Tuesday, September 07, 2010

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. 

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