If tonight I die in my sleep, it will be as a happy man. Lately nearly everything has been going wrong, and I am not content, but today was wonderful, a respite from other realities. I left immediately after work yesterday afternoon with the intention of sailing around Campbell Island, final homeland of the Heiltsuk. I awoke this morning at my leisure aboard my beloved ‘Seafire’ while anchored miles away from where I work. I eased into the day.
It is now Saturday night and I am well along my route. I’ve picked my way past submerged rocks invisible to the eye but noted on the chart. I wonder about all the ones not noted but I’m always amazed at how intricately accurate modern navigation charts are. Today, for reasons of tide, the waters were often clogged with huge mats of forest debris. It is all natural, but floating logs are always a hazard to navigation. I’ve seen spectacular new country, found three beautiful Heiltsuk pictographs, spent the afternoon surrounded by a pod of killer whales gorging on salmon and am now anchored in an incredible secluded and peaceful anchorage. A light westerly wind blows at the correct speed and angle to work out four random chords with some fitting on the mast. It warbles and flutes exquisitely. I find it lovely and very relaxing; a zen wind.
There is an archipelago of islets at the south end of Campbell island. Once anchored I decided to go exploring with my inflatable tender, as I often do, and soon meandered my way into an infinite maze of convoluted waterways at low tide. JR Tolkien would have loved it. It was very shallow in places, and still ebbing, rapidly, but I picked my way finally back to the west side of the maze where I’d earlier travelled with Seafire. I decided to return by simply circumnavigating the whole group of islets. It was close to sundown and getting cooler. I have a rule about always taking plenty enough clothing, surplus fuel, as well as survival gear, a VHF radio, some food and water and a chart of the immediate area. I did not plan on going far, or for long, and so did not bring the chart and extra gas.
The bay where I’m anchored has an islet bearing the remnants of a native fish camp. There is a fish trap and a cabin as well as the remains of a dock and a few out buildings. It is an idyllic spot, secluded with a narrow rock-studded entrance. It is also easy to miss. I did exactly that. I must have glanced away for a moment and kept on going.
A few miles beyond I realized my mistake. The shoreline is so indented with bays and islets that I zoomed right past the entrance to where ‘Seafire’ is anchored. I was getting mildly hypo-thermic , and realized with a stab of panic that I must also nearly be out of gas. (The outboard motor too!) I knew that I was ill-prepared to spend a night on the beach if the engine did die. Fool! The chagrin about my stupidity was exceeded only by the cold rapidly creeping into my old bones. I would be in for a very unpleasant night if I didn’t make it back to ‘Seafire’.
All’s well that ends. I’m back aboard ‘Seafire’ writing this with yet another mug of hot chocolate at hand. I hope to be fully thawed out by morning. My own mantras are ringing in my head about prudent single hand seamanship. I keep wondering how it would be at the moment on some dank dark piece of shore trying to keep a fire going while shivering the night through. There’s no fool like an old fool!
These moments of carelessness so often lead to a debacle which can rapidly assume epic proportions. It is how people disappear, or even die, because of a simple missed turn. And, I should add, I’m no novice at this trekking about business. It even happens to old salts! The sun’s warmth is now beaming through the windows as I write. It is Sunday morning and my core temperature is back where it should be. A hot coffee sits by the laptop and the promise of a fine-weather day lays ahead of me. The butter is hard this morning, a sure sign of summer’s inevitable passing and a promise of what lays ahead. Stan Rogers is playing on the stereo, his profundity and timelessness always uplift me. Sadly, like most of my favourite singers, he’s dead but then, that’s how one becomes immortal. He, at least, was much beloved before his tragic passing.
Last night at midnight I went topside to check the anchor’s set. The sky was black and cloudless. Stars shimmered and burned across the dome of infinity. In the entire Northern quadrant of the sky the Aurora Borealis provided a surreal and spectacular show. A pale green light waned then pulsed and grew brighter again as curtains of radiation danced slowly to a bizarre rhythm. What a way to end a spectacular day. My only regret is that there was no-one along to share it all. Well, maybe not that nearly lost bit. I did sleep well and I’m warm again.
How I savour mornings such as this! No one knows where I am, I’m indulging in the pleasure of writing and I’m aboard my wonderful old boat in a beautiful anchorage. I’ll soon have to reluctantly head back to Shearwater for another dreary week of greasy bilges and rusted bolts while aching to be out here. That too shall pass. I’ll move on.
Slowly the boat progresses toward readiness for Mexico. I’ve just installed a replacement control head for my auto pilot. It is a used one which arrived from Florida within a week. It performs flawlessly. The old one died a slow death and I haven’t been able to trust it for a long time. Sailing any distance alone, for me, requires a reliable auto pilot and now I’m back with all guns on that deck. The dream is alive.
Before I weighed anchor I went back into the labyrinth with the dinghy. A few hours before high tide, it is safe enough , there is no urgency about being stranded in there…unless the outboard quits. It is as confusing and disorienting as before and I marvel at how the hell I made it out of there on an ebbing tide. Even with the flooding tide there are swirling, narrow tidal rapids, a perfect place to break a propeller on a rock. My curiosity satiated, for the moment, I head for another week at Shearwater.
“There are three sorts of people; those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea.”
– From an old capstan chanty attributed to Anacharsis, 6th century BC