hot springs sailing trip - dad's boat, mum's boyfriend - a love story

Hot Springs sailing trip: Dad's Boat, Mum's Boyfriend - A Love Story...

by Jim Shortreed


I had to take my mom and her new boyfriend
on my dad's boat.

My dad built this 36 foot fiberglass sloop, right from scratch, from a set of mails he got in the mail from John Brandlymayr. It took him every spare hour for 8 years. He did an excellent job, the hull is fair and smooth, the cabin woodwork meticulous, the engine well installed, the rudder strong, the mast also well installed. On first glance nobody would guess this boat was launched 24 years ago from his backyard in Campbell River, not even on second glance.

But he caught cancer and quickly died at just 64. He only got this boat around the Island twice, but that's as far as this boat's been. Suddenly I found myself at the dock, Island Prism offered for sale by my mom. So here am I, proud to be on this strong boat my dad made. I've bought and installed nearly a million nice new boat bling blings, the new good stuff that will get this boat around the world.

But it's the third glance at this boat that shows that Dad didn't build it by himself. Not by a long shot did he, there was my mom, none too happy, but pressed into service as gopher, labourer, holder of pieces being installed. This was after work as a nurse and raising their two daughters. (As eldest son I was gone and blissfully unaware.) So what are we going to do tonight after supper honey? We're going to work on the boat. What about this weekend, this year's vacation? We're going to work on the boat. Where's my paycheque, your paycheque going? To buy stuff for the boat. One weekend my mother turned up at my place, she was crying and totally upset about nothing except the boat, and she wasn't going back. It only lasted a short time, but I started to see that this dream boat of Dad's was a nightmare of Mom's.

In fact this was the second boat my dad had built. The first was a 24 foot plywood sloop, also built from scratch, from plans mailed out by John Brandlymayr. Me, my brother, my two sisters, Mom and Dad all squat into a very well built 24 foot sloop, very tight quarters, but I loved it. There was lots to see and do, places to go. Mom wasn't as happy, she was a nervous sailor. Who can blame her, sailing between Port Hardy and Victora in a homebuilt tiny boat, loaded to the gunwhales with 2 young girls, me and dad trying to sail in all sorts of winds, both of us totally beginner. She and the girls always got seasick, that's gotta take the fun from it.

So when dad got the plans in the mail for a bigger boat to go further, she stepped up to the plate but her heart wasn't in it. For mom this was work hard, sacrifice, more hard work, just so she could go on more scary sailing trips. Sure enough, the North East Pacific is not a sailing paradise and both members of the crew must enjoy the hardships of SE Gales, strong tides opposing strong NW winds, cold sleet and dragging anchours in the dark. The marraige was saved by an RV that took them to warmer southern states and the Island circumnavigations became summer Gulf Island vacations.

That was then when my dad was the captain. Now I've got this boat all tricked out, it sails alot better, handles very easily, I can single hand her. I wish my dad were still here to see how much further I've taken his work of art and how well she sails. Of course it helps to be young and strong. I often say Mom, you should come out sailing with me, the boat's preforming very well and Tofino's a great cruising ground. No thank you Jim, she always says, my days of sailing are long past. Ah, very good, a son's polite duty fulfilled. Too everyone's satisfaction.
But wait, now mommie's got a new boyfriend, after 12 years in mourning as it were (or 12 years healing from marriage?). And he used to have a sailboat, he loves to sail, so
OK Jim take me and the new boyfriend sailing. Ah, well, I, suppose so, Mom. And she wants the front bunk too, relegating me to the settee. Reclaims the owners cabin as it were. Ohmigawd will I have to disciple my own mother from having too much fun in the front bunk? Will the new boyfriend be issued rain gear and ordered to anchour watch sundown to sunup?

I thought at first the weather would be crappy, nothing kills a Tofino Hot Springs trip like that raging southeast. No such luck, the first days of spring are the finest kind and so there he is, the new boyfriend who's going to sleep in the front bunk with my mother on the boat my dad and her built. We started out with blue skies, a fresh southeast breeze and that meant an easy sail downwind to Hot Springs Cove. That impressed the new boyfriend, he could see this boat could sail. Mom loved it, she sailed the boat. Mom actually does like to sail, when the sails are kept under control, neither flogging nor filling up with wind and dumping the boat on her beam ends. That's the kind of sail it was, the waves gentle the wind just a breeze. So mom sailed the boat, steering down Russell Channel looking every bit the happy princess. The wind is in her hair, the sun is shining, and she's in love again.

I saw her new. Before she was my mother, wife of my father, mother of my brother and sisters, lately a widow. All those family memories between her and I, those memories put a little bit aside when I see her happy, sailing and in love with her new boyfriend.

After baked halibut, mom made up the front bunk and we shuffled around for the bedtime. I had my captain details to attend to so after an hour of dogin' it, I was pleased to hear snoring loud and clear, forward. I might be able to outplay the elder generation, keep them busy every hour, putter around the boat a bit after lights out, then nought but snoring.

Early to bed early to rise, and off to the Hot Springs on a clear dawn. What a spectacular hike. Mom was excited about returning after so many years ago and looked at all the carved names of yachts she knew from the Campbell River Yacht Club. Her boyfriend was simply stunned by the trees, I don't think he had ever seen so many big trees up close and personal. Nobody was on the trail, we had all the time in the world to stop and look or remember. When we got to the Hot Springs mom said the animals were here already. What kind of animals? The 'bares', get it? She had to spell it out for me. But we're not doing that, because my mommie is with me.

The afternoon was a mirror image of the previous day and now mom wants to see the whales. So we point off into the Pacific, looking for whales. It was so settled and the waves so long that I went up the mast to the spreaders for a look around. I felt just like Master and Commander, the sun was lighting up the ocean and only the horizon was blocking my view of Japan. Soon enough, about 5 miles off Hesquiat, thar she blowed and I went down to set the new course. I sailed the ship whilst mom and her boyfriend manned the binoculars but the whales were in motion that day. We'd spy a far off spout and set the course, but either as we got there or along the way the whales moved along. All this sailing put us directly downwind and in the late afternoon we simply poled out the genoa, lashed down the main and mom sailed us right to Hot Springs, wing on wing, very nicely done, mom.

And right off to the Hot Springs again armed with flashlights and beer. Both mom and her boyfriend knew the bares would be there. We took our time in the pools, and on the way home we started discussing the hurts and aches of old age, mine not quite so painful as yet I must admit. When the lights went out there was no need to dog the captain work, snoring was quickly heard in all quadrants.

Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. But this is the travel day and Tofino-bound we beat out of Hot Springs with a reef in the main and staysail. Progress was slow because I didn't have enough sail. After I discussed the idea of more sail with mom, for about an hour, she reluctantly gave me leave to set the genoa. That improved our speed but now the boat pounded into the building seas. I tryed to get the wheel back from her boyfriend. He insisted on steering too close to the wind, which meant the boat stood more upright, slowed down and the sails flogged. I wanted to steer away from the wind a bit, heel the boat down, get some speed, keep the sails full. But either way, sailing into the southeast swell, in March, in the Pacific can be intimidating. That's when we saw the whales.

There must have been 3 or 4 whales, feeding I assume. Their flukes would come right straight up out of the water and then dive down. I saw 2 tails in the air at the same time. We slowly sailed by them, they were about a mile to seaward, a mile to leeward as well. Let's sail over to them, it's only a mile, it's a real easy reach. Mom just said no, she wasn't looking very good. Her boyfriend said why don't we turn towards shore, and he wasn't looking very good. That was it, I never got a chance to sail in amongst the whales, damn, alot of fine sailing is ruined by fair weather sailors. But turning to run before the wind and waves solves many a seasick and within minutes mom was steering the boat downwind, happy again. We left Rafael Point behind, ran down into Sydney Channel, mom's confidence helping her boyfriend's recovery from seasickness.

Mom took Island Prism down the channels to Tofino, supervising the GPS coupled autopilot, enjoying the warm dry pilothouse and cooking a fine meal on the stove. Well she said, that radar, autopilot and moving map gps would have made quite the difference to your father's confidence on these rainy days in these narrow channels.

Quite the holiday indeed, full of dad and mom and her new boyfriend. Those memories of mine with mom and dad in together, are they diminished, are they now just a little bit forgotten, a little bit irrelevant? Were those memories already a little bit forgotten from time passing by, from new happenings, from new family?

All of the above, memories of my dad are slipping away, like a million dad's before him. There's nothing I can do about that but alter the course of death. The southeast wind blows a low tune on the mast rigging so I stick my head into the wind and rain to check lines and fenders. I'm safe and sound in Tofino Harbour aboard the sound vessel my father built. Memories of dad are fading but I'm holding as many as I can before the wind. Memories of sailing with my dad, memories of him with his grandson, with his wife at our weddings. I remember and I plan. I plan to bend a little bit of wind, bend just enough wind with my sails to push my dad's boat right around the world. He built this boat, I'll bend this wind. I'll prove his boat was well made.

Jim Shortreed is presently working on his father's boat, preparing to sail the world.

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Tofino's Hot Springs Cove serves as the backdrop in this love story about a sailing trip to the Hot Springs with Mum, and Mum's boyfriend in Dad's boat.

tofino time november 2006

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