Sunday, August 30, 2009

It didn't just happen though.

Having finally posted something on this new blog which I started a while back, I thought I should fill in some gaps, because it takes many little steps to get to where one wants to be. So although it might look like these things simply happen, a lot goes into making it happen.

Someone once made the most insulting comment to me ever imaginable. She said, "yes, but you were lucky". She was referring to the life we've created here in Canada. In saying this, she negated all the hard work we put into creating what we have. It helps that Canada is a land of endless opportunities, where almost anything is possible if one has a positive outlook and is ready to make a go of things.

It's the same with The Seagull Republic. One doesn't decide to build on a site that is boat-access only and entirely off-the-grid without putting a heap of research and learning into it. Even so, I'm sure we're about to embark on a huge learning experience as the years unfold.

We informally divided up the task: Nev focused on boats, docks and techincal stuff. I'm sure there's more, but since I had more time, this is kinda how it went. I focused on alternative energy sources and sent him on a course to cover the technical aspects of PVCs once we had established this was definitely going to be in the mix. I spent hours looking at sustainable building, sending him info to look at while I was studying interior design, LEED and green building. We both looked at umpteen everyday items in a new light, from septic issues to water tanks to refrigerators and everything else inbetween. I gave him a book on building green homes which covered cordwood, cob and other methods, one on micro-hydro, and a subscription to Cottage Magazine, which has been an absolute treasure trove of information as well as a great directory of where to buy things. Everytime I have stolen the books away to pore over them myself!

I started growing vegetables (sans pesticides, of course) to see whether we could indeed become more self-sufficient. I'm not sure we picked the right spot for this, because not only will be competing with the deer for the fruits of our labours, but there is very little soil on Boulder Point in general. So it'll be raised beds or containers, and this is probably not enough to make us self-sufficient. I hope Nev will catch lots of fish.

How people did this without the internet is beyond me.

The absolute worst part of the journey is knowing we'll have a cabin, but not knowing when. We have the furniture, the cups and dishes and crockery we need. I even made a quilt for the bed, stored lovingly in my studio till then... in the meantime everything is in the basement and the garage and our cars are still parked outside (not great in the winter).

Once we'd bought on Cortes, we bought books on the history of the area and the charts, soaking up stories on early settler families and how places we've yet to fully discover came to be.

It's all part of the journey, but in the meantime we need to get to a point where we can enjoy The Seagull Republic a little and explore the area. So far, each trip has been a quick one or a working holiday. But it'll be worth it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And so the dream becomes reality...

It all began in 2007 or so, or maybe in truth it began many years before, when I was just a kid, this yearning for something wild and free, a rustic cabin on a shoreline somewhere, where one lives with the smell of the sea and the tang of the wind, and life revolves around the changing tides and moods of the ocean. Call it my hippy heart, the product of growing up in the 70's and listening to the likes of Joan Baez, CSNY, Leonard Cohen and so on.

It sounds so wild, so free, and that's what appeals to me the most, especially in my fuck-the-world state of mind. It's kinda comforting to know that whatever they do to ruin our paradise of Lions Bay, there is always The Seagull Republic, with at least 10 forested acres between me and the rest of everything else.

On May 31st 2008, we took possession of Lot A, Boulder Point, Cortes Island having seen it a month or so earlier. We'd looked at many beautiful spots before that, Quatsino, Port Neville (no sheltered moorage), Malcolm Island, Port Hardy, Zeballos and all the cute places up there (all too far although affordable), Tofino and environs(too expensive), Sooke and up to Port Renfrew, the Sunshine Coast as far as Lund (leased land, lots too small, no boat access only)... it was a fun search, but somehow nothing had it all for us. If nothing else, while our friends were travelling to places outside of Canada, we were falling more and more in love with BC!

Strangely enough, once we'd legally acquired The Republic, we didn't get up there again until about a year later (almost to the day). So somehow it wasn't REAL. However, we've been going there ever month since May this year, which we can do thanks to the acquisition of SRS The First, a rugged aluminum hull work boat, 18' - 6" of deep hull fishing and hauling capabilities, which Nev sourced via craigslist in Port Townsend, WA.

The first thing we did after picking up the boat was drive all the way up to Cortes only to discover the tide was too low to launch The First and get to our land! Embarassing. But thanks to Delia, we managed to spend 2 hours there before heading back to the B&B we'd booked (they take dogs, so Yukon was OK). That was in early May.

Now that we can GET to The Republic, which is of course boat access only (visa required if you want to visit), the dream has truly become reality.

At the end of May we made a more planned trip to The Seagull Republic. We regard this as the first official landing, because we got there in our own boat. We didn't physically do much in May except, very importantly, decide where to build the main house. Since this will only happen a few years from now, it also cemented a decision to put a primitive settlement on the west side of the land, overlooking Protection Island, where there is a nice flat area ripe for a couple of bunkies and an outhouse/storage structure. Camping out here over the next couple of years will give us a good idea of where the sun is during different seasons, what the winds do and where when they hit us, and what kind of architecture and design it will take to make the dream house a reality.

In June we took more pics and decided on a spot for the dock, which is crucial since we now have to apply for a permit (Crown Land tenure) which could take 6 months. Although we still haven't done the app because it requires scale drawings complete with compass bearings...

Our last trip at the end of July was, I guess, the start of anything tangible. To make this possible, Nev sold the Saturn SUV, the product of that short-lived stint in ON last year, and we acquired The Tank, an older GMC pickup with 6' - 6" bed, which makes the logistics of building in a remote location doable.

SInce we don't intend to put any power in the little settlement for now, the other step was to sell the composting toilet we bought a few years back (craigslist again!) and buy the non-electric model (Sun-Mar). Even so, having bought a pre-cut 6" X 8" cedar shed and the toilet, the Tank filled up fast and so the boat was pretty overloaded for the trip to Cortes.

We arrived at Gorge Harbour Marina as arranged only to find the previous campers hadn't yet vacated the site. After standing around in the brutal heat, the hottest in recorded history in BC, we finally got in there and set up the tent and the usual dishwashing and cooking areas (we've got it down pat at this stage). By then the tide was high enough to get The First in the water at Squirrel Cove and get a first run in to The Republic to offload the first batch of shed. In The Heat. Of course, being high tide, the shoreline was a little different. There was some "discussion" between us as to where to offload the lumber, Nev won, but the next day it became clear that the other suggestion (mine!) involved far less work, and he ended up traipsing across the rocks to haul it back to the chosen spot at low tide. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The next day was harder and hotter: It was low tide, which makes the ramp at Squirrel Cove so steep Yukon won't go down it, and of course the heat made it all tougher then we'd estimated. We now know why most people put a dock in before doing anything else. Once we got The First tied up on the rocks at what became known as 2nd Cove, we first had to carry it to above the high water mark, and then hoist it onto the first flat area, and then the second flat area, where we would build. In the heat, in case you've forgotten. The only mercy being that the site is quite shady being on the western shore. I think we did two runs that day before stopping for the day.

Yukon was happy enough, snoozing in shady spots he dug out for himself and we did stop for water and our usual lunch of Cortes-baked flax bread, canned salmon and fruit.

Day two saw us hauling the rest of the shed to The Republic - everything except the siding, roof shakes and building paper. We made good progress though, getting the sleepers and most of the floor done. Day three we finished the floor, sorted the lumber and framed up two walls and then the drill batteries ran out of juice. Even though it was hard work, there was something truly rewarding in building something with one's own hands. Can't wait to see it all done.

Somewhere among all this, Nev got stung by a yellow jacket and his right arm flamed up and swelled, so hammering became impossible. After stacking all the material on top of the floor, covering it with a tarp and tying it down, we called it quits and decided to have supper at Squirrel Cove Restaurant. The food was really good: I mean, you just can't beat halibut caught fresh right there and cooked up superbly with a view to match.

At high tide The First came out the water and we pre-packed as much as we could for the trip back to Lions Bay (home? where is home now?). We have this ferry thing sussed - we aim for the second ferry to Quadra, knowing we may be bumped due to being over-length, and prepared to cook up the only non-healthy breakfast of our trip while waiting 2 hours for the next one. Of course, breakfast is frequently punctuated by people we have or haven't met stopping to chat, and Yukon's walks to say hi to admirers and doggies going our way. This makes ferry travelling a really fun, feelgood part of the journey. It truly does.

Since we are usually booked on the 5 or 5.20pm ferry from Nanaimo, being bumped once or twice still leaves us plenty of time to drive south, so much so that we had time to stop for lunch in Parksville and take the more scenic route along the coast. I guess you have to get onto Island time to appreciate this... we still get Lower Mainlanders asking us, "but isn't it very far?".

I suppose it depends on what you want and one's attitude. Being forcing to slow down is something we need.

Next trip we'll finish the outhouse/shed and next spring we won't have to camp at Gorge Harbour (no more noisy crowds of RV'ers!!)... we'll spend our first ever night on The Seagull Republic.