Saturday, April 30, 2011

Long time --- no typing.

….. but blame it on Doug and Jo.  We were having so much fun this last week that I just didn’t bother. 

Doug and Joanne arrived in Sidney last Friday and we were sitting on the dock at Sidney North Saanich Yacht club waiting for them.  We spent their first night aboard on the dock because the big question going into this adventure was how well Jo was going to handle the motion of the ocean.  That turned out to be a complete non-issue thanks in large part to the wonders of modern medicine in the form of gravol patches.


I pretty well had to fight Doug for every minute of helm time except when I wanted him to do the docking in Nanaimo.  If you look close in the picture above you will see that George II was keeping a close eye on the new skipper.  When it came time to dock Marilyn cracked the whip and kept Doug busy handling lines.  Actually now that I think about it they probably won’t ever want to come back because we worked Doug too hard.

That picture of Joanne isn’t really fair because she took over cleanup duties in the galley.  She’s likely just recovering from cleaning up one of my galley messes.  We ate really well because we showed up in Sidney with a huge haul of prawns and then dropped the traps outside Ladysmith and got another batch of the little buggers.  Marilyn even caught some crabs off the dock in Nanaimo but none of them were big enough to keep.  They did provide some added entertainment for our guests, particularly the aggressive one that locked himself onto Marilyn’s finger and bruised her through her glove.

We made a loop through Vancouver, back over to Nanaimo and returning to Cow Bay.  When we got back to “the bay” there was a crew in the midst of changing out the docks at Pier 66, the neighbouring marina, so Doug and I spent some time sidewalk supervising that project.

We finished the trip with one last night on the dock at SNSYC so that it would be easy to get Doug and Jo to their early morning flight out of Sidney.  We managed to get both the truck and the boat down to Sidney which meant that I got to singlehand Gray Hawk back home from Sidney.  Last night when I got back to Cow Bay the West Coast Workboat Association had taken over the government wharf behind us for their spring rendez-vous. 


There’s some beautiful old workboats that have been given a new lease on life thanks to a recreational conversion.  I have managed to leave my tax return to the eleventh hour so I promised myself that I wouldn’t go walk that dock until I had my taxes done.  I think I’m far enough down that trail that I can go drool over the workboats today.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The bounty of the sea

People have been telling us that when you really catch prawns you can get 200 in 3 hours.  We didn’t believe them and I still think that’s a reach but after today it doesn’t seem quite so impossible.


That’s the second trap we pulled today and there was at least 50 in it.  Marilyn stopped counting at 20 and she wasn’t half done.  The next trap was empty and the last one had about half as many as this one.  So we have a lot of prawns in the fridge now waiting for Doug and Jo to arrive tomorrow.  We were so disciplined tonight – its hard to believe.  We ate most of the leftovers in the fridge and saved all the prawns for when our guests arrive tomorrow.  We’ve got so many that we’ll be able to gorge ourselves for two feedings and by then maybe we’ll have found some more.  And if there’s anybody local reading this – there’s no way in hell I’m going to even give you a hint of where we had that trap dropped but you better believe I know exactly where it was and we’ll be going back there. 

Anybody who’s ever fished knows how fishing boats cluster up in the same location.  I’ve always been of the belief that most of those boat clusters happen something like this:  Early in the morning a couple of guys are on their way to their favorite fishing spot when the engine calves on their boat.  The guy in the back buggers around with the engine and the guy in front thinks “what the hell, might as well fish”.  Along comes another boat, sees a guy fishing and his partner getting the motor started so they stop and start fishing.  Another boat comes and another and pretty soon there’s 8 or 10 boats clustered in one spot.  After a while the first guy gets his motor running and they bugger off because they knew damn well there weren’t any fish in that spot to begin with but all the rest of the crew keeps on fishing and as some of them go in for lunch newcomers arrive to take their place.

I think it’s the same with crabbing and prawn traps.  Some places you go through there’s a blizzard of white floats on the water.  It can be a genuine pain in the ass getting close enough to a trap buried in the midst of one of those clusters to pull it.  Lets just say that the one in the picture above was very easy to access and pull because it was in a pretty lonesome location.  And the one that was empty?  It was a genuine bitch to get at.

I pulled the heads off all the prawns when we got to the dock at SNSYC and George ate so many prawn heads that he actually quit eating them.  Right now he looks like he swallowed a beach ball and he hasn’t squawked once about bedtime lunch.

SNSYC is our yacht club – Sidney North Saanich – and that’s where we are tied tonight.  When we rounded the breakwater there was a cruising sailboat tied up at the end of the reciprocal dock.  It was obvious it was a serious cruising boat – gear lashed down on deck, 4 jerry cans of diesel in the cockpit, dinghy on a leash – and I commented to Marilyn about how serious it looked.  Then we realized it was Estrellita which is the boat that was docked at Princess Louisa when we arrived there.  I had a quick visit with the kids tonight before their company arrived for supper.  They got their haulout done in Esquimault and now are on their way to the Queen Charlotte Islands. 

Tomorrow we’ll meet Doug and Jo’s plane, come back to the boat, run up a bit of a bar tab in the club and gorge ourselves on camarones al mojo de ajo before turning in for the night.  Depending on the weather Saturday morning we’ll either go to Vancouver, Victoria or back to our prawn spot. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Catching things

For about a week we thought somebody had stolen one of our traps.  We had the spot marked on GPS but when we went back to get it there was a commercial trap set in exactly the same spot.  We searched far and wide with no luck and eventually came to the conclusion that either it had drifted off completely or else someone had stolen it.  It was more than a little depressing and took away our enthusiasm for running our trap line for a while.  The day immediately preceding was the day we had to cut the line on the other trap after I foolishly entangled it in our running gear so the two events felt like a one-two punch.

We eventually recovered our enthusiasm and purchased a couple of commercial prawn traps.  On Friday we took a friend of a friend out with us when we went to set our traps.  We’ve been at it long enough that we were able to ask some semi-intelligent questions and Geoff had some good tips.  Time will tell whether or not they improve our success. 

We had also been tied up to the dock for close to a week until Friday.  We’ve been losing about a cup of coolant every four hours or so.  For a while I put it off as the system recharging itself after I did the coolant change in Seattle but lately I’ve been sure it was using coolant.  Not much but enough to notice and by extension enough to matter.  There were only two places it could be going – either we were burning it or it was going out with the raw water through the heat exchanger.  It clearly wasn’t going into the oil and for a variety of reasons I was pretty sure we weren’t burning it.  Last week I finally got around to replacing the heat exchanger and I changed the oil coolers at the same time.  All that activity meant that the engine was hors de combat for several days so it felt good to fire it up and go for a cruise again. 

Yesterday Marilyn got an email notifying her that whales had been sighted in Sansum Narrows.  After we had dashed off (“dashing” meaning 8 knots in this case) to not find them she discovered that the message said they were sighted Friday afternoon.  On the way back from the whale non-sighting trip we checked the traps.  We were skunked on prawns but Marilyn pulled up a whole trap full of crabs.  It turned out that most of them were females and out of the whole works we only could keep one but the full trap looked pretty impressive coming out of the water.  And thanks to some cooking advice from Geoff we were able to extract a surprising amount of meat for supper from that single crab.

Yesterday I got some teak veneer and started gluing it onto the cupboard renovations that we’ve been doing.  Like my father, I’m more of a carpenter than a cabinetmaker and this project is no exception but it doesn’t look as bad as some of the jobs I’ve tackled over the years.  Epoxy covers a host of sins.

This morning we caught another mess of female crabs and one great big male.  Geoff explained that the best way to clean a crab is to whack him in half before he goes into the pot.  It actually works really well.  You take the live crab, flop him on his back and use a cleaver to whack him squarely in half down his middle.  He doesn’t go into this willingly mind you but when done cleanly you have two crab halves and its dead simple to get the guts out of him.  Once he’s split in two you can clean away his mouth parts, remove his gills and peel his shell off him.  In the process you wash out all the guck in his stomach and clean away the guts.  When you’re all done you have 4 legs with half a body attached to throw into the pot.  Then you use him as an excuse to eat a bunch of butter, garlic and fresh bread.  Life is good.  (maybe not so good for the crab)

Monday, April 11, 2011

What the hell is that thing?


I’ll come back to it later.

We had great seats today for an SAR exercise.  While we were eating lunch we noticed a big yellow plane circling overhead.  Then came a very large helicopter in the same bilious yellow.  It hovered over the entrance to the bay for a long time, slowly settling lower until it was maybe 50 feet over the big green derelict in front of the marina.  It was around for so long that we stopped paying close attention to it.

I wasn’t paying close attention so I didn’t have my camera handy when I realized that they were lifting a guy off the deck of the derelict but I had my camera out a while later when they dunked this guy in the ocean.  They lowered him down to the water, dangled him with his feet in the water for a while, dropped him completely underwater and then eventually winched him back onboard.  That seemed to satisfy whatever they were doing so shortly afterward they buggered off.

Marilyn was in a cleaning frenzy so now the flybridge looks much better.  While she did that I was cleaning the fish we caught this morning and deheading the prawns.  We weren’t intending to fish but one foolishly wandered into one of our traps and I wasn’t inclined to release him since he was clearly too stupid to live.  We’ll see how stupid-fish tastes tonight. 

The mysterious device on top of our anchor windlass is my latest invention – a homebuilt trap puller.  They want anywhere from $700 to $1400 for trap pullers online and if past experience is any indicator the prices in the Canadian retails will be at least 20% higher than US online pricing.  There’s no way in hell I was going to pay $1000 or more to avoid pulling traps up by hand but at the same time its damn hard work.  It also takes a really long time and sometimes we just don’t have a long time with the wind trying to alternately blow us onto the rocks or into another fisherman’s crab floats. 

Being fundamentally a cheap SOB I didn’t want to spend anything on my creation but I compromised and spent just under $20 on galvanized fittings.  Then I epoxied them into some of the plywood left over from the fridge replacement project.  (I seriously love West System epoxy)  I had to do a little math to arrive at a realistic winding speed which was ultimately determined by the diameter of the circle that I located the fittings on. 


The shot above is approaching the end of a pot pull.  Marilyn’s job at this point is to shriek when she first sights the crab trap and my job is to shut the winch off.  If this continues to work as well as it did today I think I’ll rig up a remote control for the windlass switch.  The bonus of my system compared to one of the commercial systems is that mine leaves our lines neatly coiled ready to store with the traps whereas the commercial systems would leave the line in a tangled heap on the deck waiting to be coiled by hand.  Once we’re done winding up the line we take a couple of double sided velcro straps, tie off the coil of line, slip it off the “drum” and store it inside whatever trap it belongs to.  QED.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Theft in the marina!!!

I’ve taken to having coffee for an hour or so every morning.  Right at the head of our ramp there’s a chandlery with a porch that serves as a coffee room.  Every morning 10 to 20 locals gather to discuss everything from the earthquake in Tokyo to goatman who lives at the head of our dock.  I’ve always wanted to be a coffee regular but never could get past the effort required to become one.  It takes a while to get to the point where you can go away and still be a regular when you get back but I think I’m there now.

This morning one of the regulars came in with a gloomy puss and immediately announced that he had been robbed.  He recently purchased two plastic kayaks – shortly before we arrived – and has been enjoying an afternoon paddle pretty well every day.  He was obviously shaken up by the theft and once he had tracked down a phone number for the RCMP he reported the theft.  Then everybody started offering advice about where they were likely to be based on the most likely profile of the offending parties. 

A couple of search parties were organized to walk the docks.  Barry (the theftee) and Curry set out to launch Curry’s dinghy to do a water search.  As they were leaving I was thinking to myself that I should have said something about the youths I saw on the dock late in the day yesterday.  At the time I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to them – I certainly couldn’t have provided any descriptions but apparently Marilyn had paid closer attention.  When Barry and Curry arrived back on the dock they ended up talking to her and she was able to provide a description of the perpetrators.

This is where the story gets weird.  It turns out that Barry (who is clearly a borderline dingbat) had told two stoners that he met on the street that they were welcome to use his kayaks.  He likely expected that they would say something prior to taking the kayaks or that he would at least be on the boat and know what was happening.  As I said, they were stoners so any such assumptions about normal human behaviour were at best silly.

Someone else in the marina had been scanning the shoreline on the north side of Cow Bay with his binoculars.  Eventually he spotted the missing kayaks abandoned on the shore directly north of our dock, probably about a mile away across the bay.  As the story eventually unfolded the two stoners had showed up just before dark and taken off across the bay with some idiotic plan to climb the mountain on the north side.  All of us liveaboards on this end of the dock were in the pub for 1/2 price wing night and Barry didn’t notice the missing kayaks when he got home.

With the kayaks located Curry launched his dinghy and then Barry and I headed across the bay in pursuit of the errant kayaks.  On our way back we stopped at the derelict hulk that the two stoners were living on to return the lifejackets that they had left in the kayaks.  Based on their responses at that point I can safely say that they learned exactly nothing from their experience.

This afternoon we got our zincs checked.  I was anxious to get that done as soon as possible after our move here and it turns out it was good that we did.  Our bow thruster zinc was totally consumed.  It was still in place but as soon as the diver touched it with his wire brush it fell off in his hand.  Fortunately I had a spare that he could put on.  A couple of the shaft zincs were pretty far gone as well but we have two zincs on each shaft and they are deliberately at different ages in the hope that we won’t ever completely lose our shaft protection so the newer ones were still in good shape.

So now we’re re-zinced and Barry’s kayaks are back on his boat.  All things considered a very good day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stupid, stupid, stupid

We lost a crab trap today.  Actually its not really lost.  We’ve got the GPS location marked as a waypoint so we could get back to within 50 feet of where its lying but its gone nevertheless.  It could have been a LOT worse.

Back up a day.  Yesterday we pulled my prawn trap off Separation Point.  There’s several floats about 200 yards off the point marking where others are trying to capture the elusive Spot Prawns.  There were no prawns in our trap but there were 5 Dungeness crabs.  Two of them were likely big enough to keep but we only kept the biggest one and sent the other four back to grow some more.  Then we headed back toward the dock in anticipation of boiling our catch for supper.  Along the way Marilyn decided she wanted to drop “her” trap.  She has been using the trap that came with our spare anchor rode but she only has 75 feet of line on it so we had to drop it in much shallower water.  HAD 75 feet of line.

Last night we had a wonderful feed of fresh crab.  It wasn’t enough for a meal but it was a good appy.  Crab and lobster is really just an excuse to eat garlic butter anyway so we had extra butter and enjoyed our one lonesome crab. 

Tonight we have a yacht club AGM at the clubhouse in Sidney.  So we left the dock at Cow Bay after lunch and headed up toward Sidney, stopping along the way to pull Marilyn’s crab trap.  The wind was blowing pretty strong out of the west and we still don’t have a good system worked out for retrieving the line.  Gray Hawk has a lot of freeboard which is great when you’re slamming into the seas on a day when you really should have stayed at the dock.  But its not so great when you are trying to snag a little piece of 1/4” line dangling below a crab float. 

Retrieving the float from the bow has the advantage of putting the risky parts of the boat (props and rudders) a long way away from the crab line.  On the other hand the bow is about 7 feet above the water so its pretty tricky to snag that little line from way up there.  Yesterday we managed to hook the line from the aft deck once and once from the bow.  Doing it from the bow however required SWMBO to lie prone on the foredeck and reach with one hand holding the boathook.  That wasn’t an ideal solution so today I came up with the incredibly stupid idea that I could put our swim grid up close to the float.  In theory that meant that Marilyn would be virtually at water level where she could casually snare the float and pull it aboard.  In practice it meant that the float disappeared under the swim grid whence it managed to get itself wrapped around something important.  I had the engines shut off in a forlorn attempt to keep from wrapping a line on a shaft but by the time I got to the swim grid we were clearly entangled in a big mess.

I was able to pull on the line and for a while it seemed like the trap might come all the way up.  I could pull line through and I could release the line and have it drop away but I couldn’t get the line to drift free of whatever it had managed to wrap itself around.  Could have been the rudder, could have been the prop or it could have been any of the various support struts that brace the shafts.  Whatever it was eventually the line jammed up hard and I could neither pull it nor let it run out.  Very bad.

We didn’t have any options left so we cut the line.  The line is weighted so we knew that if it came free it would fall to the bottom.  Crab traps are required to have an emergency escape hatch held closed by special cotton string that will rot so we knew that it wouldn’t go on catching crabs.  What we didn’t know was whether or not the line would fall free of whatever it was caught on.  I knew it was jammed and I was reasonably sure it was caught on something on the starboard (right hand) side.  So after cutting the line I started the port engine and put it in gear (cautiously).  Nothing bad happened so I ran it up a bit thinking that dragging the trap might cause the line to come free.  Eventually I got that engine up to maximum RPM and still nothing bad had happened.  Then I stopped and ran it in reverse, again thinking that might dislodge the trap that I assumed was still caught up on the starboard running gear. 

Finally with lots of water around us, out in the middle of the bay, I started and engaged the starboard engine.  For a wonder nothing bad happened.  No big noises, no sudden stop of the engine, no vibration.  So we dodged a major bullet. 

After our hearts came back to a normal rhythm we headed across to Separation Point and pulled my prawn trap.  This time we approached it upwind and Marilyn lay on the foredeck again.  The difference from yesterday was that I ran out at the last minute and took the boathook from her after she had snagged the line.  That actually worked pretty well and by approaching into the wind and letting most of our way die off before we got up to the float we drifted away from the line after we picked it up.  So that’s how we will be doing it from now on, with one modification.

SWMBO has come up with an innovation that we haven’t seen on anybody’s floats yet.  We’re going to make a loop out of coat hanger wire and fix it to the top of our floats so that she can snag that instead of trying to reach under the float to snare the line.  Then in order to ensure that the float stands straight up – which they are incredibly reluctant to do – we are going to put a light (maybe 2 pound) weight on the line about a foot below the float.  Once all that’s in place we should be able to pull traps on the fly – just like loading bales with a New Holland bale wagon.  Well – maybe not quite that fast but a hell of a lot better than what we have been doing up to this point.

Stay tuned – the excitement continues.


Oh, and today when we pulled my trap we had 4 crabs but only kept two of them.  We didn’t have any rubber bands to tie their little pinchers shut with so we used black tape to keep them from fighting in the pot.  As soon as we tied up their hands they got all mellow and laid on top of each other like two queers on a honeymoon.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bits and pieces

Busy week. 

Our lease at Van Isle didn’t run out until the end of March but we moved a couple of days early.  We waited until our new heater showed up and then moved up to Cow Bay to do the installation.  At one level I thought I should stay on the dock at Van Isle during the installation because that would have put me within walking distance of the dealer (Philbrooks) who sold me the heater plus my buddy Willie who actually seems to know something about heaters.  Ultimately I decided that I was on my own no matter where we were and the truck was already in Cow Bay so that was the deciding factor.  I needed it in order to run for parts and there was plenty of running for parts involved.  The truck got moved to Cow Bay when Jim and Judy arrived home a day later than they had planned.  They needed a ride home from the airport so rather than drive them home we just gave them the truck.  I expect its been a long time since Jim has driven such a piece of shit vehicle as the famous Exploder Ford but it got them home and they were kind enough not to mention its numerous shortcomings.

We fished our way over from Van Isle to Cow Bay but only one member of the crew actually caught anything.


Marilyn was fishing from the aft deck.  She had already lost one anchovy off her rigging so she took two out with her.  I’m not sure where the furball had to steal it from but by the time I looked out the window he had the frozen minnow on the deck and was licking it vigorously.  When Marilyn turned around and saw what he was doing he promptly picked the fish up and headed around the corner to a more private spot.  Licking just wasn’t doing it for him so he finally figured out that he needed to put a paw on it and chew.  Ten minutes later all that remained was a few scales stuck to the deck.


This thing passed us on the way to Cow Bay and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it.  Its about as butt ugly an example of the boat designer’s art as I can think of.  Take the pimple off the top of it and the reverse sheer might work but all that crap above the cabin just looks stupid.


This one on the other hand has some really nice lines but you have to look past the sprung planks and rotting cabin to see them.  It is slowly disintegrating at the end of the government dock in front of Cow Bay.  While it is still above water it makes a great landmark to aim for as you approach from the east.


There’s big excitement on the government wharf to the east of us.  I’m not sure whether they are just replacing some pilings or whether they are actually adding some new piers.  There seems to be a steady parade of dockside supervisors so maybe I will have to go over there today and do some reconnoitering myself.  On the other hand its absolutely pissing rain so that plan may not come together.

The big project for today is to install the AM/FM radio.  The rain will limit how far I can go on that because I need to open up the flybridge to do the antenna installation but I should be able to get the inside work done.  With no TV onboard having really good radio is very important.  So far we haven’t succumbed to satellite radio but I expect that is in our near future.  We had a little transistor radio that had travelled with us since we lived on the acreage west of the river.  Its case was beyond battered and it was tricky to tune but we were using it up until one of our rough passages.  It survived a few falls but finally leaping off the shelf and diving down the spiral stairs finished it off completely.