Sunday, September 20, 2015

Expeditioning and the SV GIRI

SV GIRI was finally outfitted for offshore sailing again.  On the last trip back from Hawaii, the mast broke in a gale.  We jury rigged a solution with a Spanish Turnkey and limped back to North America.  Since the mast footing had to be welded, I had the whole cabin taken out to avoid fire. Surveyors used ultra sound to check the depth of steel and where there was decrease I had 2 huge steel plates welded on.  After that major procedure, the mast and hull of the GIRI were good to go for a few more decades.  My friend Tom who I’d sailed with and had undertaken the work said,
“I made sure that if something went wrong on the GIRI on her next ocean passage it wouldn’t have anything to do with the mast or hull."
I replaced the old workhorse Yanmar engine last year with a new Volvo D40.  Everything on my sailboat has been replaced 2 or 3 times in the 25 years I’ve had the boat.  It’s the third radar and second autopilot. I’ve upgraded the winches to a larger size and better quality.   I replaced the wind generator recently too. I’m on my second generation of self steering vane.  Everything has back up and redundancy.  Three anchors and even a portable electric winch along with a Honda 1000 cc generator.  
Meanwhile I’ve sailed the boat around the San Jaun Islands, Desolation Sound, Beyond Desolation Sound, the Gulf Islands, Queen Charlotte Islands, the Alaska Coast,  around Vancouver Island a couple of times,  my ex wife Sherry and I sailed to Mexico, then  I solo sailed in winter to Hawaii.  Tom and I sailed the Hawaiian Islands together.  Then we sailed back to Vancouver from Honolulu. That’s the trip the mast broke.   Between refitting I've continued sailing in Georgia Strait and  off and on lived aboard the boat for months or a year or two at a time.   I found that it was only when I was actually staying on the boat that I would ensure repairs and maintenance stayed on track.  I’d actually planned with Tom to begin sailing down the coast last year  with a view to completing my original planned sail to the Caribbean through the Panama.
I still need to do a topside paint. It’s a steel boat and the rust marks coming through my last painting a few years back make it look a bit of a scow.  It’s not.  I’ve sand blasted it three or four  times over the years, each time at a cost of $10,000. The last time we brushed and sanded and I painted it myself.  I’ve epoxied and painted the bottom countless times, every 1 to 2 year on average.  Topside painting was the task left to be done.  Sailing in April  with Laura I found that one of the cockpit drains needed replacing too. The Stem to Stern Marina guys , who had done a skookum job with installing the Volvo and upgrading matters in the bilge had pointed the damaged drain out to me.  I’d forgotten till I was in a gale and with water coming over the side had to tack mainly to allow the cockpit to drain so I didn’t have to bail.
Pro Tech rigging had done the inspection and had cut all the new rope so that’s going on next spring when I restep the mast.  They did an amazing job preparing the boat for hauling out by Lynnwood Marina and shipping across the country by Andrews Trucking.  Just last year Pro Tech installed new guy lines around the perimeter and I had some new hardware to replace the stuff we designated as worn. I haven’t replaced the main sail but I got a new genoa and Pro tech installed that and ensured the foresail furling system was in good shape.
The boat was finally ready for another expedition.  Another grand adventure.  Any bits that needed doing still could be done along the coastal hops that would come before any ocean crossing. There’s always fine tuning to be done in the first few weeks of sailing.  Before last heading out to Hawaii my antennae on top of the mast came lose and needed new fittings that would last an offshore beating.  I also had to get the leech of the old foresail reinforced in San Francisco before heading out.
The question for the last couple of years had been  where to sail to next..
 I’d wanted to sail around the world. The standing joke in boat world is everyone buys a 25 foot or more sailboat with just that intention but less than half a percent or less actually get the sailboat our of the main harbour.  Most don’t leave their slip for years on end.  That was the plan too when I  got to Mexico and stayed the year in the Sea or Cortez.  I was headed for the Northern Marianas Islands with a view to sailing around the world when I last stopped in Hawaii.
Pirates is the number one reason I don’t  set out again to cross the Pacific.  Also I’ve always loved the idea of sailing to New Zealand and Australia but I have a dog and dogs are simply not welcome in the Pacific. Stuart the Scotty I’d sailed with before had to endure horrible quarantine in Hawaii and later in Saipan. The people were wonderful but the poor dog lost months of his short  life to jail through no fault of his own. I have Gilbert the cockapoo now.   I really don’t like going anywhere where my dog’s not welcome.
I was in Dublin this spring.  I’ve always dreamed of sailing the British Islands.  Scotland and Ireland are where my grandparents are from. I met an 85 year old solo sailor after he’d crossed the North Atlantic in a little sailboat for the umpteenth time.  Tom says he’d love to sail to the Azores.
My brother became ill this spring. That really brought matters to a head and finalized the course of the future. I’ve always wanted to sail with my older brother. He taught me to canoe. I’d fish from our little skiff with the Johnson motor every summer of my childhood with him and my Dad.  My brother is the mensch in the family, a true salt of the earth man . He  was always the brightest and smartest of the family.  I actually hated following his genius going through school. Everyone remembered him fondly. His teachers would always tell me how smart and accomplished he was .  Meanwhile I got by muddling along at times, even excelling.  
The beauty of Europe is that they welcome dogs. I truly love the history of Western Civilization.  I was  humbled by the 5000 year old architecture of the Palace of Knossos on Crete. They actually had indoor plumbing back then and used natural lighting in amazing ways.  I loved standing on shore and looking at the little harbour of Jaffa in Israel where Jonah set out for Ninevah. That sent chills up my spine.  I’ve loved harbours the world over but those in the Mediterranean are so rich with western history that I find every view awe inspiring.  Athens was particularly breath taking.  Last year I loved being in Istanbul, previously called Constantine, taking a ferry on that fabled strait that separates Europe and the East.  In Israel I felt in my very soul that I was walking in the steps of Jesus but in Greece and Turkey I felt like I was following St. Paul.  And even Alexander the Great.  I loved Italy and Rome and would love to return. The art and people are so enriching.  I was in the south of Spain and Morocco in my 20’s crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in ferries, once in a horrible blow.
The ports along the northern coast of France and especially the sea farer Mecca of Amsterdam have always touched my heart.  But London is my all time favourite city, a place where I lived for a year with my gorgeous brilliant first wife when I was an intellectual and couldn’t get enough of the libraries and museums of that great city.  True I’ve always wanted to return to study at Oxford and Cambridge but other universities captured me with their more mundane designs. But the Thames has never failed to beckon.  Then Glasgow and Edinburgh and last year Dublin and Belfast were the places I was most enamoured with.
I read the Kon Tiki for sure.  But the voyage of St. Brendan is the one that always captured my heart being done in the ancient north Atlantic by Irish monks in leather boats.  As a sailor I’ve read hundreds of books by sailors. It’s been my passion. While I’ve loved the countless true stories of persons who set off in little boats to sail the seas I’ve also liked the historical fiction of the sailing vessels. I’ve especially  liked reading the tales of our naval explorers like  Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver.  The story of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic adventure and survival is simply miraculous.
There’s the great wealth of historical fiction of the great sea battles of the Imperial navies of Britain and France and Spain that I’ve thoroughly lost myself in during a Canadian winter ashore.  I’ve had thousands of hours of technical reading to do but never has a day gone by that I’ve not read adventures and mostly sea adventures for the sheer joy of it.  Many a trying week of work and a difficult winter has been made less so by reading of the stories of fellow cruisers in small boats.   Joshua Slocum is the great grandfather of the movement  for sure.  My ex wife and I setting out to sail around the world but got  only from Vancouver Canada to Quaymos,  Mexico We both most loved the stories of the Hiscocks and Myles and Beryl Smeeton. Not only were they made of sterner stuff so were the marriages of those earlier days.  No doubt the men were more courageous.   Like many a couple that’s gone offshore  one stayed with the boat and one returned happily to home on land. My ex was a fabulous helmswoman who could get the best out of sails coastal day sailing. I still love the adventure of the sea and love to read stories of all those who’ve travelled upon her vastness and mystery.  Tales of endurance and passage and arrival in exotic places still enthral me.
The trouble is pirates.  And governments.  I’ve found that wind and sea and boat maintenance challenges are more than sufficient for my appetite.  I’ve not particularly liked crew including myself.  The fact is I prefer my dogs company and all else is a bit of work.  In fairness to my lovely ex wife I found when I was a couple of weeks  alone at sea with my own thoughts I wanted to divorce me.  The thought of having to deal with unfriendly strangers wanting to kill me and steal my boat is simply too overwhelming to consider.
I chose to sail offshore with the trusty marine nickel plated defender shot gun. It’s fairly standard equipment for commercial fishing boats since some times one actually has to shoot the big halibut to get them aboard. I have spear guns for scuba and flare guns as well. I even have a cutlass which though real has a greater ornamental function in my rustic below deck Captains cabin.  Some might say it’s phallic.  The fact is the shorter cutlass is made for ship fighting as there would be no room to swing my Scottish broadsword.  I have these more for fashion or as one might pay for life insurance. I don’t want to use them.  I have a life raft on board too and am truly glad I’ve never had to use it and hopefully never will.  I studied fencing as a youth and as a hunter am an excellent marksman.
However the thought of taking another human’s life, even in self defence, would, to say the least, put a damper on a vacation, for me, a physician who has devoted his life to saving lives.  I remember the joy I felt off the Baja coast when we rescued a couple of men in a dinghy whose boat had caught fire and sunk.  I especially loved the time when my ex and I and a couple of other cruisers saved a baby whale that had got it’s self disoriented trapped and partially beached in some mangroves.  I would rather not have to tell a story of blowing the brains out of some psychopath trying to board my boat.  There’s more than enough adventure without that sort of nonsense. In fact going away to sea is especially enjoyable because it gets me away from some of the drug addicted psychopaths who seem unable to change their mind about seeing other humans as potential food rather than companions. These blokes have been part of my work especially when I worked with the jails. I certainly don’t want to meet this sort at sea.  That would be a busman’s holiday for sure.
In fact I’m happy to be alone with my dog and only just tolerate friends and lovers.  If there weren’t merit in numbers I’d probably just solo sail.  The fact is I get rather lonely after a week or two and actually enjoy my companions at times.  There’s a great deal of laughter when one sails with people who are adults and have got over that “I’’m a victim” stage of emotional development. As a captain I really don’t have patience for whining and passive aggressiveness or attitude.
I have heard that the cruising community has taken to hiring ex American navy personnel in guns boats to accompany the fleet as they passage south and east of Malaysia.  I was in Singapore a few years back and loved it dearly. I loved the rule of law and the order in the community. The harbours in the area are magnificent as well. Unfortunately the el Quaeda has taken hold in nearby villages so that stories abound of pirates killing foreigners, mostly Christians, or at very least stealing their boats and leaving them stranded. I’m very much a Christian but not the better sort that does a fine job of being martyred.  I was thankful that the Lord did this for me and know I’d do a very bad and messy job of dying for my beliefs.
Then there’s the Somalian muslims, a particularly uncivilized lot whose dangerous  stupidity and lack of civilization are becoming epic.  I confess I’ve loved reading of American cruisers who have been attacked by these high speed gun boats with 50 mm machine guns blazing.  The best story is of two ex marines who were sailing together on their separate yachts when a couple of these drug crazed Allah Akubar swearing criminals charged their boats.  The frightening thing was that they opened fire from far off targeting the cockpit and hoping to kill anyone on board. One American armed with a 12 gauge shot gun popped up at the last moment when the pirates came along side with their AK 47 assault rifles in hand ready to board.  With combat trained reflexes and skills he blew all aboard away with repetitive shots from his defender.  Meanwhile his friend at the last moment veered his 7 km maximum speed sailboat into the Somalian high speed tobacco boat riding right over it and sending that boats pirates to the bottom of the sea.
I read the story while I was in charge of advertising for Blue Water Cruising Association out of Vancouver, BC.  Discussing it with cruisers we all cheered the Americans. I think even the vegetarian pacifists were impressed.  Yet its not something I personally want to have to do.  When I was in Bombay, now called Mumbai, I loved the harbour and so wanted to one day sail there. I love India and must return. The people are the most fascinating and so many of my friends are Indian ex pats here in Canada.  Yet the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea seem like places one would only want to go with an American flotilla of war ships, not on a little sailboat with a cockapoo dog.
The other problem has been the governments.  Carrying weapons on board is a major issue with each port.  Most cruisers as a consequence don’t declare their guns and most authorities turn a blind eye but it suddenly puts one in a difficult position. Even if one declares them there’s all manner of insanity attached to this placed there by beaurocratic fools who have never been in a boat themselves.  In Mexico I was expected to turn in my shot gun at the first port and then pick it up again when I departed the country.  The only problem is I was coming from the north and expecting to leave the country hundreds of miles to the south.  Government stupidity is impressive in Canada but by world standards Canada is a genius compared to the silliness of paper work and restrictions elsewhere.  So who wants the hassle especially when a single corrupt official ,and corrupt officials are extremely common in the third world, can impound your boat and arrest you. Increasingly every other nation in the third world seems intent on taking Canadians hostage either officially or unofficially for extortion and ransom.
When I was younger Canadian tourists were welcome overseas and sailors were able to anchor free in harbours so the whole process was pleasant and relatively inexpensive. Now Canadians, indeed all westerners, are seen as mega rich, like Mini Fatuous Kardashians, and a source of easy income.  There are the pirates for sure, then the rapacious businessmen and finally the corrupt extorting government officials.  Friends tell me that everywhere they were charged to anchor and even a fee was charged for landing their dinghies on shore.  Prices go up the minute you speak English. too.  Whites are thought of as racist but they’re the least racist today compared to the racism they can encounter and the tribalism in primitive nations.
Further, the United Nations has created this Social Communism idea of the West being the bourgeoisie.  Meanwhile the local businessmen in all these countries are richer than the richest Canadians. The key to world poverty is not east and west but rather financial distribution within the countries themselves.  In Muslim countries the rich are obscenely rich while the poor are poor yet in Canada while we have rich, wealth is more widely distributed. Our poor indeed are the richest poor in the world.  To the third world though we’re now the enemy. Especially if one is Christian.
I love all the Fillipino nurses and doctors I know and would love to sail to Manilla but that country was only a decade back taken off of the international list of places that are not recommended for small boat cruisers because of pirates.  The South China Seas are completely off the list. Yet I’d love to sail into the magnificent Hong Kong harbour. I’ve flown there repeatedly and love the city and people. The harbour is one of the greatest natural harbours in all the world. Yet who wants to be killed a day or two out to sea by dozens of ignorant communist Chinese  who see all westerners as bourgeoise capitalists.  Communists have forever been poor at creativity and live to steal.  Without theft their thug dominated system would expire because none of the truly creative are rewarded in these principally totalitarian gang lead social systems.  Communism is so often confused with socialism which it is not.
So while I’d love to sail more in the Pacific it’s increasingly been the plan to get to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and Great Britain.  I loved being in the Bahamas.  It was a truly inspiring moment when I visited Vera Cruz in Mexico where Columbus had landed.  My parents took a Cruise Ship tour of the Caribean Islands and spoke of the variety and diversity of every island for years after.  So yes, I’d love to sail there.
Now my sailboat has been shipped from Vancouver British Columbia here in the west to Bath, Lake Ontario in Eastern Canada.. My brother has developed cancer so the best way for us to sail together was for me to get the boat to Lake Ontario. Overland was the fastest, and probably the cheapest too, at $10,000 cost.  I have to consider how much time I’d lose from work if I tried again to sail it down the coast and cross at Mexico or Panama.  I really am looking forward to sailing in the famed Thousand Islands near Kingston.  Fresh water sailing and fishing will be a welcome change. I’ve got nephews too that want to crew. Then when my brother is better we can take the 350 mile canal motoring cruise down to New York. I’d love to have my sailboat in the New York habour and take a train to Manhatten to take in more Broadway plays.  My friend Laura would love to do some more motor sailing with me as well.  She’s not fond of being in the boat when the wind gets up a bit.
 I know Tom would be up for a sailing across the Atlantic. His eyes light up at the sound of the Azores.  I would love to have my brother along for that passage.   I’ve found it’s only men that want to join me on ocean crossings whereas women have often said they’d fly to meet me in exotic places.   These are dreams to come. For now the boat is going East.  I still want to visit Australia and there’s a medical meeting in Sidney I’ve wanted to attend for years. I may just have to fly there like others do.  I’d leave my dog here because frankly it seems everything in the Australian wild wants to kill us, from spiders to lizards.
imagine Gilbert would rather be with us in Bath.  He’ll be definiely up for sailing on Lake Ontario with his cousin cockapoo Eva. I can see them turning the deck into a dog Indie 500 chase. As a cockapoo I also expect Gilbert would gladly go ashore in France and England.   There he could proudly tell countless stories of his many adventures to his distant canine relatives.
I love that Europe loves dogs.

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