Monday, September 4, 2007 Labor Day

It's a holiday! I slept in, no packing of the boat, no dismantling the tent, no hurry to catch the tide. Rain is spattering on the tent fly. The Trango 2 (Mountain Hardware) is an excellent tent, if a tad large. Worth the cargo space though. Dry, easy to set up, huge vestibule, 2 clear windows for viewing the stars or checking on the weather.

Calm weather in the morning. Looking across Pointe Enragee toward Ile aux Goelands.


Marine forecast is for clearing this afternoon with light winds. The seas are noticeably calmer, except at Point Enragee (of course). I plan to do a tour of the small islands near here, this afternoon. Maybe I'll see a whale.

Wildflowers blanketing Ile aux Goelands. Because it was past Sept 1, I was allowed to land here.

5:00 p.m.

I did not see a whale. They probably all had the good sense to go elsewhere.

I thought I was setting out for a tour of the little nearby islands. The rain had slowed, now and again the sun peeked out. Conditions were calm, one-foot waves. The paddle out to the first island, Ile aux Goelands, was easy. The next island, Petite Ile au Marteau, has a lighthouse on it. It required a crossing of about a mile. With a light breeze at my back, it went quickly. Even so, as I paddled I had an uneasy feeling. My tent was back there. I was here. What if something changed and I couldn't get back? Naw, it was calm out. No problem.

And then, just as I landed, the sun burst out and the wind kicked into high gear as a cold front passed. I looked back at where I'd just had a leisurely crossing - a froth of whitecaps and dark water. Uh-oh.

I pulled out my handiman tool and pulled the kinked skeg down, then tried paddling into the wind and waves to see if I could cross back. It was quickly clear that I could not do so safely. It's not that the seas were that big, but I was paddling into the wind across a mile of open water. Possibly I could handle this when fresh. Probably if I were 25 and male I could get across. But I'm a 54-year-old female and it would take a solid hour of paddling at max energy for me to make it across. It seemed a poor bet. I turned back.

I dragged the kayak above the high-water line and set out across the island to see if there was a vantage point from which to view my options. Much to my surprise, just around the jumble of rocks was a Parcs Canada ferry landing, picnic tables, walkways, and a large unlocked building that doubled as a group picnic area and emergency shelter. There was an old cookstove and wood piled high, and an emergency box with first aid supplies and a big thick blanket. Even though I'd arrived without tent or sleeping bag, I had water and lunch and shelter and a radio, and matches (thank you, Jamie, for teaching me to always carry three sources of fire, one of which was in my safety bag).

I set about collecting kindling and clearing out the hearth. Maybe the wind would die down at day's end [it didn't], but I'd be ready either way. I had everything I needed and I was alive. So there was no problem.

The island where I was marooned, on the protected side. This group of small islands is utterly beautiful. They could be explored as a day trip from Havre St Pierre on calm days. I would definitely include them in my itinerary on a return trip.

I settled into a corner of the building where I could see any passing boat, and dozed. After about an hour I heard a motor. A boat was pulling up to the ferry dock. I ran down to speak with them, five young people in a runabout. Several spoke English. I explained my predicament and asked if they'd consider taking me back to Ile du Havre. The pilot immediately agreed, but then Matt, who had worked for the Park Service in the past, said the best thing would be to call them and ask for assistance. He said it was okay, they actually liked doing that sort of thing, I'd paid for it in my fees, and they were well-equipped to help.

Pierre, the pilot, used my VHF radio to call through the Coast Guard to the park service.

Pierre negotiates, in French. He didn't speak English.

Matt and Alexie talk over the options. Alexie is from France, traveling around the world, hitchhiking and working here and there and meeting many people. After a brief trip to Boston and New York, he planned to move out to British Columbia to work at a ski resort, then down to California to learn surfing. He had met Matt in Spain and had looked him up when he hitched up from Quebec.

Alexie insists on a pose together. They were a nice bunch of youngsters.

The upshot was that it was a Canadian holiday and rather than sending help, the Park Service wanted the young people to haul me in their boat. I told them I was sure I'd be fine there overnight and that in the morning the wind would have dropped so that I could cross [it did]. But they had decided. They were hauling me and my boat.

Two of us held it in place for the very bouncy ride across to Ile du Havre. On the way we talked about the greenland paddle ("It's Inuit, yes?" he recognized it) and life in Mingan (hunting, fishing, bears) which they preferred to city life. Matt voiced strong concern about the wisdom of paddling around Pointe Enragee. They would have to drop me a mile from there, unable to get closer with their little boat. He knew what the wind did to that point. I assured him that if I couldn't make it, I'd land the boat and hike to my tent. But hey, I'd just paddled it this morning, I didn't think there'd be a problem.

They dropped the kayak off the side of the boat into the protected water by Cap du Corbeau and I got in, thanking them profusely for their kindness. And off they went. And off I went.

I started up the coastline, big rollers coming in but nothing scary. But then I reached the point. It took my breath away - huge rollers crashing on the rocks. Did I think the paddling was tough yesterday? That was nothing. As far as I could see, surf flew into the air, the sound of pounding waves was a constant roar, wind pushed against me. I wondered if I could do this. And yet, I was upright, I was paddling well, and as long as I stayed out of the surf zone, away from the truly frightening offshore shoals, I could handle the 3-4' seas.

It took a while to locate the cove, it looked so different now. There was no calm landing place, it was roiling with surf. Screwing up my courage, I surfed in, right up onto the flat rock shelf. In a moment I was out, dragging the boat - and myself - to safety. I'd landed directly in front of my campsite.

This was inside the protected waters of the cove. Outside was much bigger.

Now I'm listening to the incredible ceaseless roar of pounding surf, wondering if I'll get out of here tomorrow. I will ration my food (immediately as I write this I feel hungry!) and see if early morning brings a period of calm seas during which I can slip back to Havre-St-Pierre.

I've definitely had enough adventure for one trip. May I never face more difficult conditions.

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