Leaving Rimouski on July 7th and still heading north, we started wearing our long johns for the first time. We start the Espar heater most mornings just to take the dampness and chill out of the boat. While sailing, we wear our polar fleeces, foul weather gear, toques, gloves and boots.
At the end of each day, because of the high waves, I wipe salt off the teak and fittings. This is not fine salt spray, but actual salt flakes. Trying to see the bright side of all this, because we’re really loving the whole experience, we think we could market Strathspey fleur de sel.
Just past Rimouski, we sailed over the graveyard of The Empress of Ireland, a passenger ship that sank two years after The Titanic. In the fog one night in May, 1914, the Empress and the Norwegian coal carrier, Storstad, collided. Storstad limped back to shore while the Empress sank in 14 minutes carrying 1,012 men, women and children with her. This is a popular dive site for expert divers only, because of the cold, deep and fast flowing current and is marked with a good sized buoy.
Because of this cold, deep water, we feel like we are actually ocean sailing now. We’ve seen waves rise to eight and ten feet pretty quickly as the winds increase to 20 knots or more and these waves are either short and choppy or there’s a swell; and for me it isn’t swell. Last year I offered my young nephew, Liam, some broccoli with his dinner. He said, I don’t like broccoli ‘yet’; smart lad, smart answer. I feel the same way about these strong Gaspe winds and waves; I don’t like them ‘yet’. I have read countless stories of sailors traveling around the world and they always long for those 25 knot winds that help them eat up the miles towards their next destination. I’m just not comfortable in those winds yet; the choppy waves make my stomach feel like I’ve done 300 sit ups in a row and I inevitably get this persistent dull headache. After leaving Rimouski, we had a few days of high winds that generated waves that set up a corkscrew motion on Strathspey. On the last day of these kinds of winds, we finally cried uncle and high-tailed it into Mont Louis, about 15 nautical miles short of our intended destination. An important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s important to know when to cry uncle and when to say you don’t like something ‘yet’. Blair is immune to all of this and I’m reminded of our last ferry ride to Newfoundland during a gale; while most passengers lay on their seats with their jackets over their heads, Blair dined on a hot turkey sandwich and enjoyed the passage.
The place we scooted into to escape the big waves was Mont Louis. On the Gaspe coast there are two well known locations, Mont Louis and Mont St Pierre, where you can experience katabatic winds. These winds are breezes that come up at night and can blow up to 35 knots all night long. Both these places look like empty fjords with high mountains rising on either side of a miniscule river. The winds howled all night at 20-25 knots, blowing down from the hills into our anchorage; it sounded like a January snow storm in Ottawa, rattling our rigging and stretching our anchor. Neither of us got a lot of sleep that night but our good old Bruce anchor pulled through once again and we did not budge
The most obvious sign that we’ve left the St Lawrence River and entered the Gulf of St Lawrence is that we can no longer see land on our port side. Our longitude is changing faster than our latitude. At Cap-de-la-Madeleine, we sailed around the last northernmost cape and at 8:15 am, July 10th we reached the furthest point north in this trip (and the furthest north Strathspey has ever been). Our latitude was 49° 16′. Now we’re heading south, yippee!
The isolation is palpable as well. We’re seeing very few boats up here other than fishing boats and about a mile offshore in many areas we see the tell tale signs of their fish nets. These nets run about 300 meters and are anchored at both ends with two coloured floats. Whenever we see a pair of coloured floats, we immediately use our binoculars to scan for a second pair of floats which mark the end of the net so we can steer clear.
These nets are responsible for the drowning of many porpoises and dolphins and we don’t want to find out what a net wrapped around our propeller would do to Strathspey.
Since Rimouski, the landscape has been pure Gaspesie; the tall rolling hills of the end of the Appalachian Mountain range, a two lane highway hugging the shore, lighthouses on forbidding looking capes and the ubiquitous church in each village.
We’re staying over in Riviere-au-Renard for a few days to wait out some bad weather now. This is a commercial fishing port with the entire town geared to the industry. The placemats at the local diner advertise them all; hardware, marine fittings, mechanics and hearty breakfasts. This morning, we watched a fishing boat empty its catch at the wharf. These boats are so sophisticated that by the time they arrive back at dock after a night’s fishing, the shrimp have been bagged, weighed and packed in ice and only require transfer to the big packing containers.
After seeing the fresh shrimp unloaded from one of the bigger boats this morning, I went in search of ingredients for a bouillabaisse. At the first Poisonnerie I picked up some fletan de Groenland (halibut caught three hours earlier) and at the second Poisonnerie I found the Crevette Rose I had seen being unloaded this morning. While Blair did laundry and Sudoku, I made my bouillabaisse and Gramma’s scones for lunch. It doesn’t get a whole lot fresher than this I think.
After we leave Riviere-au-Renard, our last stop in Quebec is L’Anse-à-Beaufils, just down from Perce. In our original plans, this was where we’d leave for The Magdalene Islands. We’ve decided that, in the interests of getting to Maine by September, we’ll have to forgo the trip out to the Magdalenes. It is a 30-hour trip that requires waiting for perfect conditions both on the way out and on the way back to the mainland. A trip to the Magdalenes could quite conceivably end up taking us 10 days so we’ll save that trip for another time (perhaps a ferry ride out from PEI?). From L’Anse-à-Beaufils, we will cross Chaleur Bay to New Brunswick. Chaleur Bay has a nice ring to it; it means Bay of Heat. It is the middle of July and a little heat would be just the ticket I think.