Thursday, July 30, 2015

Day 56-57 of the 1st Voyage: In which we finally cross the border and respectfully ask Canada to kiss our red, white, and blue butts.

In the middle of Haro Strait, sometime around noon, we crossed the invisible border between Canada and the United States. I don’t think anyone was too upset. The last few days notwithstanding, Canada has not been too kind to us—they took our eggs, rammed our boat, chased us down in their ferries, nearly burned us out of house and home, accused us of importing bombs, and then had the gall to charge $18 for a 6-pack of Heineken. Editor’s Note: I wish I was making that up. Liquor prices in Canada are exorbitant unless you buy domestic, in which case it’s just highway robberywhich is how we came to drink Lucky Lager beer for a month (it’s called Lucky because if you drink six of them, you might be lucky enough to get a buzz.) And yes, I realize that our opinion of the country is wildly skewed due our involuntary residency in Campbell River. But as the Captain noted, “Had we WANTED to spend a month there, it would have only been half as bad as it actually was.”

To be fair though, parts of British Columbia are breathtakingly beautiful and the smaller harbors we visited were well worth the effort. We met some great people, had some nice dinners al fresco along the fences of assorted pubs and bistros, and found 32 different products with “poutine flavoring”. And if I were to rate our Canadian experience based solely on the past few days, I would give it an “Eh” minus, but with CRBC bringing down the whole grade, it’ll have to settle for a “C” you in some other lifetime.
Pictured: Two BC Ferries conferring as to which one will drown us in its wake

Pictured:  The winner
Someplace Old. Someplace New.

We cleared US customs in Roche Harbor—a feat remarkable for two reasons. The first being that we executed arguably our best docking ever. The customs dock is at the entrance to the marina directly adjacent to the seaplane dock—so our flawless docking was witnessed not only by the other boaters clearing customs, but by the people hanging out on their too-big-to-fit-in-the-inner-marina yachts and the twenty-odd people waiting for the seaplanes. For once it completely, 100% looked like we knew what we were doing (and by “we” I mean “I”) and the fact that the boat that came in next to us hit the piling head on just made the victory that much sweeter. The second reason this was remarkable? Of all the boats at the customs dock, ours was the only one not searched. The Deck Boss took credit for that—as she said, “Once they saw there was an 80-year old on board, they probably figured we couldn’t get into too much trouble.” Umm, yeah. They don’t know us very well. Especially since one of the hot ticket items of the day was Cuban cigars—despite current events, still technically not legal—as witnessed by all the confiscated boxes piled high in the customs office. The Captain told me as much later that evening as he puffed away on a cubano.

Once cleared through customs, and not wanting to tarnish our record of 1 perfect docking in a row, we opted to anchor out in the harbor—which went quite smoothly. We then threw persuasively positioned Otter in the dinghy and lowered it down—which could have gone better, but at least he did end up on the water and not in it. We sped Otter to shore to let him do his business—which went quickly. We sped back to the boat to get us, the dinghy, and Otter back on board before it started raining—which was unsuccessful. We got me off the dinghy, but couldn’t get the motor off so that the dinghy could be raised—which was ill-timed because at this point it was practically monsooning. We finally got the motor off, got the dinghy hooked up, got the Captain off, then hoisted the dinghy back up with Otter in it—which was wet, weighty, tedious, and wet. When we got inside, we told Otter that we hoped he appreciated his trip to shore because that would be his one and only. He responded by shaking the water off himself and drenching the cat.

The next morning we set out for Rosario Resort on Orcas Island—our only “destination” of sorts in that we had to make a slight detour to get there, but had heard that it was a great place to stop over. And it really was. The resort is anchored around a turn-of-the-century mansion commissioned by a shipbuilder, and his personal involvement is evident. Let’s just say that as other visitors were oohing and aahing over the stained glass and the massive pipe organ, the Captain and I were marveling over the intricate teak closets with their many drawers and compartments. When you live on a boat, space—especially storage space—is at a premium. You have to make the most out of what you have—hence storing the extra dog and cat food in the bilge—and you have to get creative (who else but a boater would have a pantry that doubles as a bar, a hardware store, and an electrical box.) So to see a closet built with so many cubbies and drawers and pullouts that you could store the contents of a Macy’s behind one door was just awe-inspiring.

The marina itself was small—just 36 slips—but well-managed and with lots of amenities (moorage came with passes to the three pools and the spa). A pub was just at the top of the gangway where we sat outside WITH the D.O.G., drank beer, ate pizza, and slew yellow jackets with an electrified tennis racket that shocked the little bastards out of the air (I gotta get me one of those!)  All in all, a great place to spend a day and night. But unfortunately my daily eff up affected one of the staff. When we were docking, I threw the stern line to the dock attendant and smacked him full in the face. I saw him an hour later still rubbing his forehead. I feel kind of bad about that.
Pictured: Rosario Resort Marina
Not Pictured: Rosario Resort employee plotting his revenge
Pictured: The Captain contemplating the next day's journey. Otter contemplating his next poop.
Pictured: The Deck Boss clearly not missing Canada.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Day 55 of the 1st Voyage: In which we have an unexpectedly uneventful journey.

Nothing can turn an adventure into an ordeal faster than the weather, and we knew we were in for some rainy days. We had planned the extra day in Snug Cove specifically because the forecast called for a 100% chance of rain—and rain it did. But with only a 70% chance of rain today—and no thunderstorms—we decided it was time to break out the foulies and get a little wet. Besides, the rain would be the least of our worries. Today we would be crossing back over the Strait of Georgia where the waves and wind would be hitting us broadside, making it difficult to stay on course. And then we would have to navigate Porlier Pass—a tricky rock-strewn passage that separates Galiano and Valdez islands. And then—to top it all off—we were planning on anchoring for the night (a.k.a. Exhibit 1 in divorce court). We steeled ourselves for the challenges that surely lay ahead, and I proactively got all my eff-ups out of the way early by losing a fender as we were leaving the slip (special thanks to the guy the next dock over for jumping in his dinghy and retrieving/returning said fender.)

That being said, I’m happy to report that nothing went according to plan. The weather called for a 70% chance of rain—it was more like 70% chance of getting sunburn. The Strait of Georgia was rolly but not rough, and the winds never got over 10 knots. The Captain and I worked together to navigate Porlier Pass and didn’t even see any rocks let alone hit them. And when we reached Montague Harbor, we achieved what is arguably our best anchoring attempt yet. Follow that with a steak on the grill, a cold beer in hand, and a yellow jacket. Not a fashion choice, a loathsome pest.

Canada has been rife with yellow jackets this summer. The mild winter must have caused a population explosion and I’m pretty sure they’re exclusively targeting bars and boats. On the occasions when we go out to a pub or restaurant, we have to sit outside because of the D-O-G. Actually, to be 100% correct, we have to sit outside next to a fence with the D-O-G on the other side. You see, Canadian health codes mandate that dogs cannot be IN an establishment that serves food—even if that IN is outside. So a lot of pubs, bars, and restaurants have low, open fences around their patios so that Fido can be technically OUT while his owners are IN. There are so many dog owners in Canada hugging the fences that if you looked at a heat map of any given restaurant district, it’d have crop circles. Editor’s Note: There are a few people who sit in the middle—they’re called smokers. Apparently it’s okay to have a side of second-hand smoke with your entrĂ©e, but not an errant fur.

But back to the yellow jackets. Every restaurant, every pub, they are everywhere. Those that know me know that I have a deep-seated fear of wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and bees a.k.a. all insects of the genus “Flying Stingy Things.” My overreactions are legendary. From climbing over tables to hiding behind the dog, I will do anything to avoid contact. Put a wasp in my personal space and I can do the 100-yard dash in 15 seconds flat—it’d be closer to 9 if I could keep the arm flailing under control. The Captain says they are attracted to me because they can sense fear. He’s only partially right. They don’t have to sense anything, they can see by my face that I’m about ready to sh*t my pants. But I don’t think the Captain appreciates the gravity of the situation. Here’s the deal: if you antagonize a Flying Stingy Thing, it immediately sends out an SOS to its hive mates, and soon thousands of its comrades-in-arms appear in the distance—the strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries growing ever louder as they approach. Ugliness ensues and then the next thing you know, you’re a featured item in the “Offbeat” section of the newspaper (a travesty—it should be under “Crime”.)

And now here we are—anchored in a beautiful bay—and I look like I’m in the throes of what the other boaters in the harbor must’ve thought was an epileptic seizure. I just don’t understand it—we are at least 400 yards offshore. It must’ve taken that little bastard three days just to get out here and for what? Is he the Columbus of yellow jackets? Is it his charge to venture out into the unknown and discover a shortcut to the nearest Tim Horton’s? After I composed myself, I had no trouble kicking his little ass overboard. It’d take his comrades a good 72 hours to get here and we’ll be long gone by then.

Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s true I’ve never been bitten and I’ve never been stung. But then I don’t need to be hit in the head with a hammer to know it’s going to be unpleasant.
Pictured: The Captain contemplating Porlier Pass while the Swab contemplates lunchtime
Pictured: The Captain relaxing while at anchor in Montague Harbor
Not Pictured: First Mate going mano y mano with Flying Stingy Thing

Friday, July 24, 2015

Day 52-54 of the 1st Voyage: In which we finally—finally!—take our leave of CRBC and Canada (sort of) redeems itself.

One bloody manifold (I can legally call it “bloody” because it’s English and all) and ten boat bucks later and the engine is finally functioning again. Editor’s Note: In reference to the last post, Canadians STILL do not do weekends no matter how pathetic you are. As a result, we had to wait till Monday for our exhaust elbow to be modified and installed. But to diesel mechanic 3’s credit, the job was completed on Monday. We opted to stay in CRBC on Tuesday to make sure all other systems were functioning, giving diesel mechanic 3 the opportunity to personally witness the look of horror on our faces upon seeing the bill—a look that I’m sure those in the trade refer to as “gravy”.

So finally, on Wednesday—32 days after we first arrived—we dusted off the cobwebs, pulled away from the dock, motored over to the fuel dock, plunked down five dinghy dollars to top off the tanks, high-tailed it out of the harbor, and officially put CRBC in our rearview mirror. It was an awesome feeling—made all the more awesomer by knowing that we will never set foot there again. Ever. And we’re fairly certain that not even the passage of time will soften our feelings towards the place. But if there’s one concession, it’s that we did our part to keep CRBC “green”. Thanks to our patronage, the liquor store saw a 20% increase in sales; the tobacco stores had to pool their inventory to keep up with the Captain’s cigar consumption; the marine supply store added a new wing; and the marina named us “tenant of the month”. To say nothing of the various tradespeople that have paraded in and out of our boat (and our wallets) this past month. I must admit that I do feel a little sorry for CRBC. Now that we’re gone, their economy’s going to collapse.
Pictured: Manifold aka Diesel Mechanic 3's son's college fund
Opposites do attract.
With the plan now to beat a hasty retreat back to Everett to prepare Raven for the voyage to San Diego in September, we’re choosing our stops strategically—namely any place in a southerly direction that’s not at all reminiscent of CRBC. Campbell River (and we speak from experience now) is a strip mall with a marina. There’s a reason it’s a provisioning port—one maybe two days max to load up on bacon and booze before heading north. Those that choose it as a destination are either a) holing up in one of the area’s luxury sport fishing resorts and never actually setting foot in town; b) confusing it with some other place; or c) both.

After studying the charts, we opted to head to Pender Harbor. It would be a long jaunt—fully 61 nautical miles or roughly seven hours at sea—but we had a new manifold and a rebuilt engine to break in and the further we got from CRBC, the more likely we would get towed into another/better harbor if something went wrong. But nothing did, and I guess we have diesel mechanic 3 to thank for it (and I hope he enjoys his new Ferrari.) As this was our first day on the new and improved engine, we knew we wanted to spend the night at dock…just in case…and despite this being the high season when many marinas are full, we found a spot (six actually) at the Garden Bay Hotel Marina & Pub. Sounds swanky, huh? Not so much. The hotel went out of business long ago, the marina consisted of two rickety old docks that could hold maybe a dozen boats, and the pub is one of those locals-only joints that smells like stale beer and looks like a waffle house. In short…it was perfect. The owner himself came down to help us tie off, then we followed him up to the pub where we had cold beer and seafood fettuccini out on the patio overlooking the harbor. It was absolutely wonderful and exactly what we needed to shake the CRBC blues.

From Pender Harbor we had two options: southeast to Nanaimo or south toward Vancouver. We’d been to Nanaimo—it’s okay, but we didn’t want to risk getting caught up in another “ruckus” (see day 20) —so we set our sights on Bowen Island and a little harbor called Snug Cove and were particularly intrigued with a small marina with the delightful name of Union Steamship Company Marina. And I’m happy to report that it’s not only big on beautiful (a safe harbor surrounded on three sides by tall mountains) and long on quaint (turn-of-the-century architecture and landscaping), but extremely serene and a great place to hole up for two days. In other words, it completely lives up to the hype of its back cover ad on the Waggoner’s Cruising Guide (money well spent, USSC Marina.)

And so Canada has come through twice in two days—almost as if it were trying to apologize for the blahness that was CRBC. But it’ll have to try a little harder. We’re still a little miffed about the eggs.
Pictured:  Bidding good riddance to CRBC
Not pictured: Giving CRBC the finger
Pictured:  Not CRBC (Garden Bay/Pender Harbor)
Pictured:  Also not CRBC (Union Steamship Marina/Snug Cove)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 48 of the 1st Voyage: In which the manifold finally arrives and we’re fairly certain the Captain has been placed on an international watch list.

Today marks our 28th day in CRBC (dba CampHell River) and with it the realization that more than half of our odyssey has been spent languishing here, completely immobilized. The adventure of days 1-21 has turned into a distant memory, overshadowed by the ordeal of days 22+. Each day begins optimistically, builds in anticipation of a positive outcome, and culminates in the inevitable let down. It’s the equivalent of riding a rollercoaster—you go up, down, round and round but ultimately just end up where you started. That and you want to throw up.

For the uninitiated, here’s how you lose 30 days of your life over an exhaust manifold:
Day 1: Arrive CRBC with obvious engine trouble.
Day 2: Diesel mechanic 1 brought in; he pulls out manifold and takes it away for testing.
Day 3: Diesel mechanic 1 tests manifold, determines it has pinholes and must be replaced, says he will get quote for new one right away.
Day 4: Can’t get hold of diesel mechanic 1.
Day 5: Can’t get hold of diesel mechanic 1.
Day 6: Can’t get hold of diesel mechanic 1.
Day 7-8: Canadians don’t do weekends.
Day 9: Can’t get hold of diesel mechanic 1; call diesel mechanic 2 in Everett for recommendation; call in diesel mechanic 3; in the meantime, do own search for manifold, find company in Virginia that says they have one, get quote.
Day 10: Diesel mechanic 3 concurs it’s most likely manifold but must see it first—goes ahead and removes oil pump for good measure; diesel mechanic 3 contacts diesel mechanic 1 to procure old manifold; diesel mechanic 1 not thrilled about giving up manifold but does suddenly state that he has “just received confirmation that a quote will be coming in the next couple of days” from company in Virginia; diesel mechanic 1 fired.
Day 11: Canada Day (kind of like Fourth of July only substitute poutine for hot dogs. Oh, and nobody works.)
Day 12: Diesel mechanic 3 agrees that new manifold is needed; contacts company in Virginia; company in Virginia fesses up that they don’t actually “have” one but they can “make” one in 2-3 weeks; diesel mechanic 3 tracks down manifold in England; diesel mechanic 1 calls to say he finally has quote from company in Virginia but part will take 3-4 weeks; diesel mechanic 1 still fired.
Day 13: Diesel mechanic 3 takes pictures of remaining engine for English company, orders manifold, and removes/takes away muffler for good measure; engine room starting to look a little sparse. English company says it will ship manifold “right away”.
Day 14-15: Canadians and the English don’t do weekends.
Day 16: English company sits on manifold.
Day 17: English company sits on manifold.
Day 18: Manifold delivered to Gatwick Airport for flight to Canada.
Day 19: Manifold goes from Gatwick to Heathrow to Midlands, clears customs, finally leaves the UK.
Day 20: Manifold arrives in Cleveland (because why not?), clears customs, flies to Vancouver.
Day 21-22: Canadians don’t do weekends.
Day 23: Manifold held in Vancouver for a “clearance event”.
Day 24: Manifold held in Vancouver for a “clearance event”.
Day 25: The Captain contacts brother that works in international shipping; brother talks some sense into customs broker; manifold finally released from “clearance event”.
Day 26: Manifold arrives in CRBC! Work commences! Manifold installed; oil pump and muffler put back in; engine room starting to look full again.
Day 27: Work grinds to a halt. Mixing elbow from manifold to muffler does not fit and must be modified.
Day 28 (today): Diesel mechanic 3 sends elbow exhaust to outside welder (who apparently DOES work on Saturdays and/or feels sorry for us because we’re bordering on pathetic.)
Day 29: We’ve been told there’s a 50/50 chance that diesel mechanic 3 will/might possibly (you never know) work on Sunday. (Apparently because we have become that pathetic.)
Day 30: Diesel mechanic 3 will definitely be out to finish the engine.
Day 31: If there is a Day 31, diesel mechanic 3 will have grim task of identifying the bodies.

So for those of you who made it this far in the post without throwing up your hands and giving up (and we wouldn't blame you), you’re probably asking yourselves, “what exactly is a clearance event?” Apparently this is the bureaucratic way of saying, “your sh*ts all jacked up.” Typically this stems from incomplete manifests (thanks, DHL) and incorrect paperwork (thanks, unnamed local company) but in some cases shipments may be delayed because they look “funny”. Our shipment consisted of two large heavy aluminum objects, two copper pipes, and various metal bits and bobs. On the x-ray, these looked “funny”. It wasn’t “funny” in London, it wasn’t “funny” in Cleveland, but it sure as sh*t was hilarious in Vancouver.

When diesel mechanic 3 told us that the customs broker had implied that our package was a bomb (you didn’t think we meant “funny” as in “ha ha”, right?), we assumed he was just covering his butt due to the paperwork delay. But then the Captain got a phone call—someone from Calgary with an unlisted number wanted to verify that the Captain was who he said he was and was indeed associated with this cell phone number, etc. etc. It may have been nothing, but coming right after you’ve been told that Vancouver thinks your manifold is so funny it should do the club circuit, it does make you wonder.

In the end—and owing to the intervention of the Captain’s brother—the manifold was finally cleared and arrived the next morning in CRBC. Definitely not a bomb. Although the Captain did say that when we finally leave, he will be dropping a few bombs. About 37 of them…all beginning with the letter “F”.

Editor’s Note: For those of you keeping score at home, we paid one boat buck for “expedited” shipping from England. The DHL tracking sheet logged 25 stages equating to $40 each step and/or $100 per day. Glad we didn't go ground.
Pictured:  Not a bomb

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Day whatever to whenever and/or who the hell knows anymore.

As we enter into our third (or is it 30th?) week of exile here in CRBC, pluck and determination have given way to provocation and tedium, and we’re really starting to wonder if we’re ever going to get out of here. Every morning I ask the Captain what he’d like to do today and every morning he answers, “Leave.”

We’ve been trying to stay busy. The bright work continues—though not at the pace we had hoped. The weather is hot, but every afternoon we’ve had a strong wind out of the northeast carrying debris that makes varnish work difficult. And in the last few days, we’ve been hindered by ash and heavy air from the hundreds of wildfires raging throughout BC and the northern US. When the elements conspire against us to do bright work, the Captain turns to other maintenance tasks and I turn to my sailing books trying to at least get the theoretical hang of boating while the practical is temporarily out of reach. As for the rest of the crew, the Deck Boss has been dusting off her culinary “skills” (her quotation marks, not mine) to prepare much-needed comfort food and Otter has been expending energy at the Hounds’ Hangout, CRBC’s local doggy daycare (although with a twice daily, three-mile roundtrip walk to the facility, I’d say the Captain and I are expending a lot of energy as well.) And Edgrrr? Let’s just say he’s doing his best to keep the “butt” in “butthead” and he had better hope that the Deck Boss doesn’t add “skinning a cat” to her culinary “skills”.

Each day, we watch as the marina fills up with all the boats stopping to re-provision before heading out the next day. We’ve turned into locals—fussing that these “tourists” are hogging the laundry facilities, bogging down the Wi-Fi, and going through the express checkout at the supermarket with 18 items when it clearly specifies 16 (at the current exchange rate, that’s 12 items American.) Each night, we sit out on the stern and watch the cruise ships go by—full of happy people going somewhere—and remember when we used to go somewhere, too. By morning, they’re all gone. The ebb and flood of boat traffic that never takes us with it.  

Now the two of you who read this blog may be wondering why we don’t rent a car and go somewhere; or go on one of those fishing charters (this is the Salmon Capital of the World after all); or take the whale watching tour (don’t get me started). Well, it comes down to time. And though we seemingly have all the time in the world, it just hasn’t come in any sizeable and/or predictable chunks. When so-and-so is stopping by sometime today to check out the intake valve on the something-or-other, it really makes it hard to do any planning even if so-and-so is only going to be in-and-out. So it has become a game of hurry up and wait. And that elusive thing we’ve been waiting for?

A manifold was finally located late last week…in England. By the time phone calls had been made, photos had been sent, and confirmations received, four days had passed simply due to the time difference. But at last we got word that the manifold was at Heathrow waiting for its flight to Vancouver, and that after it cleared customs it would make its way by ferry to Victoria, then up the Island Highway to Campbell River. And that’s when it dawned on me that the manifold was having a much better time than we were.
Pictured: The daily influx of yachts coming in to provision then leaving the next day a.k.a. Lucky Bastards