So I wouldn’t say spring has arrived, exactly, but the day before yesterday we set out for Ilês de la Madeleine, a 36-hour passage, which is a bit ambitious for a shakedown sail.
The boat had been on the hard for nine months, frozen solid and scoured by winds off the ocean much of that time. We had spent a week checking everything over and renewing our safety gear in preparation for the ocean crossing we plan to make later this summer. Our life raft, it turned out, was beyond repair—the cylinder that inflates it completely and mysteriously empty, the rubber looking somewhat worse for the wear, having spent ten years crammed into a fiberglass case secured to the foredeck.
We bought a new life raft from Ted, in Gaspé, a man who lives and breathes safety gear. He equips many of the fishermen around here. We had him inspect our Mustang life jackets as well, and decided to spring for new ones. We walked out of his shop $3,000 poorer for equipment we hope never to use but feeling more confident of our chances of survival should it all go wrong.
Wednesday the boat was launched. Watching it in the travel lift always makes me feel slightly sick. Boats really shouldn’t be up in the air. But it went off without a hitch, and Thursday morning, bright and early, we threaded our way out of the harbour and around the many lobster pots and raised sail.
Okay, so the winds were a bit stronger than predicted, and the sea was much rougher than we expected. But you don’t get to just turn around when you’re out in the ocean, so we decided to carry on. We tied two reefs in the main and shortened the genoa a little, but we were still corkscrewing through the water at six knots. Here’s a short video of what the ride was like for most of the day. If you’re given to seasickness, don’t watch it.
Hardened sailors that we are…we got sick anyway. It always happens first time out. We managed to avoid actually throwing up by not eating anything substantial, just nibbling on crackers and drinking lots of water (sailing can be very slimming.) It’s always harder on Chris than it is on me—men get seasick much more easily than women do, for some reason. So he spent most of the day stretched out on the bench in the cockpit while I kept a lookout for ships.
By evening the wind had dropped and the seas had started—just started—to calm. Chris continued to hold down the cushion on the cockpit bench while I stood the first night watch. And the second. He stood the third without ever really standing—he sat behind the wheel, looking halfheartedly around—then I took the dawn watch.
I didn’t mind, really. There was so much to watch. The banks between Gaspé and Islês de la Madeleine are busy this time of year. The fishing season is short, just a few weeks. That’s not much time to make a whole year’s income. So at any time, there were at least a dozen busy boats around us to keep track of. No way they were keeping track of us, a pesky sailboat. What were we doing out there anyway?
Dawn comes early this time of year. The sky started to brighten in the east at 3 in the morning and the sun rose around 4. I was sitting in the cockpit, watching it, when a minke whale surfaced right beside the boat. Seriously, it was maybe six feet away from us. The sound of it blowing woke Chris up—he was on his feet in an instant, in time to see its fin disappearing into the water. To my delight, it circled around us and arced out of the water beside us again, and again. It was playing in our bow wake, I think. Or looking for morning coffee.
Chris was awake by then, so I made us a pot and we had an early breakfast before I went below for a big sleep. When I woke three hours later, the sun was fully up, the wind had died, and the seas had calmed. We had a lovely day of sailing, carefully avoiding the one hazard to the west of the islands—a rock described as “conspicuous.” You be the judge of that…
Islês de la Madeleine emerged from the horizon around mid-day, and we spent a pleasant afternoon sailing along the southern coast of them to the cut that provides access to the sheltered waters inside the archipelago. We had the hook down by five and were in bed by seven o’clock, exhausted but pleased with our first passage.
It’s rainy here today, and there’s a big wind from the southwest, but we’re sheltered in the sandy bay at Havre Aubert and looking forward to exploring these islands once the weather clears up. It’s warm, at last (would we call 15 degrees warm?) We’re hoping not to light the woodstove again until the fall.