We left Gaspé on a good tide, with a good wind. As we sailed out of the bay we saw a whale watching boat – and then a whale. Large and dark, spouting occasionally. We tacked away and a little later the whale watching boat put out a call to the sailboats that were leaving (three others had all motored past us, and didn’t answer). They told us that what we had seen was a blue whale, one of the largest. A last gift from Gaspé.
Then we turned the corner out of the bay, headed (we thought) for Rivière-au-Renard. The wind grew light, and as we tacked and occasionally motored it became clear that we weren’t going to get there before night fell. So we decided to continue through the night, and aim for one of the other harbours Richard had found on the chart plotter – Grande Vallée.
The night was quiet and calm; we travelled slowly, with the generator partially recharging the batteries as we went. Late the next morning things began to change – the forecast winds changed to strong. As they built (blowing against the flow of the current) the water became very choppy and the boat began to do it’s choppy water dance. Closer to shore was less wind but lots of chop; there was a narrow zone that was more comfortable, and Richard stayed in it by making a lot of short tacks.
By late afternoon we were approaching Grande Vallée. We were glad to drop anchor in the comparative calm behind its breakwater. It’s a small harbour, mostly beach with a breakwater that protects a small marina. On top of the breakwater is a pier, where fishermen gather and people come to watch and walk and talk. Some of the breakwater’s stones rise over the pier, and those stones have been colourfully painted – I saw a heart, a ladybird, fish, people’s names.
On a bluff over the beach a large church dominates the scene; it’s the first thing you see as you approach, and the last as you leave. The town is surrounded by mountains. Houses line the shore, along with businesses, and perch on the hillside around the bay. There is a public park with access to the water, which is where Richard landed the dinghy when he went looking for more gas for the generator (the gate to/from the dock by the breakwater was locked).
After the hard sailing there were repairs to be done. We took advantage of a calmer day to do things like fasten the foot pump for our water tap down more securely. The smallest batten in our mainsail had worked its way out of the pocket in the bad weather; Richard put it back in with a spacer to help hold it more securely in place. Then there was the usual cleaning out and drying out and drying off…
Not many people stop here by sailboat, it seems. And we did not linger long. There’s no protection from the east, and with a shift in wind the area we were anchored in became more bumpy. We rocked and rolled all of our second night there, and in the morning moved closer to the shelter of the breakwater for some relief. Then we rested, and got ready to move on – in the late afternoon we pulled up the anchor, and made our way carefully around the breakwater and out into the waves beyond.
The winds were strong at first, and we began our travels with a wet, bumpy ride. Then overnight the wind dropped, and from pounding we went to motoring. The generator kept the batteries charged enough for us to travel for quite a while, until, as promised the wind began to fill in from the north. Except that it filled in a little more than promised earlier – yet again. Another gale warning replaced the promised fifteen to twenty knots.
We were going downwind. Behind us the waves began to build to two to three metres, and developed first flying foam then breaking tops. You could hear them coming; you could hear the boat surfing down them. Closer to shore was rougher, so we stayed out until we got close to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts.
And in the middle of all the noise and activity there was a sudden explosive noise, followed by another loud bang. Richard looked, and saw that the rope clutch that held one of the ropse from the windvane to the tiller had broken away, taking a piece of the tiller with it. Needless to say this rendered the windvane useless until the damage could be fixed. So from about eight in the morning Richard hand-steered.
With the waves looming large behind us it took a lot of concentration and hard work to keep the boat pointing the right way. Occasionally an out-of-sequence wave would break over the side of the boat, showering him with cold water. Did I mention that the air was cold too?
We came fast into Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, travelling on the wind and waves. Too fast – as soon as we saw what conditions were like we circled back and took the mainsail down. We could see that in the conditions there was no safe place to anchor, and going to a dock was our only option – an expense we had hoped to avoid, but a good choice in nasty weather. We radioed in, they had space. The entrance to the marina is through a passage between two curving breakwaters. The waves were breaking on the outer stones as I steered in, but the marina itself is very well-sheltered and the water calmed quickly. Staff met us at the dock, and with a little moving and juggling we were settled in.
The cost was a little higher than advertised in the Quebec Nautiguide, something we found in other places as we travelled. But the wi-fi was free, there’s power at the docks, and access to land and the things we needed to do there was much easier. The facilities were very clean, the marina staff friendly, some speaking English better than others but all willing to try. This was the first place we had been into on this trip where it cost extra to shower – $1.00 bought you four minutes of warm water.
One of the first things that caught my eye as we walked away from the waterfront past the big church, on our way to the grocery stores, was the driftwood sculptures. Some were rough, some sophisticated, some put together from different pieces of driftwood and other materials. One of my favourites was the carving of the winds on top of the marina office; another was the musicians on the lawn outside the building that housed the marina facilities – and other attractions, including an exhibit designed to educate visitors about the watery world just steps away.
The sculptures are bought by the town, chosen from those created at an annual festival – the Fête du bois flotté. The brochure for the fete advertises music and dancing and theatre and food and booths with artists and artisans and historical presentations and, of course, sculpture.
Arriving was easy, but leaving was difficult. Not so much because we were reluctant to go (though with more time and money we would have done more exploring). But for most of the day we were leaving the wind blew strongly from a direction that pushed us against the dock. We had to wait for it to drop before we could pull away safely, and then with a little more friendly help we were on our way.
The winds were supposed to be out of the north-west, perfect for travelling toward our next stopping point, Matane. If they had been as forecast, we would not have learned about tacking backwards…
Written by Margaret Mair, Photos by Richard Mair and Margaret Mair