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The Whimsey Log ~ 2003

The Origin of the Whimsey

The origin of the Whimsey is not easy to locate. I could tell you about books I read as a child, such as The Coral Sea, and Skin Diver or, more seriously, Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World and Robin Graham’s Dove. There was also the first inkling of a plan in 1999 to build a boat for Biss and I to sail the Strait of Georgia. The Whimsey can also be found by her shadow, as it were, in the canoe Sarah and I named Whimsey and sailed around Comox Harbour, Hornby and Denman Islands to Qualicum Beach in 2002. Or it can perhaps be located in the hastily scribbled plan as we travelled east and the many nights I spent reading boat building manuals that fall and she remained afloat in the junk I collected that might be useful for boat construction.

I could also tell you of the two and a half months spent cutting wood and fastening it together in my sister’s garage, the aching muscles and groaning knees and back, the negative commentary of some of the neighbours, especially mid-forties males, and the solitary pitting of my mind against a task almost entirely unlike anything I have ever done.

Even as I am writing, the Whimsey spins on her two anchors, and her compass circles wildly in its drive to keep north in view, while out of the cabin door the panorama seems to be more than what 360 degrees of forest, cliff and cove can supply. The Whimsey, so unlike that monohull which lies at rest to leeward, cannot decide upon a moment of rest and with her unease with stability she would question any proposal of origin.

In that case, I pick as a seminal moment the instant Marcel and I tipped the Whimsey off the flat deck trailer and the cradle that held her suspended above the water. So the Whimsey was born in Porteau Cove into the rising tide. She bucked slightly and then came to ride just as she should, with four inches of the waterline visible, although—lacking the expertise of my calculus friends—I had guessed at that measurement.

I still had a truck to drive back to Kelowna, some five hours away, so I could not be with the Whimsey on her first night, but I was there on her first voyage. I rowed out from the dock, taking a while to get the rhythm of her movement, and then started the lawnmower motor I had attached to her outrigger support and which pushed her at a steady one mile per hour to the moorage one kilometre away. I had no time to inspect her bilge, so I locked the cabin, hooked a tarp over the cockpit and left for what turned out to be twenty-four hours. The Whimsey had to take care of herself that first night.


Week One: July 20th - 24th

Sunday, July 20th

When I made my way back to the Whimsey it was later than I had wished or suspected. Driving my brother-in-law’s truck to Kelowna had taken until four in the morning and I had risen at eight to return the rental trailer. Immediately afterward we packed the family into their car and I drove them to the Vancouver airport where they could catch their flight to London, for they had planned adventures of their own.

When I arrived at Porteau Cove it was already late dusk and with some trepidation I walked the trail to where the Whimsey was moored, wondering if she—unattended for so long after her maiden voyage—had already succumbed. Reassuringly, she was riding the waves just as I had left her, and her waterline seemed to be holding. I met with Ken again, the very friendly park manager, and when I begged him for a ride out to the Whimsey, he told me to just to use his dinghy while I was in port.

I went out to the Whimsey and tied up alongside her, pulled off her tarp, spilling some rainwater in the process, to find her intact, although she was rather crammed with all the stuff I had thrown into the cockpit when I left. The cabin, once I had unlocked it, was likewise impassable. I put away my groceries and while I cooked began to put in order the gear that clogged the Whimsey’s tiny cabin. Finally, I crawled into the cabin and slept like the dead for ten hours—my first decent night’s sleep in weeks—rising only a few times to check on her moorage.

Monday, July 21st

I began today by sleeping in, but when I finally rose, the Whimsey had work for me. I thought to check the bilge, by peering down a crack in the cabin sole (floor) when I was startled by the sight of water. I tasted it and it didn’t seem salty. Hoping that it was due to a leak from the rainwater, I got up immediately, washed up—reasoning as I did so that if she didn’t sink in the past thirty-six hours she would be fine for another few minutes—then I took out my screwdriver and unscrewed the cabin sole, lying the boards aside and pulling up the flotation foam between the ribs and throwing it into the already packed cockpit.

There was about six litres of water overall and it was somewhat salty. I had a leak. When the water was soaked up and measured, which I did by volunteering my tee-shirt, I could see where it had squeezed through a tiny crevice next to the keel and on the starboard side, between the ribbing immediately in front of the companionway or cabin door. At least it was a minor leak.

Now that the crisis had been alleviated somewhat, I settled to the task of organizing the Whimsey. I went out on the outrigger support to check the outrigger bilge, which I was very loath to do since I could easily lose my balance and fall in, but I wore a lifejacket and the outrigger turned out to be dry. I needed to store some of my belongings in the outrigger hull but it was tricky enough to walk the four-inch tightrope without carrying gear, I dare not attempt it with my arms full. I decided to wait until Sarah arrived and then I could throw gear out to her and she could stuff it into the outrigger main hatch.

I redistributed the foam I had taken out from under the cabin sole, for it would be pointless to replace it and then lift it sopping again the next day, into the cockpit lockers and organized them to some extent. I chose the large locker for food so the low hull temperature less than an inch from the ocean water would keep the food cool, and the smaller ones for miscellaneous gear.

When I was in the middle of sorting the Whimsey’s goods, a ritual began that I was to see twice a day while I was in Porteau. One by one kids would jump from the cliff. One girl came to me with a scratched ankle, from the climb back upon the cliff I suppose, and I gave her a bandage. Her friends waited in a borrowed dinghy and as she said her thanks and scrambled back aboard, they rowed to shore to begin the jumping again.

I paused in the middle of my tasks for this interaction and afterwards whenever the kids were jumping again. Even without television, I had entertainment. I had radio as well, and while I worked, I listened to CBC or my MP3 player which, like my car stereo, I had hooked up to the Whimsey’s electrical system.

Tuesday, July 22nd

I spent the days in a leisurely fashion, although I had some work to do to get the Whimsey in order before Sarah arrived. In Kelowna I had strung the standing rigging from the mast, having only time for cursory measurements, so I now began the slow procedure of attaching the shrouds, boom stay, fore stay, and water stay. While I worked I took the precaution of tying my tools to my wrist or to the Whimsey, knowing that once something drops overboard I had no way of getting it back. Even with these precautions I still lost a portion of a turnbuckle I had left dangling while I went to the cockpit for a tool. When I turned around it had unwound itself and dropped into the sea. Luckily, I had a spare, but I reminded myself the action of the ocean can undo many things you thought were solid and I approached my work with more caution.

I got the boom and sail up today, as well as all the standing rigging and still found time to nap in the cockpit and eat well. Already I am moving towards the relaxation I wished for in the last two stress-filled weeks which were occupied with hurriedly putting together what gear I could—some of which I would have to assemble at sea—in preparation for the Whimsey’s departure.

Wednesday, July 23rd

Sarah and I spent the day in Vancouver after her flight came in and returned late, but we had time for a brief tour and she was reasonably impressed with her first sight of the Whimsey. She did note the cabin was small and it took a while for her to get used to the idea of sleeping in it.

Thursday, July 24th

Today was an intensive maintenance day. We stowed the gear in the outrigger by pushing back and forth the dinghy, and re-organized the cockpit, deciding on final resting places for our goods so we would know where to find them in a hurry. We had some time for leisure, like watching the jumpers on the cliff, but we were keen to get sailing, as well as to stop paying moorage, and so we organized with an eye to leaving the next day.

Week Two: July 25th - August 3rd

Friday, July 25th

The Whimsey undertakes her maiden voyage under sail. Sarah and I sailed about fifteen km under changeable winds, south to the passage between Anvil and Gambier Islands, where we lost the breeze. We finally picked up some wind again and beat into it until we moored in a small cove. We tied the Whimsey fore and aft to two reasonably supple trees and against Sarah’s suggestion I left the ropes relatively tight so that we wouldn’t scrape against the rocks in the night. True to her suspicion, the tide dropped considerably and the Whimsey was practically suspended between her trees, for all intents and purposes caught here until we either waited out the tide or cut her loose. We didn’t want to lose our lines and were in no real rush so we waited until two in the afternoon. We spent our time jumping to shore off the bow to a rock and exploring a shallow mine shaft just uphill from the Whimsey and generally lollygagging about.

Saturday, July 26th

We spent most of the day waiting for the tide to come and free us. We did leave two feet or so of rope that didn’t seem worth the extra hours of wait, but when we cut that we were on our way. We sailed past Port Mellon, a large industrial site with many tugs coming and going, and past Woolridge Island where we fought a headwind all the way through the passage between Woolridge and Gambier. Whimsey favours a starboard tack because of the outrigger drag and by times doesn’t come about worth a damn to a port tack. We made it to Williamson’s Landing where we moored to an ancient boom.

Sunday, July 27th

We woke at 8am and got underway to avoid the encroaching hoary logs which were moving around with the retreating tide. We tacked into a fair southeast wind with almost no waves. We sailed into Gibson’s Landing where they were having some sort of festival, and upon seeing the crowd, we turned and ran before the wind to Plumper Cove Marine Park where we blew into the crowded anchorage in a decent wind. We tried to anchor with my homemade attempt at a plough anchor (untested) and began to hold, then drag into the swing room of some plastic boats. Tense scene.

Luckily, or because we were dragging into them, a motor launch moored to a buoy downwind left and we grabbed their mooring buoy until a spot opened up on the dock. Once at the dock we were determined to stay a while after that experience, even at twelve bucks a night. After goofing off at Plumper Cove, hiking to Keats Island Landing to use the phone and get the sloshing out of our ears, we crashed to the tune of constant wake from motor launches.

Monday, July 28th

Monday was a Gibson’s day. To get to Gibson’s Landing—of the CBC’s The Beachcombers fame—we needed to take a ferry from Keats to the Langdale Ferry terminal. We walked to the ferry landing on Keats and while we were waiting Sarah hitched a lift from a Bible School guy who in his non-communicative fashion took us to the downtown dock. He drove, we thanked.

Once we were at Gibson’s we ran into the Norwegians who were moored next to us at Plumper. I finally stopped addressing them in German—guten tag—because of their blank stares and Sarah’s misgivings. We restauranted, shopped for groceries, hinges (Sarah had busted the weak hinges on one of the Whimsey’s lockers), bolts and interneted.

When we were finished, we took a bus to Langdale to wait for the Keats ferry but while we were waiting I hitched a lift with a Cadillac (literally) boat guy who drove like a nut. I think he wanted to show off his boat. His wake is what erodes the shore and rocks the Whimsey, and his prop kills marine animals, but he took us directly to Plumper Cove.

Tuesday, July 29th

Today was going to be a sail into the Strait day but when we were motoring out of a lull north of Bowen Island and hit some wind I turned off the motor and went to lift the prop assembly and lost both of our belts. I reached as I saw them sinking, Sarah leapt, and I grabbed her pants to keep her from going overboard, but they were gone. Nothing is gone so irretrievably as when it falls overboard.

We decided to return to Porteau. We ran before the wind until we were about a mile out of Porteau and I rowed the last mile into the by-now familiar moorage. We resolved to get a motor. The lawnmower motor never worked as well as I had wished, for I had a mere day to manufacture and design its power delivery system, and I had paid twenty-five bucks for the long belt and the shorter one would be a similar cost to replace. It was time to get a motor which could combat the problems we were likely to run into, especially when we got further north.

Wednesday, July 30th

We woke fairly late, and then checked the bus schedule and saw we barely had time to row to shore and rush the one kilometre to the highway and flag down the 9:30 bus into town. Accordingly we rushed, skipped breakfast, but not only was the bus terribly late, but the guy waved “no” as he drove past us. Sarah called and harassed the Greyhound and they assured us that the noon bus would pick us up. The noon bus driver told us to keep our tickets for a refund at the station, but since we had no tickets we skipped straight to getting off downtown and getting to our errands, late as we were.

We went to the Steveston Mariner’s Xchange and bought a motor on the promise that if it didn’t start immediately then we were going to return it. So we took the motor and a piece of two by three and some starter cord rope to the harbour front, walking in amongst the tourists who scattered with twittering noises when they saw us coming. We tied the motor to the dock with a piece of line Sarah had borrowed from a nearby boat and tried to accustom ourselves to the motor’s operation. Two boys became interested and asked what we intended and I told them we were going to attach the motor to the dock and head out to sea. They looked at me solemnly; they are used to west coast bravado.

We finally got the motor started after Sarah asked why I didn’t pull on the Pull On button, and then we went back to Lar’s Xchange and bought an anchor. We met Megan, since I had asked her the favour of a drive back out to Porteau, and she drove us home with our goods after a stop at Home Depot to get lumber for the attachment we’d have to build to fasten the motor to the outrigger support.

We brought the Whimsey in and touched shore for the first time to load our goods and so Megan could come aboard and we hung out a bit and then it was time for her to make the drive back home and for us to sleep in anticipation of the next day’s work.

Thursday, July 31st

Maryam and Andrew had called the day before to say that they were going to be in the area and really wanted to see the Whimsey. They were on a road trip out from Toronto and had heard the stories. They told us they were going to come around noon so we got up reasonably early since we had lots to do.

We built a fake transom to house the motor and attached the new Danforth anchor. When Maryam and Andrew showed up later in the day we were almost ready to attach the motor. It took us a while to get the British Seagull motor going, but it finally started. As the guy we bought it from said, it is a rough, rude, but dependable motor. He was full of anecdotes about these motors, the most interesting of which was that the brits had used them to land at Normandy on D-day.

We took Maryam and Andrew out for a cruise and the motor worked great except the waves were caught by our catchment tank/transom and choked out our new motor with seawater—more modifications needed. During one of the two lulls while I tried to get the Seagull started again after a choke-out, we raised sail to catch the nearly non-existent wind and the looks on Maryam and Andrew’s faces were enough to tell us that we were in possession of a real sailboat.

There is something awe inspiring about the reach of the mast and rigging for the sky and something palpably animate about the breeze upon the sail. Maryam and Andrew went to Squamish to get us some two-cycle oil and we arranged a spot for them in the now-full campground. We had some pull with the local authorities since we had been here a number of times and the people who ran Porteau, Ken and Jeff, were really nice.

Friday, August 1st

We modified our fake transom by shortening it and tarping it over. I tightened the rudder/tiller connection with a piece of copper pipe I found on a Keats island beach and which I used as a shim. Maryam and Andrew came aboard for a farewell, we grabbed a shower on land and left under fair winds across the north of Anvil Island in the direction of Gibson’s.

We lost the wind behind Anvil and so we had to motor with our new Seagull to our little cove off Gambier. We moored as before but we had learned our lesson about tying our lines to trees. We tied up with the knots quite far from the trees and checked the tide chart. We’re getting the hang of this. We even slept in.

Saturday, August 2nd

We saw the tide carrying logs out to sea so we took our cue and cast off and drifted and sailed somewhat as we ate breakfast. We ran before a light wind close to a boom moored on the island and saw seals and eagles to go with last night’s otter family.

We are now sailing on a close reach tacking into Gibson’s on a southeast wind of about fifteen knots. We have a ferry coming in and a tug behind, alternately friendly and rude YMCA kids from the camp at the point, but we caught a wind that blew us into the pub wharf at Gibson’s. We tied up beside a “Float Plane Only” sign and went to negotiate with Gibson’s harbour authorities. We located a spot in the government dock and then motored, drifted, and paddled with the oars into the slip where we tied amongst the working boats and power plastics. We used the phone, talked to the old salts, showered, and Sarah ordered pizza. We ate, hung out, and then crashed, safely moored at Gibson’s harbour.

Sunday, August 3rd

Errands again. We ducked into a garage sale on our way up the hill and found a strange thing. Some old guy had died, and he apparently was one of those tinkerers with a hand in every pie, because he had loads of stuff and books describing a variety of subjects: refrigeration, calculus, etc. He was also a designer of underwater cameras, and when I asked an old salt in Comox Harbour about him a few weeks later the guy said if it was the same person he was responsible for uncovering the Navy cover-up when they killed a tug crew with a test torpedo.

When we got back from the grocery store we feasted on lettuce and grapes. We took full advantage of the netting to lay out and we even rigged up a sun shade. After a nap we began to work on the jib. Sarah rescued a distressed pigeon from the water under the dock and left it on the Whimsey overnight in hopes it would move on by morning.

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