I have had such a wonderful life, full of adventures and twists that make movies pale in comparison. It is really as they say: “Truth is stranger than fiction”. I have had enough experiences and adventures to fill several lifetimes. I was born in Hollywood, California. My Dad was Canadian and Mom was a US Citizen. After I was born, we moved to Canada where we lived in Montreal near Dad’s family and eventually transferred to Vancouver, which is the starting point of our sailing adventure towards the Amazon River. When I was about 5 years old, my parents bought a boat and named it the Lady Gail, after my Mother. They planned to sail her from Vancouver, Canada to The Amazons where she could be chartered on the river long enough to earn enough money to continue on an adventure around the world. The ship became our home for many years to come and brought such joy and heartache to our lives.
The picture above is the boat we purchased and renovated to become the Lady Gail, our home.
The days were long in the summer. I would play outside behind our apartment until Mom would call from the window. She would yell “It’s past 10PM and time to go to bed.” She would have to call several times because I did not want to come back in because it felt like daytime…
An old brick apartment building that was damp in the winter. It had a fire escape accessible through the windows and an old-style radiator, the kind that circulates hot water to warm up a room. The feeling of falling down the concrete stairwell and rolling down head first, like a rag doll finally landing on my head. Crack, blood, sirens, darkness…
Loving to ride in the front seat of Dad's station wagon when he would deliver records to the stores up north. I would watch the wiper blades: swish, swish, swish as they would wipe away giant snowflakes gently falling on to the windshield...
Being trapped in the back of the station wagon after it had slid off the road during an ice storm...
Mom making us a skating rink between the apartment buildings by using a hose when the temperatures were below zero...
Moving to a residential tower apartment complex. This one was nicer than our previous apartment. It even had elevators! One day, there I was in the lobby on all fours roaring like a lion at the folks going into the elevator. Mom was not very happy, but in my defense, I believe I watched a cartoon called Gerald McBoing-Boing which was an animated short film about a little boy who speaks through sound effects instead of spoken words...
My old kindergarten classroom, the boisterous sound of dozens of kids running around and the smell of play dough. There was also glitter and watercolors, which came in containers filled with powder. When mixed with water, we would make different color paints. The memories are muffled like a dream, but we would then have something to eat and it was lights off for the daily nap. Looking up at the ceiling I thought to myself “I am not tired and won't be able to fall asleep!” but soon patterns and shapes would form on the ceiling as darkness snuck in. First around the edges of my field of vision, much like a vignette on a photo, and as light faded from the room, I would soon find myself drifting away into a dark and sound sleep...
(Pictures below from left to right: Me at the first apartment, my Sister and I at the skating rink Mom made and my Sister and I in the snow)
The new house Dad purchased after we moved to Richmond. The back yard, a swing-set, running around barefoot in the grass and stepping on a bee, making a slip and slide with plastic and soap, climbing on the fence... oh plum trees yum... hmmmm... I'm sure I must have seen something on Batman or maybe Mary Poppins, that led me to open an umbrella while I was on top of the fence and jump. I was certain it would work like a parachute and soften my fall. At least this time I didn’t land on my head...
A new school, a new principal (more butt whoppings), honeycomb candy at the store near the school, lemonade stands, sliding on frozen ponds on the way back from school, Halloween, sneaking into home construction sites, a train set...
Mom and Dad had decided to sell their house in Richmond, Vancouver and embark on an adventure to travel around the world. A decision that would change our lives forever. Dad searched and found a 68 foot long, 18 foot wide, 47-ton diesel engine vessel that had been utilized to transit the waterways in and around Vancouver Island, BC. As soon as the sale was completed, they docked it at the Richmond Marina, which sits across from the Vancouver Airport. The picture above was taken from the marina dock, which is next to the Muray Bridge in Vancouver, BC. We stayed there for some time as both Mom and Dad worked on getting the boat ready for the great adventure.
Soon after arriving, they christened the vessel (pictured below) and she was now Lady Gail, named after Mom.
Pictured above is a recent picture of Richmond Marina. It is pretty much as I remember, except the slips had white roofs and the two rows of slips on the right did not exist at the time. Nor did the second higher bridge. I vividly remember the bridge because whenever boats needed to pass, a big siren would sound and that was my cue! I would run from the boat, all the way onto the bridge and if I was fast enough, I could actually make it just in time to jump over to the midsection as it would swing around and watch the boats go by from that section. Pictured below I have marked with red X’s the slips and bridge that did not exist at the time. The orange star marks where we docked as the boat underwent renovations.
Before we continue it will be helpful to know a few nautical terms that are listed in the story. They will appear followed by an asterisk. The picture above lists a few of these terms and also gives a rough layout of the ship such as the location of the bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms, etc.
TERMS (From Websters Dictionary)
Stern: the rear end of a boat
Aft: near, toward, or in the stern of a ship
Poop deck: a partial deck above a ship's main afterdeck (at the stern)
Hull: the frame or body of a ship or boat exclusive of masts, yards, sails, and rigging
Bilge: the lowest point of a ship's inner hull
Bilgewater: water that collects in the bilge of a ship
Bilge pump: a pump used to clear bilge water
Bow: the front end of a boat
Bridge: a room or platform of a ship from which the ship can be commanded.
Galley: the kitchen and cooking apparatus especially of a ship
Starboard: the right side of a ship looking forward
Port: the left side of a ship or aircraft looking forward
Wheelhouse: a deckhouse for a ship's helmsman containing the steering wheel, compass, and navigating equipment (also referred to as pilothouse)
Wake: the track left by a moving body (such as a ship)
Everything in the Lady Gail was stripped. I remember Mom and Dad painting the exterior and wall papering the interior. They spent months building custom fixtures, shelving, furniture, etc., and would regularly raid the Thrift stores for special decorations for the boat. The first two pictures below, starting from the left, are from the wheelhouse*, which became the main cabin and entertainment area. The couch was custom built to fit the space and then upholstered. It was also designed to store Dad’s record collection spanning about 3,000 LP’s. My Sister is sitting on the couch in the first picture. The third and fourth pictures are of the dining and living room. In the fourth picture there is a doorway leading to two bedrooms, one on each side and the poop deck*. The fifth picture is heading up the stairs from the living room into the wheelhouse*. The white door led to the engine room below and a smaller bathroom. The sixth picture is Mom on the starboard* side of the wheelhouse*. In the front of the boat past the wheelhouse* were two more bedrooms. On the left, Mom and Dad’s room and on the right, another bedroom with bunkbeds for my Sister and I. The black and white picture below is Dad laying in the bed in the master bedroom.
I remember the day before the journey, we sailed to Victoria BC. This was a picture from the dock at one of the Marinas. We stopped here to collect final supplies. I remember us doing laundry that evening and eating the last Reese’s peanut butter cup I would see for the next ten years or so!
We had already been traveling for quite some time before dawn. I remember waking up before sunrise to the sound of the purring engines and the smell of ocean air. We had never been this deep into the ocean. We were already so far from land that it was almost scary as I was always used to seeing the shore. Everywhere I looked there was just ocean and sky, vanishing into the horizon. Right before the sun rose, I remember there was a twilight and the ocean was peaceful. There wasn’t a hint of breeze or even the slightest movement of air. It was eerily calm and the ocean was so still that it looked like a mirror. I went outside to the deck near the bow* and glanced over the side onto the water. A gentle wake of waves caused by the boat slicing through the ocean was the only indication that the ocean wasn’t made of an infinite sheet of blue green glass. I ran back inside. Mom, Dad and my Sister were all in the wheelhouse*. I rushed down the stairs toward the aft* of the ship and as I passed the engine room, I heard the engine singing its gentle purr, that soothing voice soon to become my friend.
I stopped in the dinning/living room area and peered out the windows. Ocean, ocean, ocean and more ocean as far as my eyes could see. I continued towards the stern of the boat past the two rear bedrooms and proceeded to the poop deck*. From there you could see the white turmoil above the waters caused by the blades of the propellers as they thrust the boat forward into the unknown. The wake* of the Lady Gail cut into the ocean and disappeared at a vanishing point off into the distance. Here, the sound of the engines was louder. Purr…purr…as it mixed with the sound of the propeller tearing through the water as twirling eddies bounced through miniature waves with little white caps created by the displacement of the water.
As the sun came out and a hint of breeze crept in, tiny imperfections started to appear in the mirror-like surface of the water. These were not like waves, nor like ripples, but more like small undulations and dimples upon the bluish green ocean. The engines continued to hum in the background humming their purr…purr. How I loved that feeling of the engines with their voice giving comfort and lulling us to sleep with tales of distant lands and adventures.
I went out on the deck, back to the stern* of the ship. I remember looking at the froth created by the ships wake and thinking it was like watching little waves of root beer foam washing up on two imaginary coastlines at the edge of each side of the wake*. Ahhh…the smell of the breeze and ocean enveloped us as we forged ahead. It was the smell of freedom! The smell of adventure! The smell of life!
Suddenly I spotted a dolphin frolicking in our wake! I could almost hear it say “Welcome to our home. Do you want to play?” Several more dolphins swam around to the side of the boat. “Come on, it’s fun! Follow us!” they seemed to say. I ran out to the side deck to follow them where I saw dozens more swimming alongside us. I was ecstatic! My closest contact to dolphins prior to that experience had been the TV show Flipper. They would race past us and gracefully crisscross the bow*, leaping up into the air as if they were performing a show for us. They would then fall back a bit, circle about and them come alongside us for another run. This went on for about forty-five minutes, after which we abruptly parted company.
The wind had picked up a bit. I could feel the gusts caressing my face as I heard the sound of the flags on the mast and the canopy on the poop deck* flapping about in the breeze. The same gusts seemed to tickle the surface of the sea causing little ripples that sparkled like millions of diamonds shimmering under the sunshine. The sun felt warm and the breeze felt good as I sat down on the forward deck. Mom had the record player blasting in the background with Spinning Wheel by Blood Sweat and Tears. “What goes up, must come down…” the song rang out and mixed with the sound of the gentle breeze. These sounds then mixed together with the sounds the ship made as it parted the ocean creating waves and spray, creating a hypnotic melody.
Soon the smell of breakfast was wafting past me from inside. As I went back into the wheelhouse*, I followed the smell into the galley*. Mom was cooking scrambled eggs and cream of wheat. With Dad still at the helm, Mom lowered the dining room table so she could serve us breakfast. Short of space and being creative, they had designed the table specifically so that the table top could slide up and down the posts so it would normally be out of the way and could be lowered when we were having meals. In the lower position it was attached by chains at each corner. (Pictured previously in the interior photos).
Our first breakfast at sea! Mom had turned on a little black and white TV set that we had in the living room. I remember flipping through all the channels and a grand total of one TV station could be found. At the time we must have been 100 to 150 miles off the coast of Washington. Mom traded places with Dad at the helm so he could eat breakfast.
All was right in the world…Little did we know that things would soon change…
The wind increased steadily and as the gusts grew stronger, a different sea scape was borne. The once gentle peaks and valleys of choppy wavelets were soon overpowered by sharper waves with white frothy crests. An evil specter seemed to loom near, but we were oblivious to the fact that the full force of this terrible demon was about to be unleashed upon us. After all, it was bright, sunny and really seemed to be such a beautiful day. Dolphins had welcomed us early in the morning and seemed to wish us good luck on our journey. Cloud formations seemed to dance merrily far away in the distance from us in the horizon. What could go wrong? Did the dolphins sense something when they abruptly parted?
Looking around I could see clouds everywhere now and they looked mean. Our once gentle passage through the ocean became a little bumpy and you could feel the boat rocking gently from side to side. This is the first time I got to really test out my sea legs, testing the technique of spreading my legs in a V shape so I wouldn’t tumble over with the waves. Experienced sailors do this to remain in control and not be tossed about as the boat gives way to the whim of the waves.
I can’t tell exactly at which point the sunshine gave way to the rain, however, I do remember the murmur of the droplets as they fell on the windows of the bridge* in the wheelhouse*. As a child, I remember Dad driving for miles in the old station wagon. He was a sales representative for a record company in Vancouver, Canada. Often, we would travel on business trips with him as far as Anchorage, Alaska. I loved to sit in the front seat so I could see the road ahead. My favorite part was when he would turn on the windshield wipers for either snow or rain. Sitting in the wheelhouse* on the bridge*, offered that same feeling. I had a 180-degree view so I was "king of the world" sitting up front and taking everything in. At first, I was having a lot of fun. The wheelhouse* wipers were on. “Whoosh-swoosh, whoosh-swoosh” they sang. But what started out as fun, soon became uncomfortable and as time progressed panic slowly started to set in.
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