I’m starting to write this aboard ‘Seafire’ while moored at the Victoria Harbour Commission Wharf Street dock. Victoria was a very old queen and it is the Victoria Day holiday long weekend when we celebrate that long-lived monarch. There are also a few more old queens here in Victoria, English or not. (It’s up to you how you take that) So one excuse is as good as another to have a celebration. It’s a sunny Sunday with a lovely westerly breeze. Folks are out having a good time. Food concessions are booming, the squares are full of live music while vendors in white kiosks tempt the crowds with wonderful treasures. There is a happy din of buskers, marching bands and general mayhem. I’m sitting in the boat watching and hearing it all, feeling weary and waiting for guests.
I’ve been up since one o’clock this morning when I weighed anchor in Port Townsend. It seems that whenever I need to make this wonderful crossing, the best ebb tide to ride back home to Canada is in the wee hours. There wasn’t much wind, thankfully. When a Westerly blows against the tide in the Strait of Juan De Fuca a small boat is left bashing and swirling like a bug in a toilet. On the tugs we called it the Strait of “Wanna Puke Ya”. The strait is like an inland sea. It is huge. It drains the entire massive Strait of Georgia and all its tributaries, as well as Puget Sound and its mountain tributaries. Mixing with the infinity of the vast North Pacific, the tides swell back and forth twice a day.
The Southern side of the Strait is guarded by the imposing Olympic Mountains so-named, allegedly, by Juan De Fuca, a Greek pilot with the earliest Spanish Explorers. I’ve no way of knowing if the story is true but it always come to mind when I’m out there dodging freighters, nuclear submarines, fishing boats, tugboats, and miscellaneous other vessels from anywhere around the world. If rough seas and marine traffic don’t keep you awake, there are copious logs and other flotsam to go bump in the night. I try to imagine being in this cold, remorseless piece of ocean, with not one light ashore, where only the towering timber crowded down to the shore. Neither were there any lights to mark the reefs and banks and points waiting to snag the luckless or unwary. Was this possibly the fabled Northwest Passage, the express lane back to the other side of the planet? Was it the edge of the world? Imagine the imaginings while standing aboard a small wooden ship that was slowly being eaten by ship worms as you sailed into the unknown. You had no engine, no charts, no electronics. Only your intuitive seamanship kept you alive as you sailed into this uncharted realm. Eventually, amazingly, you found your way all the way back home to Europe again.
Last night I Listened to an Asian accent on my VHF radio calling repeatedly for Tofino Traffic Control on the frequency for Victoria Traffic. He insisted despite being advised several times of the correct radio channel to use. A small matter about a twenty-thousand ton or more freighter confused about places a hundred miles apart in the ‘Graveyard Of The Pacific’. (Perhaps the terror about foreign tankers invading our coastal inlets to export our crude oil is justified.) When I pulled into my berth here, the wharfinger expressed amazement at my ability to dock my boat alone. I, in turn, am amazed at his wonder. Is basic seamanship becoming worthy of mention? Mind you, the fabulous million-dollar Ocean Alexander power yacht tied ahead of me is registered to Bend, Oregon! Huh? That’s a very long way from the sea, nearly half-way to Kansas in fact. “Dorothy? Hello Dorothy!’ “Is that you Roger? Roger!”
Have you ever noticed how Bureaucrats love to move their, excuse me, our facilities and offices around. One of the great Canadian games has become trying to find a post office. No don’t go to the old post office building, it’s something else now. Victoria is a great example. It is quite unreasonable to expect a government office to be in the same place two years running. The new address is seldom in the newest phone book. On my way into the harbour I noticed a new dock in front of the Coast Hotel Marina. There was no legible sign saying CANADA CUSTOMS, only little grey signboards and a tiny phone box on a post in the middle of the dock. It looked suspiciously official so I swung the boat in for a closer look at the little signs. Sure enough!
I made fast and went to the phone box with ship’s documents and passport. I lifted the receiver. A recorded voice explained in French that if I wanted service in English to please press button one. There were no buttons! I imagined a burly Amurican son in the same situation. “Dang, these Canajians sure do parlé the old Espanol kinda funny!” Eventually a live Anglophone voice began asking who I was and where I was calling from. I explained in puzzlement that I was using the official telephone on the Canada Customs dock in front of the Coast Hotel. Eventually it occurred to me to add “In Victoria….BC…. Canada”. There was a pregnant pause, I assume while this person, in Ottawa or New Brunswick (Or Washington DC) in an underground office, confirmed there was such a place. I was promptly given a clearance number after a few more cursory questions. “Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”
I’m not complaining about the cavalier treatment. After all the searches and surly interrogations I’ve endured from both Canadian and US Customs and Immigration officials this was too easy. I at least expected a quiz about illegal bananas or swarthy terrorists lurking in my bilge. Nada. Nothing. Rien. Eh bien! I expect we’ll be having our taxes raised yet again.
By another stroke of luck I actually found fifty feet of empty dock space into which I could tie my forty-four feet of boat (Including her guns and appurtenances). So I did. After the wharfinger made it clear whom he felt was boss (The Victoria Harbour Commission has always made it clear ‘Zat you VILL occomodate Zem’ …. this despite being the first live folks you talk to in the biggest tourist town in Canada) but then went on to compliment me on my boat handling. I’ll forgive him his officiousness….this time. I suppose it IS normal to see boats crashing into other boats with a plenitude of shaking fists, waving boat hooks and high drama. My flat response is that I read about how to do it in a magazine. There’s no point in trying to explain about a lifetime at sea.
Do people compliment a flight crew on a successful landing? There are some things you’re expected to do right. Aren’t there?
Victoria was throbbing with the various activities of a long weekend as well as the wind-up for the Swiftsure race next weekend. This is a famous non-stop sailing race from Victoria out to Swiftsure Bank and back to the harbour. The race leaves one day, runs through the night and ends sometime the next day depending on wind and current, and the management thereof.
It has evolved into a huge international event and the preparlibations require a week’s head start. I had a great visit with my good friend Tony Gibb who with his partner Connie are visiting their old home port. Their boat is currently stored in Phuket for the monsoon season. Their adventures and photos are documented on their blog “Sage On Sail.” (There’s a direct link in the side bar of this blog)They have both been a tremendous inspiration to me and their blog provided the impetus for this one. Tony and I visited on the same dock where I last saw him and Connie. They threw a huge party with the carefully traditional ceremony of officially renaming their sailboat ‘Sage.’ That was three years ago. Already. I also had a lovely visit with my daughter and her friends and felt ready to deal with life for a few more days, especially after the flu ordeal. I’m almost feeling whole again.
This morning I’m lolling about in Montague Harbour, half-way home to Silva Bay from Victoria. I’m in no rush, I have to wait out a substantial ebb tide. There’s no point in trying to fight a tide when a bit of waiting will put you at the same place at the same time without burning a large amount of fuel. Sailing, in part, is about dealing with what you are handed. My work will be still be there when I get back. I’m listening to a wonderful radio station based on nearby Saltspring Island. It’s called CFSI Green FM and is one of the best music mixes I’ve heard. It is a commercial station, but even the ads are nicely done. And… it has no news broadcasts! Dead luvly! You can find it online by taping in Green FM.ca and I’m happy to make this plug.
By the way, what does the term” Sustaining member” bring to mind? This raunchy old salt immediately conjured up some very bawdy images. Yeah baby! It is actually what I heard NPR radio calling folks who donate funds. Sponsor, donor, patron are words now supplanted by “Sustaining member.” God bless the politically correct. Or as Billy Connolly says, “Bloody Beigeists!”
Speaking of politically correct, I conversed this past weekend with a brassy American woman who told me she hated Mexico because it was “Full of Mexicans.” I replied that I understood the US had the same problem. “ Huh?” she ruminated. “Well,” I said, “It’s full of Mexicans too. They do your dirty work!” Nope, no phone number from that one.
I’m now finishing this blog back in Silva Bay. The flu symptoms cling on but it’s time to go back to grubbing for some income. The weather is fine with a threat of rain and the latest spring flowers are putting on their show. The Arbutus trees are in full bloom and the air has a cloying tang as if someone got carried away with the bathroom air freshener. My sinus passages are quivering. I hope it does rain and scrub the air.
Old Lord Nelson once said that ships and men rot in port. After five days away from the dock I’ve been reacquainted with the reality of what this old boat is really about. That was long overdue. It’s meant to go places. She does that very well. The old prune barge is fast, stable, comfortable and easy to run and she’s paid for. She draws compliments from all who see her, even other seasoned mariners and land lubbers too. I’ve left her lines singled so we can cut loose again. Soon.
“ Inner Weight
A ship heels in wind and sails well because it has inner weight.
With inner weight, we yield to the way of things and move just-so in the winds of the world.
When inner weight has been found, trust its deep and constant balance.
From this centre that no one can explain, the difficult is made easy and adversity is mastered. But no one knows how.”
… Ray Grigg, ‘The Tao Of Sailing’