November 27, 2008

Giving more thanks

THERE WERE some thank-yous I didn’t say at the family table yesterday. Not all of my family are sailors, so I didn’t want to bother them with my expressions of gratitude for a safe voyage I made last summer. It was a six-week circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the biggest island off the western coast of North America.

It’s a challenging trip--more difficult, many say, than the Inside Passage to Alaska--because of its exposure to the vast uneasy reaches of the north Pacific Ocean in addition to the many narrow passages and races where the tidal current rips through at 8 knots or more. On the seaward side it’s 200 miles or more of wilderness heaven, of bears, eagles, whales, orcas, seals, and sea otters, with precious few marinas or places of refuge scattered among the surf-flecked rocks and islands.

So, belatedly, I’d like to give my thanks this day after Thanksgiving.

Thanks to my dear wife June, for sharing with me the task of sailing our 27-foot sloop, Sangoma, from Bellingham, Wash., to Port Hardy, at the northern end of Vancouver Island. (There she left me while I sailed back home alone down the outside.) And thanks for filling the boat with enough easy-to-fix food for the whole trip (and at least six weeks more).

Thank you, rusty (but trusty) old Westerbeke 13 engine. Thanks for starting every time without fail, despite the way I have neglected and abused you these past years. Thanks for helping me tow to safety another sailor who was in trouble at sea.

Thank you Battery Number 2 for holding a charge, despite your 10 years of age. I had the faith. You delivered the current.

Thank you sails, mast, and rigging, for not failing in that storm south of Brooks Peninsula or those frightening hours in Johnstone Strait. I know I should have replaced those stays and shrouds years ago. Thank you for giving me another chance.

Thank you autopilot for steering in some atrocious weather. I wasn’t sure you could handle those huge rolling swells from astern, but you showed me.

Thank you little fiberglass dinghy for behaving yourself. For not ramming me at sea, for not filling with spray and sinking, for not getting your painter wrapped around the propeller. You weren’t always this good, I seem to remember. Thanks for trying harder.

Thank you dear porcelain toilet for not getting stopped up. I knew I could trust you. I’m going to give you some extra virgin olive soon to keep your little valves soft and pliable. I am, honest.

Thank you warm and cosy sleeping bag for putting up with me every night for 44 nights in a row. I am going to get you dry-cleaned and de-odorized soon, I promise. A real de-luxe dry-cleaning. June has threatened to burn you, but don’t worry, I won’t let her.

Thank you little pressure alcohol stove for never giving any trouble and never setting the galley curtains on fire. That was very much appreciated.

Thank you paper charts, all 100 of you. What can I say, except that I couldn’t have done it without you, and probably shouldn’t have done it with you, considering you’re 10 years old and have never been updated. Luckily, rocks and islands don’t move much between updatings.

Thank you GPS for finding the complicated way into Sea Otter Cove and guiding me in thick fog all day from Port Susan to Sooke. Your appetite for batteries was moderate, your contribution to safe navigation was inestimable.

Thank you CQR and Bruce anchors for never once dragging. I love you.

Thank you rudder for not falling off; compass for not deviating or variating; boom for not cracking me over the head; coamings for only crunching my shins twice; and Canadian weather forecasters for trying very hard against great odds.

Thank you Carl Alberg for designing a tough little Cape Dory that looked after me, gave me great pleasure and satisfaction, and brought me safely back home.

Finally, thank you Neptune and Aeolus, gods of the wind and the sea. I saved some champagne to give you a special toast for looking after me so well … Cheers!

Today’s Thought
Thanksgiving-day, I fear
If one the solemn truth must touch,
Is celebrated, not so much
To thank the Lord for blessings o’er,
As for the sake of getting more!
--Will Carleton, Captain Young’s Thanksgiving.

It’s just such a pity, I always think, that life’s major problems don’t all hit us when we’re 16 and know the answers to everything.

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