Post-Fiona: Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Québec to Canso, Nova Scotia

Hurricane Fiona moved on with haste, but Tim and I remained on les Îles-de-la-Madeleine for nearly a week after she departed. We had to reinstall all the gear removed from Ariose in storm prep and deal with what’s become an ongoing issue. We needed to wait for a good weather window to cross to Cape Breton. And although the aftermath of a hurricane is not the best time to be tourist-ing, we also wanted to enjoy these slips of land that form such a lovely archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Checking out Étang du Nord

We moved from our warm and dry motel room back aboard a cold and soggy Ariose. That pressure wash of Fiona’s wind-driven rain, which had given Ariose’s deck a clean sparkle, also pushed lots of water inside. Portlights that had never previously leaked, did, and wires from the mast looked as though they had been as good as a faucet in flowing outside rain water to within. Bedding, mattress, settee cushions, most clothing… all soaked, and even our composting head (toilet) contained a few inches of fresh rinse water. For the first few days back aboard, depressingly, it continued to rain.  Did I mention that the motel room we chose to vacate had been warm and dry?

Tim and I got to work, under the eye of the watchful marina heron. A visit to the laundromat for its much-needed dryers was top priority. When the sun did come out, we spread what we could on deck to air. We hanked on the sails, set up the lines, and reinstalled the solar panels. The Cap-Aux-Meule marina kindly did not charge us. We’re not sure if it was a “you survived Fiona” reward or if it was just post-season, and the books had been closed. Whatever the reason, it was appreciated.  Merci Donald!

Certainly, the warm hospitality of our new friends, Richard and Raymonde, made our stay all the more memorable. Gifts from their kitchen and garden were heartening, and their enthusiasm and humour lifted our spirits. Richard, an engineer retired from the local Windsor Salt Ltd mine, whose creative brain has certainly not stopped working, is re-powering his own A30, among other restoration work. He had many questions. We were pleased to share what we could from our own experience upgrading Ariose.

Enjoying fresh seafood and exceptionally good company.

One of the highlights of our time on les Îles was a lovely meal out with Richard and Raymonde. They suggested a restaurant with great ambience, Les Pas Perdu, just a short walk from the wharf. It was a gift of an evening where we could forget the discomforts and the stress of the last week, and just enjoy their good company while we feasted on delicious fresh seafood. (This wasn’t “fresh” as in “not previously frozen”; it was “fresh” as in “hauled out of the sea that morning”. Yum!)

Richard and Raymonde had lent us their vehicle, and we so appreciated being able to get out and explore. Travelling by boat opens the world, but our perspective on most of the areas we’ve sailed to is limited to the narrow strip bordering the water, with little opportunity to experience what lies inland. Having wheels was a treat.

Much of the coastline on Île du Cap aux Meule and Île du Havres Aubert, especially on the west side, looked suspiciously freshly carved, and the seas were still wild. Unfortunately, but understandably, attractions were closed while hurricane repairs were addressed

We didn’t have time to make it to the hardest hit regions to the north, but in the areas we did visit, we were relieved to see that much of the storm’s impact seemed surprisingly minor: roofing shingles off, fences horizontal, and hydro crews busy repairing downed poles and lines. One church’s metal roof was now strewn across the gravestones next door. We also noted more substantial damage. Some boats on stands had toppled, and we spotted a few water-front buildings that had been shifted to now be in-water. As with so many areas in eastern Canada, though, many homes exuded such cheerful character, it seemed surreal that only days before, they had withstood a hurricane’s battering.

One yard we passed caused us to stop and reverse, just to confirm what we thought we had seen. It wasn’t unusual for there to be a parked boat, often just a skeleton remaining of what had been a sea-worthy vessel. But this! This was literally a boat skeleton, adorned with whale bones. Made us smile.

Another boat that caused us to smile was our slip neighbour at the marina. M’onc’Omer, is a beautifully crafted historical fishing skiff. It had been unharmed by Fiona, and although its dinghy, p’tit Omer, did sink, it was easily resuscitated. It was a pleasure meeting its builder, Claude, a talented artist who usually works in copper and whale bones. (google Claude Bourque, artist, Îles de la Madeleine if you’re interested in checking out his remarkable creations). A few years ago, Claude had gathered together his copains, a crew that joined him in a labour of love recreating this classic fishing boat of the islands. Apparently, these boats used to dot the bays, but have now disappeared. Perhaps M’onc’Omer will inspire others to resurrect such lost traditions.

Then, before long, a good weather window was upon us.  North-west winds, at 15-20 knots, decreasing to 10-15 knot westerlies, with seas at a metre, were forecast. This was ideal for the south-easterly crossing to Cape Breton. Although more time on les Îles-de-la-Madeleine would have been lovely, we have lost our appetite for vigorous sailing, and knew it could be awhile before conditions were favourable again.

We bid adieu to these very special islands. Richard and Raymonde, and their cleverly named poodle, Fidel Castré, saw us off, snapping a photo of Ariose as we motored out of the marina. 

Our overnight passage to Cape Breton’s western shores was one of our most successful yet. (Yes, Gravol was consumed and retained.)

We tucked into Cheticamp, one of the closest communities to head to in this crossing. It also happens to be situated in a well-protected natural harbour. We anchored off a public area, and lifted Poco, our dinghy off the cabintop into the water, to row the short distance to shore. We’re getting good at this manoeuvre. It felt great to work out our sea-legs wandering the town and its back roads. Brushes of autumn colour caused us to miss our spectacular maple forest at home this time of year.

Next, it was on to Mabou Harbour. Our friends, Guy and Lisa who had explored these waters on Inti this past summer, had spoken of Mabou being a worthwhile anchorage, otherwise, we would never have braved coming in here. According to the charted depths, there was not the 5 feet we require. As we approached the narrow dredged channel into the inlet, it felt like we would be running Ariose up onto the beach ahead. Quite unnerving.  Inti, also an Alberg 30, is much lighter than Ariose, and likely rides a half foot higher. We questioned our judgement and we questioned Guy and Lisa’s intentions, but we made it in – whew! They were right. What a place! It felt rather magical, as though we had sailed in from the wild rocky sea coast to another world of a pastoral fresh-water lake.   We did run aground, but that was only during our efforts to explore by dinghy. No biggie.

It was then a brisk sail down the remainder of Cape Breton’s scenic west coast.

We headed into the Canso Strait which divides Cape Breton island from mainland Nova Scotia. The Canso Causeway, built in 1955, provides a roadway connection between the two. The scars lining the hill along the Strait bear witness to the volumes of rock required for its construction.  The causeway acts as a damn blocking the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence from those of the Atlantic. Previously, currents were so strong that it was difficult for all but the most powerful vessels to pass through. Now, even 30 foot sail boats can move from one side to the other via the lock. This was the simplest lock of the 40+ we’ve transitted on Ariose. No cost, no pre-booking. We just hailed the lockmaster on our VHF a few minutes before arriving, she stopped road traffic, obtained some details, and provided us with instructions. We didn’t even need to tie up, but rather, just hovered as gates closed and the water slightly rose.  Once the vehicular/railway bridge opened, we were on our way, with an entitled glance back at the line-up of traffic, caused on our behalf.

Before we get too far from Les Îles, back to the issue I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the issue that we had to deal with before departing. Ariose’s gooseneck has become our Achilles’ heel. Ever since our first voyage, we’ve had difficulties with this fitting that connects the boom to the mast. After our first day’s sail in 2016, a vigorous one down the Hudson River and across New York harbour, the gooseneck and the track it’s mounted on pulled out of the mast. We had recently installed a new rigid boom vang (holds the boom down and allows us to adjust sail shape). That model, rather than the more traditional rope block & tackle arrangement, was an impulse buy at the Toronto Boat Show earlier that year. We weren’t sure if the new vang caused the issue, or the, ahem, few uncontrolled gybes we had undergone as we put on a show for the tour boat at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

On that occasion, Tim hitched a ride to the Atlantic Hylands hardware store to purchased larger bolts, refastened the track, and we were on our way. It held well, taking us to the Bahamas and back. Last season, in our final weeks returning up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, the gooseneck track began to pull away once again. We secured it by lashing with dyneema. It held.

Over the winter, we looked into the matter.  The manufacturer of the boom vang, of course, denied that it could be a contributing factor. Ariose is 50 + years old, and like most of us over 50, parts get worn and weaker.  We consulted with a rigger not associated with the vang, and he concurred. The aging metal had fatigued, he felt. Other Alberg owners, some with similar issues, provided lots of good suggestions for either replacing or reinforcing the gooseneck.

Before departing this year, while that mast was horizontal on deck, Tim tapped holes in a stainless steel plate which we inserted into the mast. With some fiddling, we managed to screwed the track through the mast and into that backing plate. Well done! We were set.  The track has indeed remained secure. But when crossing from Gaspé to Îles-de-la-Madeleine, we noticed that the brass car of the gooseneck was becoming deformed, with a slight split forming where it had splayed. Not good. There’s obviously forces being exerted that shouldn’t be, and reinforcing one component (the track) has just pushed the problem to the next weak link (the car).

 At Cap-aux-Meule, a welder at a major boat repair shop, kindly bent the car back into shape, and tack-repaired the crack for us (for a very reasonable $15!!). We then flipped the car upside down so that the weaker repaired end would be under less force. This was a temporary fix, we knew, but we hoped it would be good enough to get to a point where we could purchase a new car and replace the rigid vang. Experts say the boom vang is not contributing but we see and feel that it exerts huge forces. As far as we’re concerned, it needs to go.  We then lashed the whole apparatus, just in case. And sure enough, the repaired and inverted car is now splitting open – again! We’ve adjusted the vang and the topping lift, trying to find an angle for the boom that does not place stress on the car. We’re trying to avoid strong down-wind conditions. And we’ve crossed our fingers. About 10 days in from the latest jury-rigging, and it seems to be holding. Fingers remain crossed.

Okay. Now the hard part of this Ariose Note. Maybe that gooseneck issue – a connection between 2 vital parts on our sailboat that is now splitting apart – is a good a segue way to move into sharing this next news.

Last post began with relationship issues, and here we are again, with more. Apologies to those along with us who are here for the pure sailing stories. Well, the sailing experience, we’ve learned, is perhaps more influenced by the crew aboard, than any other factor. At least that’s been true for us.

As mentioned, events leading up to the hurricane, and down-time taking refuge was an opportunity, a rather forced one, for Tim and me to once again re-evaluate our future. We have about 600 nm in our wake on this voyage, and another 2000 to go to get us beyond next year’s usual hurricane zone by July.

A boat, as we’ve shared before, amplifies everything. That halyard, for example, a mere rope, if left unsecured before retiring will tap-tap-tap on the metal mast, transforming into a torture device as the night wears on. Relationship tensions are also turned up.  Tim is Autistic and I’m not, so as a couple, we function on different operating systems. Sometimes this is complementary. Often, though, the systems are less than compatible and it requires a lot of intentional effort, creativity, and flexibility to make it work.  This is true when we are off the boat, and most definitely true when we are on it.

It often feels as though we are dance partners, with one doing the tango, the other a waltz.  We come together, appreciate our differences, teach one another steps, and pull off some creative hybrid moves.  But it always takes effort, and eventually, in this awkward match , toes are stepped on. Even though no harm is intended, feet get bruised. The dancers need to take space. On Ariose, our melodically named boat, with only 20 square feet of floor space, there’s no room for that.

Anchored off Cheticamp.

Early in our relationship, Tim and I recognized the challenges, and worked hard to learn about our neurodiversity and to adapt and accommodate each other. Through our shared dreams, a strong interdependence on one another grew. These dreams have been the adhesive that has helped hold us through the challenges. Even a metal gooseneck, though, under enough strain, will eventually deform and split.

Tim and I have made a decision, a heartbreaking decision that also offers much relief. We need to take a bit of distance in our relationship, to have some time apart, and this is definitely not possible on a boat. We’re bringing our voyage to a close. Over the winter, we’ll keep our minds and our hearts open to options, for our dreams, for Ariose, and for us as individuals and as a couple.

We’re continuing on to Chester just south of Halifax, where thanks to George, who we think of as our guardian-sailing-angel, we’ve secured a spot to store Ariose for the winter. We will post the next Ariose Note in a week or two, once we have our boat and ourselves on land, to share this segment sailing the wild Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia .

And in case anyone is harbouring any dark thoughts, we assure you that there will be no crew overboard “incidents”. Tim and I are being gentle with each other, and as implausible as it sounds, we are finding moments of joy in this final leg of the voyage. We promise that we will both make it safely home.

Peaceful scene from Ariose’s cockpit at dusk, in the calm waters of Mabou Harbour.

8 thoughts on “Post-Fiona: Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Québec to Canso, Nova Scotia”

  1. You guys are living the dream. A little less stress will be releaving. And a bit of time will accentuate the positive of your trip.
    You two have been places others don’t dare go.
    Hats off to you.
    Please stop to visit us on your way back.

    1. Nice, as always, to hear from and be supported by you both. Thanks! Will definitely try to drop in on our way back.

  2. Warm thoughts and hugs to you both. A riveting tale as usual.
    Although my contact info remains the same, my physical space has drastically changed Shirley. Back to my roots, so perhaps a live chat will be possible in the future!

    1. Nice to hear from you, Nancy, and appreciate your thoughts/hugs. Exciting to hear that you made some big life changes, too. Looking forward to catching up.

  3. Your update as usual is riveting. Safe travels back to land and home. Looking forward to an opportunity to visit when you are up at your moms again.
    Take care ❤️

    1. Sounds good, Deb! Planning to be in your neck of the woods over the winter – would be nice to catch up in person and hear how retirement is treating you.

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