Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shediac to Halifax - The Ocean at Last!!!

We had just finished reefing the headsail in a 26 knot wind the other day, when Pat turned to me and said “we’re getting pretty good at this”. That simple statement from a lady whom you all know as being gentle and modest, really encapsulated our personal growth thus far. The cruising books, seminars, and magazines provide knowledge, but in the end the only thing that really counts is getting started and doing something…. anything! The confidence comes from the figuring out process, not just from the end result.

We were crossing the Northumberland Strait from Charlottetown to Ballantynes Cove N.S., not a particularly interesting trip because it was a 65 mile run which was too far offshore to really see anything, but far enough offshore to get the winds and waves of the southern reaches of the Gulf Magdalene. In the past, a trip of 65 miles would have been a major endeavour requiring days, if not weeks of preparations. Moreover the strong winds advisory which forecast winds of 20-25 knots with gusts to 30 would certainly have kept us tied to the dock. Yet here we were, surrounded by water, motor sailing on a run with a full 155 headsail. The furling of the head sail down to a more manageable size was a non-event. The true accomplishment was getting to the point where it was a non-event.

When we turned the corner into the ocean at Canso NS we went from reaching and running to hard core beating. To make matters a little worse, there are not very many viable ports on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, so we had to stretch our legs somewhat and make longer trips than we would normally have chosen to take. The water is a different colour here, and most interestingly it sounds different. In Lake Ontario, you can judge your boat speed, by the gurgling of the water against the hull. In the ocean, the water does not gurgle, it hisses and foams. Previously sea foam green was the colour of a paint chip, but this week, I know that it is actually the colour of the wake of a sailboat in the ocean. The paint designers must be sailors!

We had left Canso early to make the hop to Liscombe about 70 miles away. Since this was our third day out from the relatively civilized confines of Charlottetown, I was in desperate need of a shower. The fishing ports we had been using were not exactly marina grade and so it came to pass that I got up the nerve to take my first shower at sea.

The sails were set for a close haul in about 15 knots and the motor was also running in order to make decent speed over the bottom. With all sources of power, we were only making about 6.5 knots against the current. Everything seemed stable, so the itchiness of my scalp, urged me to take the plunge so to speak and head for the shower. As you may recall, Threepenny Opera had a very nice shower compartment in the very bow of the boat. You may also recall that I am blind as a bat without my glasses on, so once I got into the shower, I was pretty much doing everything by touch….to bad I was alone.

When wet gel coat, is covered with shampoo, it produces a totally frictionless surface, so I suddenly found myself bouncing around in the forepeak, stark naked, soaking wet and desperately trying to find some position stable enough to both enjoy the relief from the stinging hot water and to scrape off 3 days worth of sea grime from my person. It seemed pretty easy when I got in, but once my glasses came off and the water went on, I became an oyster sloshing around in the shell.

After I finally dried off and got dressed. I went back into the cockpit and found Pat straddling the winch and grinding in a few last turns. The incline-o-meter showed we were at 25 degrees of heel, and in the few minutes that elapsed during my shower the wind had veered forward even more and increased to 20 knots. What a difference a little experience makes! In the past, the mainsheet would have been out of its clutch and the screams of reef, reef, reef would have been rising! Instead here was Pat trying to eke out the last possible bit of drive from the shifting winds so we could keep our plans intact.

My theory is that the 1500 miles we have covered thus far have been just the ticket to building our skills and confidence gradually. Many people were surprised to hear that we were planning to descend the St. Lawrence and go around the Atlantic Coast instead of the usual snowbird route of the Erie Canal to New York City. I could tell by some of the polite murmurs that many people thought we were either swashbucklers or crazy to follow such an ambitious route. I am almost certain that if we had used the canal route, our first ocean experiences would have been much ruder and certainly less comfortable

We are in Halifax this weekend after covering over 75 miles of windward beating yesterday. It is our intention to hide from Hurricane Kyle by taking the weekend off and maybe even seeing a movie! Hope you guys have a great week, I know we will.


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Rivieres Madeline to Shediac - Bienvenue a L'Acadie

When we left Toronto we had visions of tropical beaches and palm trees in our heads. The visions are still there, but there are days when they seem more like the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then a realistic objective. I know the beaches are still there, and the palm trees are still swaying, but for now we have to contend with 30 knot winds and temperatures that are more conducive to thermal underwear than bathing suits. The simple fact is that cruising is hard work.

The theme for last week was into the wild. This week we went from wild to savage. The remoteness of the Lower St. Lawrence gave way to the undeveloped reaches of the Acadian Coast of New Brunswick. When we were in Quebec, we followed the “Corridor Bleu” which is a Quebec Tourism sponsored network of member marinas. Although the facilities are primitive at times, they still create a trail of safe harbours for the cruising community. A voyager could at least count on a reasonably secure dock, and some type of electrical connection…very important at night when temperatures drop into the single digits.

As Pat and I headed out from L’Anse a Beau Fils, our last port of call in Quebec into a building SW wind, I had the unsettling realization that we really had no idea what was on the other side. Sure we had the place names, and the charts, but there was very little information describing what was in store. The quality and depth of information contained in the Ports Guide in Ontario and the Guide Nautique in Quebec was replaced by a few photocopied pages from a fellow sailor’s notebook. Perhaps it was better than nothing, but incomplete information sometimes is more stressful to deal with than no information at all. At least when you have nothing, you either accept the void as a fact and move forward, or you stay home. When you have partial information, you start to fill in the gaps in the information with visions of sea monsters!

Certainly the quality of the ride on the voyage across the Bay of Chaleur, did nothing to dispel the uneasiness of heading off into the unknown. When you are standing at the helm for extended periods of time, you have lots of time to think. My ah ha of the week relates to the difference between true wind and apparent wind….please note that you will not find this in a textbook on sailing theory.

True wind, is the wind that God, or whatever supreme being you subscribe to, gave you for a smooth and comfortable voyage. Apparent wind, is what you get when you don’t listen to God, and end up with a crashing, banging, stomach churning roller coaster that lasts for 9 hours. The lesson is made even more poignant when we suddenly realize that for the first time since we left home on August 12 that we were finally heading in a southerly direction. Only 2500 more miles and we will be in Key West!!!! As the lurching belly slapping square waves, splashed over the dodger there are a few additional moments that revolved around the theme of “what the hell were we thinking???”

In New Brunswick the boating facilities are designed for shallow draft fishing vessels. In the harbours we visited, a low tide water level of 5 feet was considered to be pretty good. In Shippagan Gully for example, the fuel dock is only accessible at high tide. If one needs fuel you need to wait until the tide comes in, or you do without the fuel. After my experience at st-Anne-des-Monts, I waited. The good news is that when you finally get to the fuel dock, you are paying fisherman’s prices from the local Co-op, which means something around $1.00/L.

The lack of facilities however creates a closeness amongst the people that live here that is both astonishing and heartwarming to an outsider. There is a sense of community and looking out for one another that simply does not exist in larger more ”civilized” centers. We had total strangers drive us around like family, and in Shediac, we were brought into the local yachting community as if we were long lost relatives. In the space of 30 minutes while doing our laundry, Pat and I were welcomed into a circle of friends that turned a trip to the laundry room into a very late evening by the fire.

Thanks to Diane, Daniel, Richard, Marco, Sylvie, Odette, Alan, Elizabeth….. and the names that I can’t remember but who’s warmth I will never forget. The clams at Goulds were wonderful and yes we are looking forward to returning for an Acadian Poutine in the future. Next time we’ll call ahead! We are off to PEI and Nova Scotia, next week and hopefully we will be able to stay ahead of the frost. Have a great week.

click on the pictures for the captions, and run the slideshow to view full screen

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cap a L'Aigle to Rivieres Madeleine - Into the Wild!

So today is the 12th of September which marks our first month away from home. Very gradually Pat and I are making the transition from recreational pleasure boaters to liveaboard cruisers. The transition in many respects has been subtle, but on other dimensions there is clearly a synergy that can only be attributed to new routines, somewhat harsher conditions and a lack of the resources that we tend to take for granted in the pleasure boating realm.

We have all seen the cartoons of the sign that says “last gas for 200 miles” with a pair of hungry vultures perched on top. This week, we figuratively passed such a sign, only to find that the last gas station was actually closed. The result was we squeaked into the tiny, but charming village of Ste-Anne-des-Monts, with only fumes remaining in the tank.

Since all is well that ends well, we fully expected to refuel and were frankly a little puzzled by the cryptic message from the harbour master that we were to enter the harbour and tie up to a quay that was not exactly a fuel dock, but we would know what he meant when we saw it?? What we saw was JP Letourneau, the assistant harbour master waving his arms from a long quay that was to port. We were to turn around and tie up on starboard. The not exactly a fuel dock part referred to the multiple trips up and down the quay to a 45 gallon drum of diesel, from which jerry jugs were filled and hauled back to the boat by hand.

The first trip was pretty easy, but by the 4th trip carrying a 20liter jug in each hand, I was not moving nearly as fast as the old man who was watching me work from the side of the main wharf. It is truly an acquired taste to fill a 42 foot boat with diesel, by carrying 20 liter jugs 2 at a time. Now that the boat is full, I have not missed an opportunity to keep the tank filled, even if it means hauling the dreaded 20 liter jugs, because 1 or 2 trips is much better than the experience of the other day. My back will never be the same, but then neither will be my perspective on what it means to be prepared.

We are getting a taste of the rougher conditions of the lower St. Lawrence and the Saguenay River fjord. The pictures will tell one story, but for the past week, the only English conversation I’ve had has been with Pat. Even with the linguistic challenges aside, it is pretty clear that we have stepped into another world. Fuel, going out to dinner, decent docks and power are pretty much hit and miss. The compensation however is the privilege of experiencing some of the most beautiful settings in this country, from a front row seat. A week ago we were wandering around Quebec City in shorts and t-shirts taking in the sights as tourist. This week, we are in multiple layers of technical underwear and polar fleece, tied to an anchor ball that is in front of a 1500 foot cliff and relying on Threepenny Opera as our personal biosphere.

Threepenny Opera has proven to be a truly cruise worthy vessel that is ready to accept all challenges she has met so far. The long hours invested by yours truly crawling through the bilges and getting fibre glass rash from reaching into tiny spaces along the hull to install heat, ventilation and electronics has paid its dividends. We are truly comfortable, even if we have to make a few compromises now and again.

Not all has been perfect however; as she has a few battle scars to show for her first week in the wild. In the end however there was nothing too serious, and nothing that will do anything more than to keep her crew a little sharper and a little more cautious before settling in for the night. Who knew that the wave action from tidal surges would work all of our fenders up and cause gel-coat to rub against a wooden wharf. Or that tying a dinghy up on davits requires horizontal as well as vertical support. And of course bits and pieces for the boat, like oil filters and even plain old motor oil are just not as readily available as they are when Mason’s and Bristol are just down the street.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence awaits as tomorrow we prepare to round the eastern extremity of the Gaspe Peninsula and head south towards the famous Perce rock. Yes Tom we will crack the champagne that you gave us as we round the fabled cape. This week it is Gaspe, tomorrow maybe the Horn??

Best to all. Please write and let us know what you want to know.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Trial by Fire - Trois Rivieres to Cap a L'Aigle

Brown water sailing, in a river estuary, is an acquired taste! As we rounded the mark at Cap Tormente, coming out of the North Channel at Isle D'Orleans, we got our first taste of sailing in salt water. At first it seemed easy enough, the water was flat and the wind, although on the nose, was pretty light. About 10 miles up there is a small island call Isle aux Coudres, that one must go around in order to continue up the north channel. At the entrance to Isle aux Coudres there are these squiggly lines on the chart, that sort of look like the stylized waves one would expect on a paper placemat at a cheap roadside seafood restaurant.

Not realizing what they meant, we pressed on, not that we really had a choice because there are no tenanble ports of call or anchorages between Quebec City and Isle aux Coudres, and even then Isle aux Coudres is only to be used in emergencies. Well it turns out that the lines meant tidal rips, which of course do not exist in Lake Ontario. What is a tidal rip you ask?? It is where the sea bottom and the land features conspire to create a very fast current that can catch a large ship and push it around like a dinky toy. Seasoned mariners on the big ships know to either avoid these squiggly lines or approach them with great caution.

As it tuened out in our case we approached the current at full ebb, which is when the current was at its strongest flowing out to sea. Initially it was a quick ride, but at a place called Cap l'Abbatis the wind picked up considerably. Those of you who speak a French will realize that Cap L'Abbatis translates literrally as Cape Beaten Up. When I saw it on the chart, I thought that this was just one of the many colourful place names on the chart. Little did I know that in this case there was real reason for the name.

The St. Lawrence is oriented in a SW to NE direction, so when the tide is going out in the estuary, there are billions of gallons of water flowing at 3-6 knots in a NE direction. On the day we came through the wind piped up from 3-5 knots to over 20 knots out of the NE at, you guessed it, Cap L'Abbatis. We have all heard of standing waves, but you haven't lived until you have found your self in a situation where wind against tide creates 4-5 foot waves that look like the peaks in a bowl of whipped cream. It is impossible to steer with them or around them because they appear out of nowhere and disappear as quickly. Poor Threepenny Opera was like the proverbial Coyote running out over the cliff, when he suddenly realized there was no longer any support. We have been in situations where the boat slapped on the bow, but on this auspicious occasion we had most of the hull slapping into the water as the waves receded out from underneath the boat. We were like a giant wakeboard.

In the end we had about 90 minutes of this action and while it was uncomfortable, it was a huge confidence raiser, because now we know that ship and crew can hold together under some pretty uncomfortable conditions. Jest let me say that words like tidal rip, katabatic winds, and standing waves, are just glossary terms when you read them in the pages of Blue Water Sailing or Cruising World. They are a little different and much more acutely defined in the real world.

Fortunately for us the earlier part of our week was pretty easy. In the previous post, you know that we had spent 4 days in Pat's hometown of Trois Rivieres. Its a great town for boaters that has nice facilities both in the form of the municipal marina and in the many local anchorages in the river. I took advantage of the downtime in Trois Rivieres to get caught up on some boat chores and I now have a copper ground plane on the bottom of TPO. A nasty hot and dirty job to be sure, but worthwhile if we are to ever get our SSB to work properly.

On the trip from Trois Rivieres to Quebec City we got our first taste of working with the tides. All of the sailing directions specify a time to depart a location based on boat speed and the time of either the high or low tide at your destination. In the case of Trois Rivieres to Quebec City, a distance of 67 miles, we had to leave at 6.5 hours before the low tide at Quebec. By catching the tides right, we had a beautifully smooth sunny ride (no wind however) and covered the entire 67 miles in about 6 hours.

Quebec City was a tourist treat for Pat and me. After the weekend of family, and having people around all the time, it was good to catch a little downtime and see a few sights. This year is the 400th anniversay of the founding of Quebec City so the town was at its very best. What was so striking about the festivities was that everybody we met, from young to old were universally positive about their town and the arrangements that had been made to support the celebrations. A must see is the incredible Moulin a Images, in which the grain elevators in the old port are transformed into a HUGE 600 meter long multi-media show depicting the history of the city in animation, still images and 3D stereophonic sound....all for free!!!!

The Yacht Club de Quebec, QYC is one of the oldest in Canada. The current location is about 3kms upstream of the old city which means it is close enough to everything, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle. If you know the geography of Quebec City, you will find the QYC at the base of the extreme Western end of the Plains of Abraham. For Pat and me our welcoming committee consisted of Pierre, Claude and Charles, who were our slip mates on the Hunter 37.5 Impulsive. We didn't know it at the time, but our welcoming committee were all past and present flag officers of the club. Charles, as the current VC house, (Commodores Immoblieres)immediately offered to drive Pat and me into town, and in the process gave us a mini tour of places we needed to go and see.

Thanks guys for the hospitality, it won't be forgotten!!

We are off this morning for Tadoussac so hopefully we'll catch some whales on the way. I'm sure there are some more interesting things about cruising that we'll learn today and in the days to come. Right now we have to deal with the 9C water temps and the small craft warnings about wind on the nose. I guess we will find out what the warnings about arriving at the mouth of the Saguenay River at precisely the correct time are all about.

Until next time

"click on the pictures for the captions"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Three of everything!

The visit to Trois Rivieres was a major milestone for Pat. It was a home coming like no other and it was celebrated in Threes! How is it that the number three seems to figure so many times in a single visit?? First of all there are three rivers, (actually there are only two, but three islands split one of the rivers in two, so there are three rivers in the end) hence the name, but who could guess that the triple phenomenon would extend to other things as well.

For example we had three Karine's at the same party. So confusing that we went to numbering them karine 1,2 and 3, or rather Karine Une, Deux, Trois. There were three brothers and sisters in the Oscarson clan, Mark, Ann and of course Pat. And finally there were at least three distinct family trees present at our party at the Three Rivers Marina. Jason, who is Pat's nephew is expecting his first child with significant other Karine 1, or is that 2...3? anyway the couple seems very happy and throughly committed to each other and the idea of becoming parents.

So we had a BBQ that was attended by all of the family and the extended family members, many of whom were meeting each other for the first time. In the end it was Pat and me, Lise, Christian with girlfriend karine and sister Karine, and Mark and daughter Stephanie, with new beau Raymond and daughter Karine, and Ann with sons Jason and Karl. Like all events in the Oscarson clan, there was plenty of food and drink, and despite a little thunderstorm, we still manged to stay dry and feed everybody without missing a beat.

The pictures say it all.


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