Stormy weather

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21 November 2013

It takes only 5 days to sail between Quebec and Saint-Pierre – about 700 miles. This could have been a calm voyage, but – since we left the estuary of the St. Lawrence River, the elements seem to be assaulting the schooner and her crew.

On Saturday morning, we left the port of Quebec to descend the St. Lawrence River. Water smooth as a mirror transported us for 2 days, and we enjoyed stunning sunsets as we passed through the estuary, the largest in the world. But soon the first bad news began to come in: a big storm was approaching, force 8 on the Beaufort scale, which ranges from 1 to 12. To protect the boat and its contents, the captain decided to make a 12-hour halt.

So, on the night of Sunday to Monday, Tara was anchored a short distance from the coast. In the morning, the crew woke up facing a tiny village of the Gaspésie region. The atmosphere here was very peaceful, while the storm was raging off shore. Early in the afternoon we finally hoisted anchor to traverse the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Though the wind had dropped to 25 knots (about 45 km/h), it was enough to shake up the schooner.

All night Tara pitched from port to starboard, rising above the waves then crashing down again, rhythming the night with incessant pounding. The first 2 days in the quiet of the river had spoiled us. Our tired faces in the early morning attested to the harsh reality of navigation in this part of the world, famous for violent storms from November to March.

Barely recovered from the epidemic of seasickness that hit the crew, we heard that another storm was coming up, even more violent than the first. Force 9, with winds of 45 knots, and gusts up to 60 knots – over 110 km/h. Hour after hour the crew waited for the latest weather maps. Scenarios of all kinds began to unfold: drop anchor near the coast until the storm passed, before continuing on to port the next day.

On Wednesday, the dreaded day, the latest news gave us some hope: the storm would happen at Saint-Pierre 5 hours later. This gave us a chance of arriving at port just in time. After a day of racing against the clock, many doubts remained: would we manage to arrive in time? Would the storm catch up with us? Would the pilot at Saint-Pierre agree to guide us safely to port, at night and in this heavy weather? On board, everyone wanted to believe in our good luck.

The big blue sky of this afternoon gave way to some ominous clouds. Night-time took over the deck, plunging Tara in total darkness, barely illuminated by a few lights on the nearby archipelago. After supper, the wheelhouse was filled with tense sailors, exchanging the latest news.

About 10 o’clock in the evening, an army of sailing jackets and headlamps spilled onto the deck, to haul down the remaining sails, before glimpsing the pilot’s boat. Once aboard Tara, the pilot (thanks to an acrobatic move from one vessel to another) guided us through the channel leading to the port. It was 11 pm, local time, when Tara was finally able to shut down her engines, moored along the quay with dozens of people braving the cold, waiting for our arrival. So, here we are in Saint-Pierre-and-Miquelon – finally.

Yann Chavance