Decades ago in my youth I was an avid canoeist, water seemed to be my preferred habitat
It has taken a lifetime of stormy experiences to test my watery resolve
Here’s a few a many chapters from my life of what it takes to test ones love for the blue part of this blue planet
The photo above is my favourite of all canoe haunts, Lanzei Lake in British Columbia
I was destined to love water and nature, my mother made it so. When I was not much more than a toddler my mother, Mary was her name, took me faithfully to my summer of swimming lessons. Those lessons took place in a pond just a few miles from my New England childhood home, that home was old wooden one that had stood the test of time as it was built before the revolutionary war, it was on Spring Road. I like to think other water babies grew there.
This story is about my immersion in water. I have come to know that I was fortunate to learn to swim in a very special pond that contained the holiest of holy water, it was Walden’s Pond. Being repeatedly dipped in those holy waters left a lasting blessing on me.
Henry David Thoreau wrote of his life at Walden Pond,
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Fast forward over the years and fishing and all manner of outdoors activities became my passion. I soon became a naturalist even pursuing that path in my formal education. Going to university and teaching, beginning as a freshman and the rest of my undergraduate years, the classes of ‘Hiking and Mountain Climbing’ and ‘Spring Flowers of the Wasatch’ guided me as much as my fellow students whom I guided into becoming dedicated to nature.
In Utah there are the wild rivers and I enjoyed not only canoeing and rafting on rivers big and small but also swimming the rapids. I was more inclined toward becoming a fish than a rugged mountain man. Swimming in big water teaches one how small and insignificant one is and that life is all about getting along with the forces of nature, there is no overpowering her.
Youth and learning
One summer about 40 years ago I was on the coast of British Columbia making my way north to Alaska by hitch-hiking on board whatever boats I could find that would take me from port to port. At the northern tip of Vancouver Island there was a fisherman with a beautiful 40 foot salmon troller. He was heading north and need a ‘deckhand’ and I was invited to join him in-spite of being a complete ‘greenhorn.’ I’d learn a day later why the non-greenhorns had not signed on for the trip north.
We were to leave at daylight the next morning. I stowed my backpack and tucked into the narrow bunk for the night. Sure enough I awoke to the sound of the engines starting up as the very first glimpse of daylight was breaking the night. Casting off the lines, my job, we headed north. The weather seemed a bit ominous but hey, I had a ride north, and crossing the big Queen Charlotte Sound at the north end of Vancouver Island was a big crossing and this ride would get me to the remote indian village of Bella Bella. In a couple days time.
We passed out into the sound and the waves were big and the wind was blowing. My captain said, “looks like we are in for a ride.” Little did I know the nature of that ride.
The captain thought we might beat the storm if we hustled and we gave her snoose, full throttle. Soon he said to me, “Go into the galley and make up about 8 sandwiches, we might not be cooking much on this crossing.” By the time I had the sandwiches made I knew full well why we’d not be standing at the stove as the sea was already getting too rough and wild to allow standing up to be less than a fully two handed chore.
The weather worsened but we plowed north. The sea soon was running so large that we were slowed to a crawl half the time even at full throttle. The little boat was a gem, she was all wood and built with double planked yellow cedar. I was hearing the history of the boat and captain while we manned the bridge together taking turns standing at the wheel and sitting wedged into a nearby bench. Before long it was night and we were not even half way into the sound.
All night long the storm grew and the wave with it. I would learn in later years that this particular part of the world’s ocean holds claim on the record for the largest waves ever recorded. The sound has a unique shape that focuses wave energy from certain directions and has been seen to build waves to more than 100 feet in height. All night long as the waves built we kept our course quartering into the storm looking to make it 3/4 of the way across before turning to quarter down wind and into the safety of the lee of the Queen Charlotte and neighbouring islands. The waves were towering but just how high was impossible to tell in the jet black night. Our tiny forward pointing headlight did little but reveal the face of the giant waves we were plowing into.
Being one with storms, be a cork.
As it turns out if you are in a perilously large storm with towering waves the sort of vessel you want to be on is one that imitates a cork. No ship is big or stout enough to stand toe to toe with Mother Nature when she is acting up. Being a cork means her gigantic waves just push you around, or more like punch you around. You don’t want to take the punches you want to be a rope a dope and just take what comes, dodging the biggest punches if you can.
As the dark grey dawn arose it became obvious that we were in the thick of a monumental storm. The waves were on average more than 50 feet high with plenty far bigger. My captain said he guessed maybe we should have delayed crossing for a couple of days but that there was nothing to do now but just do the best we could.
Every wave that came was a giant mountain. The boat starting in the trough of the wave would start up the slope of the oncoming wave. It was an experience I thought much like driving my ancient VW bus up a mountain road, will full power we’d take our run up the wave front, the boat engine would be maxed out but soon the hill became so steep the poor old boat would start to labour down to a crawl. If the wave was not so big we’d make it to the top with some forward momentum, much of the time not and we’d be stalled as the top of the wave passed beneath us.
At the top of every wave the world was utterly different than it was down in the trough. In the tough there was some wind but the giant waves were shielding us from the full force of the wind. At the top of the waves the wind was a hurricane and the top of the waves were being blown off into horizontal blasts of water. The captain introduced me into one of the few enjoyable things about being in such a predicament. At the top of the waves, full face into the storm, one could scream at the top of one’s lungs at the storm and you could not even hear yourself scream. Your throat would hurt with the force of your scream of curses at nature in her ferocity but the sound of her fury was all the sound there was.
All that day we battled the storm. The biggest waves sometimes would break before we got up the slope and we would throw the wheel full over to starboard and broach the boat and go surfing down the wave to escape the crashing breaker. It worked, every time the giant frothing breaker would just be catching us and the steepening wave would turn us into a surfer and we scoot down the wave toward safety. At the bottom was another story as it took some good seamanship to keep the boat from being rolled at the bottom. My skipper was a master at turning the boat back into the wave as we reach the trough . I soon learned that tactic as if my life depended on it which it did, when he was too tired to be at the wheel it was my turn to do or die. The waves were endless as is the nature of storms how many thousands of such waves one faces no one could keep count.
Very late on that day a big Buffalo Canadian coast guard plane flew in low over us taking a good look. They raised us on the radio and said they’d had a report of a boat in trouble and come to assist. Their big coast guard cutter had tried to come to our rescue but had been turned back by the size of the breaking sea and the fury of the storm. They said they would drop life rafts to us and we should swim for them abandoning the boat which was sure to be lost. My captain told them to fuck off no way was he abandoning ship we’d stick it out.
All that night the storm roared but come morning it was beginning to calm. By late that day we’d made our turn and flew with fantastic speed, surfing every wave until the engine spun up so many rpms we had to cut back on the throttle. The next day we made it into Bella Bella and tied up at the fisherman’s dock. Several of the other fishermen were there on the dock to help us with the lines. One came aboard with a bottle of Hudson’s Bay OverProof Rum which was welcome and the topic of another story.
The big Canadian Coast Guard ship was anchored in the harbour and the captain came over in his skiff. He was pissed off at us saying we were fools to make that crossing and that we’d endangered lives of those who tried to rescue us. My captain noted that we had issued no distress call and the fact was here we were safe and sound so don’t lecture us about seamanship.
Still learning Mother Natures hard lessons
Some many years later, I guess sufficient time had passed so that I’d forgotten what big storms at sea are like, I was on another ship this time a very old big steel ship that had long outlived her normal lifespan. She was however doing work that was vital to save the world and so her captain and crew kept her operational through sheer determination. I came aboard that ship in San Francisco harbour and was to sale with her south.
My task was to convince her captain and crew that their ship and they themselves might be more than the eco rainbow warriors that they had become famous for being. I was there to try to convince them that enroute to do battle with the ravagers of the world’s oceans they could do great ocean science. Ships doing great ocean science were incredibly rare on this blue planet numbering fewer than 100 compared to the nearly 100,000 ships out to exploit the oceans. That one could make a major contribution to our scientific knowledge of the oceans.
On board for a day or so of the reason sailors have always gone to sea, the carousing in port was part of my tour of duty. At some point during that time I met Peter Wilcox, the captain of the ship, he’d asked me about my experience at sea and I’d told him of the fact that I’d live aboard a sailboat for some years and been on lots of vessels, that was good he said he needed people with sea legs.
When the ship left San Francisco and passed under the Golden Gate Bridge Capt. Pete posted the duty roster. It listed everyone who was expected to stand duty watches. There was my name on the graveyard shift at the helm for late that night. As we headed out into the Pacific there was a storm warning.
I was roused from my bunk where I had turned in early to catch some sleep before my midnight to dawn watch at the helm. As I got up it was obvious we were in a storm. There was no easy walking through the passageways to the bridge. It was the typical seaman’s storm walk which involves using all fours to move through the ship always keeping at least three points of contact where and whenever possible.
I arrived on the bridge and the guy turning over the helm to me was happy to be off watch. He was looking a bit green as I am sure I was, and I don’t mean green as in a greenhorn. The first mate had taken me to the bridge and treated me as if I knew everything, he pointed to the compass and the wheel and the throttle and said.
“BIG Storm tonight use the lashing if your need it to stay at the wheel.” Stay on this heading and engine revs. We’ll send someone to give you a piss break about 3am. There’s coffee in that big thermos and sandwiches in the lunch box. Keep a steady hand. See you in the morning.”
I spoke to the engineer in the engine room, she was the only other person on watch that night. Her job was to make sure the engines kept running.
In between sticking my head out of the bridge door to puke and standing my watch the hours went by. The waves built and on that big ship, in spite of her name Rainbow Warrior, she was taking a beating. Mostly the seas were maybe 30 feet and we’d crash through them just fine. We were quartering off the running sea and the ship had a pretty wild roll to her but all was well. Every now and then a big rogue wave would come crashing over the deck sometimes with blue water clearing the wheelhouse. I was relieved at dawn and went below.
Hours later in the galley Capt. Pete came in to redress me. He said, “Russ was it you who puked all over the leeward side of the bridge deck last night.” Aye aye captain was my response, still more than a little green in complexion and condition. ” So go hose it down he says, by the way good job last night, everyone down below was on their knees praying to god on the great white telephone. ” That’s sailor humour to speaking about barfing into the toilet.
I was unable to convince the Rainbow Warriors at the time to serve double duty as ocean naturalists and scientists, but I did make a friend in Capt. Pete. Later that friendship would become another chapter where he agreed to become the captain of my own research ship, the Weatherbird II. I needed Pete who has as green a heart as any who have sailed the seven seas.
They say “the third times the charm.”
Jump forward a dozen or more years and my next test by Mother Nature came aboard a 100 year old Baltic Schooner under sail from San Francisco to the Big Island of Hawaii. The good ship Ragland, owned by my new friend Neil Young (musician) had been loaned to me along with her crew so that I might make a test of my prescription that I had developed to restore the ocean and her ocean pastures to historic health and abundance.
I had met Neil that year, 2002, I was living on my sailboat a big old 50 ft. ketch berthed in the marina at Half Moon Bay California. I was walking out to my boat one day and slowly walking on the dock ahead of me was a man in a fedora and leather jacket. As I caught up to mim I could smell a distinctive alternative smoking odor. Without knowing or seeing who it was I said, ‘hey don’t Bogart that joint man, pass it over to me.’ Of course as is the proper etiquette in such circumstances I was passed the doobie. As we walked the 100 yards or so out to the end of C dock where my boat was berthed it became obvious he was going as far as I, and only one other big boat was there, the 100 ft long Ragland, that had just arrived a day or so before.
Neil inquired of me what were all those ‘giant test tube things’ festooning the deck of my boat. lashed to the stanchions. I replied that they were indeed ‘test tubes’ 6 feet tall and 8 inches in diameter and filled with various sorts of reddish muddy seawater. I was testing some many formulations of my prescription to heal Mother Nature’s ocean pastures. We spent a few hours talking about the plight of the oceans and how I believed in the work of the late great John Martin who had determined that the Nature takes care of and sustains her oceans with mineral dust. It is the rain for ocean pasture grass which live in water and are suffering a terrible drought due to humanities destruction of the natural dust cycle with our CO2.
I was then as I have always been certain the we can restore the oceans to historic levels of health and abundance if we just get on with it. All it takes is a little dust in the wind.
Neil asked my why I was not out at sea doing it. I said my boat wasn’t big enough. He asked what size boat do you need. I replied that for example his ship Ragland, which had been built to serve as a freighter for the Baltic Sea 100+ years earlier would suffice to start. We parted ways.
The next morning I was below on my boat making coffee when there was a knock on the side of the boat. I popped my head out of the hatch to respond and there stood a man who introduced himself as Charley captain of the Ragland. He said he’d been instructed to tell me that he and his crew and the good ship Ragland were mine for my efforts to restore the ocean pastures to health so long as we delivered the ship to Neil’s house on the Big Island of Hawaii in with 6 weeks.
It takes most of a month to sail from San Francisco to Hawaii so there was little time to prepare. I was able to procure 1 tonne of the natural mineral rich rock dust I needed for my best prescription of what it would take to help save Mother Nature from our deadly CO2, the antidote that would restore her to sufficient health that she could save us.
Since this is a story about facing stormy weather suffice it to say we got the ship ready for our voyage, a true voyage of recovery for the oceans. We sailed for Hawaii and I managed to conduct my first experiment, my sea trials in my quest to realize my dream.
Along the way to my first dusting of Mother Ocean, she had a test for us. We were first becalmed for days. I learned in those days the true reason why the Pacific Ocean gained her name. For days not the slightest breath of wind blew. The ocean there below clear blue skies was so smooth it had not the slightest ripple upon it. For as far as the eye could see it was a perfect mirror-like surface. We had a motor and soon tired of waiting for the wind motored on. But we’d stop for lunch upon that perfect mirror and go for a cooling swim. Sending someone to the mast-top of course to look for sharks which frequently could be seen following the ship.
But calms are not what the ocean is most legendary for and the wind arrived. Soon we were happily sailing with every stitch of canvas aloft. Modest winds perfect for sailing will all sails. Into the night one night the question was posed to the captain, should we shorten the sails for the night. Charley said, ‘nah, well be fine.’
About 3 am sleeping in my berth below I heard the call “All hands on deck” shouted with a lot of meaning behind it. Rushing toward the hatch and topside with the rest of the crew we all knew that we’d been hit by a mighty squall. The wind was howling in the rigging, and being a old sailing ship we had a lot of rigging aloft. The boat was heeling over and taking water over the gunnels and making great speed. The masts and booms were groaning under the strain. The big square mainsail was full and the first, perhaps the only job that would save us would be to get it down.
Up the ratline, the rope ladders that go aloft went all those able. The captain was first up, bare naked as he’d not paused to dress from his sleeping berth to deck. Up to the main boom 50 feet above the wildly moving deck, out the footropes and start grabbing handfuls of sail and pulling it up to furl it. The wind had other ideas and gusts would rip the sailcloth from clinging hands over and over again. As the squall hit full on and it was a legendary White Squall just in time the main had been furled. The other big sails were coming down, the ship came under control and we raced downwind reducing the impact of the squall. It seemed like forever but by the time dawn began to provide enough light to see the sea was calming from the furious white squall and we were safe.
Everyone joined in silence over the middle of the night call of all hands on deck and aloft as we’d made it. I guess we were sailors after all.
A few days later running downwind with the trade winds astern we started my experiment. I couldn’t be happier. We were few but we were doing our best to do something for the planet, trying to make it a better place. Some months later the prestigious Journal Nature contacted me as they were doing a feature article on me and my work to restore and replenish the ocean pastures to save it and all of us from the perils of climate change. The article appeared in January of 2003 titled ‘The Oresmen’ in reference to my mix of iron ore minerals that was the red heart of my prescription of the antidote to cure Mother Nature from humanities deadly overdose of CO2.
It would take some more years of my life in the wilderness to continue to seek to find my dream.
OK so maybe the fourth time is the charm.
Not so long ago, but decades after my duty as a Rainbow Warrior, I had yet another ship under my feet and she was loaded with a live saving load of my prescription to restore and replenish the health of Mother Nature, Mother Ocean. Aboard my chartered vessel the Ocean Pearl, the largest fishing vessel on Canada’s west coast I had found friendship in the ship’s owner and convinced him to have the ship take respite from being Canada’s most efficient ocean fishing machine. She would for the summer work for me to make a voyage of recovery to bring life back to the ocean not death.
I’d found the Pearl in the harbour in Victoria British Columbia. The ships owner was happy to take my charter contract of hundreds of thousands of dollars to let me divert the ship that summer from going hunting to working to just maybe bring back the fish. However the ship was far from the condition I expected, not ready for sea to say the least. In her fish holds where she typically would pack 200 tonnes of fish I thought they would be cleaned out. Bzzzzt. Sure the last catch of fish were mostly gone but there were rotting fish remains up to you ankles and the freezers had been off for more than a month. I had to rent hazmat full body suit breathing gear to send crew into those holds to clean them out. Talk about seasick.
After a few weeks of unanticipated ship maintenance and gearing up we set to sea with a cargo of 100 tonnes of my prescription mineral dust. The vital dust that the North Pacific ocean pastures were dying for want of as humanities fossil fuel age CO2 has prevented the oceans vital mineral dust from sustaining her ocean fish pastures. There is plenty to read on my work on this blog should you have the inclination to do so.
With the ship loaded with the 100 tonnes of natural mineral, ‘iron dust’, I was eager to set to sea, already behind schedule and Mother Nature was in dire need of our work to try to save her. The captain however that Thursday evening said, “No way this ship is going to sail tomorrow. It’s a FRIDAY and no ship sails on Friday, that’s the worst jinx possible. But we can and will sail at 1 minute after midnight Saturday.”
And so we did.
As we left Victoria the captain informed me there was a bit of a storm forecast along our plotted course which had us headed out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then north into the Gulf of Alaska. He noted that however it was July and summer storms are never much and we’d be fine, especially ‘ballasted’ as we were with 100 tonnes of iron low in the holds. We continued on course.
The first day the weather and sea conditions were fine and we were making great time. By sunday morning we were a couple hundred miles off shore heading north. The storm started to build, and build, and build.
Before too long it became obvious that we were in for a far bigger storm than had been forecast. The storm was blowing in from the NorthWest, it was behaving like a typical winter storm. By the evening Sunday the winds were over 50 knots, the seas were growing into monsters.
The next day the winds were blowing 85 knots, well into hurricane force. The seas were monster monsters. But the ship was very tough and accustomed to storms as she worked the North Pacific in the depths of winter. If you’ve seen the television series about tough ships and fishermen working in terrible storms in the North Pacific called “The Most Dangerous Catch” you’ve seen what we were going through.
Wave after wave crashed into and over the ship. We stood at the helm and howled back the storm and it seems that half of the time we were a submarine as the waves blasted over the wheelhouse. The green time came for those with less than the toughest sailors stomachs, alas I am on the weak stomach side of that cohort. What takes me from terra firma I do not know. Our cook however was the worst. She became near death, quite literally. She could hold nothing down and was so miserable below decks she begged us to put her on deck in the fresh air.
There was a small space on deck under cover but in the fresh air. The captain relented and had a mattress and the cook, zipped into a sleeping bag, lashed to that open air piece of deck. There she lay for the next 48 hours as we bashed north through the storm. As it turns out the storm was one for the record books as the most violent summer storm on record. But the ship was stout as were sufficient of her crew to keep her forging north will full throttle but due to the storm at 1/4 speed.
A few days later I made the decision to head into land which was a major departure from our charted course and the detour would set us back a week and $50,000 of fuel and costs. But the cook was so dehydrated she had to be evacuated to a hospital. When the rescue boat that came to meet us on the west side of the Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii, and take the cook to hospital it brought us a new cook. He turned out to have a cast iron stomach and was a wonderful cook and native story-teller.
I had weathered yet another storm.
The Dream Becomes Reality
To make a long story short, some many weeks later after working day and night collecting ocean science data to provide a ecosystem baseline our work began to dust our ocean salmon pasture with 100 tonnes of magic dust. Just the right mineral mix, placed at the perfect place, and the perfect time, to as perfectly as possible restore the ocean to historic health and abundance.
The clear blue dying ocean that had become a nearly lifeless desert bloomed.
Dust for the oceans is what sustains the plankton pastures and their plankton blooms. And throughout the world’s oceans their pastures are in a cataclysmic state of decline. My dream has become reality.
How do I know? That’s the easy one to answer, I have done it and proven IT JUST WORKS!
Below is a photo of the largest catch of salmon in Alaska’s history that was made right on schedule after my replenishment of vital dust to their ocean pasture and restoration of nearly 20,000 sq. miles of their nursery and growing pasture. Everywhere on this blog you will find out more.
In my work in the Gulf of Alaska with a small band of shipmates and the help of a tiny native people’s village we did the work.
In our distant patch of North Pacific we weathered vicious 80+ mph winds, hurricane force, with waves blasting over the top of our 130 ft fishing/research ship.
We weathered that storm and sailed on and over the course of weeks hefted/man-handled 4000 50 lb bags of life-giving mineral deck from the holds of the ship to give dust back to the ocean to replenish and restore all of ocean life, from the bottom up.
Want to learn more? Want to help? Join Me.
Soon you’ll be able to watch the movie!