We left Richibucto with the sunrise, putting up the mainsail in the harbour and heading out with the tide, hoping to ride it most of the day. We went out past seabirds wheeling and diving in search of food and two tents set up among the dunes by the beach. Then we did the downwind rock, the boat moving gently from side to side as we sailed, toward Miramichi Bay.
There we anchored off a beach, hoping that the bottom was sand. All was peaceful, and we watched the seabirds dive and call till dusk. Then early in the evening a small wind set the anchor light to swinging and its rope to tapping, and the anchor chain ground and slapped restlessly. Every now and then a larger wind ripple rocked the boat gently. Not being sure what it was in or how well the anchor would hold we left the drag alarm on all night. Happily it didn’t make a sound, and we slept well.
The next part of the trip was an overnight one straight to Gaspe, so though we rose early we had breakfast at anchor and cleaned up. That’s when the water in the tank ran dry, and we found ourselves with just one jug of water left. Not a huge problem since we expected to be in Gaspe the next morning, but we did have to use what was left carefully.
The day went well enough, though at one point we were alarmed to hear the sound of something metallic bouncing on the deck. Richard went looking and found the lock nut for the large bolt that holds our mast in place sitting on the side deck! A good thing that happened when it did since we could see and fix the problem right away (we have a large selection of nuts and bolts, new and used, on board, and from time to time they come in very handy). Particularly since later – again – we found ourselves caught in a situation where the forecast we left on was different from the weather we had to deal with.
We left on a strong wind forecast and ended up in a gale that night, with the seas breaking and sizzling around us and the boat sometimes surfing down waves at eight or nine knots (theoretically we shouldn’t be able to go faster than six-and-a-half). In the worst of it Richard tied in the third reef at the end of the boom so our mainsail became more like a loose footed storm sail, and carried no jib at all.
The gale was accompanied by driving rain, and in the worst of it Richard was hand steering. The windvane we rely on to steer whenever we’re sailing was responding too slowly for the conditions. He ended up soaking wet and tired – the only part of his clothing that was dry was a section in the middle of his shirt! Meantime lack of balance meant that I (Margaret) couldn’t be as useful as I wanted to be. We had worked out ways of doing different things – I’m on the helm when anchoring or raising the anchor, for raising the sail or sail changes and as relief when we are motoring. But I wouldn’t be much use in the cockpit when the boat was tossing around, not when I might get tossed around myself.
So I did what I could. Inside, I dealt as best I could with leaks – even closed, the vent over the head was not waterproof, at least not in this kind of weather, and I had to wrap a towel around the hose beneath it and mop the floor. I stuffed paper towel in the forward one – at least it had the advantage of being under the dinghy and didn’t let as much water in. And the almost empty water tanks couldn’t add more water to the mix!
And it was loud – there were the sounds of wind and seas and of the boat crashing down into the waves and things inside lockers moving and rubbing against each other. The rigging sang and moaned. All in all, not a restful night or a peaceful one, and daylight suggested that there would be more repairs to be done. For one thing, there was a new hole in the sail, a consequence of it rubbing on our hard dodger top.
Then Gaspé gave us a unique welcome. We arrived later than we had hoped, on an outgoing tide and with more bad weather on the way. The current that ran through the sandbanks where we entered the inner bay was strong, and we had to fight our way in – only to be greeted by a squall as soon as we stuck our bow inside. We had been motoring and had taken our sails down in preparation for our arrival. Now Richard had to pull out some jib just to give us enough power to go the way we wanted.
Once in we tacked our way to the point we had chosen for anchoring, not far from a small mooring field. As we dropped the anchor the wind swung us so that the boat tugged sharply against it, and we felt it grab hard. And there we stayed for the next few days, through calm and wind, while we got water and stocked up and waited for more bad weather in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to pass.
That day there were more squalls. We stayed on the boat, generator running to recharge the batteries, and took turns with one watching to make sure the anchor held while the other slept. As soon as he could Richard put the dinghy down and went for water and to see what the marina was like. I stayed on the boat and looked around. There was a small mooring field near us, and a couple of other boats anchored. We were surrounded by hills, except where the river came into the bay. On the other side of the river we could see the town, it’s buildings looking as if they were scrambling up the steep hillside.
The part of town we could see was across the bridge, so that’s where we went the first time we wanted to stock up on groceries. We walked in past the town sign adorned with ‘balloons’ and ‘ribbons’ to find a narrow street lined with stores and cafes with sunlit patios and other businesses. Down the stairs to the next street, and we found the supermarket. Let’s just say that that one was not inexpensive, so we were glad to spot the sign for another supermarket on our way back, on the other side of the bridge.
This is a town that attracts visitors of all kinds, judging by the backpacks and touring motorcycles and cars. However they came, though, it was not by train – the beautiful Via train station by the marina had no trains coming to it. The town has a lot to attract them – the beauty of its surroundings, the river and the bay, the attractiveness of the town itself, the views suddenly found just around a corner and the gems we suddenly came across. Like the sculpture of the diver, La Grande Plongeuse, by Roger Langevin.
And there always seemed to be lots going on. We just missed a music festival – they were clearing up when we went into town. People walked and cycled on the trail by the anchorage, and visited the beach across from it. On the water we watched boats arrive and leave and just go sailing, and saw young students learning to sail and all about wind and currents. There was that windless day when they sailed easily out on the river current, but had to be towed back to the dock they started from. The wind they sailed out on was too light to get them back.
We stayed long enough to do some resealing and re-organizing and sail mending. Bad weather elsewhere has its advantages. It was tempting to stay longer, but of course once the weather cleared we had to go. And so Richard pulled the dinghy up and one early morning we hauled the anchor up and made our way out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
And had another one of those trips that don’t quite work out as planned. Still, a plan is just a sketch of how things might go, isn’t it?
Written by Margaret Mair