Sunday, July 24, 2016


Where we've been in the last few weeks (St. Lawrence)


Looking ahead at the wind forecast we knew we needed to cross Bay of Chaleur on Monday to beat the high winds forecast for the following two days. We were up at 0500 and underway by 0600 to ensure we’d arrive at our next destination of Shippagan, New Brunswick, approximately 48 nautical miles away, well ahead of the high winds. 

It was a lovely clear sky with light winds, but there was plenty of low lying fog to deal with. No more than a half mile from leaving the dock our three boats were enveloped in a dense fog, where much of the time we had less than 200 feet of visibility. Thankfully this area had light boat traffic and we all had good radar equipment to not only track each other, but keep watch for any other boats. We all use autopilot and when travelling through fog, you spend most of your time staring at the radar screen watching for any new blips that might signal another boat. Wings and Encore also had AIS (Automatic Identification System) that picks up a signal on their screen from any other AIS registered boats, which regularly proved really helpful. Finally, our VHF radio has a fog signal that it broadcasts every two minutes through our loud hailer that may also alert other vessels in the area to our presence. All worked well and with about 9 miles remaining on our route, the fog lifted and New Brunswick came into sight. 

We had entered Quebec June 14th and finished up July 18th, just a day short of 5 weeks. That will be the longest stay in any province or state for the duration of this trip, which is a reflection of the size of Quebec and how much shoreline Quebec has. We truly had a spectacular time in Quebec and we are very grateful to all the wonderful Quebecers we met who were so very helpful and welcoming and eager to learn about our cruising plans. Merci beaucoup…

New Brunswick is one of Canada’s three Maritime provinces and it is the only constitutionally bilingual (English-French) province. It was created as a result of the partitioning of the British Colony of Nova Scotia in 1784. While the majority of the province is English speaking, there is a large Francophone minority (33%) of Acadian origin. Once again, Jacques Cartier is the first known European explorer to visit this area in 1534 and who discovered and named the Bay of Chaleur. The province shares boarders with the Maine, Quebec and Nova Scotia. 

Shippagan was founded in 1790 by the Duguay family from Quebec. Acadian settlers later joined them as its location was ideal for exporting timber from further inland as well as for fishing. Over the years, ship building, lumber exports, peat moss processing and fishing were mainstays of the local economy. Today, fishing and peat moss continue to play an important role. 

Shippagan Marina

There is a large commercial fishing harbour in Shippagan, which we toured and found very impressive. Fishing for scallops, snow crab, oysters, lobster, muscles, salmon, herring and other species is tightly controlled by the province to ensure its long term sustainability and viability. The season is very short (about two months) and quotas are tightly monitored. Their 2016 season had just finished about 10 days before we arrived and it was followed by Shippagan’s one week long New Brunswick Fisheries and Aquaculture Festival to celebrate the sea and its riches and the importance of fishing to Shippagan. As you’ll see from the photos below, the bulk of the fishing fleet is already hauled out and waiting for the spring of 2017. We also visited a local hardware store that caters to the fishing industry and were impressed by the extent of their inventory of heavy duty equipment for the fishing trawlers and the folks who work on those boats.

Commercial Harbour - fishing trawlers hauled out

Right next to the marina is Shippagan’s outstanding Aquarium, where they have over 100 species of fish and invertebrates on display in large tanks. They have well designed interactive displays to help visitors understand the various types of fishing in the area including:
  • Inshore Fishing - day trips up to 8 kilometres from shore for lobster, scallop dredging, longlines, gill nets and hand lines
  • Mid Shore Fishing - trips up to 8 days for crab, longlines, purse seine, ground fish trawlers and shrimp bottom trawlers 
  • Offshore Fishing - trips up to a month for pelagic trawling to catch a variety of fish including redfish, mackerel, flounder, shark etc

They also had a great film on sea life in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

One of the Acquarium tanks

Very rare blue lobster

A long time, important product from the fishing industry has been salted cod. Cod was plentiful and cheap and it became a food for the poor. Our forebears’ needed a way to eat fish year round and salting became the primary means to preserve the catch. Salt cod goes back to the Vikings. It also shares a history with the slave trade as it was a food preserved for the long ship journeys from Africa to the Americas where it also became a food for the slaves on southern plantations.

We spent three nights at Shippagan, and as forecast, the wind blew 25 to 32 knots most of our stay. Over time, we added more fenders and dock lines to keep the boat secure and regularly checked and tightened our lines. Finally, on Wednesday night, the wind began to moderate and at our happy hour we were finally ready to plan our next leg to Miramichi. 

The city of Miramichi was formed in 1995 through the forced amalgamation of two towns, Newcastle & Chatham, plus several smaller communities. Well prior to European settlement, the Miramichi region was home to members of the Mi’kmaq First Nation. Following European discovery of the Americas, the Miramichi area became part of the French colony of Acadia. The French and Indian War erupted in 1754 and many Acadian homes were destroyed by the British and the Acadian refugees lives were terribly disrupted over the next 30 years. Most ended up in Quebec City, but by 1785 a considerable Acadian community was re-established in the Miramichi area. In the late 1700’s and through the 1800’s there were waves of immigration of Scottish and Irish immigrants to the Mirimichi area. 

Today, 89% of the population speak English only and 8% French only. Miramichi bills itself as “Canada’s Irish Capital” as it is one of Canada’s most Irish cities and it is home to an annual Irish festival. Miramichi’s economy is primarily focused on mining, fishing and forestry. Although closure of several wood mills caused many residents to migrate west to join in the shale gas boom in Alberta. Unfortunately 2015/16 has of course not been kind to Alberta residents. 

After a 40 nautical mile run to reach Mirimichi Bay, we still had another 25 mile run to get through Mirimichi Inner Bay and up the Mirimichi River to the town. On our way up the river, we were hopeful of getting a holding tank pump out at one of the two marinas. It was low tide and the first marina told us not to come in as their water depth was marginal. The second marina encouraged us to come in. It was small and had a very narrow channel to enter and we churned up all kinds of mud, but we did get our pump out and then backed all the way out of the channel.  

Finally, we arrived at the town of Miramichi at their Ritchie Wharf and were surprised to find signs saying “no overnight docking”. Thankfully, Azade Hache, Captain of the Miramichi Boat Tours, called city hall on our behalf and got permission for us to tie up for the night. Richie Wharf  is the site of Miramichi’s former thriving shipbuilding industry and today, the park has a shipbuilding theme and a nautical themed playground for children. Later, we were visited by Jeff and Paul from Miramichi’s City Hall to welcome us and confirm we were ok to dock there for the night. They outlined plans the city has to expand their visitor dock space to encourage more boat traffic. The docking for us was free, but they did suggest we might spend some money in town during our visit. 

The Ritchie Wharf park is extremely well used by the community. Through the summer there free concerts nightly. Over 200 locals and visitors attended the country music concert the night we were there and the deck for dancing was being well used. There were boutiques, a restaurant, the all important ice cream shop and a lovely display of old photographs of historic Miramichi. For me, the best ones were the tall sailing ships from Europe and South Africa tied up at Ritchie Wharf and loading up on lumber for their return trip. For others, maybe it is the photo of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Mirimichi. 

Miramichi's nautical themed waterfront

Miramichi's waterfront boutiques

Tug'n & Encore at Ritchie Wharf

The tidal water makes it all the way up the Miramichi River to the town with a 4’ plus tidal range. When the flood tide comes in against the prevailing south west wind, the wave action makes the sections of dock move up and down like a wave. This, combined with boat traffic made the docks extremely noisy and somewhat uncomfortable. So, this was clearly going to be a one night stay. In the morning, we visited the town and did some grocery shopping. A local men’s wear shop had a great sale on and Bob, Lee and I all found some clothes and Fran got a haircut. So, all in all, we felt we’d lived up to our commitment to spend some money in town. 

Bob & Fran at Ritchie Wharf

As our next port of call was almost 90 nautical miles away, we decided we’d depart Miramichi that afternoon to get a head start and get out of the river and anchor in Bay du Vin, about 20 miles down stream and almost out in to Miramichi Bay. We rode the ebb tide out, giving us a lift of about 1.5 knots and anchored in a rather shallow area, forcing us to be 3/4 of a mile from shore. It was lovely to be anchored out and we enjoyed happy hour in our cockpit. We knew the high temperatures and humidity created the opportunity for a thunderstorm and indeed it happened. We had an hour’s warning watching dark clouds build and hearing the rumble of thunder. Then at 2000 hours, it hit with lots of thunder and lightening all around, heavy rain and winds in the mid 30 knot range with gusts up to 46 knots. Before long, we had 3 to 4 foot waves making for a very dramatic scene. We kept in touch with the other two boats on VHF radio for the duration of the worst of the storm, which lasted about 25 minutes. Gradually, the wind settled down and within an hour, the thunder was moving off in the distance. All our anchors held well and we were greatly relieved when the storm passed.

Wind blowing 35 knots out our pilot house window

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