Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The eastern coast of New Brunswick sweeps south from Shippagan. Eventually it curls east to create a north-facing shore that looks across across Northumberland Strait towards Prince Edward Island lying a few tens of miles out to sea. When you first leave Shippagan the coastline is exposed to the full breadth of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but gradually the bulk of PEI looms invisibly out to sea beyond the horizon, creating the strait that from my point of view is less of a threat to Kobuk than the Gulf has the potential to be. It is true that conditions in a confined waterway can be much worse than those on the open ocean, but I do like the knowledge that land is not so far away and that an incapacitated Kobuk would most likely fetch up on it before many days might pass.
When we left Shippagan it was blue skies and light breezes, and it stayed that way all day long. The town fronts a narrow channel that connects the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Chaleur, and that sets up good conditions for a strong tidal bore that runs fast and reverses direction every six hours. It is characteristic of the new kind of navigational challenge that now exists. Up to this point, Kobuk's ocean experience has been in an area of grand uplands where the coastline is readily visible as long as there is no fog, where bays and villages are easily spotted. But now there is this low-lying country with its miles and miles of sandy beaches, its strings of sandbar islands separating lagoons from the sea, its shallows extending vast distances out from the coast. No longer is it a near certainty that the water will be deep enough for Kobuk to operate. No longer can it be assumed that waves of a certain configuration will not change very much without a change in the wind or the fetch. No longer is it possible to count on seeing the coastline. These are new sorts of hazards and they are accompanied by a whole new level of complexity associated with the working of tides through narrow passages between sandbars and islets.
This is not to suggest that navigation is now more difficult. It only means that new hazards replace old ones and that I am a novice once again. In many respects, this new environment should be rather less hazardous. In particular, groundings will most likely be in sand rather than on rocks. Also, if one can learn to spot them, tidal bores between sandy islets are relatively common and offer the possibility of refuge if ocean conditions deteriorate. Spotting them, though, is not easy--and particularly without large scale charts. My approach, already initiated in Shippagan, is to visit places that sell those expensive charts with notebook in hand, ask to see the ones relevant to my itinerary, and note down the coordinates for critical passageways through the barrier islands en route.
Fine weather is a perfect way to get introduced to these new cruising conditions, and Kobuk motored along all day without my once feeling any anxiety or nervousness about our situation at sea. Only at the end of the day when we were seeking harbor did any kind of problem arise. The little town of Neguac is situated near the north end of Mirimachi Bay, and the bay itself lies screened off from the ocean by a curving string of barrier islands. We found the entrance channel easily enough and removed ourselves from the gentle pitching and rolling that had been our lot for the past few hours out on open waters. There was a real sense that we had made it. The breakwater harbor of Neguac showed clear a few miles away across flat water and all we had to do was look for channel buoys. And there they were: a curving string of red buoys off to starboard--right where they should be. There were no green buoys to port, and that led me to think that the only real hazard was up north past the line of red buoys. I headed straight for the harbor, but that was a bad decision.We ended up in a morass of sea grass just below the surface of the water, with occasional patches of sandy bottom that could not have been more than a couple feet below the hull. The little Yamaha struggled with the grass, sometimes wrapping it around the prop and dragging the engine rpm level down to a near stall.
This is when the flaws in the new tiller design were exposed. First there is the problem that the throttle for the outboard is inside the cabin whereas the tiller can only be managed some six feet further aft. I found myself madly racing between the tiller and the throttle, trying to power rapidly whenever the shallow conditions would permit and simultaneously trying to steer around troublesome banks of sea grass. The other problem with the tiller was that it could not be lifted so whenever the little engine's lower unit hit a bank of sea grass the entine would start to tip up out of the water and threaten to break off the tiller handle. I had thought about both these problems when I was building the makeshift steering system but could not figure out any reasonable way to overcome them. I figured I would just try to avoid situations where these weaknesses in the system could be exploited. Well, I had walked right into the first such situation my eyes closed. Fortunately, ten minutes of breathless scrambling got us over to near one of the red buoys which--it turns out--mark one side of a narrow channel.
"Why not start up the main engine?" you might ask. Aaah, well, that did cross my mind but jet drives just love to suck in sea grass and in no time at all it will clog the grating. I was keen to avoid having to take another swim, like the one in Shippagan.
Neguac Harbor: 47* 14.419' N / 65* 04.362' W
Distance: 49 miles
Total Distance: 4,685
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Canada is outfitted with all the same fast food chains as you would find in the States--well, most of them anyway--but when you get to the little hamlets and villages and out of the way places that dot the rural landscape there does appear to be a difference. Restaurant chains with which I am not familiar make an appearance even when the population center is too small to attract a McDonalds or Dairy Queen. Three in particular have caught my attention: Pizza Delight, Dixie Lee, and--the giant among midgets--Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons is a sort of upscale Dunkin Donuts--the same basic concept but fitted out with a more tasteful decor and a marginally expanded menu to capture the light breakfast and light lunch crowd. When you are eating and sipping coffee in a Tim Hortons, you feel feel as if you are doing something respectable, taking a leisurely break in a sort of European way even if the setting is all-American (North American, that is). This is fundamentally different from a Dunkin Donuts where your entry deludes neither you nor anybody else around into believing that you are about to do anything other than scarf down calories. In spite of its yuppie aura, Canadian cops are as likely to be seen in Tim Hortons as American ones are in Dunkin Donuts.
Actually, for these small towns, Tim Hortons often is treated as a meeting place. In both Shippagan and Neguac, there was a fraternity of men who would show up at opening time and sit around together gossiping. Not three or four men, but a dozen or so, all banked into one set of tables that I suspect was their designated domain. If someone should beat the first fraternal arriver in the restaurant and stake claim to a table in the critical zone, I don't know what would happen. But of course in a small town where everybody knows everybody else's business, such a thing is highly unlikely to happen. Whenever I go into a place like Tim Hortons, I tend to get stalled there, drinking multiple cups of coffee and finishing off one more book. I never was able to outlast the men in the corner, however; individuals would come and go but the institution lived on.
Have you ever stopped to think that the chain restaurant idea really was a creation of the Chinese? Have you ever been to a small town that did not have a Chinese restaurant? Did you not know in advance what would be on the menu and did you not already have a good idea what the place was going to look like inside? Was service not relatively quick and did you not always get the feeling that the intent was to shovel food into the masses as quickly as possible? In so many ways, a spaall Chinese restaurant is a branded item offering a standardized product--perhaps not as standardized as most American chains but standardized enough to influence your decision about whether or not to eat there. The major difference, of course, is that Chinese restaurants do not belong to a corporate octopus but instead function as small enterprises owned and operated by a sole proprietor (plus his family, broadly defined). This strikes me as being more "all-American" than the actual American chains.
And that brings up the question of staff. I cannot remember the last time I entered a fast food restaurant in Utah and was waited on by someone who did not look Latino. There must still be some pimply faced high school kids flipping burgers and wiping down tables, but they are becoming an endangered species where I come from--displaced, it seems, by an invasive, exotic species better adapted to survival by its willingness to work devilishly hard for very little pay. One of the surprises that awaits you when you enter a Canadian fast food restaurant is that the employees look like members of an underclass.
Ah, well, enough of idle speculation. It was time to go cruising. Since static and fade were all I could hear when I tuned in for the weather forecast, there was no choice but to make a decision for the day based on the look of things out beyond the breakwater. There was a stiff breeze blowing off the land and it was obvious that any distance out to sea the waves would be considerable. But we could hug the shore and stay in that little band where the wind whipped ripples were not yet churned up into full blown waves. Wind shift? Well, that's always a risk but yesterday when I last heard a forecast it had promised sun and persisting southwest winds. We had both those things and we had a plan for how to make way down the coast, so once the sun was high enough to put a little warmth in the air we set out for Richibucto.
There was one item of concern: immediately upon exiting the channel from Neguac, there was a large bay that had to be crossed--fourteen miles to Point Escuminac. Once around that headland there would be good shelter from the wind, but until then we were going to have to ride the waves. It turned out to be a rollicking ride with shapely waves shepherding us along, urging us and nudging us, but always in a friendly and solicitous manner. After Point Escuminac, we kept the shore close to starboard and sneaked into Richibucto late in the day.
Richibucto Harbor: 46* 40.881' N / 64* 32.750' W
Distance: 53 miles
Total Distance: 4,738 miles
Thursday, September 14, 2006
It had turned cloudy overnight but the wind continued out of the southwest. Kobuk and I opted for the same strategy as yesterday: cruise along along in the protection of the shoreline. The wind was more powerful today and so inevitably there was some amount of chop, but it was unable to do much to us Only when we had to pass an opening into an estuary were we exposed to the nasty conditions, but that only happened near Buctouche and then again as we approached Shediac, our destination. In both instances, however, we were banged around for less than an hour before reaching protection once again.
Our first struggle was crossing the mouth of the Baie de Buctouche, a five mile stretch during which the wind and waves were assaulting us along the starboard beam. This set up a rolling motion that I find particularly hard to tolerate. A pitching motion is relatively easy to adapt to, but there never seems to be any rest when trying to cope with the harsh, sharp rolling motion of a small boat. Fortunately, Kobuk only takes on an excessive roll when moving perpendicular to the direction that the waves are travelling. Even a few degrees variation removes most of the roll from her motion. Unfortunately, we were so perfectly aligned throughout most of the crossing of the bay. By comparison, at the end of the day when we were punching into the wind and waves of Shediac Bay, the motion was not nearly as wearying. It might have been different, however, if we had arrived an hour later for shortly after we reached port the flags started snapping and cracking like whips and the wind began to whistle and moan.
Shediac has two breakwater harbors. We put in at the one farther removed from the sea, and that turned out to be a fortuitious decision for the marina itself was the friendliest I have been in on this trip and its location put us near the downtown. Ron Robichaud was the attendant who greeted me when I went up to pay at the marina office. Lean and lively, with the unconcerned air of a teenager, Ron is a thirty-something host with refined manners and an uncanny ability to make you feel welcome. His secret is that he actually listens to whatever you have to say. Ron made me coffee and set me up with a wireless Internet connection and encouraged me to use anything I wished in the spacious, fir-panelled clubhouse that the town had built. I was the only visitor, it seems, so I had the facilities to myself. Ron found a marine forecast for me on the internet, and the conditions for tomorrow look as if they will be ideal for crossing over to Prince Edward Island. I had been contemplating taking a break from the water tomorrow, but if conditions pan out as predicted it would be foolish to not take advantage of them. I am not really sure what I want for tomorrow.
Shediac is more picturesque than the other New Brunswick towns I have visited so far. Its center is concentrated so that when you are downtown you really know it. The bay on which the town fronts is blessed with a ragged coastline and in the middle of the bay is an interestingly shaped island. Houses string along the shorelines, of course, but not continuously and there are a number of places where the forest runs right to the water's edge. Shediac is a few miles inland from Northumberland Strait and the upshot is that land along the waterfront is indeed a natural forest rather than a somewhat windswept zone of tidal marsh and coastal dunes and treeless littoral. It is an inviting place.
Although it is my peculiar nature to pay more attention to scenery than to people,this hidden shore of New Brunswick has won me over with the latter rather than the former. It is a pretty area, but suffers by comparison with those other remarkable regions through which Kobuk and I have passed this summer--the Gaspe, the Saguenay, the Charlevoix, the Trent-Severn district, and of course Georgian Bay. But the people here seem to have a way of making me feel at ease. Everybody seems to be happy with who they are and where they are and what they are doing with their lives. Talk never seems to be about anything but what the words are saying. This is quite liberating, really, and makes conversation less of a chore than often I have thought it to be.
Shediac Municipal Marina: 46* 13.661' N / 64* 32.750' W
Distance: 46 miles
Total Distance: 4,784 miles
Friday, September 15, 2006
Before I left in the morning, Ron gave me a Shediac Yacht Club burgee. "It's the only one left from the summer," he said, "and you might as well have it." I don't know exactly what he meant when he referred to the summer, but there was no mistaking the kindness of giving it to me. I motored out of Shediac Harbor--headed for Prince Edward Island--with a pang of regret at leaving behind New Brunswick with its uncomplicated citizens.
The voyage across Northumberland Strait was done in light, trailing winds that whisked us along on a peaceful sea. Each time Kobuk heads out across a stretch of open water I am wary, but today was so docile that it was hard to stay in a proper state of readiness for the possibility of changes in the conditions. The only matter that seemed to require attention was that of avoiding the myriad buoys floating on the water. Most of Northumberland Strait is only a few fathoms deep and as a result the fishermen work it over mercilessly. I do not know the procedure that they use or what marine species they are seeking, but these small plastic or styrofoam buoys appear to be flags for nets that have been set. Ever since the Gaspe, I have been siting them with growing frequency, and now in the past couple days they have become something of an infestation. At times it is impossible to steer a straight course without running over one.
Already there have been a few occasions when I have heard the Yamaha labor and felt the forward progress slow. Then it is time to leap for the throttle and cut the power. So far, all that has ever happened is that a line from one of these buoys has wrapped around the outboard's lower unit without actually getting wrapped up in the prop, but I am sure that sooner or later that will change. Even on a busy day like today when many fishing boats are running about from place to place, it is simply impossibloe that all these buoyed nets are being set and hauled within a single day. Most of them must be left overnight. Maybe the lines from these buoys are attached to something other than nets--I don't know. But I have been told that lobstering does not run at this time of year so it is hard for me to figure out what else they might be. In any event, here is one more example of the transformative consequences of GPS technology: without it, fishermen never would be able to locate their traps or nets or whatever they are.
On the way into Summerside Harbor a long jetty extends out from shore. A large, low warehouse sits atop it, masking from view and sign of the small boat harbor that is on its far side. As Kobuk wore around the end of the jetty, a square rigged schooner was tied up to it, near the entrance to the small boat harbor. The Picton Castle. It looked ship shape and clean, and indeed it was not a muiseum but an actual working boat, a privately owned vessel that offers training on how to handle square rigged sails. Those who pay to learn do the bulk of the sailing work and get to see the world in the process, for the Picton Castle is a globe trotter that just happened to be in this port on this particular weekend.
The Picton Castle was not the only serendipitous event that Summerside offered up on this unseasonably warm September afternoon. As I was walking along the yacht harbor dock after having secured Kobuk, an high-pitched wailing sound screamed over my head and quickly modulated to an octave or two lower. I looked up to see a jet plane disappearing across the bay only tens of feet above the water. My first thought was that there must be an airbase around here and my second was that even jet pilots on testosterone usually don't get away with flying that close to cities. In the middle of thyis second thought, a second jet passed over, equally low but going in the opposite direction.
It was the start of an air show practice session by the Snowbirds, Canada's premiere stunt flying squadron consisting of nine jets piloted by military personnel who do execute some of the most eye-popping maneuvers you would ever see. Here are a couple examples. At one point, two of these jets flew directly at each other, screaming along at hundreds of miles per hour and only hundreds of feet above the water of the harbor. As they approached collision, each tipped its wings and passed belly to belly with hardly the width of an inflated parachute between them. Then a squadron of seven flew wingtip to wingtip, arrayed in a hexagon around one in the center--looking like a futuristic StarWars fighter plane they were so rigidly compacted. These jets stayed in perfect formation as they first did a complete barrel roll and then did a mile high loop that only came to completion tens of feet above the water. By the time they were done, I wanted to go out and join the air force.
And then there was a third event. That night in the Silver Fox Yachting and Curling Club--a spacious building with bar and pool room and dining hall and lounge--there was live music and dancing and a buoyant crowd of Summersiders reveling in the end of summer. I had wondered at the unusual name for the club but that evening it all became clear for there were lots of them there, loading up on liquor and looking for men. They were not young but they were on the prowl and no man was safe. It was not a question of whether you would be propositioned; the question was whether you would be bodily kidnapped. The larger ones were particularly fearsome as they might actually be stronger than you.
Summerside Harbor: 46* 23.291' N / 63* 47,107' W
Distance: 40 miles
Total Distance: 4,824 miles
Saturday, September 16, 2006
There is an enforced layover here in Summerside. The cruising conditions are fine, but my condition is not. I danced the night away, so to speak, not giving up until the band quit for the night. In fact, I got so carried away on the dance floor that the sole on one of my shoes was separated from the upper and my foot was beginning to hang out the side. I was having such a good time that I hardly noticed. But that was last night; now it is different. There is no hangover but neither is there any energy or enthusiasm for getting up and getting going. I stayed in bed until 11:00 AM and then spent the rest of the day doing the little chores that get put off when you are cruising every day. I was too enervated to do any sort of serious cycling, but in the afternoon I did take a little time to pedal around a bit.
Summerside is a big town, scrubbed white and growing fast. It has everything required to become a major tourist destination. By Prince Edward Island standards it probably already is, but in a few years it may become a Mecca that defines the island. At present, all one ever hears about PEI is that it is the home of Anne of Green Gables and that you can tour her home by crossing over to the island on the new Confederation Bridge. This alone is not sufficient to give this little province an international reputation as a place to visit, but Summerside may have the potential to do the job. The historic downtown strings along just one block inland from the harbor shore, but back behind that is a gridwork of lovely residential streets with an extraordinary number of well-preserved homes from the Victorian era, each surrounded by a wealth of greenery. Large trees along the streets partially obscure and soften those grandiose dwellings, and they in turn are set well back from the sidewalk. Although the houses are Victorian in size and general layout, they minimize the ornate detail that is so often a part of such homes--and this, from my point of view, enhances their appeal All this combined with the large number of preserved buildings in the historic downtown gives Summerside a real shot at becoming an escape into the past. The problem is the amount of development that already has been attracted. There now is a major shopping center inland a mile or two from the town and the harbor itself is undergoing all sorts of retail development. Most of this commercial expansion is unobjectionable--and in fact downright elegant for an urban center of such limited size--but of course the juxtaposition of old and new is beginning to give the entire place a sense of unreality. Summerside is at present a functioning town; one hates to see it turned into a museum.
Rural PEI is a soothing blend of green pastures, fir forests, and white clapboard homes. There are hills, but they rumple the surface of the land with such subtlety and smallness that you can look anywhere and say to yourself: "I wouldn't mind bicycling over that." It would be impossible for anybody to look at this land and not think it a sort of demi-Eden. Rarely do you see anything that looks seedy or ill-kept and at this time of year when the temperatures are still quite pleasant it is hard to remember that winter is not far away and would most definitely alter the feel of the place. Still, locals talk of winter with some measured amount of enthusiasm, commenting on how beautiful the land here is with snow on it. I would like to see it then, actually--but not with Kobuk.
Most people contemplating the sort of journey that Kobuk is doing would have opted to bypass this part of the world and instead head south via the Hudson River. But Quebec and the Maritimes are such an overlooked region that I could not resist going out of the way, even at the price of having to wait one more winter before getting to warm country. So far, it has been a good decision. The images that survive in my mind from the Saguenay and the Gaspe are inspirational. The small town hospitality of the New Brunswick coast is captivating. Now I find Prince Edward Island to be a special place too. With so much recommending these places, is it not sensible for me to expect that Nova Scotia will prove equally gratifying?
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Before setting out this morning, I took advantage of the shower facilities here in the yacht harbor and then went to pay for my stay. The only person around was the janitor and when I asked him where the person would be who might take my money, he bemoaned the fact that the employees in the place don't ever show up for work on time. It was indeed well after eight in the morning and yesterday I had been told that someone would be on duty by then. The janitor took me over to where the books are kept and had me remove my registration form. He took the form and told me that when someone comes in he would give it to them with directions to mail me a bill. That sounded fine to me, so I thanked him and left.
On the way back to Kobuk I passed by a table where a man of my age was sitting reading the paper. He was tall with a mop of white hair and a short white beard. When I asked him where he got his paper, we started talking and I learned that his name was Berkeley and that he was one of the trainees on the Picton Castle. Naturally I asked him about that, and before I knew it we were discussing what makes people want to do boat trips. It was then that he happened to mention Tristan Jones. It seems that many years ago when he was a young man Berkeley had been backpacking in Bolivia and Peru. When he got to Lake Titicaca, Tristan Jones was there, sailing his Sea Dart on that, the highest body of salt water in the world. According to Berkeley, he and a friend acted as Sea Dart's crew for one day of sailing on the lake. It was to become part of Tristan Jones' book entitled The Incredible Voyage. I am not particularly fascinated by celebrities and would make poor material as a groupie, but I must admit that that for me there is a certain mystical aura associated with Tristan Jones that had me viewing Berkeley in such a way that psychologists would refer to him as "basking in reflected glory."
Tristan Jones told mesmering tales of solo sailing all around the world. When I first became fascinated with the notion of long distance voyaging, he was one of the heroes who inspired me. He was a global cruiser who generally single-handed his ship, and the stories he told were fabulous--so fabulous as to verge on the unbelievable. The degree to which Mr. Jones stretched the truth is of course unknowable, but his tales were told in such a brazen way that eventually I decided that it did not matter whether he was telling the truth: I would believe him because it is healthy to attach oneself to that which is mythical. I do not regret that decision and still to this day his stories are important to me. Without him and a few others, I would never be here in Prince Edward Island cruising to the nether parts of the world on a boat that I built myself.
I set off for Charlottetown in rather marginal conditions. To get out of the large bay where Summerside is located, Kobuk had to push into the wind and waves for a couple hours. Not only that, the tide was working against us and our pace was unusually slow. It was to be a long day and this first part of it was not helping. Eventually, however, we turned the corner and began running southeast along the coast with the waves coming at us slightly abaft of the beam.
The roughness of the water made it harder to spot the fishermen's buoys. They are not as numerous as they had been two days ago when we crossed over from Shediac, but there still were a lot of them. I snagged one and spent a few minutes getting it disentangled from the Yamaha, and then only a few minutes later the little motor quit abruptly when the line from another buoy actually wrapped around the propeller. It was rather uncomfortable trying to hang out over the engine to work the line free, but it disentangled more easily than I had expected, and when the job was done neither the engine nor the buoy line showed signs of having suffered from the encounter. I did discover, however, that Kobuk really does not like to be anchored by the stern in a following sea. The waves snapped the transom up and down with whip-like vigor and every once in a while a chunk of a wave would strike it with a spray-exploding smack.
Not until almost noon did we cross under the Confederation Bridge, and it was another hour before we reached the midpoint of our day's voyage. The afternoon worked out well, however, for the roughness abated and gradually the tide turned. Even so, it wasn't until after five that we got to Charlottetown.
Because of its gentle hills, a good sampling of the PEI countryside is visible from out at sea. The coastline was a run of red bluffs that rose up no higher than does Kobuk, and beyond that could be seen the broad, rolling meadows dotted here and there with whitewashed homes. Behind this was a ragged line of conifers that acted as a proper edge to the sky. It was a sunny day, a warm day, and as the conditions became ever more peaceful, the entire scene took on a certain timelessness.
Charlottetown Yacht Club: 46* 13.843' N / 63* 07.466' W
Distance: 53 miles
Total Distance: 4,877 miles
Monday, September 18, 2006
I think we all understand in principle that an isolated decision can result in a string of unintended consequences that persist through time far beyond the original matter that needs to be resolved, but today I had an object lesson in how this works. Since leaving Matane on September 1st, Kobuk and I have moved on to a new destination almost every morning. Steering problems stalled us in Shippagan for a couple days, but that was unavoidable. Only in Summerside did we stay dockside for more than one night, and even that was largely because I misbehaved in the evening and was in no shape to carry on the next day. During those hours on the water yesterday I decided on a two-night layover in Charlottetown. There were a number of good reasons. First, it was clear that we would be arriving late after a very long day of cruising and that there would be little time to see the city. Then there was the prospect that the next leg of the voyage would take us back across Northumberland Strait to Nova Scotia, bidding a permanent adieu to Prince Edward Island after a mere three-day visit. Also, I was tired of constantly moving and thought it was time to take a break. I was happy with the decision and thought it the right thing to do.
The unintended consequence was to make us captive to the city for a much longer period. I arose late the next morning and went to the marina facilities to take a shower. It was a quiet, sunny day that would be ideal for sightseeing and under the soporific influence of warm water beating down on me in the shower I entertained languid thoughts about how to spend the hours. No hurry, though--I had all day. The surfeit of time lulled me into a lazy pace and the morning was nearly spent before finally I was ready to set out. Before departing the harbor on Bike Friday, I thought to take a look at the weather forecast that gets posted next to the marina office, and it was then that I learned of our captivity. This Monday weather would have been ideal for making our way across to Pictou on the Nova Scotia coast, but the forecast warned of changing conditions overnight: strong southerly winds and possible small craft advisories for the next two days. To cross Northumberland Strait in the face of headwinds would be foolhardy, but if we had gone today when conditions were good we then would have been able to proceed along the coast for the next two days in thte shelter of land breezes. I still am not unhappy with the decision for it does feel as if the time has come to slow the pace, but I was a little unsettled by the discovery that my decision to stay here anextra day meant that we would more likely be spending three. And after that who knows when the conditions will permit us to continue on from Pictou?
In any event, I made a particularly lazy day of it since it looked as if there would be plenty of time to spend in Charlottetown. By the time evening came around I had been up and down the streets of the small city so much that it was pretty well mapped out in my mind. After dark as I was pedaling along University Avenue I happened to see an Indian restaurant that struck my fancy and so I went in for dinner. It was staffed by a clean cut South Asian man working the till and a lively young local gal serving the food. As I was paying my bill at the end of the meal, I got to talking with the man behind the till. He came to Canada from New Delhi, India, about five years ago and already owns a motel somewhere in Ontario. This restaurant, he said, was a new business of his that has only been operating for a couple weeks. I asked him why in the world he would start a restaurant here in this isolated corner of Canada when he has his other business in Ontario. It turns out that he was sponsored to be in Canada by the government of PEI. The terms of the sponsorship require him to start a business in the province and he is in the process of fulfilling his end of the bargain.
It is mind boggling, really. Here we have a South Asian being recruited to invest in a rich country. Such a state of affairs would have been inconceivable even a generation ago. This is not a man of fabulous wealth, I should think, since the restaurant he is starting is a very modest enterprise. He is well educated and almost certainly comes from a family that is well off, but he is not what one might call a business tycoon. He has a bit of money and an entrepreneurial spirit and one small part of Canada hopes to benefit from what he has to offer. I do not thing there could be a better example of how economic globalization is changing the face of the world.
I believe that the sponsorship of this immigrant represents a somewhat isolated decision that will have unintended consequences for PEI. They may be good consequences but I very much doubt they were anticipated when the original decision was made. The same I believe to be true of the decision to build the Confederation Bridge linking PEI to the Mainland, although its unanticipated consequences may not be so good.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
The Charlottetown harbor is along the banks of an estuary whose egress to the sea is via a narrow channel protected on both sides by long, slender peninsulas. The estuary itself is spacious but not so extensive as to permit the build-up of particularly rough waters. This natural protection has discouraged the erection of breakwaters for the harbor and the moorings within are therefore at the mercy of whatever chop the estuary might develop. Today, the wind is tubing in through the channel entrance to the estuary and blasting across the estuary towards this harbor. The floating docks are writhing and torqueing in their efforts to adapt to the conditions and the boats tied to them are bobbing around, anxious and agitated. It is not extreme; no damage is being done. The lively harbor conditions, though, are just enough to remind one that the open waters of Northumberland Strait are no place for a small boat today.
The allure of Prince Edward Island is supposed to be its back roads and byways so today I took Bike Friday out for a jaunt in the countryside. As long as you are not training for the Tour de France, it is wonderful cycling country. Very gentle hills afford vistas that often embrace open fields and fir forests and distant blue ocean waters. Valleys are never deep or pronounced, only gentle downwarpings that never feel closed in or overshaded. Most homes are well cared for and many of them are lovely. Makeshift housing is rarely seen. This leaves the unusual impression that the countryside is actually thriving.
None of the urban places on the island are very big--not even Charlottetown--and so the traffic on the country roads is generally manageable. Drivers, furthermore, tend to be cautious and courteous. The entire scene is on a small enough scale that few feel the urge to get anywhere in a hurry. Cycling is natural for the island and while I was out touring I did happen across a good number of cyclists. I should caution, though, that there are a couple drawbacks to pedaling on these provincial roads. The first is that the gentle terrain has encouraged the construction of very straight roads that are less interesting for being so geometric. When the Confederation Bridge was built, the design incorporated a few curves so that drivers would not become inattentive. It is a pity that more of the roads on the island were not laid out with a similar thought in mind. The second caution has to do with the lack of shoulders on some of the secondary roads: to leave the lane often means a two inch drop onto roadbase, and this can be unpleasant.
I crossed over to the other side of the island to Prince Edward Island National Park and spent an hour cycling along beside a long strand of red sand beach backed by dunes. The hummocky dunes looked like golf bunkers on their seaward sides but were stabilized by tall grasses away from the sea. Evergreens crept in towards the dunes wherever they dared, and every once in a while a small bridge would span the entrance to an inland estuary of calm waters and tidal flats and occasional clusters of contemporary residential development. There was little over here--few houses, hardly any businesses, and only a handful of people whose occasional presence was as fleeting as the daylight hours.
On the way back to town, I came across a 40' fishing boat that had a sign hanging from its bow: "Free Boat." It was in a state of serious disrepair, but the lines were true and the keel and ribs and planking all appeared still to be sound. Two people working hard for a few months could--with virtually no money--turn this into a reasonable live-aboard vessel. It would be necessary to buy and install an engine for it but a serviceable second-hand diesel could be had for relatively little. I spent some time looking at this labor waiting to be done, and would have been tempted myself if the lines of the hull had been more to my liking.
Back in Charlottetown, I noticed that a production called Celtic Blaze was being hosted in the evening. I bought a ticket and spent much of the evening being wowed by Stephanie Cadman who plays the fiddle like a devil out of Georgia (although she is from Ontario) and dances like a pagan Celt. A small band accompanied her fiddle and two teenage girls complimented her high stepping. The music was arranged in a way that melded Celtic tradition with hard driving rock. I came away thinking about a trip to Ireland.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
It was one of those days when you should use an umbrella but as soon as you do it will get turned inside out. A dingy duvet slid across the sky and its uniform grayness gave no hint as to when the next shower might rain down on you. The wind blustered and buffeted in frustrated rage at its own lack of purpose, but then would lie in sullen silence until its next outburst. I ventured out a little, but the wheels of the Bike Friday kept licking up water from the sodden streets and flinging it at my back. I did the sensible thing and retreated to the warmth and protection of Confederation Hall.
For those of you unacquainted with Canadian history, the country is most remarkable for never having gone through the trauma of birth. To identify when Canada became a country is rather like detecting when a fetus is fully autonomous. There is of course that magic date of 1867, the year in which the British North America Act was formally approved, but that is merely a convenient marker that has no more real significance than the specious contention that a particularly noteworthy play won the Super Bowl. Until the 1860's, there was nothing more than a collection of British colonies lying to the north of the United States: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and of course Canada. Canada was a string of settlement along the St. Lawrence. It was ethnically partitioned--Anglophones upstream and Francophones down--but this informal division between "Upper " and "Lower" did not change Canada's status as a politically unified colony of Britain. By virtue of its demographic and territorial size, it was first among equals, but its status was really no different from that of the four maritime colonies.
In 1864, a convention was planned that had as its agenda the unification of the maritime colonies. This would, of course, "rationalize" Britain's administrative expenses but it also offered the prospect of "free trade" within the region (to say nothing of presenting a more united resistance if the United States were to become aggressive). People in the maritime colonies were divided over the issue, and in Prince Edward Island most were opposed. The conference was planned for Charlottetown in the hopes that it might sway public opinion there toward a more favorable view of the proposal.
The four maritime colonies were so small that the idea of union was at least worth discussing, and what better way to conduct the discussion than to socialize in Charlottetown? Canada was not invited to the party but decided to crash it. A political delegation from there not only made an uninvited appearance but even managed to persuade the maritime representatives to accept the notion of a grander union--one in which all five colonies would be bound together. This originated the concept of a single political entity embracing all the British territories north of the United States, and it led to subsequent meetings--first in Quebec City and then in London. Out of all this came the British North America Act establishing a single, unified colony that then gradually assumed greater and greater levels of autonomy. The details regarding how the union would work were negotiated at the follow-up conference in Quebec City. Naturally, there was a desire to preserve something of the individuality of the originally separate colonies and so towards this end the delegates chose a federal model, with some specified powers reserved for what were now referred to as provinces and all other powers accorded to the central government.
The Canadian model tried to insure that the central government would have lots of power and that the provinces would have much less. The thinking was that Canada had so much territory and so few people that a strong central government would be required to effectively develop the vast domain. Also, the United States was viewed askance and centralized power would stand a better chance of discouraging American expansionism. The upshot was a scheme in which provinces only got a limited set of specified powers whereas the central government was given control over anything left unmentioned. Notice that this is precisely the opposite of the United States where in an effort to limit central authority only a specified set of powers was accorded to the central government whereas all things unmentioned were left by default in the domain of the states. It is one of the ironies of history that both countries evolved in precisely the opposite direction from that which was originally intended: today, the American central government is much more powerful than the states while in Canada the provinces have become more powerful than American states and more autonomous than the BNA Act originally intended.
That first Canadian union did not create a country--just a unified colony. Not only that, the reality was a pale reflection of the intent. In spite of playing host to the conference, Prince Edward Island refused to join. And so did Newfoundland. Then Nova Scotia elected a new colonial government that refused to honor the original commitment to join. So instead of five unified colonies you are left, really, with two: Canada and New Brunswick. This could hardly be viewed as an auspicious beginning, but the important thing is that the Charlottetown conference established the idea of unity, and as time passed that idea became ever more powerful. Even so, it was the middle of the twentieth century before Newfoundland bought in.
Please forgive me for obliging you to suffer through this little lesson on Canadian history. The problem is that when I went to view the exhibits in Confederation Hall they were done in the form of a multimedia presentation. In each room, information got provided on a television (color, no less) by a "newscaster" who attended the conference. If I recall correctly, her name was T. J. Arsenault, a blue-eyed blond with an excellent physique that was nicely fitted into a tweed business suit. Many female newscasters are marvelously attractive and at least a little coquettish, but T. J. took it to a new level. I may not have her name right but I doubt I will ever forget her versatile range of facial expressions designed to make you feel like an insider--ostensibly at the conference but really as a member of her magic circle. Well, sexy ladies sell beer and cars so why not history?
Thursday, September 21, 2006
This was not a good idea. The wind is incessant and the waves are punishing us broadside. Kobuk rolls and plunges. If I don't wrap my legs around the sides of the engine box as I steer the Yamaha, the motion sends me sliding off to one side or the other and my grip on the tiller ends up having more to do with keeping me from sprawling than with directing the boat. It is still a half dozen miles--at least another hour--before we can clear Point Prim and head downwind. That would ease the motion, but over 40 miles of open water still would separate us from the protection of Pictou harbor. I am turning back.
For the last three days, the wind has been coming up out of the south, making departure from Charlottetown an unreasonable risk for a small boat like Kobuk. Today the wind remained strong but finally backed off to the southwest. I had thought that the wind shift might make it possible to escape in marginal conditions, but the large bay out beyond the Charlottetown harbor requires a departing boat to head due south for over ten miles before she can turn left to make easting along the coast of the island. The bay is a miserable place--as bays often are when the weather is up--since its shallow waters heighten the waves and the arcing coastline refracts their direction of travel towards shore. Still, there is the lure of open water just ten miles out: get there and the going would get easier. But to escape from the bay in conditions as marginal as these could easily be a mixed blessing. Once outside and angling downwind, Kobuk might manage now but what if the wind and waves get worse? With no place to hide, Kobuk would either have to make it all the way to Pictou or turn back against the wind. Ugh.
Charlottetown lies in such a protected location that it is hard to judge conditions out in Northumberland Strait. In most harbor towns you can see out to sea, but not so from Charlottetown. Of course, even when you can see, distance always makes nasty conditions look no more threatening than used aluminum foil, but at least a view of the open water generally gives one a feel for the strength of the wind and with experience that clue can be very helpful. Charlottetown, though, is surrounded by wooded country that breaks the force of the wind and that can turn a lion into a tomcat.
Our heading into the harbor is taking us directly towards the Holland American cruise ship that arrived yesterday afternoon. Its size is startling: it rises out of the water to greater height than any of the surrounding land and its enormous bulk dwarfs that of anything to be seen on land. I am really quite surprised at where the captain has decided to anchor her. She sits athwart a line from the harbor entrance to the range lights that would guide one in (or out). The hull completely masks them for any boat that is running the channel. This is not a problem in daytime for the entrance is obvious, but at night a boat wishing to enter would be unable to find the lights indicated on the nautical chart and would agonize over that terrible question that anyone who has spent time at sea sooner or later has had to confront: am I really where I think I am?
Mike is there to help as Kobuk runs into the same slip that she left a few hours ago. It has been a 16 mile run, but now we are back at square one. I go up to the harbor office to check the weather forecast for tomorrow and it does not look encouraging. Tomorrow should be like today, it says, and so I am now beginning to contemplate storing Kobuk here for the winter. The yacht club would keep her for me--outdoor storage until next spring for only $220. Getting Kobuk out of the water and then back in would require a piece of hired equipment but even with that factored in the cost of winter storage would be low.
The hard part about decisions like this is not the weighing of pros and cons. It is the adjustment to change. Kobuk and I have been on a run. We were making good progress and there was a routine going. To suddenly give this up and go into hibernation mode feels wrong somehow. Logic says that the run has to end sometime soon, but to continue with the run requires a continuing commitment to it and so to consider stopping smacks of indecisiveness. Still, a reasonable decision must require some amount of subversive forethought, mustn't it? It is an unsettling time.
Friday, September, 22, 2006
Out and back once again. I made another attempt today but the wind and waves were too much. Even before setting out it was clear that it would be rough, but there appeared to have been a shift in the wind, a backing more to the west and perhaps even the northwest--in which case the body of the island would abbreviate the fetch of open water and perhaps moderate the size of the waves. It was an illusion, however. The wind had not backed; it just seemed that way in the harbor. We did not get very far; only a nine mile circuit. It quickly became evident that today would be no better than yesterday and so it took less time to reach a decision.
Back in port, I checked the newly posted weather forecast and it called for more of the same with no prospect of a change for at least two days. This, combined with the fact that the temperatures have dropped significantly in the last two days settled the matter: I will store Kobuk here for the winter. I made arrangements with the yacht harbor and called a crane service to get lifted out. Sometime late tomorrow morning Kobuk will be grounded and I will begin to put my energies into Plan B--whatever that is.
It is too bad that everything has to fizzle to an end this way but what can you do? Charlottetown is a nice place but it is time to move on.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Lisa, the yacht harbor manager, has reserved a place for Kobuk next to the rock breakwater and Brown's Crane Service has agreed to pluck Kobuk from the water and set her on old tires that rest on the ground. David Brown showed up with his rig right at 11:00 AM and in forty minutes we had Kobuk settled into her spot. There wasn't the time to properly inspect the bottom before she came to rest on the tires, but I did see one particularly bad patch just to port of the keel, immediately forward of the jet drive intake. It looked as if an entire section of plywood planking measuring perhaps 8"x 4" was gouged out not just through the fiberglass and epoxy sheathing but deeply into the ply as well. That means, of course, a bad patch of waterlogged planking that will require significant patching next spring. There will be all winter to figure out how to best raise the hull high enough and safely enough to work on it.
Her condition really is not too bad, but the wear on poor Kobuk is starting to show. She looks as tired as I feel.