We’re not the only sailboat spending a lot more time in Gaspé than we intended. We’re lined up along the breakwall, been here for almost a week. And we won’t be leaving any time soon.
Hurricane Hermine, now downgraded to an extratropical storm, whatever that means, has set off across the ocean to the UK, where it plans to spend the weekend. But it has left messy weather in its wake. Each morning, we study the forecast as we sip our coffee, looking for an eight-hour window to make the short trip down the coast to Newport, where we’ve made arrangements to pull the boat for the winter.
Yes, Newport, Quebec (despite its English name), not Sydney, Nova Scotia. We’re out of time. Chris has to get back to work, and I have yet another draft of my book to get working on.
When we realized we weren’t going to make it to Sydney, we did an overnight sail to Gaspé, a great place to leave your boat for the winter, we had heard. But the 12-ton travel lift here is too small. We weigh 20 tons.
Try Rivière au Renard, we were told. So we rented a car and drove across the Gaspé peninsula to the biggest fishing harbour in Quebec. A very nice man named Pascal tried to help us. He showed us into his office, at the back of a workshop, the floor swept clean, tools hung neatly on the wall. This looked promising.
“We can lift 300 tons,” he said proudly. “And here is a cradle you can use.”
But when we showed him a picture of our boat in slings, he shook his head. The full keel won’t work in a big travel lift. You can’t grab our boat by the belly, you have to pick it up by the keel. There would be too much danger of the boat falling over. Désolé.
We were starting to feel like the three little bears. Too big. Too small. We needed a travel lift that was just right.
Our next stop was the marine railway just up the road from the Gaspé marina. Because they move boats up an incline rather than lifting them in the air, they can pretty much handle any size or shape of boat. And they had lots of room for winter storage. Perfect, no?
No. The minimum charge to use the railway is $5,000. But of course that includes winter storage, the nice man told us. I eyed the leather chairs in his office, the Keurig coffee maker, the darling little espresso cups. Back to fishing harbours for us.
The next day, we packed a lunch and made the long drive to Newport, along the Atlantic coast of Quebec, just north of the New Brunswick border. The scenery along the coast was stunning. We had seen pictures of Percé, which we passed on the way, but pictures don’t capture the sheer size of the rock. It’s enormous. Of course we stopped and took a picture.
The fishing harbour isn’t really in the town of Newport, which isn’t really a town anyway, though there is a small garage and a dépanneur beside the highway. The harbour is north of Newport, in the middle of nowhere, really. It has a wharf where fishing boats tie up, a small floating dock suitable for powerboats, but it turns out it does have a travel lift that’s just right for us.
We parked the car in a dusty gravel lot and wandered around until we found what looked like the office. Two fishermen and a very skinny, nervous woman were sitting around a picnic table, smoking furiously and drinking coffee from paper cups.
“Bonjour,” I began hesitantly. “Nous avons une bateau à voile à quarante-trois pieds et nous cherchons une place pour l’hiver.”
One of the men answered me in English, as often happens when I try to speak French.
“Not a problem.”
He turned to his companions and a long and animated discussion ensued. It seemed to centre around the question of whether or not they had space to store us. The woman kept eyeing us suspiciously, then finally burst out—in French, not realizing that although my spoken French leaves much to be desired, I can understand French pretty well—“But they are English!”
The men overruled her—they could pull us out of the water next week. Done deal.
So it’s all settled. As soon as the seas in the gulf calm a little, we’ll sail to Newport, and with any luck we’ll have the boat settled in for the winter by the end of next week.
The marine weather is calling for southeast winds tomorrow (we’re travelling south.) Sunday, southwest again, 25 to 30 knots. Monday the winds go northwest briefly, gusting to 35 knots (that’s 70 miles an hour), then Tuesday, back to southwest 25. Showers. Fog patches. Big seas in the gulf.
Come on, Hermine. Enough already.