We’ve been monitoring the same weather channels since Trident. Comfortingly, as we sail forward, the Coast Guard weather forecasts keep in step. Just when we begin to think about weather conditions around the next corner, the broadcasts “magically” change to drop the weather broadcasts for the area we passed through two days before and exchange it for the one we need. All this without changing the dial. Some things you just know are worth your tax dollars. We can see those dollars at work maintaining some excellent harbours out here too. Most of the small harbours we’re sheltering in show evidence of government money well spent; strong, wide floating docks on well placed structures that rise and fall with the tide. Good sources of drinking water, diesel and amazingly enough, some of the cleanest washrooms I’ve seen in any public area.
In Riviére-au-Renard, where we holed up waiting for any weather other than 30 knots sur le nez, Blair went in search of a place to play his pipes without disturbing people. He had a good long toot on the beach and towards the end, young Stephen MacDuff was at his side offering a large bag of salted turbot and another bag of freshly filleted haddock. His family had sent him down to get the cornemuse (bagpipe) man to join their guitar and accordion jam. Blair fetched me and we sat with three generations of fisher folk, passing around the instruments and singing songs ranging from old Beatles to Quebecois ditties. I had a go at the accordion and thought that it could definitely be an instrument I’d enjoy. They spoke little English and our French is pretty rudimentary at best, but music transcends most everything I can think of and everyone felt they’d made some new friends by the end of the night. The party broke up only because their morning started in the middle of the night for crab fishing and Strathspey was leaving dock at 6:30 am. They said they expect us next year and when they hear the pipes again on their beach, they’ll say “Blair est la”.
My good friend, Karen from Skirmish, says ‘always plan in pencil’ and on this trip it definitely applies to sailing schedules and routes. On Friday 13th, we’d planned to leave Riviére-au-Renard and arrive in l’Anse-a-Beaufils after making a short detour by Percé Rock for photo ops but after listening to the extended forecast, we realized we had a good enough weather window to make a long trek. We jumped at the chance to do this because there are few sheltered harbours with enough depth for our boat between Riviére-au-Renard and Escuminac, New Brunswick. We left at 7 pm Friday and arrived in Escuminac Saturday at 4:30 pm, a 21-hour trip.
Sailing at night is an exercise in trust. Trust in your sailing partner because when you are sleeping, your life is in their hands, trust in your instruments because the dark can play tricks on your eyes and trust in yourself so that when the tricks begin, you aren’t taken in. Three hours into our trek to Escuminac, we were motor-sailing, Blair had just fallen asleep and I was behind the wheel, keeping alert by alternately checking the oil pressure, engine temperature, voltmeter, chart plotter, wind direction and depth. The depths were 200 to 400 feet. Quite suddenly, the depth read 30 feet, then 21, then 13. I immediately throttled back and Blair was on his feet and beside me in less than three seconds. We checked the paper chart and compared it to the computer charts and confirmed that the average depth should be 358 feet; all should be fine. Blair believes that a thermal incline between the bottom layer of salty water and the top layer of less salty water caused this anomaly. The depth meter’s sonar is just sensitive enough that it saw that second layer as ocean bottom. It took some convincing before I could motor on into 13 feet of water and almost immediately, the depth meter read 350 feet. A big whew from both of us.
Escuminac is home port to the largest inshore fishing fleet in the Gulf of St Lawrence region and sits just atop the entrance to the Northumberland Strait. Other than a fish plant, diesel dock and more than 100 lobster boats during the lobster season, there is not much here but the welcome we received from everyone we met here gives us a warm fuzzy for New Brunswick.
Right now, they are between lobster seasons so many of the boats are sitting on the hard in the wharf parking lot.
This harbour is maintained by the fishermen who use it. The day we arrived, we were invited to the Breakwater Bash, a fundraiser for the harbour. Because of the dance, the dockage fee was waived (all $14 of it). We tied up at the floating wharfs because we arrived between lobster seasons. If we’d arrived three weeks earlier, there would barely have been room to swing in this harbour because of all the fishing boats.
These boats have personality. They’re named for daughters, sons, wives and dreams and have an ungainly grace to them; a cutting prow with a fat rear end yet powerful enough to take a weekend jaunt out to the Magdelene’s in most weather.
Overlooking the wharf is a monument to the Escuminac Disaster in 1959. That August, while the salmon was running, the fishermen left for the fishing grounds in the early evening to pay out their nets. The storm was unexpected and caught the fleet on the fishing grounds with no time to take shelter. 35 men, brothers and sons lost their lives in this storm.
Escuminac was a nice little respite from high winds. We walked the beach, met the locals, got our emails and corrected all the spelling mistakes in the last posting which was done in a hurry (my apologies to anyone who caught them before I did). Our sail from Escuminac to Bouctouche was everything we expected the sailing in the Northumberland Strait to be; steady 15-18 knot winds, manageable waves and sunny skies. We could see the tall windmills of Prince Edward Island on our port and the sand beaches of New Brunswick on our starboard. Bouctouche lies up a shallow winding river which is constantly silting over. The first section of the river is well marked with standard green and red buoys; the second half requires much faith. The locals have marked the edges of the skinny water using sticks with small green or red metal disks atop. At one point, when our depth meter read 4.6 feet, we had a major gulp but continued on and eventually saw 17 feet just before we swung the final corner into the Sawmill Point Boat Basin.
The marina clubhouse was built from the remains of K.C. Irving’s sawmill that stood on this site from the 1880′s on. The Irving family sponsored the construction and decoration of this beautiful clubhouse with a nautical theme evident throughout. The welcome we received at this marina was just as gracious as at the Escuminac fishing wharf and we think we are just beginning to experience the warmth and hospitality of The Maritimes. This warmth extends to the weather as well; there is a soft breeze blowing and a deep warmth in the sun that makes you want to turn your face to the sun and soak it all in. Summer is finally here!