Out of Bagels! The grim reality sets in on Saturday morning. Seafire is now in Musket Island Marine Park Anchorage. I tiptoed in here in the inky dark, between the rocks, using radar. It is not a thrill I recommend for the end of a long day. There is an ongoing gale warning up and the dinghy davits aren’t doing so well. They are broken and twisted, unfit for more abuse. The dinghy is almost dragging in the water and I’ve got to get it up out of harm’s way. Just before I turned in to this sheltered bay I hit another damned log. A big one! That’s really good for the nerves after a full day on the helm and in a blackness darker than being inside a bear. I’ve travelled all the way from Shoal Bay today, sixty-six miles. It doesn’t sound like much. The wind rose and fell and I kept extending my destination to the next anchorage and then the next. I wanted to beat the line-up of forecast storms.
In the time I was under way yesterday some people travelled half-way around the world. Many have driven the same mileage in an hour. Some boats sailing offshore are using the wind in their favour and will knock of this distance in half a day or less and won’t have to stop for over the next half-day, every day. Boats the size of ‘Seafire’ move along at a little over six knots and that’s the way it is; a very reasonable rate of passage to watch the world go by. You can cover a lot of ground in a day if you don’t have to keep stopping.
I’ve arrived here in one day from Shoal Bay. It was a long haul, having hit the deck at 04:30 to be at the “Devil’s Punchbowl” in Dent Rapids at the precise time. I caught the last of the flood and shot through all three sets of rapids in fine style, well before the tide reversed hard enough to prevent my transit. I passed a log tow on the way into the rapids. The tug was pulling out into the mainstream heading for Mermaid Bay. There they wait six hours to catch the beginning of the next flood tide. The assist tug was on the back of the tow and all eight lights marking the booms burned brightly. Those marker lights are now LEDs and don’t need any attention.
When I was on the tugs we still used kerosene lanterns which needed constant attention. They had to be refilled every few days, the glass chimneys needed to be cleaned, the wicks needed to be trimmed. Then they needed to be re-lit in the wind and rain on an rolling bundle of logs. Then they were refastened to a steel stake driven into a log. To accomplish this you needed to pack an axe, a kerosene jug, dry matches and cleaning supplies all over the bobbing, rolling logs. If a wave splashed a lantern the glass would shatter. It was a real pain in the ass trying to keep those lanterns going and enduring the skipper’s rage when all the lanterns were not burning. If some drunk in a speedboat hit the tow, he always claimed the lanterns must not have been working. He may have been right.
I’m entering the fringes of civilization. I can can get cell service and radio stations, tons of them. With the din most of them broadcast, I actually find comfort in the familiar blither of CBC !. Yes I know, this is after months of bitching about the only station available on the North Coast. At least CBC2 plays music. Now, I’ve discovered, I’ll have to tackle the day without my breakfast bagel. I have some biscuit mix but the last batch I whipped up tasted a bit boaty for some reason. I believe the package has only been aboard for two years.
I wrestled the dinghy aboard, deflated it and lashed it down on the foredeck knowing now I should have done this before I left Shearwater but I wanted the dinghy available should there be a nasty log with my name on it. I’ve decided how to build a davit that will work for offshore sailing after my horror discovering that the stainless steel davit bases had actually begun to tear under their tremendous abuse! There is massive power in a moving lump of water. I weighed anchor at noon and decided to pass behind Nelson Island instead of bashing into the building sou’easter out in Malaspina strait.
Big white horses were galloping in the grey open waters. Those kind of waves are tough enough to run with and dead ugly to fight against. There is an innocuous-looking rock called Cape Cockburn along the way which is a very nasty place to pass in this kind of weather. I have tried it, more than once and have offered up some variations on its name which I’ll leave to your imagination. I’ve actually been driven back twice previously at this cape. I’m not in the mood for more.
Today I took the long way and arrived a few hours later in Pender Harbour. I’m at the Madeira Park wharf and it’s a good thing. I’ve done well to be here in this persistent string of storms. I’m content. The barometer is dropping again, slowly. That means there’s a big system coming which may not be just a passing blow. I’ve only got fifty miles to go and still dare not expect to be home for Christmas! I’m at a dock with properly functioning electrical service, good wifi, showers and nearby shopping. Such decadence! A visit to the grocery store had me almost gasping. It is not a grand store by down-south standards but there was a choice of fresh produce, fresh unfrozen meat and selections of everything imaginable at what seem to be reasonable prices. I’m sure I can find locals who feel otherwise. It is amazing how we adjust our expectations. Suddenly the value of the last six months in a remote community is clear.
It is has been several years since I’ve travelled these waters and I’m stunned at what I see has changed. There have always been cabins, some vacation homes, a few full time abodes, ghost communities. Now, nearly everywhere you look, there are monstrous edifices which I can see are merely summer retreats. With the cost of importing labour and material, many houses have clearly cost well over a million dollars. They sit empty, cold and austere. In Pender Harbour the housing developments are overwhelming. Their presence has stolen the whole charm of the harbour. There is a famous old hospital here, now a hotel and resort. Some of these new homes make the old landmark seem tiny. It is stupefying to me. I’ll confess a certain degree of jealousy but what is the source of wealth which defies any question about need and greed? C’mon guys! I suspect that many of the barefoot draft-dodger hippies who came here begging “Peace man. C’mon share the wealth man,” have inherited well and invested cleverly. Now they own these edifices which represent exactly what they once claimed to despise. It’s true, a capitalist is just a socialist who has found an opportunity. Isn’t it interesting how we are all capable of corrupting ourselves?
I live in this boat which has a floorspace of less than three hundred square feet. I have plenty of space for all my stuff and even have some extra sleeping space for guests. I can stand up, lay down, sit and write, cook, bath, use a toilet and usually stay warm and dry. It’s all I need.
In many places up the coast an old house has stood alone for years, once a small home for a family. Then it is rebuilt and extended or torn down and replaced. The bush is cleared back and a second house is built. Soon a tiny community springs up but it always seems unoccupied. I don’t understand the need to own more than you can use. Likewise seafood farms are springing up in nearly every good anchorage like some sort of virus. I prefer eating wild protein but I understand the need for farmed food when people are so determined to live like farmed fish themselves. An old friend, Allen Farrel, once commented on people’s frantic lifestyle and how many chose to spend a few weeks a year trying to find themselves by sleeping on the ground in a tent. “Don’t they understand,” he wondered, “that they can live in a tent all year if that’s what they really want?” There’s a balance somewhere. I’m not sure I have an answer but the idea of a monster investment somewhere out of town on the edge of the idea of wilderness just doesn’t make sense to me if I can’t enjoy it in real time out of the mainstream.. I suppose if the apocalypse does come, there’ll be a lot of free housing available out of the mainstream.
On day eight, Sunday morning the “Marine Weather Statement” was as confusing. Finally I decided that forecasts be damned, I’d go have a look. I could see home and steeled myself for one last bashing while crossing the Strait Of Georgia. At Merry Island the wind and seas were coming from all directions and I felt like a bug in a washing machine. A prevailing south wind was building along the mainland shore but the smoke from the Nanaimo pulp mill showed a strong northerly wind on Vancouver Island. Amazingly, the seas calmed as I crossed. More logs, one more tidal narrows, more darkness (although there is an extra hour of daylight already these few degrees further south) and I arrived at the Ladysmith Maritime Society docks. I was piped onto the dock with the wail of sirens on the highway. Civilization!
A final wish for a happy Christmas.
“Having too many things, Americans spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and Nature throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.”
… John Steinbeck 1960