Friday, May 13, 2016

About that dock...

Dock in place at the Seagull Republic.
SO: we had a house built to finished lock-up ( huge milestone), but no dock. There were a number of heart-stopping moments during our application, but it was finally approved. By then the concrete platform was ready, the raft had been built of local cedar on top of fully enclosed foam floats. We had to add floats to support the weight of the lower end of the ramp. It was temporarily installed to check it would float on a 1' tide. The process took months, however, the luxury of being able to pull up to a working dock and offload materials without slipping and sliding over the rocks (and suffering many wounds along the way in the case of Nev, who did a lot of the precarious lugging), had to be experienced to be fully understood.

'Tis indeed a thing of beauty and yet another milestone.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I was so excited, I forgot to blog.

I note with horror that the last post on my blog is... er... let's just say it's old and out-of-date. An update might be in order.
The helicopter lift from barge to lot.

You see, in 2013 we took the bull by the horns (read: maxed the mortgage) and built our house on the Seagull Republic. It was hugely exciting. And not a bit like the last post of 2012 suggested it might be. Or where. I wrote about it in Cottage Magazine at the time.

There was a barge. There was a helicopter. There was a fantastic bunch of amazing carpenters and assistants and a very high tide at exactly the right moment. Let's start at the new beginning.

Initially we were planning to build on the southern tip of our 10 acres, but in truth a seasonal dock was not what we wanted: too much work and not exactly conducive to all-year island living. We did in fact have an A-frame fabricated to go with our 50' aluminum ramp, but on a specific visit to the western side, where the bunky is, we had the aha moment looking at our channel: why aren't we building here? By that time, we had discovered the cute cabins made by Ajia in North Vancouver - pre-panelised and a lot more affordable in many ways because of that. Plus they know what they're doing when it comes to boat access properties (although by then I'd done all the homework and had all the local logistics sorted out).

I tweaked the floorplan, flipping it so the front door was where it should be, and adjusting the windows for heat gain in winter and cross ventilation in summer. And after much bobbing about in the boat taking bearings with our iPhones, and plenty of sketches and drawings and writing a management plan, and, and, and, we submitted our dock permit.

Anyone who has a dock in BC waters knows that the waiting period for the permit is long. Exceptionally long. So it was that we started building without a dock. Our old clothesline was all the crew had. With all the hard, sweaty labour that had gone into building, by hand, our little bunky, we just didn't have the heart to take it down. It got moved to a new spot instead.

Moving the bunky.
Given that I wanted to fell as few trees as possible, our laydown area was limited and it was decided to build the foundations and floor so that crates could be delivered onto the subfloor. It was early March, it was wet as only our Wet Coast can be, and often it was around 3 degrees first thing in the morning. There was a lot of mud.

If you're wondering how the little machine arrived, it was dropped off by a smaller barge from a neighbouring island. It also delivered other building materials for the foundations and floor. The winch broke at one point which almost - so almost! - resulted in a pallet of concrete landing in the ocean. On another delivery, it was so overloaded that its wake damaged a neighbour's bullrails on their dock...

The morning of the main delivery by big barge/helicopter (we did the cost analysis and this worked out the cheapest way to get 'er done) was cold and clear, the Thursday before Good Friday, in fact.

Exactly 2 hours of buzz later, and we had crates of everything from metal roof to wall panels and construction adhesive planted all over. We left after an early first lunch perched on what is now our living room.

Wall panels standing.The crew must've worked liked demons, because when we went back the next morning, we had walls! The joys of pre-panelised building. The guys had also put together a great storage area under the floor to get things out of the rain.

For those three months I was so busy managing the budget, deliveries, orders and whatever else, not to mention being permanently cold and wet, I generally forgot all else, including blogging.

By then we had a house, completed to finished lock-up - looks finished from the outside, but nothing is done on the inside. Plenty more posts about all that to follow.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Planning Season: an update

As I mentioned somewhere else on this blog, winter is truly the best time to plan. We've made quite some progress this winter and have a floorplan we love for our new cabin.

OK, it's not spectacular, but it is what we want and reflects the way we live, even better than The Tree House (our home in Lions Bay). We ummed and ahed about what we wanted to build, not only because committing to something that will survive our (my!) changing whims after decades of dreaming is very hard, not only because we have a limited budget, but also because we didn't want our cabin to stick out like a sore thumb on the beautiful, wild Boulder Point landscape. We want it to fade into the rocky cliff behind it, nestle quietly in the trees... you get the idea. We also wanted something that sits lightly on the lot in order to preserve the natural habitat.

So we toyed with a two-storey build that might hide in part behind a rocky outcrop, but discarded it in favour of a long, slimlined building on piers. Since we plan to harvest rainwater, we have known for some time it would have a metal roof. The siding decision... not so easy! Window colours, well, the jury's still out pending the siding verdict. Looks like we're leaning towards CertainTeed... Maybe the dutchlap, which has uniform reveals and should make the structure look longer and leaner withough being cluttered. I also really like the idea of unprofiled cement board around the undercover BBQ area for visual interest.

The recent wind storms are a stark reminder that life on the edge of the ocean is sometimes harsh beyond human imagination. I'm talking about the dock. There is no way our dock can be in the water all year round and one of the biggest debates of late (again) is do we invest in a lift and rotate style ramp, or do we take it down and moor it elsewhere each winter? It is of course about the budget, because we know the correct answer. Even so - it's a big differential.

Although I'm still busy doing elevation and section drawings, I've done one: the south elevation, the one we'll see as we sail up to the house. There is some poetic license here - the rain chain, and the patio tomato plant in a pot, and the piers are in reality closer to the rock. But it's quite interesting to see it rendered!!

I want the colours to blend in with the rock face behind it, so have for now gone with warm greys for the siding and a plain galvalume standing seam metal roof, which should reflect summer heat to a degree as well as fade into the boulders.

Oh the angst in making this commitment!! But we're working with this for now - I can picture the interior and need to draw it so my other half can see what I see. Will post them here as they're completed!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fame follow-up

I realise I've been a little lacksadaisical this summer and haven't posted anything here. We have been visiting our Seagull Republic every third week... I think it's 3 trips this year thus far, or is it 4? So much to say! And at this time it's tempting never to come back to Lions Bay. Well, at least not until queen B, the good ole boys and the rest of the old clique, have relinquished their grasp.

On the last trip, we had two wonderful guests, Neil and Carolyn, and had a truly fabulous time. Then on the last full day, the clutch cable on the boat snapped (while I was driving!!) and that was it for SRS The First. There's always something. Thanks to Scott and Delia all was not lost - how great to have such awesome neighbours! Carolyn and I spent the day tootling from Linnea Farm (permaculture school, too), Hollyhock (gotta see those gardens again!!), the food co-op, museum and Manson's Landing. Life will be a lot easier now I know we don't have to lug all our food up there - the food co-op is amazing!!

And as for ways to make a living up there, that's where the oyster co-op comes into it. Even though I do not eat oysters, I'm all for sustainable seafood options, and I really like the idea of helping to create jobs on Cortes Island while making it possible for us to move there permanently. It's all about revenue streams, in the plural. And I'd like to be able to imagine our raft bobbing around up there in the pristine waters of Desolation Sound!

The reason this post is titled as it is, is because I did indeed write to the author of that book! And he replied with some additional info about the characters mentioned therein. How great is that?

We're headed up to our little paradise again next week - only hope Frank from Quadra does indeed fix The First on Saturday as promised. Even though Neil and Victoria are going to let us take their canoe on a long-loan basis, I don't think that'll work for Yukon!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fame at last (or: how we made it into a book about Desolation Sound)

Before falling in love with and snapping up our Seagull Republic, we visited many small communities and looked at several recreational cabins that were up for sale. In the process, we got a great feel for the life we might expect, and the way these small, often isolated, enclaves of humanity function.

Although we had some predetermined criteria (see earlier posts) to guide us, we knew the place we fell in love with was going to depend on the feeling we got when we stood on it: we would know it when we saw it.

One of the places we looked at was a boat access, off the grid property on the Malaspina Peninsula. It was a little more expensive than what we had to spend, but it came complete with house, boat, daysailor sailboat and all furniture, tools, solar panels, battery bank, generator, etc. To get there, we took the ferry to the Sunshine Coast, did the famous dash to Egmont and the next ferry to Saltery Bay, and from there drove north towards Lund. At some point we took a right turn to the government dock at Okeover to meet the Powell River realtor who had the listing. One thing we remember is the Telus phone booth at the dock which was relevant because our mobiles couldn't get a signal there.

A huge plus on this trip was that the owner, Bernard, was coming to pick us up in his boat (part of the above-mentioned package deal) instead of having to pay a hefty price for a water taxi again. When he didn't arrive, we used that phone booth to call him. We whiled away the waiting by chatting to a friendly chap called Bob from Victoria who, with his wife and daughter, were loading items, including a table, into an impossibly small boat. He told us his spot was around the point from the property we were going to view. As he puttered away, boat impossibly low in the water, we talked about how nice it would be to have a great near neighbour like Bob if we were to buy this cabin.

When Bernard arrived, we climbed into his well-used aluminum boat, rather fancy in hindsight because it offered some cover behind a split console (perfect for conveying building materials, we thought). After a short trip, we arrived at his cabin, perched on the side of a cliff. We knew the property was part of a strata (not ideal - we weren`t really keen on answering to anyone in our splendid isolation), but hadn`t known no docks were allowed. This didn`t really matter, because Bernard had rigged up a line and pulley system to anchor the boat.

From the flat rock upon which we landed, the house loomed large, with those oh-so-typical large windows facing the view. After climbing a bunch of handhewn stairs, we entered the large, open living space of the cabin. It was nice and warm inside even though there was no heat on, due to all the wintry sun coming in through those large windows.

Clearly the house had been much loved and enjoyed by Bernard and his family. The only real negatives for us were that the view did not contain any mountains, and we were pretty sure no orcas would ever pass by. But a key consideration was that it was all built... a plus on the one hand, because we would be able to start enjoying it immediately without building, but on the other hand it would for us forever be "Bernard's house" (we still refer to it in this way).

While we were wondering around I looked over the water to a cabin on the next point, and saw a small grey plume of smoke rising. I asked the realtor whether this was normal, or should we check it out. Both he and Bernard thought it was of no concern. But the plume grew larger and larger, which I pointed out to them again. At some point Bernard realised it was something serious and said he was going to check it out. He and the realtor rushed out, hopped in the boat and roared off to the source of the smoke, which by now was billowing out over the water in a furious cloud.

Alas, it was too late - the cabin on the point burned to the ground. Turned out the owner had cleaned out his fireplace, taking the ashes out onto his deck. He then went to check on his well with a neighbour and in his absence, the wind fanned embers to life, setting fire to the house. Ironically, the strata did have firefighting gear, but it was inside this very cabin. Watching from Bernard's deck, we heard several loud explosions, no doubt the propane tanks exploding. Although a bunch of oyster farm workers rushed over to try and help, it was too late.

It was all over in 20 minutes. When we passed by later, all that was left was a crumpled metal roof on a concrete slab and a very large brick chimney. Quite sobering.

Notwithstanding all this, on a return trip not too long after, over lunch at the very delightful Laughing Oyster Restaurant at the Okeover government dock, we decided to make an offer on Bernard`s house. It was conditional, based on our being able to sell The Tree House, so it never happened because we couldn't sell it. In truth maybe we weren't ready to sell at that time and there was always that niggling thought that we would always be living in Bernard's house, same as in Lions Bay we are living in Peter Zeipper's house even after living here almost 10 years!

So what about the book, I hear you yelling ever louder...

One of the Christmas gifts I gave Nev was a book called "Adventures in Solitude: What not to wear to a nude potluck and other stories from Desolation Sound" by Grant Lawrence. I happened to grab it as a ferry read - it took me 3 1/2 ferry trips on the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay run to finish it. It's a great ferry read especially at this time of year when one's thoughts turn to cabin stuff as Spring approaches. Much of the book and its stories remind us of our experience on our quest to be more self-sufficient and independent. This is why it's such a great read for those of us attempting the same insane task of building from scratch on a remote, boat access only piece of paradise without any electricity to boot (thank goodness for cordless tools).

Anyway... turns out it was Grant's father who established the strata that includes "Bernard the German's" lot, and all the tales about the family's time at their cabin happened around there.

And where we come into it is when the author describes the above fire, starting on page 253. He used some poetic license in describing the whole thing... for instance, there were definitely no brewskis involved, and the "friend" who pointed out the smoke was ME.

And that`s how we came to make it into the book. I intend to e-mail the author and tell him our tale!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oh the responsibility! Oh the angst!

Now that we're seriously thinking about the design of the main house, the responsibility we have to this pristine piece of planet in our care has hit home with a large bang. As in being hit between the eyes by a puck off a Sammy Salo slap shot.

Although the lumber on The Seagull Republic was harvested at some point in time, some old-growth still remains, which is why Rick the Seller made sure there were tree covenants in place when he sub-divided the lots for sale. So OK, maybe it wasn't pristine, but the regrowth is so substantial one would hardly know it must've been naked rock out there for quite some years. Not for nothing was it called Boulder Point.

Every detail has to be considered... for example, we need a dock, but we need to make sure sunlight still reaches below it so that the starfish and seaweed et al will continue to survive under there. We need to anchor the house to the rock, but we want minimal foundations so that we don't disturb the land too much. Where does the greywater go? Or worse, the black water? After all, no point in paying some dirty diesel powered boat to come empty a tank and take it somewhere else - kinda defeats the object, doesn't it?

And how do we design a dwelling that blends into the landscape, and doesn't disturb the ridgeline? We want to do it in such a way that sailors approaching Squirrel Cove hardly notice that there's anything there? More accurately, WE don't want to see anything destroy the view WE have when we sail up to our beautiful piece of land!

Hence the angst. And the overwhelming sense of responsibility. And the hope that we will not screw it up, because whatever we do could change the land forever, or maybe not, if we tread lightly enough so that nature can take over once again when we're gone.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's been a loooooong winter.

Looking back, I realise I never wrote an end-of-summer post to explain that we in fact finished our bunky so that it would be fully closed up before winter. So anyone looking at this blog wouldn't know we now have an actual bunky on The Seagull Republic, aka Basecamp 1, I guess.
I posted pics on facebook, but somehow I forgot the blog. I got busy, what can I say?

Delia and Scott put us onto Pierre, who lives in Squirrel Cove, recommending him highly because "he has both skills AND tools"! No mean recommendation since his tools were all cordless as well! At $20 an hour we reckoned it would be well worth getting his help to install the 2 brand new, energy efficient windows we bought at Re-Store for some minimal amount of cash (less than $50 for 2). You see, we realised we needed some ventilation, light, and a VIEW from what was originally supposed to be the outhouse (see previous postings) if life in the bunky was going to be worth living.

But most importantly, we needed to be sure the bunky was ready for the rain and winter winds.
I think the pics tell the whole story. Here's the bunky when we started the last trip - tarp on top and no windows.

And look at this cutey-pie slider!

And this is the little casement window on the other side for cross ventilation. Of course the joke is the windows are the only part of the entire building envelope that actually have any insulation value whatsoever!

While Nev and I worked on putting on siding and roof shingles, Pierre built a real door for the outhouse.

IKEA had these handy-dandy galvanised shelving units at around $10 each - the perfect size for storage down the side of the outhouse. So I valiantly squared up with the spiders (all relegated to the forest, along with the crickets, quite safely) and tidied everything up. What you can see here is canned food, gas cannisters and such items - things that can stay behind for next time. I have to say it worked out real well.

And here's the forest side of the bunky with all the siding in place.
There's even storage in the door. Small space living at its best!

Here's our bunky - all done. The section on the left below the sloped roof (the non-rain side) is where we've piled left over lumber and other building materials such as housewrap but it's designed to be a woodpile eventually. Although from what I can tell, having a cabin means having a pile of building materials on hand at all times.

It wouldn't be a bunky without bunks... it's a real luxury to sleep in a real bed at the end of the day rather than in a tent on the ground! Makes all the difference. There's loads of storage space under the beds. When we closed up everything to leave, we put plastic over the beds - the plastic the bunks came in. We also packed the cooking gear, crockery and cutlery into the totes, as well as clothes and stuff, so the dust won't get at them. We'll see whether things got mouldy and/or dusty when we make our first trip there in the spring! We're really looking forward to making more progress this year: our main goal is to build a deck outside which will be the outdoor living area. Being off the ground, which is either wet or dusty, will make life a lot more pleasant!

Then there's the shower fund: I've been collecting loonies towards buying an instant hot water thingy from Canadian Tire so we can have decent showers. This will be the ultimate luxury!! Those showers at Squirrel Cove are too disgusting for words... eeeyooo.

I said in a previous posting winter is the time to plan and, with that in mind, we have been giving plenty of thought to the design of the main house, the dock and more. We went to the Vancouver Boat Show where we spotted our next boat (haha!) but more importantly we spoke to several companies that build docks. We're currently thinking a cantilevered dock might be a great idea so that the ramp is not damaged if a winter storm batters the floating portion of the dock.

I think I might have a way to build the main house in phases, so perhaps we build a small 1st phase in order to enjoy life on the sunny side of the Republic more quickly. But before I can start working on that, I have to finish the project in Nanaimo. And therein lies another tale, and a whole 'nother set of problems!