Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Fortunately I can read both the Nipawin Journal and the Shellbrook Chronicle online.  I do so for different reasons.  The Comical is a pretty good little newspaper.  Mainly I read the papers to keep track of who has died lately but the Shellbrook paper actually has editorial and local news that’s worth reading.  They’ve only recently started publishing online but they would be worth the cost of a subscription if they weren’t otherwise available.

The Nipawin Urinal is another matter altogether and the only reason to read it is for entertainment.  Consider the following gem:

Through his binoculars, he seen the silhouettes of three individuals. It appeared one of them to be carrying a long crowbar, rifle or shotgun. Cory could not clearly make it out but new it was something along that lines, and was sure it was a weapon.

That’s copied from a story about a police takedown in this week’s edition.  I don’t want to even start counting the mistakes in that piece of prose but it is by no means unusual in that paper.  When you combine the lack of writing skills with the inane goings on of the court report it can be really hilarious.  It’s a good thing the paper is freely available online because I would hate to actually pay for garbage like this.

Today we are hanging out in Saskatoon, having refilled our prescriptions with Dr. Dan this morning.  Marilyn has an appointment at SIAST this afternoon and we are meeting friends this evening but otherwise it’s a lazy day.  I have an appointment with Princess Auto but that doesn’t really count as an urgent life event, important though it may be.  Equally important, we need to pick up some bottom bouncers because evidently that fishing innovation is unknown on the left coast of Canada.

We have a heavy schedule tomorrow starting out with a couple of appointments here for Marilyn.  Then we have exactly 90 minutes to get to P.A. where she has more appointments and the car also has an appointment at Gus’s Auto.  We’ve had a lot of service done by Gus over the years so he seemed like the logical place to get the transmission flushed and the oil changed on our new toy.  I’ll work in a visit to Shellbrook and Marilyn will schmooze all her contract clients before we finally head west again, likely late in the day on Friday.

In the aftermath of the tornados through the US I’m reminded that an Arkansas divorce and a tornado are very similar in that somebody is going to lose a trailer home.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Back under blue skies

……….. well ………. not so much tonight.  There’s a Saskatchewan Screamer blowing through from Calgary tonight and it looks like we’ll be stranded in Regina tomorrow.  Last time we were here we bugged out ahead of the storm and got back to Buchanan before it got really bad but this time we elected to stay put. 

We left the boat in the wee hours of Wed. morning, caught the 6:30 ferry out of Nanaimo and were doing fine until we got over the Port Mann bridge.  We were watching to see if we could spot the collapsed crane but I think they had most of it cleaned up.  We didn’t really know what we were looking for though so it may have been right in front of us.  We hadn’t much more than got off the bridge though when traffic ground almost completely to a halt.  And it stayed that way for miles.  I never did see anything that could have accounted for the delay in our (eastbound) lanes but there was a semi lying on its side in the median on the westbound side.  Then just past the overturned semi there was an on-ramp.  I think what happened was that our lanes slowed down as all the rubbernecking jackasses took a look at the flipped semi and then ground to a halt as the incoming traffic from the on-ramp merged.  When we got about a mile past the on-ramp everything just took off again.  I hate that and I couldn’t live anywhere that it happened regularly.

We were monitoring the status of #1 highway and there were 2 closures between Revelstoke and Golden, both from avalanches.  When we got to Chilliwack we stopped for fuel and checked the Drive BC website.  They still weren’t showing much confidence that one of the closures would open that day so we headed east on #3 and wound our way over the south route.   A couple of the passes were a little hairy but most of the road was bare and dry.  We made good time and got to Cranbrook that night.  The next day (Thursday) we got an early start, stopped late in the day in Saskatoon so I could have a meeting and then spent last night in Moose Jaw.  This morning we bought a car, got plates on it, drove into Regina, had a visit with father and got checked into a hotel. 

Father has really deteriorated since we saw him at New Year’s.  I wasn’t sure he even knew who we were today although Marilyn was convinced he did.  Whether or not he did, he was completely unable to communicate and barely able to stay awake.  Getting old isn’t for the faint of heart and contrary to all early indications, his heart is hanging on to the end.

Tomorrow we’ll assess the weather and decide whether or not we’re staying another night.  Often the storms that they spend the most time warning about turn out to be a fizzle.  That wasn’t the case with the one at New Year’s but over the years most of the storms that I remember the media making a big deal about turned out to be nothing and the really bad ones came up unexpectedly.  We need to get out to Buchanan for a few nights but I don’t want to drive through a blizzard to get there and I don’t want to arrive there in a blizzard either so we’ll bide our time here and see what happens.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Law of the Sea

Civilization ends at the waterline.  Beyond that we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.

Hunter S. Thompson

I’m starting to plan our trip to the Broughtons and that quote seems apropos.  There’s a lot can go wrong between Cow Bay and Port Neville.  Pacific Northwest boating is constrained by a series of gates.  For Americans the first gate is the US/Canada border and a lot of them never make it out of the San Juan Islands.  If they do make it into what they call “the Canadian San Juans” (the Gulf Islands) then they often join the large group of Canadians who trek north to Desolation Sound every year but are then too timid to brave the reversing rapids that defend access to the Broughton Island cruising grounds.  And that timidity is well justified.

Some of the channels will run up to 15 knots on a big tide – they call the big ones “spring” tides but it really has bugger all to do with seasonality so we won’t worry about that right now.  Most of the channels routinely run 5-8 knots, in alternating directions and that’s our cruising speed.  At 8 knots I’ve got the throttles pretty well all the way ahead so in an 8 knot opposing current the best we could hope for is to stand still.  Some of them turn on a dime too, going from flood to ebb in less than half an hour, sometimes much less.  Add in the additional challenge that the change from flood to ebb comes earlier as you get farther west and the problem compounds.  Our goal on every set of rapids will be to transit it at slack water but if we wait for slack at the farthest east set for the day then the rapids further west will have already turned to ebb.  In the Quest for the Holy Grail Lancelot said, “I could handle just a little bit of peril” – we also can handle just a little bit of current.  So our plan for each day is to enter the rapids while they are still flowing slowly against us, proceed through successive rapids as we head west with each one further into it’s ebb and then stop travelling for that day when we start hitting rapids that are flowing too fast in our travel direction to be safe.  In theory you get flushed out of the rapids if the current is in your direction but in reality you just go too fast and can’t avoid other boats, miscellaneous driftwood, whirlpools and rocks.  People write about staring into the abyss on some of the whirlpools and never wanting to return so we really don’t want to go there.

I’ve been buying new guidebooks and rereading the ones we already have.  I had a good visit with Peter Vassilopoulos, author of several west coast cruising guidebooks at the Vancouver Boat Show and took a lot of comfort from that conversation.  The maximum current speeds vary dramatically depending on how big the tides are.  It’s the action of the tide alternately filling and draining Georgia Strait twice a day that creates the tidal rapids so when the tides are smaller then the currents are consequently smaller as well.  It turns out that there are some particularly small tides at the end of March so that is our target for our trip to the Broughtons.  Last year we pushed our comfort zone to get up into Desolation Sound; returning there doesn’t seem like any big deal now.  This year the adrenalin will be flowing as we go through Yaculta Rapids, Whirlpool Rapids, Dent Falls, etc but with a bit of luck maybe next year those names won’t sound so intimidating.

Assuming we reach the point where travel to the Broughtons seems easy then the next “gate” is Queen Charlotte Sound.  If you look on the map that’s a huge body of water that is entirely open to the Pacific Ocean all the way to Tokyo.  Once we get that behind us and into Hecate Strait then the last gate on the way to Alaska is Dixon Entrance which doesn’t look all that bad on the charts but apparently it can get pretty lumpy.  After that you’re in Alaska.

Between now and the Broughtons we have to make a trip to the prairies and a trip to Port Angeles.  In the interest of simplicity I think we’ll use the truck for the prairie trip and the boat for the Port Angeles trip.  We’ve got a haulout booked in Port Angeles but the yard keeps rebooking it later in March so I’m not real confident when that is going to happen.  We did have a good visit with the yard owner at the boat show and confirmed that he is expecting us.  The last delay was to facilitate having a Naiad representative on hand during the haulout.  Our Naiad stabilizers have a maintenance schedule that I’m not sure has been adhered to so I want to have somebody who knows what he is doing have a look at them while we’re out of the water.

The stabilizers consist of two big fins, one on each side of the boat roughly amidships and about 2 feet below the waterline.  They sit on the end of a heavy shaft (maybe 3” diameter) that runs through the hull and is attached on the inside to a hydraulic cylinder.  The hydraulic system is controlled by a gyro which causes the fins to flop up and down in order to counteract rolling actions of the boat.  The potential problem is that we have a big shaft stuck through a hole in the side of the boat with bearings to support it.  If salt water gets into those bearings then they can rot away and eventually let water into the boat.  There’s a couple of seals that are supposed to be replaced every 2 or 3 years and I’m not sure that schedule has been followed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Back in The Bay

We went back out in the big ocean a few days ago and spent about 4 hours getting bumped around in the Strait of Georgia.  It looked good when we left the dock at Plumper Cove so I headed out over the bar at Gibsons.  That’s the same bar that scared the crap out of us last spring on our abortive departure for Pender Harbour.  That day we ended up scuttling back with our tails between our legs but this year we stayed the course and headed south towards Sidney.  As we got close to Active Pass I realized that the pass was running hard but it was running in our direction.  Since we’ve been through it several times I didn’t think a strong current would be a huge problem so we ducked in there rather than continuing on south to Boundary Pass which had been my original intent.  The fact that we were getting bounced around pretty good no doubt influenced my decision but it was definitely the right call.  The Pass was running about 3 knots and there were a few rips at the south end but overall no big deal and it got us back to the dock at Sidney at least 2 hours sooner than if we had gone the south route.  Not to mention that once through the pass we were shielded from the bumps in the strait and had a smooth trip home the rest of the way.

We spent a night on the dock at the Yacht Club and then headed for our favorite prawning grounds.  We had originally intended to drop the traps yesterday, pull them once, reset them and spend at least one night on the anchor.  However by the time we pulled the traps the weather was starting to go to hell and the 30 amp power on our home dock was beckoning us.  The prospect of power and the forecast of a cold rainy day today persuaded us to run home even though we ended up arriving at the dock well past sunset.  There’s too many crab traps out there to do that but we got away with it, got home and got tied up.  Then we fired up the BBQ and cooked way more of our catch than we should have.  I didn’t have a bellyache when I went to bed but SWMBO said she did. 

Mess of prawns

There’s a cold rain drooling down on us today so the weather has confirmed our decision to come home.  I’m overdue for oil changes on the main engines & I likely could do the gennie at the same time.  I’m also in the middle of getting some stainless steel brackets built to raise the dinghy davits.  I want to get them fabricated before we leave for the haulout in March.  Last spring when I installed the davits I managed to drop some important bits in the harbour.  I’d rather drop them on the pavement while the boat is on the hard.  I’d rather not drop them at all but I am fundamentally a realist.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Breton fisherman’s prayer

Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.

I couldn’t help thinking of that prayer as we left English Bay today.  There was hardly another boat on the ocean – a couple of sailboats heading out, a few fishermen who didn’t dare leave the bay, one ferry and an ocean going tanker on the horizon.

Pano-leaving English Bay

Its not a very good panorama – the lines are pretty obvious where the pictures are joined – but it’s the only way I can begin to convey the vastness of the ocean that surrounds us when there’s no one else out there.  There’s an ocean going freighter in that panorama by the way.  Those things are bloody huge but it was a speck on the horizon today.  And that’s not even the ocean – its just the Salish Sea or Strait of Georgia.

Thursday after we left Bruce in his little spot on McNabb Creek, we got bumped around a bit and then eventually arrived in English Bay.  We hung out in English Bay while we ate dinner and  Marilyn arranged moorage at the reciprocal dock at False Creek Yacht Club.  The guy on the phone asked “how good is your captain?” and with cause because our slip turned out to be more than a little bit of a tight fit. 


To get into this spot we had to thread between the powerboat on our starboard and the sailboat behind us.  There was probably 6 feet to spare so no big deal getting in but getting back out this morning was a bit more of an adventure.  I didn’t want to back all the way out into False Creek because there’s a serious lot of traffic out there, mainly those little harbour ferries but also plenty of other recreational boaters coming and going.  This morning there was even some fruitcakes paddling some kind of war canoe.  In order to avoid backing into False Creek we ended up spinning Gray Hawk in about 50 feet of fairway.  That’s pretty tight because I think we actually measure over 50 feet from the tip of the anchor to the extreme back of the dinghy.  We had to hang the dinghy over the outboard on the boat behind us and the anchor stuck out over the transom of the sailboat ahead of us but eventually we got out.

The big reason for going to Vancouver was to attend the boat show which we did yesterday.  We couldn’t have found a better spot than False Creek Yacht Club to attend the boat show from.  We also made the mandatory shopping trip to Granville Island for some filo pastry stuffed with spinach and salmon and some smoked salmon pate.  Granville is probably the most expensive place we ever shop bar none but in this case it was well worth it.  Today we headed out into God’s big ocean and back to Plumper Sound.  We’ll spend a couple of nights here and then cross back over to the Island.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a rainout and then early next week we’re supposed to get some sunshine which always makes for a nicer crossing.  Wind, or rather lack of wind, is more important but sunshine makes it feel more pleasant.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Boat boondocking

Boondocking is an RV term that refers to parking somewhere in the boonies.  We like having services like power and water but we also enjoy being out in the boonies on occasion.  Most of the time we spend at Quartzsite is boondocking time.  Even when we join the GM/Eagle rally in Quartzsite we might as well be boondocking because there are no services at the rally site.

This morning we woke up at the crack of noon in Plumper Cove.  It was still morning but barely so when I tried to start the generator.  I preheated it and turned it over – nothing.  The next time I carefully preheated it for a full half minute but still no joy on the starting.  Next step – down into the engine room for two hours – yet again no joy. 

No generator left us in a pretty pickle.  Our barbeque crapped out a couple of days ago – nothing serious – it just needs a new burner tube – but its hors de combat until we get to West Marine or Stevestons.  Other than the barbeque Gray Hawk is a 100% electric boat when it comes to cooking so we were kind of helpless without a generator.  We decided we would come up Howe Sound anyway, find Bruce, have a quick visit and tomorrow we would cross the Strait back to Cow Bay where I could deal with the generator in the comfort of an electrified moorage.  On the way up Howe Sound we would be able to warm up some dinner with power from the main engines. 

So we headed off up Howe Sound looking for Bruce.  Bruce is the fellow we met at Plumper Cove last winter.  He lives on a work-in-progress sailboat.  We had expected to see him again at Plumper Cove and in fact that is largely why we went there.  I’m thinking about buying a used canvas winter cover that was originally made for a sailboat and is now for sale (cheap) on  If we were to buy it then we would need someone who could alter it to fit Gray Hawk and Bruce just happens to have several sewing machines onboard.  More importantly he knows how to use them.  Bruce wasn’t at Plumper Cove but some powerboaters from Vancouver stopped in for a barbeque on the dock and when we got talking it turned out that one of them knew Bruce and knew where he was spending the winter.  Which is how we found ourselves headed up Howe Sound this morning with no way to make a hot meal but nevertheless in search of a runaway bluenoser in a homemade sailboat.

When we got to McNab Creek sure enough, there was Bruce’s mastless sailboat tied to the inside of the remains of a logging float.  So we pulled up to the outside of the float and pretty soon Bruce appeared to greet us and help handle our lines.  After a bit of a reunion I couldn’t resist going back below to have another go at the generator.  As I have told neophyte diesel owners countless times, a diesel engine is about the simplest piece of machinery known.  If it will turn over and it has fuel then it should run.  A gas engine needs spark and it needs good fuel, properly carbureted and it generally needs a host of things to come together in order for it to run.  A diesel should run if it turns over rapidly and has fuel delivered to the injectors.  I can’t abide having a piece of equipment that I know isn’t working so I headed below for round two more or less as soon as we got tied up at McNabb Creek.

I had already changed the fuel filters, despite thinking that wasn’t really the problem.  I had loosened the lines at the injectors and it seemed like there was fuel getting to the injectors but it didn’t seem that it was spurting out the way it should when the engine rolled over.  This morning I ran out of generator battery to do much further troubleshooting but by the time we got to McNabb Creek the battery was fully charged again.  Our Onan has a lift pump ahead of the main injector pump and when I got looking in our stock of spares it turned out that we had two spare lift pumps.  It seemed to make sense that if we had two spare lift pumps then they might be a known problem so that pointed to possibly needing to change the lift pump.  At the same time it just didn’t seem logical that the lift pump could be the problem.  On an RV or truck installation the lift pump has to deliver fuel from the tanks which are generally mounted lower than the generator.  On the boat the fuel actually flows to the generator under head pressure so it didn’t make sense that the lift pump could be the problem.  However when I was able to troubleshoot the system it was clear that the lift pump wasn’t forcing fuel to the injector pump.  There was fuel flowing when I took the line off at the injector pump but it didn’t shoot out the way I expected it to. 

So with very little enthusiasm I set about changing the lift pump.  I’ve always believed that more is lost by inaction than the wrong action but its hard to work up any enthusiasm for a project that you are pretty certain is a goose chase.   Of course everything is awkward to get at and I couldn’t see what I was doing half the time which only served to heighten the sense of futility.  I didn’t use my big trouble light because it would have meant running the inverter and therefore drawing down the precious battery power that we needed to preserve in order to do everything else we might want to do if we were stuck for the night with no generator.  So I was reduced to doing everything by flashlight if it happened to be in a dark spot, which was where most of the work seemed to be.  Getting the old pump out was no big deal but getting the new one back in place without having the gasket slide out of alignment was a major challenge. 

If you’ve read this far then you likely can guess that when I hit the starter after getting everything tightened back up and after bleeding all the lines the generator started right up like it never had even hiccupped.  So tonight we’re tied to the remains of a logging float at McNabb Creek with a bonfire on the beach.  Thank you George (and all the previous owners) for the extensive stock of spares you had onboard.  Tomorrow I’ll clean up the mess I left in the engine room but tonight we’ll roast smokies over an open fire on the beach under a full moon.  Life is good.


With ample generator power available and an internet connection thanks to a long run of siamese coax to the shore we have decided to spend a few more days here in McNabb Creek.  Today I hauled both our crab traps and got a couple of keepers for supper.  The traps are back at work so perhaps by tomorrow night we’ll have some frozen crab meat again.  If I get really ambitious maybe I’ll drop a prawn trap as well but they fish in really deep water here so I’m not keen on hauling those by hand.

Bruce is appreciating our generator so part of the reason for staying a little longer is to let him have longer access to our 110 volt power.  He lives a pretty minimalist existence – not entirely by choice – so the little we can do to help him feels good.  He bought one of those cheapo Chinese diesel gensets – the kind that I was sorely tempted to buy – and it did exactly what I expected it would – crapped out after about 6 hours of use.  He’s been salvaging logs and splitting them with wedges but he needs power to finish sawing them.  We’ve got a tour scheduled to see what he is doing with all the lumber he is sawing with the benefit of our power.  Tomorrow maybe I’ll post about using a Hughes tripod dish from a boat.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

World’s first googolionaire

Wouldn’t that be a strange twist of fate if Zuckerberg ends up being the world’s first googolionaire?  There’s such an impossibly long string of zeroes in a googol that it seems unlikely but it would be fun if it happened.  Not to mention a LOT of fun for Zuckerberg.

Yesterday was a lumpy day.  We left the dock at Burrard around noon and went directly to the Chevron fuel barge in Coal Harbour.  I didn’t want to buy fuel and we likely could have put it off until we get to the US but I just hate running on the bottom half of the tank, even when the tank(s) hold over 750 gallons.  So far we’ve managed to buy all our fuel in the US so I guess it didn’t hurt us to pay a little federal excise tax.  And we didn’t fill the tanks completely so there will still be room for US fuel whenever we finally get down there. 


After fueling we headed out through 1st Narrows and immediately started getting bounced around by long Pacific rollers coming up English Bay.  I expected they would get better as we got into deeper water but instead as we got out past Point Atkinson they turned to come from a little west of north and kept getting bigger.  We finally turned out of them when we got north of Bowen Island but along the way they bounced us around pretty good.  We had the stabilizers on but they can’t do anything about fore and aft (pitching) motion.  They’re really good for side to side (rolling) stability so when we finally turned beam to the rollers things settled down quickly.  Georgie wasn’t very happy about the sea state but he didn’t puke.