a gin palace does leave the dock it merely moves to another marina. A massive industry exists to maintain all of this decadence. (As I was perusing my dictionary I discovered the word ‘Epizoon’: An animal that lives on another animal.)

Geeze, can't we have a little privacy?
Geeze, can’t we have a little privacy?

Home again from my Mexican Teardrop Trailer Marathon, once that tiny trailer was sold, I began looking at small commercially built trailers. I considered a Boler, the famous seventies-era fibreglass bubble trailer. Over-priced, inadequate ground clearance, and poor use of interior space were reasons that turned me away. I went to a few RV dealers and looked at their fare. I was appalled at the cavalier workmanship and poor construction materials. The pricing was certainly first rate. The canned sales pitches chased me off. Trailers that were going to “Be gone any minute now if ya don’t grab it” are still on the lots in the same spot.


Use it or lose it? This is what happens when you leave your sails furled all winter.
Yeech! Use it or lose it!
This is what happens when you leave your sails furled all winter.

I love the idea of multifunction. I always try to install upgrades on my boat that do more than one thing. For example: dinghy davits over the stern which also hold solar panels. That concept also makes sense for trailers. Few commercially slapped-together travel trailers appear able to stand up to rough roads or packing heavy toolboxes. I’d like a minimal yet rugged mobile shelter where I can stand up inside, lay down comfortably, perform basic human functions including cooking in bad weather and also store necessary personal belongings and supplies. If that shelter could also be used as a mobile workshop for this old yacht tinker, so much the better. A workbench can double into a large bed which also houses tidy storage space. If not in use for either work or play, the trailer can warehouse belongings where I’ll need them when I return from a sailing trip. It seems like a winning idea to me. I intend to spend much of my future time in southern climates where one need only be inside to sleep securely. An outside awning provides the main living space and a sheltered work area when a trailer is earning it’s keep. See! A person can rationalize anything. I’ve now got the vehicle to handle a slightly larger trailer, which a month ago seemed an impossible step without any money, so onwards and sideways. There is magic in the process of setting goals and working toward them despite long odds. All it takes is attitude and determination, or in other words, brute force and ignorance. I wrestled with the notion of having both a boat and a trailer but it does make sense for me and the future I’m working toward.

Easter weekend anchorage looking toward Mt. Benson behind Nanaimo
Easter weekend anchorage looking toward Mt. Benson behind Nanaimo

So, that’s why I’m on the BC Ferry ‘Coastal Renaissance’ this morning heading to the mainland. It’s a grey day with thick clouds hanging low over the peaks of the north shore of Georgia Strait and Howe Sound. A fleet of seven sailboats races before the Sou’east wind. Their fluorescent white sails remind me of my organic green sails on ‘Seafire’. The verdigris after a long wet winter is amazing. I could have avoided it by using them occasionally through the winter and next year they’ll have to go to Mexico to avoid this travesty again.

REFORM SCHOOL Actually, St. Anne's Convent, a national historic site in Victoria BC
Actually, St. Anne’s Convent, a national historic site in Victoria BC

Yeah, Mexico again. I know! That brings me back to this trailer stuff. I’ve decided that a 6×12 enclosed aluminium work trailer could encompass all my needs. I’ve found one that has been converted. It has side windows, insulation, a bed, lighting, cabinetry, a roll-out awning on one side, a side door with screen, and for much less money than buying one and taking the time to fit out. As usual, I don’t have any money. I manage to live hand to mouth and the tax man has not been kind to me this year despite, or because of, my minimal income. I’m also going to look at supplies for the next rebuild phase on the little Cheoy Lee that seems to have become my career. My brain says the trailer is the way to get those supplies home. I’ll report on my floundering progress at the end of he day.

The bench, in the heart of Victoria
The bench, in the heart of Victoria

Spring here marches inexorably onward. Friends from Mexico forward me photos that show spring there. In January and February there were plenty of blooms. Now there’s a profusion of brilliant colours everywhere. (Maybe it’s a celebration that most of those damned gringos are gone for the summer.) Especially brilliant are the Prima Vera flowers. Drifts of brilliant yellow crown the trees and litter the alleys of the town. The serious gringos stay on, most of their compadres have fled back to northern latitudes. I’m told that it is the humidity, not the temperature that increases drastically. One simply has to adjust to the local lifestyle. That involves getting up with the roosters, siesta time in the afternoon, and then out and about in the evenings. That is the traditional approach in warm climates everywhere and it certainly seems very civilized; especially in comparison to how we run our lives according to the clock. Ever notice what happens when someone is asked if they’d like to have a meal? I can almost guarantee that they will first check the time, which of course has nothing to do with being hungry… which is one reason many of us are so chubby.

This, yet again, brings me back to this trailer business. If Mexico in summer becomes too severe for a gringo to live on a boat, (Which can indeed become a miserable, airless sweatbox on hot, windless days)take the trailer up into the interior mountains and explore the heart of the country at cooler altitudes. Bear in mind that locals in Mexico have no options about vacations or escaping summer heat or hurricanes. Their finances barely let then survive where they are. The concept of a vacation must be entirely alien.

Jack still on track. This is taken two weeks afer the previous photo in the same location.
Jack still on track.
This is taken two weeks afer the previous photo in the same location.

As I’ve previously mused, I’ve held considerations about selling old ‘Seafire’ but the yacht market is very soft. These days, regardless of the surveyed value, a boat seems to draw only about twenty-five percent of that dollar figure. Sadly, some boater owners refuse to accept reality. A lot of cheap boats are out there these days but they’ve had little invested recently in their care and maintenance. You do tend to get what you pay for.

Fiddlehead uncurling
Fiddlehead uncurling

The law of supply and demand, however, governs prices. That’s the way the pickle squirts. Besides, sad as it may be, this old boat is the sum total of what I have to show for thirty years of buying, fixing and selling boat after boat and, it’s my home. Do I really want to give it up? If I advise anyone on what sort of boat to buy, I suggest assessing your needs now and in the future. Even if it means waiting a bit, go for the future needs and do it right once. How I envy folks who have done that and own a boat for several decades. It is a comfortable union and amortizing the cost of ownership over a longer period is clearly most sensible. There is also nothing like having an intimate knowledge of a vessel and its quirks and capabilities. I should add, by the way, that smaller boats, easily stored and travelled on trailers, are beginning to hold a premium value because their operating costs are considerably less than boats which require a dock or mooring.

Moss growing in the shadow of a fern
Moss growing in the shadow of a fern

I’m told that in the RV world, people move from tents to tent trailers to a bigger trailer to ever larger motor homes and finally back to a small trailer or a camperized van. I am amazed, despite all the reports of a faltering economy, at the hundreds of thousands of RVs I’ve seen on the road and circulating through dealerships. On Vancouver Island alone, there are billions of dollars in RV inventory which appears enough to outfit the whole damned country. Once on the mainland, the acres of RVs for sale are massive. Surely, not all folks are abandoning their houses to live in a trailer or motor home. There is so much I just don’t understand.

Casa Yerba Buena, a favourite house on Gabriola island, over 100 years old, lovingly restored
Casa Yerba Buena, a favourite house on Gabriola island, over 100 years old, lovingly restored

Now I’m writing on the last ferry for the day out of Horseshoe Bay for Nanaimo. It’s been a long day. I have not been in the Vancouver Area for a long time. I could not live there. Vancouver and its surrounds once held an almost quaint charm, but I guess that was forty years ago. It is now just a soulless mess of concrete, glass and metal like any other contemporary city. I did my business and got out of town. Old Jack the dog rode shotgun for me today. I wonder what goes on in his brain as he placidly sits with nose pressed to window watching the world swirl around him. Just the smells and sounds of this alien place must be utterly befuddling but he takes it all in stride. His presence has a calming effect while I drive on streets where people seem aggressive and confrontational. I recall that once they seemed to be relaxed and courteous. Vancouver roads now remind me of the Toronto I left behind forty years ago. Is it time to move on again? Where south? I inched along in the homeward bound traffic snarls to Port Coquitlam to look at the trailer conversion. Damn! It is exactly what I need and is in incredible condition, like new. Negotiations are under way. I have to raise the mucho dineros for this one. If it is meant to be, it will all fall into place.

Spring moss
Spring moss

I bought some fibreglass products for a job. An old man, in a decrepit warehouse in the middle of a muddy yard, sells fibreglass supplies and offers excellent advise. Next door a monstrous glittering edifice of greed, the “River Rock Casino” towers over this little remnant of life as it used to be. There are no computers in sight, everything is calculated by hand and head. His prices were far less than elsewhere and he loaded me up with free catalyst, mixing pots, pens and other sundries. Happy at my interest in his obvious experience, he was also appreciative for my commerce. Relieved to learn that I had not waited for him earlier in the day he explained that his wife has Alzheimers and he spends the mornings tending to her needs. In turn I noted his integrity and tenacity in the face of the modern way. ‘Well”, he responded, “I’m here to help people, not bullshit them. Call anytime you need some advise.” Gotta love the ‘Old School’.

They disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again.
They disappeared into the forest, never to be seen again.

I’m writing in the ferry’s cafeteria. Three decks below, towering over my vehicle, sits a travel trailer such as I’ve never seen before. It is huge, seemingly the size of a boxcar! It has at least two entrances with folding steps, remote self-levelling jacks hang down in several places, there are several bits that “Pop out”. For all I know this thing could have a swimming pool. Someone wants to rough it in style. The whole thing disgusts me.

 Spring One picture, one word
One picture, one word

It would be nice to be able to afford it. Money isn’t everything but a change of problems would sure as hell be interesting. Remember, a capitalist can be defined as a socialist who’s found an opportunity. Epizoon!

Reluctant spring

Reluctant Spring

Looking for Alice ...Stepping stones in a local forest
Looking for Alice
…Stepping stones in a local forest

We’re doing OK. Just because the beaches of Jalisco are far away, and it still seems cold and wet here, doesn’t mean there’s anything to complain about. A little to the south, in Oso Washington, a massive mudslide has wiped out that entire small community. Despite appallingly unstable ground conditions, rescue crews are still looking for bodies and the faint possibility of more survivors. Tonight’s adjusted figure reduces the remaining number of missing to thirty, down from ninety. Over two dozen bodies have been recovered so far.

Skunk Cabbage ...they smell like a local hydroponic product
Skunk Cabbage
…they smell like a local hydroponic product

The East Coast of the country has endured it’s first spring blizzard with up to 120kph winds and 30 cm of snow. (There’ll be at least one more blast sometime around Easter…Well, it happens every year!) Subsequent bad weather has kept some schools closed for five days.The missing Malaysian Air flight is a growing mystery. In an age when satellites can read the numbers on lost golf balls laying in the brush this story is becoming a real-life James Bond epic.

Russia and the whole of Europe are slow-waltzing about the recent invasion of Crimea. Mr. Obama and the Pope have met to discuss growing global poverty. I doubt that either considered liquidating some of the Catholic church’s incredible wealth or to quit buying rockets.

Know the feeling? Low slack tide
Know the feeling?
Low slack tide

If you are fool enough to consider the chains of trivial event which trigger global wars and then factor into that notion the planet’s vast over-population, much of which is very hungry and discontent, well we’re head-first deep in the outhouse basement. So, the only way to make sense of it all is to quit trying and just enjoy the moment. It is all we have. Implement change by example and step out of the gloom and doom. The moment, it’s all we have!

Maple flowers
Maple flowers

A miserable slanting drizzle this morning gave way to thin sunshine filled with promise. Jack the dog and I went for a walk in the woods. Deer tracks fresh in the mud show that fawns are being born. The skunk cabbage is sprouting, blooms are now everywhere and there is a profusion of daffodils. Lambs cavort in the fields and it is still light at eight pm. The wharfinger is muttering about new contracts and increasing my moorage fees. Weeds are starting to grow on the bottom of the boat. It must be spring. March here came in like a lion so we’ll see if the bit about the lamb holds true. Jack and I took our before-bed sortie ashore. The moonless sky was clear and the stars were especially brilliant. Somewhere in the timber a Barred Owl sang its loud echoing call of Who-Hoo Hoot Hoot. There is a bog hole surrounded by blackberries above the marina. Last night a thunderous chorus of frogs burst out there. This morning the boat rides an uneasy swell as the thick cold rain pelts down again. Yes, it’s spring! See ya at the beach, I’ll be under the Corona umbrella. The only one!

Rodger the rigger ...some spring maintenance before another adventure with Betty Mc
Rodger the Rigger
…Some spring maintenance before another adventure with Betty Mc

So, seize the moment the man said. I want to step outside my incessant introspection and share some happy and even uplifting thoughts. All my endeavours are now focused on getting back south. I haven’t made any decisions other than to re-affirm that one’s regrets are usually about the things we didn’t do. I’ve been planning on taking a boat south for a very long time. I’m frightened to think of how I’ll feel if I did sell ‘Seafire.’ But it’s only ‘Stuff’. Right?

Betty Mc on the ways. This Tasmanian lobster boat has travelled here on her own keel with her owners Rodger and Ali
Betty Mc on the ways. This Tasmanian lobster boat has travelled here on her own keel with her owners Rodger and Ali

A few days have passed. Yep, I’ve been busy with stuff; more buying and selling. The little green truck is gone. It is now the property of a friend from Gabriola Island who shared his accommodations with me in La Manzanilla. He expressed great interest in the truck and now that it’s home and all fixed up, it belongs to him. I’ve managed to find a lovely older SUV (Remember?…Stupid Urban Vanity) It is in great shape and will soon be broken of any urban tendencies. I will now be able to tow a bigger trailer than the teardrop and orf we go again.

So now it’s heads-down time. One project boat to finish and then old ‘Seafire’ gets her just and overdue rewards. The weather is grudgingly admitting that it may be spring. Periods of two or more hours of undiluted sunlight are beginning to occur without rain. It’s time to get up the mast and finish installing mast steps to the top. Then new companionway doors, brightwork, more wiring and fiddly pre-voyage chores as well as the eternal pursuit of loot, ever more loot.

Betty Mc business end. all wood to the bitter end
Betty Mc business end.
She’s all wood to the bitter end

Meanwhile I’ve successfully put up a photo stream on Flickr. It’s an online portfolio of my photography to which I’ll be adding more of my camera work as time permits.

The URL is

The more a link is used it rises in the pecking order of search engines and becomes easier to find. So go ahead, hit me please. (I was amazed and humbled to discover how many Freds and Fred Baileys there are out there.)

There are even a few of us on Flickr. Next time I set up a site I’ll use an illustrious handle like ‘Aardvark Rocketman Fred.’

Jack hunting rabbits... he's never caught one yet, but!
Jack hunting rabbits… he’s never caught one yet, but!

One more morning. Now it is April 1st. The joke came last night when the power failed in phases. The dock lights were on but my neighbours and I frantically assumed the charger/inverters on our boats had failed. These are expensive devices we use to keep us dependant on the electrical grid ashore. It is amazing to realize how dependant even we fringe-dwellers are! Our collective angst was huge until we began comparing notes. Now the sun is rising into a cloudless sky. If this too is a prank, it’s a happy one.

Morning in Dogpatch Bay
Morning in Dogpatch Bay

I took an hour for myself in the middle of the afternoon. The frogs were in full rehearsal and somewhere in a far corner of the bay a pair of loons joined the chorus. Two fat cheeky river otters frolicked on the dock and I decided to go for a walk with my camera. The first three photos are the result. I don’t feel at all guilty.

By the way, come to think of it, March did go out like a lamb!

Ursa Major slightly to the left
Ursa Major slightly to the left
Life goes on
Life goes on

Soft Butter


Finally! A few days ago, as I prepared my morning toast, I realized that the weather had warmed enough for the butter to have gone soft. It’s still pliable today. A friend who was once giving me advise on sailing to warmer climes suggested that “You hold a heading due south until the butter melts, then turn left!”

Lately, other friends seem to parrot each other in their advise to me that the boat is looking good, “Just untie it and go!” They’re right I know. Sometimes you just have to shut your eyes and jump. Still, there are bills to clear up and I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder once I leave. And, like it or not, there are a few items of prudence to be addressed before venturing out onto the briney deep. You can’t steer a steady course by looking back at your wake for bits bobbing behind or men in brown shirts with pieces of paper to serve to you. So the plod forward continues into the warmth and brightness of late spring and early summer. I know I have the positive emotional support of many; so with all that good karma I can proceed with confidence believing that this will work out quite well and that by Christmas of this year, I’ll be blogging away from somewhere in the Sea of Cortez. There seems to be, in all worthwhile endeavours, a steep climb through fog where one’s faith is severely tested. From previous experience I know that fog may not clear until you are crawling onto the summit. So, in the meantime, may all of our karmas not run over any of our dogmas.

Neither fear no ignorance nor poverty!

Now then, discussing karma, I do intend to take a little time and enjoy life a bit this summer. Gabriola is a wonderful place to do that, especially in summer with most folks are in generally good spirits. There are all sorts of summertime art and musical events happening here on this island which is populated with so very many talented people. Currently, I’m trying to set up a gig for a friend who will be here in mid-summer. Richard Grainger is someone I describe as the Stan Rogers of England and he’ll be playing Vancouver Island at various venues in mid summer. A link to his website and wonderful music can be found in my ‘Blog Roll’.

Gab morning 11

At the moment the local museum has an exhibit up about the Hippy era when so many islanders first arrived here. Now advancing into a pre-geriatric age these old flower children have come a long way. Last night I reviewed a long series of snapshots of life back then. Some of those young hopefuls are now entering their geezerhood. I peer into the faces of of those I encounter and wonder at how quickly forty years and more have passed. Some of them still look vaguely recognizable against their aged photographs. Now some have their own grandchildren out in the marijuana patch breast feeding their own progeny. The beat goes on!Gab morning10


Political and social protest now seems to have largely devolved to online petitions. Of course, with broader comfort zones it is interesting to see how perspectives change. Now these once barefooted squatters whose mantras included ‘Share the wealth man’ have come by inheritances that allow then to wear designer gumboots while driving an exotic foreign SUV (Stupid Urban Vanity) sporting a ‘Think Green’ bumper sticker, listening to satellite music stations and grumping that texting on their BumbleBerry cell phone is not possible everywhere on the island; the signal here is intermittent. The trees on the perimeter of their private estates are festooned with ‘Private Property’ signs. I’ve heard a capitalist defined as “A socialist who’s found an opportunity”. It’s true! I know of people who were threatened with violence for the offence of anchoring in front of someone’s beachfront holdings. That was on a local Gulf Island especially noted for it’s free thinkers and liberal lifestyle.

Not everyone became a happy heir or a successful entrepreneur. I see the dead look in some eyes which seem to grieve for how life turned out so unjustly. (Or maybe…’s just drugs) I don’t know if many of us deserve our fate, good or bad, but for those who realize that their hope of communal enlightenment and nirvana generally turned out to be bullshit, here’s a quote from Winston Churchill: “The inherit virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” Then again in all fairness, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”.

That is being relayed by this failed capitalist who has come to truly wonder at the sad concepts we all hold of being owned by our stuff and of people actually feeling we can have exclusive possession of own piece of the planet. Other folks do seem to have truly found themselves a comfortable niche and apparently live a contented and harmonious existence. Kudus indeed!

A few of the island’s residents are quite opposed to concepts of people living as they choose, for example, on their boats. I guess that I may well be regarded as just another old boat hippy who doesn’t know the war is over. For some, it’s not. If you insist on employing the hyper-anality you came to escape, go for it. If it bothers you more than me, who’s got a problem? 

Most folks understand that the price of freedom is responsibility and you can’t “Do your thing” if it means getting in someone else’s face. Unless, of course you are one of those devil’s advocates whose thing is peeing in someone else’s cornflakes. So put on a tie-dyed T shirt with a slogan that says something like “Nuke A Gay Whale For Jesus”. Different strokes for different folks dude! If you like to ride naked on an alpaca while playing a didgeridoo, there is plenty of real estate available here. Just make sure you have a good water well and don’t dare to cut down any of your own trees!

A grand thing about living on this beautiful and diverse island is how so many different flavours of humanity, from career-welfare potheads to semi-retired multi-millionaires, are generally able to mix and mingle and live together peacefully on this little rock. Gabriolans are noted for their loyalty to each other as fellow islanders and often joke about the ferry link to Nanaimo as ‘Going to the other side”. Thankfully, it is a reliable ferry service.

Peace Man!

Degnen Bay
Degnen Bay
Welcome to my nightmare!
Welcome to my nightmare!