|The Ocean at Last
Sunday, August 27, 2006
At the end of the string lies Kobuk: Salt Lake to Newark to Quebec City to Trois Pistoles. I left last night late in the evening and droned through the darkness until a bump-down in dim gray light signaled the end of the first leg of the journey. The weather deteriorated. The overcast skies tried to forestall their emotional release, but as the time for departure to Quebec drew near the heavens forsook their fortitude. Some unknown event finally triggered the inevitable and the skies began to bawl. Up we lifted through the rain and the clouds and left it all behind.
Aah, Quebec. As we dropped down through the jumbled clouds the St. Lawrence crinkled below and I could see the ____ Bridge in the distance. It is odd to view this stretch of the river from such a different vantage. Back in mid-July, Kobuk and I navigated here--I can even see the channel buoys that directed us and can even recall our passage by certain ones of them. Then, the river was all and little could be seen but the forested bluffs that hemmed it in. Now, however, miles of lowland spread towards the horizon with the St. Lawrence cutting through it. The vista is better than the view you get when you are on the water, but is unreal in its prettiness--just as a city always is lovelier when seen from a mountain top than when observed from within. Given the right light, distance paints a golden patina on the seediest of settings--and that is a relief whenever you get tired of trying to look beneath the surface.
The flight landed early and the transit through customs required nothing more than the disposal of two apples. I was free of the airport and ready for the next leg of the journey with more time than could rightfully be expected, and that raised the possibility of catching an earlier bus to Trois Pistole--one that would arrive in late afternoon instead of well after dark. I ran to the first taxi in sight--one from which the preceding fare was only now walking away--and spoke to the driver. He was a burly man with a broad and aging face. He listened to me in silence and then hesitated momentarily before assenting to take me. He reassured me that he could get me to the Ste. Foy bus station in plenty of time and we departed in a hurry. As we left, we swept by a row of taxis, the drivers lounging beside their vehicles and talking with one another as they waited for fares to arrive. We had short circuited the system and had slipped out of view in a flash--hopefully before the clustered cabbies could recognize our offence.
Even though it was a speedy journey, the man behind the wheel was loquacious and maintained a steady monologue as he drove. I would prime him with a single question and out would flow an ornamented tale, one in which the answer to the question would be imbedded but made to look somehow unworthy of the answer. Onward we rushed through the disorderly city streets of Ste. Foy, but the man behind the wheel did not need to be attentive in order to make time. He told me about his wife and grown children, about his prostate operation and his annual winter retreat to Tampa where his fifth wheel would take up residence in the back yard of his 93-year-old aunt's back yard. Before we arrived at the bus station he managed to give me all the details regarding the recent marriage of his "last" daughter--including the fact that her $2,500 wedding dress was given to her by a friend and had only set him back $185 for the dry cleaning. He presented me with a bundle of amateur wedding photos that I found myself perusing even as we came to a stop in front of the bus station. His daughter was a large woman, large and buxom, and she had a rosy-faced gleam of intense joy that looked anything but demure. Given that look, I imagine the groom was destined either for tremendous pleasure or quite the opposite--I am not sure which.
Under very gray skies and fitful outbursts of rain, the bus made its way to Trois Pistoles where a dry interval permitted me to walk the two miles down to the harbor without getting drenched. There, at last, was Kobuk looking as if no time had passed since last we were together.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Although it is rather unusual for me to launch into a project without first engaging in a period of slothful meditation, the fact that the tide was in when I arrived at the harbor yesterday motivated me to get right to work. The little outboard had to be remounted on the stern and that is something that can most readily be done when the boat is afloat and the engine's lower unit can project down below the keel. I hefted the Yamaha onto the Remote Troll and bolted it to the panel, leaving for today the work of connecting the wiring, steering, and fuel line. When that was done, I reordered Kobuk's interior, putting up the Bimini, attaching all the curtains, fixing in place the radio and GPS, restocking dry goods below the floor boards, rerigging the anchor gear, assembling the Bike Friday, and knocking off various other tasks. Within a couple hours I had Kobuk close to ship shape and in a steady drizzle bicycled up to town for my first real meal of the day. Afterwards, in a full-belly stupor, I rolled back down to the harbor, peeled off my clothes, and crawled into the bunk.
This uncharacteristic burst of energy combined with no real rest the preceding night was like a knock-out punch. I didn't pull myself out of bed until after noon today and then even when I finally was standing my stance was a little wobbly and my head a little groggy. Late in the day when the tide came in again, I finished the connections on the Yamaha and checked out both engines. All systems were "go"and I anticipated an early Tuesday departure: high tide would be at 6:40 AM and I would need to leave within an hour of then.
When I was back in Salt Lake City, my friend Werner took it upon himself to show me how I might solve the steering problem with the Remote Troll--according to him, all a matter of leverage. He briefed me on how to redesign the flawed contraption and admonished me to not put off making the needed modifications. He drummed into me the absurdity of struggling with the steering when it all could be repaired with a few hours work. I left with every intention of doing as he urged--that is, fix the damned thing before setting out--but the reality is that Trois Pistoles is not a good place to do this sort of thing. I will need tools and hardware that are not on board and yet here in the harbor there is no marina and no hardware store. Any small item that I don't have? It's a ten-minute uphill slog into town on the Bike Friday. My good intentions were deflated by this awkward reality and now it is clear I will be departing with the same old cranky Remote Troll that I have babied along for the past 4,000 miles.
I keep struggling with my French pronunciation of "Trois Pistoles." The "trois" is ok (although a local might not concur) but the "Pistoles" has given me no end of trouble. At first it was the ending that I noticed I was always getting wrong. I kept taking the word literally and pronouncing all the letters until I finally noticed that nobody else was doing the same thing. Francophones give up on the word somewhere between the "o" and the "l." It seems French is not a good language to take literally. Well, anyway, I eventually learned to drop the ending and began to delude myself into believing that finally I was getting it right. But then I began to realize that it still didn't sound the same as when they said it and if I could tell the difference I hate to think what they thought I was doing to the word. There was the problem with the "i." I would vocalize it, of course, but the locals seem to treat it like a skeleton in the closet: "Psst, did you hear that American butcher that word. Mon Dieu! Of course you did. Will they ever learn?" The secret, it seems, is to get rid of the "i" as well. In the end, the word is really "Psto," with the accent on the "o." At this rate, I will have accumulated a vocabulary of only about six words by the time I get leave Quebec. At least by then they should be short.
I have become accustomed to this little town, and once again the old malaise has set in: how to break free and leave. It is not as if the place has captured my fancy and has made me reluctant to leave. No. It is a pleasant place but surely no more so that the little fishing villages I will be visiting in just a few days, and so my sense of having to struggle with departing is nothing more than the old inertia that I have commented on before. It is a curious thing. I crave the uncertain tomorrow and this whole voyage is driven by the desire to have each day be a little less predictable that it would be if I were homebound and jobtied. Still, the uncertainty itself also makes it a little hard for me to set off and keeps whispering in my ear, "Why not postpone departing for one more day? After all, what's the rush?" This time, I won't allow myself to think about it. As soon as there is morning light, Kobuk and I are out of here.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
"A gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking." Masefield puts it so well. Stillness and silky waters and gray, gray light with the hills and distant shores obscured in cloud--that is what the early morning light has revealed. There is no sunrise, only gradual dissolution of deep dark grays into lighter hues insinuating white but never delivering. The land lacks color, lies dormant in lacklustre darkness with only hints of shape and edge and profile. All is gray and all is calm. We motor out onto the millpond and head east along the coast towards Rimouski.
The land to starboard is a thin horizontal stripe of moody obscurity whose upward edge dissolves into a band of stratus gauze reaching down so low it threatens to envelop everything. Off to port, the gray, leaden waters of the estuary lie flat under the lowering mist, disappearing before long into nothingness. Morning wears away the the thickness of the mist, but never so much as to clarify the shore or restore color to its rightful place in the natural order of things.
Just before leaving Salt Lake City, I met a young Chinese woman who confessed to a preference for films in black and white, a preference so strong that she shuns contemporary films and stays home many evenings to repeatedly watch on television the one black and white movie in her possession. Could this be true? If it is, she should be here on Kobuk today.
The land along this shore descends quickly to the sea, like the perimeter of a pancake dropping down to the griddle. On a different day, when conditions might permit, gentle hills would appear in the distance, but the overall impression along this particular stretch of coastline is one of raised flatness. The coastline too is relatively uniform. There are headlands and embayments, but they are poorly developed features that only begin to suggest irregularity and offer the boatsman nothing in the way of protection from bad weather.
Early in the afternoon, an exception materializes out of the mist. Directly ahead a peninsula juts out to sea, and elongated string of improbably shaped hills whose flanks tip down at craxy and unpredictable angles. Their haystack tops betray the glacial grinding that must have shaped them, but their sides are so weirdly assymetrical as to defy belief. They are, it appears, a part of the Parc national du Bic, and I gaze at them for an hour or two as Kobuk slips by. Although the fog and clouds have diminished, they still obscure the land and steal all its color. This improbable profile is only dramatized in such a monochromatic world.
The approach to Rimouski is marked by the long, slender Ile Saint-Barnabe that parallels the shore a mile or so out to sea. It is a few miles long, this island, and Rimouski is positioned on the mainland at its eastward end. Coming up along the coast, I steer Kobuk between the shore and the island, seeking both the shortest route to port and the leeward protection of the island. There is a fishing boat slowly trawling near the island, the first vessel I have seen since departure from Trois Pistoles early in the morning. With human activity so near and with the skyline of Rimouski visible in the distance, I begin to allow myself the feeling of having arrived and a sense of anticipation starts to build.
As we pass by the fishing boat, which is slowly motoring in our same direction, I see dark objects far ahead in the water. The binoculars reveal them to be rocks. It is near low tide and these are rocks strewn across vast tidal flats. They appear to array themselves from shore to island and I cannot see where there might be a channel. Almost certainly it exists and most likely the will eventually use it, but for me in my ignorance of local conditions there seems no sensible alternative to turning back and running along the outside shore of the island. As we circumnavigate the island, I congratulate myself for having resisted temptation and sensibly followed the more cautious route.
Eventually Kobuk reaches the eastern end of Ile Saint-Barnabe and we are free to make our way towards town. Ahh, but now a fog bank has moved in and although the distance from island to shore is no more than a mile, the fog is so thick that we can only see a few boat lengths in any direction. Fortunately, the GPS will come to our rescue. It contains the coordinates for the Rimouski harbor and all we have to do is follow the display arrow until we arrive there. I don't know whether the coordinates are for a channel buoy or the end of the breakwater, but in any event it should only be a matter of moving slowly towards the designated spot on the electronic map, slowly enough to avoid whatever might rise up out of the fog. The tenths of a mile slowly count down, and then the feet, until last we arrive at the very point designated by the GPS. But there is nothing there, and nothing to be seen. The fog is as thick as ever. Even the GPS compas stops functioning properly because it only works when your are moving. Then the mist thins to vaguely reveal a nearby shoreline and a road and a few houses. From what I had seen when looking at the town before rounding the island, I estimate that the downtown must be to the right and so I ease Kobuk along parallel to shore, heading west. Almost immediately, large rocks begin to appear, widely spaced on the tidal flat and a glance at the depth finder reveals that we are in only two feet of water. I spend the next little while trying to find a little deeper water farther from shore without losing visual contact with the shoreline--a hopeless quest. Rocks keep looming up and I am constantly peering into the water to avoid the one that might be just below the surface.
Two unusually large rocks materialize and as I veer away from them their tops slip off graciously into the water. Only with the movement do I realize that each was being occupied by a seal. It is hard to enjoy the moment, though, for I am concerned about what lies just beneath the surface of the water. I fail to notice one submerged rock and it slides by sinister and dark, so close to port that one might reach in and touch it. At this point, I decide to lose contact with the shore and try harder to find deeper water. We have by now proceeded over half a mile from the GPS coordinates and I conclude that the harbor must be along the coast in the other direction. As we move away from shore, the water never gets deep, but does gradually become less shallow. Boulders continue to stand up out of the water, but I spot fewer and fewer of the submerged type and eventually we make our way back to the GPS position from which we had started.
But this time there is a difference. When we arrive at the spot, the fog starts to clear away and there, eastwards along the shoreline, no more than a hundred yards away, is the end of the breakwater for the harbor. By the time Kobuk is securely tucked away in a slip, the skies have partially cleared and the sun is out in Rimouski.
Rimouski Harbor: 48* 28.767' N / 69* 30.703' W
Distance: 48 miles
Total Distance: 4,183 miles
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I do have a good excuse for getting started so late today. I got up early, but there was an irresistible deliciousness to the day that I initially associated with Rimouski. The bracing clarity of the sky and the cool brilliance of the air elated me and gave me that sense of youthful vigor we so rarely experience in our later years. I was convinced at first that it was Rimouski itself and this made me reluctant to leave.
Everywhere I went the people were more alive than usual. There was the woman in the booth across from me at breakfast who betrayed all the signs of middle age in her physical appearance--everything from labored makeup to more sensible clothes--but who enchanted me with her darkly flashing eyes and assertive body movements, and really quite remarkable physique. There was the adolescent girl, with her short black hair and white complexion, dressed in army fatigues with the cap to match, trying to look as masculine as possible but constantly giving herself away with dramatic facial expressions of surprise or exasperation or wonder, even as the woman who I presume was her mother attempted to absorb it all with equanimity and steadiness. There was the slim young lass sitting on the picnic table in the boat harbor, looking country-perfect with her gleaming white teeth and freckled-clean complexion--talking with her three admirers but not failing to notice whatever might be going on beyond the limits of their immediate world. Yes, they all were women, but what would you expect?
At first I was convinced that this rather ordinary town had somehow enchanted me, but eventually I began to think that it was the air and not the place that had given me such a sense of delight. Only then did the notion of leaving town make any sense, but already it was after nine in the morning. Only late in the morning, therefore, did I finally motor Kobuk out of the yacht harbor and head east along the coast towards Matane. My delayed departure meant that, unless I was willing to start up the main engine, arrival at the destination would be rather late in the day. Lateness is becoming more of an issue, of course, since the days are quickly shortening and darkness now descends not long after seven in the evening.
Blue skies, puffy clouds, a fair wind--what more could anyone ask? Kobuk bobbed along with the wind at her back. A fleet of coastal settlements anchored to shore slipped by to starboard. Each little village was a linear row of mostly white homes all arrayed along a road running next to the sea. Somewhere in their midst would stand the incongruously large church that marked the center of the village even when there was no other sign of urbanity. Massive it would be, and all the little homes would look both insignificant and protected by its dominance. Between the villages there was only a country road with little traffic and a few isolated farmsteads. The land was mostly forested and, except in the villages, most of the trees were conifers.
As the hours passed, the steady west wind gradually built up a fair sea that came from behind and bumped us this way and that, much like like passers-by would do to a slow-moving pedestrian on a New York sidewalk. The sun shone down and the land looked hardy and handsome in its golden light. Futuristic windmills are common here, and it is the first time I have seen these white modernist machines side by side with houses. It is a surprise, actually, because these awkwardly slim structures tower over village buildings so overwhelmingly as to make a dwarf even of the local church. A home and a windmill--put side by side they look as incongruous as a fashion model posing beside an armadillo.
The waves became quite large by late in the day, massive in volume if not particularly overwhelming in height. Ever since the Great Lakes I have been thinking that perhaps the conditions there would actually prove to be more unpleasant than one might find at sea where waves would bring their vast size toward you in a more manageable shape. If today is at all representative, then my speculations were well-founded. Kobuk never struggled to react today: there was always enough time for the stern to rise up readily and as the wave passed under the hull the motion was less snappy than it had been on Michigan or Huron. I am beginning to like this ocean motion. At the same time, I am growing more and more spiteful about the Remote Troll which simply is not doing its job. I spent many hours today contemplating a redesign of the entire steering system for the outboard, but even yet have not arrived at a satisfactory conclusion.
I often see marine life in these waters. Today, for example, I watched a dorsal fin break surface about fifty yards of the port bow. It was attached to a slick, glistening back that looked too large and too dark to be a dolphin and yet was rather small for a whale. Then, a few hours later, directly offshore from the village of Les Mechins, a handful of seals were swimming in the neighborhood. Sometimes they would stay stationary in the water with just their heads above surface, looking this way and that.
We arrived at Matane a little before six, but the GPS coordinates brought us into a harbor for large boats such as ferrys and tugboats. The whereabouts of the small boat marina remained a mystery. It took an exploratory hour to locate a second breakwater channel some couple miles eastward, but it clearly was the right place since sailboat masts could be seen behind the rock pilings. In so close to shore the waves were less friendly and I had to stagger around on Kobuk trying to get her fenders fitted and mooring lines run before entering harbor. I often think about how inconvenient it would be to fall overboard during this particular drill, and that makes me more attentive to the principle of "one hand for the work and one for holding on." One never knows for sure that there will be enough time and space for one person to do these tasks in the confines of a small boat harbor, so they really need to be done in open waters. The sun was setting and a chill was in the air by the time Kobuk got safely into port.
Matane Yacht Club: 48* 51.162' N / 67* 31.654' W
Distance: 58 miles
Total Distance: 4, 241 miles
Thursday, August 31, 2006
When one is on a trip and needs to pick destinations to aim for--waypoints along a route of travel--lack of information about the list of places from which choices must be made often leaves no real basis for making a decision other than the sound of the name. I had been looking forward to an arrival in Matane for this and no other reason. "Matane." Does it not strike you as the kind of place on ought to visit? The name is clean and harmonious. It may not slip off the tongue with quite the same delicious liveliness as Nabokov's Lo-li-ta, but to me it does have a certain ring of mature sensuality to it, a certain exotic sophistication. For some reason, it makes me picture a tall, lean woman--an inaccessibly cool model striding by with a leopard skin wrap trailing over her shoulder.
It seemed most fitting, therefore, when traveling on this sea of ignorance, to spend the night in Matane. By doing so, I should awake on my birthday in a place with the right sort of cachet. In reality, there was never much doubt that I would be overnighting there since it is the only option for many miles along this coast, but I was glad to be headed for the town and most surely would have chosen it even in the face of three or four nearby alternatives. I pictured, you see, a broad, open field running down from forested heights with a whitewashed village clustered near the shore. It had a colonial white clapboard church with a single tall, thin spire and the houses of the village clustered around on all sides. This is of course a vision of a small New England village, and has nothing whatsoever in common with a typical ville of the Gaspe, but our imaginations are shaped by what we know and love and in this respect I am as culture-bound as the next person.
The real Matane ended up being a more sensible place than all that. It was situated on the transition between a somewhat windswept stretch of narrow coastal lowland and a slightly elevated upland that brought coniferous forest down to near the water. There was a stream there feeding into a small lagoon that lay behind a sandy barrage along the coastline, and the heart of the town was arrayed around the lagoon with a bridge across the stream. The site was neither stunning nor uninteresting and could be considered--like all the young men in Lake Wobegone--above average.
In spite of its failure to live up to my unrealistic expectations, I grew to like the town. Of course, I was there on one of those peerless autumn days (for fall has arrived) that gives all places a benefit of doubt, just as a few drinks in a man will do for any woman in a bar. I decided to stay in town for the day partly because I became comfortable there but also because the yacht clubhouse was an inviting building whose wireless Internet service allowed me to spend hours with my computer sitting next to a grand bank of mullioned windows overlooking the sea and with a lively, round harbormistress more than happy to serve me coffee whenever I wished.
Every once in a while you step inside a building that makes you feel as if you belong there. This was one of them. It was not large but it was timber frame with no ceiling and it had windows on all sides. The core of the building was rectangular with doorways centered across from each other on both long walls, but the ends of the building were unusual in that they angled inward from the ends of the side walls not at ninety degrees but at forty five, resulting in a sort of isosceles triangle extension at each end of the building. Inside, one end of the building was partitioned into two small rooms, but all the rest of the interior was a sweep of open space. I write of it now because I wish to record the general configuration for later reference when perhaps I will be able to build a small home for myself. I even went to the trouble of pacing out its approximate size--24 feet along its long walls and 20 feet along the end walls that met at a point. The roof came down to the eaves even at the ends, thereby giving the structure a typically French appearance.
In mid-afternoon when I wandered along the narrow main street, it jogged this way and that in a most un-American fashion. It was charming, of course, and gave the place a little intrigue. There were two things that caught my attention in town. One was the church, a massive stone structure whose forward end rose up uninterruptedly like a giant, rectangular turret with seeming parapets at the top. Its look was decidedly military rather than religious, but there was no doubt about its intended function since the street-facing side of the tower sported stonework that imprinted a very large cross into it. So massive was the cross that it seemed inappropriate for the frail body of Christ. It put me in mind of a crucifixion for Hercules.
The other item that caught my attention was a display along the extensive prominada next to the lagoon. This was a boardwalk with elegant gazebo and railing touches having more in common with the French Riviera than with Atlantic City. It was referred to as the promenade of the captains and all along it were glass-protected display cases, angled for easy viewing, each with a brief bio for one of the many sea captains who came from here. There was also, under the protection of a small gazebo, a list of all the ships that had gone down in the area over the years. It was a sobering list that contained dozens of entries. The name of each ship was given along with the year that it sank, its approximate position at time of foundering, and the month during which the tragedy occurred. I had seen similar displays on the Great Lakes where I was able to take solace from the fact that most of the losses occurred during the winter months. This had left me with the comforting feeling that nasty weather was not such a likely thing during the summer months. Here in Matane, however, the situation is different: no ships went down in the winter months, presumably because nobody would be so foolish as to be out on the water during that season, and between May and November all months appeared to be equally likely to have had disasters.
Friday, September 1, 2006
Neither the CBC marine forecast nor the look of the waters and the sky suggested that today would be anything but peaceful. Armed with these reassuring amulets, Kobuk and I set out early this morning, bound for Cap Chat. Even though there was virtually no wind--and thus no waves--a confusing assembly of cross-running swells were coming at us out of the northeast quadrant. They were not large and their elongated shapes could do no more than give us a hobby-horse ride, but the combination of their speed towards us and our speed towards them made it a lively motion that in my more illusionary moments led me to think that the incessant efforts of my body to anticipate and adapt must surely be a healthful form of exercise. My understanding is that muscular contractions of lesser intensity done many, many times carves out a lean and highly defined physique rather than building muscle mass. This is exactly what I need, so I came to view each approaching swell as a beneficent contributor to my well-being.
The province of Quebec is a big player in the energy game. There are no significant hydrocarbon deposits in this land of ancient metamorphic rocks and the burden of higher gas prices is as oppressive here as it is elsewhere in North America, but Quebec is a major generator, and exporter, of electrical energy and so the price at the pump is to some modest degree offset by the savings in the home. Decades ago, Quebec began developing massive hydroelectric projects on rivers flowing north across the Canadian Shield and into Hudson Bay. These rivers drain vast wilderness areas that few people see and that only drew the attention of environmental guardians relatively late in the game. In fact, it was the locals--the few indigenous people--who first brought pressure to bear. In any event, the pursuit of new hydro projects is no longer a silver bullet that can be used whenever the province desires greater output. In keeping with the times, Quebec is going green, and now this coast of the Gaspe--a windswept region in which sea breezes must funnel their way up through valleys and over saddles in this broadly hilly country--is becoming one of the windmill capitals of the world.
Windmills kept us company throughout the entirety of the day's journey, sprouting up in little clusters so frequently that we were hardly ever out of sight of them. There seems to be a sort of protocol associated with their positioning on the landscape. The never appear next to shore, but instead some distance inland on the slopes of hills that are thick with forest. Human settlement strings itself out along the shore and even farms with their open meadows appear most often in this coastal band. Land that is more than a mile from shore usually has very few clearings in the forest and homes or highways are rarely to be seen there.
The windmills seem to thrive in the transition zone between the coastal settlement and the interior wilderness. They tend to contribute to a queer sense that every human element on land is looking out to sea. The only highway runs along the coast near the shore and houses string along the highway with the great majority of them facing the ocean. Even the villages that coalesce along the highway look like strip towns with everything positioned next to the highway. Businesses and government buildings and homes tend to favor the inland side of the highway where their frontage on the street also gives them a view of the water. By comparison, the seaward side of the highway typically has fewer and less substantial structures. I have yet to see a church that is not facing the sea. Now what we have imbedded in the forest behind all this is a scattering of windmills--surreal dragonflys in white tuxedos--that also seem usually to have their tri-blade propellers facing out to sea. They are like the tall basses and baritones in the back row of the choir.
As we approached Cap Chat, a blizzard of windmills came into view. I counted 67 of them and later learned that there were nearly 100. The town, though, sits on high ground to leeward of the headland, and that is not such good habitat for windmills.
Cap Chat Harbor: 49* 05.939' N / 66* 41.325' W
Distance: 44 miles
Total Distance: 4,285 miles
Saturday, September 2, 2006
Have you ever had a meal that tasted so good it made your lower jaw feel weak? As if it was just going to drop right off because your tongue and digestive juices, benumbed with pleasure, loosened all the muscles in the vicinity (like a good massage) and left them incapable of holding the jaw in place? That is what happened to me last night in the village of Cap Chat. The harbor there is a square of big-rock rubble extending out from a sliver of flat land running along the shore while the village towers above on a ridge. The church towers above the village and looks down impassively (or benignly, depending on your persuasion) on the little breakwater harbor below. I pedaled up to town and made an unsuccessful search for an Internet connection, and then, with that project thwarted, looked for a restaurant.
Dining options were limited, but one place called "Resto" something-or-other looked appealing to me so I tried it. I was drawn into the place by a small, red neon sign at the door, presenting a single word in cursive script. The word did not draw me in; the sign did. You don't see neon signs very much any more, but there is something appealing about them. I am sure that many would dismiss this as nothing more than an older man's nostalgia for a byegone era, and I do understand that this may be the source of their attraction, but I cannot help thinking that there is a fluid idiosyncrasy to neon that alleviates in some small way the mechanistic single-mindedness of modern times. Anyway, because of the sign I went in. Parenthetically, I should mention that I "go in" fairly often in these Gaspe villages because people in this area appear to have forgotten to do away with neon.
I ordered a submarine sandwich, something that on the menu was referred to as a "Resto Marine Speciale" and only expected a serviceable sandwich to accompany my coffee. What I got was a lucious, open-faced treat, soft-crust french bread piled with shaved beef, gooey cheese, heaps of lettuce, and sauteed bits and pieces of mushrooms and peppers that tasted like a million calories. Under normal circumstances, I am a leisurely eater. Most people have finished their meal by the time I am beginning to hit full stride. In this case, though, I found myself shovelling forkfuls of yummy stuff with all the haste and sense of urgency of a man who is bailing his sinking boat. Dogs must love their food.
Someone ought to have told me--ought to have forcefully impressed on my inattentive mind--that the French know how to cook. That's the trouble with the mind: all it can tell you is the facts. It is really terrible at conveying the true import of things. Eating out in rural Quebec, though, puts the mind in its place and drives the point home. The country meals are not just hearty (though often they surely are that) and not just wholesome: they are delicacies in search of a gormand. I will give an example. An easy way for me to deal with the food issue is to buy a precooked chicken in the grocery store and then pick away at it over the course of the next day or two. These roasted chickens usually are very good. When I eat one, especially one that is still hot, I feel as if someone has actually cooked for me and has served up a tasty dish that is not bad for me either. Not long after I crossed the border from Ontario into Quebec back in early July, I happened to purchase one of these roasted chickens from a chain grocery store. That evening when I sat down to eat some of it, I consumed a bird that was juicy and savory beyond the usual fare. I do not know whether it was secret spices or superior cookery or more effective chicken farming, but the product on the table was noticeably superior to what I had been used to. Ever since then I have gone out of my way to buy precooked chickens in Quebec food marts and so far they have consistently excelled.
The next town along the coast is Sainte-Anne-des-Montes, only about ten miles east. Since it was to be the last town of any size for the next few days, I planned to put in there to take care of Internet business. With such a short stint on the water, there was a nice dollop of hedonistic pleasure associated with leaving late and arriving early. Sainte-Anne-des Montes has the stark, clean, windswept feel of a port town. All of these villages are, of course, but this one felt more like one, probably because it lay on a broad flatland that raised it only marginally above the sea. The main street had no trees and the sea breeze explored all the alleys and recesses between the simple, white, clapboard buildings. Here and there, the seaward side of the main street had a green-painted boardwalk from which one could look out at the expanse of open sea and down at the sand and bedrock and seaweed of the tidal zone.
That evening as the sun set, the Gulf turned a sort of pyroclastic blue and the sky flamed out like the hollow yellow of a heated kiln. They were different colors for a sunset, less garish and showy, more demure and delicate. They did not announce the onset of night so much as make a bow to its inevitable entry.
Sainte-Anne-des-Montes Harbor: 49* 07.959' N / 66* 29.266' W
Distance: 10 miles
Total Distance: 4,295 miles
Sunday, September 3, 2006
Such a calm and peaceful morning. Such still waters. So little wind. The china sky beckoned and before the sun had had a chance to climb into heaven we were out on the Gulf coasting eastward. The marine forecast indicated that the afternoon could bring strong westerlies and occasional showers, but with a little luck we would be tucked away in harbor before things deteriorated too much. If all went according to plan, we would be pulling into Mont Louis cove by around two in the afternoon.
The Gaspe--this great long hitchiking thumb pointing out to eastward--becomes bigger and fatter the farther you travel out along it. The hills are muscular and massive now, succeeding one another like Brobdinagian domes, each running for miles before finally dropping into a deep valley on the other side of which the next broad hill begins. The coast is a straight run of precipitous slope to which a mixed forest precariously clings. The deciduous trees are changing color now and blotches of pale yellow mottle the fading forest, leaving the evergreens in their sombre darkness. Here and there, a splash of maple's muted rust punctuates these preliminary autumnal tones.
Viewed from the sea, settlement is confined to the valleys. Each deep gorge has a small, lazy stream easing its way across a floodplain that is confined by the abrupt hills to either side. Under the bridge it passes before committing itself to the briny waters of the bay. The bays are immature, undeveloped things, arcuate in shape but only shallowly so and only rarely a noteworthy indentation in the straight-running coast. If there is a valley there is a village and its line of settlement straddles the bridge and hugs the shore.
Between the valleys is a different matter. The land has become too steep and rugged for farms. You will see no buildings, only a coastal highway that has been constructed at water level by creating a fill platform slightly raised above the sea. The massive heaps of land rise up from the highway and diminutive vehicles glide along horizontally at their feet. The villages and the coastal road keep you from feeling lost in the wild, but their confinement and small scale leaves you with a sense that in this corner of the world nature is still in control.
The wind came early. It kicked up from behind us well before noon and by the time we had reached Mont Louis the waves were pushing us around like ill mannered bouncers in a club. The unprotected bay of Mont Louis was supposed to have two breakwaters, one at the eastern end for workboats and the other a haven for small craft at the western end. I bounced around in Kobuk for nearly half an hour trying to find the protected water and small craft dock, but nothing promising was there. No docks existed, no boats were moored, and there was no haven from the waves on either side of the breakwater. I motored Kobuk over to the eastern side where a pier extending out from shore had three large fishing vessels tied off and one small sailboat. The sailboat was clearly not work-related and so I resolved to take cover in this small bit of protected water. The pier towered up much higher than Kobuk's radio mast, but there were steel ladders regularly spaced along the wall. It was a rusty iron wall, but it had heavy rubber bumpers running vertically at regularly spaced intervals and Kobuk was able to snug against the wall with her rubrail on two of the bumpers. The mooring lines had to be run with care: Kobuk was 20' below the wall and the tides would be moving her up and down a good part of that distance.
A wonderful couple came to help me as I was landing Kobuk. He was the solo sailer of the small sailboat and she was at the pier to pick him up after one of his outings. She spoke English well and told me all about his single-minded passion to be a sailer. The sailboat was his lifelong dream and now he uses it to venture off for a few days at a time during the summer season. He certainly looked the type. In his mid-fifties, he had a wiry frame and hawkish profile. He moved with the ease of a younger man and his wife was awfully proud of him. One particularly intriguing fragment about his past that she saw fit to tell me was that he had at one time crewed on a yacht delivery to Haiti. Whether out of navigational error or equipment failure, it had proven necessary to go ashore on Cuba where Castro's militia was their reception party. I was helping her husband move the sailboat while she talked and this, unfortunately, kept me from hearing the entire story.
Mont Louis Breakwater: 49* 14.088' N / 65* 44.225' W
Distance: 38 miles
Total Distance: 4,333 miles
Monday, September 4, 2006
We nearly hit a critter today. I was sitting in the driver's seat with the computer in my lap, not paying attention. The cloudy skies and still air hung over the placid waters and for hours we had passed by nothing but a silent and distant coastline. I happened to look up in time to see a dorsal fin moving in the water. It was traveling very slowly on exactly the same course as Kobuk and we were overtaking it. By the time I saw it we already had approached so near that our bow was about to mask it from sight. I lunged for the throttle and threw the little Yamaha into neutral, but before Kobuk could ease to a stop, our forward momentum carried us over the spot where the fin had been. There was no bump or scrape so the creature must have avoided us. I do not know what it was. I suppose it could have been a shark but they usually move faster through the water. Whales and dolphins, on the other hand--do they usually cruise with just the dorsal fin exposed?
Later in the day, there were small whales occasionally breaking the surface and one of them did so only a short distance off the starboard bow. It was visible only for a second or two, but its heading was perpendicular to Kobuk's and looked as if it would intersect our route in about five seconds. I moved to alter course and cut the throttle, but even as my hands began to take these actions I decided that the whale must be aware of us and would be less likely to hit us if we maintained course and speed. I don't know if this is proper thinking but we did motor on unimpeded. The nautical rules of the road would have had me take evasive action but perhaps whales are not so attentive to the letter of the law.
Whales and seals and dolphins are a daily sight hereabouts--not in remarkable numbers as when crossing between Tadoussac and Trois Pistoles, but with reasonable regularity nonetheless. I would say that on average I see something two or three times each day on the water. This is nearly as frequently as I sight fishing boats, although of course the fishing vessels remain in view for a couple hours each whereas the sea creatures only appear fleetingly. Besides, the boats are rarely anywhere near Kobuk whereas the whales and such have to be very nearby for me to even have a chance of seeing them.
The boating traffic is remarkably thin. The fishing boats seem to stay near shore, as we are doing, but many miles out to seaward a steamer occasionally glides by like a floating cigar near the horizon. In total, though, I would be surprised if more that ten ships come into view during a typical 6-7 hour day on the water. Since leaving Trois Pistoles last Tuesday, I have only seen three or four small craft that were more than five minutes from a harbor entrance. The summer season really is over, I guess, although I am finding the cruising conditions to be very close to ideal. It is a little chilly, but I like that. I did feel a little chilled on the day when I got into Matane Harbor so close to sunset, but otherwise a fleece or a jacket has proven sufficient to thwart the cold. I suppose the day will come when this will suddenly change, but even when it does it should not be so severe as to be hazardous--only an indication that it is time to start thinking about storing Kobuk for the winter.
Today actually took us to the northernmost position of the entire planned journey: 49* 15.5' N. We passed that point around midday and now the Gaspe coast is starting to bend southward. We are above the 49th parallel, that line of demarcation between the United States and Canada from North Dakota westward. Last summer when we were actually in North Dakota following the Missouri, we moved up very close to the Canadian border but never actually brought it into view. We got to about 48* N but then the Missouri bent right and took us nearly 700 miles south before joining with the Mississippi. After that, we climbed up, up, up, through Illinois and Michigan, hiccupped a little in Ontario, and then angled northward again on the St. Lawrence through Quebec. Now we are above all the United States--except for Alaska--and in fact more easterly than the easternmost point in Maine. From an American point of view, we are "off the map." I like that idea.
Cloridorme Breakwater: 49* 11.134' N / 64* 50.879' W
Distance: 43 miles
Total Distance: 4,376 miles
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
The problem was the bird shit. It perverted the decision-making process. When I awoke in the morning and looked out to sea, it was nothing but blue skies, still waters, and playful zephyrs. But the CBC weather forecast was another thing altogether: fifteen to twenty-five knot westerly winds, gusting higher, with building seas and small craft warnings for the afternoon. Which should I believe, what lay before me in clear view or the crystal ball of a weather forecaster (of all people)? Of course I chose the here and now, the perfect cruising conditions that lay just beyond the breakwater. "Even if the forecaster is right," I told myself, "the wind and waves will be chasing us and really only helping us on our way."
And chase us they did. No sooner were we out past the green buoy than the action started. The wind arrived as speedily as the roadrunner and the waves were not far behind. Kobuk has been out in worse conditions, but even within the first hour we found ourselves constantly looking over the shoulder and surfing down the steepened face of the occasional wave. Now that the weather has gotten a little colder, I have taken to leaving the side curtains zipped on during the day and only removing the rear one in order to monitor the Yamaha which responds so slowly to steering commands. The side curtains create a sort of wind sock so when the wind gets up like this Kobuk is pushed along a good deal faster than if they were not in place. In the modern world, "a good deal" is generally taken to mean rather more than one or two miles per hour, but when your cruising speed in the six miles per hour range, an additional mile per hour makes a significant difference. Anyway, we motored along to Riviere-au-Renard, only about 25 miles along the coast, and then turned in there to get shelter.
There was no real risk; Kobuk was handling the raucous waves in a very workmanlike fashion and could have gone on all day long without stumbling. But we were approaching the limit of manageable conditions and there was no assurance that things might not get worse. But now the real question is, Why did I take Kobuk out in the first place? Why did I decide to challenge the open sea on a day when the weather might turn foul? Ordinarily, I would have given the benefit of the doubt to the marine forecast, but on this particular occasion I was tremendously eager to leave Cloridorme harbor. The reason is that the sea gulls were laying down a carpet of crap so thick and unsavory that I was desperate to leave port as soon as possible. We had arrived late the previous afternoon under overcast skies that turned to rain just as Kobuk came up to the dock. The dock looked as if bird shit had been sprayed onto it with a high pressure hose. There was not a square foot unstained by the white and turd-brown droppings. It even drizzled down the sides of the dock. When Kobuk landed and I tied her off, I could not help tracking the wet, smelly offal back into the boat, and the mooring lines inevitably lay around in the stuff. I was grossed out. That evening I spent my time zipped up inside Kobuk cleaning the crap off the floor and plotting our escape for the next morning.
There is no doubt in my mind that the bird shit influenced my decision to leave Cloridorme in spite of a discouraging weather forecast. I am not even sure that if I had it to do all over again I would do any differently. How many decisions have been made in this world that were contingent on such a trivial matter? Many, I would imagine, including a considerable number that ended up changing the world.
Riviere-au-Renard Yacht Harbor: 48* 59.721' N / 64* 23.232' W
Distance: 27 miles
Total Distance: 4,403 miles
Wednesday, September 6, 2006
With a boistrous wind pushing us along under a silver and pewter sky, Kobuk and I set out to round the easternmost end of the Gaspe. It is a cape, a pencil-thin peninsula extending a few miles out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The centerpiece of the Forrillon National Park, this final extension of the Chic Choc Mountains drapes a curtain of cliffs out into the sea. A narrow strand of sand lies at the base of the cliffs. so insubstantial at to be almost invisible from the water but enough of a buffer to keep the waves from exploding against the rock walls. This is a source of security, actually--it is good to know that if mechanical troubles develop and Kobuk cannot maneuver she will be set upon a lee shore that might receive her more kindly than a rock wall would do. The cliffs of the Forillon do not run straight; they waver and veer as they proceed towards their abrupt terminus, and the tops of them do the same. Like the Northern Lights, their sinuous nature gives an illusion of animation that makes them quite different from any other sheer rock face I have ever seen.
As we approached the Forillon, we had blue skies ahead and a darkened sky behind. The wind picked up even more and a squall obscured the coastline along which we just had come. But the squall was moving slowly and we were managing to stay ahead of it. Although conditions deteriorated, we managed to pass the end of land before being engulfed, and thereafter the dark rider decided to stop pursuing us. We were set into the Bay of the Gaspe, a notch extending deep into the heart of the Gaspe's body. It took us an hour or two to cross the mouth of the bay, and its idyllic landscape of gently rolling hills lining both sides of the bay made me regret that I had not considered spending a little time there. The bay is big enough to be its own little domain in which one could explore year after year without becoming bored, but small enough to feel as if it is your protector.
I was planning to stop for the day at Perce, the former fishing village where the famous Rocher Perce is located. Whether you realize it or not, you almost certainly have seen pictures of Rocher Perce. It is a single block of rock standing hundreds of feet above the sea, cliff walls on all sides and more or less flat on top. The rock is perhaps a half mile in length and maybe a hundred yards wide. At the base, somewhat more toward the seaward end, there is an enormous hole, an arched portal cut right through this mass so cleanly that you feel as if you are viewing the landscape on the other side as through you were looking out through an arched gateway in the walls of a medieval European city. This monolith is of course unusual, but what makes it special is its exqusite proportions--its angularity and its distribution of mass perfectly balances large size with clean definition, and does so according to the classical rules of architecture. In this respect it is nature's Parthenon.
We approached Rocher Perce from the north, across a large bay whose surface was as alive and active as a snake pit. It was cloudy overhead, but a hole in the clouds permitted an enormous shaft of light to cast the Rocher Perce in silhouette and to paint the peaks of the anguished waters in front of us with quicksilver. The dark form of the Rocher Perce lay dead ahead with its remarkable portal inviting us to make a grand entrance.
The village of Perce snuggles into an embayment of the rugged coast next to the giant rock and a mighty headland extends out towards it. I began to navigate Kobuk through the passage between them, but signs of shoals there changed the plan and we began a clockwise circumnavigation of the rock. This required Kobuk to head into the oncoming rough water for a while. It was a time when the views of the rock were particularly good, and so my attention was divided between trying to steer in heavy seas and trying to take photos. I forgot all about the open jar of peanut butter that I had left on the engine box. We were corkscrewed by a mean-spirited wave that tried to climb aboard and the peanut butter jar was launched. It was a new jar with all the peanut oil floating on the top, not yet mixed in. The oil got flung out across the Bike Friday and various parts of the canvas. From now on as I eat my rather dry peanut butter it will remind me to take a look at the modern art that now decorates the starboard zip-on curtain.
The public dock at Perce does not lie within a protected harbor, so after tying off and having a late lunch there, I returned to Kobuk and carried on to the next protected harbor along the coast--L'Anse a Beaufils. By then the late afternoon sun was painting a gloss of green and gold on the little harbor in its little vale. I spent some time cleaning Cloridorme bird shit from the topsides and the Bimini cover, but the stains could barely be removed from the painted deck surfaces and were hopelessly imprinted into the canvas. Well, I imagine the canvas may have to be replaced before much longer anyway.
Sitting in the boat storage area at L'Anse a Beaufils was a classic old wooden boat, a ketch constructed of oversized timbers and sporting the seductive lines of a slow but reliable classic from the past. Her name was Patriote and she was for sale. I climbed aboard to take a look. Her forward mast had been cut down. Her bowsprit was a flimsy, makeshift substitute for the real thing. Her fittings were encrusted in rust and her planking had dried and shrunk so much that all the caulking was falling out. Her lines still were true and there were no immediate signs of rot, but the labor required to bring her back to life would be colossal. I wanted her. I wanted to rebuild her. What could be a better than to undertake such a project? And Patriote is such a classy name; for it alone I might pay good money. The fever passed and I wandered off to the nearby bar to have a couple beers.
L'Anse a Beaufils Harbor: 48* 28.334' N / 64* 18.554' W
Distance: 46 miles
Total Distance: 4,449 miles
Thursday, September 7, 2006
The short run from L'Anse a Beaufils down to Chandler was done before noon. I needed some time to do a little work, and Chandler offered the prospect of good harbor facilities and a town large enough to have an Internet connection. Also, there would be gas and groceries there and although most every town may have a grocery store of some sort few of them have a gas station anywhere near the harbor.
The morning cruise carried us past a new kind of land. Whereas the Haute Gaspe is a bulge of mountains falling away into the sea and exposing occasional faces of tortured, black bedrock, this land south of Rocher Perce is red sandstone bluffs and red sand beaches with rolling green meadows stretching off towards the distant purple mountains. It is a gentle and kindly landscape with two or three villages at a time visible along the shoreline. Today, the waters were glassy and the skies cloudless. The brilliant blues of water and sky, the Irish greens of the enchanted land, the rusty bluffs and beaches--it was an artistic landscape that was enhanced by the stillness of the day. It had the look of an impressionist painting.
Chandler is the best positioned harbor for making a crossing of the Bay of Chaleur, an arrowhead of water that penetrates many tens of miles southwestward into the land and that is typically about 25 miles across at its mouth. The weather forecast is for strong southwesterly winds tomorrow, and that would bring big waves out of the bay--not a good time to make a crossing. I prepared myself for the prospect of being stalled in Chandler for a while. Always in the back of my mind I was thinking that "I guess I'll be port-bound tomorrow" and as a result I did not run through my list of errands and tasks with a proper sense of urgency. I was psychologically preparing myself for the likely need to stay in harbor for a while. I did manage to get the most important things done, though.
In the mid-afternoon, I learned that Chandler has no outlet for cruising guides or nautical charts but that Grande Riviere, some 20 kilometers back up the coast does have a store for charts at least. I decided to pedal there to look at them and as I sat on my bike making the trek I began to think that I really didn't need any after all. But after spending so much time getting there I bought a couple anyway using some sort of rationalization that now slips my mind. Ironically, the purchase turned out to be astute since the following day I was to make very good use of one of those charts.
The usual practice for small boats crossing the Bay of Chaleur as I wished to do is to proceed another 45 miles south-southwestward along the coast to the little town of Pasepebiac and then cross over there where a narrowing of the waters brings the total distance down to something like 12-15 miles. Further out to seaward the bay flares significantly, but there are two islands extending seaward from the Acadian Peninsula that demarcates its southern shore and from the outermost tip of the outer island to a promontory not far from Chandler a straight-line crossing is only 17 miles. I began to mull over the idea of making the crossing there. With calm water and running Kobuk with the big engine, I could dart across in less than an hour. This idea appealed to me and I more or less resolved to do things that way as soon as the weather gave us a window of opportunity.
That night was a full moon, and as I got ready to go to sleep late in the evening I noticed that the wind had diminished significantly. The forecast still was for strong winds in the morning, but I now knew from experience that in this region (as well as many others, I suppose), the wind tends to die during the night and then pick up again the following morning. Why not get up very early, before sunrise and go check to see what the wind and waves are doing? It things are quiet, I can leave right away and try to get across before the wind returns. With this in mind, I set the alarm and went to bed.
Chandler Harbor: 48* 20.719' N / 64* 40.213' W
Distance: 22 miles
Total Distance: 4,471 miles
Friday, September 8, 2006
As the eastern sky began to lighten and the ripe moon swung low in the west, I climbed up onto the rocks of the Chandler harbor breakwater and looked out to sea. There was the constant rasp of waves breaking on the shore, but in the purple predawn light the view before me confirmed that the sound was no more than a final resting place for residual swells from the windy conditions of the day before. There was a light breeze and a gentle chop, but if it were to stay like this for a few hours Kobuk and I would easily make it across the Bay of Chaleur.
At first, to save on gas, I ran the Yamaha and we cruised slowly along the coast. Once we reached the promontory visible in the distance, I planned to switch over to the main engine, bear left, and head out across the open waters for the northern tip of an island named Miscou. A few miles before the crossing was to begin, however, the breeze strengthened and larger waves began to form, so I started the main engine early and we raced ahead, leaping from wave to wave. Once we headed out on the crossing, the waves became much larger but now our route was perpendicular to their direction of travel instead of straight at it and so Kobuk was able to carry on at high speed.
It seems that for every rough condition of the water there is a threshold speed beyond which the hull will occasionally encounter a wave that causes it to become launched. This inevitably leads to a hard landing, one in which the hull bellyflops on the water and shudders with shock. This is distasteful and worrisome and definitely something I want to avoid. The problem is that even though these errant waves usually are identifiable, I never recognize them in time to throttle back or steer a softer course--only in time to cringe in anticipation of the inevitable. If this pounding is to be avoided there is no choice for me but to lessen the cruising speed.
On this day in these conditions, the threshold speed appeared to be about 21 miles per hour, and so I kept my attention on running Kobuk at just under this level. One would think that it would be an easy task: just set the throttle and sit back. I does not work like that, however, When angling down the face of a wave Kobuk would accelerate and I would have to throttle back, but then when powering up the back of a different wave the forward momentum would be lost and more engine power would be required. In addition, it happens that 20 miles per hour is only slightly above the speed at which Kobuk planes so whenever the back of a wave slowed Kobuk more than usual it would tend to make her settle in the water and force a much more aggressive thrust of the throttle. In other words, I tried hard to keep Kobuk at the optimum speed, but didn't really succeed very well.
From its look on the chart, Miscou Island is a flat lying piece of real estate that probably would not become visible until we were out in the middle of the bay. We set out for it using a GPS waypoint, an expression of great trust in modern technology since an error in bearing could cause us to miss the island and head out across the open waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Modern technology is quite trustworthy, however and about nine miles out from the expected landfall, a spec more or less dead ahead on the horizon gradually grew to be the Miscou Lighthouse. A few miles out, the gas tank for the main engine ran dry. Rather than switch over to the other tank, I restarted the small Yamaha and finished the crossing as a tortoise.
Near the south end of Miscou Island there is a protected lagoon that has a small fishing harbor where I hoped to find haven for the night, but its entrance is accessible from the west side of the island, which would have meant beating ourselves against the waves for ten miles before finally arriving. When I looked at the chart I had bought, however, there was a narrow channel shown entering the lagoon from the east side of the island, so small that only a large scale chart would capture it. This discovery allowed us to use the island as a windbrake and sneak into harbor through the back entrance.
Miscou harbor was completely filled with fishing boats. There was no open dock space and almost every boat tied to a dock typically had two or three boats tied to it. Fortunately, there was a dock running close to a breakwater that had a narrow lead of water between itself and the rocks. I was able to fit Kobuk in there, a place of no use to any of the big boys. It had been an arduous crossing, but the early start meant that most of the day still remained. Although I felt sleepy and started to crawl into the bunk to take a nap, I changed my mind and instead made a leisurely cruise around the island on Bike Friday. It was one of those September days when you feel as if the heat of summer has just won a closely contested struggle with the chill of fall. The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky and in spite of the breeze the air was tolerably warm.
Miscou Island is about fifteen miles long and a few miles wide. It has a resident population of a few hundred and if you wanted to track one of them down your best bet would be to start looking in the harbor which was a hive of industry. The houses on the island are most remarkable for their generally welcoming air. Even though the people here are poor and none of the houses show signs of having had money thrown at them, you would be hard pressed to find one that does not look inviting. It is as if everyone here actually wants to be here which, come to think of it, probably is the case.
I stopped in at a small roadside store with a hand painted sign advertising gas and coffee, and sat down to enjoy a bit of the latter. The entire afternoon went by as the shoptender, a woman named Kathy whose flashing eyes and lined face pegged her as someone as yet undefeated by life, performed her dual function as shop keeper and social lightning rod. She knew everybody who came and went, of course; I was the one exception. At one point, a friend of hers came in and the two of them sat down with me and proceeded to talk about the goings on about town. It seemed that since I was the only customer in the place it would have been impolite to leave me in isolation. What a refreshing view of life.
I did have a chance to talk a little with Kathy about life on the island and she kept coming back to how beautiful the sea is and how much she likes being on it. "It is beautiful," she said, "but it is cruel." A number of years back, her oldest son, her brother, and a cousin all went down on a fishing boat in a storm. They recovered the bodies of her brother and cousin, but her son just disappeared.
Miscou Island Harbor: 47* 53.695' N / 64* 34.724' W
Distance: 46 miles
Total Distance: 4,517 miles
Saturday, September 9, 2006
The pace is beginning to wear a little so today the plan is to only move on as far as Shippagan, a small town about fifteen miles south of here. With the crossing of the Bay of Chaleur, we left Quebec behind and made our first contact with New Brunswick. Clocks must be set forward an hour for now we are in the Maritime Provinces where time is in fact one hour east of "Eastern Standard Time." That in a way captures the marginal nature of the Maritimes: they are so poor and neglected that nobody ever noticed that they are the real east.
Once again to beat the stronger winds, we exited harbor early in the morning and headed south along the western shore of Shippegan Island. The town of Shippagan lies at the northern tip of the Acadian Peninsula, fronting the narrow passage between it and Shippegan Island.
Out in the open water, I shut down the main engine and started the Yamaha, but found that it could not be steered. The Remote Troll had finally died. The little electric motor would no longer misbehave; it would do nothing at all. The trip was going to take a few hours and there was not enough gas to comfortably get to Shippagan using the main engine, so I did my best to steer "manually." In fact, my steering technique was to sit on the engine box and use my right leg to push on the appropriate side of the pivoted panel to which the engine was attached. This was unsuccessful. With my heel on the panel, I would shove as hard as I could, but usually I simply slid farther away on the engine box rather than getting the panel to pivot. Eventually, after some amount of experimentation, I discovered that it was actually easier to grab the top of the engine and twist it one way or the other, not to pivot the panel but to override the tension screw used to keep the engine stationary on the panel.
Obviously, the appropriate course of action would be to loosen the tension screw, but that is not possible because when I first got the Remote Troll a few years ago I tightened the engine's tension screw to keep the engine in a fixed position on the Remote Troll panel. Just as the screw had felt about right, its head snapped off. I had meant to repair it, but there was no urgency since the remote troll would require the screw to be constantly tight--which it was when the screw--head broke. The whole thing slipped out of my mind and never reentered it until this day when I inspected the screw to see about loosening it. When I saw the missing screwhead, my memory was refreshed.
Little things matter at sea. When something is not in good working order it will almost certainly fail when needed most. So with this matter of the tension screw. I was fortunate, however, for even with the tightened screw the engine would pivot if I grabbed the front and back and gave it a twist. Ironically, this makeshift method for steering to Shippagan gave me an idea for how to create a reasonably effective manual steering system for the Yamaha. If I were to bolt a wooden platform to the top of the engine cover, I could attach a hardwood tiller arm to the platform and steer from the forward end of the engine box, up nearer the middle of the boat.. I learned from the day's experience that the hull moves through the water nearly half a mile per hour slower when my weight is in the stern rather than the cabin. If I could sit on the forward end of the engine box it would cut that speed loss in half and would give a greatly improved view of the way ahead. That, I decided would be my approach to solving the problem after we finally got to town.
Of course the real solution would be to properly fix the Remote Troll (as Werner had admonished me to do). That is problematic, however. Now that the electric engine is dead, replacing it will most likely require a special order and a special shipment--and a rather lengthy stay in Shippagan. Then when the electric engine finally is installed, there will still remains the chronic inability of the Remote Troll to properly drive the cable that pivots the panel. As I sat in the back of the boat doing a sort of gorilla steering, my mind finally concentrated on a properly designed solution to that particular problem, and before the day's trip was over I had an inspiration. It is such a good idea that I actually now look forward to trying it out. The whole business would be an awful lot easier to deal with if Kobuk were out of the water and the Yamaha removed, however. Perhaps I can use the makeshift tiller system until the end of this season (which could come at any time) and then rebuild the Remote Troll when Kobuk is being stored for the winter. One thing you have to admire about procrastination: it certainly is persistent.
I hope nobody was watching as Kobuk made her way towards the Shippagan harbor for I was lost in thought, and this contributed to a symphony of off course deviations followed by abrupt and inaccurate course corrections. The important thing, though, is that we eventually made it--even with the strong tidal current that kept us out at sea for a couple hours longer than I had counted on.
Shippagan Harbor: 47* 44.674' N / 64* 41.850' W
Distance: 19 miles
Total Distance: 4,536 miles
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Yesterday when we arrived in port, it took a while to find the small boat harbor. By the time Kobuk was settled and snug, weather was moving in. The wind came whistling down from the north and one squall after another swept across us. The rain pelted the canvas and drummed on the forward deck while the wind rattled the canvas curtains with the vigor of a Babuchka beating a rug. The temperature plummeted and for the first time this season I felt the cold. This sharp turn in the weather drove me inside. I took shelter in Kobuk's weather-beaten tent and bundled up in fleece and jacket and socks. The marine forecast called for sunny weather after a night of rain, so I had no motivation to do now any of the many things that needed doing. I am going to have to stay in town until Monday anyway, so I became complacent--even smug--in the knowledge that I am a fair weather worker. When the hour finally got respectably late, I excused myself from the nonexistent company and retreated to the luxury of the heavy-duty sleeping bag.
The forecast was correct for today dawned sunny and clear with no real breeze to chill the cool morning air. My task was to fabricate a steering system for the outboard. I had decided to bolt a wooden platform to the engine cover and then mount a tiller bar on the platform. Sunday is no time to shop for lumber in a small town like Shippagan so I made do with some scrap boards taken off an abandoned pallett of the sort used by a forklift. Fitting the platform would be the slow part of the project since the engine cover is complexly curved on its top and the torque of steering would be transmitted over a broader area if the wood were shaped to properly fit. It most of the morning to get the pieces of wood properly shaped and then bolted to the engine cover. Organizing the tiller bar would have to wait until Monday when the stores are open, but that part of the job will be quick and easy.
In the afternoon, I spent some time shuttling gas from a downtown station to Kobuk. It looks as if there might be gas available here in the harbor for a rusty pump stands next to the ramp down to the floating docks, but nobody is about. I am not eager to locate anyone since an attendant would be obliged to collect slip fees from me. I presume that this mysterious person really does not want to collect fees else he would be around here once in a while. Ever since I arrived in port, the little shed that acts as a port office has been locked shut and nobody official has appeared hereabouts. I am sure the fees would be modest--probably around $20 per night--but who am I to disturb the reverie of a harbormaster who obviously has better things to do with his time?
I was using the replenishment of the gas supply as a justification for avoiding a different job that had to be done: taking a swim in the harbor waters to clear out the jet intake grill. Coming into harbor yesterday, the intake must have gotten clogged with weeds for the main engine developed that telltale hollow sound and stopped driving the boat forward with its usual force. When gas shuttling was done, there remained no real choice but to go get wet. As usual, the reality turned out to be less unpleasant than the idea. In fact, the water felt good--and did me good since I haven't been able to take a shower for a couple days.
I was so pleased with the progress for the day that in the evening I decided to have dinner and a couple beers at the one nice resto-bar in town. In work clothes, with unruly hair and stubbly beard, I joined what was quite obviously the fashionable crowd in town and spent my time at the bar being waited on by three different bartender-waitresses and watching on wide-screen tv the men's final of the US Open tennis match. How do these wide screen tv's work anyway? I dont think they actually take in any more horizontal sweep of view. Instead, they just seem to make everybody look fatter. I have to say, though, that even on wide screen tv, Roger Federer does not look fat.
Monday, September 11, 2006
No place in town has any hardwood for sale so in the end, I had to settle for a tiller bar made out of a simple fir 2x2. I think the final product will prove effective enough, but the need to use softwoods probably means that one day in the not too distant future either the tiller bar or its platform will break. But these were the easy parts of the project--replacing either would only require finding the wood and spending an hour. The precious items, ironically, are the two small pieces of 1x1 that were laboriously shaped to match the curvature of the engine cover, and these simple pieces are unlikely to break. Anyway, the deal here is to get through to the end of the season. Over the winter the Remote Troll can be rebuilt, leaving this tiller contraption as nothing but a backup.
The aging elf who worked behind the counter in Gauthier Marine was certain that their young man who troubleshoots mechanical problems would be able to take care of the tension screw problem on the Yamaha and sent us off together to take a look at the project. We rode down to the harbor in his black pickup and he reviewed the situation for some minutes, humming and hemming without committing himself regarding such matters as "Can it be fixed?" and "How much will it cost?" I waited some time for him to say something but since that didn't seem to be getting us anywhere, I eventually took a stab at what was on his mind. I said, "Do you think I need to take the motor off the boat for you to do the work?" He nodded agreeably and then became rather expansive, explaining in a single sentence that parts of the lower unit would need to be disassembled in order to get the broken screw out. Well, that sounded pricey, so I decided on a leading question: "Maybe I should wait until the end of the season and have the work done when the boat is out of the water. What do you think?" His agreeable nod was a little more affirmative to that and then I realized that he realized that I was not going to like how much it would cost to do this small job. I had him check the amount of tension on the engine and he thought its resistance to pivot was about right. He keeps the tension on his own outboard at about the same level, he said, and he thought that my engine was at the right balance between being easy to steer and easy to keep on course. Well, that settled it: the broken tension screw will stay as it is for now.
The young man's surname was MacDonald. His first name was that of an Anglophone as well (although I cannot remember it), but he appeared to be a native French speaker. This "confusion" between French and English is one of the delights of New Brunswick. Although my experience here is limited to Miscou and Shippagan, two small towns in a corner of the province that is predominantly French, I have been struck by the remarkable degree to which language is viewed as nothing more than a tool for communicating. It does not appear to be a political statement or a commentary on one's level of culture or a device for asserting power or a sorting mechanism for determining who is to be included and who excluded. It gets used in a way that suggests it has been stripped bare of all those cultural trappings. If someone doesn't know English then somebody else is found to deal with me, but never with an air of irritation. If someone is bilingual (as most are) and has to accomodate my lack of linguistic versatility, it is done readily and not with any hint of paternalism or superiority.
New Brunswick is the only Canadian province in which there is any sort of reasonable numerical balance between English and French speakers. A majority of the population is native English speaking, and it is true that the Francophones are heavily concentrated up here in the northwest near the border with Quebec, but even so the robust representation of both linguistic groups appears to have been good for the provincial health. In fact, one can make a case that New Brunswick is the only province that is truly living up to the Canadian ideal of parity between French and English. It will be interesting to see if this impression continues to hold as Kobuk moves south along the coast into Anglophone territory.