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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been 2 weeks since our previous ArioseNote. We left off, on the last day of our 2021 voyage, adrenaline surging, as the wind threatened to push us, motorless, toward a menacing rock breakwall on Montreal’s South Shore Canal. I trust that cliff-hanger hasn’t kept anyone awake, because we are now home safe & sound, with Ariose tucked away in her boat shed for the winter.
For Tim and I, unpacking and reconnecting with family and friends have taken priority over blog writing. It’s now late November, we’re comfy beside the woodstove and it’s a good day to get this final post out. Time to close the journey.
First, if I may, a preamble. I’ve mentionned a few times that our intention was to have fewer incidents this time out than we had on our maiden 2016-2017 voyage. We were new to cruising then, and our 9 months aboard were peppered by many incidents… umm … learning opportunities. If you take glory in other’s misfortune, or would like to feel superior (yes, we know, you would never have made that decision), or want to do some of your own learning to avoid the mistakes we made, you’re welcome to have a go at past posts. How about the near catastrophic rudder shredding, keel grinding grounding with coast guard rescue within 24 hours of setting out? Or freezing our transoms off late November in the New York canals? Or, being challenged on our 1st overnight passage on the Atlantic? Then there were many gentle groundings, soft on Ariose but hard on our egos like the one at Green Turtle in the Bahamas. And gasoline in our diesel as we attempted to cross the Gulf Stream. We went from novices to earning a post-doc’s worth of expertise in that 9 months on Ariose. We had so many, umm, learnings, that the Great Lakes Alberg Association awarded us the annual “Bent Fork” trophy, honouring (or was that roasting?) us as the Albergers who had messed up the most but lived to tell the tale. This year, we did not want to be in the running for any such tributes. Of course, there’s always more to learn, and the universe has a way of throwing you into refresher courses from time to time. Like it did on our final day.
So back to mid-October on this 2021 voyage. If you haven’t read our previous Rimouski to Montreal post, and would like the (very!) full lead up to the dramatic “perfect storm” that I’m about to relate, pour your favourite beverage, get comfy, click on this link, and then come on back when you are up for more.
For those who were with us for that ArioseNote, a brief reminder. The day had gone smoothly as we motored through the 14 nautical miles of the canal, taking us westward from Montreal’s port through 2 locks, to Lac St-Louis where we would be hauling Ariose out. When we rounded the final corner and were spilled from the canal’s protected waters into the open lake, we were hit on the nose by strong winds and waves. Ariose bucked and bounced and the sloshing of the small amount of diesel in the tank starved the engine and causing it to die… just before we cleared the rock breakwall. I feel a tightening in my chest even as I type.
Sailing has a way of elevating emotion from 0 to 100 in an instant. Tim and I burst into high-gear. We had 60 litres of diesel in jerries stowed on the deck, enough fuel to motor for days, but unlashing a jerry and refilling the tank in these buckin’ conditions would be impossible. We’d get water in the fuel tank or be on the rocks before we managed the manoeuvre. But we’re on a sailboat, after all. We don’t need an engine. Tim was at the helm and together, in record speed, we unfurled the genoa, untied and raised the main and were under sail… but not out of danger. Lac St. Louis is full of shoals, left-overs from dredging the St.Lawrence Seaway, we presume.
We had to sail westward to get in, and stay in, deeper, safe waters, but it’s impossible to sail directly into the wind. So we started our upwind zig-zag. With the first tack, we narrowly avoided rocky areas just beneath the waves, and on our 2nd tack, Ariose came frighteningly close to that nasty breakwall. I could see Tim staring with some alarm at the IPad, obviously trying to process the danger that the electronic chart was communicating.
I had spent lots of time pouring over the chart for Lac St-Louis, and knew it well, or so I thought. In preparation for this day, knowing we’d only have a brief time between exiting the canal and dark, I had marked 2 suitable anchorages, just a short distance away. I had also scoured the chart in detail for longer-term anchorages. We had squeezed through the locks on the last weekend transit was permitted, but now needed to bide our time for two weeks until we’d be hauled out. I had noted several anchoring options that we could choose from, depending on wind direction, for that wait.
I typically take the lead navigating aboard Ariose, but we usually make sure that Tim is also familiar with the chart and the plan before we set out each day. We had become rather complacent this last leg. Tim hadn’t looked at the chart in advance and I hadn’t shared or checked plans with him. And to compound matters, when we were last here a couple months before, Tim, battling a migraine, spent most of the passage resting below. These were new waters for him.
Tim stared, and in typical Shirley-nearing-panic-mode, I started to fire questions and commands at him. What’s our depth? How close are we to the shoals? I think we should tack now. Now! Tim’s brain can need a moment to process spatial details and verbal directions, so absorbing the information on the screen, and reacting to my barrage was not exactly conducive to quick action. I like to think that my childhood sailing experiences help me respond more instinctively at the helm when under pressure – and – I knew what we were facing in these waters better than Tim. Naturally, I asked (insisted?) to take over. Tim stepped aside from the wheel. Was this the right decision? At the time, and for the next few minutes, it seemed so.
We had a couple close calls as we regained control. Later, we examined our track, and saw that we travelled only .1 to .2 nm on each tack – that’s less than 2 minutes before needing to come about to head in the opposite direction. Racers might be used to this pace. For us, it was hectic. Our confidence began to return, though, as we zig-zagged our way toward… where?
Where exactly are we going?, we asked ourselves.
As I’ve mentionned, I had selected an anchorage, just outside the canal knowing we wouldn’t want to be navigating these tricky waters in the dark. It would offer some protection if the forecast westerlies had even a slight northerly angle. But no. We had dead-on strong westerly winds! In these conditions, Plan A was a lee shore and if we dragged, we would be on the rocks. Our Rocna anchor had done us well so far, that for a moment, we considered risking it, but decided to not to tempt fate on our last night. Plan A was a no-go.
I also had a Plan B marked that promised some protection. But (why is there so often a “but”?) it required navigating through a narrow path between shallows. That would be easy if we could motor, but we couldn’t. Let’s head to Plan C, we thought, one of the “wait out 2 weeks” spots. All of these were several miles away and felt too risky to sail to in the dark. Ok, Plan D, then. But we had no Plan D.
In the minute or so between tacks, we stared at the chart willing an anchorage to make itself known. It was nearing 6pm, sunset was at 6:07pm, and the already grey skies were darkening. We stared ahead in the fading daylight. Where can we sail to an east side of land?
And like magic, it appeared. There, in front of our eyes – I couldn’t believe we hadn’t noticed it before – was a treed island.
I always pay attention to islands as possible anchorages as they often offer shelter regardless of wind direction. How could I have missed this one while poring over the chart so many times in the preceding weeks? It looked to be within a mile or so. (During our debrief the next day, we determined it was in fact, .7 nautical miles away at that point.) Tim and I located it on the chart, a lovely inviting beige oval, and agreed, it would be perfect. (During the next-day debrief, we determined that what we thought was the charted island was only.35nm away.) You may guess where this is going…
Ready to come about? Yes. Hard alee! As we tacked and made our way upwind toward safety, I continued to puzzle about why the island appeared so close on the chart, but seemed farther away by sight. How peculiar. And a navigational buoy just to port wasn’t in the right spot. It must have dragged. Strange that a marker as important as one on the St.Lawrence Seaway wouldn’t have been corrected. Well, perhaps it just moved today in these heavy winds.
Struggling with the contradictions between my eyes and the chart, I decided – too late – to trust the chart. I asked Tim to quickly get to the bow and prepare to drop anchor. It seemed like we were too far out from the island, that we would have no protection, yet I could see on the chart we were almost on top of it. What sort of optical illusion was playing tricks on us? (Maybe Tim’s not the only one on Ariose who needs a bit of time to process information.)
We were sailing at over 5 knots and the bottom rose shockingly quickly. “I’ll head us into the wind the moment we are at 10 feet of water under the keel,. Be prepared to drop anchor then.” I said
As usual, as helmsperson, I called out depths to Tim who would be releasing the anchor.
“Thirty feet, 20, yikes, 5, we’re at 5! Drop the anchor NOW.”
“Are you sure?”, Tim questionned. “We’re nowhere close to the island.” (And he was right, the island looked to still be a 1/2 mile away.)
“Yes, NOW! We only have two feet,” I shouted, “point 7!!!”
We stopped dead in our tracks, the impact reverberating through our bones. Ariose tipped upward balancing high for a sickening slow-motion moment, and then fell to her starboard side, toe-rail under water and mainsail wetted by the wave-tops. That unmistakeable crunch of keel on rock, last experienced on another fateful autumn day, 5 years before, is just as dreadful second time around. We heard/felt scraping below as Ariose was pushed backward a little, and we pivoted and righted slightly.
Fortunately (?!?), we have plenty of experience with liberating Ariose from groundings. Most, though, have involved sandy bottoms and tides that rise and float us off if we can’t manage to free ourselves. This time, we were on the wrong side of the locks for tidal help.
I pulled in the main and foresail sheets as tightly as possible trying to initiate even more heel so that we might slide off the rock. Tim and I moved to starboard hoping that would help. We weren’t sure if this was a wise strategy or not. We were already sitting at about a 60 degree angle, and not only would further incline put more stress on the rigging, our sails might fill with water and and pin us on our side. Regardless, it didn’t work nor did it cause any harm. We stayed put.
The dinghy. Maybe we can use it to pull us off or at least swivel the bow to allow the wind better purchase to push us deeper. Tim pulled Poco in close and began to release the painter as I wrestled the electric outboard out of the cockpit locker – not an easy feat working at a severe angle, and with it buried in a chock-full locker. If the motor wasn’t strong enough, we had other tricks in our grounding book. We could use Poco to head out midship with a halyard (a rope attached to the top of the mast) to initiate more heel, or kedge out an anchor and use a winch to pull us off.
Thankfully, we didn’t need any of those manoeuvers. As Tim stepped off into Poco, Ariose lifted ever so slightly, and we felt the glorious sensation of Ariose sliding off into deeper water, as she righted herself. I never realized how valuable that 140 pound of ballast, otherwise known as Tim, could be!
It was getting quite dark. We drifted a minute or two into deeper water, and quickly opted to drop anchor. There was no shelter from winds and waves, but we were out of the freighter channel and safe. This was good enough. We did not get much sleep that night. I’m not sure which source of punishment was more severe: the choppy waters bouncing us about all night long, or the beating we gave ourselves for messing up.
Well, what would an Ariose voyage with Tim and Shirley be without a grounding? Sometimes we start off our adventure with a bang; sometimes we finish that way.
So what happened? As everyone reading this, sailor or not, probably has figured out, we had mis-read the chart. We had really mis-read it. There are 2 shades of yellow-ish brown in Navionics, the electronic chart we use. One shows actual land above water; the other, shoals just under water. The oval on the chart that we took to be the island that we could see ahead, was in fact, marking an underwater shoal. I had sailed us right smack dab onto a rock less than a foot under the waves. (Follow our path, the pink dotted line, right up onto A4 shoal). And I hadn’t done so tentatively. I had done it with good speed despite my gut telling me that something was wrong.
What have we learned? Lots! Here’s our key takeaways. You may have more.
1. Keep fuel topped-up. Because we were about to haul out and tow home, we wanted to keep Ariose as light as possible so were intentionally letting our diesel fun low. Intentionally! So unwise. That rationale did not warrant putting us at risk and we should have known better . We had lots of fuel with us and had we added diesel before departing that morning, we would have avoided this whole cascade of events. We could have easily siphoned the extra diesel from the tank once at the marina.
2. Self-awareness 101. We know the importance of being attuned to our mental state and thought processes when sailing. We know our judgement always seems to slip a little at day’s end, and especially when we’re particularly drained, whether by vigorous conditions, or by the incessant noise of the engine. The weather had been miserable for most of the day, and we had motored almost 10 long hours. Overlay that with feeling rather demoralized. Our long anticipated cruising adventure, much truncated, was at an end. We know ourselves well enough to know that these are conditions that could lead to poor judgement, and should have considered that before acting on quick decisions.
3. Self-awareness 201: The Adrenaline Factor. We’ve been through enough adrenaline moments in our lives, and on board, to be very familiar with adrenaline’s physical effects, like racing heart, blood to muscles primed for action, you know, the fight or flight response. Then there’s the effect on cognition. Although adrenaline helps elevate awareness, it also tends to narrow focus, giving tunnel vision, so to speak. That rabbit escaping the fox is likely not paying attention to the tasty new shoots it passes as it races toward its den. We would never score drugs, get high, then take control of our vessel (we’re not into getting high at any time, but just trying to illustrate a point here). Yet there we were, high on adrenaline, and making quick decisions. Running out of fuel in such a treacherous place had us elevated, and with the tricky sailing required, we had yet to settle down. This incident has been a valuable reminder to be hyper-vigilant about the likelihood of poor decisions when operating in that post-adrenaline zone.
4. If possible, create breathing space. Once we had sails up and had searoom between us and hazards, we could have – we should have – dropped anchor, even just for 15 minutes to calm ourselves and re-evaluate the situation. The lake was shallow enough that we could have easily done so just about anywhere. Ironically, we did end up dropping hook, not just to calm ourselves, but to spend the night, in a fully unprotected spot, just east of the grounding shoal and 100 metres outside the freighter channel. Had we decided to do this one hour before, we would have been spared “the” incident. A month later, as I’m writing this account and checking details with Tim, we realized that we hadn’t even considered what was likely the best/safest option once the engine died. We could have sailed back into the protection of the canal, anchored, and taken as much time as we needed to confidently plan next steps.
5. Trust your instruments. They are far less likely to deceive than are our own brains that so easily play perceptual tricks. And if the instruments contradict your senses, and you are like me and lean toward being rather stubborn in your opinions, pay attention to the source of information that’s suggesting the greatest risk. If the electronic chart shows you are about to run aground and your eyes say, don’t worry, that island is at least a 1/2 mile away, believe the chart and take measures to avoid possibly running aground.
6. AND listen to your gut. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed and marked this island as a possible anchorage. In hindsight, I realized I had seen it and because it was surrounded by shoals, I had dismissed it as a possible anchorage. I had perused this lake’s chart at least a dozen times on different days. I would not have missed a good anchorage that many times. And as if that wasn’t enough, I found it strange that a buoy seemed so far out of place. It wasn’t. We were. I ignored strong signs and my instinct, that we were making a mistake.
7. Share roles and information. Even on the last day. Tim and I, like many cruising couples, divvy up responsibilities according to our strengths and interests. That doesn’t mean the other can’t step in as needed, though. I’m the navigator but we are both responsible for being familiar with the day’s route, hazards we may face, and we discuss and agree on key decisions. We had become dangerously complacent on this final stretch. I had left Tim in the dark and he was fine with being there. Knowing that Tim had no familiarity with these waters lead to my lack of trust in his ability to helm us to safety. That was quite the job I did helming us to safety! Tim’s lack of familiarity also lead him to hastily agree with my poor decision on our Plan D,
8. Local knowledge. And finally, if you are so fortunate to encounter a Danny in your sailing life (a sailor with more experience + expertise + local knowledge), listen to them! Danny – if you are reading this… In 2016, we think it was you at Collins Bay who warned us of the limestone shelf at Main Duck Island and advised to never anchor there. Through a series of novice errors, we ended up not following your counsel and faced near disaster. And this time, you had cautioned us to pay close attention to the charts when crossing Lac St-Louis. Well, obviously, we didn’t. Next time, be assured that we WILL heed your wise advice.
What did we do well? Quite a bit, in fact. We kept our heads and in the end, stayed safe. We responded incredibly quickly. We drew on past experience to deal with the grounding.
We also ran aground in the right direction. If you are really determined to run aground, do so, as I did, while heading into the wind. The wind was our ally, helping to push us off into deeper water. Had we grounded down-wind, we would have been blown further aground and may still be there!
Other things we feel we did right? We had invested in good anchor tackle before setting out, allowing us to spend a night securely (albeit not restfully) unprotected mid-lake. We also feel good about making the decision to do so, rather than continue on and risk another grounding. And finally, our decision years ago, to buy a classic well-designed, over-fibreglassed, full-keel boat that easily withstands our abuse, was a good one. A lesser boat likely would have suffered serious damage. Ariose, we were relieved to discover, emerged with easily repairable, relatively minor gouges.
Ultimately, we are better sailors than we were when we emerged from that canal.
The next day, we decided to head straight to our final destination. Heavy winds were forecast for most days in the next couple weeks, and having now exhausted our appetite for adventure, the anchorages I’d found no longer looked appealing. We had lovely conditions for sailing the back-and-forth channel to Dorval, on the north side of Lac St-Louis, but we uncharacteristically chose to motor. We were only an hour or two from our final destination, and just wanted to get there in the least stressful manner.
A 2-week yacht club stay while waiting for our haul-out would take too big a bite from our budget, so we dropped hook nearby, between posh shore-side homes and the unique Dorval Island community. We dinghied in the following day to introduce ourselves, and finalize arrangements. The Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club manager offered us a very reasonable rate, so we happily moved Ariose to the marina docks behind a beefy breakwall. Usually, we prefer to be at anchor. Now, voyage over, and facing a couple weeks of stormy fall weather, we were ever so grateful for the security.
We drove home to fetch Ariose’s tri-axle trailer. Tim elected to stay for the week and I returned to get in a little more precious family time. Serendipitously, the timing coincided with my Torontonian and his partner also being in Montreal. The mothering compartments in my heart were almost full… I was just missing my 3rd offspring and his partner.
Staying at the private RStLYC was an unusual experience. Dorval, with origins as the summer homes for Montreal’s wealthy, still seems to hold an elitist flavour. The manager of the club was great, and a few members, like our dock neighbour Brian, friendly. Between the sideways looks we got from other members, the posh patriarchal clubhouse, the megayachts, and thieving rodents, it was not a marina where we felt overly welcome. Nasty weather didn’t help. But we were sure grateful that they did take us.
A mix-up with the rental truck forced us to forfeit our November 1st haul out date. I appreciated having even more time with my Montrealer, and time on board to pack and prepare Ariose for returning home. Those days alone on Ariose provided an anti-climactic end. It’s strange how the quarters can feel too close when Tim and I are living aboard, yet feel so lonely when not together.
Tim returned. We removed sails, unstepped the mast, and disgorged the tons (literally) of gear and provisions, loading them into the truck.
Haul-out day came, and as the sun rose, Ariose did too. Treacherous icy conditions at dawn further validated our decision to not be out there sailing.
Everything went smoothly. No slipping straps. No damage to the rudder. We were relieved to see that the grounding had caused little more than cosmetic gouges to the keel. With my new-found fibreglassing skills, I’m confident I will be able to erase all signs of this voyage’s “learning”.
Our drive home – as always – was anxiety inducing. Towing a high-riding, 10,000 pound boat feels incredibly vulnerable. As usual, we travelled under 80km/hour, with lots of stops to check on Ariose and the trailer, turning a usual 6 hour drive into 11 hours. Somewhere near the end of the trip, likely on the bumpy, hilly road we live on, the trailer’s bow pad broke off, causing the metal bracket to gash Ariose’s pretty nose. More fibreglass and paint repair added to the to-do list.
Although this voyage from Kingston out the St. Lawrence to Rimouski and back to Montreal was not the voyage we had planned, we don’t regret making the effort. We met some wonderful people, we explored new waters, many of which we look forward to returning to, we had some adventures that make for entertaining story-telling, and we have come away with some valuable learning and wonderful memories.
Thanks, everyone, for being aboard with us.
A mere four days after arriving home, the US water border opened. The news was bittersweet. It’s good to be settling in to our solid shelter,with the luxury of way more living space than Ariose offers, where we can head out the door with no thoughts of donning pfd’s. We’re contented to be grounded. I have spent a special week with my parents, sprinkled with heart-warming get-togethers with friends. Even so, quiet “could have made it” thoughts linger. But the Caribbean isn’t going anywhere and Ariose and her crew are pretty much ready to launch again when the time is right. Hopefully, the pandemic will soon release it’s grip on us all, although recent news doesn’t bode well for that wish. And hopefully Tim and I have many years of health ahead of us for realizing more sailing dreams.
For now, the winter lies ahead and we look forward to enjoying it.
As we shared in our last Ariose Note, we’re packing it in. Turning Ariose’s bow toward home. No Caribbean sun for us. As Tim and I drove back to Rimouski, the disappointment in postponing our adventure to another year was fading, and we were beginning to feel pretty darn good about our decision. With covid numbers escalating, there was nothing to suggest that restrictions would be lifted anytime soon. The US border would certainly remain closed to us. Fourteen cords of dry firewood promised to ward off the winter cold, and a list of projects we look forward to tackling, promised to ward off boredom. But before wrapping up our voyage, we were eagerly anticipating our final month or more on Ariose.
I’m going to jump ahead for a moment. I’m over a month behind in our blogging and need to say that “feeling good about our decision” no longer describes our emotional state. This past week spent unpacking Ariose has been okay, but not a particularly joyful time! The American water border opened days ago, the Bahamas have removed their requirement for covid tests in order to move between islands, and the British Virgin Islands are also open to cruisers. Other Caribbean countries are sure to follow suit. We, however, are at home and Ariose is tucked in her boat shed. We predicted a political decision based on logic, but “logic-based political decision” is a bit of an oxymoron. Had we continued, we would have easily made it to Nova Scotia, and at this moment, could be on passage to Cape Cod or even, if ambitious, to Cape May.
It would likely have been a stressful month, though, with the possibility of being stranded in the Maritimes hanging over us. We’re also reminding ourselves that the pandemic could warrant a flip back to increased restrictions again. We’re not beating ourselves up with regret. We made the best decision for us at the time with what information we had. I just checked Predictwind, our weather app, to bolster these rationalizations further. It shows that if we were indeed mid-way between Nova Scotia and Cape Cod at this very moment, we’d be on a 3 day passage, in a gale, battling 35 knot winds on the nose, gusts in mid-40s, waves averaging 25 feet high, and likely exhausted to the core. Maybe it’s not so bad to be having a quiet evening in our cozy cabin, by the red glow of the woodstove’s hot coals.
(Note to my Mom, Dad, and brother, who is our safety guy: Rest assured that we would never venture out with that kind of forecast. This hypothetical passage purely serves the purpose of helping us feel better about being home.)
Ok. Back to our return drive to Rimouski, feeling good about our decision, and looking forward to our next month on Ariose. We agreed to head straight back to Tadoussac to explore the Saguenay Fjord. We were feeling almost giddy at the prospect of sailing for pleasure rather than being driven to make distance. Of course, we did want to head back westward so that we could haul out closer to home, but we had plenty of time. We’ve heard how difficult it is to sail up the St.Lawrence against prevailing winds and currents, but again, we had plenty of time. As we drove, we felt free of the weight uncertainty that we’d been carrying since the outset. We enjoyed the scenery and the anticipation of what lay ahead.
Once the sun set, Tim took the wheel and I decided to begin searching for a marina to haul us out, preferably near Montreal. That would allow us to avoid the St.Lawrence Seaway, there would be easy public transit for Tim to return home to fetch Ariose’s trailer, we’d be close to my Montrealer, and we could check out a potential future “home base”. It’s unlikely we’ll use Kingston next time we launch Ariose. The rudder incident scarred us, and the experience of going through a week of sailing the St.Lawrence Seaway (and it’s dredged shallows, and bridges, and locks, and freighters…), was a “once is interesting but enough, thanks,” experience. We would really miss the opportunity to reconnect with our Kingston friends, though.
As I randomly googled marinas along the St. Lawrence, an uneasy knot grew in the pit of my stomach. Those I found were closed or closing soon or did not have equipment capable of hauling Ariose out. I shut the laptop, and didn’t mention anything to Tim. I’ll tackle it in the morning when rested, I thought. We got to Rimouski and boarded a deeply chilled boat. When we fired up our propane heater for the first time this voyage, it responded with a deathly squeal. The fan was not happy. The heater did provide a little warmth, but without a way to circulate it, the cabin remained cold. Oh, oh. This could be a nippy month on the water.
The next morning, I let Tim know that finding a place to haul out may not be as easy as we thought. He wasn’t fazed. Don’t worry, it will work out, he said. I wasn’t so sure. We agreed to stay here where we had good internet access until we located a suitable end-point for our voyage. I bundled up and parked myself near the east windows of the marina’s enclosed patio. Due to covid, I wasn’t permitted to hang out in the heated indoors. I was tempted to set up in the washroom, but the sun’s rays warmed me adequately here. The sun did nothing, though, to alleviate the anxious chill that settled in as call after unsuccessful call to every marina between here and Montreal offered no hope. “Désolé, madame, nous ne pouvons pas vous aider”.
By mid-morning, I went into the office, yes, to warm up but also to chat with the guy overseeing this marina’s operations. We might have to bite the bullet and incur the cost of towing Ariose all the way from here. He tried to be helpful, but I detected a look that said “ces stupides touristes anglophones n’ont aucune idée”, or something like that. Rimouski is the latest closing marinas on this part of the St.Lawrence, he told me, and the last haul-out would be in less than 2 weeks. Shoot. That would mean that we would only have another week’s sailing and we’d have to figure out a way to head right back the 1000 km to North Bay to pick up the trailer. Maybe we could store her here to save the back-and-forth travel? Nope, They were already over-full, he said. Absolutely no room in the yard. Then, as he looked at the photos I provided showing how Ariose sits on her trailer, he added to the bad news. Their boat lift would not work. He insisted it wasn’t possible but gave me the number of the town’s harbourmaster, who spoke no English, and a local crane operator, also exclusively Francophone. He suggested that we might be able to get permission to arrange our own haul-out in between ferries and fishing boats and other vessels using the commercial docks. I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence.
My excitement about the upcoming month had completely dissipated. I was angry with myself for not making sure we had all the details we needed before leaving North Bay without our trailer. Back in August, when we decided to head out this year despite delays, we had considered the implications of late season sailing beyond closing dates of marinas. We prefer anchoring to marina stays anyways, and felt prepared to deal with the challenges of obtaining fuel and fresh water. When we sailed south 5 years ago – departing in November – we got used to hiking into American towns along the Hudson River with diesel jerry cans in hand. Yet now, when making the decision to haul out, we completely overlooked the fact that we needed a marina – an open marina, that is – to do so. Blame it on being distracted by TV-land happenings.
While I was stewing and fretting, Tim was contentedly puttering on the engine alternator, whistling a happy tune. Tim lives in the moment and I prefer to plan all the minutiae of every future situation. If we could dial one of us up and one down, we’d land on a perfect balance. On good days, we really appreciate our obvious differences. On a bad day, they can be annoying. And when misery is looking for company, there’s nothing like one of us cheerfully whistling to further chafe the other’s foul mood.
By late morning, I was calling the marinas west of Montreal. A private yacht club in Dorval didn’t look like it offered services to non-members, but it did have a travel lift and I was prepared to beg. I reached the manager who said they could do it (I fist-pumped a “YES!” to the empty room). He then apologetically explained that they were very busy so couldn’t get us out until the first week of November. How perfect. This would give us a month for our leisurely return trip after all. The only down-side I could see was we would have to transit 2 locks of the St.Lawrence Seaway to reach the yacht club. That’s no big deal. Or so I thought.
Ok. I hustled back down the dock to share the good news with Tim. See?, he said. I told you it would work out. We’d leave at dawn the next morning. First up? The gorgeous Saguenay Fjord. My mood lifted. The sun returned. Finally, some leisurely sailing.
That night, I slept restlessly, ruminating about other details we may have overlooked. The Seaway. What about those locks? I thought I had read that they remained open late in the season, but thought I should confirm. Yes, it doesn’t close until the end of December. Wait. What’s that fine print? For commercial traffic only? I narrowed the search to “recreational vessels” and groaned. The Seaway closes to boats like ours on October 17th. I inquired if there were exceptions, and the answer, not unexpectedly, was no. No exceptions. Get through by the 17th or be stranded in the St.Lawrence for the winter.
This emotional ping-pong, like the turbulence caused by changing currents, was taking its toll. We went from anticipatory excitement, that even though our voyage was being cut short, we still had a month of autumn sailing in this spectacular area – to – we need to make miles every day of the next 2 weeks to travel what took us, in favourable winds and currents, 2 weeks to cover. The return trip could be a slog.
Anyways, we figured we could do it – after all, what choice did we have? I booked our passage through the necessary locks for October 16th. This gave us a one-day buffer before they closed, just in case. Our longed for leisure sailing would be replaced by lots of motoring. And the Saguenay would have to wait for another time.
It was October 1st, 7 degrees Celsius, with low clouds, and a steady, chilly rain. It had been so cozy in bed under our down covers, it took formidable strength to not just head back to the v-berth and postpone our departure. We needed to get going. Our timelines were tight. Condensation from Ariose’s cabin ceiling, dripped on us as we suited up to untie the docklines.
Tim’s fine with changing course on a dime. Maybe that’s the benefit of not investing a lot of energy in planning. I’m not so fine. One of the many things I appreciate about sailing is that it helps grow my resilience and ability to sail the winds that life brings. But it’s not easy. Adapt to the situation. We can’t control the wind; we can adjust the sails. What’s that saying that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it? Let’s go. And let’s enjoy ourselves, dammit!
And overall, we did! We had about 300 nautical miles to travel. This is an average of only 20 nm per day – which sounds easy – but we often found ourselves moving at less than 2 knots an hour, with the days noticeably shortening, we expected to have to be underway for the full 10 hours of daylight.
Against all odds and our expectations, we ended up making great time. We lucked into several days of favourable winds, found counter currents close to shore to speed us along, and when heading to known anchorages, carried on into the dark for some pleasant night-time motor-sails. We did have a couple 5am starts to catch an advantageous current, but many short days of travel made up for the early starts. If we couldn’t make more than about a knot and a half of speed, we would wait at anchor for the conditions to change and enjoy some forced relaxation.
I don’t want to give the impression we sped along, though. Some miles were ex-cru-ci-a-ting-ly slowww! One day, determined to not use our motor, we sailed off anchor just west of Lac St.Pierre. Well actually, we lifted the anchor and gently drifted off. Three hours and a mere1.5 miles later, we admitted defeat and fired up the diesel. To put that in perspective, a world-class runner would take 3 minutes to cover the distance we took 3 hours to travel.
We were also so grateful to have good weather. There were just enough cold, wet days to help us appreciate the many more blue sky with warmth in the sun days. They were absolutely glorious.
On our first day back on Ariose, we had company. Not the kind of guests we welcomed. A bright red “police” vessel had travelled by, and then, about an hour later, a large black zodiac zipped up to us, lights flashing, with 3 imposing RCMP officers, suited up in black from helmets to boots. We headed up into the wind and dropped our sails, with the quick chirp of their siren speeding us along.
Under authority of the Canada Shipping Act, law enforcement can randomly stop and board boats. Anytime, anywhere. No need for cause. Boy, did this feel like a deja vu. As I shared last post, when returning home from cruising previously, we had been boarded by American officials, and they weren’t a friendly bunch. The Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, and the local Sheriff determined that we were illegally in US waters – due to their system errors, not ours. They had played an intimidating game of good cop – bad cop as they tried to determine what to do with us. Not fun. (More about that, if you’re interested, here.) So this time, when the RCMP advised they were boarding Ariose, I thought I’d at least start the interaction on a positive note. Hi, I’m Shirley, this is Tim, and you are? Steve. Nice to meet you, I lied.
Steve stepped into the cockpit, explained what he required from us, and we set about pulling out papers and safety gear. As he peered through the companionway, watching me rifle through cubbies, he engaged us in not-so-casual small talk. Where were we from? Where were we going? Why were we out so late in the season? Having met or exceeded all the requirements we regained our calm until Steve, looking closely at our registration, advised that it was expired. Sure enough: 2019. I know we paid and updated Ariose’s registration, but I had no recollection of going back to the website to print confirmation. We braced ourselves to be issued the $300 fine, so it was with great relief to hear Steve explain they weren’t out to fine boaters. They just wanted to ensure our safety. Yes, sir. We’ll print out that registration at the first opportunity. Yes, bonne journée to you too. Those US law enforcement guys sure could use a lesson in attitude from their Canadian counterparts.
As usual, we had lots of variety in our anchorages. Some were peaceful and scenic, like the night we felt as though we had been plunked into a Martime postcard scene, just off the Iles Verte lighthouse, on the north shore opposite Tadoussac.
We also had some rough nights, one in particular where the winds did not shift as forecast. This resulted in the rocky island we anchored up against for protection, offering none. We were at the mercy of waring wind and current. It was a long night, with violent rocking and rolling as the transom, not the bow, took the brunt of the waves. Now and then, there would be a momentary pause in the motion, just long enough to raise hope that the conditions were settling, then a wave would lift Ariose and drop us sharply enough to feel our stomach contents lurch. We’ve read of methods to tie off when winds and current play havoc with a boat like they did with us that night. Apparently, making a bridle between the bow and the stern allows you to force the bow into the wind, but when it’s 3am, windy and cold and wet out, and you’re not sure how you are going to set this up without putting dangerous stresses on the boat’s hardware, not to mention on yourself, and you’re sleep deprived, tolerating a few more rough hours seemed the lesser of 2 evils. Mental note: Practice this technique on another day in calmer conditions.
We did have some absolutely perfect, glorious sailing days. On one, we were underway from 10am to 6:30pm, sails fully out wing-on-wing the entire day as we were pushed by a north-easterly. We averaged a respectable 4-5 knots. We anchored near Cap a l’Aigle, where we enjoyed a peaceful night and balmy 10 degrees Celsius temperatures. This is what it’s all about, we thought. We woke the next morning to seals basking in the sun on nearby rocks at low tide. They seemed to agree with our assessment.
Some days, though, were tedious monotony. On Thanksgiving Monday, it took us 8 hours of motoring to transit Lac St. Pierre dodging recreational fishing boats all the way. Was there a tournament going on? Or was this just the Trois Riviere guys escaping their families on a long weekend? At any one time, there were over 30 vessels in view, interrupted by horn blasts as freighters tried to clear them from the channel.
We did have a couple tense times. One of a sailor’s greatest fears is water. Water inside the boat, that is. I had taken the helm so that Tim could prepare his lunch. Tim’s a creature of habit, eating a cheese sandwich for lunch everyday. I’m not exaggerating. Every. Day. Typically 2 slices of flax bread with a thick hunk of medium cheddar between, but if he’s looking to jazz it up, he might add some vegenaise as a condiment or, if in a particularly daring mood, will add a slice of tomato. Sorry. I’m on a tangent that has nothing to do with this anecdote. Let me just go back to saying that Tim had agreed to take over after lunch, and I was looking forward to a chunk of time off that particular afternoon. There was a gentle breeze, and the current would be in our favour for hours, so easy solo sailing. Maybe I would catch up on blog writing, or just read for pleasure. We have been on board for over 2 months and have yet to open one of the stack of books I had brought along.
As Tim went below to prepare his lunch, he called out that the bilge pump light was on. And it was staying on. Nothing like having water coming into your boat to give you a boost of energy, and reset your plans for a leisurely afternoon, or for making that cheese sandwich. Tim had the companionways steps and galley counter off in a jiffy to better investigate where the water was entering the bilge. A small amount is meant to trickle in through the stuffing box which houses the propeller shaft. It acts as a lubricant. Water was running, though, not trickling in. Not panic-inciting pouring, mind you, but nevertheless, not good. It was a steady, visible stream. While he did that, I emptied a cockpit locker (not as easy as it sounds, jam-packed with spare sails, dinghy motor, ropes and more), shone a flashlight into the depths, and the source was obvious. A cap on the engine exhaust’s back flow preventer had fallen off so water, under pressure, was pouring in from there. Tim jury rigged a new plug. The stream reduced, but didn’t stop. We then discovered a hole in the underside of the very same container. A rubber guard had slipped, so the plastic had been resting directly on the fibreglass hull, and had chafed through. A bit of butyl tape and a strip of scrap rubber slowed the leak to a slight drip. We continued on.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement on one afternoon, moments after we resolved the water situation, we gybed and the boom pulled away from the mast. Five years ago, on an early December morning as we were about to exit New York harbour for our first taste of the Atlantic and our first ever overnight passage, this same issue occurred. Our repair at that time seems to have held. Until now. The bolts and holes were clearly stripped. We had some Dyneema left over from making Ariose’s new lifelines, and cinching that stronger-than-steel rope around the bent fitting on the boom/mast hardware managed to straighten it. We then secured it the joint with a lashing. We had no idea if this would hold, but it seemed like it was a good temporary fix. It ends up it did do the job for the remainder of the voyage.
It felt like we’d be tempting fate – you know the bad luck comes in threes superstition – by continuing on. We called it a day early, and set our hook. Tim ate his belated cheese sandwich. I opened up a memoir by Assata Shakur.
We did mainly motor at first. After a few good days, though, we realized our fears about not making it to the locks by our scheduled date were unfounded. So we reverted to sailing as our preferred option if we could make 2 knots’s speed, that is (walking speed is about 3 knots). If not, we’d motor. There were days where we needed the extra boost to make it to a safe anchorage before dark, although, this was less important now that we had some familiarity with these waters. In Quebec City, for example, we planned to drop hook in the exact location we had anchored on our way east, so were comfortable with a post-sunset arrival under a starry sky . We made 50 nautical miles that day, over twice our daily requirement, by motor-sailing for 8 hours at an average of 6 knots/hour. Hah! Take that St.Lawrence nay-sayers!
More typically, though, when the winds were firmly against us, it wasn’t worth departing until currents were in our favour. Departing from Quebec City, was one example. We couldn’t get away until 3:45pm, and with sunset around 6pm, it was a short day. The next morning, we were up hours before the sun for a 5:30am departure, to make a 2 hour window with any possibility of motoring up the Richelieu Rapids. The sun rose shortly after 7:30am, but it couldn’t penetrate the thick fog. It was an unnerving few hours, hypervigilant, as we shared the waters with freighters also rushing to make it through the rapids during the same window. Thank goodness for AIS helping us keeping track of the mammoths. Tim was at the helm this entire stretch, and I maintained watch from the bow. Our newly purchased horn malfunctioned so instead, whistle clenched between my teeth, I let others know of our presence with regular referee-worthy blasts. Maybe we should have taken the time to install our radar. By 10:15am, we had transited the rapids successfully, and we could feel the currents changing. The fog remained thick, so we found a safe spot to anchor off Grondines, and called it a day.
When we got to Trois-Rivieres, a mere 60 nm from Montreal, well ahead of schedule, we treated ourselves to a break. Contrary to its name, there’s just one river here, the St. Maurice. A cluster of islands at its mouth gives the illusion of 3 rivers spilling into the St. Lawrence. We spent a few nights at anchor just off one of those islands, a lovely park.
We enjoyed shoreside conversations and a cockpit visit with others also anchored there. One, a liveaboard, was regretting telling the local marina to f-off, as he now had no where to dock for the winter. He was strategizing how to reduce the threat of ice crushing his home. We also enjoyed getting to know a couple on a bright yellow sloop, aptly named Chiquita. They were heading eastward and eventually south. They had sold all their land-bound possessions and with relatively little sailing experience, moved aboard their new home this past summer. Within weeks, they faced quite the initiation to life on the water. A near-disastrous failure of a through-hull caused water to pour in, the volume far surpassing what the bilge pumps could remove. As they related their story, so recently experienced, we could feel the anxiety. The water rose to the level of their galley counter, and being unable to stem it’s flow, they drove their boat up onto shore. Very wise. A grounding is preferable to a sinking. Sadly, much gear of financial and sentimental value was lost. But here they were, determined to realize their dreams. We shared as much intel as we could, hopefully helping the next leg of their journey a little smoother.
It was a pleasant Thanksgiving weekend for us as we spent connecting with family, going to shore to walk the lovely island trails, and dinghying up river to sight-see and check out the autumn colours.
So all was proceeding relatively smoothly on our return journey. Then came “the” news. We were at anchor at a bird refuge opposite the town of Contracoeur where we did a grocery run, to provision for the next couple weeks.
We checked our daily news feed as usual, and were shocked to hear the announcement that the US will open land and water borders in November. What!?! I have no idea what emotion hit first: Frustration that now it opens, too late for us, or excitement that now it opens, and it’s really not too late. I felt like my head would explode. We had made a decision, we had a plan, and were ok with it, and now this. Should we turn around, again?
We spent an entire morning at anchor, the industry up river at Sorel-Tracey belching out its smoke, as we went back and forth over the pros and cons. Caribbean countries still had cumbersome covid restrictions in place, winter weather is nearing and sailing in the cold isn’t fun, and there’s a chance this decision could be overturned and strand us further from home. On the other hand, we would be incurring significant cost to haul out now and get back underway next year, that we could save by just turning around now. Although we hadn’t been gone long, I was feeling a longing for family. My kids would be rendez-vousing in Ontario for Christmas, and I was feeling a pull toward having more time with my aging parents. Even if we did go for it, we would still have to make it home to winterize and pick up items we had left behind. And we didn’t know if open in November meant early or late.
I almost felt queasy from this see-saw. We’re going on a sailing adventure. No, covid, we can’t. Vaccinations? Maybe we can go. Oops, crane straps slipped destroying rudder. Delay. Can we still make it? Ok, we’re off. Oh no. US border not yet opening. Maybe it will next month. Delta numbers up everywhere. Maybe we can’t go, but still some guarded optimism. Running out of good sailing weather for the season. Oh shoot. US border remaining closed. That’s it for us. It’s a no go. Let’s enjoy the next 4-6 weeks on the water before packing it in. What’s that? Locks close. We only have 2? Arrgghhh. So much for the leisure sailing. So much for our voyage. That’s ok. Going home feels right. And now, turn around? It would be mid November by the time we’d be in Nova Scotia with the strong likelihood of hitting winter weather. Maybe a bit of Gravol would help!
Tim was fine with either option. I was feeling worn down and worried that I just don’t have the reserves to handle the challenging conditions we’d undoubtedly face. We agreed. Let’s stick with our plan to go home.
We made it to the east end of Montreal, and anchored for the night off Parc aux Pte Trembles in Laval. As we settled in, we were startled to hear gun shots followed by the frantic quacking of ducks. We could see hunters on the shore of a nearby slip of land. I wondered if I should alert authorities, but a quick google search informed us that unbelievably, in Quebec, hunting is legal even in the city. We stayed down below.
Next day, October 16th, we made it into the Seaway’s De La Rive Sud canal. It was a grey, rainy day, torrential at times, but we were grateful for the few breaks in the weather, that fortuitously coincided with our actual lock transits. That good fortune would not last the day.
We motored several hours, well protected from the heavy winds, to make it through the locks and the canal. Near day’s end, we rounded the final dog-leg of the canal, and headed Ariose’s nose out into the strong westerly winds. The previously calm, protected waters now became rolling waves breaking at our bow. We only had a short distance to make it to anchor. We bucked and bounced, and …. let me pause for a moment to share one salient detail. Because we were nearing the end of our journey, we were intentionally not topping up our diesel. We didn’t want to any excess weight for towing Ariose home. …
Ok, back to the bucking and bouncing. Just as we were spilled out of the canal onto Lac St. Louis, our motor strained, sputtered, and stopped. Dead. We looked at each other and instantly realized, that with the rough ride sloshing the little fuel we had in the tank, the engine wasn’t able to pick up what it needed. We were essentially out of fuel. The canal breakwall, solid protective reassuring rock only moments before, suddenly transformed to a jagged and menacing hazard. And we were being blown right toward it!
Now, we haven’t had the kinds of experiences on this voyage that lend themselves to cliff hanger blog posts. We made so many novice mistakes last time, suspense just seemed to naturally incorporate itself in many of our ArioseNotes. Here, on our final 24 hours of this 2021 voyage, we finally have an incident, a completely at fault, self-induced situation, that lends itself to leaving those vicariously on board with us on edge. Besides this post is already long enough (many would say too long). I’ll pick up from here next ArioseNote. Until then…
This ArioseNotes is completely devoid of sailing. No time on Ariose nor talk of tides, or wind, or whales. Instead, we’ll take you back to September and our nearly 2-week intermission from life on the water – quite a bizarre interlude actually! – and also reveal what’s next for our voyage.
Why the break? Permit me a bit of a backstory. Five years ago, when we returned from our maiden voyage, Tim and I decided that if we could cohabitate on a little boat, in often stressful circumstances, we might very well be compatible living our land lives together. Tim had long since adopted a simple, spare life. I looked forward to also assuming that lifestyle, one analogous to what we had experienced aboard Ariose. We adopted the strawbale garage Tim had built to be our one-room cabin as our for-now home. We continued to prune to a bare-bones frugality, where we appreciate every dollar saved as a dollar + taxes that doesn’t need to be earned. We’ve kept eyes open to micro income possibilities to off-set the day-to-day expenses we still have, and to add a little to our future cruising kitty
So with that in mind, we listed our property on a media site, a resource for film productions looking for suitable locations in Ontario. Earlier this year, a local scout – an affable guy brimming with enthusiasm – contacted us about a new TV comedy series being filmed in our area. He was seeking a place that would fit a character he described as an aging, eccentric, nudist female who sells weed to cottagers. With some effort to be diplomatic, he explained that our quirky off-grid straw bale abode surrounded by acres of forest would be ideal. We laughed. Yes, we could see that we offered a good fit. We toured the producer, writers, set design folks, and others who played roles that we never knew existed, around our place so they could determine if our location was suitable. We did not have to wait long for their decision.
When a set is “dressed”, we’ve learned, it means it is ready for the scene to be shot. Every prop, large and small is in its place. Actors can move in and cameras can role. Following the tour, there was a comment that “this place is f- – k’n dressed already!” Our property got the thumbs-up. Tim and I discussed the pros/cons. We value our privacy. We love our place. Tim’s feeling of kinship to the animal and plant-life that we share the land with is of the mama-bear type, and he’s triggered by others’ callous disregard. And here we were considering turning over our special spot to a pack of strangers.
Furthermore, we knew little about this production. We knew that it drew on the “quintessential Canadian cottage experience”, and that the lead character’s role was intended to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. If done well, this show could be a positive light in the entertainment industry, and we might feel good about our small piece of involvement. Then again, what if it was bungled and filled with negative stereotypes or was outright offensive?
The money was reasonable, we were impressed by the people involved, and our curiosity was piqued. We reviewed the formal legal-ese of a 14 page contract, took a deep breath, signed and were committed. We hoped we wouldn’t regret this. Faith.
When Tim and I met, like most in new relationships during the getting to know one another phase, we tended to hone in on commonalities. One small one, that spoke to much broader shared values had to do with TV. We each had given up our sets years before at a time when most people still filled their evenings with the screen. (This was in the era when streaming was still understood to involve hiking along a creekbed). Maybe this was love? We had both wanted distance from TV’s seductive theft of time and brain power. We don’t enjoy being in the spectator’s seat. We prefer to spend our days actually engaged in things we enjoy. It’s this desire that is part of what draws us to cruising, a powerful way to be fully immersed in life.
So, the irony of a TV comedy series produced by a major corporation that seems bent on world domination, funding our quest to live simply and authentically, is not lost on us. Irony? Or maybe hypocrisy is the better word? I guess we all have a price.
When we headed out sailing this summer, the actual shoot dates were a couple weeks away, but had yet to be finalized. The set crew asked that we leave everything as is. Everything. Wildflowers along our path remained unkempt. The cast iron pans remained hanging from the reclaimed barn beam brace above the woodstove, the north wall full of shelves remained laden with all sorts of stuff that usually resides in a shop, from tools to reclaimed nails to unfinished repairs, and the antlered moose skull mounted above the bathroom door remained … you know, the usual home decor. It all stayed in place. We locked the door, left a key with our neighbour, towed Ariose to Lake Ontario and started our adventure, knowing we’d soon be back.
As I mentioned in our previous post , we got word when we were in Tadoussac that the filming was finally happening the next week. Ideally, we would be present for the set-up and take-down days which were spaced out over a 9-day period. And, with this being a month later than the original forecasted date, we were now in the Gaspe region, with no convenient flight options, just a long drive home.
We did consider not returning. That nearly two weeks of time on the water that we would be sacrificing could get us to Nova Scotia in decent temperatures to await the US border opening.
The problem was, it would be difficult to delegate the very personal decisions around what could or couldn’t be tampered with for the filming. You want to take down that tree? Sure. The garden will have more sun. And this other tree? No way. We’ve nursed that little white pine from seed and protected it from becoming rabbits’ winter snack for the last few years. It would also be difficult to provide instruction from afar to winterize and close up our idiosyncratic place. Our water, collected from the roof, stored in an indoor cistern, and heated in the woodstove, needs to be properly drained to protect the system from freezing damage. We may live rustically, but we still wanted to be 100% certain that the garage was critter-proofed once closed. We might be away for years, and didn’t want a repeat of the nasty reception we had upon our return from cruising last time. It was so disheartening to find our home overtaken by mice. Every fabric item from fancy scarves to tea towels had been chewed, with those fibres redistributed to colourful nests. Feces dotted every surface. As we opened drawers and took boxes from shelves, we discovered the next generation thriving.
Besides, we had become quite intrigued with learning more about making films. The project manager in me found it interesting. There were so many people involved in their individual areas of responsibility that it was hard to imagine how it all would come together. Tim was lapping up the accolades about this unique home we’ve created. He proudly opened the “truth” window that allows a peak into the wall’s interior proving their straw construction, to all who showed an interest. We wanted to be there on the day of filming to witness how this show-making machine worked.
So return it would be.
We allow ourselves one restaurant meal per month, so before leaving Rimouski, partook in our September allotment at the Auberge de la Vieille Maison. The next morning, we ensured Ariose was well secured, and hit the road enjoying the cushy luxury of the rental car. Heat and comfortable seats! Despite taking the more scenic and speed-limited secondary highways, we still marvelled at the ease and velocity of such travel. We had moved aboard Ariose nearly two months before. It had taken 21 days of sailing to travel from Kingston to Rimouski. And yet, we accomplished this return trip in a mere 14 hours by car.
We enjoyed passing through rural Quebec and the many villages that line the St. Lawrence. This land perspective rounded out what had seemed from the water to be little more than a succession of church spires. Well, it was still a succession of churches, but with other buildings filling the gaps.
Despite the pleasant scenery, we were preoccupied with other considerations.
An undercurrent of sorts, has affected this voyage. Actually, this undercurrent is affecting everyone’s journeys. Covid. When I left work spring of 2020, the devastating implications of the pandemic were just being realized. Tim and I had planned to sail off on Ariose, but did not mind postponing for a year. We had lots of boat projects we wanted to complete, and I relished the thought of my first year of retirement helping me to reset, to adopt a slower pace in life. Certainly, by 2021, the pandemic would be long past. By spring this year, though, as we all know, covid maintained its grasp. We didn’t hold much hope for setting sail. By June, though, as vaccinations began to roll out we began to feel optimistic . Certainly, we were on the crest of overcoming this virus, and borders would be opening. Maybe we could go? We kicked into high gear, completing the essentials on Ariose, and set our sights on departing a couple weeks after receiving our 2nd shots. We knew we were taking a chance, but there were rumours that the US border would open in August and even if it didn’t, what seemed like the worst case scenario – not being able to exit Canada – was just fine with us. A summer/fall cruising the St. Lawrence and the Maritimes would be lovely.
We eagerly anticipated that Canada – US border announcement, but it ended up being a disappointing one-way opening. Canada welcomed vaccinated Americans, but non-essential land and water crossings to the US remained closed to Canadians until at least September 21. That’s ok, we thought. We need to wait until late October to avoid hurricane season before heading south on the Atlantic anyways.
So as we drove back to North Bay for the shoot, we contemplated plan B’s. If the US border remains closed, heading from Nova Scotia to Bermuda then to the Bahamas is a possibility. We could completely avoid the US. Many do it. Some we talked to were quick with their encouragement. No problem, you have a seaworthy boat. You guys have great perseverance. You can do it.
It’s 800 nautical miles as the seagull flies, and certainly more by sail. At best, it would take us 8 days/nights, and likely several more. The longest passage we’ve ever undertaken has been less than half that duration. And that was 5 years ago. Although this time, Tim hasn’t experienced anything like the incapacitating seasickness he did on our last adventure, he’s had a few (mild) bouts that have reminded us of what could be. I’m not thrilled with the possibility of 24-7 solo-sailing. I’m kind of fond of sleep. We’d possibly encounter the tail end of late-season hurricanes. And we’d be subject to the first of the North Atlantic winter storms. And the reliability of weather forecasts decreases the further out the prediction is, so even if we had a good weather window, there would be risk of something gnarly developing before we got to safe harbour. And Ariose is too slow to outrun a storm. We’ve sailed in some heavier conditions, but have zippo storm sailing experience. And, and, and!!!
Nope. Maybe we could but we’re not going to try. We’re ok with a certain level of risk, after all, we’re out here on Ariose. For us, however, the Bermuda option involves too many potential perils.
The uncertainty of the border opening has weighed on us. We intended to get as far as possible in the Maritimes, with fingers crossed that the September 21st announcement would be more favourable. We had decided to continue until we can’t, and if going south wasn’t possible, either store Ariose wherever we ended up or return home to pick up her trailer to tow her back. It was unsettling as we drove away from Ariose to not know if this was the end of this cruising adventure or not. Tough for someone like me who is wired to need plans. We’ll be home when the next US border announcement was scheduled. We’ll decide then.
There were a couple highlights on the drive. beyond the scenery. We enjoyed an overnight stop at my Montrealer’s. That makes an unprecedented 3 mother-offspring visits in one month. I love it!
We also had another pleasurable visit along the way. We’ve met so many great people. One, who I have only mentioned in passing is George, a kindred fellow Alberg-er, who we got to know while we were stranded at the marina in Kingston. George has been virtually onboard Ariose with us since then, his texts cheerleading us on as he shares wisdom from his deep reservoir of sailing and life experience.
George helped bring closure to what we know think of as our great Canada Post fiasco. We had bought a radar unit before leaving, and with delays in shipping, we didn’t receive it early enough to have time to fabricate something to secure it to the mast. So, while awaiting our rudder repair in Kingston, we set aside our budget and ordered a ridiculously priced manufactured mount. I used the marina address as we expected to still be there by the promised delivery date. Other online purchases had arrived on time by courier, but this one, unfortunately, was shipped via Canada Post. Delivery date came and went, and since our new rudder had been installed, we departed sans radar mount. The marina agreed to let us know when the parcel arrived, and we’d arrange forwarding.
Eventually it did arrive, but a combination of pandemic policy and bureaucratic hard-headedness meant much frustration. Parcels weren’t being delivered. The local pharmacy’s Canada Post depot would not release mail to anyone but the person indicated on the parcel, but only if they offered proof of address. Marina staff, obviously, could not prove they were me. And even had I been in Kingston, without evidence that I lived at the marina, they would not have handed it over to me. Arrgghhh. Hours and hours and hours dealing with various people on Canada Post’s (non)support line over the course of several days eventually revealed that I could authorize someone to pick it up on my behalf. But in an apparent attempt to extract a little more business from disgruntled customers, this authorization could not be given verbally or online. I had to mail in a printed form! I had no easy access to a printer nor any more patience. I called the local depot. I pleaded. I exaggerated the importance of this “critical safety gear” and the risk we faced every day on the water in its absence. I pleaded more. Finally, the employee admitted there was room for discretion and they agreed to hand the parcel over to the marina staff IF they arrived before that person’s shift ended that very day. The worker on the next shift, they warned, was a more stringent rule follower. And the following day the parcel, which by now had been held the maximum time limit, would be returned to sender.
The marina owner, despite being in the midst of the chaos of hauling out boats, found time to pick it up. George, who lives not too far off the main highway we would be travelling, agreed to take it to his home. We were pleased to have an excuse to visit with George and Joan en route to North Bay, and relieved to be united with our new radar mount. Confession: We have yet to install said radar … but please don’t tell Canada Post.
We arrived home after dark. We had no power since we transfer our home off-grid system to Ariose when cruising. The solar panels, controller, batteries – the whole kit and kaboodle is on board and certainly not worth transporting home for a short stint. What an absurd experience it was, snooping around by flashlight to discover what the film crew had been up to in our absence. With the character’s aesthetics so similar to ours, they had combed through our things (with our consent) and used many as props to bring authenticity to the set. It was like a treasure hunt.
We were surprised by the lengths taken. A beautiful spiral rock design in the earth, we were later told, had taken a couple days’ labour to create, and it was not even known if it would make it on film. Flower beds and vegetable box gardens were planted, and with the delays in shooting, many were so wilted, it was unlikely that these flora would have their screen debut. A charming yurt had sprouted up, with all the fixings. Our workbench was tidier than it has ever been!
The next day, the awaited border announcement hit the news. How disappointing. Canadians could now fly to the US for non-essential travel, but land and water borders would remain closed at least until October 21st. It made no sense. Cruisers, essentially living quarantined, would be among the safest travellers. I guess the majority of flying tourists contribute more to the economy than do sailing-on-a-budget folks like us. And meanwhile, infections from the Delta variant, especially in the US, keep rising, so we were not optimistic that the October announcement would be any more promising.
So, as we sat at our woodstove, late into the evening, we were back to considering options. It was decision time. Ariose was in Rimouski and here we were 1100 km away in North Bay, and it seemed extremely unlikely we would be able to make it to the Caribbean this year. We could rent a truck and return to Rimouski with Ariose’s trailer, haul out now, and tow her home. That would be most convenient, but the per/km rate for that distance would hurt, and the regret in cutting our sailing so short would be even more painful.
We could continue sailing and leave Ariose in Nova Scotia to set out from there next year. That would give us another month on the water. Despite having put in so much work, we still have a long to-do list, though, and having Ariose at home allows us to work at our leisure. We also feel nervous about leaving her unsupervised so far from home when we can nestle her in the protection of a boat shed mere steps from our front door. And finding a marina on the East Coast with the capacity to keep Ariose was becoming difficult. Most were full. With covid, there’s more boat owners than ever, and many other cruisers, like ourselves, who would usually be in the Caribbean, were scrambling to find winter storage.
We learned of creative loop-holes other cruisers had found. The most common was to sail to Nova Scotia, then hire an American captain, pay for their travel to Canada, then have them sail the boat to Maine. The owners would then fly to the US, and rendez-vous with the boat. Several thousands of dollars later, they would be on their boat in US waters, but from our understanding of American law, still illegally so.
Usually, upon entry to a US port, Customs and Border Patrol officials issue a cruising license which permits a boat to remain in American waters. Without it, if caught, you can be subject to heavy fines, boat confiscation, and who knows what else. By law, during the pandemic, cruising licenses were not being issued. We heard, however, of some instances on the Pacific Coast, and one on the Atlantic side, of cruisers who lucked into having a compassionate non-rule-following CBP official (yeah, I know that’s an oxymoron), or a misinformed one, issue the required license.
Even if this option was within our financial means, we have no interest in playing that game. We had a brush with being accused of being “undocumented” five years ago. This was despite having been in US waters for a month AND having checked into customs nearly daily, as required, so our whereabouts could be monitored. We were boarded by not only Customs, but the Sherriff, and the Coast Guard, separated and questionned, and although they eventually let us go, we got a taste of what could have been. Very intimidating. We have no appetite to sail under that kind of stress.
We also considered how covid numbers were escalating in some of the Caribbean countries we hoped to visit. Restrictions were tightening, making it cumbersome and costly to enter. It seemed that most cruisers were adapting by limiting their travel to a country or two. We enjoy the freedom of sailing, of being directed by the winds and our whims, and look forward to moving from island to island to experience as much of the eastern Caribbean chain as we can. To venture so far, without being able to move freely, would be a letdown. And presenting in places as if our need for adventure is more important than their struggle to deal with the pandemic, just feels wrong.
There was another influence, however, that made it hard for me to consider not carrying on. We have publicly announced our intentions, have received much encouragement, and friends and family have shared they are living vicariously through our adventures. For Tim, the notion of caring what others think is completely foreign. It’s irrelevant to him. For me, though, raised on a steady diet of concern about others’ opinions, it’s hard to shake that pressure to continue. This tinge of misplaced embarrassment niggled, and I felt a familiar need to prove I’m capable. Maybe a lesson in humility would be good for me.
So, as the fire died down, we made our decision. We are going to call it quits, but not before squeezing in another month’s sailing. We will enjoy more of the outer St.Lawrence waters and whales, then turn back to make our way westward. We’ll reduce the distance to return home and also enjoy some of the spots we had previously skipped over. We will then drive back to North Bay to pick up Ariose’s trailer and return her home with us. We will be warmed by our woodstove this winter, rather than the Caribbean sun. We knew from the beginning that this was a possibility. Uncertainty about what lay ahead had been tugging at us from the outset. The relief at taking a decision, any decision, outweighed the disappointment. There’s always next year.
With the decision made, we could now focus on the entertainment unfolding on our doorstep.
On the nights before and after the filming day, we were required to stay away. Off to a sterile hotel room with us, but the shower made it worthwhile. We’ve become pretty easy to please! Despite it being a closed set, in other words, no outsiders permitted, we were delighted to be told we would be allowed to visit on shooting day. We had no idea how bizarre that would feel.
Returning home on the day of the shoot, we passed the ski club, and its parking lot filled with film industry transport trucks foretold of what we were about to encounter. As we neared our place, the roadside was lined with vehicles, with a vested traffic control person making ensuring orderly parking and that no one was shmucked as they came and went. A covid tent was erected at the base of our driveway. We stopped for screening and to verify vaccinations. We then walked up the incline of our newly gravelled driveway and then – and then! – were assaulted by the site of our yard filled to capacity.
Large box trucks, massive generators, catering trucks, dressing room tents, port-a-potties, electrical cords spider webbing across the ground, microphone booms and massive lights above, dining tents and tables… every square inch seemed occupied. People with headsets and clipboards hustling about. People moving equipment to and fro. People standing. People gathered around butt cans taking smoke breaks. We had been beamed into an alien world!
Our liaison, the location scout who after all our communications these past months, now felt like a friend, gave us a full walk-about. He introduced us to the crew and provided behind-the-scenes details about the process of shooting. The people were friendly and the process fascinating. And we felt like minor celebrities with many greeting us with exclamations of “You’re the owners?!”. They had as many questions for us on our unique place and lifestyle as we had for them on their unique career and the role they played in the filming.
We stepped into the garage for a peek, surprised to find the lead actor perched at our butcher block, as he waited for the next scene’s shooting. No risk of being star-struck. With TV not a part of our lives, and movies only rarely watched, we are quite oblivious to current celebrity culture. We wouldn’t recognize the Ariana Grande or Chris Evans-types if they showed up in our soup! (Later, a quick google search indicated this guy is a rising actor, with a decent resume, and seems perfectly cast.) He was well aware of the benefits of natural building, was curious about details of strawbale construction, and seemed genuinely interested in us, remarking on the contrasts to his life in LA. I say genuine, but who knows. He’s an actor after all. It must be a burden to navigate relationships as an actor with others questioning what’s real and what’s put on.
We were then handed headsets so that we could listen in as the scene was filmed. We perched ourselves up a hillside, out of camera view, and enjoyed the show. A bell rang out, signaling the filming was starting, and the entire bustling yard magically silenced. Take one led to many more. Take after take. Turn this way, say it that way, one more time. The white chicken needs to emerge first from the yurt. And out would burst the brown one. Again. And again. The brown hen was determined to get her beak on camera, much to the director’s chagrin. With animal rights people monitoring the hens’ treatment by zoom, it was amusing to witness the restrained efforts to shepherd the hens. “May I just gently nudge it with a cane?”, we overheard.
By the end of the shoot, we had the handful of lines well memorized. We also had a new respect for the actors, able to come across as natural, surrounded by cameras and crew, after so many repeats, on a chilly day, while wearing little clothing.
After handing in the headsets, we headed off, leaving our place in the hands of the invaders. We braced ourselves for the mess we expected to return to the next day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our yard had been mostly vacated, and within a couple days, a cool design on our garage door was one of few signs that anything out of the ordinary had transpired here. Not a single tree was damaged. Our garage was left in a better state than they had found it. Two butts, one fork, and a plastic flower was the full inventory of debris left behind. Thank you crew!
We locked up (again!) then hopped in the rental car, and drove back to Rimouski. It was bittersweet knowing that this potentially years-long adventure had been severely truncated, but somehow, we felt renewed energy.
We were ready to get back aboard Ariose to savour our final month. And that’s what’s up in the next ArioseNotes! Until then…