Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Alls Well After Earl

On the way to Halifax we stopped in Liscombe Mills as the weather forecasts were starting to look ominous.  Hurricane Earl was still in the southern Caribbean and it was unclear if it would make it up to Atlantic Canada. Liscombe Mills is seven nautical miles inland along the South-east coast of Nova Scotia.   There is a large lodge owned by the provincial government.  While looking for a safe place to keep the boat to wait out the bad weather we had also happened upon a paradise for the children.  Beautiful walking trails along the river, swimming pool, playgrounds, kayaks and canoes, bicycles and a recreation centre with daily art classes.  

We tracked Hurricane Earl (and Hurricane Fiona and a number of other tropical storms) for four days almost by the hour.  There were few moments when neither Seb or I were checking weather sites or discussing potential storm tactics with fellow boaters and/or the marina staff.  As Saturday, September 4th approached it looked more and more as if we would be hit by some sort of storm, whether it would reach hurricane strength or not was still tied up in meteorological probabilities.   
Coming straight for us
On September 3rd we started to put our hurricane plan into action.  Along with Jackie and Robin, from s/y Black Thorn from the UK we battened everything down.  Jackie and Robin were an invaluable resource for us.  Together we discussed tactics, plans to secure the boats, helped each other with the heavier tasks and shared encouragement.  By the end of the day we had added several extra lines, put out two anchors from both the bow and the beam of the boat to keep us away from the dock in the southerly winds, unhooked electrical equipment, and either lashed down or removed anything on deck that was liable to fly around  or produce any unnecessary wind resistance.   

We bedded down early on the night of the 3rd.  The world around us was incredibly still, few clouds marred a clear view of the starry night and the barometer was holding at 1015mb.  The latest forecast predicted that the Bay of Fundy and Yarmouth areas would be hit but that we would only feel some slight winds along the edge the storm. 

The morning of the 4th showed the expected slight increase in wind. Seb went up to the lodge to check the latest weather.  He came back with the news that the actual storm was moving East and that Liscomb Mills would not, as expected, be on the edge of the storm but right in the middle!  The barometer started falling steadily at around 0900 and bottomed out at 986mb. The forecast was for high winds to begin around 1100. 

And indeed they did.  Starting with 20-25 knots, and gradually building to a sustained 35-40 with gusts up to 60 knots!!! Fortunately in our protected inland hurricane hole the seas did not build so there were no waves, just spray on our decks.  Outside, just seven nautical miles from us, the seas were building up to an average10-12 meters (with a maximum recorded wave just off the coast of 25 meters!!!!)! The winds alone had enough force, however, to twist the dock that we were tied to out of its iron frame and it was touch and go for a while if the entire dock would be ripped off.  Seb spent 1 ½  hours hiking heavy lines through the woods (being careful to avoid being hit by a falling trees) to try to send out a long line to reinforce the two anchors and long line already holding us off the dock.  The lodge lost all power at 1100 and was without power or water for two days. The heavy winds continued for approximately five hours and then slowly started to abate.  I spent most of the time in the hotel with the monkeys and Seb spent most of the time working with the Black Thorn crew to make sure that both boats were safe. 

Fortunately although the winds were high we did not experience sustained hurricane force winds, only gusts to hurricane level, and the duration of the storm was relatively short. Had the weather been any more severe or lasted longer, I expect that the dock would not have held under the pressure. Our plan in this case was to use our forward anchor to pull ourselves off the dock and head out into the wind into a protected spot in the river where we would have enough room to swing and throw our anchor out there. In the end we came through the storm without any damage and having learned a great deal.  It also served to strongly reinforce our conviction to do everything possible to avoid heavy weather, it is simply too powerful.  

** View short video of early stages of storm here

Eye of the storm seen from space

Back in Baddeck

St. Pierre is separated from Miquelon by a 3 nautical mile wide strait with very fierce currents. Fishermen call this section of ocean "The Mouth of Hell". The waters around St. Pierre and Michelon are very treacherous, and there have been over 600 shipwrecks along the coasts of the islands.  We departed St Pierre through the Mouth of Hell in sustained 20-25 knot winds knowing that the first six hours of our 200 nautical mile journey would be intense but trusting the forecasted decrease in windspeeds to bring us safely to Baddeck.   

Our arrival in Baddeck was just like old home week.  Jared and Leah from Baddeck Marine welcomed us and especially the monkeys with great warmth.  We spent two days there sitting out some nasty rains and high winds before finally having some really warm summer weather. Ahhhh. Nice to put the fleecies, long pants and rain gear away for a little while.   

Stayed to see a demonstration of experiments Bell apparently used to show to his grandchildren.  Emma even volunteered to assist with one of the experiments in front of an audience of 30 people.  She stood very bravely at the front of the group and demonstrated that if a candle burns off oxygen in a jar held over a plate of water a reduction in the air pressure in the jar causes the water under the jar to be sucked up into it.  Her favourite part was adding the food colouring to the water so that we could see it in the jar.

As we walked back to the boat we passed an antique store with a suit of armour outside and Emma spontaneously shared a little wisdom with me. “Mama, do only smart princesses know that dragons are really nice? Because then they could tell all of the other princesses that dragons are really nice.  And then they could all tell all of the knights that they didn’t really need them anymore because dragons are really nice.  So then they could all do other things together than fight dragons.”

More Fog, a Squall and French Cheese

The two day sail from St. John’s around to St. Pierre was unpleasant.  The winds were 15-20 knots to start but coming from a good direction so we had a nice sail down the coast. By the time we reached Cape Race the wind had gone down and once again we motored around this notoriously windy cape.  From then on it was almost all fog and relatively light winds against us.  About 30 nautical miles out of St Pierre we were sailing with full sail (including the cutter sail) into 10-15 knots of wind with a light rain and uncomfortable waves.  The rain started to become heavier and suddenly the wind picked up giving us little time to reduce sail.  We found ourselves in a nasty squall with 40 knot winds including a shift of 40 degrees, pelting rain and thunder and lighting.  We quickly started the motor and took down all of the sails.  It lasted about ½ hour and was quite alarming.  This was our first squall of this magnitude and it came with no warning.  We hadn’t seen the telltale black smudge indicating a squall due to the fog, and the weather reports maintained a steady 10-15 knots wind prediction. We tied up in St. Pierre feeling a little battered and greatly relieved.

St Pierre and Michelon is a group of islands located only six nautical miles from Newfoundland's Green Island. The archipelago has the status of overseas collectivity within France and is the only remnant of the former colonial empire of New France.  The people here hold European passports, speak Parisian French, use the Euro, consume mostly products imported from France and every grade 12 student has the opportunity to go to university in France for free.   It is a strange combination of European French culture coupled with a landscape, architecture and community structure similar to what we saw in the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland.

Our fridge was full of lovely creamy cheeses and dry salamis, all of which needed to be consumed before we went back through Canadian customs in Nova Scotia.  Two of the three nights spent in St Pierre saw us dining in local restaurants on lovely French delicacies – although I have to admit that the children’s menu consisted of the standard fries, fish sticks and chicken wings.  The monkeys are learning a little French while we are here.  Although a little shy with much of it Macsen loves to greet people with a loud  “BON-jooor” coupled with a little dance of glee. 

On our last morning in St Pierre we had coffee in the Hotel Robert and caught a glimpse of the hat that Al Capone gave to the proprietor of the hotel when he visited the island in the 1920s.  St Pierre was the rum running capital of the North Atlantic and played an enormous role in the supply of contraband liquor to the United States during prohibition both as a warehouse for alcohol from Europe and as a haven for Canadian distributors to set up operations to service their American clients. 

Fogo, Twillingate, Moreton’s Harbour: All around the circle

“ I asked my colleagues where you should camp”  Vicky announced innocently on our second evening in St. John’s. “They said you shouldn’t camp in Newfoundland.”  Apparently the consensus at work was that the cold would freeze us and the mosquitoes would deal with the leftovers.  Only slightly daunted, we set off the next day with our brand new tent in the back of the car and a solid agreement to head to a cosy B&B if either threat became unbearable. This was balanced with the awareness that it would be virtually impossible to disappoint the monkeys (and secretly ourselves) who had been looking forward to sleeping in a tent for ages (and ages according to Emma).
The first stop on our inland tour was Twillingate, Iceberg Capital of the World.  One of the primary goals of our road tour was to catch a glimpse of one of these icy giants.  We'd checked the Environment Canada ice charts and were disappointed to see that there were no icebergs in the area.  Still, we drove the extra 300 kilometres to the Iceberg Capital of the World to see for ourselves.  Upon arrival we were told that the nearest icebergs were to be found in Labrador and although we considered it, we decided that the 36 hour ferry ride was too much.  Undaunted we enjoyed the lovely surroundings of Twillingate and found a small camp ground to set up our tent.  It was a indeed buggy and cold.  But the giggles of the monkeys frolicking about in the tent and our glass of wine around the campfire after they were asleep more than made up for a little itchiness and goosebumps.   On our way out of Twillingate, we stopped at the Prime Berth Twillingate Fishing museum.  While the monkeys searched for hermit crabs, Seb and I took turns wandering about the fish making stations and reading some exciting seafaring tales. A wonderfully whimsical museum with some interesting twists:    

“When anyone asks how I can best describe my experience in nearly 40 years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog the like, but in all my experience, I have never been in any accident of any sort worth speaking about. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort. You see, I am not very good material for a story.”
Captain Smith, Commander of Titanic

Our next campground was in the Lockston Path Provincial Park.  Tenting remained exciting for the monkeys and Seb and I continued to enjoy our evening campfires, chatting and staring at the stars.

The town of Trinity is located at about a 15 minute drive from Lockston Path.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer the local summer theatre group performs its award-winning pageant. We followed the actors around the beautifully preserved town as they presented pieces depicting the life and history of the village.  Having enjoyed it so much we immediately bought tickets for the dinner theatre that evening.  Dinner theatre was a frolic of local music and stories and  Emma and Macsen had good fun dancing to the accordion, the fiddle and the ugly stick. 

Down in Bonavista, we took a tour of the replica of the Matthew, the ship that brought John Cabot and his crew to Newfoundland in 1497. The ship was actually named after Cabot's wife Mathea but ship's at the time were only given male names...even though they are all female...go figure.   Seb and I were quite astonished by the sparse living conditions aboard the boat and returned to the relative luxury of the Pjotter with pleasure. 

We returned for a last weekend in St John's with Vicky and Olous and the kids.  They took us to the Brigus Blueberry Festival and another local folk festival and we had some good barbecues in their garden. 

A weather window appeared for a trip to St Pierre and we readied the boat and ourselves for a late Monday departure.  After tearing Emma and Macsen away from Rogan and Naya and saying a fond and grateful goodbye to Olous and Vicky we were off.  We hope to see them again soon!
It is also time for a tearful goodbye to Newfoundland.  Our original plan was to return via Port aux Basques but time and weather has prevented us. In six weeks we have only scratched the surface of this wonderful province and it has left us wanting more.  Farewell Newfoundland, we will certainly be back to your beautiful shores!

**Bob and Kat, in Port aux Basques, if you read this please send us your email address!