Holiday to Remember

We had game hen instead of turkey for Thanksgiving, and celebrated a day late. But we gave thanks. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. We were together, living on a boat in Victoria Harbor for the winter, getting the boat ready for a three month voyage to Alaska next summer. It could be a lot worse.

As we’d soon find out.

“Harbor Authority is giving away Christmas lights to the first people who come to the office! And they’re giving a prize for the best decorated boat!”

Her enthusiasm told me Irish was not going to be denied on this one. My effort was weak.

“Oh, babe … Christmas is not my favorite holiday.”

“But it’s one of mine. Oh, c’mon. They’re free.”

We picked up two of strings of free lights, and then rented a car and went to Costco for four long strings of blue lights to string around the hull, and to Home Depot for eight strings of white lights to create the outline of a sail. There were other things we needed, of course, like groceries and a laundry cart and a dehumidifier for living on the water with the hatches closed against winter temperatures.

But I teased about the slippery slope of getting something for free.

So our blue boat was ready for Christmas in the harbor below the Empress Hotel in a city offering centuries of architecture, fun restaurants around every other corner, a new and well-equipped gym nearby, a quality grocery store and laundromat just up the hill, and fine ship’s chandler a healthy walk away.

Three days later, Irish was told by her employer in Minnesota that her “position was being eliminated.” Immediately. Her work phone was wiped remotely.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. The company wasn’t really set up for remote employees. New hires for similar positions had to move to Minnesota. Her boss had been making it more difficult for Irish to telecommute, and expressed “shock” she was in Victoria BC, a “foreign country.” They did not respond when she told them we’d pay any additional expenses for internet or phone.

That silence was my tip-off.  There was something toxic about that company culture. When her boss quit complaining, I knew the end was coming and wondered, to myself, if they’d found out about her Parkinson’s Disease. Irish had let it slip to a coworker a couple of weeks before.

“You were not happy working for them.”

“I know, but still …”

Getting fired leaves a sense of rejection, even if unfounded. Sitting in front of a computer fearfully looking for work, or going over and over and over what she may have done wrong, would not be good for her soul.

“Let’s go for a walk,” I said. We’d do some Christmas shopping for the kids, instead. She had options. We had options.

“Thank you,” Irish told me about mid-day.

“For what?”

“For being here with me, for bringing me here to Victoria, for everything.”

“Thanks not needed, but you’re welcome.” She was teaching me, slowly, to accept appreciation.

For the next four days we settled into a new routine, talking about jobs, insurance, how to respond to an absurdly low severance offer, about lawyers, options, Alaska. She told me to stop restringing the Christmas lights on the boat. We’d been hit by a storm that loosened some of the things I’d kludged together, and I have a bit of obsessive/compulsive urge not to let something alone I think could be a little better.

“But they’re not quite right.”

“They are just fine. We can do it differently next year,” she said.

So I would tweak the lights when she wasn’t looking. I reduced the number of cords needed by connecting the strings together, changed the layout of the white lights a bit, to mimic waves off the bow.

It was a week to the day after Thanksgiving, and we’d finished dinner. I went up on deck to secure a lazy jack line that had been banging the mast when the wind came up, making it difficult to sleep. Irish said she’d do the dishes.

True to form, I was monkeying with the Christmas lights when I heard a sound, like someone hit a pumpkin with a stick. Irish screamed.


“Did you drop something on your foot?” I called back.


I dropped the flashlight and hand-full of shock cords and ran to the cockpit. Irish was crumpled in the small space between a cockpit bench and the helm wheel. She was screaming, holding her face.


It was cold and blowing. I lifted her up and into the shelter that surrounded the cockpit. Her screams had become moans, but incoherent, “oh oh oh god oh oh Erik oh god oh god oh oh …”

Blood was streaming from between fingers of the hand she pressed to the right side of her face. I leaped down into the galley and got a clean smooth cloth towel, not terry cloth, and went back up.

“Press this against your face,” I said.

When she pulled her hand away, there was a pool of blood where her eye should have been. Gashes on her cheek formed creeks of blood down the side of her face.

“Stay right here. Don’t move.”


I grabbed my cell phone and called 911, tried to be calm as I told them we had an emergency, serious emergency, where we were. The dispatcher was very good, very calm, said help was already on its way, asked me about the injury, where it happened, how it happened. I gave them the code to the gate that led to our berth in the harbor.

I had Irish in my arms, she moaned incoherently, except for begging me to “make the pain stop.” Then my phone rang.

“Sir, the paramedics can’t find you. Where are you exactly?”

“Have them look at the boats in the harbor below the Empress Hotel!”

I jumped into the cabin below and began pulling and pushing the plug for the Christmas lights in and out of the socket. Our mast stretched 64 feet above the water. The white lights ran to the top. The bottom of the lit triangle of “sail” was close to 50 feet from bow toward the stern.

“They’ve got you,” the dispatcher said after a few seconds.

I stayed below and put all her medications in a bag, an extra set of clothes, anything else I could think of, turned off the diesel cabin heater and the fresh water supply. When she cried out I went back up and took her in my arms.

“They are almost here, sweetheart, they are on the dock. I can see them.”

“Oh God oh, oh oh, it hurts, I can’t see, it hurts, oh oh oh … “

Three paramedics worked their way down the ramp with a gurney and were soon on board. One sat with me and asked what happened while the other two determined the best course of action. One asked the other, “Is that her cheek bone?” before they put her in a neck support collar and applied bandages to slow the bleeding.

When they were ready, I followed the gurney as they wheeled Irish up the ramp. They transported us, with lights and siren, to the hospital that serves Victoria as a trauma center.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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