Greetings everyone, and welcome to another edition of Harbour News. This week, Harbour News takes a big step forward in the journalistic world with the addition of an anonymous source. No, really! Read on to learn more.

But first, that’s only part of what is happening in this post. The rest is the usual drivel about life, art creation, art school (in a bit less than a month when it starts up again), and so on. But I know what you’re really here for: what’s going on in Vancouver Harbour. Am I right?

Anyway… real life hasn’t seen a lot of activity this week. I did try some more carving, but I found myself avoiding it, which is disturbing. I think there are two reasons for that:

  1. I am still a novice at sharpening my tools, and they need sharpening. I need to spend several hours doing nothing but sharpening, and that concept gives me the willies. It’s so easy to take a not-so-sharp tool, sharpen it, and wind up with an even-less-sharp tool. Sigh.
  2. Every time I carve I get a stuck spot in my neck. There must be something about how I hold my body while working in the current setup, but if I carve for even just 20 minutes or so, when I walk away my neck will hurt. I have to move it around and pop it loose, and even then the pain will sort of “echo” for a while after the pop. It doesn’t make me happy. And while I have known about it for some time, I’ve ignored it in the hope that I would either figure out some way to avoid it, or it would stop happening for no obvious reason, or something. But none of that has come to pass. It continues. I may have to rethink the entire setup where I carve, and that is less than optimal given the limited studio space available.

Despite those issues I did a tiny little bit of progress on the bowl this week. The foot is now present all the way around the bottom. Ugh. I know, not much, but it is something, at least.

In other — crazier — art news, I am pondering painting again. Really. And yes, I know it’s a dumb idea. But in my own defence, I’ve recently watched a number of episodes of Portrait Artist of the Year 2019 (a Sky Arts TV show from England) on YouTube, and I found myself remarking on a couple of — admittedly very obvious — things.

First, the painters featured in that show have practised a lot. Quite a lot. That is so obvious, and yet it was hard to come to grips with it. My 3D capabilities are natural. I don’t have to work that hard to create things in 3D for some reason, though some kinds of objects require more work than others. But 2D work is a struggle, and at least in painting that struggle is one I have not enjoyed in the past.

But there is something to be said for actually working at something, so I am gradually cracking out the painting gear and getting ready to gesso and re-use canvases from my intro painting class. In short, maybe I need a lot of practice to get better at that medium and find a style I like to work in.

And that is the other thing I learned that is so obvious it hurts, but I still needed it beat into my thick skull with a hammer: there are many different styles of painting. Perhaps I need to work at finding a different way to express myself with paint, rather than the things I have tried to this point. Just maybe playing with style a bit (or a lot) will lead me to discover a kind of painting I actually enjoy. That would be good.

All of that said, I have made no actual progress on painting yet, but I dug out all the old canvases, and have done a bit of work on a strange painting surface that I started creating over a year and a half ago as well. I have no photos to share, but when I actually put paint on canvas I will share pictures. Unless the results are just so horrible that it makes no sense to do so.

This past week saw no additional volunteer work at school, so nothing new to share there either. Sorry about that. Maybe next week there.

On another front, I’ve started reading Rise To Greatness; The History of Canada by Conrad Black. This is a three volume set that may be my undoing — reading nonfiction has never been my strong suit — but learning more about my adopted home country seems a wise idea. Black is a historian, possibly with a lot of baggage. He’s written books about Nixon, FDR, and Trump, among other subjects. For me, the jury is still out on the quality of his Canadian history series, but after only 20 pages, I have a couple of thoughts. First, in the introduction, he says:

“And then at the end of the twentieth century, after four hundred years of continuous Western history, as the United States completed a two-hundred-year rise from ambitious colonists to a nations supremacy in the world without the slightest precedent or parallel in all history, American quality of governance suddenly declined. The country inexplicably wallowed in the debt of instant gratification and became distracted by military adventurism that was benignly intended but terribly costly for any possible benefit that it might bring to America. The United States ceased, for the first time since its earliest days, to seem strong in the world. It was almost dysfunctional, and rather inept and even corrupt and uncompetitive, in many fields.” — From the introduction to Rise To Greatness; The History of Canada, Volume I: Colony (1000–1867)

As an American looking at the USA while living outside it, I have to say that rings true. Even more so since this edition of the book was published in 2014. A lot has happened since then, as you probably know. I will let you fill in the details on that front.

But, as if to counter the insight provided by those few sentences, he brushes over somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years of Indigenous history (assuming my understanding of when the first migrations to the American continents took place are correct) in three short, dismissive, and basically offensive pages. The Indigenous peoples are described as having a “Stone Age culture,” their religion is “largely superstitious,” and he credits them with only “a very primitive form of society.” He goes on to state that given the rich lands the Europeans found here, “the occupants were, from the standpoint of the potential of the human species, underutilizing it.” I also doubt his population estimate of 200,000 people in the land that eventually became Canada. That seems low given what I have heard and read elsewhere, though most of that comes from information about the Indigenous American population, rather than specifically being about the human presence north of the 49th parallel.

The hubris in those three pages is breathtaking. Black judges and discards a large number of cultures from the perspective of his own, privileged position. The complete inability to recognize the validity of a very different society and approach to life is appalling. I cannot — and should not — attempt to speak for the Indigenous peoples of Canada, but it is clear that judging their cultures a failure by Western standards — and acting on that judgement as the Colonial powers did — was (and is) an awful mistake. Human lives can be meaningful and fulfilling in an infinite number of ways, not all of which require Western cultural or economic hegemony.

There are different ways for people to work together, to organize themselves, and to sustain themselves. The Western ideal that seems to involve consuming everything possible and leaving nothing for anyone else — let alone for those that come later — is perhaps not the best model to follow in light of climate change, for example. But I am pretty certain that Black has no interest in even considering how the various indigenous peoples managed to survive — and even thrive — in the land that became Canada for more than 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. Clearly that can’t matter since those people are primitive, superstitious, and underutilize their environment.

So, this promises to be an interesting read. Assuming I don’t throw it through a window in frustration at some point.

Nothing much else has been happening. Life goes on in the slow, plodding, summerish way that kids claim to love when the school year ends, but are royally sick of by the time school starts up again. I’m in that space myself, and school is still something like three weeks off.

Enough of all that. Now I can get to the important thing:

Harbour News

This past Tuesday I was minding my own business — probably wasting time on YouTube — when I got a message from a friend. It said:

Hey exciting boat news! I just saw something on a freighter explode.

Ooooh. Interesting, I thought. I asked for a picture and attempted to find anything in the local news sites about it. The friend, however, was busy doing other things and didn’t get back to me for some time. And I turned up nothing in the news at that point either, but in hindsight I think that’s because the explosion had literally just happened. Eventually my friend replied, and it turned they had no picture themselves, but a friend of my friend — the aforementioned anonymous source — did have a picture, and it was relayed to me. I have no idea who this person is, but I thank them for their willingness to help entertain my readers. Here, in all its glory, is a photo of what happened in Vancouver Harbour on Tuesday in the late afternoon or early evening:

Source: anonymous

The smoke plume is coming from the freighter. It’s heading out to sea. The Lions Gate bridge is a bit off the left side of the image, and we’re looking south from somewhere in West Vancouver, I think.

Eventually, the event did get into the news:

Despite that headline, I have no confirmation that it really was a dust explosion, but I can also say that information about this event is a bit mixed up. The article above says the ship was bound for Singapore, but a local TV report said the ship was carrying soybeans and bound for Alaska. Some reports indicated the ship was already released and heading for its final destination, but others say it turned around or anchored out in in English Bay and is being assessed for damage. I don’t know where the truth in all of that lies, but it does make me wonder.

To repeat the list of harbour incidents I’ve learned about in the last year:

  1. A collision between a fully loaded bulk carrier and an anchored, empty bulk carrier. The fully loaded carrier was underway and lost power. It punched a substantial hole in the side of the anchored ship, which spent many weeks in the nearby drydock being repaired.
  2. A collision between two cruise ships. One was docked at Canada Place, the other was in the process of docking next to the first and hit the moored ship in the process. Guests in damaged staterooms were re-accommodated elsewhere on the ships, I read. I think both ships were owned by the same cruise line, but my memory could be wrong about that.
  3. A gantry from one of the giant cranes used to unload shipping containers got bumped while a container ship was docking. It was damaged and collapsed on top of the containers on the ship, trapping the ship in place for several days while the event was investigated, the scene was made safe, and the crane was cut up and hauled away. As you can imagine, the dock was tied up for a while while all of that was done. I watched the gradual dismantling of the entire gantry over the ensuing week or two, and as far as I know it has not been replaced.
  4. Now we have this dust explosion in a freighter. Not much explanation or detail. Just a big boom, a plume of smoke and maybe it’s being investigated.

Actually those probably happened in less than the last year, but I’d have to dig a bit to get actual dates. And of course some of the oddness is due to the media reporting quickly — and inaccurately — about the events in question. But still, it seems a long list of recent, dangerous events in the harbour.

Why does it matter? Well, beyond the simple risk to life and property — which should be minimized in any case — there is also an effort going on to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline. It comes out of Alberta, and it terminates in Burnaby, on Vancouver Harbour. Once the expansion is complete there will be more tankers hauling more crude oil out of the harbour. The existing pipeline has a capacity of 300,000 barrels a day, and the expansion will bring it to 890,000 barrels per day. (Source:

Multiple sources (including Wikipedia) say an oil tanker hauls about 2,000,000 barrels of oil on average. Given that, at 300,000 barrels a day, it takes about a week to fill up an oil tanker in the harbour. The expanded pipeline capacity will allow a tanker to fill in about 2.2 days. Assuming everything is running at full capacity, crude oil tanker traffic in the harbour will go from about one ship per week to about three.

Is that a serious problem? I wish I had an accurate and concise answer to that question. Adding another two ships coming in and out of the harbour per week doesn’t seem like much in some ways. And yet, given the above list of weird mishaps in the harbour, just how likely is it that such an event will involve a fully loaded oil tanker? Clearly the risk goes up with the additional capacity, but how much I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that harbours are serious places. Things go wrong from time to time — as the list above shows — and it’s a fine idea to wonder about the safety of moving more oil around in these congested waters as a result.

I guess we all have to come to our own conclusions about these things. I need more data before I am willing to judge the harbour safety question resolved one way or the other. There are, of course, other considerations. Like is extracting more oil a good thing or not? Again that is a complicated question, and again I have no obvious answer. Humans have made their lives much better through the use of fossil fuels. Stopping their use (and export, in the case of Canada) would have consequences for others that I cannot fully assess. And of course, burning them will add to the climate change problem, making things worse in some ways. The trade offs there are actually much more complicated than most people realize.

In any case, that’s it for Harbour News this week. Many thanks to my anonymous source for the first hand photo of this week’s harbour explosion!

Have a great week.

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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