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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Off sailing

We've been doing great stuff here with Gesa's sister and her two kids, seeing the sights and going to places we haven't been yet either. Mount Washington was awsome. Photos will follow, really.

Right now we're off to the boat for a few days - the relatives fly back to Montreal on Sunday and then we relax on board for three days or so before it's back to Cumberland and busy busy. More posts then.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


In the UK we have some sticky stuff used to hang up pictures etc, we call it 'blu-tak', it's usually blue.

We got some here, different name but we still call it Blu-tak. Except Max, who has mis-heard.

'Daddy, where's the Blue Tang, I want to stick up a picture?!'

I guess only a kid who's been snorkeling tropical reefs would come up with that one.

Moving in - frugal style

Moving into a new house is always interesting. When that house is unfurnished and most of your few belongings are back in the UK then it gets even more intriguing. We know we have one dining table, an armchair, a double mattress and a rocking chair back in storage. Other than that, it's all small stuff.

The photos show our lounge, with the balcony currently home to 'moose', a nice steel sculpture Gesa found a few months ago. In the kitchen there's enough space, even if the style wouldn't be our choice. Our bedroom has an en-suite and - gasp - a walk in closet. Oh the decadent north american life.

So we need to furnish a three bedroom + den home from scratch. Gulp. Fortunately, the Comox Valley is big on thrift (charity) stores, and we have become true aficionados of these fabulous places.

See that chair there, and footstool. Gesa calls it her 'ikea chair' because she always wanted one from there in the UK. Found it in Value Village for $22. Then we found a white one, without the foot stool, in the Salvation Army for $16. Good start.

Following the philosophy of reduce, reuse, recycle, we have tried to buy very little new. It also follows my philosophy of 'frugal'. Last weekend we had fresh bread from our $15 breadmaker and crispy waffles from our $3 waffle maker. Mmmm. We've been finding furniture, tools, hi-fi, clothes and kitchen ware. Our regular run into town (Cortenay) for groceries takes us on a loop past three great thrift stores, so we always stop and check them out. If you want it NOW, go buy it new. If you can wait a week or two, save 80%. At the same time, our money goes to local community charities instead of the big box stores, and we save a lot of stuff from landfill. Works all round, for us.

We're also benefiting from being in a new development with building still going on around us. The nearest built on plot is about two hundred feet away, and that house has just been sold but the new owner wants some changes. In the UK you couldn't do it, but here the timber frame construction makes it easy. A wider balcony and an extra patio door - no problem, rip off the vinyl siding, take the circular saw to the underlying frame and bingo, new doorway. Change the size of the downstairs suite, just rip out a few interior walls and rebuild a few feet to the left. The crazy thing is that the house was built a month ago so all the materials being taken out are brand new. Sadly, it's cheaper to use fresh ones than pay someone to strip out the nails.

We gain because a quick word with the project manager and we have all the scrap we can take. They pay for landfill disposal so it helps them too. I have more 2x4 timber than I can use, and plenty of 2x6 and even 2x10. Taking the nails out isn't that hard, and now I've built two big workbenches and some shelving in the garage. Cost me a few dollars for screws. It's a tragedy to see brand new 14 foot lengths of 2x10 timber going to the tip. Sadly our reclamation must be the exception not the rule.

So we're getting set up in our home, and thoughts turn to business and earning a dollar or two to support us. That's taking a lot of effort and time right now so apologies for the lack of posts, we'll try to catch up a bit.

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Family photo

From the boardwalk in Comox, in our first few days ashore.
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Friday, July 31, 2009

Back in Nanaimo

Here we are, back and getting ready to move in. In fact, Gesa and I have the magic school bus all loaded up with stuff and are off to collect the keys to the house and unload the first lot into the garage. One more night on the boat then we all go up to Cumberland tomorrow.

Had a great, great cruise up to Desolation and back, wonderful places, amazing weather and great swimming. Some photos here and more to come. N.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Up North

Apologies to our regular readers, but we've been a bit quiet on the blog. As usual this reflects the opposite in daily life - things are getting busy as we begin to reattach ourselves to the land. We did, though, have a great trip across to Vancouver where we met up with friends and had a great afternoon and evening with Gesa's sister. It was very good to catch up with everyone, and the anchorage was perfect. We stayed in False Creek, near a place called Granville Island, which is a pretty big tourist and artist place, with markets, studios, playgrounds and other attractions. We had a lot of fun, especially on the hot day when the kids found the water park, and spent too much money - but the food from the market was superb and shows that you really do get what you pay for.

On the way back we stopped for a couple of nights at a nice place called Plumper Cove, a little park accessible only by water about twenty miles north of Vancouver. It was a nice quiet stop and some good walks in the forest and on the coastline.

Back to Nanaimo we made a trip up to Cumberland and Comox to check mail and see that our house is still there - it is and it looks like it will be ready for us in a few weeks time. WE sorted out gas, power, internet and phone - the usual necessities of modern life, although we have eschewed cable TV and will try to get by on dvd's and video over the internet for now. We've also been thinking about stuff we want to have for furnishings and houseware. We have ended up finding pretty much every thrift (charity) store in Nanaimo and Courteny, and there's a superb selection of second hand stuff. In most cases, this ticks the boxes of being more environmentally friendly as well as much cheaper. For example, we all have cycle helmets now, four of them cost us twelve dollars. One new one would be thirty, and have a load of cardboard and plastic packing. So it's thrift stores for most stuff, then if we buy new we buy high quality so that we only buy it once, hopefully.

We then spent time preparing for my parent's arrival on Friday. They are with us for two weeks sailing then another week as we move into the new house, so they will see some of our new life too. We found that the marina has some small storage cages up in the underground carpark, so we rented on for a month and took loads of stuff off the boat - mostly books and clothes - as well as storing our new houseware purchases. There is a lot more space on board right now, many lockers are not even close to full. It's amazing how much can be accumulated even on a small boat.

Mum and Dad's arrival coincided with the start of some superb weather, and we have had a great trip up the coast. Apart from motoring everywhere because of light or northerly winds, it's been a really good trip so far. We've had a couple of quiet coves all to ourself - rare at this time of the year when everyone is on vacation - and are now in the famous Desolation Sound. Poor old George Vancouver was pretty down by the time he got here, and it was raining too, so the area gained it's undeserved name from that. In reality, it is majestic, and, like Princess Louisa Sound, defies description or photography in it's grandeur. Massive mountains rise behind the shore line, and sheltered coves make perfect anchorages. It is a deservedly popular place, and sadly it has some of the features of beautiful places in the Caribbean or Bahamas, it is a spot where the rich gather to burn gasoline. There are quite a few big motor yachts, with powerful dinghies to zoom around the area and even a float plane anchored just next to us, probably to ferry guests in and out and avoid the need to spend a day or two on the water traveling here. Of course, I might argue that when it's so easy to get here, the experience is dimmed and just becomes another neat place you flew to once.

Thankfully, this place overwhelms even the most vulgar attempts to show off. The best anchorages are too small for the big yachts, who anchor outside in the deep water and all their toys don't buzz around where we are. Next to these mountains, even the biggest boat is just a dot on the water and we can all admire and enjoy these surroundings together. It really is fabulous, especially when the sun shines!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Engine fixed - let's go!

So we got the engine problem repaired, relatively simple once we found the right mechanic - experience and the correct tools make all the difference.

Today we cast off the lines once more and head for Vancouver itself, a chance to visit the city, meet friends and, hopefully, meet up with Gesa's sister who will be there briefly as part of her flying rota, she works with Air Canada.

Time to go sailing, yipee!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Swallowing the anchor....

Swallowing the anchor is the cruisers' term for packing ones bags and moving ashore. The term is apt, the process can, at times, be about as pleasant as swallowing a large lump of pointy steel. In our usual way we aren't hanging about too much, choices are thought about, options explored then we go for it in a pretty decisive way.

The key things here are a house and transport. Up in Cumberland we found a brand new house, very close to the kids school and ready to rent just when we want to move up there, at the start of August. The house ticks a lot of boxes, three good sized bedrooms for all of us, a large basement room for office / guests, and a big garage to set up as a workshop area. Lots of storage too. Sadly, it's darned ordinary, unimpressive and contains one of my biggest pet hates about North American houses, which is that the most distinctive feature is the garage door. Sigh. This is temporary, we keep reminding ourselves, although we expect to be here at least a year.

Next up, a car. Given that we are likely to be hauling around a lot of stuff, and/or kids friends, and/or guests, the obvious choice was a mini-van. Seating for seven, lots of space, comfortable. Also boring, not very fuel efficient and wallowing around the bends. We'll do our best to shop very locally and use the car as little as possible. We kind of managed it in Cambridge so hopefully we can do so here too. We think we found a decent example, it's 2002, with quite a lot of miles but seems to be in good shape. There are so many to choose from that prices are very reasonable, in fact it's less expensive than any car I ever bought in the UK.

To help us drive less, and enjoy the local area, bicycles are essential. I found a good one locally, second hand, and spend a half day with Max helping me to clean, adjust, oil and generally turn a scruffy neglected bike into a pretty good one. Then, yesterday, we were browsing the Charity stores (a favourite activity lately) and found a nice mini-mountain bike for Issie for $30, which seems like a good deal. It's very like the bike she had back in the UK which she did very well on. In the same store were cycle helmets, and Max got a very cool one for three bucks. Reduce, reuse, recycle.....
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Friday, July 03, 2009


We've all been learning the national anthem, Gesa found a great book in the library and the kids are enjoying it. Max sings:

'O Canada,
Our home and native land.
True pastry of love...'

That'll be 'true patriot love, in all our hearts command', Max.

O Canada, Our home and native land

Here we are in Canada for our first 'Canada Day' celebration as residents. Many of you will have been to one of our annual Canada Day parties in Cambridge, where we all dressed in red and white and invited any canadians we knew to come over for a BBQ. Now it is our chance to join in someone else's party, and it was a lot of fun.

Nanaimo held a gathering in the big waterfront park, and took the opportunity to open a new section, the Spirit Square. The weather cooperated, the choir sang 'O Canada', speeches were made and a most enormous cake was cut. There were plenty of activities too, Issie and Max got to try kayaking and street hockey - Max showed an aptitude for hockey which he must get from me, obviously, and I can see him chasing a puck or ball around the street or a rink in years to come. Issie turns out to be pretty good at throwing an american football too, but perhaps I'll do my best to steer her towards rugby. She shows talent when it comes to tackling her brother and I reckon American Football just wouldn't be physical enough for her....

I reckon Canada does this national celebration thing pretty well. More evident and patriotic than England's complete apathy to St Georges Day, not as alcoholic as St Patrick's Day and much less jingoistic than the Fourth of July. We fit in well here.

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A day out in Victoria

Here's some pictures from our day out in Victoria. Our friend on the next door boat, Jim, was at an event in town for the day and offered to take us, so we jumped at the chance. The event was an outdoor equipment show, so Max and Issie had fun on the climbing wall and other entertainment. I went off to find the fast ferry and go to America and back to get my residency visa activated. Meanwhile, the team looked around the city, took in an IMAX movie and kept a lookout for all the painted eagles that we find all over Vancouver Island.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Owen and Amanda visit

All the way from the UK, Amanda and Owen came to spend a some time with us, and we managed to cruise down to the nearby Gulf Islands. We had a great time, did many things, such as: played on the beach, walked in the forest, had ice cream, drank some wine and beer, caught prawns, collected and grilled oysters, camped on an island, got (temporary) tattoos, played games and generally had a lot of fun.

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Max is playing on the beach.

Wow, Mummy, look it's a hermit crab shell but it's not a crab, it's a HERMIT SNAIL!!!!

Nick's birthday, and hanging out in Comox

I turned thirty-something again a couple of weeks ago, succeeding in making it to Canada before I turn forty. Because of a calendar mistake by Gesa, we also celebrated Father's Day on the same Sunday, a week early as it turned out but a nice double celebration none the less. I was woken in the morning for cake and gifts, and we had a lovely morning before we moved the boat across the anchorage to and found that a large many-armed starfish, known locally as a sunfish, was hanging out with us. We returned him to his normal home. Later we went to the local coffee-shop, the Komox Grind, for a coffee and the usual wifi and phone calls.

Another event put on especially for my birthday (well, maybe not) was a big Outrigger Canoe competition. Mid morning the ladies one and two person canoes came racing by in a big fleet. Seems we were anchored right on the line for the first leg and they went around us, paddling hard. Looks a bit like hard work to me.

Over the next couple of days we hung out in Comox harbour and took the chance to get up to Cumberland, our new home. We rented a car and went to look at some houses, and ended up choosing one and signing a rental agreement, so we have a new house! It's a completely new house, in fact, still being built so we have the advantage of that, even if the house is very ordinary. It's also a few hundred yards from the kids' new school, so we went and enrolled them there too, so everything is getting slowly sorted out for our life ashore.

More photos from a couple of weeks ago

Up in Princess Louisa Inlet, we anchored in front of Chatterbox Falls, and quickly met a lot of new friends tied up to the Park Dock. There was a regular cocktail hour, and when we said we were going to hike up to the Trapper's Cabin, there was a rapid divide into the 'we're too old for that' camp and the 'we'll go with you' group. Led by Fernando on his boat, Isabelle, we had a great hike up the hillside.

Down at sea level again, the beach was a favourite and cocktail / appetiser hour became a regular event, on the last day we lit the campfire in the shelter and had a marshmallow toasting time, fun for all.

On the way south again, we stopped at the Harmony Islands, a little group providing shelter in the otherwise open and forbidding Hotham Sound. Friel Lake Falls tumble fourteen hundred feet down the mountainside to empty directly into the sound. We anchored inside a tiny cove just big enough for us, tied back to a tree on the island and watched the raccoons feeding on the shoreline. We dug for and enjoyed clams from the shore and had a very comfortable couple of nights of peace and quiet.

Whilst at Egmont we met a very nice chap called Gus who came and introduced himself. Come over one day, he said, we live in a bay over there and would love to see you. Anchored at the Harmony Islands we zipped across in the dinghy and went through a narrow gap in the rocks to find a beautiful sheltered cove, a true little oasis on the coast. Sadly, Gus wasn't there but a friend was, and he showed us around. After some twenty five years there, they have built up a beautiful homestead and fish farm business. We'll certainly go back one day and say hello again.

Leaving the Sunshine Coast, we headed back towards Vancouver Island again, stopping for a night in the harbour of Vananda, on Texada Island. We took a walk ashore and had a drink up at the local Inn, with a great view down into the bay. The seals swam around us, we explored the beach at low tide and fished a little from the boat. We almost instantly caught a rockfish, but we're unsure about eating it and know that they are very long lived and slow growing, so we put it back carefully and didn't fish again, it's too easy to catch and harm something you don't want. The next day we upped anchor and headed off to Comox.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

I Am Canadian! (Resident....)

Yesterday we were offered a lift to Victoria by a friend who was going there for the day. This was the perfect opportunity for me to pop across to America and back so that I could activate my visa that allows me to be a permanent resident and work here.

For arcane reasons, I have to leave and re-enter the country to do this. So I hopped on the fast ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, which takes fifty five minutes and costs not a lot. I had half an hour in America, grabbed a sandwich and confirmed that Port Angeles is not a top destination for a day trip. An hour later I was back, at the counter with a very gracious Canadian immigration officer and we took about forty-five minutes to complete all the paperwork. Not only am I now allowed to live and work here, but all our possessions, including the boat, are officially imported and we can get on with bringing things over from storage in the UK and changing the boat to be Canadian registered.

It was all very straightforward and I got the chance to read a lot of my book. Back in Victoria, I searched out a pub where I could sit quietly and enjoy a pint in celebration, before fining the family and going for ice cream. They'd had a fun day in the city and Gesa had finally found a pair of walking boots, after a long search.

Now it's on with other new life stuff, like social security numbers, healthcare, driving licence and so on. So much to do....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Photos, lots of photos

On our way up the mainland shore, we anchored in Pender Harbour, which would certainly bear more exploration. Sadly we only had one night but we did do some school - experiments with water, mixing and dilution, ate our prawns from the night before, watched a biplane perform acrobatics above us but still not match the splendor of the local bald eagles, and we saw the local entry in the annual unco-ordinated dragon boat paddling competition.

In the little village of Egmont, we took a fabulous forest walk to the Skookumchuck Rapids, where the tide rips through at up to sixteen knots. It was certainly fearsome.

The village turned out to be holding it's annual 'Egmont Day', I guess in England this would be a village fete, with tea on the lawn and a cricket match. Here it was a parade, games for the kids, burgers for lunch, a salmon supper and a canoe race. I'd only been in a canoe once before and so it was with interest that I saw two young lads push off from the dock, practice a few strokes then roll over and almost sink. Uhoh. That's cold water, that is. We didn't sink, and fortunately we didn't win, carefully coming second in our heat by about six inches to avoid having to race again in the final. That's wisdom what comes with age, that is.

Issie and Max were delighted to get to play on some other kids bikes and skateboards, even though Max's first skateboarding attempts left him with an array of cuts and bruises his enthusiasm was undaunted. I suspect there will be more band-aids required in years to come....

On the thirty mile trip north to Princess Louisa we saw the astounding mountains, snow capped peaks and tumbling waterfalls all unwind before us as we motored along. Even the kids found it difficult to stay below decks for this trip, proudly wearing the masks they made at Egmont Day, playing dominoes on the foredeck and soaking up the scenery. Through the Mailbu Rapids and anchored at the Chatterbox Falls, we saw local Meganser ducks paddling around and watched a floatplane drop in to collect some hardy, and wealthy, souls who had hiked across the glaciers and down to the inlet.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Best Laid Plans....

We were due to head down to Vancouver today, stopping at a nice island called Jeddidiah overnight. In Vancouver we planned to meet up with Owen and Amanda, great friends from the UK and take them for five or so days sailing.

The sailing gods had other plans. In fact, today it was the turn of the evil god of diesel engines. Up till now he has, thankfully, left us well alone and we've offered tributes of fresh oil and filters at regular intervals. But the gods are capricious, so when the engine was slow to start this morning, I looked at the fuel supply system before we pulled up the anchor.

There was an ominous whiff of diesel and a slow drip drip drip around the injector pump. This is a complicated bit of kit that takes fuel from the final filter, jacks it up to high pressure and squirts it into the cylinders. I pulled out the manuals and poked about a bit but it quickly became apparent that we needed a professional opinion. One of the skills I have been developing over the years, and it's a costly training course, is when to stop meddling and call in someone who really does know what they are doing. With tolerances to a thousanth of an inch, injector pumps clearly fall into that category.

So we now know that the leaky bits can probably be repaired without removing the pump from the engine, but it's a careful job because there's lots of tiny parts to lose. That would get us going again but the pump is probably in need of removal and overhaul, a fairly lengthy and costly job. Given that we have just a few weeks left of active cruising before we have to get stuck into proper life ashore, we'll probably try to do the quicker fix then prepare to overhaul or replace the entire engine during the winter.

For the four years we've had the boat, we knew the day would come when we have to make the 'good money after bad' decision about the engine. It can certainly be rebuilt, but it's likely that the cumulative wear over its twenty year life is high enough to make it a close call between rebuild or replace. Both need this engine to be lifted out of the boat, a complex procedure in itself. We've got some more time to think about it, it would have been nice to have got through the next six weeks before this happened but hey, such is life.

So we'll now limp down to our berth in Nanaimo, where we can stay comfortably and be within easy reach of mechanics and other good boat stuff, as well as plenty for us to do when not aboard. We can run the engine enough to get in and out of harbours and anchorages, and it's only sixty miles south. Unfortunately, the wind doesn't blow much round here in the summer so it will probably be a slow sail but the upside is that we can stop almost anywhere when the weather is this calm. We'll leave early in the morning.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A few photos!

Our very nice friends on Protection Island, Nanaimo offered us some of their tasty wine. Turns out they made it themselves, so we thought we would give it a go, especially as it works out MUCH cheaper. All we have to do is choose the kit, pour in the yeast and the rest is done for us over the next five weeks. From July 4th it will be ready to be bottled, and we do that ourselves too!! We will let you know how it turns out.

After we left Gabriola, we sailed across the strait towards Gibson's and anchored for the night. For Canadian television buffs, this is home to the famous Beachcombers series. The longest running TV programme in Canada. I was a fan in the 70s, and had a real kick sitting outside Molly's Reach having a drink and watching the world go by. It is now a proper cafe, but during its filming years, it remained a set, and curious tourists apparently always knocked on the window for a peak!

And here we are in Smuggler's Cove, another of the many marina parks that are up and down these waters. The photos speak for themselves: beautiful and tranquil, a real treat for us all. The perfect place for Max and Issie's first dip! Still too cold for Nick and I.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photos from Princess Louisa

A few of the views from the fabulous Princess Louisa Inlet, including Ty Dewi anchored in front of Chatterbox Falls. Pictures can't do it justice, it's a constant feast for the eyes and the mind.

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