All posts by Shirley

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.

Pre-Fiona: Gaspé to Les îles-de-la-Madeleine

This Ariose Note is going to back up a little, to the time before Fiona, a time that feels so very long ago, when we were hiding from winds. They were in the 50 km/hr range, gusting to 90 and were not conditions we wanted to be out in. Little did we know that the following week we would find ourselves on a punishing sail in similar winds. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to mid-September…

(Length warning: Ariose Notes are a personal journal that Tim and I enjoy sharing with others. Writing helps us appreciate and process our voyage. Gotta let you know that this leg needs a LOT of processing, so consider yourself warned!)

We arrived at the town of Gaspé in the wee hours of the morning, motoring in the moonlight to the sheltered western shores of Gaspé Bay. We had been unable to sleep anchored off Forillon’s peninsula due to some unruly swells (we have since been offered some great tips to deal with dreaded at-anchor rolliness – thanks Steve & Lisa).  We were now surrounded by hills as natural wind- breaks and nestled behind the long sandspit that cuts off the town’s shores from the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s seas.

Random thought: How the heck did the word “swell” ever came to have positive connotations? It would seem to be more suited to being an expletive, or at least a descriptor of things that cause great discomfort. Maybe it was an early one of those annoying opposite-appropriations, like where ‘bad’ means ‘good’, and ‘it’s been a second’ means ‘it’s been a really long time’?

Anyways, the next day, we had a good weather window to continue on to les Iles-de-la-Madeleine, our next destination, but we let it pass. Tim and I needed a break. We were already tired, and the prospect of an overnight  or two, with heavy conditions looming just a few days beyond meant that the passage would be burdened by the anxiety of getting caught in nasty conditions if something came up to slow us. So many things can go wrong on a boat (as anyone who has been with us on ArioseNotes knows).  We try to allow a generous time buffer if we can. So stay we would.  

Gaspe, at about 15,000 people, is the largest community in Gaspesie , and serves as the gateway to Parc Forillon on one side and Roche Perce/Bonaventure Island on the other.  It’s a good place for a break.

We took a berth at the Club Nautique Jacques Cartier, whose name, like much in this region, honours this early European invader. Gaspé proudly proclaims itself, and in particular, a small point of land along the York River near where it empties into the bay, as the Birthplace of Canada. In French, it’s labelled the Berceau (cradle) of Canada. We cringed at this completely tone deaf-to-the-harms-of-colonization tourist promotion. Yes, there was a nod to indigenous peoples in some of the displays, but the audacity!

A cross, a huge 42 ton granite monolith, quarried far up the St.Lawrence and with much ingenuity, transported and erected to mark the 400th anniversary of Cartier’s arrival, is the centrepiece of this historical site. It’s a bit of one-upmanship to the wooden cross placed here by Cartier to claim this land for France.

One of the excerpts from Cartier’s journal carved into a sculpture on the museum lawn speaks volumes:

“I am more than ever of opinion that these people would be easy to convert to our holy faith. They are the sorriest folk they can be in the world.”

Surprisingly considering Quebec’s deep Catholic roots, the Jesuits failed in their effort to establish a presence in the area. Perhaps those disheartened priests would find their spirits boosted by the Cross of Gaspé. Based on the many steeples lining the coastline that we’ve witnessed from Ariose, their efforts in the “new world” were not completely evangelically bankrupt. A few hundred years later, though, there’s push back, as the t-shirts of the youth captured in this lens-based art exhibit along the waterfront, proclaim.

The plaza, with recreated historical structures, has stories posted of the early days of European exploration and settlement, and the infoboards continue along a shoreline walk.  Much of the focus is on entrepreneurial folks – men that is – who developed the first wharf, launched the first business, erected the first warehouse, etc. and generally made money. Gaspé became an important international seaport. This landmark commemorating their achievements is backed by a modern day tribute to commercialism, the Place Jacques Cartier mall. Ironically, the last of the historic docks and buildings were demolished to allow parking for the mall.

400 years of commercial development. Progress!?

Tourism is clearly important. Cruise ships have been stopping by since the early 1900s. Two anchored in the bay while we were there, and we watched the parade of orange tenders ferry folks to and from the docks.  I had an amusing encounter with one passenger in the tourist info building adjacent to the marina. This elderly woman emerged from the toilet cubicle facing the one I occupied at the exact moment as did I.  She startled for a split second, then in a charming slow southern US drawl, explained,  “I thought you were a mirror”. I wasn’t sure how to take that. A person, looking to be in their late 80s, mistook my nearing 60 presence for her own. I’m still adjusting to the aging appearance of my reflection, but that glimpse into my future that she gifted me was a little much.

Provisioning hike, with Ariose waiting in the background.

With the prospect of a longer passage coming up, we took advantage of the short walk to re-provision groceries. We use propane for cooking and when needed, heating, and had just finished the 1st of our two 10-pound tanks, so tried to top that up too. Tim squeezed the tank in his increasingly worn backpack and we headed off to the only place in town that would fill it. “Just go to the Esso”, we were told. Oops, not the one a couple blocks from the marina, the one a couple kilometers up the hill, yes that huge hill. It ended up being an enjoyable Saturday afternoon hike, prior to our Sunday departure. Good thing it was pleasant, because the propane place was closed until Monday morning. We can wait.

—–

We ended up remaining in Gaspé for a week, as I’ve said, intending to rest and hide out while the strong winds moved through. It wasn’t particularly restful, though. The atmosphere between Tim and I echoed what was going on outside. Conditions, relationship-wise were also heavy.

Heavy clouds over the Club Nautique Jacques Cartier, echoing heavy discussions within Ariose.

Cruising brings extremes, from the ultra-highs that swing to gutting lows, the moments of wonder to the monotonously mundane. For Tim and I, like most cruising couples, especially on a small boat and small budget, relationship dynamics are also intense. It brings out our best and worst qualities. When we’re on the move, or in crisis mode, we often work exceptionally well together. Our differences are complementary. We can be a tight team. During down periods when there’s time to reflect, like when sitting in a marina for a week with the howling winds disrupting sleep, having such divergent ways of communicating, of processing information, of experiencing the world… those differences no longer feel harmonious,

Conversations turned deeper.  The excitement we felt on our maiden voyage in 2016, that dopamine rush that propelled us through the trying times, has waned.  This is not to say we are not enjoying incredible moments, but so far, the jury is out on whether they outweigh the accumulated minor adversities. Will this turn around once we hit those warmer temps and the gorgeous southern waters? Are we even going to make it that far, or should we pull the plug? (Terrible choice of words when living on a boat… I mean figuratively not literally!) We are less than 1/5 of the way to the Caribbean.  If we decide to end the voyage, it would make sense to do so while still in Canada.  Are we more interested and are we more suited to preparing for the dream than the sometimes grind of living it? Are we out here because we’ve talked about it for so long, planned for it for so long, and publically committed to it for so long? Or are we here because we really want to be doing this?  It wasn’t all heavy discussion. We also engaged in some major Netflix binge-watching. Light stuff. As you know, we did decide to carry on…

… right into the path of a hurricane. Once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

5 days after departing Gaspe

Since we’ve been in the outer St. Lawrence, we’ve been keeping an eye on the US National Hurricane Site. While we were in Gaspé, Earl flitted off Atlantic Canada, and Fiona was yet to be born.  By the time we left, she was a storm of concern, but far, far away.  The day we left Gaspé, we had a vigorous sail out of the bay- a little too vigorous in fact – but we appreciated the half-day head start on the crossing to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Magdalen Islands). We would then just have a day and a half, rather than a two day sail.

We were pooched, but  as we rounded the peninsula, we anchored with appreciating the break it gave us from the wind and our surreal view of iconic Roche Perce. Before retiring, we checked the weather. Fiona was now building, and projected to head north with about a 50% likelihood of reaching the Maritimes. Most hurricanes that do, brush by and spin off eastward in the Atlantic. And if Fiona did visit Canada, her arrival was expected to be a week away.  It was a concerning, but we decided to continue on. With hindsight, we realize we were influenced by the itchy feet of having just spent a (long) week waiting for weather in Gaspé. Returning to Gaspé for another week would have been prudent. Hindsight.

Early the next morning, a slight deviation in our direct line course to les Îles-de-la-Madeleine allowed us to swing by for a closer view of the iconic Gaspésie landmarks of  Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island.

Bonaventure is a bird sanctuary, and an important northern gannet colony on this side of the Atlantic.  Over 100,000 of these lovely birds call it home. If you look closely, you can see that each ledge has been decorated with their “icing”. I had hoped to catch a good photo as we passed, but no. We will carry lots of images of them zooming around us, and doing their impressive dives, but these need to remain in our memory.  Not a single decent photo.

We had a mutually startling incident with one unfortunate gannet. In an earlier Ariose Note, I talked about the great force of their dives, followed by their buoyant  rise up which almost pops them up and out of the water. With this particular bird, we hadn’t noticed its dive, but couldn’t help but notice its surfacing . I was at the helm, and Tim was sitting comfortably wedged against the bulkhead, both in our usual zone, gazing around at the surroundings.  Suddenly, we were startled by a thud and flurry of large wings splashing at the waterline beside the cockpit, accompanied by a agitated squelchy-squawk.  No idea where this offended gannet entered, but bad luck that in such an endless expanse of water, it chose to come up – hard – under Ariose’s belly!

Albatrosses were believed to carry the souls of past sailors, and having one fly above was considered a good omen. The voyage would be a safe one. We had 30+ hours ahead of us and having a gannet clunk Ariose from below seemed an ominous omen. It awkwardly fluttered across the waves, sat for a bit collecting its thoughts, then took off. We carried on as well.

We maintained good speeds sailing close hauled the entire way to Les ÎIes.  Motion was relatively comfortable, far more so than when on a broad reach or running, but we still both found it hard to sleep. So hard to turn off the amygdala’s alarm whenever genoa sheet fairleads clunk or that errant waves hits broadside. I took first shift at sunset and at 2 am, tired, and thoroughly chilled by the damp sea air, handed over the helm to Tim. I crawled into the settee- turned-berth, appreciating that Tim had pre-warmed it, and rested. Around 5, I relieved Tim, and we both enjoyed the sunrise, guiding us toward our destination.

An hour or so out, we were able to get a cell signal, so with this Fiona storm on our mind, checked weather. Neither of us had been sea sick but that update did cause some queasiness. Fiona was now full-grown, battering Puerto Rico, and there was a strong likelihood she was on her way to Atlantic Canada and quite possibly, les Iles-de-la-Madeleine. Had we just sailed into the path of a hurricane?  Did the gannet incident have something to do with this? But it was Tuesday, and if the predictions about Fiona were accurate, she wasn’t arriving until Saturday. We reminded ourselves that there was still some possibility of it spinning off eastward across the Atlantic. We had time – not a lot – but enough that we didn’t have to make a decision immediately in our sleep-deprived state. 

A little tangent… one of those reality-is-stranger-than fiction tangents. What contributed to Fiona veering west, not east, you might be wondering? After Fiona was named, the subsequent storm was christened according to the next letter in the alphabet, “G” as per storm-naming protocol. Tropical Storm Gaston, brewing near the Azores, and occupying the central north Atlantic, shouldered Fiona right into our path. That storm shares the name of my ex-husband. Go figure. Back to our crossing…

By mid-afternoon, we were at Îles-de-la-Madeleine. An easterly wind for the next 24 hours meant we could stay put anchored off the Etang du Nord beach on les Iles’ west coast for the night. Winds would be an appealing 10-15 knots for most of the next day, before picking up, so we had a window to move.  Once we reached out to Richard, a fellow Alberg 30 owner (who I introduced 2 posts ago – our hurricane saviour) to ask about protected locations on the island, we retired. Time to sleep. We’d decide on next steps in the morning. That was the plan.

BUT – sailing has a way of reminding us how futile human intentions can be when nature is in charge.

Richard snapped this photo of a very insignificant looking Ariose, from the beach at L’Etang du Nord, just after we dropped hook. Thanks Richard!

The next morning, we awoke to our 6am alarm, and experienced another kind of alarm when we checked the weather. Those fierce winds (unrelated to the hurricane) we expected much later that day? They were here.  And Fiona was on track for an earlier arrival.

Options?!?

1 – Run back to Gaspe. Those fierce winds now upon us, and our post-overnight passage hung-over state caused us to rule this one out. It did not feel safe to pull off back-to-back overnight sails especially with a hurricane on the way.

2-Tie up at the neighbouring commercial wharf, a mere 15 minute motor away. Richard had secured us a spot next to a friend eager to swap sailing-to-the-Bahamas stories.  When Fiona hit, despite travelling northward, her spin would cause the most forceful winds/waves/surge to hit from the north-west. Satellite images showed a sturdy breakwall, which was good, but its orientation directly exposed it to Fiona. Hmm. Not so good.  Sadly, in the aftermath of Fiona, we learned that  other boat would never return to the Bahamas. It had been destroyed.

3- Richard, upon consulting with more experienced local navigators, recommended a well-protected  harbour on the inner curve of the opposite side of the island.  As a member of the board, he assured us we could have a berth. Scouring our charts and google satellite images, we agreed. Cap-Aux-Meules marina seemed to offer the best protection possible on the island. This was our best option (see this post if you’re interested in more details).

We estimated that what would be a 10 minute overland drive from our current spot on the west of this sandspit of an island to the sanctuary on the east, would be a 6-hour sail. We needed to head south, then east, then north-west.  That was ok, but what was not ok was that the winds were now at 28 knots, gusting to 52 (multiply that by 1.8 if you think in km/hr).  We are relatively inexperienced at ocean sailing, and have never been in anything close to those kinds of conditions. In fact, we hid out in Gaspé the previous week to avoid similar winds. Nothing like the prospect of a hurricane barreling toward you, though, to inject bravery. We set out immediately.

The strength of the winds in the southerly starting leg was surprising, considering we were in the lee of the island, but seas were tolerable, and even with the 3rd reef in the main (first time we’ve ever gone this far) and the genoa furled to less than 1/3, we made good time. (Reefing and furling sails makes them smaller so that they don’t overpower the boat in heavy conditions).  It might even have been a fun sail, had we not been weighted with the anticipation of what we would be met with as we rounded the southern end.  Tim and I were both nervous.

Anxiety and seasickness, we’ve discovered, are close mates. When anxious, most people are far more prone to being seasick, and being seasick tends to ramp the anxiety up way higher. When anxious, our body pumps out histamines, and histamines can trigger nausea. The medicinal ingredient in Gravol, the standard anti-nausea med is, not surprisingly, an anti-histamine. Tim and I figured out this connection on our first voyage, and, being prone to seasickness (and anxiety!), he now takes Gravol prophylactically. As our turning point neared, we both chewed up a tablet.

Moments later, we rounded the cape, and bam! We were hit full force. Brutal winds. Huge seas with a short period between waves. As Ariose crested one, her nose would be buried in the next with walls of water crashing over us. My Gravol stayed in my body; Tim donated his, and all his stomach contents to the sea. And he continued to do so for the next 9 hours, most of which time he was on his knees on the cockpit floor, curled in a ball. This was déjà vu to our first Atlantic experience in 2016. The trauma of that experrience returned forcefully. I was in fight/flight mode, which for me means feeling responsible to deal with the situation on my own. I was already not thinking clearly enough to remember that I might have been able to help Tim get back on his feet. We had Gravol in a “back-door” form that cannot be vomited up, and stronger anti-anxiety meds that Tim’s doc prescribed for just this kind of situation. But neither of us recalled those options until the next day.

This was the most punishing sail we’ve ever experienced.  I tethered myself to the binnacle, but was still thrown from side to side as I steered with one hand and tried to brace myself with the other. It was taxing. What we expected to be 2 hours of beating into the wind before rounding the next cape took 8, and felt like a lifetime. I could not point Ariose high enough to make progress. Usually, we can make 45-50 degrees to the wind, but I was only managing 80ish, and at that rate, we would never make it. Thinking it was the choppy waves and likely a coastal current holding us back, I did what I knew was the right thing to do, but as a life-long land dweller, feels scary. I headed us out to sea so we’d be less affected by the island. I also started the motor to provide a little more propulsion. It probably had little effect beyond the psychological, and may have even made it more difficult to sail well.

At some point, we had another psychological boost. A songbird, maybe a pine warbler (Kevan?), hitched a ride . We were not alone in our distress. Watching this fragile little creature hop from Tim’s shoulder, to grip various lines, gave hope. Eventually it ended up a stowaway in the cabin.

I was so grateful for Tim’s work on our bilge pumps. Even in the deeper seas, we were still getting lots of water over us, but a quick check verified they were working.  We were now making (slow) progress, and as long as I didn’t think about the torture Tim was going through, my confidence was climbing. I could do this, I thought. Then an alarm sounded. I looked into the cabin and felt a stab of panic.

Buoyant items stowed under the sole had pushed up the floorboards. Water was nearly over the starter battery. Had we been holed? Or was there that much water from the waves crashing over us making its way in? The pumps that were capable of expelling huge volumes of water were not keeping up. I realized the alarm must be the high-water one meant to alert us to this very situation. Tim was able to rouse himself enough to get the manual handle in, and to start to pump. I confirmed the water was going down. Breathe.  The alarm stopped.  The pumps had just been temporarily overwhelmed, I thought.  We’re ok. The potatoes stored under the sole (floor) will be soggy, but we will have an exciting story. Tim resumed his heaving huddle, and I was back to the helm.  

Within minutes, the alarm sounded again. Adrenaline spiked as I pumped with my left hand, steered with right, and tried to wedge head and knees to prevent myself from being thrown around. Alarm would stop. I’d breathe. And then the alarm would sound again, and I’d feel my panic spike. Alarm – panic pump. Over and over. Thirty pumps then breathe then repeat.  Muscles burning through the cold. I wasn’t sure I could keep going, so I made a plan.

I turned back toward the island – thankfully it was a sandy beach and not rocky shoals. I knew that the waves in the shallows would be horrendous – and they were – but we needed to be close. I would continue as long as I could, tacking back and forth close to shore, and once the water in the cabin neared the top of the stove, I would call a Mayday and run us aground. It was a dreadful prospect, but I could think of no other options. We were in desperate straits. My body felt numb and my brain disassociated as I watched the scene unfold. Tim was blissfully oblivious, or as blissful as one can be while soaked and incapacitated on the cockpit floor.

Tim had no idea of my panic. He just saw me at the helm, dealing with it. That’s what I do: Keep up an appearance of “dealing with it”.   His reality was completely different than mine. He wanted the passage to be over, but felt no fear. This, for him, was just another issue with one of our boat systems, that he would get to correcting, once able.

Over the next hour or so, as I realized I was keeping up and we weren’t sinking, I allowed myself to feel some grains of hope. I vowed to NEVER allow us to be in this kind of situation again. 

Finally, we threaded the needle of the channel between Havre Aubert and Iles Grand Entrée. This well-marked pass, which we shared with a large fishing vessel  and some menacing rocks, would have been routine on another day, but with nerves fully frayed, it felt terrifying. We then sped along in improved seas, on a 90-minute broad reach to Cap-Aux-Meule harbour. Our sanctuary. Tim began to resurrect himself. Sadly, our inspiring stowaway didn’t fare so well.

Our intended 5-6 hours to relocated from the west to the east side of the island was11 hours in total, and it felt like it took several years off our lives.

Days later, once settled in safely at a motel, we realized that our situation was never anywhere as dire as I had thought. What I interpreted as the bilge alarm telling me we were sinking was not that at all. One pump was getting jammed on hoses in the bilge, so the pumps were overwhelmed at times, but the alarm triggering my panic was in fact the propane sensor, set low in the boat to alert us to leaks. It was malfunctioning due to having been submerged. I could have just ignored the annoyance. Perception is reality, though. My fear, unfounded as it was, was real.

I don’t have words to describe the relief in getting to Cap-Aux-Meule, but there was no time to celebrate. We now needed to get ready for a hurricane. We then set about  using the next  2 days to prepare for Fiona.  And that story, as you know, has a happy ending.

Ariose upon arrival at Cap-Aux-Meule marina. Safe.

We’re fine…

… and very, very grateful. We’ve just woken on the day after Hurricane Fiona’s hit. This has been our first full-night’s sleep in a week. We’ re fine, and Ariose is fine. Many others here on les Iles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands) and throughout Atlantic Canada have not been so fortunate.

Friday night, Fiona howled, the hotel creaked and groaned, and we tried, unsuccessfully, to rest. Tim and I spent a very long Saturday between the common room, catching the coverage with others sheltered here, and watching the live show from our room.

CBC had set a camera just outside our balcony, capturing the scene we were watching. It’s one of the images being shown over and over again on the news. And this is the sea’s fury on the sheltered side of the islands.

Image copied from CBC news feed.

When the waves grew even higher, it appeared as though this massive breakwall , this gargantuan barrier that we were relying on for Ariose’s protection, had broken open. With forces capable of that destruction, we began to process the sickening reality that we quite likely had lost our boat, the boat we have put so much of our hearts and hands (and money!) into.

Not too long after, a message was relayed to us from the marina: “your boat is like a seagull in shelter”. Relief. And a few tears.

By afternoon, winds were reported to have dropped to 80-90 km/hr with gusts to 120-130. When we popped our heads out to see for ourselves, they seemed less strong here at Cap-Aux-Meules. We suited up in our foulies, and with Fiona’s helpful push at our backs, hiked down to the marina at a blustery pace. (The hike back was not so easy!!) It was a pleasant shock to see only a few signs of damage along the way. Other areas on the island have not emerged so unscathed.

Some structures at Cap-aux-Meules harbour were rearranged by Fiona.

Sure enough, Ariose was sitting calmly, and perhaps even content with the vigorous fresh water power-wash she had received.

Last night we slept. Finally. We awoke to sunny blue skies, making the last few days feel like nothing more than a bad dream.

Fiona has forced a reality check. Even had we not placed ourselves near the eye of a hurricane, this has been a challenging couple weeks for Tim and me on our adventures on Ariose,. We will now take some time to re-evaluate and plan what’s next.

In the meantime, thank you for your concerns and kind thoughts and wishes.

Fiona, We’re ready for you

A lot has happened since our last Ariose Note, but that’s for another time.

This is just a quick update. (I’m not sure if it takes the force of an impending hurricane for me to be a little less wordy or if it’s the week’s accumulated fatigue, but either way, this will be brief!) We’re getting lots of “hope you didn’t cross to Magdalen Islands” and “holy sh*t, did you know you’re about to be hit by what’s likely to be Canada’s strongest-ever storm?” kinds of messages.

Umm… yes. We did and we know. And we really appreciate everyone’s thoughts and messages of concern.

Thanks to the generosity and connections of Richard and Raymonde, fellow Alberg 30ers living here on the beautiful Iles-de-la-Madeleine who we met through an owners facebook group, we’re in as safe and prepared a state as possible for the imminent storm.

Richard delivering still-warm home-baked sourdough bread and cerise-au-terre jam to fortify us as we prepare for Fiona. (Richard & Raymonde already generously delivered us their car for use during our stay!)

Les-Iles are an italicized “i” shaped slip of gorgeous sandstone bluffs and dune beaches in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Iles de la Madeleine – unlabelled slip of islands in this screenshot, north of PEI.

We look forward to sharing more about this very special place, but that, too, can wait for another post. According to the most recent forecast, we are just off-centre of Hurricane Fiona’s projected eye. It is just a category 1 storm, so although serious, it could be MUCH worse. We’ll get to meet Fiona in a few hours.

Here’s a screenshot of the current state. As I type, Fiona is clearly barreling down on Nova Scotia. (Our thoughts are with you and Joan and ShBoom, George.) We’re the small green dot in the following images. I won’t bother with providing a legend as it’s kind of self-evident: red indicates the “Oh sh*t” force winds and black/grey the “Oh F*CK” force winds.

Fiona barreling down on Nova Scotia at the moment.

Fortunately, with modern meteorology, we have warning of what to expect, and fortunately, hurricanes usually don’t linger. Fiona’s visit will be mercifully brief.

We’re told to expect sustained winds of 100 km/hr, gusting to 140-160 km/hr. “Torrential” rainfalls are forecast. Who knew we’d get the pleasure of tropical rains in the Gulf of St.Lawrence? Ariose will get a much-needed fresh-water rinse. Winds are certainly a concern, but the more significant danger comes from the sea. It is the waves and storm surges that are most destructive. We’re being warned that waves will range from 11-15 metres in height, with dangerous storm surges. Fiona will hit from the north-west, and there will likely be brutal impacts on the land and people along that coastline.

But this Ariose Note is supposed to be alleviate concern, so I’ll move from those alarming facts to our reassuring situation. We are so grateful to have Ariose nestled – or should I say spider-webbed – into a exceptionally well-protected marina in Cap-aux-Meules, on the leeward side of the main island. We likely will have less severe winds than those forecast, and should not be subjected to the dangerous waves nor storm surges.

Can you spot Ariose? Sadly, the freighter that had been offering us a welcome windblock, has moved on.

The winds will first hit Isles-de-la-Madeleine’s opposite coastline, so we have several barriers to protect us: the island itself, a massive curved breakwall that serves the commercial harbour / ferry docks, and then another concrete roadway and breakwall that surrounds Club Nautique Cap-Aux-Meules. That’s a lot of reassuring defenses aligned between Ariose and Fiona’s fury.

We’ve had 2 days to prepare, and if you are interested in details, we made a 4 min, uncut, rather bumbling video giving an overview of most of what we did to reduce the risk Ariose faces.

If you’d rather not watch, here’s a couple photos of stripped-down Ariose that give you the same story.

And to reduce the risk we face? We’ve packed up essentials (food, water, communications, passports, charge devices and power banks , etc…. oh yes, and wine) and have hunkered down for the next 2 days, in a motel overlooking the harbour. This indeed, is a room with a view, to what we hope ends up being a not too exciting a show.

As for us, we’re confident that we are safe, and whatever happens to Ariose, she is after all, just a boat. Our thoughts are with the many others who are in a much more vulnerable place than we are. Until next time…

Calm before the storm as a great blue heron greets us upon arrival at Cap-Aux-Meules’ safe harbour.

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.

Magical!

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.