July 25th, 2018. With fairly quiet (though possibly wet) weather forecasted for the following few days, and brand spankin’ new spare fuel and engine filters on board from Rimouski, we motored on towards Gaspé.
The weather reports rang true for the afternoon; we had a quiet motor along the St Lawrence and when the skies turned to cinematic perfection with water resembling moving mercury, we found ourselves in a state of comfort – dare I say peace – after our engine and instrument drama a few nights prior. The weather was calling for a bit of rain overnight, but that would be the worst of it. We were supposed to see a maximum of one foot seas for much of our journey. Finally, we would have an uneventful overnight passage.
Let me just say, that the weather reports lied. One foot seas, my ass.
I have images flashing across my mind’s eye, like a collage of scenes from movies stitched together for impact. Like our very own movie trailer.
Night: I wake up from my turn to sleep by involuntarily rolling into the berth wall and hearing a large smash. Then another smash. The boat was pitching side to side with vehemence like a demented piano metronome set on Larghissimo. I grab walls, grips, anything sturdy to stop me from slamming myself into something hard and raise myself up on the companionway stairs to look out. John in standing at the helm in full offshore gear, black waves rising off the stern on all sides of him, looking absolutely in his element.
In retrospect, I wish I would have taken a photo or video but both panic and problem-solving modes in my brain had kicked into high gear.
It’s fine, he said. But don’t come up. Grab every pillow you can find and wedge yourself into your bunk.
I retreated downstairs. Another smash. Pots go flying. Our bamboo dishes, waiting to be washed, that were once in a bucket were now scattered all over the floor. So were a couple kitchen knives. This would not work. I grabbed everything remotely dangerous that had been strewn about, tossed it into another bucket and locked it in the bathroom. I secured what I could in the cabin before hearing John’s frustrated yell for me to leave it and get in my bunk. God love him for worrying about me but flying knives were not an option to be left alone. I knew his attention shouldn’t be divided though so once I was satisfied that no one would be injured by further flying objects, I crawled back into the bunk, braced myself against the walls and stayed put. For hours.
John was at the helm all night. In order to give us the most comfortable ride possible in the confused, looming waves, we ended up motoring much farther offshore than we had planned. And then discovered that it was almost impossible to get back with the angle of the swells and fetch. Each time we attempted to turn toward land, the waves were at our beam which would start the terrible metronome swing once more. By five am, the waves had calmed to a point where he knew I could take over, and he could manage to crash for an hour or two.
For the next two hours, I attempted to point towards shore with little success. The waves were still high but manageable and I found a way of surfing down them while bearing off at the bottom in order not to submerge headlong in the the wave in front of us. And of course, the rain had started. Offshore gear is apparently water-resistant, not water-proof. So within a couple short hours, I was wet, cold, and watching the rain turn into fog as morning rose. Not being able to see much at all around me, my imagination threatened to get the better of me as I scoured the hazy world around looking for container ships and other possible obstacles. But I steadfastly kept riding the swells, hoping to get a little closer to shore in-between the larger waves.
I’m sure John didn’t sleep. I had very little, but at least the only thing I had to do overnight was to keep myself secure in my bunk so John didn’t have to concern himself with my well-being on top of everything else. He had the job of heroism. Two hours of attempted forced relaxation after his exhausting seven hours hand-steering, he came back up to the cockpit. Now we had a new problem. Although the fog had somewhat cleared immediately around us, it was gathering along the shore. The water had calmed down enough that we could start making our way in again but how far in could we go without being able to see?
John took back the helm. He scanned our charts for somewhere to lay up, to sleep, to recover. I poured over weather reports to find a break in the fog AND low clouds (why Windy differentiates the two, I still haven’t figured out – they appear the same to the naked eye as far as I can tell) and we attempted to find a window of time that would allow us to make our way to the nearest safe haven.
At one point during the eternal slog to make it back to shore, while I was down trying to create some sort of sanity in the tumbled cabin, John called down for me to grab my camera. Watching the fog roll down the Appalachian mountains was incredible. It was hard to capture, as we were still so far off shore, still bumpily riding waves, but I hope I caught at least the feeling of it.
Nervously we passed through patches of thick fog to have them seemingly disappear once we were in them. It seemed like some sort of trickery, and was honestly a bit disconcerting. But John had found our haven and we rounded a break-wall of concrete tetrapods resembling a neglected game of Lilliputan inspired Jacks to find one long, low dock, already filled with tiny fishing and sport boats.
I do not yet possess the ability to visualize creative docking measures. When John asked if we would fit on the end, my response was “definitely not.” He attempted to dock anyway. We were thankful that the person “in charge” of the dock was present to catch our bow line. Our 45 foot sailing vessel was off the end of the dock by at least a solid fifteen feet, but we managed to secure her, and after we paid our $20 fee for docking, we retreated into the cabin to regain our stability and sleep after our 30 hour action-movie, adrenaline-inducing passage.
It wasn’t until we woke that we consciously realized that the engine had not failed once during our adventure. And it also made me recognize that I did, instinctively trust both the boat and John to get us to our next port in one piece, even if my mind may have been entertaining other thoughts from time to time. John agrees that I should trust the boat. He aslo admits that it’s good that I implicitly trust him as well though, admittedly, it’s probably best that I stay naive to the fact that he might not know as much as I think he does.
Cloridorme, is a perfectly quaint, clean, and beautiful tiny fishing village on the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec with a population of under 800 people. And to us, it could not have been a more perfect respite from a tumultuous overnight trek.
The next day, we indulged in tiny hamburgers, poutine, and ice cream for lunch from the small seaside Cantine de Pêcheur and nearby café, and I took stock of the cabin and sought out to find ways of securing all of the nooks and crannies that we had neglected to before heading out from Rimouski. We unfortunately had a couple damages: our wall fan was bashed off of its wall attachment by wrecking-ball oranges, a few dints and dings were found in my once-flying pots, a wire came loose from the main cabin light switch in our instrument panel – from a panel door that had been wildly swinging along with the boat. Cupboard doors that didn’t have proper locks now would be tied up with parachute cord, the dirty dishes bucket was traded for a much taller version that could be secured in the event of rough seas, and things were moved around to make sure that they were more central to the cabin when we were underway. The lessons we learn…
Cloridorme, although lacking facilities or convenient provisioning sources, was also incredibly rugged and picturesque. So while John sought out diesel (which he never found), I strolled with my camera around the harbour area to try to capture the charm of our new-found sanctuary.
We stayed waiting for a lift in the fog for two nights and departed at six am the following morning, well rested and now well secured, for the short jaunt to acquire some much needed fuel in Rivière-au-Renard.