Monday, January 26, 2009

THE WEST COAST. Waves and Particles.

                              Long Beach.

Like Russian dolls within dolls, here on the West Coast of Canada we have multiples. Saltspring Island has a west coast, as does the mainland to the east of us across the Strait of Georgia. When we say “The West Coast” however, we mean that ultimate part of Vancouver Island that dips it`s mountains into the open Pacific Ocean. Beyond, is nothing but salt water and eventually, Japan.
                             West Coast Sunrise.

In the Fall, Heather and I drive across ‘the big Island’ to Long Beach. We are to spend a while with my daughter Elaine and her family and are very lucky with the weather: sunny, splendid days. The first morning we watch the dawn slowly paint the bay before us with pearly grey light and then, as the sun breaches the horizon, a burst of colour flashes on to a red sailboat and paints the hills behind in three dimensions.

                           The horizon.
In the afternoon we walk a forest trail that winds along the outer coast. Rocky points, narrow fern draped defiles, stunted and wind tossed evergreens shaped by Pacific gales. The surf flashes white on black rocks. Heather and I find our eyes drawn to the long, wave tossed curve of the western horizon. It is now seven years since someone standing in this spot could have caught a glimpse of our schooner Shiriri with her gaff sails just small dancing dots on the horizon as we sailed home from Australia. We pause several times on the walk to scan the horizon. Even now this automatic act is still branded into us. That which, when we first sailed along this coast spoke of fear of the unknown, is now a powerful reality we have become strengthened by and built into our lives.

Later, at sunset, I walk a trail beside the Coast Guard Station and Lighthouse at Ucluelet. The light in the tower sends it`s code of flashes out toward the western horizon even as the setting sun nicks the sea`s edge. Science tells us that the sun`s energy rolls toward us both as waves and as particles in another kind of code that is constantly recreating the reality I see around me. If I also choose to imagine the sun as a celestial being who dips below the edge of the earth and circles around to bring dawn and the miracle of light to a new day is that really anymore improbable for my everyday senses to grasp? I keep both versions balanced in my mind as darkness finds me still stumbling alone on the rocky shore snapping last photos of black rocky outcrops, a flashing lighthouse, and the Evening Star`s reflection in a tidal pool, backed by the afterglow of a vanished sunset.
                              Sunset and Evening Star.

Another afternoon we walk the wide sands of Long Beach as the Pacific swells send surf rolling shoreward to make foamy fans upon the beach. The tide is far out now and the mist from the surf blows across the wide, miles-long sandy beach. Our granddaughter Katie is with us as we strain to keep her parents in sight as they take a well earned break to play far out in the surf. Such a sturdy little person: how naturally she trots across the hard sand and stops to examine an interesting shell or piece of seaweed. What natural first steps into this very large, beautiful, constantly changing, windswept word.

                         Like, Far Out!

I climb a rocky islet set in the beach and find three young men sharing a sandwich lunch and gazing out to sea. No conversation, just rapt attention to the waves rolling endlessly toward them. They find no words to encompass this pattern of endless conversion of ocean waves into surf, this immense vista on the edge of the earth. They don`t need words right now: they just need to feel it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Night Ferry.

I`ve been dropped off by my daughter Gwyn at the Swartz Bay ferry terminal an hour before the last ferry of the evening leaves for Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island. I will be a foot passenger tonight for a change and then walk the last four miles to my home. I have my camera with me and rather than sit in the waiting room where a family with small children is noisily playing hide and seek, I step outside into the cool, misty, December night.
Just over a half hour ferry ride away across the sea it will be dark and quiet as I walk along a country road, but here I am surrounded by the brightly lit steel structures of the major ferry hub for Vancouver Island: piers, ramps, docked super ferries, all dressed up in floodlight and shadow. An opportunity to do some night photography.

The time passes quickly as I record a place that is commonplace for me in daylight but full of interest now with this dramatic lighting. The Skeena Queen arrives and I capture the blurred images of it`s departing passengers and cars. Now it`s my turn to trot down the ramp with boarding pass in hand. The noisy passenger lounge on the ferry is full of a returning youth soccer team so I retreat once more and climb to the upper deck. Up here I watch the cars being loaded and the ferry`s careful exit from the dock. Even though I`m expecting it, the horn for departure makes me jump: it`s so loud up here. One other shadowy figure on the upper deck jumps with me in unison. The ferry headlights are turned on as we sidle out into the bay and I photograph the fog billowing over the bow and the cars. If I had been travelling with a companion or could sit in my car I would not be experiencing all this lonely splendor.

For all my fascination, the cold wind of the ferry`s passage through the foggy air cuts through my clothes and I retreat to the noisy, warm lounge. Soon we are entering our island harbour and shoving our bow into the little dock at Fulford Harbour. As the last cars zoom off into the dark I notice the other foot passenger I saw on the upper deck. He has put down his bulging back pack and basket and is unlocking his bicycle from a bike stand. Someone else beside myself will be silently travelling the misty roads tonight.

The little village is silent now on this damp Sunday evening as I walk up the hill and leave the lights of the ferry terminal behind. There is something about walking that alters the way one sees things. That man with the bike who is struggling along with his load somewhere on a different road from mine - his and my experiences are so different from the people in cars who even now are halfway across this island: warm, isolated in their rushing steel boxes, their minds on a multitude of things. Perhaps they are planning their work for tomorrow, while we two are listening to the owls calling off in the dark overhanging trees and can wonder if that bear that was sighted recently killing sheep nearby may be even now watching us! We may not have the dramatic structures of the mechanical age we have left behind over the water, but we can find our own life drama if we mix a little imagination with this foggy dark night!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Shiriri Saga # 80. The Last Hurrah!

Home waters.

Sept 7th.
There lies Race Rocks lighthouse and the city of Victoria stretched out ahead of us. A sports fisherman in his little motorboat, trolling his lines behind, turns in a curve and crosses right in front of us. Legally he is in the right (sort of), but so STUPID as we swerve to miss him - I`m aware that I have switched to anger in a split second. We are suddenly in a hurry to have showers and prepare for checking into our own country for a change. The flood tide and our fores`l rush us quickly forward and as usual we feel the complicated emotions that have been there at every landfall: partly relief that we have survived the voyage, partly excitement about the land we will be soon be walking around on but also a good portion of regret that we will be leaving this most primal of experiences on the great ocean. All our feelings now are powerful ones.

At the harbour entrance we drop our sails and hoist our large Canadian flag - our usual smaller one has disintegrated from sun and wind some time ago. As we motor past Fisherman`s Wharf, our daughter Elaine comes running down the gangway waving wildly. This has been a hard voyage for us, but also hard on those who could only wait and worry at home. There is so much noise: float planes taxi and rev their engines, traffic noises, the sounds of many people doing their city business. I feel assaulted and remember our last sight of land sixty-seven days ago -those islands in the evening light at Tarawa and the great timeless interlude in between.

Customs and immigration done with, we greet our family and friends and settle in for three days dockside in the Inner Harbour. We have arrived exactly three years since we departed. I step ashore and stagger a little as I feel for my land legs and find Gwyn and Elaine supporting me on either side as we walk up to the restaurant. I eat the biggest hamburger I can find. That meat tastes fantastic! I wolf it down! The next morning as I step out of the shower in the marina facilities I see myself in the mirror. Who is this very skinny ancient mariner I see? My arms and legs are pipe-stems, my ribs press hard against the skin: no wonder my girls grabbed me as I staggered ashore.

We radio Moonflight for the last time to let them know in Puget Sound that we are safely home, do the same for the Seafarer`s Net who have tracked us for so long and proceed to find that the voyage is fading back into the past already. We have become people of the present moment during the past three years and are now focused on another familiar task, adapting to a land reality. I am still way too prepped and primed for trouble though, and the let down for me will be a slow process. I`ve adapted to a wild reality and adjusting back to the niceties of Canadian society will be difficult. Partly, it just does take a while, but also I liked who I was on Shiriri; what I found out about myself and the world, and am reluctant to accept another tamer identity. Until I adapt and find new and interesting ways to express myself I will continue to go through the motions in society while still emotionally standing watch on a windswept horizon.

Shiriri motors north with the flood tide up Haro Strait , past Sidney and lies at anchor off Portland Island just across the water from our land home on Salt Spring. We have our whole family with us for the last part of our journey home. Some of us set up camp ashore where we have camped for years all through our families growing years.
The three year Pacific voyage of Shiriri.

We say "There`s no place like home!" and mean it from the bottom of our hearts. Of course what we have learned on our travels is that the whole earth is our home. It`s all a very special place!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Shiriri Saga #79. Land Ho!

Land Ho!

Two hundred miles offshore we are edging still farther north in the dark to get ourselves perfectly lined up for entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca when we see the low cloud layer lit up from below by a bright light. Our imaginations seize control and suggest that perhaps a cruise ship is on fire: we are primed for disaster. Soon the radar shows a lone boat three miles to the west and we give it a call on the VHF just in case it is headed our way. We are in no mood to take chances. This time however it is a fisherman with his bright deck lights coming south from Alaska who chats for a while before getting back to work.

A burning cruise ship?

We turn and travel SE at last; pointed directly for home. One more night on the drogue in 35 knots and 15` seas and then we are reduced to motoring again through an uneasy sloppy sea with what looks like a familiar black thundercloud ahead of us. Out of the cloud drops a big funnel that reaches down toward the sea`s surface and sucks it upwards. Shiriri motors away at full speed as the waterspout comes roaring past. Another funnel twists sideways across the face of the cloud. We seize an opening to scuttle beneath the cloud front and out into the clear air behind. That night is a mass of thunderstorms that we try to navigate between but finally give up, shut down the engine and drift until conditions improve.


The morning brings me up on deck into a lovely NE breeze. Shiriri sails along smoothly. Anne has hoisted sail to take advantage of these new conditions that continue all through the day and the following night. What a wonderful ending to such a harrowing voyage. Except of course, we still expect that fate will get us before we reach shore. The dawn has me looking at the faint cloud layers beyond the bowsprit on the eastern horizon. I notice that some clouds have hard jagged outlines. A bird flutters and perches high in the rigging. I step below and wake Heather for her turn on watch and whisper those magic words: Land! Home!

It is full morning when I hear a voice softly calling me from the cockpit. There, framed in the hatchway is Heather, backed by sunshine and blue sky, pointing over her head. On the furled mains`l is a peregrine falcon eating a kittiwake. It pauses to stare searchingly down at me, finishes it`s meal and then flies up, circles and flies ahead of the bowsprit toward the mountains. In our oceanic state of mind we know this is has been a visit not just from the physical bird but a messenger from the mysterious interconnectedness of all things as well. "Welcome," it has said, and directs us toward home.

By late afternoon we are sailing smoothly with all sail set through a spread out fleet of boats trolling for tuna. We are so glad to see them, but for them we must be an impediment. One turns abruptly across our bows and reminds us that boats engaged in fishing have right of way. We ourselves have fished for essential protein on the way home too but we have also seen industrial harvesting on a grand scale. Are all these men so bent on their harvesting that they can not see the time horizon close ahead that shows the collapse of the world`s fishery and the creation of a desert under the sea?

As we sail across the banks at the entrance to the strait we feel a slight bump. "Did you feel that?" says Anne from the wheel. A big swirl of disturbed water twists past our side. We have side-swiped another fisherman: a whale. Ascending from digging for food on the bottom, it has risen just beneath our bows and splashed aside just in time. We enter drifting veils of fog as evening approaches and line ourselves up in the strip of water that lies between the rocky shore of Vancouver Island and the lane reserved for deep sea ships. We have channel fever and feel hemmed in and jumpy after the broad wastes of the sea.