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June 30, 2002

Port Sidney Harbor, British Columbia, Canada

48° 39.13' N 123° 23.62 W

 

The ashen gray veil of winter has been lifted. The morning sun, not seen for nine long months, is showing in the usually darkened eastern sky. Sailors and power-boaters walk the docks here in Sidney, sniffing the spring air, chatting again. Me? I feel fire and heat. It's great! I can say that I feel like I have downed a firkin of ale.

A dock walk near the few old wood boats moored here brings on the smell of fresh paint and varnish signaling spring outfitting. I keep reminiscing of boat building and sailing with my father in the 1950's. He was so fussy about boat care. "Spring outfitting" meant carefully sanding and painting our boat, varnishing the brightwork, polishing the brass (my job), scrubbing the decks and freshening the eye splice on a three strand manila anchor rode. Like it or not, some values are well set in childhood, and they're still influencing me today. However, it's a bit different in 2002. "Spring outfitting", especially on some of the "harbor queens" berthed in this classy marina, means something else. The owner hires another person to do it. "Spring outfitting" refers to a controlled assault on the owner's yacht by a trained professional yacht maintenance crew. While the owner is vacationing elsewhere ­ perhaps Italy or Hawaii - the maintenance crew uses random orbital buffers, 3M polishing compound, the right wax and stainless steel polish. Following the polishing and buffing comes the application of "special-cleaning paste" on the smoky tinted lexan windows that wrap sleekly around the main cabin sides and extend astern to the chic double doors opening to the stern deck and transom platform. True, some poorer people still do their own maintenance in the old way ­ they do it themselves. With these synthetic yachts of 2002, just seasonally buffing up with cleaning compounds, doesn't seem traditional. Thinking about it, maybe I'm envious of all this new stuff. It makes maintenance so damn much easier. While these boats don't have the romance of legendary wood boat designs, they can, in just three days, be made to look like new. If all boats were made of wood today, like the boats that required the upkeep of boats of the 1950's, 90 percent of us would not be able to afford to keep anything larger than a small skiff. I suppose we'll eventually say goodbye to varnished raised-panel cabin sides, caulked teak decks and shiny round bronze portlights as people forget. Then dry rot will weaken those old wood hulls, and they'll slowly settle to the bottom.

At Sidney Marina there's a lively beginning for the summer season. The marina maintenance crew is busy hanging newly planted flower baskets from brackets on all the pilings. There's new sweaters and sweatshirts with logos for sale in the marina office. At the main entrance on center dock, the canvas sides on the little tent kiosk have now been raised. It's open for business again. The new sign propped up in the walkway advertises, "Salmon Burger @ $5.50 CDN, Ice Cream Cones @ $2.00 CDN and Organic Espresso Lattes @ $2.75 or $3.50 CDN for large". The resident Trumpeter swans showed up with four new babies (Signets??). Yesterday morning, the harbor seal 'Elvis' coasted by our berth and rolled on his back. He looks fatter. Even the harbormaster seems to have less ice in his bones. All of us seem to have forgotten January's ongoing windy days and morning snow on the docks.

"Love of Liberty" has been scrubbed and varnished. Her tanks are full. We've got 22 northwest charts stored under the foreward berth. We've read the cruising guides, and we've heard all the local stories about the rapids up north, the narrows, the reefs, some shoals, the currents and the best coves in the Discovery Islands. Don't go ashore on an Indigenous People's Reservation. While this storytelling with all the warnings makes me worry, it also heightens what is left of my youthful curiosity. "Afternoon winds in Johnstone Straight are heavy." "Enter Seymour Narrows at the last of the flood and keep the decks clear of loose stuff as current back eddies can twist, jerk or turn the boat in a second." "Watch for the black bears swimming in the little channel."

Sailing friends, those that we met over the winter, are mostly dyed-in-the-wool cruisers. They are leaving Port Sidney for the season as they have cruising plans for Mexico, the Inside Passage, Desolation Sound, the Gulf Islands or Alaska. 'Till next fall there'll be no more Tuesday night dinners together. We've had our last pint of Rickards Dark Ale at the Boondocks Pub. The barmaid (barperson?) Stacy said "g'bhy" in her South African accent. Right now a third of the marina berths are empty. On June 30 we too will slip the dock lines, the power cord and the computer's Shaw Cable connection. Seeking solitude and quiet picturesque anchorages, "Love of Liberty" will head north for a revisit to Princess Louisa Inlet, then on to the Discovery Islands and the Queen Charlottes.

Just why, with all of us "regulars" leaving, were the marina's concrete floats pressure washed and scrubbed? Why were electrical stanchions and hose bibs wiped and polished? Why were the mooring cleats painted, and why is the harbor master coaching and prepping a cadre of young dock helpers all wearing blue polo shirts with Port Sidney logos? Sidney's main street, Beacon Street, has been repaved.

Sidney town is graciously readying for the summer onslaught, and a good onslaught it is for the coffers. The city gates will open wide for a flood of incoming yachties from Washington State and Canada's outreaches. They are urban mariners fleeing Seattle, leaving behind the jammed freeways, stress, overwork, and accumulated miseries to make an approach for Port Sidney. They appear on the Haro Straight horizon, compass courses set for the red buoy at the breakwater. Others of different sufferings come from the more distant Canadian provinces searching for a warm vacation in British Columbia. All of the boats fall in a line near the customs dock to wait, rolling gently port to starboard - waiting sometimes ten deep - -for a clearance and a berth assignment. Primped up and primed for business, staff all smiling, the marina awaits. Be ready to pay. My berth that costs $11 per day during the winter will go up to the summer rate of $60 per day plus $4 if you use electricity at the berth. I can't blame the town for mining this. The winter is thin; the summer is fat. Where would you place your stake? It's what the market will bear. Lord Keynes, the economist, stated simply "A product is worth what a ready and willing buyer will pay for it." On this Friday, a gathering of huge "ready and willing" Ocean Alexander power yachts arrives.

I have to leave. I can't afford Sidney in the summer. The next report will be from somewhere up north.

With warm regards,

Terry and Ellen

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