Changing tack... 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - Sunset at Prince Rupert waterfront.
  • shutterstock photo
  • Sunset at Prince Rupert waterfront.

With all the discord and discourse floating around about cultural appropriation, I'm not entirely certain what I can and can't write about these days. Fortunately, I've never been entirely certain about that and being more inclined to throw caution to the wind than grapple with deep — or if you prefer, trivial — philosophical issues, I'll just ignore the tempest.

But there's a fundamental duality in me that I'm about to put to the test.

It feels reminiscent of the struggle I had decades ago when I finally realized I was a cat-owning — if in fact one can be said to "own" a cat, rather than the other way around — dog person. I'd had cats, often far too many at one time, for a long time. I liked them and liked to fool myself into thinking they liked me, what with their purring and occasional flashes of what I fooled myself into thinking was affection. Of course, I was anthropomorphizing their reptilian-brain quest for dominance and food and deep down in my soul, I knew the little furballs would happily devour my body if they were fortunate enough to discover I'd died in my sleep and couldn't shake crunchies into their bowls.

But I had a lifestyle more attuned to cats than dogs, which is to say I was too busy to care for a dog. Dogs are pack animals that need slavish attention and a stable sense of belonging. Dogs left alone for long periods of time while their owners, say, earn a living, channel their inner psychotic and in fits of either boredom or self-loathing eat entire pieces of furniture, mistaking it for entertainment. So it was only when I stopped living to work and started working to live that I discovered enough time to become the dog person I'd repressed for so long.

I'm still — fond being perhaps too strong a word — all right with cats. But I know, given half a chance, they'd eat me.

Apropos this duality is a scene in the 1987 film, The Untouchables. Sean Connery plays a tough-as-nails, racist Irish cop in the 1930's Chicago, who joins the woefully miscast Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness, to go after Al Capone. Of all the things Connery's character, Malone, hates, he seems to hate Italians most, having described them as a no-good, thieving race.

But if overt displays of prejudice can still be considered humourous in this overly sensitive time, there is one scene that I find has resonated with me often in life. Faced with a knife-wielding Italian thug in his apartment, Malone, pistol in hand, looks at him with disdain and says, "Isn't that just like a wop... brings a knife to a gun fight."

Sailing off the B.C. coast, there have been too many times I've felt I brought a knife to a gun fight, or was still stuck in my duality of being a cat-owning dog person.

I've been a dedicated sail person since the first time I felt a breeze fill the sails of a 22-foot Bluejacket and send her gently moving through the water on Lake Champlain. Having learned to sail from a woman who so completely hated motors none of her club boats had one, I was, shall we say, a bit pedantic about sail power versus exhaust-spewing marine engines.

And so, it never dawned on me to charter or crew on anything other than a series of sailboats to explore the fascinating B.C. coast, notwithstanding repeated experiences reminiscent of that knife-to-a-gun-fight scene. On any given trip to Desolation Sound or the Broughtons, the ratio of sailing to motoring never exceeded 1:9. In other words, we sailed maybe 10 per cent of the time when the wind and tides and currents were just right for us to actually make headway towards our destination, regardless of how close that destination was. The rest of the time, we motored.

Sailing is a bit like skiing; just substitute wind for gravity as the motive force. Beating close to the wind, with full sails flying and the downwind gunwale more under than above water conjures a similar sensation to carving a pure turn at speed on skis. Running with the wind at your stern offers the satisfaction of easy cruising on a powder day.

But motoring a sailboat in a drizzle — or downpour — is very close to skiing in the rain, falling somewhere along the dispiriting-to-miserable continuum. You are cold, wet, and feel as though you've borrowed a raincoat that doesn't fit and leaks.

So this time, and perhaps it'll prove to be the only time, I'm bringing a gun to the fight, having chartered a motorboat. Not a sleek, fast, fuel-sucking speedboat — the journey still being a larger part of the thrill than the destination, after all — but a 42-foot Nordic Tug, a west coast trawler design sort of powerboat I've seen often along the B.C. coast, generally being skippered by someone with a smile on their face, a cup of hot coffee nearby and a warm, snug, dry wheelhouse from which to enjoy the journey regardless of weather.

I'm not a fatalist about B.C. weather and I hope to make abundant use of the open flybridge during the many warm, sunny days the next month dishes up. But when the inevitable happens, I'm looking forward to being that smilin' skipper crankin' the tunes, sippin' my coffee and watching the raindrops hit the windshield while I stay warm and dry without the burden of having every article of clothing I brought with me on, damp and clammy though they may be.

For the next month, I'll be puttering north, gunkholing in and out of stunning fjords between Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert, kayaking shallower waters along the way, anchoring under starry skies, slaying spot prawns, crabs, halibut, ling cod and salmon and eating kibble if those efforts prove unsuccessful... which they won't. The price of this once-in-a-lifetime trip is dear but a pittance compared to actually owning such a boat, boats falling squarely in the Three Fs of things one should rent not buy.

I feel a bit like I did when Vince the Cat finally crossed the kitty River Styx and was replaced by Zippy the Dog. The difference being I'm pretty sure this uncharacteristic dalliance with power is just that, a passing fancy, not a lifelong passion. I'd still prefer to feel the wind being channelled into motion and the boat heeled over as far as physics allow, but at least this once I'll enjoy seeing how motorheads feed their passion.

So don't be surprised if you have that deja vu feeling once or twice reading this page during the next month. Cell service is a bit spotty along the coast.

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