Smoke and Brass Monkies

First things first! My friend Kerry, who has a deep passion for our First Nations People, and also canoes, was given this beautiful dug-out. It is believed to be from Haida Gwaii and up to 150 years old. Its symmetry is almost perfect, the hull thickness is exact. No computers, no lasers, no 3D printers. It is a fine little boat, about ten feet long and suitable for smaller folks or children who could have used it for harvesting clams and so forth. It may also have been used as a serving bowl at feasts and potlatches.              The real thing!
I took this photo in False Creek in Vancouver several days ago. This country bumpkin was a bit uncomfortable there. Friends (See their blog: Sage on Sail) are anchored in New York…and liking it! This scene would be Hooterville in New York City!
Our town. I can’t help but love a small town with a traffic roundabout at the foot of main street built around a genuine antique ship’s anchor. We’ve still got some water and, apparently, a bit of detergent. Note the auto body/ collision shop in the background. Some folks have difficulties negotiating roundabouts.

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.”

A “Brass Monkey” candidate. It is an Albin 27 and a perfect boat for “Frederizing.”

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.

Taken late in the day on ‘Seafire’ with all the hatches open and a breeze wafting through. Just as we become acclimatized things begin to cool down. Today, it is a frosty 22 degrees C
Not bad for a temperate rain forest.

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.

Hey Dad, it’s walk time. I’m waiting!
“I’m waiting again! Let’s go to the boat and have a treat. Huh?Huh?”
Jewelry store security. Bono is an 18 month-old Irish Wolfhound. He’s bloody gorgeous!
The local kennel where his likes are raised can be found at TyrconnellIW.SPACE (that’s a capital I before the W)

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.

The day the tree ran dry.
Ah c’mon! No jokes eh?
There’s certainly dick in the brook. Sorry folks, but if it doesn’t carry running water all year, it ain’t no salmon stream.
Our local forest fire, still burning and threatening almost eighty homes and farms.
The smoke settles in thickly at times. The ‘Averie Rose’ in the foreground is the gorgeous home of a couple who built her deep in the interior, then trucked her hundreds of miles to the coast. She’s very much “Eye Candy” and a good boat too.
There’s nothing like fresh sea air. Cough! Cough!
There is an expression about being “Drier than a popcorn fart” Here’s a meadow full of them. Pffft.

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!

The pirate ship “Wannabe.”
She’s a beauty in her own right. At least she’s flying a courtesy flag.
A very handsome boat.
It must have taken all of the owner’s money…he had nothing left for a courtesy flag!
My kind of boat. A Bill Garden design, built of steel, dead shippy and able to go anywhere, any time.
It’s wood! Really? This is the bow of a classic Monk cruiser, immaculately kept and named ‘Thelonius’
You’ll get it in a minute.
The forehatch, “A ting of beauty.”

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.”

‘Puffin,’ another Bill Garden design. She’s decades old and pristine. She should be in a glass box on someone’s fireplace mantle.
How boats should look. These are the mast bands and the pin rail for the gaff-rigged mainsail. This twenty-six foot boat has sailed uncountable miles over very many decades…and, I think, she’s just getting started.
‘Puffin’s’ boom gallows, carved in the South Pacific more than twenty-five years ago. I think it says something about Lulu’s hand-made grass skirts and ukuleles.

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!

‘Django,’ a buddy’s 1946 Chris Craft. It has just been sold. Bittersweet indeed.

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.

All finished. My outdoor office is back in business. It’s time to go sailing!

Don’t judge other people’s ability by the level of your own incompetence.” … Old Grumpy hisself

“Aaaah! Finally!”

Whiskey And Tea


As a writer I often hear clever lines or turns of phrase which leave me wishing I’d written them.

One of the dreads of being an artistic sort is to be accused of plagiarism, which is of course what we all do, at least subconsciously. We hope our work isn’t recognized as the subtle, or not-so-subtle, paraphrasing it really is, but none of us are that clever all that time. This morning I caught the lines of a song on the radio.Some like smokey whiskey, some worry their tea’s too strong”.Damn! I wish I’d written that! How do I reword this one and make it sound like a Fred original?

Flight to forever
Flight to Forever

It is Canada Day Monday, July 1st. Damn again! It has been over six months since my first blog, that commitment to set sail before the end of this year. Whiskey or tea for me? I like to think I’m a single-malt kind of guy but I’d better put some razzle in my dazzle, the days are flying by. Time and tide wait for no man. It’s been several weeks since the door closed on my job in the shipyard but the work accomplished on ‘Seafire’ is pitiful. The weather has been nasty and wet and I’m helping refit a friend’s boat but then busy people are the ones who get things done without making excuses. Yeah right! I just can’t seem to get motivated and don’t know why. Well I do, but it’s hard to admit openly.

Instead, I’ll revel in the glory of the day. The temperature in the main cabin yesterday was over 100° F and it felt good! More of the same today with no wind. Summer is here.

Ladysmith Maritime Sociey Clubhouse
LMS Clubhouse

I’ve broken away from the long-weekend madness at the docks in Silva Bay.

107 years old!
107 years old!

‘Seafire’ spent Friday night at the Ladysmith Maritime Society marina. What an amazing job those folks have done! The docks have been upgraded wonderfully. A stupendous clubhouse and visitor facility have been built. There is a great little floating museum with a lovingly restored and maintained fleet of vintage vessels. It even includes a gig from HMCS ‘Ontario’. These immaculate boats are used to provide harbour tours and certainly help provide a glowing example of what happens when people work together.


I’ve been a member of the LMS for a few years and am amazed at the transition in such a short time. It was not so long ago that these docks were decrepit and even dangerous. It was an extension of ‘Dogpatch’, a neighbouring fleet of derelict boats and liveaboard owners or squatters known for low-life activities and their ever-sinking vessels. The society then seemed to be a ‘Good old boys club’ strangled in bickering and personal agenda. There was a grudging acceptance of newcomers and a resistance to growth and change. Dogpatch is still there, abandoned vessels still litter the foreshore. But there is now a distinct divide among the two entities.

Pipe me aboard
Pipe me aboard

The old guard attitude seems gone now and there is a cordial welcoming atmosphere. With some new blood at the helm there has been a massive communal volunteer undertaking to upgrade the entire site. It is a wonderful success. There is plenty of guest moorage and some stunning new facilities which include clean washrooms and showers, a laundry room, a place to buy snacks and a huge area to mix and mingle or just hang out. The much-loved Purple Martins return each year to nest in their condos on the pilings and it’s great to see such progress in sleepy old Ladysmith. Kudus to all! It’s a great place to visit.

A gig's helm
A gig’s helm

The docks often host some interesting visitor vessels. This weekend it was the ‘Sarah Elizabeth Banks’. Now registered to the port of Seattle, this old steel-hulled beauty was originally a fireboat in Sunderland, England. A little online sleuthing shows ths vessel entered into service in 1906, with a pair of coal-fired steam engines! This vessel endured two world wars in a port famous for shipbuilding. Imagine the stories she knows!

Secret Beach
Secret beach

The last two nights have been spent anchored in Preedy Harbour on Thetis Island. The weather remains stunning, clear and gloriously hot; the water is quite swimmable and almost all is languorous bliss. This archipelago known as the Gulf Islands must be a jewel of the planet but I, for one, regret the influx of affluent gentry who seem to have overrun the entire area. No matter where you go among the islands there is no escape anymore from people. Solitude is not a sense I find in the Gulf Islands, at least in the summer months. Yesterday I watched a near-disaster as a small powerboat ran over the fallen water skier he was following. There were no bobbing bleeding baby yuppy bits and it all ended well as two boatloads of now-subdued drinkers absorbed their hard-earned lesson. I guess they were just trying to relax?

The Race
The race

This morning as I write, I can only hear the guttering of gulls and the gossiping of two ravens. Well… that changed as I typed that last line, now comes the whine of an outboard to which I’ll soon add my harmony as I take the dog ashore. Soon there will be the clatter of float planes, the drone and snarl of various boats, the incessant splatter of colliding wakes, and on shore there’ll be shrieking children, barking dogs and loud vehicles. In the background I can see and hear the sonorous presence of the Crofton pulp mill. Here again comes the Thetis Ferry emitting its piercing hydraulic howl.

Petrified Reboot
Petrified Reboot

I wonder what these islands were like before we white folks arrived to ‘civilize’ and otherwise desecrate this incredibly rich and beautiful region. Well that’s the way it is and I know I’m part of the problem. I’m here. I wonder how my perspectives would change if I were able to own one of these islands where I could erect my own garish and huge unoccupied mansion with accompanying monster dock and guest house. I understand the urge to stake out one’s own patch but with the evident multi-million dollar extravagances so prevalent I wonder why the hell they seem so little used. Money isn’t everything, but Oh Christ! I sure wouldn’t mind a change of problems!

Drifting and dreaming
Drifting and dreaming

Bitching and pondering will only underscore my envy of all the disposable wealth. I may as well admit that no matter where I travel I can think of no finer place to call home. So I’ll adjust my straw hat and sit back with some whiskey the colour of good tea. Oh by the way, ‘Happy Canada Day’. I raise my glass to thee. Eh?

Keep yer pecker up
Keep yer pecker up