Monday, May 6, 2013

North To The Light
By Michael

After trying seven tattoo parlors, some more
than once, we stumbled on Pair O' Dice where
Olivia was there and ready to make holes in
Eleanor's ears. No gun, she simply held a
cork behind the ear and pushed a needle
through the front. Eleanor grimaced, but
no tears. She was all smiles afterward and
is pleased with the results, go figure.
My friend EW suggested we take
Eleanor to the mall for this procedure.
But would a distracted, gum-chewing
16-year-old working at a mall kiosk
do a better job than Olivia, an artist,
a professional with about a dozen
piercings of her own, that I could see?
And would the girl in the mall
wear black latex gloves?
“All hope lies in one’s openness to experience and ability to change.”
That was Alvah Simon’s takeaway from his year in the Arctic ice aboard Roger Henry, his harrowing, “sojourn into the darkness.” I re-read Simon’s North to the Night recently—for like the fourth or fifth time—and I finally no longer feel inadequate, like my own cruising experiences are diminutive in comparison. After all, where did Simon freeze himself and the Roger Henry in over the winter? Yep, Canada. The exact same Canada where we and our good ship Del Viento just survived a long, cold winter.

Yes, I can hear the skeptics now: “But Alvah was alone.”
Of course he was, that’s why he had it much easier. Did Alvah have to constantly remind two kids not to leave the hatch wide open? Did he have three other bodies exhaling warm, moist air that would condense on the cabin walls? No, he had a cat.

In fact, Simon had it easy as he chose to winter-over in a part of Canada where mold doesn’t grow on the inside of your boat. Do you know how many trips Simon had to make in the cold drizzle to buy yet another gallon of vinegar so he could wage his battle against the nasty stuff? Zero.
Because Simon has long been a hero of mine, I’m going to stop with the comparison. Even though we’re now more or less equals, he was first and that’s worth something.

But we’re now facing a challenge Simon could not have imagined.
Where to Alvah the coming of spring meant a speck of moss spotted on a tundra stone, to us it is the roar of bow thrusters echoing through our hull as an 85-foot Nordhaven sidles in next to us, blocking our access to the spring sun.

Here on our docks in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we grew accustomed to the long, lonely winter, the isolation, the quiet. We made our own rules, with plenty of space between us and our few hearty neighbors. We became a community, bound not by familiarity, but by shared adversity. Through the long, dark winter, we’d nod as we passed each other, heads down, along the 300-yard trail to the showers or laundry, too much cold and drizzle to stop and chat.
It was a month ago now, on
a freezing cold morning that
I rented dive gear for the day
so I could check our zincs
and scrub the bottom. That's
a 7mm suit doubled up over
my thighs and torso--the
water's cold. 
Things have changed with the season. It’s warm enough to stop and chat, but our community is pulling out, one by one, headed out to explore as we plan to do. They leave us behind, at ground zero of a tourist mecca. Our new neighbors are transients, in for only a day, just long enough to browse the shops, walk the crowded causeway, and take their picture in front of the Empress. The gates that were locked for the winter are now open and tourists stream by our little sliver of dock, through our front yard. Security guards now patrol, picking up detritus left around by the kids and returning it to us with an admonition.

And the irony is painful, how now that I finally have the weather to do a little sanding and touch-up the varnish on my toe rail, I can’t. The couple entertaining friends on their stern deck is barely five yards away and downwind of where I need to work.
But our winter in Victoria was much more than adversity and our spring is much more than the crowds that have descended. We’ve made many friends, some of whom we’ll leave behind and some of whom are cruisers we’ll likely cross paths with in Mexico. And we are going to miss Victoria. We bonded with this pretty, resource-rich city, everything we want and more just a short walk away.

The end of the month is advancing fast. When it arrives, it’s hard to believe we’ll be gone.
But do have hope, Alvah. As we prepare to leave Victoria, to go north to the light, we’re open to the experience and I know we have the ability to change.


The same day Eleanor got pricked, the whole family stumbled on
this blood donor center. In solidarity with our daughter, Windy
and I donated blood. I used to do this every 56 days like
clockwork back in our conventional lives. We now have a
new cruising goal to donate blood--at least once--in
every country we visit. Of course, the more countries
we visit, the more likely we are to get ourselves excluded.


  1. Winter in Canada and summer in Mexico? I guess you and the crew just like extremes. :) Looking forward to your next adventure as it is what is keeping me cheerful and focused while enduring the longest refit of a non-project boat known to man.

  2. Bwah ha ha! Further proof of the alternate lifestyle you are living, a piercing at Pair O Dice instead of Claires. Claires would have Hello Kitty on the wall, not that tabby with the third-eye pentagram. You escaped saying NO to a multitude of sparkly gems, hair ornaments, One Direction key chains and holiday-themed jewelry sets, so probably a very good choice! And she gets to have an awesome lifetime story about the tattooed girl who pierced her ears with a needle :-)
    Good luck with spring, may you soon cast off!

  3. Glad to see Robertson's are well, it had been a while since I checked. Kisses to the girls.


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