Tuesday 10 October 2023

Our new puppy quickly became the skipper, of both our boat and life when she joined us earlier this year. Now, at eight months old, she has become very efficient and vocal about taking charge and giving us Skipper's orders. One bark to go out, one bark to come in and don't be too slow about opening the door either, or, she'll let you know you're not fast enough. 

As is typical for a miniature English Bull Terrier, she is very intelligent, strong, active, stubborn and some might say, obstinate!  We are glad we were able to move her off the boat and into the house when she was four months as she needs lots of floor space for all her toys and balls, especially balls. She must have 2-3 available at all times. One, sometimes two, in the mouth and another one or two to bat around with her front paws at the same time. She's really got her soccer moves down to a science. Hopefully, she'll remember her early days as a 'boat dog' in time for our next cruise.

Training is ongoing, she's been through two rounds of obedience classes. It's still a work in progress but she is improving. House training and sleeping through the night were easy wins. Belt chewing, clothes-tugging, play nipping weren't. As she matures, her activity level is slowing a bit, but, when she gets her hyperactive 'zoomies' on, look out as there's no stopping her then. 

It's been a challenge but we're enjoying her immensely. Hope you enjoy these pictures.

At 6-1/2 weeks, she's the one in the middle of the row...

(Photo Credit: Axelbelle Kennels)

At two months: Pickup at YVR, she flew in from Ontario.

At 2-1/2 months: First hike.

At four months: enjoying her first backpacking trip to San Josef Bay and discovering sand beaches!

At 4-1/2 months...

At five months, loving Brady Beach at Bamfield...

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Tuesday 26 September 2023

 I wrote this in my last house build post on October 29, 2022

"...we do feel that the end is at least in sight now. Maybe three more months should do it"

Ha! It took another seven, long, excruciating months. We finally moved in on June 1, 2023. We love the finished product, but, are we glad to see the end of construction. It took way too long and cost way too much. If we'd known just how long and how much we probably wouldn't have started.

We purchased the building lot in January 2021. As I wrote in The Phantom House it took almost a year to get the project off the ground and almost 2-1/2 years start to "finish". Site preparation started in February 2022 and from there it was a fifteen month slog for the actual house build. The structure had many prefabricated components (wall panels and trusses). I'd still recommend this form of build instead of "stick-built" on-site as it offers quality, precision-built materials and theoretically anyway, a quicker build process.

Although we weren't "hands-on" that much during the structure build, most of which required skilled labour, there was much work of another kind that did take up most of our mental energies and time. Design, product research, budgeting, sourcing, purchasing/order logistics of the finishing materials was more problematic than expected as we were committed to building small (for North America anyway), energy-efficient and low-maintenance. After all, we've been living on boats for the last thirteen years and in just a 26 ft. boat (our Nordic Tug 26) for the last two. Anything larger than 250 sq ft would seem palatial to us (and it does). We learned that building small in North America is actually more difficult (and expensive) than building large (the norm). It took forever to source out "stuff" that would fit our design parameters. Most of our products ended up being of European design (think $$). We wanted to build quality rather than quantity and I think we achieved that. The main living area is just 922 sq. ft. with a lower-level guest suite of 250 sq. ft. The bonus is the attached double garage. The space suits us perfectly.

Rather than continuing to whinge, after all we have been very privileged to custom-build a house designed just for us, we'll let a few photos show the result. We are very much enjoying living in this central Vancouver Island location, close to the ocean and so close to nature yet with all the conveniences of urban life. It's nice to have a home base again, having an address makes life so much easier. As with any house there will be ongoing projects, the landscaping still needs major attention, but, it's nice to be able, once again, to think of future projects that don't involve house building!

(Photo Credit: Oakehart Construction)

The captivating view is ever-changing. Every few weeks a container ship arrives into Port Alberni's deep water port and we can see the logs being loaded. The small-craft marina where we keep our boat is just down the hill within walking distance as are some very nice shops and restaurants.

The self-contained guest suite is approximately 250 sq. ft. and has a separate entrance.

This massive retaining wall, a necessary, unexpected cost was definitely a budget-breaker.

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Sunday 30 October 2022

We spent the long, record-setting heat and drought-filled summer of 2022 on our Nordic 26 tug tied to the dock in Port Alberni. Week after week of glorious, dry, calm, sunny weather passed us by and we didn't go anywhere in the boat. There were a number of reasons for this, the main one being that we were so preoccupied with our ongoing house building saga that a clear window of opportunity to get away never presented itself. We were never sure when/if workers would be on the job site and might need a decision, or, information from us. There were also some design and purchasing decisions that needed to be made with associated shopping trips, sometimes far afield. We also put in some sweat equity trying to keep the jobsite clean and ordered along with completing a few low-skilled jobs that we could take on.

The enforced period at the dock did give us more time to continue to explore the local area. We did a lot of walking and on the hottest days we went swimming at a couple of nearby freshwater lakes. We also were able to knock a few jobs off the boat list. Over the winter we'd completed most of the interior jobs that made living aboard more comfortable, now it was time to start in on the mechanicals. We ended up rewiring most of the boat, removed/relocated a lot of old electronics and other stuff, added a new chartplotter, new led nav lights, built a new electronics console, replaced the headliner in the pilothouse and fixed some overhead leaks.

As usual, the boat jobs took way much more time and effort than anticipated and we were getting resentful of the time spent on them. The great weather went on and on, enough was enough and we were determined to get out for a mini-cruise. We also needed to test that everything still worked, especially the autopilot (we had relocated its compass) and the new plotter etc. We got to October and knew the weather would break soon. It was our last chance. So, four days over the Thanksgiving weekend saw us heading down the Alberni Inlet to Barkley Sound and the Broken Group of Islands. Anticipation was high, weather was forecast to be perfect, it was almost a full moon and there was very little boat traffic now that most of the fishing boats had left the area after salmon season ended in September. 

It really was a magical mini cruise: the engine started easily and reliably, the batteries held a charge, the anchor didn't drag, nothing broke, everything we'd installed/relocated/rewired worked, the weather was superb, the anchorages were spectacular and we had them all to ourselves. Perfection! We even cranked up the bbq for the first time in over a year and enjoyed some great food. We're back at the dock now and it's been raining steadily for the past week. We're so glad we took the opportunity to finally get out there!

The moonrises and sunrises were equally gorgeous.

Along the way, we had vistas like this. We also spotted many humpback whales in the Sound along with a few seals. It was a treat to see ocean seabirds again as well.

Anchorages looked like this one at Effingham Island.

Mornings were serene and gave us time to row to shore for a walk on the beach.

Early morning mist on the water indicated that autumn really was on the way.

We'd actually planned to be out for five days, but, a storm warning came up and we decided to head back a day early. Four days was enough to feel rejuvenated though. It had been too easy to forget how enjoyable slow cruising can be. Now that we've been reminded we can start planning to do more of it soon.

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Saturday 29 October 2022

It's been almost three months since I reported that the windows were now in at our house build in Port Alberni. At that time, we really thought we might be occupying the house by now. Instead, we are still waiting...waiting...and waiting. Sure, a few major hurdles have now been passed, but, there's still a very long way to go and we are frustrated. As we've experienced before, there is always a lot of waiting involved in house building, the general contractor only has a limited number of workers and most of the jobs are sub-contracted out to independent firms. This year, after Covid lifted, the pent-up demand for builders was enormous. A lot of contractors took on more work than they could possibly handle effectively. Staff shortages didn't help. Then, instead of concentrating on one job at a time, they tried to keep everybody happy by spreading themselves thinly. This doesn't work. It only leads to more frustration as, in a two-week window, maybe you'd be lucky if your job got one or two days of attention. To make it worse, you'd never know when they would be showing up, or, how long they'd be staying. Promised arrival and completion dates came and went. Weeks seemed to slip by and the occupancy date with it. Everybody was apologetic and seemed to be trying their best, but, nothing ever seemed to get done.

Having said all that, we do feel that the end is at least in sight now. Maybe three more months should do it, but, don't hold me to that! Until then, the days/weeks continue to pass, as they do and future plans (for cruising, or, otherwise) are on hold. 

A few things did get done. Our electrical, water/sewer and gas services have all been connected. Perimeter and slab drains were installed and the slab (garage/suite floor) was poured. The weather was very hot at the time and before we could get these jobs done, we first had to evict a doe and two fauns (deer) that had taken up residence in the cool, concrete environs of the lower level of the house. They are still in residence, but, thankfully no longer inside the house. We'll probably end up hating them when they inevitably start to munch on our eventual garden, but, right now, we love seeing them around, so pretty. There is a black bear around in the neighbourhood too, but, we haven't seen it yet, just the evidence. We did run into a young one (not literally) on the Alberni Inlet walking trail the other day. Luckily, it took one long, squinty look at us and exited quickly off the trail and into the bush.

In addition, the finished roof has been installed (standing seam metal sheets). Backfill to the foundation and exterior grading was completed. Exterior doors were installed (nice that we could lock up now). Both the plumbing and electrical rough-ins were completed. After not seeing anybody onsite for weeks, both trades showed up at the same time and had to work around each other, typical!

The base for our radiant floor heating was installed. We're doing a Schluter system which requires the laying of styrofoam panels (Bekotec) into which the hydronic pex tubing is routed. A cement-based screed is then poured on top. Later will come the addition of an uncoupling membrane topped with ceramic tile, but, that won't get done until much later down the line.

(Photo Credit: Oakehart Construction)

(Photo Credit: Oakehart Construction)

The critical path to completion now is: insulation->drywall->interior paint->floor tile->cabinets and fixtures/finish. Parallel to the critical path we also need to get exterior siding on and the heating system finished along with a bunch of other miscellaneous tasks. It doesn't sound like much, but, who knows when it will be done. We're resigned to the wait, what else can we do? Even though the waiting has taken any enjoyment we might have had from the building process, we're thrilled with the house so far. All the spaces feel right, actually better than anticipated. We're confident that we'll be very happy with the finished result, whenever that might be...stay tuned...

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Thursday 4 August 2022

Our house build pace has been painfully slow, but, now that the windows are in, it looks like there has actually been some real progress. The recent heat wave hadn't been helping. The window crew was installing in temperatures of near 40C. Even our site's cooling afternoon sea breezes weren't enough to keep them cool and we really appreciated their hard work in uncomfortable conditions to get us to this stage. Weather has cooled a bit now, hopefully that will help to speed up the pace and our move-in date!

The house wrap and roof membranes are also on which means we are pretty much weathertight now. Once the concrete floor slab is laid and the doors are on we'll be at lockup stage and about 1/3 complete. Still a long way to go, but, we'll get there eventually.

The windows are by All Weather Windows, Apex Series. We're loving the look of the black acrylic wrap and wide trim on both inner and outer surfaces. We didn't actually see them before we chose them, so, we're happy that they turned out as imagined. The square, 'four pane' windows were tricky. We would have preferred an awning window, but, they were out due to egress requirements, so, we decided on a casement window with simulated divided lights and special egress hinges instead. We think they turned out well.

The 'letterbox' window in the kitchen will be totally framed by cabinets. Hopefully, it will turn out as we imagined.

A sliding patio door (only five feet wide, but, functional) leads from the kitchen out to the elevated sun deck.

The tall living room window is so long it had to be packed separately and the crew commented (more than once!) on how difficult it was going to be to hoist it into place, but, they did it and we love how it perfectly frames the view of tall trees adjacent to the deck and house.

The west-facing, floor-to-ceiling window wall allows us to see the sky, across the Alberni Inlet to Arbutus Ridge, north to the Beaufort mountain range (still with snow on top in August) and south down the Inlet. Sunset views should be spectacular.

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Monday 27 June 2022

After the footings/foundation were complete there was another week or so of effort to dig trenches, lay drainage tile and connect up our sewer/water lines. Then, we waited for the materials package to arrive so that the actual house construction could start. It had been a year and a half of effort to get this far and building the actual structure seemed to be almost an afterthought after all the work that had gone into the preparations to be able to receive it. 

We'd hoped that purchasing a custom home materials package from Pacific Homes with most of the components pre-built in an indoor production environment would pay off in both quality and weather-dependent construction time. And so it was. Only ten working days in the capable hands of just two experienced framers from Oakehart Construction (of Qualicum Beach) and there it was. It was amazing to see it come to life with the spaces and views taking shape, just as we'd imagined them in our heads for so long. From the living room, we'll have this great view of the  MV Frances Barkley as she makes her thrice-weekly journeys down the Alberni Inlet to Bamfield.

Here's a day-by-day photo sequence of the ten days of construction.

Day 1

It was an absolutely dismal day with drenching rain when the truck and crane pulled up one early morning. It was just another "Juneuary" day, part of the cold/wet/long spring we've been experiencing this year. It wasn't that cold though and it couldn't dampen our mood. Finally, it seemed like we were actually going to start building a house!

Day 2

All the lower level walls are up, we couldn't believe the one day progress. Note that the wall panels are pre-insulated.

Day 3
Subfloor joists constructed.

Day 4

Another truckload of materials arrives and the window wall is standing.

Day 5
Floor sheathing is on and interior walls are starting to take shape.

Day 6

Mostly together, but no roof trusses yet.

Day 7
Trusses are in.

Day 8
Roof sheathing is on. It's not a large living space, but, the vaulted ceilings should make it feel spacious.

Day 9
Lots of sunshine streaming through the west-facing window wall.

In the kitchen, there'll be a large, elevated sundeck beyond this patio door. West and south exposure will give us lots of sun. It also catches the afternoon sea breeze that starts up every afternoon and funnels up the Inlet. It is delightfully cooling in the hot summer weather that has finally arrived.

Day 10

Structure done. Next steps are interior stairs, windows, doors, roofing and siding. All materials are already on-site and it shouldn't be long before we're weathertight. Then, all the interior systems can be installed, a lengthy process with a lot of detail to work through. At this point, we're probably at least a couple of months from occupancy. That assumes immediate availability of sub-contractors and materials, a big ask in these days of labour shortages and supply chain issues. We'll see...

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Sunday 5 June 2022

While the house build is continuing, we've been keeping busy. Boat projects never end and there is always a long list of projects waiting for us. As we're living aboard until the house is built, the boat interior cosmetic changes were high priority. We've completed most of those. Now, we need to start the list of mechanical/electrical and exterior projects. As we're not going to be doing much cruising this year though, these have taken a back seat. 

The house-build related workload, at least the part we can do, is also slowing down. We have two storage units stuffed full of all our recently-purchased cabinets, plumbing/lighting fixtures, appliances, fireplace etc. There will be flurries of necessary shopping activity as the house structure goes up, but, most of the work of designing, researching, choosing, ordering, purchasing and picking up 'stuff' is mostly done (we hope!). So, that means we've been able to explore more of the trails that surround us. We have even managed a couple of trips further afield despite the record-breaking cold/wet spring we've been experiencing here in Port Alberni, BC, just our luck. There've been a few good days though and we've taken advantage of them. It's impossible to plan ahead, but, when there's a nice day we try and make an effort to get out.

We visited Vancouver for a memorial service at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. It wasn't the best day weather-wise, but, it was a nice view of the city from their docks.

The view of the Point Grey beach on the other side of the clubhouse wasn't too shabby either! Hard to believe how close to the centre of the city we are here...

While in Vancouver, it was just a short hop over the border to visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington State. The strange thing is that while we were there, it all seemed to look rather familiar and we realized that we'd actually been this way before , in our camper van in 2016! This time though, on a beautiful day and thanks to the late spring this year, we were able to see the fields at their peak.

Even the tree blossoms were still in great condition...

On the way back, we passed through Deception Pass State Park which provided an interesting history lesson.

Back in Port Alberni, we went up the Lookout Trail. When in town, on the valley floor at sea level, it's sometimes hard to realize how the City nestles in its valley, surrounded by mountains. From this view, you can see Sproat Lake off in the distance and the Beaufort Range. It was a hazy, warm day, so not the best photo.

We did a few other new trails, all were great, but, not extra special like the China Creek Falls Trail, just a five minute drive out of town. The clarity of the water had to be seen to be believed and the Falls were perfectly proportioned and cradled in a rock chute. A lovely lunch spot on another perfect day. We also took note of a couple of good swimming holes along the route in case the weather decides to get too hot!

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