Reflections of Water and Memory

Tsehum Harbor Sunset

Tsehum Harbor Sunset

My boat slid over the glassy waters of Haro Strait like a hockey puck over ice. The last two weeks of blustery weather laid down to give me a becalmed passage. The Gulf Islands were welcoming me back! Just as a dog can ask a nonverbal question with a look, it seemed as if the perfect reflection of the sun on the water was asking me, “What took you so long?” “Better late than never” I replied to the empty air.

I felt like an ant swimming in a half-eaten bowl of cheerios, looking out over round, bulbous shapes sticking out of an otherwise flat, liquid horizon. I felt as though I could reach out to those distant lumps, seize them with my will, and drag my floating home to them; to all those endless islands. No matter how far north you go, there are still more islands.


The Road Less Traveled

Solace at Anchor

Solace at anchor at Portland Island.

Along the way I day-dreamed what it would be like to go sailing with my 12-year old self. I remember the wonder I felt when I would visit the San Juan Islands at that age. I can easily imagine him slapping me on the back, and with a wink, saying ‘ya done good.’

I remember an afternoon about five years ago, sitting in the sunny cockpit of Sea Muse, trying to puzzle out why my life felt so bipolar. How, in a matter of days, could I go from elated and content (on the boat) to feeling infuriatingly trapped (at work), and back again? That’s when I realized that, long term, I couldn’t continue to be a weekend warrior. I feel too strongly. I don’t have the temperament to constantly bounce between those two worlds.

At that moment my life was set up for a little slice of conventional heaven. I had a cushy corporate job, my wife and I just bought a house in a nice neighborhood, and we had even been discussing kids. My life was set up. The future would be easy and predictable. Very, very predictable.

Sailing Friends

Hanging out with sailing friends Kevin, Alan, and Emily before crossing the Canadian border.

And here I was admitting to myself that I wanted to change all that. Here I was, imagining a future of uncertainty. I had been sailing for about a year and loved it. I loved it because it brought me closer to my first love: the islands. I received so much satisfaction from that, I was willing to give up the house, and the job, and eventually even the wife.

And how did it all turn out? April marks my one year anniversary of living aboard Solace full time. Now I am in Canada voyaging my way up the Inside Passage. I’ll take my time exploring the Gulf Islands, Princess Louisa Inlet, Desolation Sound, and the Broughton Islands. I’ve got a year and a half of living expenses saved up. I’m leaving behind some great new friends, and carrying some great memories forward with me. I’ve grown as a person and as a sailor, and thoroughly enjoyed my life this year.


The Stench of Wealth

Canadian Beer

I’ve been saving these two five dollar bills to buy a beer the next time I came to Canada. I finally got to spend them!

My first anchorage after crossing the border was Tsehum Harbor on Vancouver Island. After dropping anchor and making a quick dinner, I rowed the dinghy to shore in search of a celebratory beer. Despite it being 7:30 PM on a Friday night, the area was incredibly quiet. I meandered around Van Isle Marina for a while and finally found a restaurant.

As soon as I walked in I felt out of place. The small restaurant was packed with people in casual but expensive dinnerware. From a single glance I could tell this was the type of place where people come to be seen. I was inappropriately dressed in my stained blue jeans and hoodie. But the maitre de assured me that I was welcome to sit at the tiny bar and have a beer. Shortly after seating myself at the bar, a man and woman entered and were seated. The man was middle aged, with a large gut and a clearly sore back. The woman was at least two decades younger and clearly not his daughter.

I’ve been carrying two Canadian five dollar bills in my pocket for the last eight months in anticipation of heading back to the Gulf Islands. Tonight I finally got to spend them on a beer! I was back!

Emergency Food

Some of the emergency food I’ll be eating my way through this summer. This food is about 2 years old, but shelf-stable for 15. It’s surprisingly tasty and nutritious when mixed with fresh vegetables like carrots, celery, and onions.

As I sipped my beer I cast furtive glances at the diners around the room. If wealth had a smell, the stench in here would be unbearable. Are these the mysterious owners of all those shiny, glistening boats that never leave the dock? For the last few years I’ve felt trapped by a money system that perpetuates debt. I’ve sacrificed the majority of my time and money over this last two years to break out of that system. Are these the beneficiaries of that system?

Instead of resentment though, I feel pity. These gaudy baby-boomers have worked their entire lives to provide for their families and afford a ritzy retirement. Now they have achieved it, but lost their youth in the bargain. No one gets rich voyaging like I am doing, and no one has an authentic adventure in a cubical or corner office either.

It made me wonder: would their twelve year old selves be patting them on the back right now? Maybe. Maybe not. But I feel there is an important lesson hidden in the contrast between them and me.

Related posts:

Mushrooms at Home and in the Wild!
Circumnavigating Lopez Island
As Good As It Gets?
Comments
9 Responses to “Reflections of Water and Memory”
  1. John says:

    Chris, I look forward each new post on your blog, not for vicarious enjoyment of your lifestyle, but the well crafted flow of your writing. We are of different generations, but of similar minds. I gave up many material things to retire early 12 years ago to spend half the year exploring the Salish Sea aboard my old wooden trawler, and have no regrets. Maybe our paths will cross. Look for the white boat with the yellow bootstripe.

  2. stormy says:

    Your writing is really developing into art. It must be the truest freedom a man can know to have time to write, contemplate and live fee.

  3. Emily says:

    Oh, Chris! I have so much to say about this post. First off, I think it deserves more than a blog post. In fact you should immediately take it down to have it published in print.

    The last line in the first paragraph, intensely poetic–your writing is evolving. YOU, this time, managed to blend all the details into seamless prose. I love that you come back to your 12-yr-old self at the end. Again, something many poets do.

    While the conclusion almost had me gasping “he’s going to offend a loootttt of people” (even though I agree totally with the sentiment and my utter confusion of choosing that way of life) the line about losing youth in the bargain, well it was very touching and negated anything offensive…in my mind at least. It also affirmed that you’re not judging, just staying true to yourself.

    And lastly … “The man was middle aged, with a large gut and a clearly sore back. The woman was at least two decades younger and clearly not his daughter.” —We weren’t in Canada, WTF?!?

    PS-
    Did you purposely chose the WORST picture of us from that evening on Kevin’s boat??

    • Chris says:

      Thanks, Emily! I am working on my writing, my metaphors, and making subtle points. I appreciate another writer’s ability to read between the lines.

      There is an age gap between you and Stormy, but you go about it honestly. That couple had smarmy written all over them. They were the icing on the ostentatious cake.

      That picture is awesome! It’s an action shot. Everyone is ‘in the moment’. And it was actually the best of the bunch. What can I say, I’m a better writer than a photographer.

      • Emily says:

        I was just dragging your rhode about the pic! I’d love to get my hands on some of the others if you have the time to email some to me!

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