Chasing a Rock

“I say old chap!”
This old crow hated me taking it’s picture but couldn’t tear away from the lure of the grocery bags on the back deck of the water taxi.
Tiny fishbits in the stowed net makes for an impromptu banquet.

When your cash flow is at a low ebb tide is the same time that all the incidentals pile up on you. I’ve missed a week’s pay while away south on medical appointments and spending money on things like prescriptions and new eye glasses. After a meagre payday suddenly I’m out of toilet cleaner, paper towels, a few spices and other things that are costly, especially here, when you need them all at once. I’m due for a new fishing license and a new rain jacket. It’s time for a new frying pan. No single item is a big deal, but a blizzard is just a whole lot of innocuous individual snow flakes. I’m not complaining, it’s just the way the pickle squirts, but I find the laws of chaos intriguing. Life, at times, feels like hanging off a cliff with folks dancing on your fingers and peeing on your head. Did I mention that it’s annual income tax time?

“Honey, have you checked the boat lately?” This boat has now been capsized at the dock for a very long time. I last had a photo of this in my blog posted on February 13th. No point in panicking now.

Fortunately the wisdom of accumulated years prevents me from looking for trouble. I’m slowly learning that it finds me readily enough. The boat in the photos below was stolen by three drunken fisherman who had missed the last water taxi. Apparently they hit a reef at full speed. Two RCMP officers were measuring and photographing the recovered boat while it sat outside my shop after being power-washed free of a copious coating of dna.

No Air Bags
It’s not the speed, it’s the sudden stop. The starboard windshield is completely gone. Must’ve hurt like hell.
Down to the last detail.
Clearly, everything came to an abrupt halt.

I quipped about the wisdom of chasing parked rocks and that I hoped the experience had been indelibly painful. I was assured that I was getting my wish. Eventually the police caught up with the three stupids further south and I’m sure they’ll have an unhappy time ahead.Seeing the damage I was reminded of a line from a song on an old Willy Nelson album: Red Headed Stranger. “You can’t hang a man for shooting a woman who was stealing his horse.” No, I’m not condoning violence of any sort but up here a person’s boat is a lifeline. Folks who violate another’s lifeline deserve the wrath of Trump. For what that’s worth, here’s a bit of musing from CBC radio. Someone mentioned that the best-selling pinata in Latin American is now made in the image of King Donald. The retort was “Yeah, but there’s nothing inside.” As I write, another nugget floats out of the radio. “Once the government legalizes marijuana, it’ll be the first time anyone loses money selling drugs.” And so here I go now quoting CBC radio. Times are desperate.

Ah the sun! ‘Seafire’ basks in a moment of sunlight and the promise of spring.
Catting the hook. a traditional and forgotten method of securing an anchor for a long passage. Previously it was hooked under the bobstay but heavy seas off Cape Caution tore it loose and caused damage to the bow stem. This is a work in progress but it will be perfected. I love my Rocna anchor.

I sleep in on Sunday morning to eventually be awakened by the clatter of a low-flying Beaver float plane. Peeking out from beneath the blankets of my snug nest I confirm that dawn has indeed broken. By the time I have some coffee brewing, there is the nearby din of a rock drill. The sooner the job is done the better, life must go on, the din will end. Electrical power on the docks is again being spread between too many boats and simply cooking breakfast can blow the single small main breaker for the entire system. I decide to wander across the enclave to the laundromat for a shower and then indulge in the decadence of ordering breakfast.

As I enter the restaurant, I am accosted by the operator-manager of the water taxi fleet. Without so much as a “Good morning” I’m overwhelmed with a litany of woes about a broken-down boat. I remind him that I’m not at work today and I’d really like to have a tiny piece of life. In other words, “Bugger off and leave me alone.” For the time being I’ve been told not to work on weekends; winter budgets are tight. This character is berating me now that he’ll just have to find someone willing to work weekends. He’s not my boss and is far outside his job description. So much for a peaceful Sunday morning.

A Broke-Back Pickup
It’s a tough life for a vehicle here, the roads are short but the rocks and potholes are big.

Two days later, the cold driving rain continues and a flock of migrating robins appears on the lawn in our little community square. It is probably the first grass they’ve seen in a few hundred miles. They hop about furtively, listening and poking at tiny tidbits living in the sod. They are harbingers of spring yet the sight of them is dismal. They are certainly not singing. Friday morning is the last day of March, in like a lion, out like a lion. I’m writing while waiting for the kettle so I can have a mug of coffee. The boat is shuddering and heeling under windy blasts and pelting rain. Ho hum, this is nothing new. Yesterday the skies cleared and a glorious, golden, warm sun blessed this piece of the earth. For the first time this year, i shut the heater off and left the hatches open for the entire afternoon. It was wonderful.

Got worms ? Robins sighted.

Sunlight brings out the masses, even here. From where and how do they all mysteriously emerge? Suddenly the yard swarms with people bringing in broken boats. Several arrived in tow. Some were sinking, some had dead engines. Some have both problems. I am always bemused by fishermen who leave their boat abandoned for most of the year. We are now close to the short, intense herring season and suddenly there is a glut of customers demanding immediate attention regardless of their place in the line-up.

Bookends. Two of my Shearwater buddies.

As spring slowly wedges it’s way beneath the dark weight of winter, one of the first significant annual events is herring season. It is actually a herring roe fishery; the timing must be perfect. There will be an exact moment when the herring deposit their eggs on kelp and other marine flora. The timing to harvest the egg-laden fish and the fresh ‘Roe On Kelp’ is critical to achieve best quality and maximum value. There is an anxious anticipation. Fishermen earn a large portion of their annual income during what may be a minutes-long season. Then in the last few days before the season’s opening, there comes a frantic rush to have necessary repairs made. The practice of being prepared and of keeping a vessel shipshape is an alien concept.

One character sputtered in to the docks all the way from Ocean Falls. He dumped out the contents of a fuel filter into a bucket. The filter had held a nasty mess of rusty watery goo. When a boat is used regularly as transport in remote waters, clean fuel and filters are absolutely essential, perhaps at times, a matter of life and death. Many folks are very cavalier about preventative maintenance. This character mused that he should have “ changed it last year” and then went on to describe a persistent engine oil leak that comes back every time he adds oil! I call it the “Break and fix” method. Sadly it is a practice entirely too familiar to many.

My tube’s bigger than yours! Sea worm casings on a concrete anchor block.

Spring weather is slowly beginning to appear, a few minutes here, an hour there, an entire half-day a few days ago. It seems odd to cast a shadow, feel radiated warmth on your back and to be unable to see because there is sunlight in your eyes. There are no complaints on that front. I’ll get used to it.

Raindrops on the windows while the sun beams in. All that light reveals accumulated winter grime.

The pump don’t work cause the vandals took the handle.“….Bob Dylan

What’s In a Name?

Dogpatch Dawn A community of under-the-radar liveaboard folks
Dogpatch Dawn
A community of under-the-radar liveaboard folks
Bicycle Blues Part of the price of living off the grid. "First they chain my frame, Then they steel both wheels!"
Bicycle Blues
Part of the price of living off the grid.
“First they chain my frame,
Then they steal both my wheels!”

 seafire- phosphorescence at sea. Also known as bio-luminescence, attributed to light-emitting organisms in sea water. When present, it is especially noticeable at night in waves, in the wake of a boat or the passage of fish. It appears as a green glow or as flecks of light. Seafire was also the name given to the naval version of the famous fighter plane, the Spitfire.

A recent contact from a long-lost friend who had discovered this blog noted that I still owned ‘Seafire’. I replied that the present Seafire is a namesake of my first vessel of that name. Here’s how it happened.

In 1986 I was living in the Northern Interior and dead sick of it. Prince George is a place where it seemed you spent six months of the year shovelling snow onto your lawn and then six months shovelling it back onto the street in hope of having a few weeks of green lawn before the flies quit biting and it began to snow again. I’ve lived in more remote locations but there was something quite dreary about Prince George. It had a lot to do with three very large pulpmills in that city and a general “Log it, burn it, pave it” mentality. I’ll always remember those pitch dark winter mornings with temperatures down to -40° and joggers in spandex, with a scarf around their faces, thumping down the polished ice streets between huge berms of plowed snow, a swirl of pulpmill ice smog around them. I think they did this in the name of good health!

Expo 86 brought me down twice to Vancouver that year, the second time to see the launching of the “Pacific Grace’ which had been built on the fair site. I was every inch an aviator at the time but the sea and this coast also occupied a huge piece of my heart and so a decision was made. It was time to move to the coast. For less money than owning an airplane, I could possess a sailing vessel which would take me anywhere I chose and also be my home. I reasoned that trying to live in a small aircraft while picking one’s way around the planet was really not practical. By the spring of the following year I had left a lucrative career behind and launched a tiny Northwest 21 trailerable sailboat in False Creek, not far from where the ‘.Pacific Grace’ first kissed the water.

I made my way northward as far as Port Hardy that March in the persistent winter weather in a boat with squatting headroom and no heat. My only source of warmth was a tiny propane stove which produced more water vapour than heat. My English roots were thrilled at my masochism and a sense of homecoming to be back on the sea. (No comforts please, we’re English!)

During that trip I enjoyed an evening aboard a beautiful William Atkin-designed Ingrid 36. She was a wooden double-ended ketch, very stout and very, very salty. Her name was ‘Seafire.’ She was owned by a young Alaskan-bound couple going north to summer jobs before heading for southern seas in the fall. It was, in part, the radiant, dry warmth of their Dickinson galley stove, in part the soft glow of the kerosene cabin lights, in part the lovely glow from the rum but mostly the gleam of the mutual dream held by this young pair of dreamers. What a wonderful thing!

I learned later that the boat had been sunk somewhere west of the Panama Canal in the fall of that same year. It was, apparently, attacked by Orca whales, a not uncommon story for those waters. I never learned the fate of her crew but assume they survived to be able to recount their ordeal. Two more boats passed through my hands, both very capable offshore vessels, ‘Jenta’ was a Gulf Island 29 and then ‘Anya’ a Vancouver 27. The next boat was a True North 34. She was a fibreglass double-ended cutter, massively built, cozy, clumsy, but imminently sea-worthy and steered with a huge, heavy oak tiller. That helm kept you out in the open, no matter what the weather. It was all very salty, and I was much younger. She came with the name ‘Sunward II’ which I could not abide and so, still deeply inspired, I renamed her ‘Seafire.’

This was now the forth sailboat I’d owned and refitted. I loved her dearly and she loved me. I will hold precious memories forever of the adventures and people aboard that boat. She was also chartered out for cruises with various guests from Europe. I believe my ‘Seafire’ inspired a passion for some other people to answer the calling of the sea.

Each day of chartering was hard work, especially when your guests got your own berth at the end of the day. You roughed it somewhere else on the boat. I began to scheme to build a larger, steel vessel, better-suited for chartering and reluctantly I sold ‘Seafire’ to a fellow with offshore dreams for her. The last I heard she was somewhere in Mexico. I don’t know what ever happened to her.

A True North 34 The way I used to go to sea
A True North 34
The way I used to go to sea
My office The way I do it now
My office
The way I do it now
Seafire again Pretty from all angles
Seafire again
Pretty from all angles

Life goes on. The steel boat was never built. I had a serious accident at work on the tugs and ended up experiencing major heart surgery. Unable to return to a career on the tugs I started a business on borrowed funds. That ended disastrously in bankruptcy. Somehow I staggered back up onto my knees and acquired another fixer-upper. ‘West Moon’ was a delightful Fortune 30, funky and very seaworthy but some friends were selling their beloved Sapphire 30,’ an Australian-built sloop named ‘Pax.’ Built for racing in the Southern Ocean she was massively constructed and had completed a 14 year round-the-world odyssey. I soon had her ready to go again. We had many adventures together including a summer trip around Vancouver Island and like any fine boat, she’ll always hold a piece of my heart. However I still ached for a boat which allowed me the option of chartering, could carry tools enough to help pay my way and offered an inside helm for days of extreme heat, rain, or cold.

Happy Harry Heiltsuk My Heiltsuk mask on the bowsprit, a souvenir of Bella Bella. The Stainless steel mast pulpit and the boom gallows are some of my upgrades. Thanks to my pal Bob Wyche
Happy Harry Heiltsuk
My Heiltsuk mask on the bowsprit, a souvenir of Bella Bella carved to order by Ivan Wilson. The Stainless steel mast pulpit and the boom gallows are some of my upgrades.
Thanks to my pal Bob Wyche.

I’ve long-dreamed of cruising to Europe but have lost my sense of romance for being outside up to my armpits in ice-cold green seawater. My perspectives on the romance of the sea were evolving. I’m not getting any younger. I needed a boat with an interior that did not require a steep vertical ladder. I wanted my dog and I to be able to enter and exit the cabin easily. And I wanted to be able to sit inside and to see out while I wrote. ‘Pax’ sold so quickly that it seemed meant to be. Suddenly there I was on the beach with no debts and a little cash in hand, a very dangerous place for sailor to find himself.

Pax My Australian sailing machine
My Australian sailing machine

I searched everywhere in the Pacific Northwest and also made two different trips to the east looking at boats. I have long lusted after a type of motor-sailor designed after North Sea fishing trawlers. There is an English-built boat called a Fisher which I love as well as a Dutch boat called a Banzer. Motor sailors are usually displacement-hull motor boats with sail rigging. Traditionally they are rugged and seaworthy but not particularly good sailing vessels. The sails help steady the vessel in rough seas and offer poor to reasonable sailing ability when the wind is in your favour. There can be no expectation of windward ability. A motor sailor can be the best and worst of both worlds but is generally a happy compromise. The Downeaster 41 which I now own is built on a well respected 38′ offshore sailing hull and indeed sails rather well compared to many other motor sailors.

A sailing hull ...and a big propeller. October haulout in Shearwater
A sailing hull
…and a big propeller.
October haulout in Shearwater

After all that searching I found ‘Heart Of Gold’ almost at my front door in nearby Blaine. She was a perfect picture of despair when I first saw her. Covered in verdigris and bird droppings she listed hard to port. She had long sat at the dock and below deck reeked a sewerific blend of nasty neglect. It was obvious why she hadn’t sold. I’ve made my living fixing boats for a long while and knew that I could give this faded flower the loving she needed. This boat was perfect for my needs although the refit is still a long way from being complete. I describe the boat in my blog of May 24th, 2013 titled “It Must Be Spring.” It is easy to find in the archives on the right sidebar.

Heart Of Gold Really!
Heart Of Gold

Once I’d finished the business of importing the boat, which I did on my own with no problems, I needed to enter it into Canadian Ship’s Registry. A vessel’s name is the first piece of data in recognition of its official status as a Canadian vessel. (Until recent times a vessel’s owner could only ever own 64 shares of the vessel. The remaining 36 belonged to the British Monarchy who had a one-third claim on the boat and all “Her guns and appurtenances thereof.”) In remote areas I carry only one old shotgun and wore out my appurtenances long ago. However, I can still be considered somewhat impertinent.

As ‘Heart Of Gold’ had been entered in US Coast Guard registry I had all the formal measurements and tonnages and the process was straight forward. I’d struggled with the vessel’s name as being rather corny but resolved that if it were available I’d keep it to assuage nautical superstition. Oddly, the name had been available until the previous week and so I laid down my first choice for a new name.

‘Brass Monkey’ drew a wondering stare from the ladies in the office and then one said, “I know you! You’re Mr. Seafire.” I’ve been in that office so often through the years, she remembered me! In the Canadian Ship Registry system, a vessel’s name must be re-registered every few years. ‘Seafire’ had not been and so the name was mine for the asking. It seemed propitious, a sign from the gods and so once again I am the master of a Canadian-registered vessel named ‘Seafire.’ She’s a gorgeous old friend, unique and capable. She has been my home for the better part of the past five years and has carried me pleasantly along thousands of sea miles.

And so here I sit on a dark January night. The wind is calm but the rain hammers relentlessly as if I were still in Shearwater. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. The dream is very much alive but at the moment everything seems hopeless. The exciting part is, I know, that this is often a moment just before something really good comes down the pipe.

A wineglass transom. This clever design leaves a minimum disturbance behind the boat as it passes through the water.
A wineglass transom.
This clever design leaves a minimum disturbance behind the boat as it passes through the water.

By odd coincidence, while I have been writing this blog, a True North 34 has moored next to me. They are not a common boat. I can’t believe that I actually sat in such a cockpit day and night, in sun, rain, snow and flying spray. The tiller was heavy and the boat demanded good sail trim to be manageable. The narrow hatch tops a steep ladder down into the cabin which is a very snug place to ride out a storm. I loved that boat but the new ‘Seafire’ suits me very well. I am happy with my new old boat. I have yet to hold a renaming ceremony which nautical tradition demands. This is a mandatory ritual, long overdue, where the gods of the sea are supplicated for their blessing and protection. There are copious libations and affirmations among fellow nautical zealots. Then you sail away.

Let’s have a party; soon.

An old poster. The view is taken from a magic moment aboard the first 'Seafire'
An old poster.
The view is taken from a magic moment aboard the first ‘Seafire’