Sailing

Showing 1-8 of 68 books
Sort by:
View Mode:
Sea Trial

Sea Trial

Sailing After My Father
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

My father’s effects were like flotsam on a beach, each wave leaving something behind as he weakened and died, until the beach was littered with his life. 

And there were so many John Harveys. The prairie kid who was happiest snaring gophers with his friends and crawling underneath the boardwalk on Main Street, who left home at sixteen and never came back, not even for his father’s death. The disillusioned high school teacher who borrowed money, went back to school and became a doctor. The photographer who filled our house with the smell of developers and fixers, and our family albums with images that were much more than snapshots. And the trophy-winning violinist and peripatetic physician who kept searching for the place where medicine was practised the way he thought it should be.

Getting a handle on a life like this one seemed impossible; there was always going to be something you couldn’t quite grasp. After he died, I took a lot of that flotsam into my own home and went gamely through it, sometimes laughing, occasionally crying. I spent a month classifying, labeling, judging, before distributing and disposing. Worst of all were the drop-offs at the Sally Ann, roaring away from the beaten chair and the obsolete stereo abandoned on a wet sidewalk.

For sheer tonnage, the photographs dominated, and that seemed fitting. Photography and music had been the passions that never faded, and he had left many pounds of meticulously labelled negatives and prints. Among the best were the black and white portraits of his fellow physicians, hand-made sixteen-by-twenties he had shot in a hallway, or an operating room, or the smoke-laden Doctors’ Lounge. My favourite bore a caption that typified the mordant sense of humour that my father tried to suppress, but never really could: in this portrait, the doctor is grinning, a cigarette in one hand and the other hand aloft, the thumb and first finger measuring off an inch or so of air.

“Just a small one,” the caption reads. “I have to operate.”

He also left bits and pieces from most of our boats. I went through mountains of nautical detritus in the freezing-cold shed behind his house, high-stepping over rusting garden tools and reaching around scary bottles of thirty-year old pesticide to get at the treasures. Rotting cardboard boxes rained hundreds of dollars worth of bronze nuts and bolts on my shoes. I unearthed a priceless collection of teak scraps left over from the costly rebuilding of a doomed deck; cans of questionable kerosene and long-solidified spar varnish; the rope and wood boarding ladder he’d made during his fear-of-falling overboard phase (this coincided with his fear-of-head-injury phase, when he wore a red motorcycle helmet while driving his convertible). One boat in particular was responsible for much head-scratching and even the need for a German-English dictionary: from Stortebeker III I discovered old Admiralty charts of Raoul Island, where HMS Bounty’s Captain Bligh and his men first made land after being cast adrift by the doomed Fletcher Christian, ceramic jars with cork-lined lids marked “Kaffee” and “Kakao” and even, stuffed into a black plastic back that showered me with rat droppings when I tugged it out of a high-up cranny, a threadbare Nazi flag. Stortebeker III had been built in 1937, in Bremen; there was no lead in her keel.

But the boat stuff was not so difficult to deal with. A lot of it, like the screws and the teak, went directly into my own boat stores, with silent thanks that I would never have to buy it. The coffee and cocoa containers were washed out and refilled. The rest of the household goods found their way to new homes, or to family shelves where they could bide their time for as long as it took for their new owners to die. I donated the doctors’ portraits to the Victoria Medical Society.

That left the papers.

My father’s papers (and there were a lot of them) were sealed in already-labeled cardboard boxes. I left those for last, finally working through them with a growing sense of dread. Most of them were no problem: letters, newspaper clippings about his early triumphs as a violinist, pristine instruction manuals for his many cameras, his own short stories and essays and even a few tentative poems. But there was one box I didn’t want to find. For a while I even thought it might not be there at all, that he might, in the final months before he was exiled to the nursing home and lost control over his own possessions, have managed to get down on his knees and enter the vile crawlspace beneath the kitchen, where I knew it was stored. I imagined him navigating shakily past the trap with the liquefying rat and the jumble of mouldy boat cushions, making it finally to the leaning pile of cardboard boxes to delete the one I feared.

I found it, of course. He could never have disposed of it even if he’d wanted to: it was too heavy. I shoved the box to one side, ignoring it until that’s all there was on the workbench: labeled like all the rest (he was a labeler), but more carefully than the others, the single word LEGAL written on one of those white adhesive rectangles with a red border, then licked and smoothed hard onto the cardboard so there would be no mistake about what was inside. The pain its contents represented had been impossible to contain, but at least the evidence was secure. Until now.

The tape yielded after a short struggle, and took some of the cardboard with it; he had sealed the box well. Inside were files, packed tightly, a solid cube of paper. I pulled them out in slippery handfuls, stacked them on the workbench, stomped the torn cardboard box flat; it was as frail, it turned out, as he was at the end. Then I began to go through the piles.

Work quickly, I told myself; be ruthless. You owe it to him to see what’s in here, but you don’t have to read anything. If he would never explain it all to you before, why start now?

The papers smelled of mould and neglect and, because I knew something of their story, of defeat. I began to go through them, a quick scan and then into the recycling box. Files of patients long dead, each in its own named folder. Photocopies of scientific papers from medical journals, none of them more recent than the mid-1980s. Long and ominous-looking transcripts in vinyl three-ring binders warped with age, and a thick bundle of yellowed newspaper clippings that I tossed without even looking. Printouts of some kind of manuscript, the lettering faded, on side-punched computer paper. I glanced and tossed, as though washing my hands of a corpse. It looked like the whole story was here.

And then, after about twelve inches, I gave up and began to go in reverse. The discard pile got smaller again. I couldn’t recycle or even shred this stuff, it was too sensitive. There were names. It must have taken him years to compile this dossier, with trips to the medical library, the archives, the stationery store for the recipe cards where every reference was recorded on its own little rectangle. Hydrocephalus in Children. Complications of Ventriculo-Atrial Shunts. The Practice of Law and the Search for Truth. Most of the reprints were heavily annotated, in orange highlighter or in his own neat hand; some of them were askew on the page. I imagined him, an unwilling student in his late seventies, cramming a heavy textbook over the photocopy machine, leaning on the cover, turning the page and doing it all again. I couldn’t throw this stuff away.

Pretty soon it was all back together again, a toxic little archive reconstructed. I grabbed one of the brand new U-Haul boxes, erected it and shoe-horned the lot back in. Then some packing tape, rather a lot of it, because I never intended to open the box again, and all it lacked was an unambiguous name. I took a felt pen and wrote the one he had already chosen for his own manuscript, on the top and on each side for good measure, so there’d be no mistaking it: THE TRIAL. Then I pushed it out of sight.

close this panel
Sea Over Bow

Sea Over Bow

A North Atlantic Crossing
edition:eBook
More Info
Excerpt

The wind was from the southwest—we knew it would be, right on the nose, but it was supposed to clock around to the north so we put out just a slip of genoa, reefed the main, and settled in for a lively sail. It was rough, but we soon got used to the pounding. You can handle almost anything on a nice sunny day.

But as the day wore on, the wind showed no sign of clocking and the seas continued to build. There was no way we could hold our course. By nightfall, we were sixty miles off shore, well off Cape Fear, but farther off shore than we’d ever been. And the wind was picking up.

We had crackers and cheese for supper—neither of us wanted to spend much time below deck, and in truth, we were both feeling a little queasy. Then I went down to try to sleep while Chris took the first watch. I lay there in the dark, trying not to think about the ghost pirate ships locals claimed to have seen in these waters. The boat was galloping along, the oil lamp above my head swinging wildly. The rigging creaked and groaned, water rushed along the steel hull. There’s no way I’m going to sleep, I thought, but I must have, because suddenly it was 2 am, time for my watch.

The wind had definitely picked up, and waves were breaking over the bow, I discovered, when I staggered to the head. We’d left the hatch open, and I was treated to a salt-water shower. I grabbed a towel and dried myself off as best I could then, grumpy and wet, took a little too long to pull on my warm fleecy and boots.

By the time I got above deck, I knew I was in trouble. There’s no mistaking that feeling in your stomach. But it was no wonder. While I was sleeping, Chris had been “letting it run,” as he calls it. This means carrying way too much sail, going way too fast, and heeling way over as we pound into the waves. He saw the look on my face.

“Let’s reduce sail,” he said, furling in about half the genoa.

We tied a second reef in the main and the boat slowed down, straightened up a little.

“That’s Frying Pan Shoal, off Cape Fear,” Chris said, pointing to a light up ahead. “Keep it well to starboard. Oh, and I think there are warships on manoeuvre out here—haven’t seen anything, but there’s been lots of chatter on the radio. Better keep an eye out.”

With that, he gave me a quick kiss and headed below to sleep.I stood bravely at the helm, watching the approaching light, scanning for ships. No, I told myself firmly, taking big breaths of fresh air and searching for the horizon. But it was pitch black—no moon. And the shore was out of sight. There was no way to orient myself, to straighten out the confused little compass in my head. I could feel my stomach churning as the boat heaved up and down. I checked to make sure the pail was at hand, and, oh my god, okay, here it came—I heaved what was left of my cheese and crackers into the pail.

I was still retching when an officious voice filled the cockpit.

“To the vessel at…”

I pulled my head out of the pail long enough to check our co-ordinates on the GPS. Of course he was talking to me. I took a couple brave swallows, reached for the VHF microphone.

“To the vessel hailing, this is the sailboat MonArk.”

Back to the pail.

“We are an aircraft carrier with limited manoeuvrability. Please maintain a five-mile distance from our position.”

I lifted my head from the pail, wiped my chin on my sleeve.

“Roger that.”

I had no idea where he was, but I set the radar alarm to six miles and went back to my pail. If anything shows up, I thought, I’ll get out of its way.

Thankfully, the radar remained clear, and in time, there was nothing left for me to throw up. I drank some water, threw it up, drank some more, threw it up. It was miserable, but much better than the dry heaves. I looked at my watch—five more hours to go—checked the position of the light, scanned for ships.

It seemed to take forever to come abreast of the light. It was the middle of my watch before it was safely behind us and we were sailing into the dark. No moon. No shoreline. I turned on the radar, scanned for ships. Nothing out there. I checked our position and heading, switched off the instruments. So dark.

I looked down through the companionway. I could just make out Chris wedged into the sea berth with pillows so he didn’t fall out as the boat pounded and rocked. He felt me looking at him, opened his eyes, smiled.

“Everything okay?”

“Yep, just fine.”

He was asleep again. How did he do that?

I looked back. I could still make out the flashing light marking Frying Pan Shoal, tiny now but still visible.

What are you doing out here? You don’t know what you’re doing.

It’s surprising, I thought grimly, how long things take to disappear behind you.

 

close this panel
Sailing in Circles, Goin' Somewhere

Sailing in Circles, Goin' Somewhere

Not Your Typical Boat Story
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
All The Oceans

All The Oceans

Designing By The Seat of My Pants
edition:Hardcover
More Info
Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide, Volume 1

Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide, Volume 1

The Gulf Islands & Vancouver Island (fourth edition)
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback Paperback
More Info
Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide, Volume 6

Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide, Volume 6

The West Coast of Vancouver Island (second edition)
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
More Info
Show editions
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...