An Omen?

A friend, recently arrived in San Carlos Mexico, sent me a photo. He thought it was an interesting co-incidence that he’d found a boat named ‘Seafire.’ It was in fact, my old boat!

The photo that stirred all the memories. I instantly recognized every bolt, sliver and line after all these years.                                                                                                                 Photo is courtesy of Cliff  Robb

Here’s the rest of the story. When I arrived on Vancouver Island, I had a tiny trailerable sailboat called a Northwest 21. It was poorly built, not particularly pretty and certainly not intended for rugged upcoast sailing. Guess who sailed it to the top of Vancouver Island in March. Yep! “Smart as he looks.” This coast is still definitely in winter at that time of year but can switch back and forth between seasons in minutes. As spring comes sniffing around there are some huge battles between the elements of wind, rain, snow and very troubled waters where the massive North Pacific gyre collides with the mountainous coast of British Columbia.

That little boat was never intended for voyaging; anywhere. It had no insulation inside the thin, sweating fibreglass hull, no real heat, no cook stove, had only squatting head room and little sensibility aboard. Driven as I was I spent my days cold, wet and even terrified bashing slowly northward. I had a small propane catalytic heater which produced more water vapour than warmth. There was a tiny one-burner propane camp stove and I ate generally tepid, half-raw, half-burned muck. My nights, (long and dark) anchored in some black bubbling backwater were spent huddled in damp bedding wondering what the hell I was doing. Yet I was driven to get out on the ocean and so I ventured onward.

Late one soggy afternoon, (I think it was in Potts Lagoon) a couple on another boat took pity and invited me over for dinner. They were young newlyweds on their way to Alaska to skipper tour boats for the summer. They were then planning to cruise down to the Marquesas at the end of their work season. Their vessel was a gorgeous and immaculate wooden 38’ Atkin ketch. My life was forever changed when I went below into the soothing warm ambience of their Dickinsen diesel stove. I can still remember the inspiration of their mutual dreams and the encompassing sense of well-being aboard that cozy boat. The vessel’s name was ‘Seafire.’ I returned to the dank chill of my own little pisspot later that night transformed with a new awareness of who I was and what I wanted to do. Suddenly I understood the magic of the coastal labyrinth where I trespassed. I was not the only character playing with my needle out of the groove. The coastal back waters were loaded with the likes of we.

I learned the following year that on their southward trek that fall, the crew of ‘Seafire’ had allegedly been attacked and sunk by Orca whales somewhere to the west of Panama. The crew had survived but I heard no more of them. The memory of those few hours spent aboard with them is indelible. Almost forty years later I am still infused with their inspiration. I became familiar with, and fell in love with, a sailboat design known as a ‘True North 34.’ Ones built in Asia were known as ‘Noon Oceans.’ They were a Stan Huntingford design, a traditional heavy displacement boat intended for long passages. Their bigger brother was known as a ‘Rafiki 37’ Many folks mistook the True North as a Westsail 32,’ a standard of offshore cruising boats for decades.

The boat I bought was hull #1 out of the mold at Tradewind Yachts in North Vancouver. It had been the home for seventeen years to a fine fellow named Frank Poirier who was the caretaker at Malibu Lodge. That was far up Jervis Inlet, located on a neck of land beside a tidal rapids which one transits at slack water to enter Princess Louisa inlet. The lodge was built by a man named Hamilton. To this day a totem pole stands there and on its base is carved a three-bladed aircraft propeller. Hamilton was the inventor of the constant speed aircraft propeller and his timing coincided with the beginning of WWII. He made a fortune and built a retreat for the rich and famous. There’s the rest of the story. Frank had finished building the boat himself and his work was “rustic” but the boat held a certain charm in part due to the hundreds of books which filled its shelves and of course it had a Dickinsen oil stove with its wonderful cozy heat. The trip to pick up the vessel and bring it home was unforgettable. My brother came with me. We had been separated for over twenty years. The journey was a great way to bond and all these years later we still talk about it.

I ripped and tore and rebuilt that boat in a manic surge that went on for years. The name was changed from ‘Sunward II’ to ‘Seafire’ in honour of my inspiration of that young couple. Getting the vessel to Mexico was my ambition but alas it was not to be. My wife and I chartered her, hosting guests from Europe. I reluctantly decided to sell and build a bigger vessel more suited to chartering and living aboard. The plan was to have a boat that could earn her way as she travelled.

Isn’t she gorgeous? Little has changed since I last stood on her decks. The original wooden mast still stands. The dodger, the boomkin, the bowsprit, the trail boards, the gallows, and all the other things I built, they have all endured.
Flattery indeed.                                    Photo courtesy of Cliff Robb

The years hurtled past. Plans and fortunes changed. Several boats later I’d found an ideal motor sailor to take from the West coast to the Baltic and on through Europe. Once again I embarked on an odyssey of refitting another boat. One of the first steps was to remove the vessel from US registry and re-document her as a Canadian vessel, home port Victoria. When I walked into the Transport Canada office in Victoria I was greeted as “Mr. Seafire.” They had come to recognize me from all the different boats I’d owned. I was told that my timing was co-incidental. One of the names available, because a routine registration renewal document had not been filed was, believe it or not, ‘Seafire.’ The boat had gone to Mexico and vanished.

It seemed, to me, like an omen and so the name ‘Seafire’ sailed again. That boat was my home for several years and our adventures up and down this coast are many. Then in bitter regret I had to sell her, my finances had crumbled and I had no choice. The day I last stepped off her decks, it seemed my life had ended. It still does. A friend has told me “If you ain’t been aground, you ain’t been around.” Perhaps a high spring tide will yet float me free of the reef where I find myself stranded. I can tell you that life is mighty dry without a boat. I can also tell you that the old mantra about “Go simple, go now” is struth indeed. This moment is all we’ve got and what we regret most is what we don’t do. Just do it.

I know that if I found a rewind button for my life I’d make a whole new set of mistakes, but if I retained any knowledge from this life it would be an acute awareness of the “NOW” factor. All I can hope, is that even in its tiny way, and things ‘Seafire’ whisk through my being, it is indeed another omen of good things ahead. Have I come full circle? Perhaps, somehow, this blog will again be known as the ‘Seafire Chronicles’… part three.

This has been a signature photo for decades. I shot it aboard old ‘Seafire’ close-hauled on a port tack northbound past Thormanby Island.

A photo of my second ‘Seafire’ is in the right hand sidebar.

One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” Richard Bach

Author: Fred Bailey

Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor /, writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer. He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs. His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lived aboard and extensively cruised the BC Coast on 'Seafire' the boat he refitted to go voyaging, to explore new horizons both inner and outer. This blog was about that journey and the preparations for it. Circumstances prevailed which forced the sale of his beloved vessel. Now on a different tack, the voyage continues. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey. Namaste Contact me at svpaxboat@gmail.com

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