Saturday, 17 September 2016

Days Of Rain And Sea

The rains have returned to Vancouver. Actually, they never left. It doesn't rain much here in the summer; June, July and August are beautiful, warm and sunny. Mid-September it begins though. The low pressure systems roll in off the Pacific, bringing moisture laden clouds that cover the sky and block out the sun. They start slowly, perhaps a few days of rain. Then, by October, the fall rains come thundering in, storms and strong winds with them. As fall turns into winter, the rains turn cold, sometimes freezing, often just above freezing, as a thin drizzle that gets into every pore of your body. Spring changes those rains to showers, sometimes chilling, sometimes even a bit warm. Then summer comes again and it starts all over.

People talk about the "wet coast". It certainly is that. The price of the mild winters here in Vancouver is the constant rains throughout the fall and winter, the hammering winds which come along with some of these low pressure storm systems, the potential flooding, and persistent incursion of water into homes, cars, boats and every other form of enclosure. But, for all but a few weeks in the depths of a west coast winter, it is mild weather.

I've been sailing in every month of the year, with both sun and rain. A crisp winter day on board my boat is one of my finest memories, time spent "winter sailing" with friends or my kids. I remember days with the short run across to Bowen Island, sitting upstairs in the snug at the pub, then returning that short run back to Sewell's Marina where we kept the boat. These days were winter days, with snow on the high mountains reflecting brilliant sun, or days where the cloud cover was so low the tip of the mast cut the mists above.

One winter Meaghan and I went up to Squamish for the weekend. When we woke up in the morning, the windows were frosted and frozen both inside and out. It didn't really matter. We were dressed warmly. I lit the stove to make morning coffee, and suddenly the inside of the cabin was warm, although a bit damp. Thus is the way on a boat; water is everywhere. Yet this was a mid-winter run.

Our best mid-winter run, if not for Meaghan then at least for myself, was our run up to French Creek in the last days of December 1999. I remember getting a call in the middle of Georgia Straits from my work, seeking a solution to some problem or other. I had to tell them I was clearly unavailable. The skies were clear, the air crisp, the winds favourable. We spent the first night in Nanaimo, then the next with friends in French Creek, then back to Nanaimo. That's when the weather changed.

There are two things I remember about that run from French Creek to Nanaimo, amidst the ever worsening winter winds. First, poor Meaghan was stuck inboard, where seasickness reared its ugly green face. She made little of it, sticking it out until we made port. The other thing I remember, something I will never forget, is seeing the ominous fin of a solo transient Orca, slicing the water with its dorsal fin, making that rolling motion pattern as it moved southwards. There are only a few hundred of these Bigg's Orcas along the south coast of BC. It was impressive, and a bit frightening.

The last memorable thing about that voyage was the outcome a month later. Meaghan and I decided to leave the boat in Nanaimo rather than cross the straits in bad weather. It was probably the right decision, putting caution ahead of cost. The boat remained in Nanaimo until mid-February, when Chris Smith and I gathered it up and sailed it back home, once again beneath clear blue skies, in warm air, and a rolling sea which surfed us increasingly homeward.

I miss the sea. I miss my boat, the adventure and emotion attached to wind and weather. I miss the whales, the eagles, the porpoises, and even the Harbour Seals. I am grateful that I once had that life, a life like no other. I am grateful for those memories, those days of rain and sea.

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