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A Canadian Ancient Mariner’s view of Current Affairs.

When I rage about the climate, politics, loss of privacy or other current controversies I end up with the thought “why should I even care? I am not going to be the one who has to live on this earth through what is sure to come”. But I do care. Sharing what I write is something I can do.

I am a member of what is known as the Silent generation. Born after the great depression but before the end of the second world War. We are also known as the “lucky few”. The only modern generation who are smaller than the one that preceded it. I was born near its end.

I was too young to know that second world war even happened or that my Father was involved. I was still in grade school when Korea ended. Vietnam was an American war and my view coloured by the dissenters I met who had moved to Canada. The closest I got to war was the 1962 Cuban crisis when as a sailor in the RCN I was recalled from leave and sent to sea as part of the NATO blockade. This was to be a Atomic confrontation and as usual the Canadian Navy was ill prepared. My berth was an old WW2 Frigate with few watertight hatches let alone airtight ones. Great soul searching occurred to make the decision to return. I did. I was 20 years old. From then to retirement were pretty much the glory years of the 20th century. It was mired only by Pierre Trudeau declaring Martial Law and the Harper years. We were also the last generation of First world children to be susceptible the uncontrolled ravages of Polio. I was lucky and not so lucky. (That will be another story). My world view is a result of my membership in this grouping. Spending most of my working life at sea was another. You see, when you go to sea, you step into another environment. What happens ashore has no bearing on your life until you step ashore again maybe a month or more in the future. The sea and its challenges are your reality. Nothing will change that. In the early to late 20th century that also meant no day to day news, no TV, no papers, and intermittent radio. The world would unfold as it will and you would find out about it when you were back on land. Communications available to today’s mariner have changed access to information but not the reality of being at sea. At sea, as an Officer in Command, the cardinal rule is verify – verify – verify. Never trust a single source. This is the root of navigation. It has been since the beginning of time. It is the only way to get home. Which is the point is it not. We are realists. With me this has carried over to life ashore. My practice today is to use @twitter to gather news and views remembering that cardinal rule. I left Facebook when I lost control of what it fed me. Also I have no trust in its creator and owner. My views on what is important in Canadian civil society are already listed. But to expand. It is imperative that we retain our control of our digital footprint. It is no different than the writing in a personal diary of old or mailing a letter that you have sealed with your tongue. If paranoid, you might even have affixed a wax seal. Encryption of your data is the digital equivalent. To do with climate I believe the tipping point is past. we may mitigate its results some but I am not hopeful. The NeoLiberal Political era is far from over. This is true in Canada as it is in much of the world. The only difference here between the Liberals and Conservatives is which Bay Street Lawyers they use. As well as a smile vs a scowl.

This also comes to mind. It is from a audio interview given by my father (who was also a mariner) in the 1970’s on being caught in the Great Depression. He, his mother and sister were building a summer cottage on Cortes Island, part of the Discovery Islands, in British Columbia.

We saw this same “BOOM” with the crash of oil and may see worse with the dawn of Trump.

A hurricane story

Back in the South Pacific cyclone (Hurricane) season of 1982–83 we were avoiding them by spending an extended time in Tahiti aboard our home, an Offshore Sailboat. All available information said the storms would be much further west nearer Tonga and Fiji. Life was splendid. We were tied stern to the quay in downtown Papeete.

One fine morning a young official from the Port Captains office came by very agitated shouting “Big Storm Coming”. Little did we know that this was the start of an eventful few months.

We had 5 systems threaten us and 2 hits at full hurricane force. Both were spent at anchor. The first, in Papeete harbour, struck with the wind breaking from over the mountain peak, going from flat calm to in excess of hurricane force in mere moments. I watched in awe as huge sheets of corrugated steel panels flew through the air as they were ripped from the power station. They were flipping like leaves in a breeze.

The main street across from the quay.We weathered it gaining a new respect for the ferocity of nature.
We are the closest of the two boats

The second storm came closer, lasted longer and was much later in the season. The three in between gave us ample time to perfect what came to be known as the “death watch”. That extended time from the first detection to will it get us or not.

The French Navy placed a warship in the eye of the storm to track it for the final few days. This is my plot.

This encounter occurred in Cooks bay on the island of Moorea 12 miles from Tahiti. It hit at category 3. Thirteen hours of sheer terror. I had anchored in a small cove with a sloping sand beach between us and the coral reef beyond.

We were tucked in closer nearer the farthest building on the left

The promontory of land was home to the beach bar of the adjoining luxury resort. To prepare, two 40 pound anchors each on 150 feet of  chain were attached to 90 pounds of lead cannonballs. Another 300 foot single nylon rope continued to the boat. This was in 5 fathoms (30′) of water. All this gear was to keep the anchor in the sand and the line from breaking (the physics of catenary). If it did break or drag we would end up on that nicely sloped beach with a bar nearby. Within the first half hour, the bar had blown away! You could not stand against the wind. Seeing or breathing required a mask and snorkel. The 3/4″ anchor line was stretched to the size of your little finger. I spent most of my time belly down on the foredeck easing out the line during a lull to keep it from chafing through at the bow of the boat. Our anchors held. We returned to Tahiti where we were granted a six month extension on our visas to help in the repair of the 26 sailboats that blew ashore.

We later learned that getting these storms at all was because of an un-forecast extreme “El Nino” event. The first weather satellites to cover the tropical Pacific had been deployed just months earlier. A programming decision to reject any variance of more than 2.5 degrees F. had been made. A diligent meteorologist aboard a US Icebreaker passing Chile on its way to Antarctica for the summer season discovered this. He daily took water temperature readings. He recorded and submitted them to NOAA where they did not turn up. A mute point for us.

The silent ones

I am from a generation that you likely never heard of. We are known as the “silent generation” or the “lucky few”. Born after the great depression but before the end of the second World War. We are the only modern generation who are smaller than the one that preceded it. I was born near its end. I was too young to know that the second world war even happened or that my Father was involved. I was still in grade school when Korea ended. Vietnam was an American war and my view coloured by the dissenters I met who had moved to Canada. The closest I got to war was the 1962 Cuban crisis when as a sailor in the RCN I was recalled from leave and sent to sea as part of the NATO blockade. From then to retirement were pretty much the glory years of the late 20th century and early 21st.

My first career at 15 was as an apprentice Ironworker building pulp mills and other large industrial structures. The Navy a short 3 year interlude the avoid a bitter Union takeover dispute came next. On completing basic training at HMCS Cornwallis in Nova Scotia I was then posted to HMCS Lanark in refit at the Point Edward repair base on Cape Breton Island. There I met and am still married to my life partner of more than 50 years. I served in Lanark for the rest of my enlistment. We then moved to Vancouver for work.

I worked a while as an auto parts truck driver then in inside sales. City jobs. Quickly realizing my grade 10 education would limit me I returned to ironworking out of town to get the funds to return to school. A college diploma in marketing and sales from the just opened Vancouver City College was acquired. A sales job with a large world-spanning industrial supply company followed. During that time an interest in Politics arose where our VCC class took over the student government wrestling the control of student fees from the administration. I became involved with the Young Liberals, secured a delegate slot in the leadership convention that elected PET and left that organization as President of the BC Young Liberals over the instigation of the War Measures Act. About the same time, I soured on the Corporate world. It was 1970. Early in my life around age 7 or 8 I went sailing on a 40′ schooner and loved it. A sea change occurred. We built then lived aboard, sailed ocean’s, and spent the next 40 years earning a living and having fun. Those years are chronicled here.

Now, retired in Cape Breton, I fear for what is likely to come. Concerns for the “common good” no longer seem to apply.

MT Pula in winter heavy weather Northwest Pacific Coast.

This 12 minute video is of the 600-foot product tanker Pula.  Built in 2006.  She is fully loaded on a winter voyage from the Cherry Point refinery in Washington State-bound for Guatemala. The storm lasted 4 days and resulted in a split in the bow. Fortunately, the next bulkhead held. Repairs were made in California before completing the voyage.

What is an ATB?

An articulated tug and barge unit joins a tug and barge together with a “knuckle joint”. A large contraption of big moving steel parts to move by wave action and controlled by powerfull hydraulic rams. It is not a new breed of ship. It is just another means of using a Tug to move a barge. Another a is ITB, (intigrated) which uses cables to do the job. More traditional means are lashing along side and most common, towing astern.

Not lost after all

More details are surfacing that bring more questions than answers. Turns out they were not lost at all. Just did not have the skills required to finish the voyage. This latest report shows they had a working GPS. In fact there were more electronic aids than on many offshore boats. An antenna malfunction was blamed for not being able to use any them. Huh, the three different transmitter systems would each have its own antenna. Part of having a “Ham” radio is having passed an examination on usage. The mast was stll standing. Photos show someone at spreader height so a jury rig could have been deployed.

The story headline should have been incompetent sailors fail in attempt to cross an ocean. This is not a new story and anyone who has spent time ocean voyaging will have at least one story to tell. Mine is of a California couple with a 13 year old son who dragged anchor in every port. Got lost in the tuamotu’s found their way out but lost the boat on Beverage reef . They then spent 54 days in a liferaft towing a dingy and a sailboard. Fetched up on an atoll near Fiji. They also lived to tell the tail.

Lost at sea

Today’s news has a story of two women sailors and two dogs lost at sea for five months. Mostly it deals with the rescue by the US Navy thousand of miles in the opposite direction (off Japan) from the stated destination (Tahiti). Wihout more information it is the “lost” part that bothers me. GPS, the global positioning system, has made it simple and skill less as a navigator to cross an ocean. If that is your choice it would be prudent to have a couple of spare stand alone units and a carton of batteries stored away in a waterproof box. Even a small jury rigged sail would have given some control over direction.

There has always been risk in crossing oceans in small boats. The skill is to mitigate them. The assumption has to be no one is going to rescue you. Plan for losing your mast or power or both. Oh yea, and in the 21st century satellite based emergency locators have world wide coverage and are registered with who you are and what you are doing. I really liked the part where losing a cellphone over the side first day out was a contributing factor.

More details are surfacing that bring more questions than answers