Matane, Quebec, is on the south shore of the St Lawrence River just at the edge of where it narrows enough to be called a river and not an open gulf. It’s a pretty big town, and the artificial harbor was created for ferries—car and passenger mostly, but there’s also one that takes train cars across to the north shore. It was a bit of a shocking re-introduction to civilization to walk along the narrow berm of a four-lane highway with cars whizzing by, and having to squeeze into the tall grasses when a particularly large trailer full of logs lumbered by. The road was mostly lined with car dealers and warehouses, but there was also a Wal-Mart, a donut shop (with Wifi), and assorted fast food joints. In short, it could not have been more different than where we’d just come from.
Still, astonishing though civilization can feel to seafaring folk just in from the outports, it has it’s advantages. We needed lots of things from Wal-Mart; we needed to get online, and donuts are always a bonus. We made good use of our time while the wind raged outside of the breakwalls, but still chafed at having to stay two nights. We chafed even more when the harbormaster came down and stuck us for $90 in wharfage, which seemed an outrage given that there was no water or power at the pier; no bathrooms, showers or internet; nothing but a dilapidated wharf covered in bird poop. Welcome back to civilization!
We were not sorry to get underway on the third afternoon after arriving. The wind wasn’t exactly fair, but it wasn’t very strong by now, and the tide was on the rise. This last was less helpful than it might have been. One of the many vagaries of the St. Lawrence River is that in this portion of it both the ebb and the flood, diabolically, flow the same direction. The only difference is that the flood moves more slowly against you. Slowly we made way through the chilly night, and arrived at dawn in Rimouski. Since there were still two hours till the fuel dock would open (Note: it may sound as if our biggest concern in life was gas, but realy we just like to top off wherever there’s a chance, not knowing where we’ll top off again. If we hadn’t filled up in Rimouski, we would not have made it to Quebec city several days later; we would have been caught out sans essence in an horrible gale), we tied up and let the kids have a run ashore. They had just woken up and were full of beans, while Danielle and I were feeling the lag of an overnighter.
Weariness notwithstanding, the tide again was at it’s least contrary, so once some gasoline had been put in and the children excercised we cast off and headed out. Perhaps we should have stayed in. As we laboured toward the Isles du Bic, ten miles off, the headwind increased, and giant eddies in the river current made some very uncomfortable choppy spots. We tried tacking out into the shipping channel to get some offing from the confused water inshore, then tacking back in when it seemed we could without any doubt pass the islands. It was vain; working upwind with double-reefed main is never efficient, and with an opposing current to steal back any gained ground, you might as well be standing still.
“We might as well be standing still,” I told Danielle, ducking as another load of spray came hurling aft.
“Aren’t we making any way?”
“Not anymore. At this point we’re just barely not losing ground.” I looked at the chart. “There’s a little bay I think we can make; we might put in there and wait for the wind to ease.”
“We can get some rest then,” she said. It was what we both were longing for—to shut our eyes and know no more. No more cold spray, no more chilly wind, no more struggle with a beastly current. As if in agreement, Ganymede made a good tack back inshore, sending up showers of spray as she crashed though the gray river waves. We had to get pretty close in to find enough of a lee to be able to start the motor and have it stay in the water, then look sharp to get anchored before things got shallow.
Once the anchor was down things didn’t seem less hopeless. “I have one more try in me,” I told Danielle. “But if we can’t make way this evening, we’ll have to go back to Rimouski.”
“Wouldn’t that make all this for nothing?”
“It’ll be even more for nothing if we get to the canal too late and everything’s closed down. The further we go, the more expensive winter storage gets, and this late in the season all the marinas and yards are shutting down. If we’re going to fail and have to leave the boat behind until spring, we’re better off getting an early start on that.”
“It almost sounds like a better plan than struggling four hundred more miles up this river.”
She was right; it would have been a better plan if not for the expense of it and the logistical nightmare of getting five of us back to the ‘States, settled in somewhere, employed, and back again when the ice broke up in late spring. It would effectively put the kibbosh on a lot of things we would rather do instead. Failure to get through was too horrible to contemplate, yet failure was what we were faced with if we couldn’t keep on schedule.
We weren’t feeling much more rested when we got underway again in the evening, but the wind had eased and shifted enough that we could make some decent way close-hauled. Mercifully it died away altogether soon after dark, and better yet, we reached a portion of river where the flood could again give us a boost. As the night wore on the flood got better and better, and as if to make up for lost time, Ganymede made seven knots. Triumphantly we passed one possible anchorage after another, determined to waste not a minute of good way, and shortly after dawn, with the ebb just beginning to flow hard against, we chugged through the breakwaters of Cap a l’Aigle. Ganymede had made her best overnight run yet; hope deferred had made us sick at heart, but hope was springing once again.