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Growing up on the Canadian west coast


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I don't really know how long this thread is going to run.  I have a lot of stories from growing up but not everyone will find them interesting.  But a lot of them revolve around boats and the ocean and my dad, who loves boats and fishing and the ocean in general. 


I grew up about a block from the ocean, in a town on the west coast of Canada.  My dad was there in protest; he’d been a prospector in the past and never really adapted to the idea that he had somehow ended up with a family and a house that couldn’t be packed up and carried away on a horse or mule.  But he had also grown up on the shore of a big lake and was a fantastic swimmer and excellent boatman, so even though he’d been forced to accept a lot more human contact than he wanted, at least we were really close to the water, and so fishing was always an option.


This would have been in the early 1980s, and money was really tight.  My parents had bought a house for a whopping $27,000 and interest rates were apocalyptically high, there were three kids, and the only income was my dad’s meager salary from a job that involved some kind of survey work in the archipelago of islands just northeast of us.  I don’t really know exactly what he did because when I was a kid if I spoke to him he would stop me immediately with the explanation “I don’t like the sound of human voices.”  I think he took the job mostly so he could spend time in the islands.  He knew a lot about measurements and maps from his days prospecting, which I believe was similar but much more difficult, and as such he’d usually get sent out to the islands for a few days, knock the work off in an afternoon, and then spend the rest of the time fishing.  I didn’t know this at the time because he never spoke back then, but around the time he turned 70 he started to relax his stance on talking to people and we’ve had quite a few conversations since then.


Anyway, the point is, he was quite a skilled boatman.  He had a 14’ home build, glass on ply with a stick frame, like something out of Popular Mechanics.  He didn’t build it himself; in fact he hated working with wood, which has always surprised me since his dad was quite skilled with wood and I enjoy messing around with it myself.  On top of that, we used wood for heat and he was pretty good with an axe, and also used a lot of wedges and a sledgehammer to split wood with impressive precision.  And prior to splitting, he’d buck the wood up with a big 42” bow saw, never a chainsaw.  He had a pretty good old Husqvarna that his dad had given him but he didn’t use it: too loud.  But for whatever reason, despite rather extraordinary amounts of sawing and splitting, and literal tons of wood used every year to heat our coastal Canadian home, built with all of the technology 1927 had to offer, he hated carpentry.  And so he must have bought the boat, which was blue and yellow and was pretty beamy with a fairly flat bottom – if I had to guess I’d estimate the deadrise at the transom as no more than 10 degrees and probably closer to 6.  I don’t have any good pictures of it; I think the only picture in which it is present at all is one taken on the docks near where I grew up.  As in all of the pictures of my dad, he is holding a fish. 


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This is the same boat he used to weather out a gale in the waters around ten miles from my house.  The area is protected from one direction, and not too much fetch most ways, but you get really nasty seas if the wind is in the northwest.  He’d been out fishing and the wind picked up and he was stuck out there overnight, idling his engine to keep the bow into the waves.  He made it in early the next morning when the seas backed off a little.  I was young and didn’t really understand what had happened.  I barely remember it but I can remember my mom being afraid and sitting by the phone late at night and looking out the windows over and over.  I think the coast guard had looked for him but I’m not sure how that went; either they didn’t find him or they did and he wasn’t interested in rescue.  When he came home he was indifferent.  Years later I asked what it had been like and he shrugged. 


“Eight footers,” he said, “better off waiting.”


I pressed him for more detail.  “But handling that little boat in eight foot seas…that must have been difficult.  What did you do?”


“Nothing.  It's a stable boat.  Just kept the bow into the waves.”


“So if I run into similar seas, what advice would you give?”


“Just keep the bow into the waves.”


“That’s it?”


“Don’t run out of gas.  If the motor quits, you’re done.”


"Did you go all night on one tank?"


"No, I had to change it out once."


"What was that like?"



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Thanks for the post. There's always someone that likes our stories. I even have a reader. Maybe even two. Your dad musta been a character, which I think is a good thing. I love the simplicity to his replies. I wish you had a better picture of the boat. It looks interesting. Did you go with him on any adventures in it?

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He really was a character.  You'll get to know him if this thread goes on a while.  He's settled down quite a bit now, although he's never really adapted to domesticated existence.  He came to my wedding, for example, but stuck around just long enough to see the vows, then left for a long hike, came back briefly for dinner, and left again.  But I have no problem with that.  He's a decent guy with lots of great knowledge, he's just not particularly interested in people.  But he's good with machines, fantastic at math and, surprisingly, extremely funny if he chooses to be.  You wouldn't think it because he so rarely speaks; people expect him to be socially awkward.  But he's actually quite engaging if he decides to talk, he just thinks almost nobody is worth his time.


Over the past few years (possibly not coincidentally as I have gotten better with boats myself) he's taken me more seriously and I talks to me fairly often.  In fact, I called him today for some details on the blue and yellow boat.


I also wish I had a better picture of that boat but I don't think I do; we didn't take a lot of pictures as a family.  Probably with enough time at my parents' place I could find something but it was a very beamy little hardtop with a single chine and quite a shallow V.  My dad really liked it, actually, and I think he only stopped using it because he the more kids there were, the less money he had and we were pretty poor.  I'm not sure if he ever had a trailer for it, either; I think it stayed down at a little marina near our house which I'm sure he couldn't justify for long.  I can barely remember it as our fishing boat but I remember having to step carefully inside it because it didn't really have much of a cockpit sole, just some boards placed loosely in high-traffic spots.  My dad, of course, was very good at navigating around inside it but I was too young.  It was set up for salmon trolling more than anything, with downriggers on either side and a great kicker bracket with about a 2" laminated ply surface to hang the kicker on.


"It was a Brandlmayr design," he told me today.  "Really floated well.  Great boat in really rough water."  He didn't know anything about this Brandlmayr character but I can only assume that would be John Brandlmayr who designed the Spencer Yachts sailboats.  I'm not having any luck turning up information on his motorboat designs but there might be someone at boatdesign.net that would know.  Evan Gatehouse is another local naval architect; he might have some knowledge.  I'll try to find out.


He used the same boat to sit out a storm a couple of years prior; I don’t remember anything about it myself but I heard about it from my older sister and got more details from my dad today.  He’d anchored in around fifty feet of water with a very long anchor line and waited there, just in the lee of a small island, hoping the seas would slack off some.  He later told me he thought the boat itself would make it but the engine wasn’t strong enough to motor against the wind, and that a sailboat just a few hundred feet away had been halfway through a reef when the wind picked up and knocked them flat.  They were already in survival gear and managed to get the sails down and the boat upright, and motored up to the same lee as my dad where they waited it out on anchor.  


"I lost that anchor in the mud there.  It dragged to deep to pull up," he said.  "But there was a lighthouse keeper there named Shelco Fox who dug it out for me at a low tide not long after.  I'd holed up there before  in storms and he fed me steak and peas.  I thought he had it made.  On the way back in the next day, I caught a nine pound coho on a wireline pulling a planer with a pretty simple hoochie rig.  It worked well."


The engine he had at the time was a 40 Johnson that he described as "really unreliable".  All his motors came from an auction house and he’d buy them for a few dollars, rarely more than ten or twenty, and get them running while they were bolted to a workbench next to a garbage can full of oily water for them to run in.  Some did well but others never ran very well and the first one on the blue and yellow boat gave him all kinds of problems.  Coming from that perspective, I guess a running motor in eight foot seas must have seemed like all the safety he’d need.


Not long after that, he began taking me with him sometimes.  He didn’t have the blue and yellow boat much longer, or rather he didn’t continue using it; it stayed under the deck for a long time while he tried to figure out the reliability issues with the motor.  He'd taken my older sister fishing on it; she was a toddler and wanted to name the boat the "Wild Spider".  My dad, not being much for sentimentality, didn't name it.  He did remember my sister's first fish she caught from that boat, a small rock cod. 


"It was too small to keep, maybe eight inches long.  I threw it back without thinking.  I remember there were tears," he said.  "She was very upset.  About four years old.  Lot of noise."


In the meantime, he bought what he called a “car-topper” which was a 12’ aluminum Springbok with a 9.9 Johnson.  He drove a 1968 Volvo 4-door with roof racks, the aft roof rack being a rolling bar with grippy rubber surfaces on the outer foot or foot and a half.  My dad would pick up the Springbok and carry it to the back of the car, then set it down at about a 45 degree angle. resting on the pads of the roof rack and the transom.  He’d walk around behind the boat and pick up the transom and just roll the whole thing forward, then put the outboard in the trunk along with a couple of tanks of gas. 


He rarely used a whole tank but the one effect I think being out all night in a storm had had on him was that he took way more fuel than necessary, every time, forever afterwards.


We used to fish the car topper in all the bays around town but most often right down at the foot of the street I lived on.  There was a concrete break down at the beach, like a curved cliff surface, to keep the beach from eroding.  It was about eight feet of vertical drop, and curved enough that there was maybe a foot of overhang.  Every few hundred feet there was a staircase down to the lower area, which was a walkway about ten feet wide and sloped fairly prominently towards the water.  After that was a three foot drop to the gravel beach itself, assuming the tide was out.  If the tide was in, the whole walkway could be covered and if it was way out, there’d be fifty feet of sand and round gravel and beach glass you could run around on.


My dad would park the Volvo up near the closest staircase, and lift the car topper off the roof racks and carry it down to the water, then go back for the motor, and I would take the oars, rods, and tackle.  The oars were made from spruce lifeboat oars he’d bought at an auction, hexagonal or octagonal in section, I’m not sure which.  He’d cut them down by about two and a half feet, to about eleven or twelve feet long.  He was a strong rower and hated the 8 foot oars that had come with the boat.  


We fished with light spinning gear, using homemade lures.  I still use those lures today; one style I'd guess is about two ounces and one about three and a half.  They're basically Stingsildas and they cast well and jig well.  We'd pour them at the workbench next to the garbage can of oily outboard water, heating the lead in a heavy steel or iron smelting pot on a coleman stove, pouring them into an aluminum mold my dad had gotten made up at a local foundry.  Later, after they cooled, they'd get coats of white spraypaint, decoration with permanent marker, and little slices of flasher tape.


Watch included for scale.



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