Blog 1 – Work before Play – January 4th – 14th, 2018
Jane’s and my blog is reactivated on the grounds that the stars have somehow aligned to provide me with the thrill of a lifetime. Sylvain Fortier, sailor and environmentalist extraordinaire asked me to come to Patras, Greece, and help him and Lilas get their new boat home. And so I shall, or at least as far as the Caribbean. Patras is the third largest city in Greece and not its most famous. In fact a gal named Maria, a work colleague of son Michael’s in Athens, drove fellow crew member Alexandre and me from our hotel to the bus to get here and when I said I was spending a couple of weeks in Patras she burst out laughing. Unfortunately she had a similar reaction when I said we were then sailing the Mediterranean in January.
But here we are and Sylvain and Lilas have welcomed us delightfully.
That’s Alexandre who travelled with me on the left, and Sylvain, Lilas and son Nathan on the right.
Type A that I am, I was the one that finally pulled out a piece of paper and started THE LIST which is everything that has to be done before we leave. It’s long, but it will get done. For the next couple of weeks we will be living aboard and beavering away, trying to knock things off faster than we add more jobs to the bottom. We’re also awaiting a crate of gear that we have shipped from Montreal nearly a month ago. It should be here soon.
Pretty nice boat eh?
Just kidding. There are a couple of pretty good wrecks nearby. I want to bring them all home, like the lost puppies that they are. I tried to get Alexandre to go in on this beauty but he respectfully declined. I thought it would be a surprise for Sarah. I’d say a surprise for Sarah and Jane, but Jane wouldn’t be surprised.
Here’s the real thing. The boat is called a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.1 and is magnificent. (You can google it. Look for the site that says “revue”.) It is built really, really strongly; comfy on the inside and very efficient on the outside. It’s going to be fun to sail, when we finally get to that, so I’ll tell you all about that when the time comes. In the meantime there really is a lot of work to be done. Aside from a 60 hp Yanmar Diesel Engine everything else is electric – anchor winch, bow thruster, wind and solar power generators, refrigeration, water heater, bilge pumps, and a host of navigational electronics – radios, GPSs, AISs, – you name it, not to mention lots of lights. Some of this stuff we’re installing. We’re plugged into shore power for now so it all works, but once we set sail the number of components in use will drop dramatically because we won’t be able to generate enough power short of using the engine. We’ll be down to what we need to navigate and maybe refrigeration if we’re lucky. There are six serious 12 volt batteries that keep things running, but they need to be fed in return.
So for now Alexandre (conveniently an electrical engineer) is tracing every wire, examining every device, assessing every battery, and is often seen taking apart switches or soldering bits of wire all in an effort to make sure we can count on things to function properly. I am dealing with everything that involves cordage or carpentry and have spent the last fews days building a spray hood which will hopefully keep us dry (er) in the weeks to come. It is chaotic. We’re having to get under floorboards, bunks and everything else at the same time as we’re living here and trying to keep a 22 month old child out of trouble. The tools aren’t the greatest, we always have to step around people, and then comes nap time for Nathan and we switch to the quiet jobs and forget what we were doing in the first place. But at the end of every day there is progress, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Components pulled out of the bulkhead, and tools in your bed, but beer!
The departure date has yet to be set because of gear to be delivered and registration paperwork with Transport Canada. We’re hoping early twenties of January and consoling ourselves that with every passing day the weather in the Mediterranean gets less wintry and more favourable. I hope we’re right about that.
Back in the day when I was young and actually listened to wise older people my father said something that I never understood. He was describing a wooden ship that sank in the St. Lawrence River in heavy seas by saying she had “opened up” and sank. Opened up? How could a boat just open up?
I nodded sagely at the time, of course, not wanting to reveal my ignorance but now, (just 50 years later!) I understand. The ribs broke! How did I figure that out? Readers of this column (if any) will recall that just about a year ago I told the harrowing tale of having to replace the stem in my gracefully aging 77 year old sailboat. If you recall, I succeeded in getting the stem back together in time for the launch, only to suffer a near sinking because a very serious leak “opened up” in another part of the boat. An adrenaline-fueled beaching took place on the conveniently falling tide, and I discovered a three foot seam between two planks was not firmly closed as it was supposed to be, but gaping almost a quarter of an inch wide. In small boat terms that’s an enormous floodgate of a leak, (in maritime hyperbole, big enough for a whale to raise its young in), and the cause of considerable excitement among the Marina membership. The leak was right in the middle of the boat about 4″ on the wrong side of the waterline at what we call “the turn of the bilge” which is where the curvature of the hull is at its most extreme. So I caulked it full of space age putty and had a very pleasant summer after all.
In October, however, the boats go back to the dry-dock for their winter sleep and it was then that I could tell that the hull shape wasn’t quite right. I pulled off one of the offending planks to find out what lies beneath, and what lay beneath was how a boat “opens up.” Four ribs in a row were all broken right along the plank seam at the most extreme curvature of the hull. If they could talk I’m sure the one in charge would have said, “You’ve retired. We’ve retired. Any questions?”
As a matter of fact I did have a few questions: How did that happen? How am I going to fix it? Is it worth fixing? (No, of course not, but when has that ever stopped me?) And the scariest one: is the other side the same? Happily some exploratory surgery revealed that the other side was fine, and in fact, aside from those four ribs, things all round did look to be pretty solid, structurally. So with my new-found knowledge of what it means for a boat to “open up” I optimistically promoted the ribs from “problem” to “interesting wood-working project.” Then I set about finding some white oak which is famous as a boat-building wood for situations where steam-bending is required, and is what all the ribs in my boat are made of as well as other structural members.
As a warm-up though, I also found a little rot on the other side of the boat and replaced a little piece of plank to remind myself how, and to get that smaller item off the list.
It was spring before I’d figured out how to do this little project and had the required materials. I made a steam-box and cleared away much of the interior around the ribs to be repaired. Then came the steam-bending and rib replacement.
You’ll be astounded to hear it didn’t go smoothly. The first problem was that most of the ribs have very important structural members (called floors) on top of them so the ribs can’t be removed without them coming out too. Envision a very wide but short isoceles triangle mounted pointy side down going across the boat. The point is actually flattened and rests on the keel and the two angled sides run up on opposite ribs to hold the two sides of the boat together. I had put in several of these over the years, bolting them right through the boat, and I didn’t want to remove them. This meant that I would have to put the new ribs beside the old, instead of in place of the old. The one floor I had not previously replaced was a tad rotten and came out in about 27 pieces, large and small. (I later jigsaw puzzled it back together to make a pattern for a new one!)
Problem two: The first rib to be bent got halfway there and then snapped like a dry twig. The next bent beautifully but I discovered it couldn’t fit in the boat. There’s a vital longitudinal stringer in the interior of the boat over the ribs which any new rib has to slide under. The curvature is extreme in that location and I simply could not get the end of the rib to pass under it and slide up into position.
Plan B meant ripping the new ribs lengthwise to make them thinner, steaming them, and sliding them in so that one thin rib lay on top of the other to make one thick rib. After they had been clamped in place long enough to take the shape and dry out, they could then be epoxied together to make one laminated rib. This actually worked very well, and went quite quickly. So there was a thin layer of sealant on the planking followed by a thin rib painted out with epoxy, then a second thin rib also sealed in epoxy, all then jammed and clamped in place so that it could be screwed in from outside the planking to secure it once and for all. I sometimes wonder how many holes I have drilled through this boat all in a contradictory effort to convince it to float!
All the screws are counter-sunk deeply enough into the planking to get plugs over them later. The new wood in this picture is just temporary to protect the planking from being bruised by the clamps. After their removal you can see the new ribs in place alongside the old, retired guys. The right hand
one is sistered. The next replaced the old rib and got a new floor on top. The middle one is sistered, and the next looks to be doubled but I had to do the top end on one side of it and the bottom on the other side because of interior obstructions (a deck knee at one side and a butt block at the other.) The left hand rib was still good and didn’t need repair.
Finally, three days before launch, I got the new plank in place. I didn’t get a great picture of it till I already had it painted which is this lower picture without the waterline in place.
And from the inside after the launch:
The less interesting task was installing the new floor timber which is that two inch thick hunk of oak that is bolted right through the hull. This is one reason I’m a little more confident this year about the structural integrity of the hull.
Did everything go smoothly at the launch this year? Well. First the water came in in a mighty torrent and one of the bilge pumps worked fine, then stopped working, then worked again. I still don’t know why. We’d installed a new shift linkage and discovered we got it backwards so that now when you put the motor in forward it goes in reverse and vice versa. Then as we made our triumphant way to the dry dock gates the engine quit! That just turned out to be an airlock, but then halfway to the marina the engine quit a second time. (It agreed to carry on after I promised it an oil change and better diesel fuel.) The next day we successfully stepped the masts . . . and then it snowed!
BUT when Jane and I took her out for the first sail of the season she romped across the bay with the confident feel of the classic she is. Maybe all this work is worth it after all. And the only thing that “opened up” was the boating season! (So far…)
Now I don’t know how many of you (probably not that many) sprang out of bed some morning in January and said to yourself, “What I’d really like to do is spend the better part of February living out of a motel in Forestville and hobnobbing with the locals all day,” but I did. You might be saying to yourself right now, “They’d have to PAY me to spend February in Forestville” and I agree. In fact they are paying me to do just that, so here I am, firmly ensconced in a surprisingly classy Econolodge, an hour’s drive downstream from Tadoussac, quietly watching Les Canadiens get thumped again, and preparing for (dare I say it?) WORK tomorrow.
That’s right. No longer a parasitic pensioner living off the generosity of an economically challenged nation, I’m now a productive member of the workforce. Well, actually I’m still a parasitic pensioner but, egad, I’m a double dip! I never saw this one coming.
The sordid course of events that led to this state of affairs include that genetically irrepressible need to educate that has plagued most descendants of my dear old Dad, and that some of us have in spades. Tadoussac’s other Anglo, Shawn Thompson, usually has this gig but this year he had a project of his own encroaching on his time so I leapt into the breach; “this gig” being teaching English to about a dozen adults. The CEGEP of Baie Comeau sets up two such classes these days, one here in Forestville and one in Les Bergeronnes, in an effort to help people in the tourist trade to better accommodate their English-speaking customers. It’s a good idea, but I hear it’s not that easy to find someone who knows enough English to teach the program, so they were delighted to find Shawn, and delighted again when Shawn found me. So delighted were they, that no one from the CEGEP interviewed me, checked my qualifications, or even met me until today, which was the second day of classes, and then it was simply to drop off about 40 pounds of books, and 30 pounds of electronics. After explaining how to fill out the time sheet and the expense claims my, er, “boss” beat a hasty retreat back to Baie Comeau. I’m starting to wonder what they’re not telling me…
Jane, for her part, was very supportive. “What? You’re going to be away for a few days out of each of the next five weeks? No, I don’t mind being out here in the woods in the middle of winter all by myself, bringing in the wood, clearing the snow, looking after the dogs, and doing, well, everything. Here’s your coat, when are you leaving?” Hmm…, perhaps a little too supportive…
The first order of business on Day 1, which was yesterday, was for me to introduce myself, make a presentation about the course, and tell the class what they could expect, all in French. I figured after that they would likely be thankful when I switched to English, (“Oh good. Now we can understand him!”) but that wasn’t the case. The sad truth is that my damaged use of the French language is the only lifeline of communication between us, and getting them to speak English is a challenge. As you can imagine, after all of our efforts to do the right thing and speak French as best we can in Tadoussac, it seems absurd to be speaking English in a room full of French people, but that’s what they’re paying me for. I can certainly relate to their frustration!
So for twenty hours over a four day week, for five weeks, I’ll be having fun in Forestville. My first tourism-related question to the class was to direct me to all trails that were good for hiking, snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. After class today I had a great hike on a “Sentier Pedestre” on a mountain down by the ferry wharf and it was spectacular.
Tomorrow we’re expecting big snow so perhaps I’ll get the skis out of the back of the car – they have set ski-trails a few hundred yards from the motel. The only thing that gives me pause is a conversation I had with my brother-in-law Ian, on Saturday. It was during that that I realized that of my three siblings, one is in Thailand, one is in Hawaii, one is in Costa Rica, and I’m in, (what? gasp!) Forestville?
Update on my last blog item. The Famille Dufour made it from Tadoussac to Halifax in four days being towed by the tugboat Point Vim arriving just before midnight on January 9th. They must have had calm weather because the tug took a straight line between Gaspé and Cape Breton right across the middle of the Gulf. I was surprised to see they avoided the harbour and tied up at a yacht club across the city in the Northwest Arm that happens to be right across from my old theology school. It reminded me of the days I would make a point of sitting on the northeast side of the classroom so that I would have the view across that body of water at a wooden schooner that was anchored off the club. There I was with all those future clergy and little did they know I was spending the class quietly breaking the 10th Commandment!
For any boat owners and sometime navigators out there, this one’s for you.
I’m sure you’ve had many delightful days on the river and that’s what keeps us coming back, but I’m going to hazard a guess that most of us have had days afloat when everything seemed to go wrong. Whatever the reason, be it motor trouble, weather, a knockdown, man overboard, dog overboard, or stuff getting wet that shouldn’t get wet, I’m betting your worst day wasn’t as bad as these guys’ whole month of December!
Jane and I returned from the west on December 16th fully expecting that the only boats left in the water would be our two faithful ferries, so we were a little surprised to see the Famille Dufour II tied up at the wharf. You’ll remember this craft, a space age looking catamaran that used to do the run between Quebec City and Tadoussac almost daily. I guess that route stopped paying so I heard it was doing a similar run between Montreal and Quebec for a while, and then became a local Montreal tour boat, hence the words “Le Montrealaise” now adorning its upper works.
I dropped down for a look one day but there was no sign of life beyond the distant hum of a generator. Rumors began to fly as rumors do in small towns so I dropped over again a few days after Christmas and got the harrowing tale. Two men were just coming off the gang-plank so I said “Bonjour” in my most convincing Québécois accent and one of them immediately said, “Do you speak English?” Swallowing the insult (one I’m rather used to) I replied, “Yes, rather well, actually.” It turned out he was Australian and wasn’t sure what “bonjour” meant (so it wasn’t my accent after all), and his company was managing the boat. He was not the captain but described himself as the “owner’s representative.” If I were he, by now I think I’d likely be wanting to strangle the owner.
He said the boat had been bought by an outfit that wanted to use it as a passenger ferry between Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.. Plan A had been to motor down the river in November, around the Maritimes and on down the Eastern Seaboard to Panama, and then up the other side. The generators were operating to provide power for the onboard systems that included freezers that contained $7,000 worth of food for the voyage. Trouble was, Transport Canada announced that the motors were not up to the required standard and they were not permitted to proceed under their own power. They tied the boat up in Tadoussac on December 2nd. Then the wait began. This boat, of course, has no insulation in it at all so they were sleeping at Motel Chant-Martin and spending their days on the boat cleaning up condensation and trying to keep the interior both ventilated and warm. One of them had to be aboard around the clock in case of fire or generator trouble. (Some Christmas.)
I dropped back on December 30th and at that point they had decided to be towed to Halifax for the winter. The hope was to fix the engines there, and carry on under their own steam starting in March, but Les (one of the Australians) allowed as how they might also be faced with lifting it onto a freighter for the rest of the trip. Late on the 31st a tug arrived (from Newfoundland) and secured the vessel. However, the insurance people had to inspect the tug, the mooring lines, the mooring bitts, and the boat, to be sure they would maintain their insurance, and they didn’t show up till the late afternoon of January 3rd. And for over a week ice had been forming. Finally cleared to leave the dock after over a month of waiting and wading through paperwork and detail, in rolled a typical January southwest howler filling the big river with waves that they didn’t want to try taking a tow out in. As you can imagine, between two big boats if a tow-line becomes slack as the tow is pushed forward by a wave, it will then snap taut when the wave passes under the tow and slows it down, which eventually could cause dangerous damage.
Today, January 4th, the dock is empty at last. A look on the Live Ships website (www.marinetraffic.com) showed the “Point Vim” (that’s the name of the tug) making 10 knots down off Rimouski so they are finally on their way!
All of which is to say, the next time it rains on your picnic, or you have to bang back to Tad against a northeast chop, or smoke starts coming out of the engine, just say to yourself, “At least I’m not being towed to Halifax in January!”
It has been a long time since we posted a new story on our blog. This blog is not about Tadoussac so I will say that up front. We have just returned from a great trip out to Vancouver and Vancouver Island, with a couple of the Gulf Islands thrown in for good measure. Since our return we have been telling people that the weather was spectacularly bad and the scenery spectacularly beautiful – a good trade off. It is called the “storm watch ” season at this time of year on Vancouver Island so you get what you get!!
We started in Vancouver to be present when Anne, Alan’s sister, received an award from the International Diabetes Federation for her career work in diabetic education around the world. We were very impressed with her talk, her research and with the conference itself. We are so very proud of her.
We stayed with Gwen, Alan’s cousin – Yahoo and had lots of fun walking the trails near her house with Ripley just like we do in the summer. We also had dins with 2 of the Bruemmers – Jennifer and Matthew, and Gwen’s son Chris and his fiancée Lacey.
We headed to Vancouver Island on my birthday!! December 3rd and were looking forward to seeing the islands up close as we went across on the ferry. No such luck – pea soup fog and pouring rain. The ferry was terrific though – had a full breakfast that was fantatstic!
We went to the West side of the Island first – Tofino and then Ucluelet. Everything you have heard about the beaches there are true and then some. Granted we had some rain and fog but this time of year is also billed as one of really big waves and wild winds. It was soooo impressive. We could not believe that people were surfing (Ian Belton Jr. I now know you are crazy to be doing this!!!) and they even had a beginner’s class which looked pretty suicidal to me. At any rate, we spent a whole day just combing the beaches and walking the trails. It was amazing. We walked part of the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet later in the morning and it was quite different with craggy cliffs and swirling waves over rocks. Ucluelet also is home to a tiny café called the Blue Café where we had, bar none, the best Seafood Chowder we have ever eaten. I was studying it with every bite to see if I could figure out all the ingredients – I need to go back for further study.
In Tofino we stayed in a neat Motel called West Marine that was also part working fish docks, marina and had its own pub onsite. What a great combo. I have to show you this picture as one of the things we loved best – especially Alan, was all the wooden boats! And there are lots and lots of crazies who are living on them – and you know how I feel about that (Second life, Second Wife!!!)
One of the highlights of our trip was walking the Rain Forest Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park (Forêt Pluviale), near Tofino that my friend Marie Josée Normandin from Parcs Canada recommended. What a beautiful trail amongst the giant cedars. We met not another sole and it was amazing to be in this park all alone. So quiet and majestic. I love walking in the forest – I always have – this was totally outside my experience and it is set up with all kinds of good plaques to outline the ecology of the forest. We learned so much. We have beautiful trees were we are, but they seem like gnarled twigs in comparison to these soaring giants some of which are more than 800 years old.
A bridge made from a fallen tree
Our next trip was to cross over to Gabriola Island. A short 20 minute trip to an island that is farmland, marinas and trails. I think this island would be a good example of the word bucolic and we were told it was one of the original hippie islands that never lost its hippy roots. Very organic, artistic and environmentally conscious. We stayed at a B&B owned by a couple who had emigrated from Britain 5 years ago. Everyone we met was from somewhere else!
Our final island visit was to Saltspring Island. Again a mix of farm and village. We loved this island for very different reasons than Gabriola. One being that we actually had a half day of sun – amazing. Thanks to David Price and Jane Walker for the recommendation we stayed at Maracaibo on the island and spent the better part of the first afternoon exploring the coast around that area.
We did have a day of rain – surprise – and spent a great part of an afternoon in a wonderful book store Black Sheep Books. A throw back to the old days it had towering bookshelves, classical music playing, stools in corners for you to read on and a very quiet ambiance. Ahhhhh
A highlight of our Saltspring stay was to have dinner with Jill Evans another cousin. She opened her beautiful home on Oystercatcher Place and invited a friend of ours from an early parish who also retired to Saltspring. What a wonderful small world it is.
We returned to Vancouver Island via ferry and the ferries reminded us so much of our own. The small island ones are similar to ours in that they are a lifeline. Primary school students stay on island (ie Gabriola, Saltspring and others) but secondary students go to the main island for school. Many work on the main island so go back and forth everyday twice.
Once back on Vancouver island we spent a great day exploring the towns of Duncan and Chemanius before heading to Ladysmith.
Duncan is known as the town of the totems and several years ago the town decided to trumpet its aboriginal history and have totem poles carved and posted throughout the village by local aboriginal families. Each totem tells the story of a family, a family story or tribal history. They are magnificent. I have posted a couple below. They actually have footsteps painted on the sidewalks so that you can follow the steps and go to see each of the over 30 totems. Some as you will see were posted with a wall mural.
Chemanius, in an effort to capture their history, chose the use of murals on the walls of commercial buildings as their creative venue. Each was more magnificent than the last depicting the introduction of the railway, farming, mining and fishing that sustained their community. Brilliantly done and updated to ensure their vibrancy it was like an outside art gallery.
We spent an afternoon in Ladysmith to visit colleagues of mine who moved there 15 years ago when they retired. We spent the afternoon combing over a marine museum of old restored boats and dioramas of the timber and mining history of the village.
The final two days of our trip were spent in Victoria. We were lucky enough to have another cousin just move there – we obviously need even more cousins to spread out across the country. Bill Stephens opened his new home to us and drove us all over the city. He even found more cousins, Tim and Claire Evans who we had not seen for many years, and invited them to join us for a great evening of laughter together. We climbed up the Mt Douglas Trail, drove all around the coastal area of Victoria on a day when the surf was really, really up; visited the Royal BC Museum and a fabulous exposé in the Robert Bateman Museum. We attended a beautiful Victorian Advent Evensong at the Cathedral and then returned home for a lovely glass of wine, or two, dinner and prep for the trip home. Kudos to Bill for a great visit and the drive to the airport at the ungodly hour of 0500!
And then we came home. We spent a night in Ottawa with our close friends Don and Brenda, had tea with Tom, Heather, Julia and girls then spent the night with Susie and George Bruemmer who are our dogs adoptive parents while we are away. Our dogs were happy to see us but not quite as happy as they should have been!! Life is pretty good at the Bruemmer hostel for dogs.
And finally we arrived home in Tad to snow YAHOO, and belugas in the river. We loved our trip but we were so glad to be home again too. The blitz is on now for Christmas. The tree is up, some of the baking is done the rest is a work in progress. We are waiting for this week when Michael and his family arrive with another couple who are long time friends joining us for Christmas.
It is almost the end of the year and we cannot believe we have had yet another year here in paradise. We hope that wherever you are as you are reading this that you have a blessed Christmas and find your paradise wherever it may be. All the best for 2016!
I cannot believe that today is November 2nd. Tadoussac is a very different place than it was even at the beginning of last week. This last week of October is the official “close every last thing” week, and now all boutiques, restos etc are closed. The hotel closed on the 1st and all that is left at the marina are two private boats that will need trailers to haul out, the docks which will be removed Nov 7th and the Coast Guard which usually stays until the first week of December. The bay looks very bare, and after the 8th will be downright empty. There are no more tourists and yesterday in the village you could have gone bowling and hit nary a soul!!
Of course, with the end of the season comes Hallowe’en so all is not lost. Tadoussac made a grand splash again this year and created the “Sentier du Horreur” in the Parc des Ancêtres. This is the park that starts half way up the hill as you walk to church. The entrance has lovely benches and you walk down into the gulley below via the stairs. It is a perfect place for this type of activity as it is a pretty spooky place! It runs along the brook, follows across the bridge behind the hotel, and then up and out of the park at the public washrooms on the boardwalk. At this time of year it is dark and creepy – absolutely perfect.
The planning group decided to do a walk for the school kids in the afternoon and then to repeat, with more horror, for any who dared to do it again in the evening – in the dark, with only torches for lighting.
It took the group – which included parents, the fire brigade, the municipality and some of the teachers almost 3 days to put it all together. The main thing was to make the walkways safe (day and night) and to ensure there was just enough lighting so no one would be hurt – but not so much that people weren’t scared to death. This is of course the main goal. The third morning we added in all the horror bits with creatures hanging from trees and large horrible monsters hiding in all nooks and crannies.
L’Auberge de Jeunesse held an afternoon of pumpkin carving and they created about 30 amazing pumpkins which lined the road from the Caisse up to the entrance. The one below was on the table where we greeted everyone and it is a good example of the intricate designs that many people created – wow.
All the kids from École St. Joseph came for the afternoon. This year they did not wear costumes because they had to walk down stairs and around creeks etc. – plus the wind was howling and it was bloody cold. They were so excited that they were jumping up and down. They were also nervous but it was all cool.
All the older grades went first – 3, 4, 5 and 6. They went in groups of 4 and some thought it was a good idea to have a teacher with them. Some were brave enough – at least at the beginning, to go it alone. Then it was the 1 and 2’s and finally the kindergarten kids. We make a distinct break between the bigger and the little children. I went with the last group of 4 boys of 1 & 2 and told each monster as we passed that it was the kindergarten next. The monsters wave at the littlest ones rather than scare them to death. But sometimes that is still very scary so 2 teachers go with that small group. It was a total success. You could hear the kids screaming all over town and they loved it. I went with a small group of boys, as I mentioned. One of the lads went the whole way going “Je n’ai pas peur! Je n’ai pas peur! ” (I’m not afraid) Methinks he doth protest too much!! By the end three of the 4 boys were clinging to me.
These are some of the creatures they encountered
There were also trolls, baby killers and a cemetery with a grave just the right size for kids!!
All was well in the end. Nadia Gagnon, the amazing teacher and leader for this event, had all the kids come together at the end of the path for two very good reasons. First she asked all the monsters to come meet them so the kids could see them without their masks. This way no one was going home to have nightmares and they could see that the monsters were their parents and neighbours pretending to be monsters. The second reason was to have the kids say thank you to all of the monsters and the helpers who had put the event together. Truly an amazing group of people.
While I wasn’t able to take pictures at night, I just want to tell you that the night time version was also a totally successful nightmare and I say that in the kindest way. The path which was scary during the day, was a real horror at night and the 282 people – yes you are reading that correctly – that went through were amazed. A large group of about 25 adults and older kids came from Les Bergeronnes and there were people from Forestville, Longue Rive, Sacré Coeur and of course lots from our own village. Not to be outdone – the screaming was even louder I have to say. It was a freezing cold night and many people stood for an hour in anticipation. Each person at night was charged a toonie to be scared out of their minds. All the money went to the school for much needed support for a small school that has so few resources. I just need to say that while they have few financial resources they have a dedicated group of teachers and parents that make this school a happening place.
We hemmed and hawed all spring about whether we were going to continue this blog for another year, and then so many people spoke to us this summer about “being with us in Tad” through the blog that we have decided to keep going. We loved the idea of “being together”, even though far away, and we really have appreciated all the comments and emails that we have received – even those less than flattering ones (George) – from people who have forgotten to retire!!
One of our goals when we retired was to take a road trip down the North Shore to the end of the road. We just wanted to see more of our province where we have never explored. So we decided to take a week and explore all the way to Kegaska which is the end of the road – Route 138 – but not the end of the North Shore. The drive between Tadoussac and Kegaska is 850 km or about 9 hours but we wanted to go into all the little villages and bays and take lots of time on beaches and on hikes. We did the trip up and back in 5 nights and 6 days. The weather gods were with us and with the exception of one cloudy, windy day we had rain only one night and beautiful sun the rest of the visit.
So just to orient those who may not know the area here is a map. But I am not sure how readable it will be. Tadoussac is down on the bottom left corner and Kegaska is the last dot on the right above the far end of Anticosti Island. We visited some of the towns on the way up, and some on the way back, but for simplicity sake we have put them in geographically chronological order from Tadoussac to Kegaska.
We started by exploring in our own area. We stopped at the beautiful church in Longue Rive which is actually in the same parish as the Catholic church here in Tadoussac. As is often the case, St Paul’s Church in Longue Rive is right on the highest point of the village on the best property which looks out over the sea.
We also stopped to visit the wharf in Port Neuf sur Mer.
In Forestville we went to the ferry dock to see the log sluice that runs along that road. In the early days of forestry in that area when logs were being brought to the dock to be loaded on ships the foresters sent the logs to the dock by sluice. There were platforms running along the sides of the structures so that workers could prevent log jams and keep things running smoothly.
When I went through the travel brochures prior to the trip I noted which sites I wanted to see and ignored those I did not want to see. Les Ilets Jérémie, for example, boasts a replica of the Indian Chapel at Tadoussac and I thought it would be fun to see that. Because of an unscheduled (and not to be repeated) side trip into the over-advertized community of Cap de Colombier, we missed Les Ilets de Jérémie where we intended to take a pause for lunch. We carried on down the road to find a place called Ragueneau which sounded familiar but wasn’t on my list. It had the symbol for a look-out so we headed bravely off on the side-road thinking no evil. When I saw the statues I remembered why I had left it off the list.
Here is a beautiful and pristine example of the Lower North Shore with all the rugged, rocky beauty of Bon Désir writ large. The wind blowing in among off-shore islets, scrubby vegetation atop low outcrops of coloured granite, unspoiled beauty at its finest.
When one Renald Girard first saw this place he must have been as impressed as I was. But where I might say, “Gee Jane, this place is beautiful,” he was far more imaginative. He must have said something like, “Gee Celeste, this place is beautiful, AND you know what would make it absolutely perfect?” “No,” she undoubtedly replied, because no one on God’s green earth could possibly have guessed what he would then say. “This place just cries out for two full size dinosaurs and a 100 foot obelisk!”
And to our horror, that’s just what he built. The dinosaurs are a symbol for the heart and strength of the pioneers and for the power of the local natural surroundings. The obelisk, plinth, churchless steeple, God’s belly scratcher, (thanks Al Purdy) call it what you will, symbolizes the volunteering spirit among the local people and there are eight little, strange, nondescript circles included around the base giving praise to the MRC and the eight nearby municipalities. Or so says the plaque at the bottom of the obelisk. It needed explanation in my view. Neither Jane nor I, in spite of no small amount of university education between us, were quite on the ball enough to say, “Oh look Dear, two dinosaurs – that must be a symbol for the strength of the pioneering spirit…!”
If I may say a word to the gentlemen reading this (and ladies, I’d prefer it if you skipped this part) one of the things we count on from our wives is to tell us when our latest ideas that we are terribly enthusiastic about are actually hopelessly crazy. I don’t know if our man Renald was ever married and if he was there’s only a very small chance his wife’s name was Celeste. Nevertheless the symbol of the utter folly that resides at Pointe Ragueneau for me will always be some Celeste (God rest her soul) who lacked either the wit or the courage to say, “Renald, that’s crazy and it simply IS NOT HAPPENING!”
Please thank your wives for their continuing good judgement. After all, your wife must have good judgement. She married you!
That said we did stop at Les Ilets de Jérémie on the way back and I must admit that it was a disappointment. There is a smaller replica of our Indian Chapel and a Catholic Conference center attached right next to a native cemetery. It is a pilgrimage center dedicated to Ste Anne (of whom there is a statue) but compared with the imaginative folly of Rageneau, it just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.
Jane again: After the dinosaur experience we were giddy with the ridiculousness of it all! From the ridiculous to the sublime as they say… we spent an afternoon in Pointe aux Outardes. All of our bird-watching friends take note of this place name. It is only 2 hours from Tadoussac and apparently there are 240 species of birds. During migration it is considered the top bird watching center of the entire province. As you drive along the road out of Forestville you immediately start to see a large peninsula in the river. This is the Pointe. Much of the Pointe area is a well-developed nature reserve. We took a short 3 km walk that takes you through 5 different ecosystems and we arrived just at the right moment – as 2 busloads of middle school students were leaving the park!! There is a massive salt marsh which is the primary area for observation of migration hoards of snow geese, Canada Geese and myriads of other ducks. They also claim several species of hawks and kestrels. I even took a picture of a hawk of some sort but I am so pathetic at identification, and quite frankly at bird photography, that you will simply have to take my word for it. They also had low sand dunes and beaches , multiple historic plaques and geological descriptors and it was a thoroughly pleasant way to pass the day. We spoke to the rangers and the area is open for cross country skiing in the winter so we may just go back. It looked like a pilgrimage for bird watchers to me. And there was a very cool looking B&B nearby. For those of you that frequent Tadoussac’s Petit Marché every Saturday you will remember the Ferme Dalpalou which sells beautiful wool. Their farm is on the road into the Pointe (so yes, they travel more than 2 hours every Saturday to be with us). Their farm was small but spectacular with a vista onto the water beyond compare. No wonder the wool is so special if the animals have that view all day long!
We spent a night in Godbout just outside Baie Comeau. We stayed in a great Auberge aux Mille Pêcher which was owned by a M. Beaulieu who has travelled the world, lived in Montreal for as long as Alan and I did, and chose to make a big life change 3 years ago and move permanently to Godbout (you see there are more of us than you think!) The Auberge itself is a really old building which he is renovating and decorating with artifacts from his travels. Godbout is a fishing village and also has one of the big ferry terminals at one end of the bay and beautiful sandy beaches surrounding a salmon river mouth at the other. Not a surprise I suppose, but many of the villages we visited were located at the mouth of a river flowing in to the St Lawrence.
Close to Godbout there is a small village called Franquelin. Franquelin was more of a logging/forestry village than a fishing village. They had a re-creation of the original log town that existed but it was not open to visitors. We were quite disappointed by that as many of the museums or attractions had closed at the end of August. We asked a local man in Natashquan and he said that the government grants to help with salary support for summer employees are only granted for summer students and cannot be used to hire locals other than students. When the kids return to college the towns cannot afford to hire other workers. One crazy thing I saw at the side of the road in the village was a local “pure spring water source”. People were actually taking their big blue bottles and filling them at the source site.
Alan – Pointe à la Croix:
Never do this.
After that abortive attempt to visit the museum in Franquelin (closed for the season) we found what promised to be a hiking trail down to a place called Pointe à la Croix. The tour book said this point provided the best whale watching on the north shore, and knowing well our lovely picnic spot on the Saguenay also called Pointe à la Croix, I thought it would be good to see this one. There was no indication in the tour book how long this particular hike was but we had been driving along the sea shore before we got to it so how far could it be? Jane suggested we take some water along but I said not to bother, it can’t be far if they don’t even give the length. (You know where this is going…)
Thinking 1 k at the most we sallied forth with the dogs just loving it. Of course a hunk of geography described as a “point” does suggest that it would stick out a little more than the coast line. And if it’s described as a point on a huge river like the St. Lawrence then even an idiot might guess that it sticks out a lot farther than the Saguenay’s 100 foot long Pointe à la Croix or even than the larger Pointe Rouge or Pointe Noire. Add to which, when you’re in uncharted territory it wouldn’t hurt to bring water just in case, a little food even – I did pack a back-pack so why aren’t I using it?
These were the thoughts I had ample time to reflect on during the forty-five minutes of reasonably brisk pace that it took us to arrive at a sign that said “Pointe à la Croix – 2.6 kilometers.” This was the first and only mileage sign.
To her credit my valiant wife said to press on so press on we did. The country was beautiful – streams running by, the occasional lake, a very manageable path – until finally we emerged at the sea-side and a great big rocky bay followed by a huge Pointe à la Croix jutting into the flat calm Fleuve St. Laurent. There was a rather permanent tent arrangement thereon, and two naturalist-looking people out on the tip of the point with telescopes and cameras. Obviously this was a research project at work because it was the best whale-watching place on the North Shore. Jane suggested we stop short of their location for fear that these two devoted animal-loving science people were also afraid of dogs. Seemed a stretch to me but having nixed the water I thought it politic to keep my mouth shut.
Whales? Seals? A few sea-birds which weren’t that interesting. I’m sure there were whales there but they were all underwater. We waited for them to surface but I think they were hovering ten feet below the surface saying, “I can hold my breath just a little longer! Let’s wait till they leave!”
So we left.
It was a nice hike in the end. It just would have been nicer if we’d known we were going to be walking 5 Ks each way!
This from us both: Pointe des Monts was a very interesting spot with a well developed historical site related to the Lighthouse. On a map it is that central point where the shoreline turns abruptly north and because of that it is the place where the river officially ends and the Gulf of St. Lawrence begins. It is also a weather divider. The weather on one side of it is often remarkably different from the other side. The lighthouse itself is impressive and the light keeper’s house is well preserved. There were cannons out front on the rocks and we were surprised to find that in early days the keeper used them as a fog signal. In the dense fog he would ignite the two of them in systematic 15 minute tolls for as long as the fog lasted. Eventually more sophisticated steam fed horns replaced this system and finally radar and GPS took over. Just thinking of the keeper standing on this lonely, very exposed, rocky outcrop all night long in the fog and the wind to keep the ships off this enormous rocky point was humbling.
It is interesting how quickly we have become acclimatized to “living rural”. We love living in nature, the quiet, the beaches with no one on them except us, and meeting a few people here and there. We stayed in Sept Isles for one night and that was enough. We are kind of done with cities!! Sept Isles has done a bang up job of their waterfront. A beautiful boardwalk and park area next to an impressive marina filled with large sailboats. The harbour is surrounded by guess what – 7 islands and some are visible from the boardwalk. It is the perfect sheltered harbour because of these islands. The deep water seaport at Sept Isles is second only to Vancouver in terms of yearly tonnage. The growth of the city was pushed by the burgeoning iron ore business. As this business has slowed it has had a depressing effect on the city. A new large Aluminum processing plant has restored many jobs in the area.
Sept Isles is the last city of any size (25,965) and is a hub where planes and trains (575 km to Schefferville) go north to transport goods and people, and ferries transport people and vehicles along the north shore. We were very impressed with the strong presence of the INNU. There are many rivers, and small villages named in the Innu language from Baie Comeau onwards. The Innu (from my limited research at this time) were formerly known as the Naskapi-Montagnais whose home is the Quebec Labrador peninsula and they are approximately 16,000 strong living in 11 communities in Quebec and Labrador. In Sept isles there were parts of the city where the stop signs were in French and Innu. Pretty impressive when you think about how militant the government is about no language other than French!!
We tramped the beaches and the bays in several small villages along the next stretch of coast line (Moisie, Gallix, Magpie, Sheldrake, Longue Pointe de Mingan). Each unique bay seemed more lovely than the last. Most were at the mouth of a river, some with as few as twenty houses. The populations ranged from 110 to about 3-400 people. We stayed in B&Bs mostly and there was usually one restaurant open in the village to serve the final straggling tourists like us. But you had to be smart – there are no casse-croutes between the villages and certainly no gas stations. In places there were signs that would tell you how many miles until the next gas station so you could check before passing by. Staying in B&Bs is an advantage as breakfast is included. We took a cooler and had a picnic lunch each day which gave us the luxury of eating whenever, and wherever, we wanted which was usually on some amazing beach watching Shannon run like a nut in the waves and Ella scrounge good crap to eat.
A few villages like Rivière de Tonnerre had a huge church in the center of their small community as well as a primary school. The story in this village was that at a time when the fishery was almost dead because the porpoises were eating all the fish, the priest of the church worked tirelessly with government and community to find other industry for the area and became a much loved and respected member of the community. Nice to hear something positive about the church once in a while!
In Rivière de Tonnerre we almost missed a sign for a waterfall and managed to find both the small and the larger falls on this river. We drove about 8 km off the road and came finally to a small innocuous sign that said trail to falls. We followed what turned out to be a boardwalk type of path through the woods ending at a beautiful falls.
All along the drive you are able to see across the St Lawrence to the Gaspé even though we were now in the Gulf. At this point that disappears and it is really big sea! You don’t see Anticosti Island just water! We are now in the area of the Mingan Archipelago which stretches about 175 km. We would have loved to explore the Mingan Islands and there are several boat operators from the Innu community of Mingan who take cruises out but with the dogs this was impossible. The dogs are not allowed on the boats or the islands many of which are bird sanctuaries. What is the real drawing card are the monoliths of stone which tower over many of the islands – next time.
Havre St. Pierre (population 3,515) is a lovely village with a huge bay. This was our one wild wind day so we spent the better part of the afternoon walking the wild beach with the waves crashing – lots of fun. What I really liked was that the small hospital was right on the bay overlooking the water and the marina. Surely that would help people to get well just being able to see the sea!!
After Havre St Pierre the villages become farther and farther apart. Explorers from many countries France, England, Holland and Belgium came to find furs, to fish and to establish communities. We came across a bay called Baie Johan Beetz . The story goes that after his fiancée died of pneumonia in his native Belgium he wanted a change in his life. He learned from friends of the North Shore and its hunting and fishing and came to Quebec in 1897. Johan was a Belgian naturalist interested in the way of life and the livelihood of the natives and the villagers who had established communities in the region. He learned to survive in this harsh environment and to trap with the villagers. He knew from a business perspective that a small place like this would need something to distinguish them from others if they were to remain a sustainable village. He recognized that one of the most prized furs were those of the silver fox. This area had an abundance at that time, and he developed ways of raising the foxes for their furs thus staving off the elimination of the species in the area as had been the case with so many other fur bearing animals in the region. He married a local woman and they had 11 children. From 1903-1913 he was the postmaster and even part time doctor who was credited with saving the village from the Spanish flu (1918-1919) by limiting external contact amongst the villagers and disinfecting all the mail!!! The village has preserved his house and created a park in his name to recognize his efforts on behalf of the village. He left the area and moved to Montreal and later to Quebec City. He continued to raise foxes on a farm in Vaudrueil Qc. for many years.
Natashquan in my mind was the reason for the trip. I am not sure why but I have always wanted to go to this village which until 2013 was the end of the road. In 2013 the bridge was completed that would open the road to Kegaska which Alan describes in the last section.
Natashquan is a village of approximately 250 people. It was, and is primarily a fishing village but it has also developed avenues to help visitors understand the regional history and culture. And they have an amazing restaurant run by two sisters that served us a great seafood supper. I would go back just for the food. In other villages we saw some fishing boats in the water but more on the shore as the fishing season was over. What we did not see was evidence of fish markets or processing plants in the region (other than Port Neuf sur Mer). Here in Natashquan they have preserved a site on the far peninsula of the bay which is called Les Galets. It is recognized as an historical site and has managed to survive 150 years of battering by the sea. It is a group of sheds that were essentially a village within a village. The sheds were in essence a market for all things cod fishing. Some sold fish, some sold fishing boats, some fishing equipment, others were drying or preserving sheds. They are considered a memorial to a way of life lost, and on the overcast day that we walked the beach they were a silent reminder of a different time.
Alan loved the beach in Natashquan for a couple of other reasons. I have put the pictures below. You all know that Alan never met a wooden boat yet that he did not think he could repair and get floating again. He took a million pictures of two great “project” boats but his mean and nasty wife doused his dreams of glory and said “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT”. Someone with a truly lovely wife had converted his fishing boat into a summer cottage – alas Alan’s wife was not that lovely and again his dreams were dashed!! How very sad but time to move on to the last village!!
When you get to the end of the highway it’s hard to avoid the feeling that you’ve just arrived at the end of the world. Of course the world goes on but where there is very little traffic leading up to Kegaska there is none thereafter. People have stopped. From here it is boat or small plane to even smaller and more isolated communities further down the coast and further north.
When God created Kegaska she had a pretty good idea. There is a nice crescent beach that is at least a kilometer long with a rocky outcrop at its south end and then a little presqu’ile seaward of that. By that I mean there is a rocky island which is only an island at high tide and that is where the deep water is and where they have now built the wharf. It is lovely to hike around this presqu’ile with lots of flat rock full of the veins and colours of different kinds of rock.
Sadly there’s the front end of the wreck of a ship dating back to the 70s on this presqu’ile, one M. V. Brion which piled up with no loss of life, but no doubt lots of heartache for all involved.
The wharf was completely empty of people but there were cars parked everywhere which we assumed meant a very active fishing fleet that was out of sight at sea. There were a few floating docks, a Coast Guard ship like the one in Tad, some small boats tied up, and quite a few buildings to deal with the incoming catch. There was even a wooden fishing boat with gaping holes in the side, we assumed in the process of a rebuilding project.
There is a little Anglican Church which we were lucky enough to get into. The priest and her husband had just arrived to prepare for a funeral so we snuck in empathizing quietly with the tourists who venture into our chapel when we go in to do the flowers. They were very welcoming. Kegaska is mostly an English community (of 300 people) and the priest told us that she had lived up the coast in Harrington Harbour but now was located here. The other communities further down the coast are mostly English-speaking.
I commented to someone before we left on this trip that we were going to see the coast to make sure we’d retired in the most beautiful part. Reflecting on what we have seen all the way down the coast I developed a theory. God created the north shore starting from the Gulf end. Kegaska was an early work, and on creation came up the coast, an inlet here, a salmon river there, some small islands in this part, endless sandy beaches in that part. Rock and sand and marsh and forest in endless variety of shape and form until she got to Tadoussac. Kegaska was still in the back of God’s mind so she asked, “How can I make that bay even better?”
Another kilometer long crescent beach, another rocky outcrop on a presqu’ile; why not put a rocky outcrop at both ends? Why not make the presqu’ile a little tighter – same use for a wharf but at the other end more space and another rock cut where someone could put gates one day and have a dry-dock. And we’ll have a much bigger river here than a mere salmon river, something ships can go up for miles, a fjord say, (well, a baby fjord) and instead of rocky islands off we’ll put a few reefs to protect it from the worst of the waves. Kegaska 2, new and improved, but the same basic concept. Judy Garland famously said “there’s no place like home.” It turns out there IS a place like home, but home is better!
A short September cruise turned into more of an adventure than it was supposed to be. Fortunately, I pulled a “Pam Price” which ended up pretty much saving the day.
Jane was off to Montreal to gather grandkids for a longer long week-end than their working parents could provide, so I headed off with the dogs to have an overnight up the river on my (so far still floating) sailboat Trillium. There at the marina was a university student from Switzerland who had arrived in Canada ten days previously knowing no one, and who had decided to hitch-hike down the road from Montreal for a little sight-seeing before school. More than once at dinners at the Prices, Jane and I have been introduced to strangers from afar whom Pam had found in Cotés (or somewhere) and adopted like lost puppies. We followed her example last fall when a delightful French family of three with a Belgian friend asked to camp on our park property which proved to be very pleasant for us all.
This guy, Aymeric, had slept at the Eau’Berge the night before and had been fed in exchange for work. In other instances he had just knocked on doors and asked if he could sleep on a porch or have a meal in exchange for a few dollars. Talk about traveling light – one small bag that seemed to contain not much more than a university text-book and a sleeping bag!
He was dying to do a leg of his journey on the river because he has some river experience. His dad has a canal-barge on a river in France (he showed me pictures on his funny-phone) which was beyond luxurious compared with old Trillium. I told him if he really wanted to cruise on the slowest and most uncomfortable boat on the river in the company of two usually wet dogs and a cranky captain that he could come along as long as he followed one simple rule: Parles Français and not one word of English. (I’ll grab my French-Immersion courses where I can!) He jumped at the chance.
Off we set for a fruitless attempt to find blueberries in Les Petites-Iles (pun intended) and thence under sail till the wind died to Anse à la Goelétte for the night. It rained a bit initially, but once the dogs were good and wet it settled down to a lovely calm, and the sunny evening was spectacular. Aymeric couldn’t believe the beauty but did allow that, as a Swiss, he found the mountains a little short. ( I told him about my cousin Jamie marrying a Norwegian and how we’d all had to face the fact that to her gang it was a “Baby” Fjord. He said, “Qu’est-ce que c’est un fjord?” So I explained that in this case it is basically a more tourist-attractive word for “river.” )
It was a delightful evening to read and relax but like fore-shadowing in a bad novel we rowed back to the boat after a doggy run ashore to find Ella (by far the more docile of my two dogs) sporting 8 quills on the left side of her mouth. She stoically let me pluck them out and I insisted to Aymeric that I had never seen porcupine (porc-épic I was to learn) before on the Saguenay. I knew that the Prices (sons of Pam) had found two down at the Pilot House ten days previously, so now I was starting to wonder if things were changing. The next morning I knew they were.
Up at 5.30 am, as sleeping on Trillium seems to get less successful with age(!) I took the dogs for their morning ritual and decided to walk down the path toward what was advertised as a lookout. We had gone about a kilometer (and had just passed a “No Dogs Allowed” sign) when I heard Shannon up ahead barking hysterically. Thinking he had come upon some unsuspecting campers I ran after him in time to see a retreating porc-épic and to be met with Shannon with a face full of quills. “Oh Shaw!” said I, and meant it.
Back at the boat, me and my pliers got out about 10 quills, then we had breakfast. 5 or 6 more, and then we cleaned up. A few more, and we got the boat ready to sail. But 8 were left (out of a total of about 30) and Shannon had had enough. He wasn’t sitting still for anybody but I didn’t think it was a good idea to leave them in. Without Aymeric I’d have been stuck. But he held one end and I held the other. We forced Shannon to the deck and got out the rest. Then soaked a towel in cold Saguenay water and held it against his poor old bouche which he really seemed to appreciate.
Aymeric jumped ship at Anse du Roche, intending to walk up to the road to Chicoutimi if he couldn’t get a ride, and then hitch-hike on his way. A more thankful individual would be hard to find anywhere.
That left me with a lovely NW breeze and a falling current to head down-river with. I ran down under full sail and dropped anchor at Anse à Sable where both dogs bathed their sore faces in the river, swimming to their heart’s content. After tidying up the boat we headed off with lunch ready to munch. But then a not unusual “Saguenay Switcheroo” took place where the NW breeze I was counting on became a SW stronger wind leaving me tacking back and forth, first dousing the mizzen, then double reefing the main, and finally heaving-to in order to switch to a smaller headsail. This was actually quite fun and just the sort of activity former crew George used to object to. (“Why can’t you leave the sails in the sail bags where they BELONG!” he’d argue.)
Still a delightful sail home and the wind dropped enough to restore the full main before we reached Tadoussac. The two dogs were never happier that night to crawl into the safety of their beds.
The unfortunate post-script is that I told my harrowing tale to a friend in the Marina crowd and he said he had seen a porc-épic in Languedoc Park this week. I say again: “Oh Shaw!”
About a month ago Parks Canada launched an invitation to anyone who might like to spend a half day on L’Alliance, their research vessel. Alan and I were lucky enough to get two spots on the second day and yesterday spent a fascinating afternoon on board with the Parks marine biologists.
After everything was secured we headed out into the river to conduct two types of surveys. The boat itself is so impressive. Alan asked and there are two 330 HP engines.
The first set of surveys that we observed was a machine taking Echo soundings off the bank where we were (off the large dunes for those who know the area). Other research vessels had seen large schools of fish and large schools of krill in recent days. Parks Canada likes to monitor the schools and determine where they are and when and what types (2 types of krill and 3 types of fish), as this will determine where the whales and other wildlife are feeding and moving in the St.Lawrence. They lowered the Echo scanner (this is not the proper name but I can’t remember it .) into the water and it can emit 3 levels of echo sound. We were looking primarily at 38Hz and 120Hz as these are the ones that pick up the krill and the fish.
Although not so easy to see in this picture, we were watching for the red lines at the top of the right hand screen and the green stripe at the top of the left hand screen which were evidence of a large school of fish.
Everyone immediately started searching for whales and other wildlife and of course found them easily – minkes, fins and lots of sea birds. Everyone was madly scanning and trying to capture as many pics as possible. Each whale is marked by photo if possible – although they were in the distance – and by longitude and latitude. The minkes were as close to Tad as the sand dunes so they are getting closer to us. (In fact later that evening Christianne Stairs and her friends saw the first ones off Point Islet). The biologists said that it was not unusual to have the minkes come so late when the winter has been so harsh and everything else is late. Everything is all connected and temperature, currents, tides, weather all have impacts on the movement of the whales and the birds. The researchers told us it is a good sign that these schools of fish are staying in this area as it will encourage the whales. The schools may move at any time depending on the currents the winds etc.
The second survey was to find the climate and environmental data to go with the sonar data. A Laboratory column was lowered into the water to take temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, etc. across the areas where the sonar data had been collected. This is then coupled with the sonar images to make a more thorough analysis of the environment .
We were lucky as the day was spectacular and as a last gift on the way home we were followed by a very large pod of beluga. We asked about the research and the concerns related to the belugas in particular, but the whales and whale watchers as well.
It was a tough discourse as the biologist told us that while they were confident in 2010 that the population had stabilized they are not so secure now. The population is continuing to decline and is now below the 900 that they were keeping as their hopeful target. There are several hypotheses as to why but the two main ones are related to climate change and contamination in the waters (increasing levels of hormones in particular). In terms of climate change the seasons are changing. The winters are less severe, and then more severe, and the summers are longer and hotter. This effects the calving and the early development of the babies.
What they are also observing is that the “nouveau-né” (newborns) are dying and that the mothers of the young are also dying. This is leading them to question the horomonal imbalances that may be occurring in the whales themselves or how the females may be being impacted by the horomonal increases in the waters. In 2010 the number of young (1-2 yrs)within the population was 10%. It has now fallen to 3-5% and this is worrying in terms of longevity of the group.
A third and difficult reason for the decline relates to us as the human contacts. There has been a steady increase in pleasure boat activity over the last 5 years in our area. They are desperately trying to balance a need to have people see and understand the whale environment with the need for little to no stimulation during the calving season, and as little disruption of the natural whale habitat as possible in these crucial summer months of July and August. We asked about the regulations that are in place for belugas and for other whale groups.
For the belugas 400metres is the minimum. I said that often the belugas are curious and come towards us and they were very quick to say that we need to be vigilant in taking evasive action at all times to avoid any disruption of the pods particularly with young. They are attempting to reinforce very strongly the zone d’exclusion around the Rivière Ste. Marguerite as this is the breeding, calving and nursery region. They have observed from their site at the Marguerite that when a beluga calves she separates herself from the pod for a period of a couple of hours before and several hours after the birth. It is clear over many observations that disruption to these patterns may interfere with the maternal child bond in those early hours at a bare minimum and potentially increase the death rate.
For the other whale groups, I mentioned how it is difficult to watch a group of 6 or 7 boats surrounding one whale and seemingly tagging along and following it where ever it goes. Is this harassment? The biologist said that the regulations are that boats must be 1-200 meters away from all whales (belugas excepted as above). She also noted that all captains receive information and follow the rule that if there are already 4 boats and a 5th arrives that all must recede away from the whale. If it is a solitary whale there is a 1 hour watch limit then they must go elsewhere. She also noted that the captains have become real allies in their work as it is their livelihood as well. She mentioned that often the captains are reporting boaters that do not follow the rules and are constantly sending them observations, updates and pics of the whales for their records.
It was a wonderful afternoon and as we headed back in to the marina I had an interesting discussion with one of the other guests. She was enjoying the atmosphere, the beauty and the learning that had taken place and when she found out that we actually lived here year round she said “You must feel like the luckiest person?” An easy question for me to answer – “Absolutely every day!!”