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Victoria Harbor, BC, Canada

January 23, 2001

Aboard sailboat "Kaimanu"

 

7:30 AM. It's still pitch dark in Victoria Harbor. There's ice on the docks, and by anybody's measure it is cold outside. The citizens of British Columbia say this is the warmest provence in Canada. That's what they say. Ellen and I are staying warm aboard "Kaimanu", a 45 foot sailboat made of resin, fiberglass and fantastic teak joinery. It's a beautiful boat with room enough for us to be comfortable, and we're out of the cold

Looking out the boat's portlight toward the north, I can see the nighttime lights of the city still aglow. Yellow, red and fluorscent green barely glimmer in the buildings behind the black tidal rip rap and the gray stone seawall. In the rear of that bulwark, a hundred yards away, a few people are shuffling to work, with overcoats, leggings, hats and mufflers. I flip on a 12 volt cabin light, turn on the boat's diesel heater, and light the propane stove to make coffee. The boat'll heat up by the time the coffee's ready. I wait, and I read a little of Earnest Shackleton's story about his ship "Endurance", his 1915 voyage to Antarctica and his attempt to walk across the South Pole. Shackleton described temperatures of 4 below zero Celsius as "comfortable" when they were encamped near Antarctica. It was 8 below zero here in Victoria, B.C. last night. That 4 degree increase must make a big difference. Personally, I believe that the next ice age will begin in Victoria, B.C. It'll just get cold some winter night, then colder and colder and never warm up.

"Kaimanu" (that means 'seabird') is being cared for by us as we live aboard. The owner, away working in Silicon Valley, plans to return sometime in April to go cruising. "Kaimanu" was built in Taiwan in 1982, has two heads, two staterooms and a well equipped galley. She's perfect for us until "Love of Liberty" ­ our new boat - arrives from Wisconsin. More on that later.

Like San Francisco but less stylish, Victoria entertains us. Two miles of walking in this city and we can cover the parts. The rest is urban-industrial sprawl. The Canadian dollar is 65 cents versus one dollar U.S., so things seem cheaper. With a 14% (17% on wine and beer) tax rate and high prices, it approaches the same cost of living as in the U.S.

 

It was a chore day, and two loonie (CDN $1 coin) were all we needed to clean our laundry. The laundromat, was a quarter mile of walking along the seawall, past the customs pier, past the seaplane dock, ending under the Visitors' Center. Inside it was 30 degrees warmer near the washing machines. Warming himself, slouched on a plastic chair, was a 40 year old Victoria street person named "Red". While sleeping outside last night, the rain had soaked Red's sleeping bag. He was tumbling it in the dryer when we came in, laundry bags in hand. Red needed a shower, a shave, a haircut and some clean clothes. Talkative and friendly, he said he had a wife and two daughters. He was 'proud' that he was not working. He made 'coin' on the street.

"Nobody, NOBODY tells me what to do! I do what I want!" "Once I had to dry my clothes after a wet day, so I took 'em all off, put 'em in the dryer and sat in the corner ­ over there - naked." "Some lady came in, saw me and was shocked, and went out and bought me some brand new underwear. She wanted that I wear that while I waited, and she did her laundry."

"Just put your hat down by your feet and stand there. You'll always get a few coins."

"Don't leave too many coins in the hat. It makes 'ya look too prosperous. Scoop a few out and put 'em in yer pocket."

I was fascinated with this guy. I thought about how he stays warm living outside? Do people bother him when he's sleeping? Or, what does he do when he's sick?

"I can sleep right there by the wall or on Government Street, and you'd never know I 'wuz there. You'd never see me. And, I don't get cold, ever. And, I don't steal. I don't hurt nobody! Leave me alone, and I leave you alone." "If I had a, 'er, growth, I'd go to the hospital but only for that. Not if I had a flu or a broken leg. Only if I was real sick."

What about your children? How do they feel about what you're doing?"

"My daughters won't have friends over when I'm at my wife's place. They don't think I'm fit to be seen - not by their friends anyhow. They think I'm not decent, 'ya know? But, I still love them, and they like me, I think."

Tomorrow was his daughter's 15th birthday. He showed me her present, a small gold watch.

Red was about to go to jail. He punched someone who "flipped him off" and wouldn't give him 15 cents that he needed for wine. Reaching from pocket to pocket in his coat, Red pulled a half smoked cigarette, rolled it round again, lit the butt end and said, "This guy (the one he punched) didn't know that my dad was a prize fighter, and had taught me how to punch. And, he didn't know I was left handed. Pow! With my left fist, I put 'em on his back. Then, the police came and took me." After three court appearances with his appointed attorney, "Red" pled guilty. Until he served his time, he was on restrictions from the magistrates.

"Until I do my time in jail, the judge told me, 'No more than one beer every two hours.'" "I can't live like that." said Red.

"No knife." said the judge.

"Now, I can't cut my bologna or open a can for food." "I can't eat."

The third restraint, "Stay outside a two mile radius of Victoria."

"I can't make money outside of town."

The cigarette was gone.

I helped him roll up his dry sleeping bag, and he was ready for the next cold night. Red rushed out, hit up two tourists in the hall for money, and jogged to meet the 3:30 PM ferry from Port Angeles. Later I saw Red standing, open hat at his feet, at fence pole #4 while people hustled past him from the ferry, along the sidewalk and into Victoria for shopping. The unwritten code amongst the street people declares that the 4th fence post is really proprietary. It's "Red's pole" and he works that pole regularly. Sympathetic Americans and Canadians slip their unusable U.S. coins into the hat at the 4th fence pole as they enter British Columbia.

So goes it.

 

Last night a weather front brought heavy winds through the Straight of Juan de Fuca and into Victoria Harbor. I should have been suspicious when I noted two new boats secured to the dock, fishing boats. Several fishermen (fisherpersons?) in port means bad weather is due outside. Sure enough, murky skies, clouds, wind and rain rolled in at sunset. Increasing winds rattled the rig, pressured the boat, and the temperature dropped. At 2:00 AM the boat's anemometer read wind velocities of 28 to 35 knots steadily with frequent gusts from 52 to 55 knots. I couldn't sleep well. The boat heeled with the wind and jerked at the mooring lines. No bother, I thought, we were safe in the harbor secured to a float.

In this harbor storm winds blow from the south across a three mile fetch of water. Wind makes waves. Heavy winds makes bigger waves. Three miles of heavy wind makes irksome one-foot to two-foot choppy waves that lift the dock float up a foot and a half and lower the boat a foot and a half. Then lift the boat up and let the dock down. With the boat on the wave peak and the dock on the wave hollow, the docklines draw up straight, taut and rigid and attempt to jerk the deck cleats out of the boat. The boat shudders, she goes down, the lines go slack, and the boat rolls away from the dock ready for the next wrenching yank.

A few hours of this and "Kaimanu's" rotted stern lines let go with a loud crack! The boat swung away, now tethered only by a couple of rotted lines at the bow. I manage to slip into jeans, sweatshirt and shoes, slide open the hatch and lurch into the cold night. "Kaimanu", tethered only at the bow, was pitching about 10 feet from the dock. What the hell is this? Windy blackness. We're dockside. My childhood storybooks say I should be sleeping, snug in a warm bunk, listening to the wind in the rigging. With wind, waves and spray soaking through my jeans and sweatshirt, I timed my jump from the boat's beam to the rolling frozen dock, perfectly. I doubled up a new stern line and tossed it to Ellen on the boat. It now started to hail. Slipping on round pebbles of ice I reminded myself that we ARE still safely inside Victoria harbor. I grabbed a loose line from Ellen, swung myself from the frozen float back to the boat's deck, and both of us winched the boat back to the dockside. Inside the boat, we fell asleep on the settees in the center cabin where the jerky, pitching motion was the least. I awoke late the next morning to see that the gusty, dark night had merged into another dark-gray Victoria morning.

Nearby on the outer side of the float, the Scotsman's boat, "Scot Free", looked battered. A rub rail was splintered, a cap rail torn off and a hole chafed in the hull side. On the other float, Gabriel had fallen off of his trimaran while trying to maneuver his boat. He was OK. The corners of the harbor were filled with flotsam including plywood signs, plastic jugs, tree limbs, foam bubbles and styrofoam coolers. The city was no worse for the wear. Victoria looked freshly cleansed and basically the same.

Over one year ago in Maryland, we left our beautiful schooner, "Silver Heels". During that year we have been living out of suitcases, staying with family and friends and suffering ongoing indecision about the choice of our next boat. I hasten to say that we are still ready and willing to continue the cruising lifestyle.

We have purchased "Love of Liberty", and she is our next cruising home. With a length of 44 feet, she has an easily maintained fiberglass hull, lots of teak to varnish and beautiful lines. The main cabin has a propane fired heater. There's a refrigerator, freezer, autopilot, radar, GPS and a 5.5 kw generator. That's a lot of nice stuff for cruising, most of which is new. Presently in the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin, this boat requires a special truck and special road permits to be trucked to us in Anacortes. She couldn't be trucked during the holidays because of poor road conditions. In January if the roads aren't too icy, we should see her arrive after four to five days on the road. She'll be painted dark blue, she'll be rigged, we'll move aboard, we'll rest, and we'll renew our cruising venture. I anticipate we can get underway in April. From Friday Harbor on north, there are snug protected harbors, deep water coves with waterfalls cascading from the island's evergreen forest and sandy beaches with clams to dig. I just bought a crab trap. Now, for sure, this combination should put an end to the sobriety of our lives.

Happy New Year to you all,

Terry and Ellen