Winter’s chill made an early surprise attack on my little island freezing pipes and icing roads. We even had a minor dusting of snow the other morning that brought joy to some and panic to others. Though the snow barely settled before it was but a memory of winter’s past the chill has remained for days. About a month early for these parts and my weekend was spent partly attending to west coast winter dilemma such as rummaging about the workshop looking for that lost chicken coop heat lamp. There is nothing sadder than the scene of a chicken beak-frozen to the water trough. Alas, I take it with humour because it could be worse. December on Salt Spring Island usually means wet winter storms, high winds and power outages. I will always take a clear and chilly winter day.
With Christmas sneaking up fast and a space cleared in the living room of our cabin to be filled shortly with a tree the items under it wrapped with care and my anticipation of happiness at their giving, it is those items that cannot beat the gift of a Sunday morning coffee and a spontaneous outing to the woods at the south of the island with good company. What we found with our cameras was worth being pulled from the warmth of a coffee shop to standing chilly on the fringes of an icy lake and waterfall. Here is a sampling of what we found.
When I think about Tofino, BC many images come to my mind’s eye in an overwhelming stream of memories from childhood wanderings and play on Long Beach (now Pacific Rim National Park) amongst the hippie kids and resident squatter community living a sandy lifestyle of the mid-70′s, and my more current experiences kayaking the area.
Much has changed in the little village that is quite literally at the end of the road to the west side of Vancouver Island, and much has remained the same. Time and tide are the constant though Tofino endures an annual invasion of summer tourist that whips the local routine into a frenzy. Campsites are bursting to overflow, beaches packed with wanderers and surfers. The town is populated with bus tours and backpackers. But in the fall, much like my home on Salt Spring Island, which is also a tourist destination the flow slows. Regulars in town reappear after a summer hibernation and everything returns to a normal pace.
In the case of Tofino that pace remains humming as the ‘storm-watching’ season begins. The surf warning sign is changed from low to moderate or even high, the campsites are plentiful and the air is always clear and crisp. That is the first thing that hits me each time I set out on whatever beach I am closest too upon arrival in Tofino. The air at home is still, rainforest calm scent of trees and seaweed. Out there on Chesterman’s Beach, McKenzie Beach, Cox Bay or Long Beach the air is like a chilled white wine by comparison to my luke warm Merlot air of home. West coast Pacific air immediately refreshes the spirit and it all seems somehow brighter.
Last week my wife and I revisited the place of our honeymoon and the familiar scene that welcomes us even after a two-year absence. We set up camp near the ocean and our soundtrack that first night would be pounding surf mixed with the rapid attack of raindrops on our tarp. By morning, nothing but high clouds and mild temperatures greeted us as we sipped coffee at the Common Loaf Bakery in town before heading to Cox Bay, home this year to the Queen of the Peak women’s surf competition hosting wave riders from all over, with the high content of local talent. The first day of the meet was the short boarders hitting the larger waves of the weekend following some stormy days. This was my first experience watching real surfers doing what they do best and the show did not disappoint. The joy, smiles and pure athleticism of these women was astounding. Making the paddle out through a rockery to sneak out behind the incoming sets of waves was made to look easy. The rides were in some cases long and the return paddle to get the next wave equally daunting.
This was a trip that led me to Tofino at the head of one of best kayaking destinations around, Clayoquot Sound once more without my kayak on the roof rack? Though I was not there to paddle the Tofino experiences only added to the library of lovely memories from my first sight of the endless beaches when I was still in single digits and all the way to present day when I can share the experience and love of a place with the love of my life. But next time I am taking my kayak!
Summer it seems is showing the signs that the last act of the play is about to start and a season of heavy kayaking has come and gone for me without much time on the water. This was a summer of working, not playing. That said, I pulled my wooden kayak off the seas for a well-deserved renovation and care. The new job slowed the process and though I had the enthusiasm, the body was pooped and my days off spent catching up on rest and other more important things.
Alas, October is now scratching at the door like a wet cat and my kayak sits partly done. sigh. Today I realized that my gelcoating efforts should be beefed up as sanding her belly smooth revealed more wood than smoothness when removing the orange rind dimples I really should have been more generous with the gel coat… Another few coats to be added and a few more evening, and weekend sessions wet sanding to get the pro finish I really want. My newbie efforts at refinishing are showing but a bit more elbow grease is okay with me. She deserves it after so many years of keeping me safe and joyful.
So my summer project becomes a fall project. The kayak rebirth in the new year, her tenth year on the water with a shine and a new look.
After nearly a decade of wonderful paddling experiences with the best waterfront view any boy, or in my case ‘Paddlingboy” could ask for it is time to give back. My kayak, Dragonfly named partly due to the pair of chinese dragons etched into the wood with a soldering iron and later reinforced by the rather large dragonfly that landed on the bow and dried its iridescent wings for almost a half hour as I paddled the scenic shores of Desolation Sound. My kayak, Dragonfly needs some love. Her many rough landings on abrasive beaches, collisions with partly submerged rocks, logs and all manner of other abuses has left some permanent marks upon her slender sleek body. After so many years on the water like most of us, the years leave some damage, and some that just cannot be ignored any longer. Scars so deep her fibreglass was showing!
A few weeks ago the make-over began with a full-kayak sand down. Scratched and chipped gelcoat and layers of varnish all came off with my new sander and some elbow grease. Now, it is time to get down to the really scary stuff. What to do about the hull? The answer was given to me by a paddling buddy of mine who in the past year os so has built three, count em’ three cedar strip kayaks. One for his paddling and the other two smaller versions of the original for his kids. I had the awesome fortune of test paddling one of those beauties last spring and the answer to my issues were the bottom of those kayaks. He had treated them with layers of jet black buffed to a shine gelcoat. The combination of the wooden deck and black hull was sexy. I was not too sure when he first told me of his plans to do so, but the end result was convincing to say the least. The cure for all my dings and dents was to cover over the wood panel bottom of my kayak, a kit-build Coho from Pygmy Boats in Port Townsend, Wa.
The keel needed a touch up so I taped out that section of the hull first and gave it a roll over of black gelcoat. The subsequent layers will overlap and give that more vulnerable part extra thickness. That was a breeze. What came next took an ounce of courage and a pound of commitment. Blacking out the wooden hull fully. I took one deep breath and let the roller roll over the first panel of wood. Yikes, I have done it now. No going back…I fretted and spent the rest of the afternoon a little freaked-out by what I had done to my baby. I could always sand her down again I told myself, but I knew better.
This morning a second full coat went on and the blotchy base coat slowly melted away to a more deep coating of black. I feel relieved again and hope she likes the fact that I will be spending many hours with her in the next few weeks hand sanding her to a smooth finish.
As a Wet Belly I have a hard time justifying my boss’s need to send me to school for a day. However, she wanted me to have my basic food safe certificate, the restaurant would pay for the one-day 8-hour course for food handling and serving as well as bribing me out of a precious day off by paying me for the day as well. So I walked into the conference room reserved for the course with the kitchen I work at out of sight and sound on the other side of the wall. Only the occasional quiet moment did I hear a distant clatter of dishes. There I was, reluctantly and without a cup of coffee, back in school if only for one day. Anywhere else would have been preferable even on that rainy day in June.
Over the years I have toyed on occasion to sit once more in a classroom but I would refuse to take anything useful that would send me hurtling down the path of a quote, career. Why start now after all, I did get a degree in Fine and Visual Arts with an emphasis on art history way back in the 80′s when all my graphic design homework was done by hand, with a pen or brush and not with a point of a mouse. If I were to wander wayward back into a classroom it would be to take such wayward rewarding and real-day useless subjects like comparative religion studies, or folklore of ancient Celtics, or English.
Alas, there I sat in a stuffy, close humid room with strangers save the young woman who serves at the restaurant and another person I know from the island. I sat in the back row with the bad kids talking in class and asking, nay debating the course at every turn if only the aid in staying awake. Did I mention the humidity? The close heavy room and a full meal at the short lunch break had the entire room near snoring levels by 2pm. The circa 1970′s era styled tutorial videos supplied on VHS no less didn’t help matters in the staying alert department. Then around 4pm with our heads filled with kill temperatures and too much information about pathogens and micro-organisms that live on us and all over everything on the plate we had the exam. I fared pretty well, only dropping the ball on a couple of the multiple choice questions. Perhaps I should have just chosen C because if in doubt that is usually a best guess.
I walked out and met my wife waiting for me in the restaurant and I ordered my staff beer. I needed it. It was the carrot on the stick (which I am sure is not food safe) to get me through the last hours of boredom. She asked about the day and I had to say, proudly so that I was one of the few not completely ‘grossed out’ after the first hours of information about flies vomiting on lettuce and how fast microbes multiply on a hamburger bun at room temperature. In fact, the course only had me dreaming of dangerous foods. As Anthony Bourdain would describe as the Nasty Bits. I wanted something that may or may not live forever in my lower intestine. I wanted to eat from a street vendor in Vietnam. Drink the snake blood poured into moonshine. Anything to purge the constant dripping from the instructor that food is risky stuff. I agree, but I did get there to the class in a car. I survived my childhood without wearing a helmet and I eat for pleasure and with no fear. If I pay later on with an uncomfortable night on the can, so be it.
It is Yukon River Quest time again,
and Salt Spring Island once again has a strong contendor on the river marathon starting next Wednesday in Whitehorse and ending a few thousand paddle-strokes later in Dawson City. For those of you who are not in the know, this is a bout 444 miles or about 700kms of amazing wilderness paddling. Kayakers and canoeists from all over the world will start to filter into the campgrounds over the weekend including my good buddy and endurance paddler Gus. Check out his Facebook page and LIKE it to get updates, and the Yukon River Quest website ‘Race Tracker’ to follow him up the long winding river under the midnight sun.
My name is Dave, and I am a wet belly. On a blog about kayaking one might assume this term may refer to the soggy mess accumulating behind your seat as the contact point of your spray skirt and the seat back wick sea water drip by chilling annoying drip down your lower back and into your seat eventually building up in a sloshing puddle. One might also consider a wet belly as a kayaker who wears his neoprene spray skirt next to the skin. Something that I will never ever do as I react to wet neoprene in a flesh-sluffing malaise as discovered while wearing booties of the offending material. However, a wet belly, or dish, or the not-so appealing Dish Pig is a term referring directly to my latest addition to the long list of need to pay the rent and eat jobs to my self-unemployable messy lifestyle of writer and craftsperson. Gotta pay the rent on an island where the 2008 crash has only just caught up. Needless to say, to find work on the island, any work is a gold-medal success. After a long stressful year and a half without any steady or marginally steady income and my amazing wife picking up the slack, which was most of the line, I found work in a local hotel kitchen. An ad on the local online classified was answered by me, and responded by sous chef within an hour. I was hired. I am not sure my resume was ever actually purveyed or considered, the fact I had a pulse and would show up on the date specified for training was.
In the weeks to come I would understand the reasons behind my hasty hiring as this job is not for everyone. Swinging at a high pace between shovelling piles of cooked on, dried on, and refused left overs into a washing machine and slicing potatoes into french fries, then cleaning mussels and clams while aware of the ever-shortening time stress I have to pre-fry fries before the line cooks demand use of the deep fryer for the lunch rush, and then there may or may not be anywhere from 2 to 4 hotel trays of red potatoes stacked in the walk in fridge awaiting my knife to turn them into rustic cut hash browns for the next morning breakfast crowd. It is an eight-hour non-stop no-break (lucky if I can sneak a pee break) day of dishpit duties while performing a juggling act of attending to a half-dozen other people’s immediate or the world will come to an end needs. My feet are burning by the eighth and hour of my shift and the final act of signing out at the front desk and a happy hard right hand turn into the ‘front of house’ where we kitchen folk are forbidden (considering my appearance by mid-day I understand this rule) while on shift to slurp down my free staff pint.
With what I hope to be the worst behind me and a steady, consistent day time shift in my pocket and no more dinner shifts ending in the wee hours of the morning my hands now going numb each morning from inflammation at the elbows and my belly wet at the height of the dishpit sink from where the overhead power sprayer mists my midriff daily I muddle on. It may not be a glamorous location the dish pit, and the money may not be grand and my status at the tender age of 48 as someone at the bottom of the kitchen pecking order might not be ideal, but I have work, for now. There are rumours of custom-made balls and chain, and shackles on order to keep me at my post as I seem to have once again proven to be invaluable, reliable and responsibly. A set of personality traits I have spent a lifetime trying to out run.