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December 11, 2001

Dockside, Port Sidney Marina, British Columbia, Canada

48° 39.13' N 123° 23.62 W

I too am smiling, but there's less joy to report these days. And, it's not only because of winter. At night, I leave open two ports in the aft cabin of "Love of Liberty". Fresh air. I like that, even though some nights it has snowed and the flakes drifting inside the boat land on our blankets. The winds rattle the masts and rigs in the harbor. Hearing that helps me sleep. So does the sound of rain falling on the deck. Last night, Ellen tugged two down-filled covers plus two blankets up over our shoulders. Except for our feet, we were snug and warm even though it dropped to 46° F inside the boat. This morning there's snow on the docks, snow on the decks, and slushy snow clumps that crash from the spreaders to the cabin top. The boat's propane heater quickly brought the cabin temperature up to a habitable 68 degrees at which point I, trying not to be dominated by a single passion, must catch up on the news - starting with the Canadian Broadcasting Company News. The Canadians do not seem as worried as I am worried about terrorism. I switched to the TV's CNN and heard only about terrorism, and nothing about the Ebola virus which is on the loose again in Africa. Nothing about Endeavour docking with the space station or the photographs coming back from the Mars Global Surveyor. My friends tell me that all the "true news" is somewhere on their favorite website. At Sidney Market a British tabloid, at the checkout stand, headlined "Severed Leg Walks to Hospital" and " Osama bin Laden Killed Diana!" That's enough for awhile, back to boats and the weather.

The east coast of Vancouver Island has a gently curved shoreline offering few natural inlets for sheltering a boat from SE storms. During a storm, gale force winds blow unimpeded from the Straights of Juan de Fuca, then past Victoria whereupon they curve a little and barrel past the Sidney shorefront. That's where we are moored. Port Sidney Marina seawall is robustly built with huge granite boulder embankments, but the harbor is primarily just a bulge in the featureless shoreline, extending into the channel. And into gale force winds. The whole thing is in dear Mother Nature's way. The seawall rip-rap fends off the SE seas, but the winds blow easily over the top and into the harbor. With doubled bow lines and doubled stern lines we are situated near the outer seawall and have been experiencing 50 knot wind gusts. In a heavy storm a few years ago, an exposed section of Port Sidney Marina loosened from its pilings, and part of the marina started to go free.

My last experience with marina breakup was in the 1960's. Audley "Barney" Barnhill and the Barnhill Construction Company built a marina on the Oakland Estuary. Barney was sort of an eclectic, very friendly, very hard working, but different. When you asked him a question, he'd wait a few seconds, look at the ground, then look you in the eye and answer with a smile. I liked him; he was a good friend. Sometimes he wore a suit and tie, but usually he was seen wearing old jeans, heavy boots and a tee shirt. A small barge with a rusty derrick and a pile driver was part of Barnhill Construction Company. With that barge, some sweat, beer and yelling, Barney kept his work crew busy during slow times by hammering pilings for his new marina. The small barge's derrick would grab the tarred pilings, Barney would wrestle the creosoted poles into position, and the steam hammer pounded them into the estuary bottom. Of course the marina was an eclectic marina as well, with every space in the marina made a different size. Sizes to accommodate the odd array of sailboats, powerboats, fishing boats, houseboats, powerless-powerboats-with-plywood-house-tops, and partly finished boats. Barnhill Marina was for the semi-serious, go-to-work-everyday mariners content to be attached to shore most of the time.

I had just bought a sailboat and wanted to live aboard . When I asked Barney if I could have a berth at his new marina, he took off his creosote soaked glove, paused, said "Sure" and shook my hand. Then, he built a slip especially sized for my sailboat. All who lived in that marina were strange in some ways. There was endless puffing about sailing in storms, crossing oceans, derelict marine manufacturers, unsavory boat brokers, navigation and how to get good crew. Gary lived on a tiny 28 foot King's Cruiser, built a trimaran in the shed on the shore, and he sailed it to Morea. Randy, only showed up on weekend nights with his girlfriends. There was ongoing hammering, sawing and painting on a two story palatial houseboat where Robert lived with his mother. Two houseboats sunk. Mounted on a nearby barge was a 20 by 40 foot farmer's greenhouse made entirely of little glass panels. Featured in Sunset Magazine, it was a unique design amongst houseboat designs. It boasted bright, sunny on-the-water living. Two girls lived there ­ with curtains closing all the sides - until it rained and water drizzled inside through all the panel cracks. Opposite my boat lived a minister.

Barnhill Marina was exposed to easterly storms and the waves that developed on the long fetch of water down the estuary. The outer floats were the most vulnerable. One night the heaviest storm winds of the decade blew out of the east. Waves developed down the estuary. How many pilings do you need to hold a marina in a heavy wind? I didn't know. Barney didn't know either. Answer: we did not have enough. And, the whole marina - with me - started to break loose and drift down the Oakland Estuary. It was raining at 2:00 AM when the Coast Guard arrived on the scene and helped with tow-lines from two of their 40 foot rescue boats. They tried, unsuccessfully, to pull the whole marina mess ­ against the wind and waves - back into alignment. I could see that the docks were sort of torqued downwind, but apparently something was holding . Out in the rain we scrounged anchors, anchor line and chain and set the anchors out in the estuary. It was a feeble and futile attempt that didn't make any difference. In the wind, wet and dark we all, except Randy, watched our crumbling citadel. The next morning the winds lessened; the marina was still there. Still hooked to the estuary bottom. The docks were crooked and more out of proportion than ever. Frankly, I think an outsider would have said the place looked the same as always. At 8:00 AM I went off to my work. That weekend Barney's pile-driver went to work with sweat, beer and yelling. Barnhill Marina never moved again and is there today.

All is well here. Ellen and I wish a very Merry Christmas to all.

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