The Sacred and the Propane

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13 May 2012
12 October 2005 | Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, BC
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The Haulout

13 May 2012
The Haulout

A Reflection by

Alex Morton

Had she been human, I’d have said my venerable twenty-seven foot Ericson was suffering from separation anxiety, but for a sailboat I’d just have to term it corny old deferred maintenance. She sure as hell didn’t want to leave her slip. The morning I set out to haul her, the Haiku decided that there was too much of a garden hanging off her belly to allow reverse to do anything other than make noise. A bit embarrassed, I pushed her out of the slip and readied myself to jump aboard in time to grab the helm and maneuver her out into Horseshoe Bay.

Although my eighty-five year old father was onboard, he didn’t know enough about boats to be of any help with the helm in tight quarters. A true city boy, I always teased him that he’d never gotten the soles of his shoes dirty. But, he loved to go out in the boat, and whenever my folks visited from the East coast, I’d try to take him for a cruise.

Onboard, also, was my Border Collie, Rosie, who’d taken up her usual leaving-port post on the bow. As I tried to leap over the lifelines with something approaching her grace and only barely managed to avoid doing a header into the cockpit, she gave me a discernibly condescending grin. Life with a dog whose IQ is high enough to give her a sense of irony isn’t always easy on the ego.

My father was much more discrete in his response. Normally a gregarious man, he approached the world with a broad sense of humor. When you were with him, you always waited for the punchline. Regardless of the situation, he’d generally find something outrageously funny to say. But now he kept his gaze far out to sea, and looked past my antics, as if something were happening out there that demanded all his attention.

Very slowly, we chugged out into the Queen Charlotte channel, while whole species of marine life decided whether to remain clinging to the hull, or seek a slightly more stationery home. It wouldn’t have taken much. When we were passed by a young teenager listlessly rowing a punt with one oar, it was enough to send Rosie below out of shame. But there was little I could do other than try to enjoy the scenery, and ignore her whining for a banana.

It was my own fault. For the past few years, my wife and I had spent most of our time working and traveling, and it had been tough on the old Haiku. She’d sat in her slip with not much more to do than grow a beard, and wait to get old. Even though we faithfully hauled her every year, the few sailing days we managed each season left plenty of time for entire civilizations to develop on her hull.

My father had been patient, too, as we flew in all directions except his most of the time. He and my mother faithfully phoned, and visited when they could, but they were reaching the age where a flight across the country was becoming increasingly difficult. Since their arrival this trip, they’d been hinting that it might me their last. For the first time it had even been difficult to convince my father to come for a ride in the boat, even though it was just a short trip.

But dragging all that growth along to the lift at Race Rocks turned what should have been a little hop into a mini-voyage. Just after we rounded Cliff Point, we spotted a small whale fishing back and forth along a stretch of the coast. At the Haiku’s leisurely pace, there was plenty of time to admire the Gray’s fishing technique, and marvel at his being so far up the channel.

Rosie came back up from the cabin and sat beside my father, and the two watched the whale as if a movie were unfolding. When the Gray dove under the bow and came up the other side, their heads bobbed together as they followed the whale’s progress. Neither commented. I kept waiting for my father to say something funny, but it didn’t come.

I fed Rosie a chunk of banana, my father a cup of coffee, and we settled in for an idyllic little cruise. There was no breeze, so it was pointless to raise any sails, but the old Atomic four engine kept the Haiku and it’s attendant ecosystem moving along, although at somewhat less than the speed of anything else on the water.

When we finally turned into Race Rocks, I tied up to the gas dock, so that my father and Rosie could hop off while I negotiated the lift. Well, my father didn’t exactly hop, it was more of a creak and groan affair, as he stepped off at the dock. Even then, the expected one-liner didn’t come.

Pop and Rosie watched from the shore as I maneuvered the Haiku into the slings, cut the engine, and was hoisted up until the bow was level with the shore and I could climb over the pulpit and onto land. The Travelift drew the Haiku up another couple of meters and then moved forward with my boat swaying on the big canvas straps, until it was in position for power washing. From the looks of what was hanging off the bottom, it would need to be a superpower washing. Life on the hull was embarrassingly lush. Long strings of mussels hung from a green, furry coating of algae that covered whatever wasn’t barnacled. It resembled nothing more than an upside down island.

I stood beside my father while the crustaceans and mollusks were knocked off and the bottom was power washed. Something about the way Pop was standing let me know that he seemed to have made some sort of accommodation with whatever was bothering him.

When Chris, who owns Race Rocks Marine Services, came up for a chat, my father asked him about what was being done to my boat.

“Cleaning it off so it will go faster,” he said. “There’s so much clinging to it, now, it can barely move, but when we get it all power-washed it will be like new.”

“No kidding”, my father said, with that pretend-innocent look on his face that I’d learned from childhood always meant a punchline was coming, “When you finish with the boat, you mind doing me next?”
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