The Charlotte Straits can be as calm, serene and peaceful as any sailor in the dead of night could ever wish for, but there are times when Mother Nature shows a heavy hand and severely inflicts her wrath upon that stretch of water between Cape St.James, at the southern tip of Haida Gwaai, and the NW corner of Vancouver Island, known also as Cape Scott.
One such night in mid-July, leaving Cape St.James to port, I knew better than to set a course through the narrow stretch of water between the Cape and Cox Island. Instead I aimed at Triangle Island, some 25 nautical miles west of the infamous Cape. Although this was the long way around, it would keep me away from the Cape and allow me to see the awesome albatross and puffins that reside on the small triangular outcropping of rock.
It was a wild, blind ride that black night (thank you auto-pilot and various other navigational aids), with a small staysail and third reef in the main, in a brisk North Westerly blow. However, sailing by the wind was unlikely to put me where I wanted to go and when reality eventually kicked in, I realized to reach the Island destination in the early morning, I would have to drop the rags, turn on the power and be prepared to face converging tides and very bumpy seas. The fun and fear I was having at the time was too much, so this is what I did not do.
Mother Nature can also inflict her wrath on other things in life besides wind, weather and waves, not the least of which are the things she makes us do quite frequently, even in the difficult environment of a rocking and rolling small boat. If you have ever tried to capture the image of a sea bird skimming the surface of the ocean, aiming with a camera in a similar environment, you’ll know how difficult it can be. Well, for those of us that belong to the male gender, the same degree of difficulty exists when Mother Nature calls. Even though we might be wedged against convenient protrusions that help to keep arms and hands free, depending on the boat and the general layout of the head, and even though the aperture of the target is only a short distance away, it is almost impossible not to overshoot, in spite of how hard you try to adhere to the sign ingrained in your mind that says ‘We aim to please, you aim too please’. How the opposite gender deals with the problem I cannot imagine.
Usually, after such a trip or when Mother Nature’s wrath abates, there is a dire need to clean up the boat. If the circumstance happens to be a safe haven in a marina dock, the cleanup of certain items that have become somewhat unsavoury looking can be more thorough. Such was my safe haven in Winter Harbour, on the NW coast of Vancouver Island, a few miles south of Cape Scott.
My arrival at Winter Harbour was on a reasonably nice day; a little cloud, a little sun and an inkling of a short rain squall that passed over the bay in just a few minutes. By late afternoon, after a three hour well-needed crash-sleep to recover from the previous two nights, I went to it! My endeavor: to normalize the boats ‘vacu-seal’ head and all parts that make it a comfortable ‘seat of ease’, especially with the luxury of a newspaper to catch up on global goings-on!
I removed the assorted fasteners that secure the seat and lid, the crucial ‘vacu-seal’ pair, that are a face-match with the porcelain bowl, and put them in a yogurt container filled with water and a liberal amount of disinfectant.
I took the seat and lid, separated from each other, onto the dock, having already connected a water hose and high pressure nozzle to the dock’s fresh water tap. With a worn out tooth brush I began to clean all the little nooks and crannies of the pair, followed by a blast of water, making a conscious effort to work at the edge of the dock just to ward off unsavory thoughts that might have precipitated a complaint by adjacent boat neighbours.
After both parts of the toilet seat where squeaky clean, I placed one on top of the other on the slightly sloping port side of the boat where I thought they would be secure. However, I neglected to realize that the face of the seat, in contact with the reverse side of the lid, was like a dinner plate resting on a slightly sloped melting block of ice and needed only the tiniest bit of encouragement to slide. Low and behold, this is what it did and subsequently I endured the agony of watching it go over the side and disappear into the depths… 28 feet below the keel of the boat.
In the unlikely event that any far venturing sailor has gone through the trauma of losing a toilet seat in a remote little village amongst the rugged topography of the North West Coast of British Columbia where the availability of most things, let alone a toilet seat, is almost nil, you’ll know how hopeless it can seem.
Now a ‘vacu seal’ toilet is a very simple, trouble-free ‘pooper-pe’er’ device. However it is interdependent on the integrity of three surfaces. If one is compromised or simply missing the whole system is unworkable and the consequence of a headless sailboat prevails. Weighing up all the alternatives, the only option was to somehow retrieve the lost seat from the deep.
After one headless night and part of the following day, I set out on a mission of retrieval. I soon discovered there was no commercial diver in Winter Harbour, but apparently there was a man who owned scuba gear, according to a resident villager. It didn’t take long to find him and he said I could use the gear for a small fee providing I had a diving permit.
The next big task was to find a permitted diver and this turned out to be easier than I could have anticipated. It so happened that a boat on the same dock had a crew member who qualified. Diver Rick was my hero that day. He jumped at the opportunity. Although his certification was up to date, he had not entered the depths for some time and needed the practice.
It was a long preparatory process putting on the gear and doing all the checks that scuba divers have to do and this only added to the anxiety because there was no guarantee the seat would be found. What if it wasn’t ? Buckets and big plastic bottles were on my radar screen.
On the first dive, below where the seat had entered the water…no sign, even after several passes over quite a wide grid. The conclusion: it didn’t go straight down. Flat, light, round objects unlikely go straight to the bottom; they usually willy-way their way down. This infamous object was no different. It must have been pulled by the ebbing tide at the instant of disaster. So now, where to look?
After input from a few good heads, a prediction of bottom landing was made and amazingly proved successful on the first search pass. The seat was found at a significant distance from where the search began. What a relief to have that beautiful ‘seat of ease’ back home where it belonged, never to be taken off the boat again without a double knotted tether.