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Rubber Boots for the Record

0899528_1Rubber Boots 08-25-82:  So read the penciled notation in the softness of the wood studs supporting the unfinished basement wall, my father’s strong printed letters at once recognizable. This meant that on the twenty-fifth day of August  in the year 1982 he purchased a pair of rubber boots and that fact was record worthy.   That was my father, a man of record. If fact was not in evidence, if memory faltered, if truth were to be known, he kept a record.  It was not always possible to see eye-to-eye with my father for he was possessed of a certain conviction that his lifetime had afforded him sufficient wisdom to grant him the right to pass it on to his children.  Although as his daughter, I found it exceedingly more valuable to make my own mistakes, you could not argue with the record.  Whether the paperboy had been paid, if in doubt his weight lifting discipline still held, or the actors who had played James Bond,  you could find these facts on the basement studs just as in his youth you could find moments of record on the walls of his boyhood  garage.  The value of this insight was lost to us as city kids.  My sisters and I had the attention span of a gnat, fascinated for a few entries low enough to read. My father never lost his compulsion to make a note of those every day happenings in his life whether by pencil, or later with camera and so it is with mixed feeling I read his rubber boot notation for the last time as I close the door and move from the house we shared for the last year of his life.


This change in lifestyle comes with a wood located nearby and for the first time I can walk through old growth trees lush with thick moss clinging to their sides, branches as cathedral arches vaulting overhead. The dog and I  have our own route established, one not so popular to attract those who meander and meet their neighbours. Steeply recessed beams of wood form a series of  stairs and they twist and turn their way to a rather lovely view. The logging road leads from the top of the hill, crisscrosses the path at its height and returns with  long stretches of playful runs for the dog.


After our trek, there is always the drink from  the fresh water stream that races us to the bottom of the wood and swells to push its boundaries as Spring approaches.  These walks find me reminiscing and thinking of my father, the man of record and his rubber boots.  Too many years ago, he gifted me a pair of those farmer style, black rubber boots, manufactured with a rust colored band around the foot and another just below the knee where the top displayed the name brand.  The thick soles were fashioned with a zigzag tread,  the number in relief indicating the size on the bottom.  Included with the boots was a pair of appropriately sized insoles, firm and blue to keep the feet warm.  Fashionable rubber boots, those splashed with color or highlighted and painted with flowers or geometric design, buckles on the top,  were on the market even then and through the lens of my egocentric little life I thanked him and sincerely wished he’d get with the program. His was the era of courtesy, one where love was demonstrated but not spoken.  In that last year, when there was no  time clock to punch, he would make it his duty to be about in the morning and see me off to work.  I wished for solitude as I rushed to be ready, explaining in frustration he had no need to be out of bed so early.  I will always remember his reply. He believed it was better to start the day with a personal send off, knowing someone cared about your going and awaited your return.   I’m not so sure I wore the boots very much. I do know that as the years passed, they took their place in the garage with the sneakers that were worn only for yard work and when we decided to move, I know they were sold in the yard sale. Less  sure I am even that his notation recorded the purchase of my boots.


This Winter my feet have been perpetually wet and cold as we have left behind the snow storms of the East to acclimatize ourselves to the wet that is the season in the West and life on a boat.  We have passed many a cold night under cover of blanket layers, questioning the veracity of the West Coast boast that promised light rains and lawn mowing in February.  I came round to the idea of rubber boots after a visit to the local chandlery saw my partner’s feet adorned with a practical number cut to the ankle, easily pulled on and very stylish.  My e-commerce hunt confirmed no better deals than those on the Island we call home-for-now.


And still the small brook rages on its way through the wood and the smooth stones sing of the water’s ancient passage.  Slippery wooden bridges affixed with grating secure old feet.  Mine are old and passage has been cautioned by well worn muddied puddles, leash and dog in hand, pausing for her to taste the vibrant cold of the water’s gift.  But that day I spurned the bridge and flaunt  freedom to stand amidst the rushing and every day henceforth, impervious now to cold and wet.  Like the kid I once was,  I plough through the water and brave the deepest, clear, bright pools.  Caught unaware by a passerby, I almost apologize for leaving the path  but giggle and remember then I am wearing my new boots, tall and rubber, practical and black.


British Columbia Nautical Residents Assoc February 2017 Newsletter

BCNRABC Nautical Residents Newsletter Feb 2017

Confusing Jesus and Santa

I’ve been thinking  about Christmas or rather, about the power of the idea of Christmas.   Not just the combination of a Christmas tree; how we decorate them, why we bring them indoors, where we place them or the gifts; why we give them, who gets them, how many we give, but of the coming together with ‘family’ or a reasonable facsimile for family when our biological equivalents aren’t with us. As parents, we all feel sad if our children are not in the same room with us on Christmas morning. There’s even that nostalgia of longing for those little ones they once were. Even after a lifetime of transitioning from being the recipient of Christmas to becoming the creators of Christmas, we hold to our ideas of what Christmas should be and are disappointed, depressed, or drunk when it isn’t.


There seems to be no other celebration in our lives that warrants the same devotion to the memories of tradition.  Unlike birthdays with a cake and a present,  there is the tree and the gifts, the decorating and the food, and the person of Santa Claus with his role in rewarding the ‘good’ ones and punishing the ‘naughty’ ones. I remember vividly the fear of actually receiving a ‘lump of coal’ in my stocking, even though I had no real experience with coal, let alone knew what a lump looked like. Funny how always the word ‘lump’ was combined with coal; ‘lump of coal’ not ‘chunk of coal’ or ‘rock of coal’ a description that made you think of scary things like Quasimodo, witches or goblins, or things that go bump in the night, purposefully meant to coerce good behaviour  from any believing child. I had a vague notion of what a ‘switch’ was, having been on the receiving end of the Alder branch my father cut to administer his unique brand of discipline in the back seat of the Volkswagen. I doubt whether my parents actually considered putting a lump of coal and a switch at the bottom of my Christmas stocking,  but rather liked the idea of the threat and using it to make me behave.  Rather distorted when I think back.


Read “T’was The Night Before Christmas”, any controversy surrounding its origins notwithstanding, made anonymously public in 1823 and attributed fourteen years later to Clement Moore, for a  description of Santa Claus as the “right jolly old elf” who lugged the presents in a sack and came down a chimney, and who was transported in this task by eight reindeer, all of whom he knew personally. These facts were impressed upon us at a very young age  by my father who recited all fifty-six lines every year until it became what we embraced as our own Christmas tradition. No less part of Christmas than his quirky rendition of the line; “tore open the shutters and threw up the sash” as “tore open the shutters and threw up on the sash”.  Every year we waited for him to make this ‘mistake’.  Very much like his singing of the Christian hymn, “I Shall Wear a Golden Crown When I Get Home” which he sang as; “I Shall Wear a Golden Crown, If I Get Home.”  Despite this, as children my sisters and I were not raised to believe that this jolly old elf was the bearer of our presents.  There was never that gut wrenching moment when we discovered the lie, no school chum let the cat out of the bag to ruin everything.  Instead, we knew our mother was really in charge of Christmas.  It was rumored that as a girl, she herself had been devastated to learn the truth of Santa Claus and wished to spare her own children this disappointment.  Instead of the whole thing hinging on one Christmas character, the myth was embraced as part of the traditions and we came to accept this willingly. Together with “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Keep Christ in Christmas”, we sang in Christmas concerts at church and wrapped up the celebration like everyone else.


It is in thinking about Santa Claus that brings Christmas to my mind this year, so distinctly attired we would all recognize him if we met him, and the associated premise of receiving a gift only if you are on the nice list. The naughty are acknowledged, but no child would believe for a moment they would arrive at Christmas on the naughty list. “You better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout, I’m telling you why…” Even if there had been a year of extraordinarily bad behaviour, somehow arriving at Christmas exempts us all from thinking the consequence would be a lump of coal.  Children and adults alike catch the spirit of Christmas and for a season hope they’ll be excused, or forgiven.


Because Christmas is both a secular and religious observance, we spend our lives mixing the pleasures of retail therapy with “O Holy Night”, togetherness and good will toward men with the picture of Santa offering a thirst quenching Coca Cola, huge servings of abundance, with charity towards those less fortunate.  We know we are capable of better and Christmas is the season that reminds us the good receive gifts. This is where we confuse the two faces of Christmas, holy and happy.  Carrying on our Christmas traditions will make us happy. You will be happy if your children are in the same room with you on Christmas morning, opening up the presents you have worked hard all year to afford.  You have expended great energy in decorating the tree, and the house and labored long over the meal all of you will share.  You have given to those less fortunate.  You have even attended the church service, or the candlelight ceremony that gives a religious nod to the holy part.  It’s all so exhausting, especially when we do all that and yet we are not happy.


Religion has done Jesus a disservice I think, it has made Him out to be Santa Claus. Years of holiday advertising allows us to recognize Santa but Jesus has remained a baby in a barn and at Christmas, that’s how we celebrate Him.  Jesus, like Santa becomes a  benevolent creation with gifts to give to those who are good and we all believe we are good. There is no other time of year when this becomes more apparent than Christmas. We may not believe in the existence of Jesus, like  Santa – but we still hope to be happy if we just uphold all our traditions and celebrate with everyone else. Even though as kids we knew there was no Santa, we still believed we would get presents.  No. That’s not true.  We didn’t just believe we would get presents, we knew we would because our mother was in charge of Christmas and we had faith she would create all that we came to believe was what Christmas should be.


Have you heard?  You won’t see it until you believe it.   We had faith. Somewhere between there and here religion tried diligently to convince me that if I was good, I would get gifts.  This I know, is a myth of Santa proportion. The gifts have been given to me and they are already mine and there is no correlation between my goodness and the giving of gifts. Believing in myself is not required. In fact nothing is required of me. That is the essence of a gift. Even though I had no idea what coal looked like, I knew it wasn’t something a ‘good’ child received at Christmas.  Instinctively I knew as well, that candy canes and chocolates were more to my liking. No one had to tell me the difference. I knew what a good gift was. James says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”


I believe the real joy of Christmas is just accepting the gift. If you choose not to get past the layers of religion that has wrapped up and covered the simple giving of a gift,  it matters little how well you celebrate Christmas or whether you celebrate at all.


Wayfinder: Find Her. Keep Her.

We came upon Wayfinder through the same means we came to find all the other potential liveaboard sailboats – through Kijiji or Craigslist or the local used sailboat platforms on the internet.  We traipsed through half a dozen local marinas, walking up and down the docks looking for “For Sale” signs, most of which had faded lettering, tiny print and were flapping in the wind.  The recurring theme seemed to be the “once upon a dream” of owning a boat, turned into decaying hulks of long overlooked deterioration quietly stagnating at a berth no one ever visited.  We viewed over six or seven boats, even accommodating one owner as volunteer crew in transporting his boat closer to home. We offered on one boat within the first two weeks, thinking this was the one.  When the transaction failed, we were disappointed but continued to look at other options. We enlisted local expertise to offer opinions on where to exercise caution. We stepped into the world of marine mechanics and hull surveyors,  accepted the knowledge of those who lived that world.


There were owners who tried valiantly to convince us theirs was  truly an enviable prize while in the same breath, they asked us to recognize the work that needed to be done.  “It’s a project for someone.” they’d say.  The dichotomy of their pitch and the condition of their boat left us wondering whether there existed a boat that met our few requirements.  We would be living aboard, so there needed to be a minimum of space, something beyond 35 feet.  I’ve come to understand the relationship of the beam size to the width of a boat, so there needed to be something sufficiently wide so as to allow two people individual space. The transition from living in 1,200 square feet of space over two levels, in a home on land to a tiny house on water, would ask for patience and understanding and the list of requirements could not be extensive or expensive. We were content to keep our hopes and imagination  relative to our budget.  We were not simply switching from a house on land to a house on water. We were seeking a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle.


As the list of viewed boats grew, I realized I wasn’t interested in the slick and the sleek, but was drawn toward boats of a certain age.  These boats set themselves apart by their appearance; long curved lines, wooden accents, teak decks, but this also meant cushions needed replacement, and equipment was worn. I realize now, most of them represented the kind of house I’ve always owned, one most would pass over as requiring too much investment – of time and money.  Quickly we got to the part where the asking price reflected the distance between the potential value and the work required. Still, I was reminded of the brick behemoth I once called home.  Over two levels with eleven foot ceilings, six marble fireplaces and a huge chunk of ancient subterranean mechanics pumping heat throughout, the only impression that remained with me after viewing was the four-windowed widow’s watch on the roof that overlooked the harbour and the history of the widow after whom it was named.  The widow’s watch gave the woman, the wife, a vantage point from which to wait the safe return of her seafaring husband.  I climbed the curving staircase accessing this tiny enclave (which was simply a four sided box on top the roof) and fell in love with the whole thing, renovations and all.


When the word ‘cottage’ is used to describe a sailboat, I question whether the owner thinks a serious prospect would take a second look.  In fact, this advertised boat was a motorsailer and looked long enough to compete with the Titanic. There were rust stains streaking from the portholes and it was well and truly tired. Having nothing to lose, we asked if we could take a look.  The boat was moored at Salt Spring Island.


Many marinas, many strolls on the docks gave us a fairly good idea of what it costs to park your boat at a marina. The marinas offer services of varying degrees usually electricity, waste disposal, laundry, mail services, a marine supply shop, sometimes a pub or restaurant. They line themselves up along the coast and to the untrained eye you might think all the boats in their entirety represent one marina.  Far from this.  The huge aluminum clad ‘houses’ are one class of boat owner and are lined up like little toy soldiers along quaintly numbered docks, their gleaming bright civic numbers and ‘in case of emergency’ information at the door. These usually belong to the more private types and discourage liveaboards.  Alongside these sharing the same water, you find docks extended with hundreds of boats tied to them. These would be the community marinas, and there is usually a waiting list for ‘liveaboards’.  At the come-one-come-all type of marina, you have options to stay a certain number of nights per month  without committing to the month in its entirety and the charges are reasonable.  It was our good fortune to find one of these at Maple Bay located in the Cowichan region on Vancouver Island, in the heart of the Gulf Islands. Our reconnaissance took us there with a local gentleman who was kind enough to offer his boat-buying advice.  We enjoyed a cold one on a beautiful September afternoon.


marina boat houses

When we arrived at Salt Spring we were reminiscing about our visit there two years ago.  We had toured the docks then, longing after boats of various sizes.  One boat in particular caught Paul’s attention.  “Now there’s a beauty.” he had said.  I followed his gaze and my first impression was the boat was in serious need of a paint job.  Paul couldn’t resist the impulse to get a closer look and we turned our leaving around and walked back to the dock where Snowbird was tied.  The owner happened to be on board effecting some type of repairs and was more than congenial in his feedback about the boat itself, about living on Salt Spring Island and about pointing us toward his other boat moored in Salt Spring Harbour. After snapping a view shots of the boat, we decided to try and find the other boat he owned and walked over in that direction.  It was hard to pinpoint because the harbour was filled with boats.  The only distinction he gave was that it was a fairly large boat and was moored, which means he sunk a giant weight attached to a rope and tied the boat a ways from the actual docks.  I was coming to understand there were other ways to park in a harbour that negated the necessity of paying marina fees.  More photos and we made our way back to the car.  The photo of Snowbird became my computer’s screensaver for some months after.


Not long after approaching the dock, a small skiff motors up and a gentleman introduces himself.  We exchange names all around as he offers us a short motor to the boat for sale.  I know you’re there ahead of me but it took me the entire tour and the return trip to the dock to realize this was Snowbird’s owner and we had just toured his second boat.  Although Paul was a bit dubious of my first impression, I could see something in the bones.  The roughness of both the interior and exterior was due to being relegated to storage status and filled with the accruements of a sewing business and surplus furniture.  He had never lived aboard her but purchased her from the owner who had lived aboard herself from the time the boat was repossessed in Panama from the builder over 36 years ago. Yes indeed, it even had a history.  I could go on to describe her,  but suffice it to say the registered length is 53.9′ with a registered width of 15.4′. It is a motorsailer with a Ferro cement hull, a 1976 Samsom 55 Auxiliary Ketch, weighing approximately 40 tons. It is powered by a 1980 Perkins 6354, 120 horsepower marine diesel engine and that’s as marine-techie as I will be.


She had sat at the mooring for at least three years.  Like so many others we had viewed, the idea of owning her was one thing the practicality of sailing her, quite another.  She had become a storage shed and her decks displayed a variety of once used lawn chairs, tanks, and inflatables; her interior, sewing machines, bolts of fabric, a mass of tools and equipment – not all in working order, but all easily explained.  Any thought of moving her to assess the potential meant a diver was employed to release as much gunk as he could from the propeller – an auspicious beginning indeed.  It was decided we would take on the challenge.  I had faith this could be what we had searched for and so did Paul. Not in its present condition – let’s not be too naive, but it had potential. I had walked into the ‘widow’s watch’.


We arranged with the owner to have the boat hauled out of the water.  To our great relief, the owner had 35 years worth of relationships with marine experts and his good buddy at Lindstrom Marine scheduled us for a lift.  Just around the corner from our mooring,  Lindstrom Marine had the lift and the expertise to get a 55 foot boat safely out of and back into the water.  The owner assured us that this would be accomplished under his personal supervision before he left on holiday.  Lindstrom Marine is located at Maple Bay – coincidentally, the very same we had toured a month ago and we stayed overnight on the boat Sunday to be ready for our leaving Monday morning.  We were scheduled in Maple Bay for a Monday afternoon appointment. Paul scraped the hull of as much reachable life before we cast off the numerous ropes that held the boat in  place next to Grace Islet.


It was sloggingly slow and we arrived just after our anticipated time.  By two in the afternoon, the power was off at Maple Bay and everyone had gone home.  We hit the pub, had a beer or two and the owner traveled back to Salt Spring leaving us to spend another night onboard.  Tuesday we discover the mast that holds the radar was too tall to accommodate the lift and needed to be removed.  As I walked the dog, Paul managed to loosen the connections for lift off.  Wednesday all day the boat had Linstrom’s undivided attention and we were back in the water Thursday. In that time the hull was scraped, pressure washed, inspected and painted with new zincs affixed and propeller treated. We got the prize for being the first to fill their dumpster and the star fish got a reprieve as they were plunked back into the water.


Up to this point we’ve agreed to buy the boat provided the hull inspection was satisfactory and it was.  The rest are details. In the bigger scheme of things they are inconsequential and profit no one in the telling.  Paul and I and the dog, Bella hope to transition to life aboard within the next week or two and begin the process of prioritizing how that will be done. It did not escape my notice that this same boat was moored not 100 feet from Grace Islet, the saga of which I had followed from my computer in New Brunswick, many months prior.  It seemed there was a wealthy land owner who had purchased the Islet on which to build his home.  The construction had been aborted upon the discovery of graves. This brought the native residents to protest and the government subsequently bought out the builder making him a very wealthy man.


There have been several times over the last week when the circumstances required Bella to encounter a life she has never known. Perhaps only to me, her face takes on a certain countenance and she physically shakes.  She has spent the past nine years of her life in much the same day-to-day with the biggest excitement being the walks in unfamiliar woods, so the prospect of being strapped into a life jacket and hauled up a 20 foot ladder to the deck of a boat is foreign to her, to say the least.  Nonetheless, I know that as long as I am there with her and she sees me, she is assured of her own safety even though her surroundings are completely strange. The unknown then becomes doable.  So like me; “I know who holds my future and I know who holds my hand.”

Wayfinder @ Maple Bay Marina for Haulout (8)

Blissfully Unaware

A throw back to the Baby Boomer generation would name it the Unemployment office, but in the political correctness of the day, it is now the Employment office.  Makes a certain sense I think. You go there looking for work not unemployment, although you wouldn’t go there is you were employed. Life’s ambiguities always catch my attention. I approached the receptionist and advised her of my purpose and was instructed to take a seat.  The waiting room wasn’t filled, there was no real flurry of activity, yet she met every person who approached her counter with a mouthful of food, gingerly fingering the morsels that attempted escape, pushing and shoving them between the muffle of words she would try to voice at the same time she chewed.  How very odd I thought.  The spectacle drew my focus downward for it was hardly possible to ignore the cut of her dress.  I love the phrase “ample bosom” all by itself that phrase creates a visual.  You can imagine, without encouragement, what an ample bosom would do if inadequately restrained by a neckline meant for an after hours soiree. It might have been in the moment she checked herself in the mirror that morning; it might have been in the car, when she pressed her lipstick to her lips in the rear view mirror, the neckline might have passed muster, for it only allowed an inch or two of cleavage to peek atop the straight cutaway of her dress.  It all might have worked if not for the fact her job description required her to bend over, straighten up again, turn around, lean back, you get the picture. Little imagination needed. She simultaneously pushed the food back, checked appropriate repetitive responses, and kept “the girls” at bay, oblivious to the show, a talent that could rival a circus clown juggling as if his life depended on it.

I would have dismissed the whole affair as a “one off”.  You know, those occasions where training facilitators convince you the customer service received by their company was an exception to the prescribed exemplary behavior; very close to not really ever having happened at all. On this occasion it made me think about being the one there for employment help, while clearly this woman needed help. It could have been a one off, if it were not for having occasion to be in the same office the following week.

By ten o’clock in the morning that day, it was already hot. Stepping inside the double set of heavy doors, anyone having to wait was grateful for the air conditioning.  I had slipped into a permit parking spot rationalizing that if ticketed I could plead necessity, for the visitors’ parking lot was already full.  A police cruiser was pulling up as I entered, joining another already parked outside the main doors. The reason became evident the moment I stepped inside. To my right, in my peripheral view  two officers were snugged up alongside a young, heavy set man with short dark hair.  I vaguely recall his offsetting, straight ahead focus. In crisp sharp black uniforms, they crowded him and he bolted. Striking out like a wild horse in the desperate last moments of freedom.  I made a wide circle around the melee where the officers had his face to the cool of the stone floor, hands behind his back.  A flash of shiny chrome as the handcuffs were employed.  I had reached the receptionist counter where at least a dozen people were standing in awe of the proceedings, not really sure how to respond.  Many backed away.  A few expletives betrayed the surprise, most were on their feet or standing at a safe distance.

At this moment the receptionist stands behind the safety of her counter and having been oblivious up to this point, turns her attention to whatever the commotion might be. Realizing at last this is not something that happens every day she cries out;  “Someone call the police!” and does so with a great deal of sound and authority.  “They are the police.” came the meek reply from a young girl protecting her coffee cup.

I wasted no time in finding the room where I was to join the seminar.  I lingered no longer than it took to confirm the young man was in custody.  The remainder of his day would not go as he may have planned when he got out of bed that morning. Miss Blissfully unaware receptionist sat back down, satisfied she had done all she could.

I’m one of the lucky ones I thought as I found a chair close to the front of the room.  I wasn’t taken away in a police cruiser that morning.   I wasn’t a government clerk trying to explain some convoluted policy of reimbursement for re-training. I wasn’t the angry young man.

And more grateful I was than any of those in attendance that morning, I was not the gainfully employed, fully benefited, duly trained and utterly unaware receptionist.


Lone Dog

Irene Rutherford Mcleod (1891 – 1968)

I’m a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog and lone;

I’m a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own.

I’m a bad dog, a mad dog,  teasing silly sheep.

I love to sit and bay the moon to keep fat souls from sleep.

I’ll never be a lap dog, licking dirty feet.

A sleek dog, a meek dog, cringing for my meat.

Not for me the fireside, a well filled plate.

But shut door and sharp stone and cuff and kick and hate.

Not for me the other dogs, running by my side.

Some have run a short while, but none of them would bide;

O mine is still the lone trail, the hard trail, the best.

Wide wind and wild stars and the hunger of the quest.

Words Past