Saturday, July 2, 2016

When I am far away on the stormy ocean tossed

It is busy in Ganges, our local town, with visitors celebrating Canada Day, July 1st. Here is a memory from our Pacific voyages about what Canada means for me.

At last the moon shows beneath the clouds, a sign that the long gale is coming to
 an end and we can resume our voyage to Australia. It took us a whole
 24 hours of sailing to make up the distance
 we had lost while hove to and drifting slowly back to New Caledonia.

We are four hundred miles off the east coast of Australia, the wind is gusting to forty knots and our schooner is hove-to in chaotic seas. This is the forth day of this gale and we are more than ready to move on to the end of our long voyage across the Pacific from our home in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. I sit on my night watch, wedged into the cockpit, listen to my daughter Anne's music on the headphones and watch our big traditional gaff-rigged schooner poke her bowsprit high into the dark sky, heel lee rail under and slide away from the punch of the next breaking wave. She has been performing this dangerous dance for what seems like forever and has never missed a beat. So far.

Perhaps it is the music that sets my mind to wandering, a collection of tunes from 'Great Big Sea' about the 'Bluenose', the Myra River, about a vessel like mine running before a gale in the Atlantic, but I begin to think what it really means to be Canadian. Those songs are from the other side of the continent from my home, but like most wanderers I have a larger view of my country than I would have back on my island. There I might feel that Toronto was on the far side of the moon and Halifax in another orbit altogether, but now, hanging on until morning’s light, I am deeply touched by 'Farewell to Nova Scotia' singing in my ears.

The wind direction has shifted at last and is rapidly building a wicked cross sea. The regular wave pattern is now broken and chopped and this presents a new challenge. Our schooner staggers, looses her stride, smacks her broad stern hard down on the back of a wave and then shrugs, finds a new furrow in the seascape and carries on. I think of all those nameless east-coast fishermen from the past who stood on deck in seas like these and observed carefully how their schooners swam among the waves. They thought about how they would improve the design of the next boat they would build, perhaps a little flatter curve to the turn of the bilge, a steeper run to the stern. Slowly the design evolved that is keeping my ship and family safe from harm. ``Good old boat!``, I give the deck a pat just as a slosh of warm salt water trickles down my neck. I stand to check for shipping, catch the full roar of wind in rigging and crash of waves and then settle back to the music in my ears.

I am thinking about that country of mine far back around the curve of the earth: about those things we pretty much take for granted; our communities, our system of government, our social programs that reach out to support all of us; even those obvious things like the railways that were built for us by preceding generations. They were built by people like that nameless fisherman, like the creators of the music now playing in my ears. Step by step, piece by piece, like designing and building a boat, a lot of dedicated folk pouring out their lives to build a better country. A fair and generous community that we could be proud of, that could ride out storms and carry us and future generations safely home.

At last the moon breaks through the clouds and the wind is definitely easing. A few more difficult hours of bone shaking seas and by morning’s light we will hoist our sails again and resume our voyage westward.

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