A new writing project?


423844_10151389824065796_1614054264_nThunderbutt in the weeds


Another new direction. Perhaps. I’ve recently assisted a new friend with a bus project, a converted school bus that someone has more or less abandoned and gave to her for free. This friend lives an alternative lifestyle, and gets by with her writing and house-sitting. A rather precarious existence due to the inevitable gaps that appear between house-sitting gigs, and the offer of a home (plus a place she can park it) seemed a boon almost too good to be true.

Which of course it was. I cautioned her that gift RVs are usually a source of massive expense and enormous amount of work, especially the self propelled type like a bus or motorhome. I’ve polished more than one of these turds myself, and know how quickly they deteriorate when not being used, how expensive parts can be, and how much very hard work it is repairing medium-duty trucks due to the size and weight of components. Finding a gem in the weeds like Thunderbutt is exhilarating, and yet requires one to step back and consider very carefully what they are getting into.

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Cold, Cold Victoria Weather

The wind has been howling through the harbour to a degree we’ve never before experienced. Normally, we get wild winds when a cold front approaches ahead of a deep low, and almost always from the southwest. Mercifully, this tends to be short lived as these fronts are always in a hurry, and almost always abate within 4 or five hours. This can be quite uncomfortable because of our north-south moorage, which puts the wind on the beam, creating a very rolly ride.

This wind has been from the north, northeast for two days now, gusting to over forty knots. If not for that lucky accident of direction, we would have been forced off the boat. As it is, the constant noise and motion has both of us a little squirrely and lacking in sleep.

It’s also bloody cold. It was hard to get out of bed this AM as the breaker had flipped and we had lost electrical heat. It didn’t take long to warm things up once I started the propane furnace, though.
I’m amazed that they haven’t cut off water yet.

The joy through all this is the warm feeling of knowing that unlike the rest of my fellow urban dwellers, if it all goes down, we have water, food and propane heat to last a long time.

The wind damaged a neighbor’s boat yesterday morning. This is the second time I’ve seen this happen on this dock: somebody doesn’t adequately furl his headsail and when a wind comes up it peels out the jib and flogs the hell out of it. There were four of us on there trying to save that sail, and it was a real bear.
The problem with a furled jib is you can’t just throw off the halyard and drop the thing; you have to finish unfurling it, which can be next to impossible depending on how badly everything is tangled. What we had to do was bring the sheets forward and basically wrap them around the sail to keep it from tearing further. It isn’t pretty but it stopped the flogging.

What amazed me about all this was how badly the furling arrangement had been set up. I had brought my winch across to try and furl the thing when I realised that all the furling line had been pulled off the drum even though the sail hadn’t been fully furled.

All I can think of is that the sail had been very loosely furled, without any sheet wraps around the sail, and the wind had pulled out enough of the sail to flog it.

It’s very important to furl a headsail with at least a few wraps of sheet around it, and even when the sail is furled like that there should still be a few wraps of furling line still around the furler drum. What prevented a quick fix yesterday morning was the fact that all the furling line had been pulled out and the drum couldn’t be rotated anymore. In retrospect, we could have untied the line, manually wrapped it around the drum and then pulled it out to finish pulling in the sail, but it never occurred to us at the time.

Here’s a shot of the weather conditions causing these winds. Isn’t that a beautiful picture? Look at that arctic high – much higher than anything I’ve ever seen before (arctic highs are typically higher than summer ones). The highest on record is something like 1087 millibars. We are fortunate that the low to the south of us is barely a low at all (just off the picture), at over 1000 millibars. Unlike typical winter weather, these winds are caused by the height of the ridge, rather than the depth of the trough. Can you imagine what it would be like if we had a deep low right now? It would be like that glorious object off to the west of the Gulf of Alaska: that’s one of the lowest lows I’ve seen, coming up against the highest high – no wonder there’s so many isobars! It must be sheer hell out there!

The Loser’s Guide; How to Redefine Winning and Reclaim Your Life, Part Eleven

Lets look more closely at these.

Starving to death.

This just isn’t going to happen. You have too many personal resources at your disposal to allow that to happen, even if at worst it means taking a crummy job for a while. It goes without saying that at the very worst scenario there are social service agencies, soup kitchens, food banks, friends and family if you find yourself in a bind.

I’ll be desperate.

Desperation comes from a lack of options. It is your neighbours and friends who are desperate because they have found themselves in an endless cycle of debt, expenses, and wage earning. At best they can break free on a holiday for a short time before returning to the mill. Back in the mid-19th century Thoreau wrote “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their songs still in them.” Lose the gendered “men”, and I don’t think much has changed. Most men and women crave for something else, for more, and they break out their wallets.

I live on a boat in the inner harbour of Victoria, B.C. in Canada. I can’t believe how many people tell me they love what I’m doing, envy me and so forth. Whenever I tell people I live on a sailboat, the inevitable reaction is “wow”.
As for me, I’ve become uncomfortable with it. In the beginning I felt a little pride but as the years have passed, I just see it as home. No big deal at all. And it makes no sense; if you think it’s that great, do it! As a lifestyle it can be very inexpensive compared to land-based living. You live much closer to nature, you get waterfront views, and when the neighbourhood gets dull you pick up and move elsewhere.
I live tied to a dock but the real adventurous ones live on the hook – live without a tether to land and it’s costs. Because my wife works outside our home, she decided she would rather pay for the convenience of being able to just walk away from the boat and catch the bus or ride her bike. Personally I would like the extra freedom of living on the hook would bring, but it’s a compromise.

I imagine a lot of people are hollering “hypocrite” right now; how can someone preach about living a life unencumbered by material things while living on a yacht?

The answer is a complicated one and involves a long history of disentangling myself from an older life, but the short answer is that you can purchase a boat suitable for living on for less than a thousand bucks if you look long and hard enough. The boat would not be safe for marine travel of course, but the requirements for a boat that never leaves the dock (or anchor) is vastly different from one that must safely navigate from place to place. Many of my neighbours have vessels that would be a death sentence if they were ever unmoored, but that’s beside the point; they were chosen because they were cheap and provide cheap housing.
Beyond that, the average house price in Victoria is about half a million dollars. You can buy a lovely yacht for a tenth of that and live in envious style. Why more people don’t is what this book is about.

It’s dangerous.

Of course it’s dangerous. But there is also a risk in staying at home. As is commuting. Or risking your heart with someone. Or is trying to raise children. There are a million possible things that can turn your world inside out every day, things such as disease, violence, natural disasters and accidents. Most of the time people think of the risk of violence when they leave their safe havens, but the stats don’t bear that out. For most of us it’s the home that is the most dangerous place and people we trust who most often violate us.
This is evolution again, a holdover from our tribal ancestry where the other group was a very real danger. Recent archaeology suggest that death from internecine fighting was very high among hunter gatherer groups, high enough that it actually was a very strong force of evolution. We instinctively fear the other, especially the unknown other and so huddle in our wood and gyproc fortresses. As an aside, I’m convinced this is why social phobia and social anxiety is so widespread – along with their population-level equivalents such as racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and so forth. In hunter gatherer societies, there was a good chance that the unknown other really was dangerous.
In my experience suburbs are the worst. Suburbs are where we most often choose to raise families and so there you will find the greatest numbers of young men, individuals that statistically are far more likely to commit random acts of violence. When ever hell was being raised you would find young men busy at it. There are a lot of sociological and biological reasons for this, but often it’s your neighbour’s kid in a well-to-do neighbourhood you have to keep an eye on, not the abstract boogeyman waiting for you in the bushes.
We think a conservative, mainstream suburban lifestyle is the safest, but it’s an illusion.
Even politically it’s a house of cards. There was a poster I read that talked about awareness of how we live, and one of the points has always stayed with me:
Never confuse your comfort with safety.
That’s it in a nutshell. They came for others and they can come for you. Your garden gnomes and designer house colours will not stop men with guns if your country’s politics go askew as they so often have all over the world.

Come sail with us. www.selfdiscoverysail.com

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Moving Off the Boat

One of the great benefits of being a loser is that the scenery never gets old. While many if not most folks struggle to maintain property and a house, with all it’s enormous costs, we get to live lightly, moving as the need requires. We had an ad out looking for a winter house sitting opportunity, and have had many offers. we eventually decided on a lovely home in the woods, complete with second cabin and car.
The owners are a wonderful couple heading out for 5 weeks of holidaying in warmer parts.

Personally, I have no need to get off the boat and I’m not looking forward to Tracy hauling off her TONS of stuff, but this is part of the deal that keeps her sane and us living here 90% of the time. It will be nice to have a full-size bed, though. And with the kids coming over at xmas, it will give us all much needed space.

The other thing it will do is get us out of there so I can do some work. I want to get at the engine to solve once and for all the hard start problem. I ordered a diesel engine compression tester to make sure that part’s okay. If the compression is low I’ll pull it apart and hone the cylinder walls, replace the rocker cover gasket, and seal any other oil leaks.

If compression is good then there’s something with the injectors or injection pump. Once the engine starts it runs fine, but getting there takes a little too much work for the starter. In order to do a lot of this I need to haul the engine out from under the cockpit and into the main salon, which is simply impossible while we are living there.

My friend Sheldon and I have been doing a lot of home reno/construction work lately. It’s kind of strange to be doing grunt work like this while having ten years of university under me, but as I said in earlier Loser’s Guide posts, the Loser is adaptable and takes advantage of whatever resources come his way. My last job was as a tech writer, I want to get my sailing business off the ground, and who knows what else will come my way. Something always does.

There are many ways to make money but I’m getting a twitch that I need to focus more on what is meaningful rather than what simply pays bills. I’m getting an uncomfortable feeling that time is running out and decide what I want my twilight years to stand for. Way back when I was accepted into a grad program for Environmental design at York University, but I went to art school instead. Maybe time to look back at that? My gut tells me I’m overeducated as it is, but the world still stands on pieces of paper to allow entry.

On another note, I’ve had 5 letters to the editor published this last week, dealing with Canada’s contribution to overseas immunization programs, the Afghan torture fiasco, and the Catalytic Initiative to Save a Million Lives.

The Loser’s Guide; How to Redefine Winning and Reclaim Your Life, Part Ten

Breaking Out

To understand what it means to be a fully contented and happy human one needs to examine the context within which we evolved –there’s an old saying amongst ecologists: form equals function. An animal appears the way it does because the various physical adaptaions help serve the function of the animal in its environment. A wolf has a long nose to increase the number of olfactory sensors to help it smell it’s prey.  A deer runs on its toenails to help it run faster and escape the wolf. Behaviour also serves the same function: the wolf becomes a social animal so that a pack can ambush the deer that can outrun a solitary individual.

Human beings are no different; the list of things required to be happy reflect the needs of the human animal – what we evolved to be: extremely intelligent social creatures. An animal that has learned to test and experiment, explore, be acutely sensitive to it’s environment, be adaptable to changing circumstances, work co-operatively, be creative, be social, be spiritual. Often the modern workplace engages very few of these attributes, leading to a dulling of the senses, and decreased interest and lethargy regarding life. It’s the difference between a wild moose and a steer in a feed lot.

Life is mechanised because mechanisms are the means of economic production, whether using physical machines or just simply mechanised, repetitive processes. Work and most career paths have little to do with the well-being of the individual and almost totally focus on that individual’s productivity. Yet most of our needs and faculties have developed over many millions of years to protect and maintain individual well-being. A lot of what it means to be human has been pushed aside in the typical work experience.
Having said that, there is one very strong need that does get met in most workplaces – security. Alongside the human needs listed above, the need for security is very strong. Such is the case for most sentient creatures. A lack of security has a profoundly deleterious effect on the reptilian brain system, which we share with most vertebrates.

Security must be a major need for the animal, or we wouldn’t be so willing to supplant all the others seeking it. This makes sense in that security is closely associated with survival, and a lack thereof suggests a risk to life.  This is one reason that it places so high in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: having adequate food when your life is at immediate risk isn’t helpful.

Such is how the human brain works, or at least the primitive, core parts. This part of the brain is called the reptilian because it evolved in animals long before mammals appeared and is quite ancient. It’s longevity suggests it has great utility; imagine how long a species would persist if it’s members did not feel fear, or hunger, or sexual desire, aggression, or thirst. Such feelings emerge from these ancient structures.

So the need for security keeps a lizard close to it’s hole. Or a monkey surrounded by several of it’s fellows, all keeping watch out for leopards. It makes humans seek out some kind of shelter at night while they sleep.
But this elegant and necessary part knows nothing about the incredibly complex cerebral cortex and frontal lobes that have since developed in the genus Homo. It has no awareness that there is a thinking mind sitting on top of it, with tremendous faculties for figuring stuff out, planning, preconceiving, communicating, devising, and experimenting.  As far as our reptilian brains are concerned, instinct and emotions are all it has to keep the body alive.

When we talk of breaking out of the social mould, we feel fear. Our reptilian brains think disaster because millions of years of evolution has “taught” it that coherence with the larger group was necessary for survival. We are social animals because in evolutionary time scales, we could not have survived in isolation.

But we are so much more than our evolved instincts, and this modern, incredibly complex world offers limitless opportunities, especially when compared to the African savannah of 2 million years ago. If you depart the pack, I can pretty much guarantee that you will not be eaten by a lion. This is the essential nature of your fear, of your need to comply with all of your social training that says to follow the pack and do what they do.
There are times when we absolutely should listen to fear, but we have evolved abstract, rational thinking for a reason and it’s important to step back and examine what our fears are really about, and if they are legitimate.

Likely your fears are:
I won’t survive
I’ll be so poor; maybe I’ll starve.
I’ll be desperate
There is danger out there.
People will judge me/reject me.
In the context of a major civilisation, with all the skills and faculties of a modern, educated person, this just doesn’t hold up. Look how much these fears reflect the thinking of a Palaeolithic Hominid, rather than a modern urban human being.

Posing in front of Meech Lake, Que.

Tracy in front of covered bridge in Wakefield, Que.

Come sail with us. www.selfdiscoverysail.com

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