The sun rose this morning into a cloudless sky. We cannot see anything blue. We are beneath a thick pall of smoke because, it seems, half of British Columbia’s forests are on fire. I don’t know who is to blame, but I reckon that most of the fires are human-caused. South of the border California is in ashes because of the price of Canadian lumber. Thus sayeth the Trump. I know that I may lose subscribers for what I constantly repeat but if you’re not even asking questions, then you like it where you are and nothing is ever going to change. That last sentence became a polemic political rant which I finally deleted. What’s the point? This blog is supposed to be about sailing and freedom and free thinking. People who read my blog understand that in varying degrees and directions. Remember Forest Gump? “Stupid is as stupid does.” Most folks get that and if you don’t, I hope you’re happy in your space.
To paraphrase the Red Green Theme:
If you can’t be handsome,
if you can’t be rich,
try to be handy,
do something damnit,
fix the sonafabitch.
I’m presently wondering about the wisdom in trying to sell my beloved ‘Seafire.’ She is my earthquake plan and escape pod.It is said that it is better to drown than hang or burn and today, choke! I see people on the street wearing surgical masks which adds to the eeriness. I am not sure the masks filter out much smoke but if they make people feel better…Good!
As the day advances, the smoke settles and the entire world seems subdued, or oppressed, by it. The streets are oddly quiet as a strange lethargy seems to possess those who are out and about. The sensation is rather the same as when overwhelmed by a heavy snowfall except that this is a crushing rather a sheltering feeling. While I write, the smoke catches at the back of my throat and muted orange-brown light filters in over my desk. To think that I used to smoke deliberately, like a fiend! Fool!
Now I’m writing in the dull glow of the next morning. The smoke is thicker. Fire and brimstone. It’s the tale of sod ‘em and go for more. Getting a clear breath seems a bit difficult in the thick acrid air I am inhaling. Jack just wants to lay low.Suddenly I realize that I can hear no birds this morning. I drove up to Nanaimo this morning and realized at the airport that most flights are grounded.
The visibility is below safe minimums for VFR. There are few aircraft in the sky and so the doomsday sensation lowers a little more. People are driving like road warriors as if there is no tomorrow and I fear, that for some, they will be right. The volunteer fire department in Ladysmith issues a call to arms with a good old-fashioned air raid siren. Its sonorous howl calls all too often, sometimes several times in one day. Within minutes there is a din of warbling, hooting, honking emergency vehicles heading off on yet another mission to yet another wreck on the highway. The dogs in town respond in kind. Summer wears on.
“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau
The summer staine faces southward looking up at the arc of the summer sun, the moon, the stars and the planets. It absorbs the sky’s warmth and wisdom, storing that energy for the long winter ahead. The rock and its mysterious visage are divided by pointers to the five corners of the earth. The fifth pointer being the mark toward the land of fairies and other creatures of imagination who, on moon lite nights, carve symbols on certain rocks in the forest.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock
I have always wanted to have a boat named the ‘Brass Monkey.’ As I contemplate selling my beloved boat and replacing it with a smaller trailerable boat, I believe I would name it the ‘Brass Monkey.’ I’ve never seen a vessel with that name. ‘Seafire’ was very close to having that handle but fate intervened and she ended up with the name of a previous and beloved vessel. It’s a complicated story best saved for another time. The Brass Monkey fixation has to do with my perverse sense of humour. Over breakfast this morning I mused about a new blog called “Tales Of The Brass Monkey.” It could begin: “Hello my name is Balls; Claude Balls. Perhaps you are familiar with my first novel “Tiger Hunting in Burma.”
“Bah ha ha, I get it, I get it!”
It’s a tired old joke from my elementary school days so very, very long. I recall we could get ourselves doubled over in gales of laughter about ‘Rusty Bedsprings” by I. P. Nightly. Was I ever really that innocent and so easily amused? Such are the weird mental meanderings of a creative old sailor on the Saturday morning of the beginning of a long weekend. It is BC Day this time. Years ago an edict was issued that declared there would be a statute holiday in every month of the year. That’s very civilized I suppose.
It meant moving Thanksgiving from November to October. Halloween was apparently not an adequate excuse for an official day off with pay. I don’t think Remembrance Day should be a legal holiday but there’s no point in blowing against the wind. When you retire, every day becomes a sort-of holiday and all too often you have to grope to remember what day it is. Too soon it will be guessing the month; and then the year. Your existence can become something measured by the space between medical appointments. I’ll tell you right now that I’m becoming increasingly suspicious of the whole damned Western Medical system and wonder about how many Porsche payments I’m helping make.
The weather continues to be clear and hot. There are several forest fires burning on just on Vancouver Island including a local one of over 190 hectares. All due probably to some idiot with a cigarette. So each day is smoky and airless. Last evening, even with hatches open, the boat’s interior was 43º C, that’s 108ºF! I’m painting the boat’s cockpit so for me it is up in the early morning to put the next coat on before the baking sun rears its angry head once again. I’d love an ocean breeze but I’m glad the firefighters don’t have any more wind than the fire itself creates. I know, from younger years working in the woods, what a hellacious ordeal forest fire fighting is. There is no romance in any of it.
Wot a life! I met an old man this morning racing down the sidewalk in his electric scooter. He was resplendent in flowered Bermuda shorts flapping around his skeletal legs which were wrapped up in knee-high socks. He wore thick, huge sunglasses beneath a broad straw hat. A smouldering cigarette was stuck in his pie-hole. He complained about the smoke in the air. How do you respond to blatant idiocy? The smoke is acrid enough but nothing compared to the weekend past when a dock caught fire in Port Mellon over 30 miles away. The choking stench of burning creosote filled the air for most of the day. It is a toxic funk that sticks in your throat and nose, strongly reminiscent of a time when everyone used either coal or wood for cooking and heating and thought nothing of whatever might be spewing from local industrial smokestacks. Bleaach! Despite our local air quality warnings, there are millions of folks on the planet still living daily in far worse air pollution and know nothing different. Oh, the things we take for granted!
Our marina is so crowded with transient vessels this year that member’s slips are being assigned whenever possible. The revenue is most welcome I’m sure as we continue to expand and improve our facilities. Two temporary neighbours this week were tied on either side of the same finger. One, a typical fibreglass trawler, clone was crewed with two pre-geriatric couples. Drinks flowed copiously accompanied with loud guffaws and “Golly-gee, I think we’re having fun” raucous, imposing laughter. I said nothing (because I seem to have forgotten how to have fun.) Their dock mate was a cruise and learn vessel belonging to a lady who has run a successful sailing school on her boat for many years. In the morning she held class in the cockpit and then coached a teenage girl who, incidentally, backed the big sloop out and away; quite possibly for the first time ever. She did a great job. All the while, the trawler’s matrons stood up on their top deck with hands-on-hips, watching and making comments, especially during the backing out manoeuvre. The body language and mindless quips were entirely inappropriate and distracting to the student. Gormless people, finding entertainment with someone else’s dire circumstance, infuriate me. I tried to keep my head down but finally spontaneously offered that the student really did not need an audience. Two blank faces turned and regarded me with the all the deep wonder of pigs having a pee. I know, I’m just a cranky old curmugeon, but the instructor grinned and waved. The next day another guest dumped out the dock’s dog water bucket because he “Didn’t know what it was for.” Later he complained about the purple martins “Picking on him.”
As Jack might say, “Grrrrr.”
For every goof there are also very many lovely people, with gorgeous boats and even some with wonderful dogs along for the cruise. I’m quite proud to be a small part of the Ladysmith Maritime Society which has become an ultimate cruising drop-in spot for vessels from as far away as the bottom of Puget Sound and even Southern California. One appeared the other day with home port displayed as Isle Grosse, Michigan. I don’t know where the boat is really kept but… goshdernit;we’re famous!
At the moment, I’m finishing up the final licks of the face lift on old ‘Seafire.’ The cockpit has lost its grubby tugboat ambience. Now if someone could do the same for me. I’m also working on an engine in a friend’s 1946 Chris Craft. This beautiful old wooden classic is the sort of boat I watched in the harbours of my youth. Whodda thunk that one day, nearly sixty years later….! Actually I do work on these old beauties every once in a while and it is always a bit of pleasure. No computers!
The final painting in the cockpit is now done. That, in itself, feels good. Also, the heat has eased and we have actually had a few sprinkles of rain today. Does this mean we’re on the slippery back side of summer already? Between the showers, the sun breaks out through a brassy pall of smoke. At least we’ve had no fire-starting thunderstorms, here, yet. I might be frustrated with my little life but I’m not bored. Summer wears on.
“Don’t judge other people’s ability by the level of your own incompetence.” … Old Grumpy hisself
(Remember that you can enlarge any image simply by clicking on it)
“Trade goats for canoe.” The ad. caught my eye immediately. I have neither goats nor a canoe but I certainly understand that urge to go to sea. My sea lust has not diminished even with the notion of selling my boat. The response to my notice that ‘Seafire’ can now be bought has been overwhelmingly negative. “You can’t be Fred without your boat!” “What will you do?” So far there have been no offers of cash nor potential partnerships in the boat. I am not selling my beloved boat because I am weary of it or the sea. I simply cannot meet the financial demands of owning a boat any longer, at least within my current financial perimeters. There are fixed costs to pay whether you use the boat or not and there are no more rabbits in my sack. One window closes and another opens. If I am boatless on the beach for a while I will still be a salty dog, something I can neither hide nor deny. There are a number of folks who are boat owners who are clearly not water people no matter how hard they try to impress otherwise.
I, of course, am hoping for something to happen which will alter my direction and I am not about to give my beloved away to the first punter. My truck is also for sale and I’m not too proud to take money for just about anything else. I just want to relieve the mental constipation of debt and say “Aaah” as my creative juices flow freely. I can’t live here on my small pension so I need to be where I can do that. Yes I’ll miss the boat which has been my snug home and mobile refuge but life is not always about happy choices. Maybe I’ll soon be able to announce plan F, (whatever that is,) has fallen into place and that ’Seafire’ and I are headed south. But I do have a lovely backpack which is free and clear and the blogs can continue from wherever I am.
This blog is supposed to be about the adventure I would find aboard ‘Seafire’ but I’m hard aground. So onward and sideways. As the old English slang goes, I’ll do my best to “Keep my pecker up.” Haar! There are millions of people out there who would feel deep delight simply to have a cold drink of clean water let alone one nutritious meal a day; let alone daring to have a dream. Ordeal or adventure, it is all up to each one of us. We, who are so blessed, and so naive, take so much for granted. We cannot dare even try to understand the depths of misery and poverty of human existence. The bums sleeping under a bridge tonight are royalty compared to masses of others. We would be horrified to have to live even one day as most of our fellow species do. I often think of writers from the past who despite cold, hunger, illness, addictions at times, wrote so eloquently without spell-checkers or any of the many amenities we now enjoy and take for-granted. If it had been me, I would probably have found a way to dump my inkwell over the completed manuscript.
Well, finally all the sanding and filling and painting are finished. New life lines are rigged, now plenty high enough to keep my own herd of goats on deck. The boat looks like a new penny. I’ll finish painting inside the cockpit later. Now it is time to cast off the lines and get out of Dodge. It’ll soon be mid-summer and I’m weary of the sound of laughing, drunken gringo yachters having fun while I toil away.
After having begun this blog I awaken the following morning in bliss The boat is anchored in Silva Bay, I’m in my bunk, there is a gentle pre-dawn glow coming through the open hatch. I put the kettle on the stove and soon enjoy the forgotten aroma and sound of my coffee press. I sit watching the rising sun play its light across the bay. A US yacht with no courtesy flag leaves the end of the dock, a straight-out departure yet the grinding din of the bow thruster shatters the tranquility. But then they are gone and only the soft call of mourning doves enhances the peace. A friend’s boat needs my help and I enjoy the moment before I crawl into a bilge and begin what could be a sweaty day.
The work was completed as far as it would go by noon. We had to lift the rear of the engine to get at the stubborn, rounded and rusted bolts which hold the old starting motor in place. It was a frustrating endeavour but such is life. I’ve had worse. I’m happy to have ended my career as a marine technician, this is no longer a gig for this chunky aging dude but for old time’s sake I have black grease back in my pores. I’ve spent the afternoon peacefully napping and reading, doing nothing. I’m trying to teach myself not to feel guilt about simply being. It’s hard, really. The descending evening is clear and calm, like warm milk. I’m wondering what to do with myself. It was full moon last night and I’m thinking… yeah you know what I’m thinking.
I weigh anchor just before eight pm and motor out onto the Strait of Georgia. There is no wind so the autohelm is set on a course for Howe Sound. I believe it is the most beautiful inlet on the coast but it is industrialized and heavily populated. Deep, with plenty of steep-sided rocky islands, the inlet’s shoreline is crowded with homes built with amazing feats of engineering and spending. This is the first inlet north of Vancouver and so first access into the wilderness of British Columbia. On clear days you can see the magnificent mountains towering over the skier’s mecca of Whistler. Altogether it is a grand place to be. I speculate that much of this urbanization was brought on in a mad rush to the Westcoast inspired in part by a CBC television show filmed here in Gibsons. ‘The Beachcombers’ episodes can still be found on YouTube. All of its stars are long-gone but the impressions and flavour of the series lingers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj9bd-4qu4IHopefully this link will take you to some clips of the series. You’ll have to clip and paste to make it work.
My crossing is swift with a flood tide in my favour. There is a spectacular sunset. Eventually, what was last night’s full moon rises through the murk of distant Vancouver Airport. I can clearly see the city and Lion’s Gate bridge. There are suddenly fireworks in English Bay. Above the scene, in the velvet purple sky, brilliant lights of far-distant aircraft descend in an arcing approach toward the airport like stars on a string. As I arrive at my anchorage that scene is backlit with another fireworks display in the town of Gibsons. WOW!
Later, in the lazy early morning light, I lay listening to seals snort and splash. There are photos and films to edit but for the moment the fullness of nothingness is wonderful. These are lonely moments but even that longing ads to the gentle intensity of Sunday morning rising up. CBC radio plays a tribute to Arvo Pärt, one of my favourite classical composers. Last night, I listened to a regular Saturday evening feature, “Saturday Night Blues’ hosted by Holger Petersen. It is a CBC tradition and always a pleasure of good music. A great jazz program follows. Yep, I’m actually plugging good old CBC.
A day later I’m absorbing the rising heat and activity of a Monday morning in downtown Vancouver. One phone call persuaded me to join some friends who are anchored in False Creek in Vancouver. I was curious, I haven’t been here in years. The buildings are higher and denser than ever. Crossing English Bay on my way in was a gauntlet of vessels going every way, threading their erratic courses between the anchored freighters with apparent oblivion to anyone else. Entering False Creek was mayhem. Every sort of floating object was pelting about, from pedal boats and kayaks to huge tour vessels. Skittering through all of that were a plague of water taxis, all apparently in defiance of any rules or basic courtesy. On shore, the walkways and beaches seemed to bulge with masses of folks. Finding a place to anchor was a challenge, nearly every possible spot was full. None of this circus is for me. I’m finishing my second mug of chewy black coffee then I’ll catch the ebb tide out of here. This is no place for old sailors. The anchor chain came up so fouled with slimy muck that I wanted to cut it.
I spend the day meandering around back in the mouth of Howe Sound, stunned at the number of fantastic new summer homes and the lack of anchorages. The waters are too deep, right up to the steep shorelines. I arrive in Gibsons and anchor off the beach in front of Gramma’s Pub, a waypoint for me for over thirty years. The air is hot and still with a hint of the pulpmill at Port Mellon, a few miles north up the sound. The next day rushes past in the company of two wonderful friends I’ve know for years. Their hospitality was grand, their cooking superb and I delighted in the warmth of their friendship.
It is too soon that I find myself sailing back toward my home dock. The wind, as usual is a little too fine on my bow and so, as usual, I find myself motor-sailing toward the Gulf Islands. This morning, I’m anchored off the docks of the Ladysmith Maritme Society. My space has been rented out in my absence to a transient boat. I don’t mind the inconvenience. The summer has brought a roaring trade in visiting boats. It is good for the town and the marina. I’m writing as the boat shifts in the tide and breeze so that the sun remains in my eyes, as usual.
“The most courageous thing is to think for yourself. Aloud.” …Coco Chanel