Ah The Light!

So the she says...
So the she says…
Back in Shearwater again with a little organic rigging. This boat sank at the dock.
Back in Shearwater again with a little organic rigging.
This boat sank at the dock.
Here's why! A sprung plank.
Here’s why!
A sprung plank.

Sunday morning. August 28th, pouring rain, the heater is on. The forecast is for rain continuing into the days ahead. Summer, it seems, is over here in the Great Bear Rainforest. The salmon need the rain. It raises water levels in the rivers and streams where they spawn. Soon they’ll able to swim to the place of their beginning and repeat the drama and magic of life’s timeless cycle. Dampness has become my bane as I age but I hope the rain continues and the fish can spawn successfully before they are harvested by commercial fishermen hovering at river mouths and prime spawning routes. Every dry day from now on will not be taken for granted. In the soggy gloom dock lights began flickering on before eight pm last night. The boat’s exterior bright work needs attention before winter sets in. There will be leaks to repair. That will all be done in a state of urgency. There may be a reprieve which we call “Indian Summer” but moments of dryness are becoming precious. My old bones aches from the dampness which hasn’t even begun yet. This old pagan is praying for a miracle.

On the dock, a small herd of Fisheries officers are knocking on the hulls of boats. I’m assuming they are checking for licenses and any infractions. I’m staying out of sight. Their presence raises a pointed horn on my forehead. I hate goon squads. They are imposing themselves for the sake of being seen. The handguns on their hips are certainly prominently displayed. I’m sure that this year, as happened last, during the season of rape and pillage by the sport fishery, a DFO officer was a rare sight. That frenzy is now coming to an end and it’s safe for them to come out. The sport fishing industry on this coast is huge. It is a raw resource being exploited to death but we don’t want to ruffle the feathers of certain big birds. When I see sport fishing clients arriving by helicopter and stumbling down the dock while still busy texting, I know they are not here to savour the wilderness and the sanctity of the “Great Bear Rainforest.” They’ll pay big bucks to ravage fish stocks for a photo of a pose with a really big lunker to hang on the office wall back in the ivory tower. Then they’ll leave.

Thunk, thunk, thunk, all over but the drinking. Another four inches o f water would have allowed this boat owner to continue without grief.
Thunk, thunk, thunk, all over but the drinking. Another four inches of water would have allowed this boat owner to continue without grief.

Other countries have developed very successful sport fishing industries with catch and release programs. Here, we’ll take voraciously until (to many folks) this apparently infinite resource requires being “Managed”…just like the East Coast. There is a small commercial opening tomorrow and bureaucracy has to make it’s appearances. “Ah shaddup Fred, if you’re so damned smart, what the hell are you doing up here at all?”

That's me in the corner. Seafire is rafted alongside a beautiful J-boat which is rafted to a plastic palace.
That’s me in the corner. Seafire is rafted alongside a beautiful J-boat which is rafted to a plastic palace.

The other flap here is an impending visit by British Royalty. Harry and Kate will pass through Bella Bella for a few hours next month. Yep, more posturing and appearing. Apparently their entourage will be billeted in the small hotel here in Shearwater. Police are swarming all over already. Swat teams are practising whatever it is they think they need to practice, RCMP boats of all sizes meander around the docks and serious-looking dudes in sunglasses stroll around trying to look purposeful, which is bloody hard in Shearwater. When asked “What’s up?” their standard answer is, “Don’t know. Nobody tells us anything.” I’ll have to be wary of not being tasered or shot for having a deadly-looking wrench in my hand. Then they’ll leave.

This came as a tip from a happy customer. There's plenty of Coho here to keep me eating for a long time.
This came as a tip from a happy customer. There’s plenty of Coho here to keep me eating for a long time.

On the radio, CBC drones on with yet another bleary interview. This one is about senior’s co-housing. Then I hear the words, “Social isolation can be deadly. Loneliness can kill you. How many of us look at our social portfolio?” Hmmmm! Grrrrr! Sigh!

'Passing Cloud' a BC Coastal icon and as lovely as ever
‘Passing Cloud’ a BC Coastal icon and as lovely as ever.

Passing Cloud 3

Wednesday morning, August 31st. It is still pouring rain, as it has all night and the day and night before. At times, it eases to a mere steady rain and then another deluge roars again. Everything inside the boat is damp and clammy, books, papers, my clothes, condensation under my mattress, even this table-top feels sticky-damp. There’s only eight months of this weather ahead. Then the rain will ease slowly and become a bit warmer. The sea here is tea-brown this morning. Runoff from the forest and bogs around are heavily tinted as the forest becomes sea and the sea becomes forest. It rains so hard at times that wifi signals seem unable to penetrate the thick atmosphere and the internet, such as it is here, crashes.

Humans have survived in this area for many thousands of years and developed a rich culture.I have to steel myself to make it through the day ahead. How do other folks survive and even thrive here?

Got Balls! A rare find, two glass Japanese net floats, about 12" in diameter, encrusted in goose barnacles. Most floats are now plastic.
Got Balls! A rare find, two glass Japanese net floats, about 12″ in diameter, encrusted in goose barnacles. Most floats are now plastic.

A gillnet fleet is residing here again. It’s that time of year when there is oil, beer cans and plastic garbage on the water around the docks. There is always one more boat crashing around in the night with bright lights flashing, engines roaring, someone shouting. They raft to the dock up to four boats abreast. There are parties and then there’ll be fights and so the police will arrive yet again. They’ll loiter about, hoping for a chance for one more opening until finally one day, in a few weeks, the fleet will disperse. Then they’ll leave.

Waiting for fish Some of the gillnet fleet
Waiting for fish
Some of the gillnet fleet

Thursday morning. Still raining. During a lull in the night’s downpour, I dared open the hatch over the bunk, just a crack for ventilation. That was apparently an affront to the rain gods, the deluge resumed with a vengeance and continues into the bleak dawn. A customer with a broken-down boat, waiting stoically while parts are in transit from Sweden, brought me a beautiful fresh Coho. I gorged. The freezer is full of fish. What a treat! We shared some lovely banter, which i always relish. The lady aboard has dropped an N and renamed this island as Deny Island. I love the variety of possible connotations. Then I described myself squirming around in their engine bay like a “Bull in a sex shop” which incited gales of laughter. I’ll cling to my handle for this place as ‘Weirdwater’ located on ‘Debtors Island.’ Most of us are here paying our dues, for thing or another. And so another day passes.

Thursday evening. It has finally stopped raining, not a drop for over three hours. The skies cleared enough for us to have a bit of a sunset. I talk a lot about the rain and the darkness here but it has occurred to me that one of the things I truly love here is the light. That is not only because it seems so precious after days of gloom. I am certain it is due to the ambient humidity but there is a soft golden glow to the sunlight here which provides a unique rich, warm illumination. As is apparent by my photos I love the play of light on mountains and on clouds and water. There is a surplus of that magic here when the sun shines.

If you like rainbows, you've got to go out in the rain.
If you like rainbows, you’ve got to go out in the rain.
A burning spinnaker
A burning spinnaker
Ah the light!
Ah the light!
The fuel dock. They'll put a rainbow in your tank.
The fuel dock. They’ll put a rainbow in your tank.

Boats around me include one from Holladay Utah which proves to be a south suburb of Salt Lake City. On Google Earth it looks like a great place to be from. Twenty feet across the dock from it lays ‘Distant Drummer’ a very shippy yacht called a Liberty which has sailed all the way from New Zealand.

Distant Drummer
Distant Drummer
Used Up. an old workboat slowly returns to the world it came from. Note the log dogs on the bow.
Used Up.
an old workboat slowly returns to the world it came from. Note the log dogs on the bow.

I’m in good company. I’m rafted to a fabulous 65′ J-boat for the moment which is very humbling but, I note, I can go to an inside helm as I choose. Daddy Warbucks has to stand out in the weather to con his beautiful yacht. So there! Soon the transient boats will all disappear and only the inmates will remain on the island.

Late into the night, despite the rain and darkness, he sat and...blogged.
Late into the night, despite the rain and darkness, he sat and…blogged.

The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the fulfilment of it’s own nature, which was to fall and fall.

… Helen Garner

Passing Cloud, Food Poisoning and Heavy Rain

Soggy Rock yet another rainy day on the midcoast
Soggy Rock
Yet another rainy day on the midcoast

Well yeah, I knew what I was getting into. During the summer I had every anchorage to myself. Now the whole coast is mine for the taking. It has everything to do with the weather.

The first day of autumn has already passed. It feels to me that it has been winter for weeks already and impossible to understand that a short while ago this coast was enduring a drought. Now the rain is incessant. This is normal local weather. I knew that. Vertical rain, horizontal rain, drizzling water, mist and fog, it is bloody wet, wet, wet and it keeps coming. The daylight is a little less each day and those long summer evenings, when there was still light in the sky near midnight, are long past. Today the rain was cold and there was that wintery smell in the air. Snow? Even when the skies brighten, with patches of blue, there are sudden bursts of rain. Locals tell me that October can often be a month of lovely weather. We’ll see. I regularly passed through this area on tugboats for years and only ever saw Shearwater as a glow in the fog and rain. Yes, I knew!

Behind the chains. September sunrise at low tide.
Behind the chains. September sunrise at low tide.

The mystique and spirit of this coast take on a new dimension now. This is its normal state, its true self, the raincoast. The infinite miles of grey-green dripping jungle offer a fog-bound respite from the hurtling culture in which most people are swept along on the south coast. The individuals who make their homes in these backwaters often recoil at the idea of even visiting the civilization down there. The notion of living in that chaos on a daily basis is beyond their comprehension or ability. I suppose we live up here within their urbane notion of wilderness. Perhaps it is the solace of that notion which in part sustains their tense urban sanity.

Being alone in this boat every night for the months ahead, through the long dark hours, often storm-buffeted while trying to write positively and creatively after grinding days of work, all the while enduring the pain of arthritis and old injuries…I could stay here in dank, dripping-slime solitude. Nope! Can’t do it! My finances demand that I stay and work but I’ll soon have to head south. I know that finding a job down there for a guy my age is damned hard but if I hang up my dream, I’m done. With my physical impediments, the short days and persistent rain, getting outdoors for some good extra curricular exercise is challenging. Sitting in the boat and eating compulsively is an easy pattern to fall into. That, in every sense, is a dead end.

Mexico seems so very far away at the moment. Will I ever see palm-fringed anchorages through the windows of this boat? Ordeal or adventure, the choice is mine. There has to be a way. As I sit at this computer I look up and all I see is my reflection in the dark window and a right goofy-looking old bugger at that. Haar! I was reminded recently that some folks choose to sail to polar regions and deliberately let their boats become frozen-in for nearly the entire next year. Who am I to ridicule another man’s dream? There is a fellow from Slovenia who calls himself Big River Man. He has swam down the lengths of four of the world’s major rivers including the Amazon. He’s now planning on swimming around the world. “The dream never dies, just the dreamer.”

Limber Up! A mutant branch in the rain forest/
Limber Up!
A mutant branch in the rain forest.
Green. I believe this is called Lungwort
Green. I believe this is called Lungwort

It has recently occurred to me that all substances are poison if consumed in excess. Even nasty stuff like cyanide and arsenic are deadly because their wicked potency is taken in too large a portion, no matter how miniscule that may be. There was a man in France, Michel Lotito, who bizarrely ate things like bicycles and even an airplane after they had been ground up and imbibed in portions small enough to be non-lethal; apparently a kilogram each day. How do you eat an airplane? He consumed nine tons of machinery in his lifetime. I don’t know, but there may have been a lot of wine involved. Too much air, too much water, too much exercise, too much inactivity, anything in excess is poison. I’ve decided that I’m suffering from food-poisoning. It makes me swell up. Especially around my middle. I’m eating too much. But, I promise, I won’t start eating anyone’s boat; certainly not this old prune barge.

This little light of mine. A customer's bright idea.
This little light of mine.
A customer’s bright idea.
The Tipping Point. A beer keg can be a slippery thing.
The Tipping Point.
A beer keg can be a slippery thing.

I’m still trying to do repairs and upgrades despite the weather. One of my davit bases failed recently due to a manufacturing flaw. The bow portion of my inflatable boat filled with a torrent of rain. That weight proved too much. It’s a big job and trying to do some fibreglass work between cloudbursts is quite a challenge. I’ve been meaning to upgrade the davits before heading to Mexico but after my immediate repairs the welding will have to wait until I’m back to where supplies are readily available. Everything up here has to be ordered in. Not only is that exorbitant, there is no guarantee that what one orders and prepays is what will arrive, if it ever does.

Aftermath, the confirmation of Newton's Law. At 3000rpm a piston came to a sudden stop. The rest of the engine kept on going... for a moment. In other words, pissed n' broke.
Aftermath, the confirmation of Newton’s Law. At 3000rpm a piston came to a sudden stop. The rest of the engine kept on going… for a moment.
In other words, pissed n’ broke.

Meanwhile at work there are exploded engines to deal with as well as endless computer glitches in the modern diesels in all our water taxis. I’m learning to employ a patience I didn’t know I possessed. That’s a good thing. Now that the Tupperware squadrons have all gone back south, and most of the fishing fleets are gone, the boats visiting now are serious cruising vessels, some still doing late-season charters who are hosting the last of the bear watchers.

Beyond words
Beyond words

One of these is a vessel which has long held a piece of my heart, ‘Passing Cloud’. This is beloved British Columbia-built boat and is a quintessential Westcoast icon. She is a seventy foot bald-headed wooden pilot-house schooner. For you land-bound folks this is a wooden sailboat which is seventy feet long on deck. A two-masted schooner has its main mast aft. Being bald-headed means she carries no bowsprit (That pointy spar which sticks out horizontally on most traditional boats) The pilot house is the cabin with big windows from which you can steer in any weather. That is almost essential for navigating these waters.

The Pilot House
The Pilot House
Beautiful From All Angles
Beautiful From All Angles

Two years ago I was blessed to tour the boat shed where ‘Passing Cloud’ was built. I was there to pick up a mizzen mast as the shed had been sold. It was being cleared out prior to demolition. What a tragedy! The place was a temple to me and many others I’m sure but times change. The location on Portage Inlet in Victoria had incredible value as waterfront property. New noise bylaws forbid any further industry, no matter who was there first. Some monstrosity yuppie box now occupies this hallowed ground. When I was there, a band saw still run by a Ford Model-T sat beside a large forge. The tools and artifacts were amazing. The place was a living museum. ‘Passing Cloud’ had been launched from this building in 1974. The boathouse is gone, right or wrong, but the boat, now over forty years old, sails on as a successful charter business and is maintained lovingly in as-new condition. Google up the schooner’s name and drool over the amazing photos of the vessel, inside and out, and of her voyages in these waters where she plies her trade.

A vision of glories past In the boat house where 'Passing Cloud' was born
A vision of glories past
In the boat house where ‘Passing Cloud’ was born. Note the nameboard stencil.
In The Temple. The old boathouse on Portage Inlet. It's gone now.
In The Temple.
The old boathouse on Portage Inlet. It’s gone now.


While I’m recommending online links, here’s one for those with social-political interests. www.friendsoftheconstitution.info. It is American but suitably appropriate for Canadian interests, especially in the middle of this damned dreary election campaign. I’ll take a big breath and quote two sentences from an editorial on this site.

There will not be a recognition of the extent of poverty in the United States and the dire need for government action; there will not be any effort to correct the stagnation of wages and this nation’s extreme income inequality; there will not be a successful effort to control the deliberate abuses of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by a surveillance state; there will not be corrective actions to reverse the pervasive racism of this nation, there will be no corrective action on the proliferation of discriminatory voter identification laws, the endless and territorial limitless war on terror, including the violation of sovereignty by our illegal use of drones; there will not be any attempt to control a defence industry that markets 50 percent of the world’s arms and whose best interests are served by continued warfare. We accept that a habitual thought process is comfortable, but when it comes to our “democracy,” we cannot accept that it is productive, ethical, or anything but insane.”


That was from an editorial written by Roger deRoos, recently deceased. It was only two sentences, believe it or not, but there’s a headful of thinking there; if you’re so inclined. However, one of the nice things about getting out and about on a boat is that you can easily immerse yourself in the moment and leave all the shore shit and heavy thinking behind. We’re here because we’re not all there! And that’s the whole point.

On the Trans-Atlantic Single-handed race Mr Owen Smithers has been disqualified for using both hands.”……Heiki Luoma

Keep On Slugging, the steady slime will get you there.
Keep On Slugging, the steady slime will get you there.


‘Passing Cloud’ is a well-known British Columbiabuilt wooden schooner (You can Google up pictures by simply using her name) This piece is not about the vessel, but is inspired by a wee visit to her birthplace yesterday. In fact, I find the name an analogy about how things of beauty and substance can pass or vaporize before we realize what we are losing.

 By comparison here is a quote taken directly from the packaging of a usb hub I bought this weekend. “THE MAGNETISM OF THE BOTTOM CAN BE COMFORTABLY ABSORBED BY PAVING THE DESIGN IN ANY PROVINCES.”

REALLY! I guess now that China knows it owns North America it is not really concerned about getting the language right. I believe the linguist who wrote that was trying to explain that the gadget has a magnetic bottom. Remember that mutant translation next time you see an Air China Airbus passing overhead…..right then, back to the passing cloud theme.


Ted Knowles 1.PG Ted Knowles15 Thoreau 1The man who owns the property and the boathouse where ‘Passing Cloud’ was built has sold and is moving on. I met him through a friend and went to Victoria to pick up an old wooden mizzen mast Ted wanted to go to a good home. I need it for a project on a customer’s boat and so serendipity has led me to a wonderful experience. Ted is an older man with a youthful glow. He is soft-spoken yet clearly a whole person who exudes an aura of peaceful wisdom and experience and confidence. It is a feeling I often get when around people who ‘Mess’ with wooden boats. He is certainly well known within the community of local wooden boat folks.

I am writing this and publishing these photos, without his knowledge or permission,  as a tribute of gratitude. I share this blog with fellows of a similar ilk and so take this liberty.

Ted’s boathouse is a temple for characters like me and  I wanted to share the wonder of the place. Everywhere are heaps of treasure: tools, and home-made machinery, including a sawmill and massive planer, well-seasoned boat wood, small wooden boats, home-made tools, a forge and a plethora of nautical tools and items. It is organized choas. I had a sense that Ted probably knows where every nail is stored. All, of course, is covered in a thick strata of dust and a sense of history.

Ted has sold and is moving on. He is faced with the daunting task of clearing out the boat house before he leaves for the last time. The waterfront property will become the site for two luxury waterfront homes. Another piece of our heritage passes like a cloud. He quiety said with a sad smile that it is, “Progress.” He could find no-one who wanted to take over the little shipyard as it is.

I recall giving someone directions to a new restaurant in Vancouver. It is at the foot of Burrard Street on the now-concreted foreshore of Coal Harbour. I described it as being where Menchions Shipyard had been located and received a blank look in response. How quickly we forget. We smother everything in cement and asphalt, glass and metal and talk about ‘Thinking green’. There was a time, not so long ago, when it was honourable to make a little daylight in the swamp but we created a monster. Now it is not unreasonable to find that, as Joni Mitchell sang, they’ll charge a dollar to see the tree museum.

I suppose it is one of the reasons I am preparing ‘Seafire’ to go voyaging. At sea you can see the world almost as it has always been, ever-changing unchangeable curved open horizon; the bits of plastic debris bobbing along ignored. Sailboats are a way of getting to places where life is still lived much as it has been. Change occurs everywhere, but the notion of constancy and solid values are a great comfort to this writer who mourns the passing of things like the art of letter-writing and self-sufficiency. Now where’s my copy of ‘Blogging For Dummies’?