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June 26, 2004

Northwest mother to child: "Don't be afraid dear. It's the sun."

 

It's June in Victoria, and it hasn't rained for several days. There are rays of sunshine showing on Government Street, and sunset won't occur until 9:32 PM. I've been shrouded in all shades of gray for the last nine months, but now I know that the three redeeming months of summer have begun. Just when I can't endure another month, here comes the payoff, and this grand season begins once again. At the inner seawall near the Empress Hotel is the bagpiper who, without the rain, pipes 'Brave Scotland'. Summer tourists waddle in and out of the stores where the clerks try to act friendly. Inside the Sticky Wicket Pub are twelve television sets mounted askew and high on the walls. There's one angled for every patron, and every set shows the Stanley Cup hockey finals. The Calgary Flames are battling fierce Tampa. The sound is turned way up. The waitress is slinging beers. There's a certain tension permeating the place. No one knows or cares how beautiful it is outside - just don't break their line of vision to a TV set. I can't hear much conversation over the noise, but I know that everyone roots for Calgary. There's fury. Next to us sat two Canadian brothers with their mum, some fish 'n chips and, of course, a couple of sleeves of beer. I leaned to their side to hear. We talked, and a quick friendship developed.

Mum, who had her back to the TV sets, was not fond of prima donna hockey players. These adoring fans and the devoted sports culture were at fault for their too-high pay, she said. So many players acted like rich spoilt brats. "Kids didn't want to become doctors anymore." Mum groaned, "They think they can play hockey and win a ten million dollar contract for five years at playing a game." "We should really honor those doing medical research. That's important!" Mum was a proper lady, she smiled while enduring the hockey game and was really there to be with her two sons. The brothers, who were only slightly more interested in the game, described how the Flames' goalie, heavily padded stoic Mikka Kiprusoff, has fended off so many strikes on goal. After one beer I got a little interested in the violence and started to watch the game. Since Calgary is closer to Port Sidney where we moor the boat, they decided that I too should root for Calgary. I did, but Calgary lost the game anyhow. On September 11, 2001 a fellow boater cruising her boat up here was in a BC pub for dinner. There too the walls were lined with TV sets and the hockey game was on. She asked that one TV set, visible to her, be turned to the news. She was concerned and wanted to know about the terrorist attack in the US. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were on fire. The owner consented and changed the channel of one set. There were many complaints and the owner re-channeled that set to the hockey game.

I'm refreshed by the onset of summer, and I rediscover what really seems to be so obvious. It's the alluring, sweet simplicity of this boating lifestyle. Satisfy one's basic physical needs in this very simple way, and the inner mind is set free. By choice a great deal of suffering in life is brought about by a desire for what is unnecessary. Aboard this boat I'm unencumbered by high maintenance possessions and expensive belongings. I'm free to think and plan as I wish for these long summertime days. We'll be in the Broughton Archipelago where my course line can follow any point on the compass, and I will arrive at a safe secure anchorage, a place of beauty that'll nourish the soul and delight the senses. A place where I'll meet friendly, interesting people that don't fear the wilderness or a day of hard work. Northeasterly takes me toward Kwatsi Bay with a warm "welcome back" from Anka and Max. Southeasterly to Lagoon Cove where Bill will tell his 'bear' story again. Westnorthwesterly to Turnbull Cove for a peaceful time at anchor. Southeasterly to Pierre's for a pig roast. Steer easterly and I'll arrive at Oleo's where I can talk carving with Leon after a fine meal. Only a ground-hugging landlubber hopelessly addicted to his piece of mortgaged soil could be disappointed with those destinations. We're heading north around Cape Caution with a short leg outside in the Pacific Ocean. We're loaded with water, fuel, propane, charts, books, carving stuff, computers, music, good food, warm clothing and our home made wine in the bilge cellar. On the bulkheads are pictures and carvings that remind us of our fantasy with this near virgin territory.

In a few days there'll be less civilized interference. Television news with its opinionated "talking heads" will disappear. There'll be no newspapers with scary oil, gold, real estate and stock prices. Out here we will meet with few people, but it will be with people that think as we do. Our self-contained pod will voyage along in this universe of waterways stopping at empty anchorages and remote little settlements on our way to latitude 52°N and Rivers Inlet.

Outside the city we'll transcend the culture. The crackling VHF radio becomes our umbilical. Forget cell phone contact, for it is sporadic and unreliable. A cell signal sometime occurs in the south end of Queen Charlotte Straight, but when marginal contact can be made with a remote relay antenna, the cheery little phone jingle, "Hello. Welcome to Telus!" blurts out. I don't have Telus. I have AT&T. Needless to say, Telus doesn't "shake hands" with AT&T. We have extended Canadian coverage, but it's with the enemy AT&T. I talk back to the crackle and hiss of the recorded voice and ask if, just this time, could it please, please connect me with my family. Let me reassure the kids that mom and dad are doing fine. There's nothing but blather about switching my service to Telus. This electrified conch shell at my ear is a technical marvel that could connect me with anyone in the world, but the corporate human won't allow it. It's no use.

Circumstances will make this is our last voyage in British Columbia. We'll leave Canada in September - probably forever ­ having been bluntly told to move away by Canadian Customs and Immigration. For some reason this fickle governmental agency allows many out-of-country cruising boats to stay here for several years. But not us. On our last entry to Canadian waters, we were stated the law in raw but explicit detail: a boaters' "cruising visa" technically is for six months duration in one year. More than that and you're not wanted. Truly, we've been here longer than that - as have a score of other US boats right here on E Dock. They're OK; we're not. Perhaps I haven't spent enough money here. The immigration department once told me that they like American visitors who spend. Or, maybe it's because I reported TOO much to Customs and Immigration. On entry three years ago I called and asked about the rules. At the time I was told that the law was interpreted loosely, but at least every six months I was to regularly return to the USA. I did, usually for a few months to visit family. Every slight overstay, I reported. All possible time infractions I told to someone at the agency. Until now, there was a courteous "Thank you for letting us know." response. Now, I think revealing our every intention was a problem. My persistent contact developed a flagged dossier on their computer, a detailed file just for our boat. Those boats that don't consistently log-in, don't seem to have problems. With my honesty, I built a history and was labeled as a likely "overtime user" - likely an offender in (who knows!) some way. We left Friday Harbor, USA last March. On our way back to Sidney I had carefully checked the chart for our position. While still in the USA I called Canadian Customs & Immigration and requested clearance to enter Canada. We were just past Danger Shoal and well short of the chart's dotted line showing in Haro Straight, the dotted national boundary line where the approval expression changes from American "huh" to Canadian "ehhhh".

I called Customs and Immigration mentioning that we had a CanPass and reported our intentions. After the initial curt request, "What's your boat number?" I was told we were "overstaying" and should pay Canadian taxes, namely $35,000 for a Canadian boat import tax.

On the phone a woman Customs Immigration agent said, "If you pay that, you can stay in Canada!!"

With my hat in my hand I answered, "That would be very expensive, especially as I wished to cruise here for just one more season. I thought you promoted tourism."

I added that I had repair work in progress on my boat in Sidney, work that was to be completed May 7.

The quick answer was an abrasive shout, "YOU HEARD ME. You have stayed PAST YOUR ALLOTED TIME IN CANADA." "YOU BE OUT by May 7!"

With this lack of consistency and illogical rudeness - it's rule by the mediocre.

I recall my father on his dying day relating a story about our family vacation to British Columbia in 1953. We had driven up Hwy 101 to Port Angeles and crossed the Straight of Juan de Fuca on the ferry. It was late afternoon, and we were in the family car driving somewhere on Vancouver Island. My father was lost, and he was tired of driving. My mother who always sat in the right front seat of the car kept grousing, "Clarence, we should really get back to our hotel in Victoria." My sister and I were in the back seat, complaining and being obnoxious. We saw a farmer walking along the road. Even though it broke my father's 'rules of driving conduct', he stopped and asked the farmer for directions. The farmer pointed the way to my parents and then asked to get into the car. Before the farmer got in the car, my sister and I, without touching, moved together to make room. I opened the back door and let the farmer inside. He rode with us, saying he wanted to make sure that we found our way. When my father asked how he was going to get back to his home, the farmer replied politely, "I'll just walk." That was a gesture that my father remembered and related to a priest on his dying day. Here was a story of a munificent meeting between two strangers. Where is that farmer today? Let things be done decently. My good manners are supported by the good manners of those about me.

Here in the Northwest, this physical conglomeration of a million islands, waterways and coves that could hide all the boats in the world remains rational and consistent. With the forest and the sea, the rules aren't a spiteful joke. It is where the rules are consistent -- everywhere in this snarl of rock and water - everywhere in this awesome inter-weaving of land and sea.

I have a lot of damned fine things I can remember as I have to say goodbye to: Peter and Jill on Wind Dancer (don't forget the finorken); Paul and Kristi on Shearwater (only the best tools); Larry and Leah on Eclipse (just a little bigger); Phil (no guns) and Sharon on Pilgrim; 'Radar Hank' the dog; Jerry and Chris on Compromise (a 20 year old new boat); 'Samantha' the cat; Bud (the master carver) and Noreen; Rolly (in the doghouse) and Norma; Peter, Lynn and Ian at Wine-by-You (great Washington Merlot); "Tigger" the cat; Anthony and Ken of Raven Marine; Alan and "Beacon" the dog; Mimi and Nick and "Spencer"; Ron and Diane; Phillip and Peter at Sidney Marine; Jim and Sue on Pau Hana (Sidney's most beautiful powerboat); Pat and Malcolm and 'Welly', Earl and Jenny; Stacy at the Boondocks Pub ('raunch' salad dressing); Suzanne and George; Sue and George; Len and Ursula; Jack "Lone Wolf"; Pierre and Tova at Pierre's; Max and Anka and Marika and Russell at Kwatsi Bay; Lorna and Erica at Port Neville; Leon and Katrina at Oleo's. And, of course, Don and Donette Wright. Good bye to all ..for now.

In the traditional sense, boats don't have addresses. We have no fixed, recognized place of residence, no roots. We don't have a driveway or a mailbox out front. No hedges or fences or lawns. There's no garbage can and no recycling bin. We don't get a water bill. No electric bill or phone bill comes here. My mail is forwarded to bin 219 in a store in Anacortes. Where we stay, we are brief, short-term tenants where 'home' is an unfocused somewhere.

I've never seen a family tree written out for someone who made a life aboard a boat. Ancestral histories trace the way families generate and move about, even from one land to another. Boats move. Boats are shifty. Once over the horizon they're hard to trace. Cantankerous Captain Slocum sailed the world, wrote a book and then disappeared ­ supposedly lost at sea. There's no tombstone. Boston shows no factual cause of his death. There's no trace. Is there a generation of little Slocums on some South Pacific Island? Six months ago some good friends cast off the lines and headed out past the breakwater. Soon, all that remained was their prop wash, some turbulent water that soon disappeared. They waved saying something like, "We'll meet again." That means I truly hope we'll cross paths in the future but really, we probably won't. Now there's a stranger in their berth, their berth where I used to stop with a cup of coffee to have cheery conversation.

Now I've revealed that we may be shifty, but I know I can prove a significant connection with "my place". This ephemeral boat living seems to promote strong, lasting friendships - friendships valued much more so than on land. Strong bonds develop so easily between sailors, and it is hard for me to transmit the feeling we all possess. We may give a hug and say a tearful goodbye to someone we've only known for three or four days. On land, I lived in a cookie cutter tract house in a development for eighteen years. I never knew the family who lived only four doors away. Aboard the boat, I find these neighborly relationships aren't taken so casually even though they are transitory. When we leave to cruise, we always hope to see a familiar boat, an old "family" friend in some lonely anchorage. We make blind calls on the radio, hoping to raise a friend in the area. "Pilgrim, Pilgrim, this is Love of Liberty. Over." "Eclipse, Eclipse, this is Love of Liberty. Over." There's no answer today, but later on we slowly steer the bow through deep black water. The water shallows behind a bare rocky outcropping that juts from the deep green forest. There's a cove. We search the inside the flat lagoon for a place to drop the anchor. Damn, there's another boat already here. I look over the top of the bimini and squint at her. Maybe she's about to leave. Nope. She's gaff headed, has a bowsprit, no varnish and a rusty bicycle on deck. Profile's familiar. I hail an old fogey that's aboard, someone obviously trying to maintain his ancient wood sloop. He waves. Three little kids come on deck. We know 'em. It's Calvin. We raft up. We have met in the past for just a short time, but now the reunion is the meeting of long lost friends. I'll dig down inside the refrigerator for our best pieces of salmon to bar-b-que and get a bottle of our homemade wine from the bilge, for this evening we'll eat and drink together again.

I've taken my last carving lesson from Lone Wolf. On the boat I carve cedar and listen to bagpipe music. When cut, cedar wood [and? it] gives off a particular, delightful scent that adds to my interest in this hobby. Lone Wolf, a master carver, teaches First Nation carving techniques in his shop in Victoria near the Johnson Street Bridge. I've had just a few lessons, mostly in early morning when there's free parking out front. While I'm seated opposite at the store's glass counter - I'm usually the only student - he has shown me the way to sharpen knives and chisels to a polished, razor's edge. Most of his knives are hand-made by First Nation Natives. I know how to hold the wood as they do, sometimes against your gut. Against the advice of the Boy Scouts' Manual, here you draw the knife toward you. Cut carefully and cut only the wood. His small bench is in the shop's front window and is covered with a piece of carpet, sharpening stones, a light and some pieces of emery cloth. Around his stool are pieces of red cedar, yellow cedar and wood chips. There's a spoke shave given to him by his father. The walls are covered with cedar, basswood and pine carvings of totems, eagles, salmon, orcas and the raven.

The raven is my choice to top my latest carving project ­ a talking stick. The talking stick is about as tall as a walking cane, but it's never used for a walk. According to First Nation Natives, whoever holds the talking stick is allowed to talk. If anyone else talks - anyone who is not holding the talking stick ­ nobody listens to that person. Only the holder of the talking stick is heard. I like that. It would be good for meetings with politicians and journalists and salesmen and my children. Lone Wolf gave me a good piece of clear yellow cedar to make my talking stick. I've progressed at my carving skills and have developed some tiny bit of expertise. One day, Lone Wolf told me, "If I were to improve my carving somewhat, he might even be able to sell something that I carved. First, I'd have to have a First Nation 'moniker'". Complimented, I considered the possibilities. What would be a good name? Maybe, I decided, it could be Old Gray Wolf. I thought - I'm old. I'm gray. Wolf sounds bold. Ellen listened to this carefully and suggested maybe Old Gray Turkey.

The symbolic raven according to coastal First Nation peoples was a cultural hero and, they thought, a trickster. Raven could outwit the grizzly bear. The Raven put the sun, moon and stars into the sky, salmon into the rivers and food on the land. The Raven was able to change into any form, animal or human, and liked to tease, trick and cheat. To the Coast Salish tribe, Raven is significant because long ago the Raven stole the Sun to give light to the world. They say that an old chief and his only daughter lived by the mouth of a great river. The old chief had the sun hidden away in a box. Raven wanted to have the box with the sun and had tried to get it many times without success. Clever Raven conceived on a plan. The chief's daughter went to the well every day for a supply of water. Raven, the transformer, transformed himself into a pine needle and dropped into the water. The pine needle floated in the young girl's drinking water and was swallowed. She became pregnant and in due time Raven was reborn as the chief's grandson. Now Raven had access to the house.

Raven, being the grandson of the chief, was highly favored by the old chief. The old chief let him have anything he asked for. One day Raven asked to play with the sun box, but this time the old man refused. Raven gave the old chief no peace, and finally, weary of his whining, his grandfather let him play with it. The Raven quickly took the box and tossed it about. He rolled it about outside and proceeded to break the box to pieces. Raven took the sun from the broken box and placed it in the sky. There it has been giving light to the world ever since.

The raven will be the top carving on my three-foot cedar talking stick. Just below, in the grasp of the raven's claws will be the sun, a carved sphere. Four pieces of abalone shell imbedded in the sphere will further define it as the sun. The stick will taper from there to another carved sphere, the moon, and then taper to the end. I'll send a picture to Lone Wolf. He will be proud, I hope.

With those thoughts of Northwest Indian culture I'll carve wood as we cruise north. Up the coast, outside for a few miles to Rivers Inlet, then back thru the Queen Charlottes, the Broughton Archipelago, the Discovery Islands, Desolation Sound, the east coast of the Straight of Georgia to the San Juan Islands. September 7 we'll clear back into the USA. At LaConner, Washington, the boat will be put on a truck and driven down Highway 5 to San Francisco Bay. On a truck - not on the ocean. I've thought it over. I have to admit that now I can't easily sail offshore. At 65 I need more energy, and I need helpers. To sail down the Washington, Oregon and California coast, I'd need a crew. A crew that promised not to get seasick but likely would. A crew that would require hotel stays, food and expensive airfare to get back home. The trip south should be done in July, August or September when there's good coastal weather windows. July, August and September just aren't available because we'll be cruising up north. The trip can be made in October when seven out of ten times it will be in good weather. In October it could also be a miserable, wretched experience. After a rough sailing trip from Port Townsend down that coast, my sister kissed the ground when she arrived in Ventura. Over a coffee a professional delivery captain told me he had a wonderful time sailing to San Francisco in October. Just two days after he got to San Francisco Bay, the winds off the Oregon Coast blew 60 knots.

The truck will offload "Love of Liberty" in a yard in San Francisco Bay. I plan to install a bow thruster and replace the standing rigging. We'll then move to Antioch, what used to be a sleepy old river front town. When I was a kid, I went to Antioch in the summer. It was where my best friend's parents had a converted WWII landing craft, a Higgins boat. A Higgins boat was originally designed for landing US Marines on a beachhead. After the war, Higgins boats were sold as government surplus. They were strong, had new diesel engines and were sold cheap. A boatyard could remove the huge door at the bow and add on a solid blunt bow. Then they'd put in a nice cabin, four berths and a galley. These were strong boats that could still be run up on any little quiet sandy beach area in the river delta. On Friday evenings Larry's father would drive us to Antioch. We'd board the boat with our sleeping bags, and he'd cast off the lines. He'd find a nice beach area in one of the back sloughs, and run the boat's bow up on the sand. Larry and I'd sleep on deck. In the morning we'd jump off the boat to the sand and explore the tule grass for frogs and snakes. That was then; the Delta was quiet and remote. Today the Delta is roiling with water skiers, jet boats and big twin diesel powerboats. Green grassy hills with grazing cattle are now hills being paved with new houses that are rolled out like sod lawn on twenty-acre tracts. Each house with its own little land patch, minimum offsets, privacy fences, two stories, a small square of lawn in front and a short driveway. People move in with a half million dollar mortgage. The four-lane highway is being expanded to six lanes and is jammed at 4 o'clock. Gone is Port Sidney's quiet life where it took two hours to take a small bag of garbage to the bins near the harbor office - because it took two hours of casual kibitizing, small talk and mini conversations with friends along the main dock.

Perhaps I've become a sandpeep. Dockwalkers stop and say, "Beautiful boat."

I agree.

They say, "When 'ya sailing to Hawaii?"

I answer, "Probably never."

A sandpeep is a very conservative sailor who never goes far from shore. A sandpeep never goes into water that's over its head. I met a Coast Guardsman whose father was a career Navy man, a gnarled submariner. The son joined the Coast Guard and was stationed at the Coast Guard entrance stations aboard the surf-boats. He served aboard those surf-boats located at west coast river outlets with wave-breaking sand bars. He regularly went across the bar, through breaking inlet combers to help guide boats in and save lives. The crews, strapped into those boats, sometimes were rolled 360° in the tumbling crest of an ocean breaker. His father called the son a "sandpeep" because he didn't go to sea. Some sandpeep! Maybe I should care about this hierarchy of achievements. But I don't! In our way Ellen and I enjoy this time so much.

 

With regards, Terry and Ellen


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