Our first stop in the province of Quebec, at a little place called La Falaise, was all among rocky islands smothered in deep moss—moss more than ankle deep, with occasional hidden boggy patches to add interest. It would have been a pleasant place to spend a couple of quiet days, but Tropical Storm Gabriel was passing by offshore, and quiet days were not on the agenda. We were grateful enough to get nothing more than absolutely torrential rain as we made our way between a dozen little islands on the approach to Eskimo Bay and Riviere St. Paul.
We might have skipped Riviere St. Paul, except that we hadn’t gotten fuel or decent groceries since St. Anthony, and ahead we had a very sparsely populated coast to travel. I hadn’t known it was so remote, or I might have laid in more supplies in Newfoundland. With no road access, everything comes by ferry—even the cars they drive on short occasional stretches of road—much of it from Newfoundland, and of course the selection and prices reflect that fact all too plainly. Not that our last three stops in Newfoundland had had any groceries worth speaking of, but with the weather getting chilly, I could at least have bought frozen meat and had it last for several days. As it was, I was only too glad to get whatever the tiny grocery store had to offer, and to pay $8.00 a gallon for gas—the most I’ve ever shelled out.
Fittingly, the first person I met was a fur trapper who spotted me trudging along the wooden sidewalk wearing a sou’ wester and thought I was a stray Newfie. I told him I had never seen Newfoundlanders wear sou’ westers, but that everyone who has to be out in the rain ought to—after all, every picture, every statue, every fishing company logo of a seaman at a ship’s wheel has him in a sou’wester. They’re the best thing for rain. He, of course, seemed to think the cab of his car was even better for rain, and as he drove me to the store and the gas station I had to agree.
It wasn’t spectacularly chilly, but Danielle and I and half the cabin were sopping wet from me popping in and out to take bearings of islands and plot them on the ever-wetter chart as we had approached. I had found out that morning that the charts and the GPS were not exactly lined up, so groping about in poor visibility has an extra flavor of intrigue in these parts, especially as there is more than one patch of magnetic anomaly (caused by large iron deposits on the sea floor) that makes the compass do funny things. I had to use the GPS for true heading and speed while eyeballing all the little islands, most of them as like each other as ninepins, as they went past. It made for stressful times, and got rather a bit of damp inside. Fortunately for us, the woodstove is sufficient not only for warmth but to dry things out, and we built it up good and hot, opened whatever ports wouldn’t let in rain, and toasted out the wet.
There was another gale warning for the next day, perhaps the last of Gabriel’s influence, and we took our chance of it’s going the same way we were to make tracks to the southwest. It was a tumultuous day of all storm canvas, rain, and hurrying clouds, but we made good time to Saint-Servan, a little fishing camp at the head of Rocky Bay in a fjord filled with an astonishing amount of waterfalls. The camp was deserted; many of the tiny huts scattered here and there in these parts are used only in the winter when they can be reached over the frozen sea by pickup or snowmobile.
We didn’t even go ashore—we just waited overnight for the wind to settle, then left early the next day for Mistanoque, which was a better spot to be in the strong sou’ wester that followed the nor’ easter. It was a cold day, and we shivered as we scrambled among the island’s boggy, mossy heights in the driving mist.
The scenery was as different here from Newfoundland as Newfoundland had been from Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia had been all red dirt escarpments (Ecum Secum, in Native speech), and gray rocks like iron plating. Newfoundland had been craggier, with tall granite and slate cliffs, and most of them pretty jagged. Here in Quebec was mostly pink granite, and all the edges smoothed and rounded, especially the rocks at water level, where they’d been ground by ages of winter sea ice. Most noticeable was the absence of trees—even Newfoundland’s northernmost point had smallish evergreens, while the rest of it was pretty heavily wooded. But in this corner of Quebec the green on the hills was mostly mosses, and even stunted bushes were few and far between. Still, it was very beautiful, and we reveled in the stark splendor of it even as the urgency of returning to warmer climates kept us going day after day, though it were only to go ten or fifteen miles to another sheltered spot before the next big wind began.
That was the pattern this fall—one strong wind after another, and rarely from the same direction two days running. But the scenery was stunning, especially in the narrow channels of the Petit Rigolet (or Little Ree-gullet, as the locals call it), which afforded a perfectly sheltered waterway for a day and a half while the wind blew contrary out at sea. Strangest of all to us, perhaps, was the emptiness: though there were seasonal-use cottages scattered here and there, we saw exactly two people between Riviere St. Paul and La Tabatiere, the biggest of the outport settlements on this coast. Between these occasional hamlets without road access there’s miles and miles of wild and uninhabited country, and the emptiness is uncanny. Not unpleasant, but lonely—the sort of place where if you were to see someone, you would talk to them just because you were both there at the same time. We spoke to nobody but ourselves for days, since the two people we saw were in a car, driving along a road only five miles long.
It was, of course, to be regretted that we hadn’t more time to cruise this coast, but that’s been true of all of our cruising so far, and looking at the long haul ahead, it looks like that isn’t about to change.