It was early evening (and later than we’d planned) when we left Sainte-Anne-des-monts. The harbour master and staff were kind, and came to help us get off the dock easily. In fact they came so promptly that we left in a bit of a scramble. But as we moved away from the marina we got ourselves together, put away ropes and fenders and put the sails up, expecting to sail in something like the direction we wanted to go.
That’s when we were reminded how much a good current loves a full-keel boat. It grabbed our keel and pushed us sideways. So instead of actually moving toward where we were pointing we found ourselves moving away from where we wanted to go. There’s something a little discouraging and disconcerting about seeing the place you’re coming from slowly getting further away – in front of you.
We realized we weren’t going to be able to sail out of this situation, though we did try. So we turned the motor on again, and Richard experimented until he found a point at which the combination of sail and motor kept us moving in the right direction without consuming too much of our battery power. I think this was when I realized how much our batteries limited our ability to use our motor. They are our fuel, and we have to be careful that they don’t run out of power – or so do we.
The forecast had promised north-west winds, once again – they would have made it much easier to travel in the right direction. But instead (as they often seem to do) the winds dropped overnight. So we knew we weren’t going to get to our next harbour, Matane, before nightfall that second day. Though we did get tantalizingly close. Just not close enough.
That meant there was no point trying to go quickly, so instead we slowed down. By about 1:00 a.m. we needed to slow down even more. We were so close that Richard set the boat to drifting toward deeper water – he tied the tiller to one side, and put the mainsail in the middle – then drove it back to the starting point, then let it drift again. Part of that time I kept watch, and he slept. The nice thing? Between keeping watch as we drifted and a turn on the helm while motoring and a sailing watch I finally began to feel as if I were contributing more, and that felt good.
It was cold that night. We put on layers as the temperature went down, hats and hoods on our heads, warm socks inside our shoes. And still we were cold. So as soon as the dawn came and we could see well enough we anchored outside the port, started the generator and plugged in the electric heater. As it warmed our outsides we warmed our insides with porridge and coffee, and after that Richard fell asleep.
It’s interesting, the changes that having an electric motor has made in our lives. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have a generator, but once we had a generator we began to make other decisions based on what we could use it for. We chose an electric heater because we could and chose the model based on its power draw so we could be sure our generator would be able to run it. We also adapted the way we charge our batteries based on the capacity of the generator, and worked out different combinations of sail and motor to use in different circumstances because we need to conserve battery power when we’re travelling a long way.
Matane was more obviously industrial than any of our other stops so far. We could smell chemicals as we approached, though we could not see the businesses the smells were coming from until we were on the other side of the harbour, leaving. A ferry runs from the port, two large fishing boats went into it in the very early morning, and we could see a large vessel being maneuvered into place along the breakwater facing us. There was obviously work being done in the port, we could see construction equipment on the breakwater and a building being built.
Right next to the port there is a much-used beach (at least while we were there). People came to walk and swim and play. It seemed an odd juxtaposition, to have an area used for pleasure so close to one so industrial. Further away, where the bay curved back toward the river, there were homes protected by stony breakwaters, evidence of what could happen in rough weather.
As it turned out, that was almost all we saw of Matane, except for when Richard took the dinghy in to the beach and went for gas for the generator.
That was because later in the day I happened to glance out and see other boats leaving the marina to the north of us, and recognized another boat we knew was travelling in the same direction. We wondered why they were leaving, and so we checked the weather forecast – and to make a long story short it became obvious that unless we were willing to go into the port to seek shelter it would be wise for us to move on too. So about twelve hours after we had dropped anchor we picked it up again and set sail for Rimouski.
The weather forecast predicted heavy winds in the area, up to 30 knots, first out of the south-west then the north-west, that night and the next day. On the chart Rimouski looked like a place that would provide better shelter. We travelled through another cold night, motor-sailing when the tide and current set us tacking backwards again and motoring when the wind died – which it did from time to time.
Other boats motored past us, some well inshore, others far out. We chose the middle route, trying to find the right balance between less current in the shallower areas and less choppy waters where the water was deeper. Not that the current runs evenly – it bends around islands and into the mouths of rivers and bays. Nor is the bottom even; it rises and falls, and there are rocks and wrecks and obstructions that create eddies.
As the day passed Richard worked hard to keep the boat moving as efficiently as possible so we could get to Rimouski in daylight. We made it – but seeing the area where we had hoped to anchor was disappointing. It was not going to give us the protection we’d hoped for.
We did have one thing in our favour. The heavy winds were now forecast to begin early in the morning, so we decided to put off going in to the marina for at least that night. Then, if all worked out, we could go in to the marina early the next morning, and leave early the morning after.
Richard tried to contact the marina, but, as we found out from the kind soul who answered our radio call, the staff had already left for the day. But there were spaces, and the staff would be back reasonably early the next morning.
The wind woke us shortly before daylight, singing in the rigging. As soon as it was light enough we raised the anchor, and by 6:30 we had tied up in an empty spot in the marina. It took three tries to actually register – the first time there was no-one in the office, the second time there was but he was not officially working yet. Third time lucky… Then we slept the morning away.
Later we enjoyed showers, and spent our afternoon catching up on things that needed doing and planning ahead. We never did see much more than the harbour and marina. The marina shares the harbour with a wharf for fishing boats, and for a ferry that goes to Forestville. There is another section where larger vessels can dock. Fisheries and Coast Guard vessels have docks in the marina and while we were there we saw a group being trained on one of the Coast Guard RIBs.
We did make time to walk briefly along the walking and cycling path that goes by the marina, and admired the islands and mountains we could see fading away into the misty distance. We noticed a church that looked more contemporary than others we’ve seen so far, and gazed at a view of houses and shoreline. The only businesses we could see within easy reach were all marine or marina based.
We left early the next morning. We had been introduced to the St. Lawrence’s tides and currents, and now we were going to learn more.
Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Richard and Margaret Mair