Moonlight Capers

Image: Full moon over Johnstone Strait.

The full moon is shining brilliantly just above the horizon. Wearing my rubber boots, I am standing in 10 inches or so of water in a tidal marsh grass slough armed with a 12 foot pike pole. The northwest wind is howling in my ears, and I am really beginning to wonder what on earth I am doing here.

Our neighbour has donated an old float to us. Since we have rather limited funds, and since we strongly believe in re-using things wherever possible, we have decided to see if this old float can be towed out to our site and used as our tie-up float. Looking at the float earlier today, when the sun was shining, I still had my doubts. Humpbacked where a board along the side had broken, missing decking planks, and covered with moss, it seemed that maybe the float might be beyond salvage. However, the main support timbers still seemed sound, and if the flotation blocks could still keep it afloat … Of course, this was part of the catch. High tides and winds had pushed the float so far up into the slough that it would only be possible to pull the float off the marsh grass and into the water at a very high tide. As it turned out, the high tide that we needed was today at 2:45 a.m.

Port Neville is a very small community. Not counting us, there are about 6 people who live in the inlet full time, and a handful more that have vacation homes which they visit infrequently. Although once this region had a significant permanent population with many small farms producing fruit, vegetables, eggs, and milk, and supported by a post office, school, and general store, the decline in forestry and the loss of the Union Steam Ship service resulted in a severe depopulation of the area. Since that time, few “modern” people have been succesful at homesteading here. The skills for living sustainably on the land, once so common, have pretty much been lost. As a result, the few people who have successfully made their lives out here are pretty skeptical about newcomers with wild schemes for permaculture homesteads. It doesn’t help that the two of us are, as Ken puts it, “scrawny Picts”. We certainly don’t look like the big, broad-shouldered, tough image of pioneers that the history books so often portray. So I sort of wondered when the offer of the dock was made, whether or not our neighbours thought we would ever manage to get it off the shore and towed up to our site.

So here we are at 2:30 a.m. in the morning standing in the water and wondering if the float would indeed float. The tide creeps up, and we start pushing. The float bobs a bit, then hangs up on a log. We change our tack, push in another direction, and with a heave, and lots of help from the tide, the float slides free and off into the water. We watch, breaths held, waiting for the poor humpbacked beast to sink, but to our great relief, it stays afloat. We both clamber aboard and pole it across the slough, and it actually seems quite seaworthy (if you don’t fall through where the deck planks are missing).

Now comes the next challenge. We need to get the float out of the slough, around the point at the slough entrance, and then down along the sandy beach to the Port Neville dock where the Moody Blue is tied up awaiting us. Unfortunately, we can’t use the Moody Blue to assist us, as this part of the journey is all in shallow water. Ken hikes off to the dock to get the skiff, leaving me to “guard’ the float from bears. I watch the full moon over my shoulder and pray to Moon Goddesses that the bears will be busy elsewhere tonight.

Soon Ken rows around the point with the skiff and my vigil is over. We tie a tow-line to the float, and Ken rows and tows while I pole. The wind is blowing fiercely in our face, and making headway is slow. After what seems like forever, we round the point. But now we have a new problem. The tide is whipping us along the beach towards the pilings of the dock. We manage to get the float wedged cross-wise against the pilings so that we are not swept away and out into Johnstone Strait. Poling, pushing, shoving, and grunting, we creep the float from piling to piling, trying to reach the main dock floats. Just as we almost get there, the tide gabs us again, and we slip through the pilings, and tangle up in a bunch of boats tied up at the dock. Argh! We spend the next hour sorting ourselves out and gadually working the float into a position that we can tow it away from the dock with the Moody Blue. Finally, at about 4 a.m. in the morning, with the sky just beginning to lighten, we pull away from the dock, old float in tow. We can’t go very fast, as we are afraid the float will break apart. So, travelling at a stately knot or so, we are treated to a fine sunrise as we bring the float home. What a night!

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