Salty Gaspe Gale Express

Posted Aug. 19, 2008 at 09:35

After leaving the Saguenay  River, we crossed to the south shore of the St Lawrence River and anchored about 11nm west of Rimouski in Havre du Bic (harbour of the village of Bic). This one is a nice wide anchorage, didn't have any problems setting the anchor.  The village of Bic to the east in the bay, and the rows of mountain ranges to the west provided a nice backdrop.

Since the harbours along the Gaspe penninsula lack diesel pumps, enough depth for our keel or both, next morning (Aug 16) we decided to go for our first longer hop, overnight so that we would get to the town of Gaspe, some 230nm away.  The forecast was favourable, southwesterlies 10-15kn and 20-25kn around Anticosti Island (the large island in the Northwest part of the St Lawrence Gulf) - nothing we hadn't done before.  Dennis and Katia of Wind Whisper decided to leave their boat in Rimouski and take a week-long trip back to Toronto, so we said our goodbyes and bon-voyages and expressed hopes we would re-join somewhere in Nova Scotia.

Just before noon we passed within a 1/4 mile (7nm off Pointe au Pere, Rimouski) over the Empress of Ireland that sank within 15 minutes in May 1914 after colliding in dense fog with a coal/ore carrier, with 1014 lives lost according to our guide.  That was a sombre moment.

The weather was nice, winds SW10-15kn so we flew the spinnaker until the evening.

 A couple of pods of Belugas swam by to cheer us up.

As the weather front was approaching with rain forecast, we reduced sail to a double reefed main and spinnaker-poled out 135% genoa (we can furl it with the pole attached should we need to.  The pictiure below is from the Saguenay two days before where we had the dingy still inflated on deck - we deflated it for the long, overnight run).

Turn on the navigation lights - alas, circuit-breaker trips!  We had them on, no problem, just two nights ago!   Darkness descending, autopilot on, radar on, Dora on watch, I start "debugging"...  Open the distribution panel, separate the two circuits (bow/stern light), figure out which one is shorted, then figure out which one is still good, re-attach it to the breaker - so at least we had our stern light on.  With the boat moving in slight waves i wasn't going to go after shorts on the bow, so I decided to turn on the masthead and steaming lights and inform any oncoming traffic with a securitee message...  Fortunately, there wasn't ANY traffic all night, and I was up until 5am (dusk) at which time Dora woke and relieved me for a two hour nap.

By 7, the we were close to the northernmost point on our track. The wind intensified into the 20s and we sped up to 9-10kn over ground with a 1-2kn current helping us.

A few more hours and it got to the high 20s and into the 30s and we were surfing with occasional course changes (jibes) to keep the genoa wind-filled (with the pole removed by now).  Now we were consistently around and slightly above 10kn of speed including the slight Gaspe current and getting into the Honguedo strait  (between Anticosti Island and Gaspe penninsula), about 5-7nm off-shore.

To make it challenging, the wind decided to go into gale territory (forget the strong wind warning, this was a gale), above 33kn and even more, with quite a few solid 40+ kn blows that lasted for minutes with horizontal spray flying like a blizzard off breaking whitecaps.  Now we were breaking our old speed record and crossed 13kn surfing from one wave crest to the next...   Jibing also became more of a challenge.   For safety and ease, we had the main sheeted in, and letting it out as much as the  traveller would let it  - so we just changed course, let the main fill on the other side, and then let the traveller down slowly. Not too difficult, but even with two reefs there was still a lot of load on the main (I did this so that we wouldn't have to use the preventer, which is a single line to the bow and back to the boom, so, usually as the boom swings over, we have to take the preventer by hand around the mast and reattach to the boom on the other side - if any non-sailors read this far, sorry...  we should have a glossary, I know.  Maybe wikipedia can help in the mean time?)

The waves kept getting taller (over my eye level, standing behind the wheel - that makes them about 3m = 10ft) and fortunately, also somewhat longer.  Surfing is fun, but it is a narrow groove.  This boat doubles as a surfboard with winds like this, even though you could feel the extra cruising weight is was pulling inside itself.  A couple of times a wave would get us out of the groove and get me fighting to stay downwind.  At this point we decided to bail out, and head for Riviera au Renard, which was still an hour away, but had enough depth, good wide entrance and protection in the basin.  We turned into the wind close reached and struggled to pull down the remaining main. Dora was great at her usual task at the mast (we were both harnessed to inboard jacklines needless to say).  Now I regret not installing a harken track with ball-bearing slides for the main onto the mast - will do at the next opportunity.  But, we managed, tied the main down, and headed for harbour  with a furled-reefed jib still providing over 8kn and a much more stable, comfortable ride.

At this point, surprise number one - I see a fish jump out around 2 o'clock - a split second later I realize it is not a fish,  but an entire whale at some distance - the whole body - and then splashes back into the water and dissapears.  According to our guide and its coloring (white underbody, dark top, typical whale-shaped head) it could have been a minke whale or a finback whale.  Either way, unfortunately, it was at some distance, and Dora missed it.  But she thought it is a sign that we made a good decision to bail out of the salty Gaspe Gale Express.

Just before the harbour entrance surprise number two - can't completely furl the jib!  Later I found out, that the already furled part was furled so tight in the strong winds that it took a lot more turns and ran out of furling line on the furling drum (non-sailors, sorry again).   I counted the turns on the foot of the 135% jib - there were more than the usual number of turns on the 150% racing sail!   So now I added 6 more turns than before  (we had lots of problems with the furler two seasons ago when it had too many turns - this is an optimization process :-).

We got into Riviere au Renard harbour safely on engine alone (I didn't like the fact that we had no sail backup, as at the time I thought the furler jammed again - now I know we could have unfurled it),  dropped anchor in the outer basin (the inner basin was full of fishing tugs, didn't want to tie to the wall and take someone's spot.  Plus we needed a bit of "recovery time").  By this time, Dora got really seasick (fortunately she was ok all the way until we turned the engine on), and immediately went to sleep.  I cleaned up the mess of jib sheets, preventer, lines - signs of near chaos, sorted out the furler, checked the anchor (it was still blowing 20 in the protected harbour) and went to sleep.  Aaaaahhhh, what a relief!

This morning we found the boat salt encrusted all over, including 3m up the mast - we hosed it all down with dockside freshwater.  The marina is mostly empty, but it is a very nice freshly renovated facility with beautiful showers and restrooms and laundry... :-) 

Costs a dollar a boat foot per day, forty for us, cash only, no tax.  And the supermarket is great.  They even have diesel in jerry cans prepared for boaters - if I can find a filter, we might not go to Gaspe at all and skip the 30nm side trip which would be necessary to top-up our diesel tank (I also now regret not getting the big two-filtered funnel one at the Boathouse in Dorval - me dummkopf, and I was looking at it).  No one speaks English around here, but that's ok because we don't speak French either.  So we both try to speak body language and some form of Esperanto - mixed Italian/Spanish/What We Think is French/English and lots of smiles and mercy's - so far so god.

This place is the largest working fishing harbour in the gulf according to the guide.  It doesn't look too big, but there are at least two dozen fishing boats and a fish processing plant and lots of fishing gear.  So we might stay a day  or two extra to explore and enjoy fresh fish.