06:30. It’s still dark out there. There is fresh snow on the mountains. An e-mail from Jill tells me she has arrived safely in France. So the setting this morning is cold, dark and lonely. The heater is on in the boat. Tomorrow is the last day of summer. The intense heat of two weeks ago is already forgotten. We’ve had no earthquakes or hurricanes here and I’m sure there are many who would trade places with me. So, no complaining, just explaining.
A week later, I’m taking a day off. I’m totally exhausted and have taken to the decadence of sleeping in until mid-morning, like normal people. I go back for a nap after brunch and sleep again despite the sounds of a busy marina all around me. I’m missing Jill, and Jack and have plenty of chores here on the boat to accomplish. Mornings now bring a blast of cold air descending from the glacier. Winter seems to be advancing aggressively. Through the efforts of a friend I’ve been reconnected with a lost friend who bought my last boat, ‘Pax.’ That cheers me immensely and there will be a reunion in the weeks ahead.
The world staggers under the aftermath of various disasters, both natural and man-made.Friends on their boat in Saint Lucia managed to survive the path of wrath of bumper to bumper Caribbean hurricanes and have sent out an appeal for Dominica. This island is an agriculture-based economy and it has lost both 90% of it’s infrastructure and housing as well as it’s crops. It is not getting much notice. The rest of the Caribbean is in dire straits and the gringo tourist haunts will surely receive prime attention. Southern Mexico has been devastated with two major earthquakes. Resourceful and energetic, the country will look after itself although nations like Japan have provided rescue assistance crews without notice or fanfare. In contrast there is a marauding global low named Trump which meanders erratically on the planet trying to foment disaster and dread, including nuclear war. How I ache to hear the nation say, “Donald, you’re fired!” Every newscast is loaded with fresh accounts about millions of refuges whom nobody wants to help. The planet swarms with human tragedy, the dark news of which we use as entertainment. And sorry Donny Boy, it is REAL news.
I live in a very nice place where there is not really much to worry about. It is an area where one missing baby whale is a headline story. We tend to forget that here we are all a privileged few. I can’t imagine trading places with any of the millions who cannot take even the next meal for granted, let alone clean water, ready medical support or even walking to school without being shot at. Thanksgiving in Canada is here and it is not about any sale at the mall. As I proof-read this blog I blanched to read my words now in the wake of events in Las Vegas. While I browsed various news stories online I tripped over an ad for the current film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.’ The abuse of weapons is an ongoing theme of entertainment. There’s something very seriously wrong with our culture and it is not all those guns out there. They’re just a symptom of a grave illness. I’m glad I have a boat.
It has been quite a year. There has plenty to write about. At the moment we’re hove-to and speculating what the next adventure will be. As usual, old ‘Seafire’ is tugging at her lines, ready to head out. In a few more weeks, when the winter wind is howling in the rigging and the rain is driving horizontally, it’ll be time to move on southward, like the birds.
“…only then did he understand that a man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.” …from ‘Love In the Time Of Cholera’ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
seafire- phosphorescence at sea. Also known as bio-luminescence, attributed to light-emitting organisms in sea water. When present, it is especially noticeable at night in waves, in the wake of a boat or the passage of fish. It appears as a green glow or as flecks of light. Seafire was also the name given to the naval version of the famous fighter plane, the Spitfire.
A recent contact from a long-lost friend who had discovered this blog noted that I still owned ‘Seafire’. I replied that the present Seafire is a namesake of my first vessel of that name. Here’s how it happened.
In 1986 I was living in the Northern Interior and dead sick of it. Prince George is a place where it seemed you spent six months of the year shovelling snow onto your lawn and then six months shovelling it back onto the street in hope of having a few weeks of green lawn before the flies quit biting and it began to snow again. I’ve lived in more remote locations but there was something quite dreary about Prince George. It had a lot to do with three very large pulpmills in that city and a general “Log it, burn it, pave it” mentality. I’ll always remember those pitch dark winter mornings with temperatures down to -40° and joggers in spandex, with a scarf around their faces, thumping down the polished ice streets between huge berms of plowed snow, a swirl of pulpmill ice smog around them. I think they did this in the name of good health!
Expo 86 brought me down twice to Vancouver that year, the second time to see the launching of the “Pacific Grace’ which had been built on the fair site. I was every inch an aviator at the time but the sea and this coast also occupied a huge piece of my heart and so a decision was made. It was time to move to the coast. For less money than owning an airplane, I could possess a sailing vessel which would take me anywhere I chose and also be my home. I reasoned that trying to live in a small aircraft while picking one’s way around the planet was really not practical. By the spring of the following year I had left a lucrative career behind and launched a tiny Northwest 21 trailerable sailboat in False Creek, not far from where the ‘.Pacific Grace’ first kissed the water.
I made my way northward as far as Port Hardy that March in the persistent winter weather in a boat with squatting headroom and no heat. My only source of warmth was a tiny propane stove which produced more water vapour than heat. My English roots were thrilled at my masochism and a sense of homecoming to be back on the sea. (No comforts please, we’re English!)
During that trip I enjoyed an evening aboard a beautiful William Atkin-designed Ingrid 36. She was a wooden double-ended ketch, very stout and very, very salty. Her name was ‘Seafire.’ She was owned by a young Alaskan-bound couple going north to summer jobs before heading for southern seas in the fall. It was, in part, the radiant, dry warmth of their Dickinson galley stove, in part the soft glow of the kerosene cabin lights, in part the lovely glow from the rum but mostly the gleam of the mutual dream held by this young pair of dreamers. What a wonderful thing!
I learned later that the boat had been sunk somewhere west of the Panama Canal in the fall of that same year. It was, apparently, attacked by Orca whales, a not uncommon story for those waters. I never learned the fate of her crew but assume they survived to be able to recount their ordeal. Two more boats passed through my hands, both very capable offshore vessels, ‘Jenta’ was a Gulf Island 29 and then ‘Anya’ a Vancouver 27. The next boat was a True North 34. She was a fibreglass double-ended cutter, massively built, cozy, clumsy, but imminently sea-worthy and steered with a huge, heavy oak tiller. That helm kept you out in the open, no matter what the weather. It was all very salty, and I was much younger. She came with the name ‘Sunward II’ which I could not abide and so, still deeply inspired, I renamed her ‘Seafire.’
This was now the forth sailboat I’d owned and refitted. I loved her dearly and she loved me. I will hold precious memories forever of the adventures and people aboard that boat. She was also chartered out for cruises with various guests from Europe. I believe my ‘Seafire’ inspired a passion for some other people to answer the calling of the sea.
Each day of chartering was hard work, especially when your guests got your own berth at the end of the day. You roughed it somewhere else on the boat. I began to scheme to build a larger, steel vessel, better-suited for chartering and reluctantly I sold ‘Seafire’ to a fellow with offshore dreams for her. The last I heard she was somewhere in Mexico. I don’t know what ever happened to her.
Life goes on. The steel boat was never built. I had a serious accident at work on the tugs and ended up experiencing major heart surgery. Unable to return to a career on the tugs I started a business on borrowed funds. That ended disastrously in bankruptcy. Somehow I staggered back up onto my knees and acquired another fixer-upper. ‘West Moon’ was a delightful Fortune 30, funky and very seaworthy but some friends were selling their beloved Sapphire 30,’ an Australian-built sloop named ‘Pax.’ Built for racing in the Southern Ocean she was massively constructed and had completed a 14 year round-the-world odyssey. I soon had her ready to go again. We had many adventures together including a summer trip around Vancouver Island and like any fine boat, she’ll always hold a piece of my heart. However I still ached for a boat which allowed me the option of chartering, could carry tools enough to help pay my way and offered an inside helm for days of extreme heat, rain, or cold.
I’ve long-dreamed of cruising to Europe but have lost my sense of romance for being outside up to my armpits in ice-cold green seawater. My perspectives on the romance of the sea were evolving. I’m not getting any younger. I needed a boat with an interior that did not require a steep vertical ladder. I wanted my dog and I to be able to enter and exit the cabin easily. And I wanted to be able to sit inside and to see out while I wrote. ‘Pax’ sold so quickly that it seemed meant to be. Suddenly there I was on the beach with no debts and a little cash in hand, a very dangerous place for sailor to find himself.
I searched everywhere in the Pacific Northwest and also made two different trips to the east looking at boats. I have long lusted after a type of motor-sailor designed after North Sea fishing trawlers. There is an English-built boat called a Fisher which I love as well as a Dutch boat called a Banzer. Motor sailors are usually displacement-hull motor boats with sail rigging. Traditionally they are rugged and seaworthy but not particularly good sailing vessels. The sails help steady the vessel in rough seas and offer poor to reasonable sailing ability when the wind is in your favour. There can be no expectation of windward ability. A motor sailor can be the best and worst of both worlds but is generally a happy compromise. The Downeaster 41 which I now own is built on a well respected 38′ offshore sailing hull and indeed sails rather well compared to many other motor sailors.
After all that searching I found ‘Heart Of Gold’ almost at my front door in nearby Blaine. She was a perfect picture of despair when I first saw her. Covered in verdigris and bird droppings she listed hard to port. She had long sat at the dock and below deck reeked a sewerific blend of nasty neglect. It was obvious why she hadn’t sold. I’ve made my living fixing boats for a long while and knew that I could give this faded flower the loving she needed. This boat was perfect for my needs although the refit is still a long way from being complete. I describe the boat in my blog of May 24th, 2013 titled “It Must Be Spring.” It is easy to find in the archives on the right sidebar.
Once I’d finished the business of importing the boat, which I did on my own with no problems, I needed to enter it into Canadian Ship’s Registry. A vessel’s name is the first piece of data in recognition of its official status as a Canadian vessel. (Until recent times a vessel’s owner could only ever own 64 shares of the vessel. The remaining 36 belonged to the British Monarchy who had a one-third claim on the boat and all “Her guns and appurtenances thereof.”) In remote areas I carry only one old shotgun and wore out my appurtenances long ago. However, I can still be considered somewhat impertinent.
As ‘Heart Of Gold’ had been entered in US Coast Guard registry I had all the formal measurements and tonnages and the process was straight forward. I’d struggled with the vessel’s name as being rather corny but resolved that if it were available I’d keep it to assuage nautical superstition. Oddly, the name had been available until the previous week and so I laid down my first choice for a new name.
‘Brass Monkey’ drew a wondering stare from the ladies in the office and then one said, “I know you! You’re Mr. Seafire.” I’ve been in that office so often through the years, she remembered me! In the Canadian Ship Registry system, a vessel’s name must be re-registered every few years. ‘Seafire’ had not been and so the name was mine for the asking. It seemed propitious, a sign from the gods and so once again I am the master of a Canadian-registered vessel named ‘Seafire.’ She’s a gorgeous old friend, unique and capable. She has been my home for the better part of the past five years and has carried me pleasantly along thousands of sea miles.
And so here I sit on a dark January night. The wind is calm but the rain hammers relentlessly as if I were still in Shearwater. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess. The dream is very much alive but at the moment everything seems hopeless. The exciting part is, I know, that this is often a moment just before something really good comes down the pipe.
By odd coincidence, while I have been writing this blog, a True North 34 has moored next to me. They are not a common boat. I can’t believe that I actually sat in such a cockpit day and night, in sun, rain, snow and flying spray. The tiller was heavy and the boat demanded good sail trim to be manageable. The narrow hatch tops a steep ladder down into the cabin which is a very snug place to ride out a storm. I loved that boat but the new ‘Seafire’ suits me very well. I am happy with my new old boat. I have yet to hold a renaming ceremony which nautical tradition demands. This is a mandatory ritual, long overdue, where the gods of the sea are supplicated for their blessing and protection. There are copious libations and affirmations among fellow nautical zealots. Then you sail away.
They’re back! Victoria Day weekend has just passed and now we’re careening toward the first day of summer in another four weeks. First the swallows and Purple Martins reappear, then with the long weekend in May other weird birds show up. Now I know that when I use the term, weird, it means someone or some thing is beyond my comprehension. When the entire Status quo trends that way, I understand that I’m the one who’s weird. Or am I ?
My perception of what is correct in the nautical world is complex yet steeped in simple tradition. I value things being done ‘The old way’ and feel that self-sufficiency, independence, and simplicity are essential components in being a proficient mariner. Clearly, masses disagree.
I was evicted, for the weekend, from my spot on the dock by noon on Friday. The weekend warriors happily pay premium moorage fees. (Those with the gold make the rules) A gleaming white Tupperware armada began to arrive. I retreated to anchor across the bay in a secluded spot. Long before nightfall all the marinas in the bay were bursting with gleaming plastic, pulsing light and noise. As darkness settled, the boats kept on coming. For once, no-one ended up aground on the reef at the harbour entrance.
The docks, choked with shouting boaters in folding chairs sitting at folding tables, were impassable. Caustic music of different flavours throbbed from various stereo systems around the bay. The din was constantly punctuated with the squeals and forced guffaws of drunken people trying to convince themselves they were having fun. There is a braying, frantic tone that betrays the desperate existence so many of these folks were trying to escape for a few hours. They only manage to bring it with them. There are four months ahead when we have to endure these vicarious wannabe Vikings stumbling into the bay and overrunning our generally peaceful existence. Here on the West coast I don’t know what ‘Going boating’ or ‘Boating season’ means. There are those of us who’s existence is intrinsic with being on and near the sea; all year long. It’s the way some of us live, all the time. Weird huh? I should mention here that I realize I am categorizing. There are plenty of competent and experienced mariners out there doing what they love and don’t give a damn for making impressions or joining herds. I also know that these kindred spirits tend to avoid the madness I describe.
This old cynic left the bay when the small anchorage I had chosen became littered with ever more boats anchored too close. It happened twice again during the weekend as I retreated to more secluded anchorages. As usual, there was yet another kayaker who thought that this boat at anchor was a captive venue for his demands for attention as he clung, shouting, to our cap rail. As I recall, key words I used were “Privacy, respect, solitude, and piss-off!”
Yeah I know I’m a grumpy old fart. ‘Hey you, get off of my cloud!”
I’ve previously promised to describe my boat ‘Seafire‘, the dream machine after which this blog is named. The design is called a Downeaster 41, entirely a misnomer in a couple of ways, all in the cause of marketing. Actually the hull is 38′ with the extra 3’ being added in the form of a bowsprit/platform. The designer, Henry Morschladt, drew several sizes of vessel for Downeaster Yachts of Santa Ana, California. Apparently, if you hang an Eastcoast handle on a boat, it is supposed to seem saltier. This line of sailboats is famous for being over-built and seakindly. Many have have successfully completed extensive offshore voyages. ‘Seafire’ is one of twelve 38′ hulls built and sold as 41′ motorsailers. Allegedly my hull was produced in 1981, near the end of the company’s history when so many businesses failed in that great recession. I wonder sometimes, if my hull wasn’t one of the last built. Some of the fibreglass work in out-of sight places is very, very rough and the plumbing and wiring were clearly installed by amateurs. The teak wood work is gorgeous.
Those criticisms out of the way there is not one osmosis blister on the hull after 32 years of soaking in the briny deep. That’s a very good sign of her integrity. The engine is a trusty old 65 Hp Ford Lehman, recently rebuilt. (That is an American engine, not at all related to the British Leyland, an entirely different product. )The transmission is a ubiquitous Borg Warner velvet drive; it’s all good. There is an inside helm, massive water and fuel tankage, a huge forward berth and a separate private cabin with a comfortable double berth. The galley is better than some which I’ve known in tugboats and is located in the belly of the vessel, where it is easiest to produce a hot meal in heavy weather.
Sadly, the boat had apparently not know much of a life as other than a ‘Gin Palace’, one of those boats that is used to entertain and impress people and seldom leaves the dock. Her neglected state made her affordable to me, the effort to bring her up to my standard of seaworthy has financially shattered me. I knew better !
She is cutter-rigged with furlers on both headsails which makes her easy to handle and the old ‘Prune Barge’ sails pretty well for a motorsailor. She looks after herself and her crew just fine in nasty weather and I have grown quite fond of her. Now, I just have to finish enough of her refit to get her to La Paz Baha for Christmas. There have been plenty of recent setbacks so I know I’m doing the right thing although there are days when I nearly drown myself and those close to me in despair and doubt. If I drop this dream, my life becomes meaningless, my writing and everything else hinges on sailing and so I can’t give it up.
‘Seafire’ is the eighth sailboat I’ve bought and refitted. There was a power boat or two along the way as well. Six of the sailboats were all very capable offshore boats. If only I’d just buggered off in the first little sloop ‘Jenta’, what a different tale I’d have to tell. You cannot steer a steady course by looking back at your wake so there’s no point in regrets. The boat previous to ‘Seafire was ‘Pax’, an Australian-built IOR half-tonner which had been raced in the Southern Ocean for ten years before embarking on a fourteen-year East-about cruise around the world. One of her claims to fame was when she had been rolled 360 degrees by a rogue wave off the mouth of the Platte River in Uraguay. Even the mast stayed in place! She is one tough little ship to have survived that well enough to sail on in to shore. I had ‘Pax’ fully refitted and ready to go again.
However, I wanted a boat which I could sail from inside and which had the capacity for enough tools for me to be totally self-sufficient and also earn some cash along the way. I also wanted some private quarters for a few guests. I want to be able to offer friends the chance to join the boat, wherever in the world she may be. This will help with the expenses and also provide folks the chance to affordably see a bit of the world away from home in a unique perspective.