Tadoussac to Gaspé

Strong currents propelled Ariose out past Tadoussac’s lighthouse tower into the St.Lawrence, and we were off on the next leg of our voyage.

The prominent Prince Shoal lighthouse tower, marking Tadoussac’s safe entrance/exit .

There’s a story behind this lighthouse, affectionatley known as “la toupie”. I’m sure there’s many stories behind every lighthouse , but this one seems to fit well with this week’s Royal news. In 1860, the first bridge to span the St. Lawrence opened (still in use, by the way), connecting Montreal to St. Lambert. It was named in honour of Queen Victoria, but perhaps with better things to do than cross an ocean, she sent her son, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, to the inauguration in her stead.  The official maps of the day, however, were less than reliable. The ship he travelled on ran aground on previously uncharted shallows at Tadoussac, and I assume, made him a little late for the ceremony. Her Majesty’s cartographers subsequently corrected the maps and named this area, fittingly, Prince Shoal, in Albert’s honour. Since then, the prominent lighthouse – at over 80’ high, can’t be missed –  safely guides mariners. Wonder if there’s a cautionary message here for the most recent Prince of Wales who has now ascended to the throne?

North coastline of Gaspe Penninsula

When anticipating this next section that would take us around the immense Gaspé Penninsula, Tim and I  felt a bit of trepidation. We would be in unfamiliar-to-us waters – and they are big waters! – with little in the way of protected anchorages. For our first night, though, we planned to cross to the south shore of the St. Lawrence and drop hook in L’Anse Original, a sheltered cove framed by the rocky hills of Parc National du Bic. It promised a good start.  It looked to be the kind of anchorage that allows a peaceful night, and that it was. Our arrival coincided with a heavy downpour, but other than one of us getting a soaking while we anchored, we were comfortable and secure.  We slept soundly, blissfully ignorant to a “little” issue Ariose was harbouring deep within.

The next morning, we weighed anchor with some regret that we would not be staying longer to further explore the lovely surroundings in the Parcl. Little did we know our visit was about to be prolonged.

Winds were brisk, but the next few days were forecast to be mild, and we didn’t want to linger and miss the favourable conditions for getting around that intimidating peninsula. We were surrounded on 3 sides with land and rocky shoals, so we made sure we were sharp and ready to sail out with precision. Everything checked – well almost everything – and we were ready. I was at the helm and Tim was hauling chain. The moment he had the anchor off the bottom, the sails filled and we were on our way, as expected, toward the shoals. I was prepared to tack immediately to bring us in line with a clear exit. “Coming about!” I warned Tim who was still pulling up the anchor and positioned a little vulnerably at the bow. I cranked the wheel to execute the turn, and it wouldn’t move. What? Turn toward starboard (and the shoals) was fine, but a hard stop to port. Not good. Nothing like an instant surge of adrenaline to push problem-solving into high gear.

We had been experimenting with our self-steering wind vane the previous day, and it, with its connection to the steering quadrant, was the likely culprit. I flung open the lazarette, expecting to find those lines tangled, but all looked well. I looked up. Our margin of safety was narrowing quickly.

I shouted to Tim to drop anchor. He was wondering about my sloppy manoeuvre, but had no idea of my panic, so understandably, paused for a moment to question me. “Drop it now!!” I shouted, perhaps with a little more force than necessary… and he did. We stopped, safely. Breathe.

Time to figure out what was going on. The wheel continued to turn freely in one direction and the other way, stopped with a palpable clunk.  We unloaded then crawled into the icy confines of a cockpit locker to eyeball the steering mechanism. Tim looked. I looked. Neither of us could see anything impeding it.  Nothing. What about the view from the other locker? Still nothing.  Would we have to get into those frigid waters to visibly inspect the rudder? Tim and I looked at each other, assessing who carried the most insulation. We have no wetsuits on board, but have something even better. Time to get out the GoPro camera and attach it securely to the telescoping boat hook! (So, did you really think either of us is hard core enough, or wrapped in enough blubber to go for a swim in these waters?)

underwater photographer at work

When viewing the footage, the first thing we noticed was seaweed trailing from the rudder joint. That was a relief – the fix would be easy. But it didn’t really make sense that vegetation would jamb the steering so distinctly. Maybe some hard debris was hidden within? We reviewed the video clip again, and although the angle made it difficult to be certain, we noticed that the propeller shaft looked a little too long. Back to the water for our GoPro, and this time, we managed a better angle. The propeller shaft had definitely slipped, causing the rudder (which steers the boat) to jam against the propeller. Shining a flashlight into the bilge confirmed the bad news. We could see the shaft sat a couple inches aft of where it should be.

The good news?  The damage to the rudder looked superficial. With our dubious history of destroying one rudder per voyage, that was definitely good. We were also just 10 miles from Rimouski, a well serviced town for marine repairs, if we needed help.  Most importantly, though, the Alberg 30’s design meant that we were not at risk of anything catastrophic. With some other vessel, if the prop shaft decides to take a hike, it can easily completely evacuate, leaving a hole that will sink the boat. Once again, thank you designer Carl Alberg.

We considered our options. We were in a safe spot, not in any imminent danger, and happened to have a ship’s mechanic on board with a track record of ingenuity and super-human perseverance. We decided to tackle the repair ourselves. Well, I should say that Tim tackled it. I just stayed out of his way, wrapped in a down sleeping bag to keep warm, valiantly hopping out from time-to-time, on request, to hand him a tool.

The short version is that Tim successfully re-secured the shaft. The longer version is that it took, well, long. (Disclaimer: What you are about to read is the Shirley version of marine engine workings and likely contains some significant inaccuracies!)

 The propeller shaft is held fast to the transmission flange by the coupler.  See that small dimple ( circled in yellow).There’s 2 like that on the shaft.

Prop shaft attempting to escape the coupler: Note the dimple (circled) that should be aligned with the bolt.

Grub bolts (you can see one’s hex head) go through the coupler and grip these indents. It seems awfully rinky-dink, if you ask me, as a way of keeping such a vitally important part secure. There’s also a small metal key that fits into a keyway in the coupler to ensure stuff works together. The coupler then bolts to the transmission. Anyways, all this to say that multiple alignments were necessary. Accomplishing this seemed to me difficult in any situation, and impossible in this one. Tim had to contort himself sometimes over the engine, sometime under, squeezing his left arm through a small space (his view was blocked when he used his right) to work one-handed. And that was one non-dominant hand! He did what he does best: Just stuck to it.

Ship’s mechanic at work.

Meanwhile, my morale plummeted.  When I’m completely out of my element and have to rely on others, I’m definitely not in my comfort zone.  I’m better at “doing” vulnerable than I used to be, but it’s still rather agonizing.  I ran through all sorts of plan Bs from getting towed to Rimouski and hauled out for repair (and blowing our budget), to possibly having to call it quits again on this voyage. I got so far as to even begin to convince myself that I would welcome returning to a stable land-based dwelling with comfortable temperatures. Getting going on building that straw-bale home we dreamed of, well anchored to the earth, no prop shafts necessary, sounded pretty appealing.

Looks like I’m contemplating the wisdom of this whole voyage (really, though, shot taken on a different day where I was actually enjoying a relaxing stint at the helm).

I kept my thoughts to myself and Tim proceeded, unfazed. He unbolted the coupler, installed a temporary clamp on the shaft to be sure it didn’t slip further and to give a point from which to pry, aligned everything, and secured shaft to coupler. From that point, Tim says, it was easy. He just needed to pull the coupler with shaft attached forward and rebolt to the transmission. Easy!?  As easy as anything that takes 9 determined hours that day and a few more the next morning to accomplish can be. Tim shines when faced with a mechanical challenge, able to stay focused in the moment, solving one step at a time. He came through again. Time for lunch.

With each incident we successfully overcome, our confidence grows, but the lingering undercurrent of anticipatory “what’s next?” dread deepens its hold too.

So starting that afternoon with what’s now a routine check that we do, indeed, have full steering range, it was onward for Ariose.  The next few days brought with them varied conditions from moderate winds offering full-day sails to absolute calms and a lot of motoring (and stops to check the prop shaft), and even when desperate to get to anchor without starting the motor, some old-fashioned paddling!

The water and air temps warmed – thank goodness! – and even the seals floating comfortably around us seemed less buoyed by the pfd-like insulating blubber that was around the necks of their Saguenay cousins. It was a delightful stretch. We were able to hug the shoreline, sailing mainly on a broad reach when there were winds, and motoring when they disappeared. We witnessed rural villages of the western part of Gaspésie transition to smaller hamlets nestled in the valleys of forested hills rising into mountains. We motored past brigades of wind generators standing guard on the high points of land. They were also longing for a breeze.

We anchored in Ste-Louice, Tartigou, then the ominously named Les Mechins as we travelled eastward. Some nights were calm, and some tortured us as we unsuccessfully attempted to adjust Ariose so we were not hapless victims of the current vs wind battles. We were grateful, though, to be spared any northerly winds. They would have made anchoring on this exposed coast impossible.

One day, owing to an exceptionally poor sleep the night before, we decided that if we can’t get a good sleep, we might as well make distance. We prepared to sail through the night. Hot soup made and into a thermos, settee transformed into a cozy mid-ship bed, jacklines tightened and tethers out, and we were ready. This would be our first overnight passage of this voyage. As the sunset broadcast serene pastels across the horizon, we passed one of the few anchoring options we would have between then and morning. Mont-St-Pierre’s cove looked so calm and inviting. Tim and I bounced a few “what do you want to do’s?” back and forth, neither of us wanting to be the one to renege on our commitment. Lights in the village houses came on reflecting on the black waters, the moon rose over the ChicChoc mountains, and we were seduced. In we turned, anchor dropped, and we were graced with a display of the northern lights. We slept well. Our first over-nighter will have to wait.


As an aside, in this cove, we encountered a significant error in our electronic charts. We planned to anchor in 20 feet of water, but at that point on the chart, our depth sounder showed nearly 100 feet. We did putter around until we found the depths we needed, so all was fine, but it was unnerving to discover that that the data that we rely on for our safety are not infallible. A good reminder to never blindly trust a single source when making our navigating decisions, unless, of course, we aspire to have newly discovered shoals named in our honour. We’ve also passed fishing vessels (illegally) not transponding on AIS. Again, unnerving. It doesn’t matter how much technology on board, our eyes and common sense are still needed.

Fishing vessel, either intentionally or in error, flying under the radar, so to speak.

A little further east, near the village of Cloridorme, we began to be entertained by gannets.  Lots of them. What gorgeous sea birds. Their wings span 2 metres, with black tips standing out as their squadrons skim the wave-tops. They are masterful with their make-uo, with soft yellow powdered caps and Egyptian-style mascara, clearly a good quality waterproof brand as they dive and surface looking as glamorous as ever.

They are more than just another pretty face. We are endlessly amused watching them break away to soar high, then suddenly plunge at shocking speeds (up to 100 km/hr!), making a torpedo-like sound as they puncture the surface, hunting for their next meal. Curious about how they could withstand the impact, we turned to our 3rd crew on board, Google. Apparently, their nostrils are inside their mouths so they don’t subject themselves to a high pressure salt-water sinus rinse when diving. They also have air sacs under skin of their face and chest that cushions the impact. That also explains how they pop back up, balloon-like. Adaptation is amazing, isn’t it?

I wasn’t able to capture a good photo, but we’ll soon be sailing by Bonaventure Island, an important breeding site, so hopefully, some will cooperate for the camera there.

For a couple of cruisers who are aiming south for the Caribbean, our course has been anything but. The St.Lawrence, flowing north east, provides a rather paradoxical route. It was around Saint-Maxime-du-Mont-Louis (pop’n 1,000, or 200 residents per word in the town’s protracted name) that this began to change. The compass, previously residing in the 0 to 90 degree range, was now tipping toward 180! We had rounded the most northerly curve of the Gaspé penninsula, and it would be southward from here. Sweet!

Parc Forillon occupies the easterly end of the peninsula, and it’s a stunning piece of land.   Seven days after departing from Tadoussac, we crossed into the park’s waters. It felt like a milestone. There was an offshore wind forecast for the next 24-36 hours, so we rather cheekily dropped hook in an unlikely spot, just north of the narrow finger of majestic ragged cliffs, off a pebble beach. We were expecting officials to ask us to move on. It turns out they didn’t need to.

The next morning, with plans to work out our sealegs with a hike in the park, we rowed Poco, our dinghy, to shore. By the time we completed a bit of reconnaissance, and oh yes, helped ourselves to a hot shower in the campground, the winds were picking up. They had shifted early to onshore, and the surf was building. Ariose was violently bucking at anchor, and we wondered if we’d be able to get back to her. There would be no hike, and instead, Tim would get a vigorous workout rowing us ‘home’. It took a bit of timing. Tim was at the ready in the dinghy, oars in hand, while I stood thigh deep (thank goodness for warmer waters!), holding Poco into the waves. As soon as there was a slight gap in their breaking, I shoved off, climbed in, and Tim gave it his all. The few other beach-goers seemed to be keeping an eye on us. I suspect we were an entertaining sight. We made it, dried off, weighed anchor, and had a lively sail as we escaped that lee shore and headed around to the south side of Forillon’s rocky finger.  

Check out our track … looks like we turned Forillon’s peninsula into a dragon’s tail, with hours of tacking into the wind, and 90 minutes running with it to our planned anchorage.

The evening winds, shifted to northerly as forecast, and we were happy with our chosen spot, hills blocking the wind. By bedtime the sea state had calmed, but gentle rolling swells seemed to appear out of nowhere. A light current held Ariose parallel to shoreline, a perfect position for these swells to hit us broadside. Gentle they looked; brutally they behaved. Rock ‘n roll time. No sleeping on our sides, it was a full-sprawl position, arms and legs wide to brace against being thrown from side-to-side. Actually, there was no sleeping period. By 2am, we admitted defeat. We hadn’t planned to travel to town of Gaspé, a further 10 miles “inland” up the bay. When checking the chart, though, we had noticed that a natural spit almost closes off the tip of bay, and we looked longingly at what we imagined to be calm waters. Anchor up, motor on, and we were off, the moon playing peak-a-boo with us, the sole vessel out there. Shortly after 4am, we tucked into yes! – flat waters – dropped anchor, and then Tim and I were the ones to drop … off to sleep.

Ahh, Peace at last.

And so, our unintended visit to the town of Gaspé, out of desperation for sleep, has turned into a week-long stay. For two days after our arrival, we had a perfect weather window to make the crossing to Iles-de-la-Madeleine, out in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We felt like it was more important, though, that we take a bit of time to replenish our energy, and our provisions, but in doing so, we missed that window. We’ve been held hostage here – gratefully so – for a week now, riding out fierce winds.

Earl swirling off Nova Scotia, while we (small green dot in the purple) are safe and sound.

With hurricane Earl recently flirting offshore of Nova Scotia, we’ve had friends and family sending messages of concern. We are keeping a close eye on Atlantic storms. Earl had no impact on us, but we’ve had unrelated gusts hitting 90 km/hour, and that’s pretty wild. We usually aren’t fond of marina stays, but sure do appreciate being nestled into well protected Club Nautique de Jacques Cartier while those winds howl.

Later today, when the winds settle a little, we plan to move on. Next Ariose Note, we’ll share highlights of this stay we’ve had in Gaspé and of our hopefully smooth 36 hour passage to the Iles-de-la-Madeleine. When we commit to this overnight, there won’t be any backing out. Wish us and our 8-legged stowaway, fair winds and starry skies.

5 thoughts on “Tadoussac to Gaspé”

  1. Listening to Fiona news – hope you have a safe place to nestle in, or whatever the nautical term is – things are sounding scary to this land-lubber!

  2. I discovered your blog a few weeks ago when starting to idly plan our summer 2023 trip down the St Lawrence and I’m hooked! Thank you for writing up your stories.

  3. I look forward to your beautifully written weekly updates of your sailing adventures. Thanking for sharing them. Happy sailing and stay safe.

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