This ArioseNotes is completely devoid of sailing. No time on Ariose nor talk of tides, or wind, or whales. Instead, we’ll take you back to September and our nearly 2-week intermission from life on the water – quite a bizarre interlude actually! – and also reveal what’s next for our voyage.
Why the break? Permit me a bit of a backstory. Five years ago, when we returned from our maiden voyage, Tim and I decided that if we could cohabitate on a little boat, in often stressful circumstances, we might very well be compatible living our land lives together. Tim had long since adopted a simple, spare life. I looked forward to also assuming that lifestyle, one analogous to what we had experienced aboard Ariose. We adopted the strawbale garage Tim had built to be our one-room cabin as our for-now home. We continued to prune to a bare-bones frugality, where we appreciate every dollar saved as a dollar + taxes that doesn’t need to be earned. We’ve kept eyes open to micro income possibilities to off-set the day-to-day expenses we still have, and to add a little to our future cruising kitty
So with that in mind, we listed our property on a media site, a resource for film productions looking for suitable locations in Ontario. Earlier this year, a local scout – an affable guy brimming with enthusiasm – contacted us about a new TV comedy series being filmed in our area. He was seeking a place that would fit a character he described as an aging, eccentric, nudist female who sells weed to cottagers. With some effort to be diplomatic, he explained that our quirky off-grid straw bale abode surrounded by acres of forest would be ideal. We laughed. Yes, we could see that we offered a good fit. We toured the producer, writers, set design folks, and others who played roles that we never knew existed, around our place so they could determine if our location was suitable. We did not have to wait long for their decision.
When a set is “dressed”, we’ve learned, it means it is ready for the scene to be shot. Every prop, large and small is in its place. Actors can move in and cameras can role. Following the tour, there was a comment that “this place is f- – k’n dressed already!” Our property got the thumbs-up. Tim and I discussed the pros/cons. We value our privacy. We love our place. Tim’s feeling of kinship to the animal and plant-life that we share the land with is of the mama-bear type, and he’s triggered by others’ callous disregard. And here we were considering turning over our special spot to a pack of strangers.
Furthermore, we knew little about this production. We knew that it drew on the “quintessential Canadian cottage experience”, and that the lead character’s role was intended to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. If done well, this show could be a positive light in the entertainment industry, and we might feel good about our small piece of involvement. Then again, what if it was bungled and filled with negative stereotypes or was outright offensive?
The money was reasonable, we were impressed by the people involved, and our curiosity was piqued. We reviewed the formal legal-ese of a 14 page contract, took a deep breath, signed and were committed. We hoped we wouldn’t regret this. Faith.
When Tim and I met, like most in new relationships during the getting to know one another phase, we tended to hone in on commonalities. One small one, that spoke to much broader shared values had to do with TV. We each had given up our sets years before at a time when most people still filled their evenings with the screen. (This was in the era when streaming was still understood to involve hiking along a creekbed). Maybe this was love? We had both wanted distance from TV’s seductive theft of time and brain power. We don’t enjoy being in the spectator’s seat. We prefer to spend our days actually engaged in things we enjoy. It’s this desire that is part of what draws us to cruising, a powerful way to be fully immersed in life.
So, the irony of a TV comedy series produced by a major corporation that seems bent on world domination, funding our quest to live simply and authentically, is not lost on us. Irony? Or maybe hypocrisy is the better word? I guess we all have a price.
When we headed out sailing this summer, the actual shoot dates were a couple weeks away, but had yet to be finalized. The set crew asked that we leave everything as is. Everything. Wildflowers along our path remained unkempt. The cast iron pans remained hanging from the reclaimed barn beam brace above the woodstove, the north wall full of shelves remained laden with all sorts of stuff that usually resides in a shop, from tools to reclaimed nails to unfinished repairs, and the antlered moose skull mounted above the bathroom door remained … you know, the usual home decor. It all stayed in place. We locked the door, left a key with our neighbour, towed Ariose to Lake Ontario and started our adventure, knowing we’d soon be back.
As I mentioned in our previous post , we got word when we were in Tadoussac that the filming was finally happening the next week. Ideally, we would be present for the set-up and take-down days which were spaced out over a 9-day period. And, with this being a month later than the original forecasted date, we were now in the Gaspe region, with no convenient flight options, just a long drive home.
We did consider not returning. That nearly two weeks of time on the water that we would be sacrificing could get us to Nova Scotia in decent temperatures to await the US border opening.
The problem was, it would be difficult to delegate the very personal decisions around what could or couldn’t be tampered with for the filming. You want to take down that tree? Sure. The garden will have more sun. And this other tree? No way. We’ve nursed that little white pine from seed and protected it from becoming rabbits’ winter snack for the last few years. It would also be difficult to provide instruction from afar to winterize and close up our idiosyncratic place. Our water, collected from the roof, stored in an indoor cistern, and heated in the woodstove, needs to be properly drained to protect the system from freezing damage. We may live rustically, but we still wanted to be 100% certain that the garage was critter-proofed once closed. We might be away for years, and didn’t want a repeat of the nasty reception we had upon our return from cruising last time. It was so disheartening to find our home overtaken by mice. Every fabric item from fancy scarves to tea towels had been chewed, with those fibres redistributed to colourful nests. Feces dotted every surface. As we opened drawers and took boxes from shelves, we discovered the next generation thriving.
Besides, we had become quite intrigued with learning more about making films. The project manager in me found it interesting. There were so many people involved in their individual areas of responsibility that it was hard to imagine how it all would come together. Tim was lapping up the accolades about this unique home we’ve created. He proudly opened the “truth” window that allows a peak into the wall’s interior proving their straw construction, to all who showed an interest. We wanted to be there on the day of filming to witness how this show-making machine worked.
So return it would be.
We allow ourselves one restaurant meal per month, so before leaving Rimouski, partook in our September allotment at the Auberge de la Vieille Maison. The next morning, we ensured Ariose was well secured, and hit the road enjoying the cushy luxury of the rental car. Heat and comfortable seats! Despite taking the more scenic and speed-limited secondary highways, we still marvelled at the ease and velocity of such travel. We had moved aboard Ariose nearly two months before. It had taken 21 days of sailing to travel from Kingston to Rimouski. And yet, we accomplished this return trip in a mere 14 hours by car.
We enjoyed passing through rural Quebec and the many villages that line the St. Lawrence. This land perspective rounded out what had seemed from the water to be little more than a succession of church spires. Well, it was still a succession of churches, but with other buildings filling the gaps.
Despite the pleasant scenery, we were preoccupied with other considerations.
An undercurrent of sorts, has affected this voyage. Actually, this undercurrent is affecting everyone’s journeys. Covid. When I left work spring of 2020, the devastating implications of the pandemic were just being realized. Tim and I had planned to sail off on Ariose, but did not mind postponing for a year. We had lots of boat projects we wanted to complete, and I relished the thought of my first year of retirement helping me to reset, to adopt a slower pace in life. Certainly, by 2021, the pandemic would be long past. By spring this year, though, as we all know, covid maintained its grasp. We didn’t hold much hope for setting sail. By June, though, as vaccinations began to roll out we began to feel optimistic . Certainly, we were on the crest of overcoming this virus, and borders would be opening. Maybe we could go? We kicked into high gear, completing the essentials on Ariose, and set our sights on departing a couple weeks after receiving our 2nd shots. We knew we were taking a chance, but there were rumours that the US border would open in August and even if it didn’t, what seemed like the worst case scenario – not being able to exit Canada – was just fine with us. A summer/fall cruising the St. Lawrence and the Maritimes would be lovely.
We eagerly anticipated that Canada – US border announcement, but it ended up being a disappointing one-way opening. Canada welcomed vaccinated Americans, but non-essential land and water crossings to the US remained closed to Canadians until at least September 21. That’s ok, we thought. We need to wait until late October to avoid hurricane season before heading south on the Atlantic anyways.
So as we drove back to North Bay for the shoot, we contemplated plan B’s. If the US border remains closed, heading from Nova Scotia to Bermuda then to the Bahamas is a possibility. We could completely avoid the US. Many do it. Some we talked to were quick with their encouragement. No problem, you have a seaworthy boat. You guys have great perseverance. You can do it.
It’s 800 nautical miles as the seagull flies, and certainly more by sail. At best, it would take us 8 days/nights, and likely several more. The longest passage we’ve ever undertaken has been less than half that duration. And that was 5 years ago. Although this time, Tim hasn’t experienced anything like the incapacitating seasickness he did on our last adventure, he’s had a few (mild) bouts that have reminded us of what could be. I’m not thrilled with the possibility of 24-7 solo-sailing. I’m kind of fond of sleep. We’d possibly encounter the tail end of late-season hurricanes. And we’d be subject to the first of the North Atlantic winter storms. And the reliability of weather forecasts decreases the further out the prediction is, so even if we had a good weather window, there would be risk of something gnarly developing before we got to safe harbour. And Ariose is too slow to outrun a storm. We’ve sailed in some heavier conditions, but have zippo storm sailing experience. And, and, and!!!
Nope. Maybe we could but we’re not going to try. We’re ok with a certain level of risk, after all, we’re out here on Ariose. For us, however, the Bermuda option involves too many potential perils.
The uncertainty of the border opening has weighed on us. We intended to get as far as possible in the Maritimes, with fingers crossed that the September 21st announcement would be more favourable. We had decided to continue until we can’t, and if going south wasn’t possible, either store Ariose wherever we ended up or return home to pick up her trailer to tow her back. It was unsettling as we drove away from Ariose to not know if this was the end of this cruising adventure or not. Tough for someone like me who is wired to need plans. We’ll be home when the next US border announcement was scheduled. We’ll decide then.
There were a couple highlights on the drive. beyond the scenery. We enjoyed an overnight stop at my Montrealer’s. That makes an unprecedented 3 mother-offspring visits in one month. I love it!
We also had another pleasurable visit along the way. We’ve met so many great people. One, who I have only mentioned in passing is George, a kindred fellow Alberg-er, who we got to know while we were stranded at the marina in Kingston. George has been virtually onboard Ariose with us since then, his texts cheerleading us on as he shares wisdom from his deep reservoir of sailing and life experience.
George helped bring closure to what we know think of as our great Canada Post fiasco. We had bought a radar unit before leaving, and with delays in shipping, we didn’t receive it early enough to have time to fabricate something to secure it to the mast. So, while awaiting our rudder repair in Kingston, we set aside our budget and ordered a ridiculously priced manufactured mount. I used the marina address as we expected to still be there by the promised delivery date. Other online purchases had arrived on time by courier, but this one, unfortunately, was shipped via Canada Post. Delivery date came and went, and since our new rudder had been installed, we departed sans radar mount. The marina agreed to let us know when the parcel arrived, and we’d arrange forwarding.
Eventually it did arrive, but a combination of pandemic policy and bureaucratic hard-headedness meant much frustration. Parcels weren’t being delivered. The local pharmacy’s Canada Post depot would not release mail to anyone but the person indicated on the parcel, but only if they offered proof of address. Marina staff, obviously, could not prove they were me. And even had I been in Kingston, without evidence that I lived at the marina, they would not have handed it over to me. Arrgghhh. Hours and hours and hours dealing with various people on Canada Post’s (non)support line over the course of several days eventually revealed that I could authorize someone to pick it up on my behalf. But in an apparent attempt to extract a little more business from disgruntled customers, this authorization could not be given verbally or online. I had to mail in a printed form! I had no easy access to a printer nor any more patience. I called the local depot. I pleaded. I exaggerated the importance of this “critical safety gear” and the risk we faced every day on the water in its absence. I pleaded more. Finally, the employee admitted there was room for discretion and they agreed to hand the parcel over to the marina staff IF they arrived before that person’s shift ended that very day. The worker on the next shift, they warned, was a more stringent rule follower. And the following day the parcel, which by now had been held the maximum time limit, would be returned to sender.
The marina owner, despite being in the midst of the chaos of hauling out boats, found time to pick it up. George, who lives not too far off the main highway we would be travelling, agreed to take it to his home. We were pleased to have an excuse to visit with George and Joan en route to North Bay, and relieved to be united with our new radar mount. Confession: We have yet to install said radar … but please don’t tell Canada Post.
We arrived home after dark. We had no power since we transfer our home off-grid system to Ariose when cruising. The solar panels, controller, batteries – the whole kit and kaboodle is on board and certainly not worth transporting home for a short stint. What an absurd experience it was, snooping around by flashlight to discover what the film crew had been up to in our absence. With the character’s aesthetics so similar to ours, they had combed through our things (with our consent) and used many as props to bring authenticity to the set. It was like a treasure hunt.
We were surprised by the lengths taken. A beautiful spiral rock design in the earth, we were later told, had taken a couple days’ labour to create, and it was not even known if it would make it on film. Flower beds and vegetable box gardens were planted, and with the delays in shooting, many were so wilted, it was unlikely that these flora would have their screen debut. A charming yurt had sprouted up, with all the fixings. Our workbench was tidier than it has ever been!
The next day, the awaited border announcement hit the news. How disappointing. Canadians could now fly to the US for non-essential travel, but land and water borders would remain closed at least until October 21st. It made no sense. Cruisers, essentially living quarantined, would be among the safest travellers. I guess the majority of flying tourists contribute more to the economy than do sailing-on-a-budget folks like us. And meanwhile, infections from the Delta variant, especially in the US, keep rising, so we were not optimistic that the October announcement would be any more promising.
So, as we sat at our woodstove, late into the evening, we were back to considering options. It was decision time. Ariose was in Rimouski and here we were 1100 km away in North Bay, and it seemed extremely unlikely we would be able to make it to the Caribbean this year. We could rent a truck and return to Rimouski with Ariose’s trailer, haul out now, and tow her home. That would be most convenient, but the per/km rate for that distance would hurt, and the regret in cutting our sailing so short would be even more painful.
We could continue sailing and leave Ariose in Nova Scotia to set out from there next year. That would give us another month on the water. Despite having put in so much work, we still have a long to-do list, though, and having Ariose at home allows us to work at our leisure. We also feel nervous about leaving her unsupervised so far from home when we can nestle her in the protection of a boat shed mere steps from our front door. And finding a marina on the East Coast with the capacity to keep Ariose was becoming difficult. Most were full. With covid, there’s more boat owners than ever, and many other cruisers, like ourselves, who would usually be in the Caribbean, were scrambling to find winter storage.
We learned of creative loop-holes other cruisers had found. The most common was to sail to Nova Scotia, then hire an American captain, pay for their travel to Canada, then have them sail the boat to Maine. The owners would then fly to the US, and rendez-vous with the boat. Several thousands of dollars later, they would be on their boat in US waters, but from our understanding of American law, still illegally so.
Usually, upon entry to a US port, Customs and Border Patrol officials issue a cruising license which permits a boat to remain in American waters. Without it, if caught, you can be subject to heavy fines, boat confiscation, and who knows what else. By law, during the pandemic, cruising licenses were not being issued. We heard, however, of some instances on the Pacific Coast, and one on the Atlantic side, of cruisers who lucked into having a compassionate non-rule-following CBP official (yeah, I know that’s an oxymoron), or a misinformed one, issue the required license.
Even if this option was within our financial means, we have no interest in playing that game. We had a brush with being accused of being “undocumented” five years ago. This was despite having been in US waters for a month AND having checked into customs nearly daily, as required, so our whereabouts could be monitored. We were boarded by not only Customs, but the Sherriff, and the Coast Guard, separated and questionned, and although they eventually let us go, we got a taste of what could have been. Very intimidating. We have no appetite to sail under that kind of stress.
We also considered how covid numbers were escalating in some of the Caribbean countries we hoped to visit. Restrictions were tightening, making it cumbersome and costly to enter. It seemed that most cruisers were adapting by limiting their travel to a country or two. We enjoy the freedom of sailing, of being directed by the winds and our whims, and look forward to moving from island to island to experience as much of the eastern Caribbean chain as we can. To venture so far, without being able to move freely, would be a letdown. And presenting in places as if our need for adventure is more important than their struggle to deal with the pandemic, just feels wrong.
There was another influence, however, that made it hard for me to consider not carrying on. We have publicly announced our intentions, have received much encouragement, and friends and family have shared they are living vicariously through our adventures. For Tim, the notion of caring what others think is completely foreign. It’s irrelevant to him. For me, though, raised on a steady diet of concern about others’ opinions, it’s hard to shake that pressure to continue. This tinge of misplaced embarrassment niggled, and I felt a familiar need to prove I’m capable. Maybe a lesson in humility would be good for me.
So, as the fire died down, we made our decision. We are going to call it quits, but not before squeezing in another month’s sailing. We will enjoy more of the outer St.Lawrence waters and whales, then turn back to make our way westward. We’ll reduce the distance to return home and also enjoy some of the spots we had previously skipped over. We will then drive back to North Bay to pick up Ariose’s trailer and return her home with us. We will be warmed by our woodstove this winter, rather than the Caribbean sun. We knew from the beginning that this was a possibility. Uncertainty about what lay ahead had been tugging at us from the outset. The relief at taking a decision, any decision, outweighed the disappointment. There’s always next year.
With the decision made, we could now focus on the entertainment unfolding on our doorstep.
On the nights before and after the filming day, we were required to stay away. Off to a sterile hotel room with us, but the shower made it worthwhile. We’ve become pretty easy to please! Despite it being a closed set, in other words, no outsiders permitted, we were delighted to be told we would be allowed to visit on shooting day. We had no idea how bizarre that would feel.
Returning home on the day of the shoot, we passed the ski club, and its parking lot filled with film industry transport trucks foretold of what we were about to encounter. As we neared our place, the roadside was lined with vehicles, with a vested traffic control person making ensuring orderly parking and that no one was shmucked as they came and went. A covid tent was erected at the base of our driveway. We stopped for screening and to verify vaccinations. We then walked up the incline of our newly gravelled driveway and then – and then! – were assaulted by the site of our yard filled to capacity.
Large box trucks, massive generators, catering trucks, dressing room tents, port-a-potties, electrical cords spider webbing across the ground, microphone booms and massive lights above, dining tents and tables… every square inch seemed occupied. People with headsets and clipboards hustling about. People moving equipment to and fro. People standing. People gathered around butt cans taking smoke breaks. We had been beamed into an alien world!
Our liaison, the location scout who after all our communications these past months, now felt like a friend, gave us a full walk-about. He introduced us to the crew and provided behind-the-scenes details about the process of shooting. The people were friendly and the process fascinating. And we felt like minor celebrities with many greeting us with exclamations of “You’re the owners?!”. They had as many questions for us on our unique place and lifestyle as we had for them on their unique career and the role they played in the filming.
We stepped into the garage for a peek, surprised to find the lead actor perched at our butcher block, as he waited for the next scene’s shooting. No risk of being star-struck. With TV not a part of our lives, and movies only rarely watched, we are quite oblivious to current celebrity culture. We wouldn’t recognize the Ariana Grande or Chris Evans-types if they showed up in our soup! (Later, a quick google search indicated this guy is a rising actor, with a decent resume, and seems perfectly cast.) He was well aware of the benefits of natural building, was curious about details of strawbale construction, and seemed genuinely interested in us, remarking on the contrasts to his life in LA. I say genuine, but who knows. He’s an actor after all. It must be a burden to navigate relationships as an actor with others questioning what’s real and what’s put on.
We were then handed headsets so that we could listen in as the scene was filmed. We perched ourselves up a hillside, out of camera view, and enjoyed the show. A bell rang out, signaling the filming was starting, and the entire bustling yard magically silenced. Take one led to many more. Take after take. Turn this way, say it that way, one more time. The white chicken needs to emerge first from the yurt. And out would burst the brown one. Again. And again. The brown hen was determined to get her beak on camera, much to the director’s chagrin. With animal rights people monitoring the hens’ treatment by zoom, it was amusing to witness the restrained efforts to shepherd the hens. “May I just gently nudge it with a cane?”, we overheard.
By the end of the shoot, we had the handful of lines well memorized. We also had a new respect for the actors, able to come across as natural, surrounded by cameras and crew, after so many repeats, on a chilly day, while wearing little clothing.
After handing in the headsets, we headed off, leaving our place in the hands of the invaders. We braced ourselves for the mess we expected to return to the next day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our yard had been mostly vacated, and within a couple days, a cool design on our garage door was one of few signs that anything out of the ordinary had transpired here. Not a single tree was damaged. Our garage was left in a better state than they had found it. Two butts, one fork, and a plastic flower was the full inventory of debris left behind. Thank you crew!
We locked up (again!) then hopped in the rental car, and drove back to Rimouski. It was bittersweet knowing that this potentially years-long adventure had been severely truncated, but somehow, we felt renewed energy.
We were ready to get back aboard Ariose to savour our final month. And that’s what’s up in the next ArioseNotes! Until then…