We’ve been watching the forecast in Gaspé, we knew there would be snow on the ground when we arrived at Newport, where our boat has spent the winter. From a distance, it didn’t look too bad, just a light covering on the ground in most places. Then we pulled into the boatyard.
Lobster season opens tomorrow, and the yard was pretty much emptied of fishing boats. A big front-end loader was frantically digging out the last few boats to be launched… and piling the snow around the handful of sailboats at the edge of the yard. We looked at our boat in despair. There was no way we were going to be able to get aboard without cutting steps in the snowbanks around it, a huge job.
Chris got started while I watched—we only have one snow shovel. When he finally made it to the top of the snowbank, he noticed that the wooden blocks supporting the starboard side of the boat had been knocked over by the loader. The boat was standing on three flimsy metal stands and the blocks on the port side. The snowbanks may have been the only thing keeping the boat from teetering over.
“Un problèm,” we told Roger, the friendly man who manages the boat yard, once we tracked him down.
“Pas de problèm,” he said and clambered over the snowbanks like a mountain goat. He slid down under the boat and stacked the fallen blocks up one by one.
Somewhat tentatively, we set up a ladder on top of the snowbank and climbed aboard. Not bad. Not bad at all. One tarp had come loose and flogged itself to pieces over the winter but all the others had held. We unzipped the canvas around the cockpit and went below and much to our delight, all was well. No leaks, no problems of any sort. Except of course that the boat was frozen solid.
Chris set up the generator and rigged up an electric heater in the engine room, while I started hauling the small stuff aboard—tubes of caulking, stainless steel bolts and washers, a spare water pump, oil filters, clothing, my favourite kind of balsamic vinegar (yes, I brought four bottles of it all the way from Ontario), firewood for out little wood stove. By the time I was done I was much warmer than Chris, who was rewiring the inverter and fixing the grease coupling on the thrust bearing and doing other obscure man jobs in the engine room.
Then came the tricky part. We needed to get the life raft, which weighs about a hundred pounds, off the foredeck and into the car so we could take it to be repacked before we set off into the ocean. No problem. Chris rolled the life raft onto a tarp, tied the four corners of the tarp to a halyard, then had me winch it up in the air (with our electric windlass) while he guided it over the side. We backed the car up to the snowbank and slid the life raft down to the tailgate, one, two, heave and it was in the car.
As we were pulling away, Roger zoomed up in the front-end loader, waved and smiled, then began attacking the snowbanks around the boat. At the end of a long day, he was staying late to dig us out.
We’ve only been here a few days and already we’ve accomplished all we had hoped to, more, in fact. Chris is now perfectly bilingual—he speaks English and Tim Horton’s French. Tomorrow the surveyor comes to assess the seaworthiness of the boat, at the insurance company’s request and for our peace of mind, then we’re heading home until spring arrives here.
The lobster fishermen don’t have the luxury of waiting for better weather. The traps are all loaded and even though it’s still winter here, tomorrow they head out onto the icy grey waters. The marine forecast is calling for moderate winds from the north and snow flurries beginning tomorrow night. But the water is open, except for ice along parts of the coast, and the seas are no more than two metres. They should be fine. I hope they’re fine.