When does spring arrive in Gaspé anyway? We thought the middle of June was a safe bet, but last night, the temperature dropped to five degrees, and this morning it’s cold and rainy and wind is howling through the rigging.
A week ago we were sitting on the deck of our other boat, Meadowlark, on our farm north of Durham, sipping coffee and watching a pair of bluebirds tending their young. They take turns bringing tasty (I can only assume) bugs and juicy-looking caterpillars to the nesting box. Bluebird TV. We could watch it all day. Shorts. We were wearing shorts. I’m sure of it.
Today we’re wearing jeans and T-shirts and thick fleecies as we huddle by the little woodburning stove on MonArk, which is still on the hard in the boatyard in Gaspé. There are still a couple of critical repairs to make, and we are waiting for our life raft to be repacked before we set off into the ocean. Maybe next week… though the weather doesn’t look much better then.
On the up side, the snow has disappeared. The boat is surrounded with dandelions now.
Chris is happy to be back on the boat. He hasn’t stopped grinning since we arrived. I’m having a bit of a struggle. I feel unsure about living in a boatyard in the middle of nowhere, and the boat feels, well, weird.
It’s listing to port, a lot. I have to gimbal the stove in order to cook, I discovered last night, when I dumped a can of tomatoes into the chili I was making and the juice dribbled out of the frying pan and down the front of the stove. Are we sinking into the grass??? I’m not sure even a thick carpet of dandelions will support a 20-ton boat. And it sways in the wind. Why does it sway in the wind? We’ve never swayed on the hard before. Hmmm. Would we call this hard?
I’m finding it a challenge to make the boat feel like home again. The first thing that struck me as I climbed down the companionway was the damp. Is damp even the right word? Everything felt wet. And no wonder. We opened the bilge to discover that it was full of water—well, not full but we pumped out at least 20 gallons.
Chris did a little investigating and determined that the problem was in the garage. That’s what we call the enormous locker at the stern of the boat. It’s big enough to park a small car in, but just like a real garage, there is never enough room. It’s where Chris stashes stuff—his fishing gear, a shop vac, cans of paint. A couple spare anchors. A portable welding machine (yes). Some fenders that should probably be thrown out but you never know when a deflated fender might come in handy. Chris can always fit one more thing in the garage.
Last year we installed solar vents in the garage to help keep it dry… but apparently we didn’t seal them properly. Rain has been dribbling in around them, making its way (miraculously) through all the stuff in the garage to the bilge. We weren’t able to leave the bilge pump running over the winter or it would have frozen, so the bilge just filled up.
So job one for me was opening all the portholes and hatches to air out the boat and hanging our bedding out in the sun to dry, and all of our clothes, why do we have so many clothes… Then I set to work cleaning, trying to get rid of the funny smell, not diesel or oil, but something else, what? I found the problem—I had left a bag of potatoes and some onions in the drawer below the stove. They were a mouldy, smelly mess. I will definitely not be getting a Marine Domestic Goddess award this year.
As I was cleaning the big locker in the v-berth—another space with seemingly endless capacity—I came across Bica’s lifejacket, her Outward Hound. No wonder I’ve been feeling so sad. The boat is just not the same without her. We keep looking around for her, then we remember.
Slowly we managed to bring some semblance of order to the boat and my spirits began to lift. I noticed that a greater black-backed gull had claimed the radar arch on the boat beside us. Was it planning to nest there? Its deep, guttural call and crazy laugh made me smile. We went for a walk one evening, and found that the stunted bushes along the shore were alive with goldfinches. Chris pointed out the lobster pots studding the bay. We will have to be careful on our way out.
Yesterday, it was sunny and warm enough to varnish, my favourite boat job. As I worked, I watched a flock of common eiders—not common to me—feeding in the tidal pool behind the boat. A small fishing boat raced up to the rocks outside the tidal pool, cut its engine then drifted through the sea of lobster pots as the men hauled them up one by one.
Then Roger, the nice man who shovelled the boat out for us on our last visit, stopped by. I could hear Chris and him chatting, about the weather, for the most part, but I’m pretty sure I heard Chris mention a medium decaf with double milk. His French is a little, shall we say…limited?
I still find myself thinking wistfully about the bluebirds, wondering if the little ones have fledged. I think the hardest thing about our nomadic life—Chris would say the best thing—is making the transition from one place to another. But I’m settling in here, it’s starting to feel like home. Yesterday we went for a long hike along the shore, and I found some white flowers, a carpet of them beside the trail, actually, so many that I didn’t feel bad picking a little bouquet for myself. If any of you recognize these as an endangered species, please don’t tell me.
The rain seems to be letting up now but a thick bank of fog has rolled in. I can hear, but not see, the buoy the Coast Guard installed yesterday at the mouth of the harbour. It clangs mournfully as it rocks in the waves. Or maybe as chunks of ice hit it?
We’re thinking now that it may be too early to sail to Ilês de la Madeleine. The weather in the Gulf looks cold and rough. Maybe there’s a good reason the other sailboats here have not yet been launched. We’re going to take our time getting ready to go in the water, then maybe sail to Gaspé and anchor in the sheltered bay there until spring comes.
Because it will come. It always does. Right?