As we shared in our last Ariose Note, we’re packing it in. Turning Ariose’s bow toward home. No Caribbean sun for us. As Tim and I drove back to Rimouski, the disappointment in postponing our adventure to another year was fading, and we were beginning to feel pretty darn good about our decision. With covid numbers escalating, there was nothing to suggest that restrictions would be lifted anytime soon. The US border would certainly remain closed to us. Fourteen cords of dry firewood promised to ward off the winter cold, and a list of projects we look forward to tackling, promised to ward off boredom. But before wrapping up our voyage, we were eagerly anticipating our final month or more on Ariose.
I’m going to jump ahead for a moment. I’m over a month behind in our blogging and need to say that “feeling good about our decision” no longer describes our emotional state. This past week spent unpacking Ariose has been okay, but not a particularly joyful time! The American water border opened days ago, the Bahamas have removed their requirement for covid tests in order to move between islands, and the British Virgin Islands are also open to cruisers. Other Caribbean countries are sure to follow suit. We, however, are at home and Ariose is tucked in her boat shed. We predicted a political decision based on logic, but “logic-based political decision” is a bit of an oxymoron. Had we continued, we would have easily made it to Nova Scotia, and at this moment, could be on passage to Cape Cod or even, if ambitious, to Cape May.
It would likely have been a stressful month, though, with the possibility of being stranded in the Maritimes hanging over us. We’re also reminding ourselves that the pandemic could warrant a flip back to increased restrictions again. We’re not beating ourselves up with regret. We made the best decision for us at the time with what information we had. I just checked Predictwind, our weather app, to bolster these rationalizations further. It shows that if we were indeed mid-way between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod at this very moment, we’d be on a 3 day passage, in a gale, battling 35 knot winds on the nose, gusts in mid-40s, waves averaging 25 feet high, and likely exhausted to the core. Maybe it’s not so bad to be having a quiet evening in our cozy cabin, by the red glow of the woodstove’s hot coals.
(Note to my Mom, Dad, and brother, who is our safety guy: Rest assured that we would never venture out with that kind of forecast. This hypothetical passage purely serves the purpose of helping us feel better about being home.)
Ok. Back to our return drive to Rimouski, feeling good about our decision, and looking forward to our next month on Ariose. We agreed to head straight back to Tadoussac to explore the Saguenay Fjord. We were feeling almost giddy at the prospect of sailing for pleasure rather than being driven to make distance. Of course, we did want to head back westward so that we could haul out closer to home, but we had plenty of time. We’ve heard how difficult it is to sail up the St.Lawrence against prevailing winds and currents, but again, we had plenty of time. As we drove, we felt free of the weight uncertainty that we’d been carrying since the outset. We enjoyed the scenery and the anticipation of what lay ahead.
Once the sun set, Tim took the wheel and I decided to begin searching for a marina to haul us out, preferably near Montreal. That would allow us to avoid the St.Lawrence Seaway, there would be easy public transit for Tim to return home to fetch Ariose’s trailer, we’d be close to my Montrealer, and we could check out a potential future “home base”. It’s unlikely we’ll use Kingston next time we launch Ariose. The rudder incident scarred us, and the experience of going through a week of sailing the St.Lawrence Seaway (and it’s dredged shallows, and bridges, and locks, and freighters…), was a “once is interesting but enough, thanks,” experience. We would really miss the opportunity to reconnect with our Kingston friends, though.
As I randomly googled marinas along the St. Lawrence, an uneasy knot grew in the pit of my stomach. Those I found were closed or closing soon or did not have equipment capable of hauling Ariose out. I shut the laptop, and didn’t mention anything to Tim. I’ll tackle it in the morning when rested, I thought. We got to Rimouski and boarded a deeply chilled boat. When we fired up our propane heater for the first time this voyage, it responded with a deathly squeal. The fan was not happy. The heater did provide a little warmth, but without a way to circulate it, the cabin remained cold. Oh, oh. This could be a nippy month on the water.
The next morning, I let Tim know that finding a place to haul out may not be as easy as we thought. He wasn’t fazed. Don’t worry, it will work out, he said. I wasn’t so sure. We agreed to stay here where we had good internet access until we located a suitable end-point for our voyage. I bundled up and parked myself near the east windows of the marina’s enclosed patio. Due to covid, I wasn’t permitted to hang out in the heated indoors. I was tempted to set up in the washroom, but the sun’s rays warmed me adequately here. The sun did nothing, though, to alleviate the anxious chill that settled in as call after unsuccessful call to every marina between here and Montreal offered no hope. “Désolé, madame, nous ne pouvons pas vous aider”.
By mid-morning, I went into the office, yes, to warm up but also to chat with the guy overseeing this marina’s operations. We might have to bite the bullet and incur the cost of towing Ariose all the way from here. He tried to be helpful, but I detected a look that said “ces stupides touristes anglophones n’ont aucune idée”, or something like that. Rimouski is the latest closing marinas on this part of the St.Lawrence, he told me, and the last haul-out would be in less than 2 weeks. Shoot. That would mean that we would only have another week’s sailing and we’d have to figure out a way to head right back the 1000 km to North Bay to pick up the trailer. Maybe we could store her here to save the back-and-forth travel? Nope, They were already over-full, he said. Absolutely no room in the yard. Then, as he looked at the photos I provided showing how Ariose sits on her trailer, he added to the bad news. Their boat lift would not work. He insisted it wasn’t possible but gave me the number of the town’s harbourmaster, who spoke no English, and a local crane operator, also exclusively Francophone. He suggested that we might be able to get permission to arrange our own haul-out in between ferries and fishing boats and other vessels using the commercial docks. I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence.
My excitement about the upcoming month had completely dissipated. I was angry with myself for not making sure we had all the details we needed before leaving North Bay without our trailer. Back in August, when we decided to head out this year despite delays, we had considered the implications of late season sailing beyond closing dates of marinas. We prefer anchoring to marina stays anyways, and felt prepared to deal with the challenges of obtaining fuel and fresh water. When we sailed south 5 years ago – departing in November – we got used to hiking into American towns along the Hudson River with diesel jerry cans in hand. Yet now, when making the decision to haul out, we completely overlooked the fact that we needed a marina – an open marina, that is – to do so. Blame it on being distracted by TV-land happenings.
While I was stewing and fretting, Tim was contentedly puttering on the engine alternator, whistling a happy tune. Tim lives in the moment and I prefer to plan all the minutiae of every future situation. If we could dial one of us up and one down, we’d land on a perfect balance. On good days, we really appreciate our obvious differences. On a bad day, they can be annoying. And when misery is looking for company, there’s nothing like one of us cheerfully whistling to further chafe the other’s foul mood.
By late morning, I was calling the marinas west of Montreal. A private yacht club in Dorval didn’t look like it offered services to non-members, but it did have a travel lift and I was prepared to beg. I reached the manager who said they could do it (I fist-pumped a “YES!” to the empty room). He then apologetically explained that they were very busy so couldn’t get us out until the first week of November. How perfect. This would give us a month for our leisurely return trip after all. The only down-side I could see was we would have to transit 2 locks of the St.Lawrence Seaway to reach the yacht club. That’s no big deal. Or so I thought.
Ok. I hustled back down the dock to share the good news with Tim. See?, he said. I told you it would work out. We’d leave at dawn the next morning. First up? The gorgeous Saguenay Fjord. My mood lifted. The sun returned. Finally, some leisurely sailing.
That night, I slept restlessly, ruminating about other details we may have overlooked. The Seaway. What about those locks? I thought I had read that they remained open late in the season, but thought I should confirm. Yes, it doesn’t close until the end of December. Wait. What’s that fine print? For commercial traffic only? I narrowed the search to “recreational vessels” and groaned. The Seaway closes to boats like ours on October 17th. I inquired if there were exceptions, and the answer, not unexpectedly, was no. No exceptions. Get through by the 17th or be stranded in the St.Lawrence for the winter.
This emotional ping-pong, like the turbulence caused by changing currents, was taking its toll. We went from anticipatory excitement, that even though our voyage was being cut short, we still had a month of autumn sailing in this spectacular area – to – we need to make miles every day of the next 2 weeks to travel what took us, in favourable winds and currents, 2 weeks to cover. The return trip could be a slog.
Anyways, we figured we could do it – after all, what choice did we have? I booked our passage through the necessary locks for October 16th. This gave us a one-day buffer before they closed, just in case. Our longed for leisure sailing would be replaced by lots of motoring. And the Saguenay would have to wait for another time.
It was October 1st, 7 degrees Celsius, with low clouds, and a steady, chilly rain. It had been so cozy in bed under our down covers, it took formidable strength to not just head back to the v-berth and postpone our departure. We needed to get going. Our timelines were tight. Condensation from Ariose’s cabin ceiling, dripped on us as we suited up to untie the docklines.
Tim’s fine with changing course on a dime. Maybe that’s the benefit of not investing a lot of energy in planning. I’m not so fine. One of the many things I appreciate about sailing is that it helps grow my resilience and ability to sail the winds that life brings. But it’s not easy. Adapt to the situation. We can’t control the wind; we can adjust the sails. What’s that saying that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it? Let’s go. And let’s enjoy ourselves, dammit!
And overall, we did! We had about 300 nautical miles to travel. This is an average of only 20 nm per day – which sounds easy – but we often found ourselves moving at less than 2 knots an hour, with the days noticeably shortening, we expected to have to be underway for the full 10 hours of daylight.
Against all odds and our expectations, we ended up making great time. We lucked into several days of favourable winds, found counter currents close to shore to speed us along, and when heading to known anchorages, carried on into the dark for some pleasant night-time motor-sails. We did have a couple 5am starts to catch an advantageous current, but many short days of travel made up for the early starts. If we couldn’t make more than about a knot and a half of speed, we would wait at anchor for the conditions to change and enjoy some forced relaxation.
I don’t want to give the impression we sped along, though. Some miles were ex-cru-ci-a-ting-ly slowww! One day, determined to not use our motor, we sailed off anchor just west of Lac St.Pierre. Well actually, we lifted the anchor and gently drifted off. Three hours and a mere1.5 miles later, we admitted defeat and fired up the diesel. To put that in perspective, a world-class runner would take 3 minutes to cover the distance we took 3 hours to travel.
We were also so grateful to have good weather. There were just enough cold, wet days to help us appreciate the many more blue sky with warmth in the sun days. They were absolutely glorious.
On our first day back on Ariose, we had company. Not the kind of guests we welcomed. A bright red “police” vessel had travelled by, and then, about an hour later, a large black zodiac zipped up to us, lights flashing, with 3 imposing RCMP officers, suited up in black from helmets to boots. We headed up into the wind and dropped our sails, with the quick chirp of their siren speeding us along.
Under authority of the Canada Shipping Act, law enforcement can randomly stop and board boats. Anytime, anywhere. No need for cause. Boy, did this feel like a deja vu. As I shared last post, when returning home from cruising previously, we had been boarded by American officials, and they weren’t a friendly bunch. The Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, and the local Sheriff determined that we were illegally in US waters – due to their system errors, not ours. They had played an intimidating game of good cop – bad cop as they tried to determine what to do with us. Not fun. (More about that, if you’re interested, here.) So this time, when the RCMP advised they were boarding Ariose, I thought I’d at least start the interaction on a positive note. Hi, I’m Shirley, this is Tim, and you are? Steve. Nice to meet you, I lied.
Steve stepped into the cockpit, explained what he required from us, and we set about pulling out papers and safety gear. As he peered through the companionway, watching me rifle through cubbies, he engaged us in not-so-casual small talk. Where were we from? Where were we going? Why were we out so late in the season? Having met or exceeded all the requirements we regained our calm until Steve, looking closely at our registration, advised that it was expired. Sure enough: 2019. I know we paid and updated Ariose’s registration, but I had no recollection of going back to the website to print confirmation. We braced ourselves to be issued the $300 fine, so it was with great relief to hear Steve explain they weren’t out to fine boaters. They just wanted to ensure our safety. Yes, sir. We’ll print out that registration at the first opportunity. Yes, bonne journée to you too. Those US law enforcement guys sure could use a lesson in attitude from their Canadian counterparts.
As usual, we had lots of variety in our anchorages. Some were peaceful and scenic, like the night we felt as though we had been plunked into a Martime postcard scene, just off the Iles Verte lighthouse, on the north shore opposite Tadoussac.
We also had some rough nights, one in particular where the winds did not shift as forecast. This resulted in the rocky island we anchored up against for protection, offering none. We were at the mercy of waring wind and current. It was a long night, with violent rocking and rolling as the transom, not the bow, took the brunt of the waves. Now and then, there would be a momentary pause in the motion, just long enough to raise hope that the conditions were settling, then a wave would lift Ariose and drop us sharply enough to feel our stomach contents lurch. We’ve read of methods to tie off when winds and current play havoc with a boat like they did with us that night. Apparently, making a bridle between the bow and the stern allows you to force the bow into the wind, but when it’s 3am, windy and cold and wet out, and you’re not sure how you are going to set this up without putting dangerous stresses on the boat’s hardware, not to mention on yourself, and you’re sleep deprived, tolerating a few more rough hours seemed the lesser of 2 evils. Mental note: Practice this technique on another day in calmer conditions.
We did have some absolutely perfect, glorious sailing days. On one, we were underway from 10am to 6:30pm, sails fully out wing-on-wing the entire day as we were pushed by a north-easterly. We averaged a respectable 4-5 knots. We anchored near Cap a l’Aigle, where we enjoyed a peaceful night and balmy 10 degrees Celsius temperatures. This is what it’s all about, we thought. We woke the next morning to seals basking in the sun on nearby rocks at low tide. They seemed to agree with our assessment.
Some days, though, were tedious monotony. On Thanksgiving Monday, it took us 8 hours of motoring to transit Lac St. Pierre dodging recreational fishing boats all the way. Was there a tournament going on? Or was this just the Trois Riviere guys escaping their families on a long weekend? At any one time, there were over 30 vessels in view, interrupted by horn blasts as freighters tried to clear them from the channel.
We did have a couple tense times. One of a sailor’s greatest fears is water. Water inside the boat, that is. I had taken the helm so that Tim could prepare his lunch. Tim’s a creature of habit, eating a cheese sandwich for lunch everyday. I’m not exaggerating. Every. Day. Typically 2 slices of flax bread with a thick hunk of medium cheddar between, but if he’s looking to jazz it up, he might add some vegenaise as a condiment or, if in a particularly daring mood, will add a slice of tomato. Sorry. I’m on a tangent that has nothing to do with this anecdote. Let me just go back to saying that Tim had agreed to take over after lunch, and I was looking forward to a chunk of time off that particular afternoon. There was a gentle breeze, and the current would be in our favour for hours, so easy solo sailing. Maybe I would catch up on blog writing, or just read for pleasure. We have been on board for over 2 months and have yet to open one of the stack of books I had brought along.
As Tim went below to prepare his lunch, he called out that the bilge pump light was on. And it was staying on. Nothing like having water coming into your boat to give you a boost of energy, and reset your plans for a leisurely afternoon, or for making that cheese sandwich. Tim had the companionways steps and galley counter off in a jiffy to better investigate where the water was entering the bilge. A small amount is meant to trickle in through the stuffing box which houses the propeller shaft. It acts as a lubricant. Water was running, though, not trickling in. Not panic-inciting pouring, mind you, but nevertheless, not good. It was a steady, visible stream. While he did that, I emptied a cockpit locker (not as easy as it sounds, jam-packed with spare sails, dinghy motor, ropes and more), shone a flashlight into the depths, and the source was obvious. A cap on the engine exhaust’s back flow preventer had fallen off so water, under pressure, was pouring in from there. Tim jury rigged a new plug. The stream reduced, but didn’t stop. We then discovered a hole in the underside of the very same container. A rubber guard had slipped, so the plastic had been resting directly on the fibreglass hull, and had chafed through. A bit of butyl tape and a strip of scrap rubber slowed the leak to a slight drip. We continued on.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement on one afternoon, moments after we resolved the water situation, we gybed and the boom pulled away from the mast. Five years ago, on an early December morning as we were about to exit New York harbour for our first taste of the Atlantic and our first ever overnight passage, this same issue occurred. Our repair at that time seems to have held. Until now. The bolts and holes were clearly stripped. We had some Dyneema left over from making Ariose’s new lifelines, and cinching that stronger-than-steel rope around the bent fitting on the boom/mast hardware managed to straighten it. We then secured it the joint with a lashing. We had no idea if this would hold, but it seemed like it was a good temporary fix. It ends up it did do the job for the remainder of the voyage.
It felt like we’d be tempting fate – you know the bad luck comes in threes superstition – by continuing on. We called it a day early, and set our hook. Tim ate his belated cheese sandwich. I opened up a memoir by Assata Shakur.
We did mainly motor at first. After a few good days, though, we realized our fears about not making it to the locks by our scheduled date were unfounded. So we reverted to sailing as our preferred option if we could make 2 knots’s speed, that is (walking speed is about 3 knots). If not, we’d motor. There were days where we needed the extra boost to make it to a safe anchorage before dark, although, this was less important now that we had some familiarity with these waters. In Quebec City, for example, we planned to drop hook in the exact location we had anchored on our way east, so were comfortable with a post-sunset arrival under a starry sky . We made 50 nautical miles that day, over twice our daily requirement, by motor-sailing for 8 hours at an average of 6 knots/hour. Hah! Take that St.Lawrence nay-sayers!
More typically, though, when the winds were firmly against us, it wasn’t worth departing until currents were in our favour. Departing from Quebec City, was one example. We couldn’t get away until 3:45pm, and with sunset around 6pm, it was a short day. The next morning, we were up hours before the sun for a 5:30am departure, to make a 2 hour window with any possibility of motoring up the Richelieu Rapids. The sun rose shortly after 7:30am, but it couldn’t penetrate the thick fog. It was an unnerving few hours, hypervigilant, as we shared the waters with freighters also rushing to make it through the rapids during the same window. Thank goodness for AIS helping us keeping track of the mammoths. Tim was at the helm this entire stretch, and I maintained watch from the bow. Our newly purchased horn malfunctioned so instead, whistle clenched between my teeth, I let others know of our presence with regular referee-worthy blasts. Maybe we should have taken the time to install our radar. By 10:15am, we had transited the rapids successfully, and we could feel the currents changing. The fog remained thick, so we found a safe spot to anchor off Grondines, and called it a day.
When we got to Trois-Rivieres, a mere 60 nm from Montreal, well ahead of schedule, we treated ourselves to a break. Contrary to its name, there’s just one river here, the St. Maurice. A cluster of islands at its mouth gives the illusion of 3 rivers spilling into the St. Lawrence. We spent a few nights at anchor just off one of those islands, a lovely park.
We enjoyed shoreside conversations and a cockpit visit with others also anchored there. One, a liveaboard, was regretting telling the local marina to f-off, as he now had no where to dock for the winter. He was strategizing how to reduce the threat of ice crushing his home. We also enjoyed getting to know a couple on a bright yellow sloop, aptly named Chiquita. They were heading eastward and eventually south. They had sold all their land-bound possessions and with relatively little sailing experience, moved aboard their new home this past summer. Within weeks, they faced quite the initiation to life on the water. A near-disastrous failure of a through-hull caused water to pour in, the volume far surpassing what the bilge pumps could remove. As they related their story, so recently experienced, we could feel the anxiety. The water rose to the level of their galley counter, and being unable to stem it’s flow, they drove their boat up onto shore. Very wise. A grounding is preferable to a sinking. Sadly, much gear of financial and sentimental value was lost. But here they were, determined to realize their dreams. We shared as much intel as we could, hopefully helping the next leg of their journey a little smoother.
It was a pleasant Thanksgiving weekend for us as we spent connecting with family, going to shore to walk the lovely island trails, and dinghying up river to sight-see and check out the autumn colours.
So all was proceeding relatively smoothly on our return journey. Then came “the” news. We were at anchor at a bird refuge opposite the town of Contracoeur where we did a grocery run, to provision for the next couple weeks.
We checked our daily news feed as usual, and were shocked to hear the announcement that the US will open land and water borders in November. What!?! I have no idea what emotion hit first: Frustration that now it opens, too late for us, or excitement that now it opens, and it’s really not too late. I felt like my head would explode. We had made a decision, we had a plan, and were ok with it, and now this. Should we turn around, again?
We spent an entire morning at anchor, the industry up river at Sorel-Tracey belching out its smoke, as we went back and forth over the pros and cons. Caribbean countries still had cumbersome covid restrictions in place, winter weather is nearing and sailing in the cold isn’t fun, and there’s a chance this decision could be overturned and strand us further from home. On the other hand, we would be incurring significant cost to haul out now and get back underway next year, that we could save by just turning around now. Although we hadn’t been gone long, I was feeling a longing for family. My kids would be rendez-vousing in Ontario for Christmas, and I was feeling a pull toward having more time with my aging parents. Even if we did go for it, we would still have to make it home to winterize and pick up items we had left behind. And we didn’t know if open in November meant early or late.
I almost felt queasy from this see-saw. We’re going on a sailing adventure. No, covid, we can’t. Vaccinations? Maybe we can go. Oops, crane straps slipped destroying rudder. Delay. Can we still make it? Ok, we’re off. Oh no. US border not yet opening. Maybe it will next month. Delta numbers up everywhere. Maybe we can’t go, but still some guarded optimism. Running out of good sailing weather for the season. Oh shoot. US border remaining closed. That’s it for us. It’s a no go. Let’s enjoy the next 4-6 weeks on the water before packing it in. What’s that? Locks close. We only have 2? Arrgghhh. So much for the leisure sailing. So much for our voyage. That’s ok. Going home feels right. And now, turn around? It would be mid November by the time we’d be in Nova Scotia with the strong likelihood of hitting winter weather. Maybe a bit of Gravol would help!
Tim was fine with either option. I was feeling worn down and worried that I just don’t have the reserves to handle the challenging conditions we’d undoubtedly face. We agreed. Let’s stick with our plan to go home.
We made it to the east end of Montreal, and anchored for the night off Parc aux Pte Trembles in Laval. As we settled in, we were startled to hear gun shots followed by the frantic quacking of ducks. We could see hunters on the shore of a nearby slip of land. I wondered if I should alert authorities, but a quick google search informed us that unbelievably, in Quebec, hunting is legal even in the city. We stayed down below.
Next day, October 16th, we made it into the Seaway’s De La Rive Sud canal. It was a grey, rainy day, torrential at times, but we were grateful for the few breaks in the weather, that fortuitously coincided with our actual lock transits. That good fortune would not last the day.
We motored several hours, well protected from the heavy winds, to make it through the locks and the canal. Near day’s end, we rounded the final dog-leg of the canal, and headed Ariose’s nose out into the strong westerly winds. The previously calm, protected waters now became rolling waves breaking at our bow. We only had a short distance to make it to anchor. We bucked and bounced, and …. let me pause for a moment to share one salient detail. Because we were nearing the end of our journey, we were intentionally not topping up our diesel. We didn’t want to any excess weight for towing Ariose home. …
Ok, back to the bucking and bouncing. Just as we were spilled out of the canal onto Lac St. Louis, our motor strained, sputtered, and stopped. Dead. We looked at each other and instantly realized, that with the rough ride sloshing the little fuel we had in the tank, the engine wasn’t able to pick up what it needed. We were essentially out of fuel. The canal breakwall, solid protective reassuring rock only moments before, suddenly transformed to a jagged and menacing hazard. And we were being blown right toward it!
Now, we haven’t had the kinds of experiences on this voyage that lend themselves to cliff hanger blog posts. We made so many novice mistakes last time, suspense just seemed to naturally incorporate itself in many of our ArioseNotes. Here, on our final 24 hours of this 2021 voyage, we finally have an incident, a completely at fault, self-induced situation, that lends itself to leaving those vicariously on board with us on edge. Besides this post is already long enough (many would say too long). I’ll pick up from here next ArioseNote. Until then…