When we left Candler yesterday morning at 5am, we were intending to make an 80 NM passage to Mirimichi and anchor behind Portage Island. The weather, however, had other ideas.
As the tide was low, at 5:30am we warped the boat off the fuel dock at the Chandler Marina and keeping to the outside in the deeper side of the channel between the two docks made our way out of the marina. The sun was hidden behind gray skies and the wind was light. The 3AM forecast had said winds would be light then south 10 to 15. There were a few waves, but nothing like the day before so we headed out. We figured that if we could maintain an average of 6 knots, we could make the anchorage in 14 hours, before nightfall.
Unfortunately, conditions deteriorated throughout the day. Winds became 20-25 from the southwest, meaning we were bashing nose to wind, making for an uncomfortable and bouncy ride. We motor-sailed, but we were not able to point directly towards our destination due to the waves. Unlike the large gentle waves of the previous morning, these waves were short, choppy and if you didn't catch them exactly right, the boat would go over one and then slam down hard into the next wave. It was a very gray day, with the water and the sky seeming to meld into one another and there were intermittent showers. Sometimes, a wave would be steeper than you expected and you had to react quickly to navigate it smoothly. This also meant hand steering, which is so much more tiring than autopilot. If you didn't gauge the wave right, you slammed into, tossing the boat wildly. At one point, I was below in the bow getting something and Jay didn't successfully react to the wave and I actually went airborne. My feet left the floor as the boat dropped from underneath my feet and then rushed back up. I was holding on to the doorknob so I have a few minor bruises but managed not to injure myself severely. Needless to say we didn't send a lot of time below.
By 4pm it was clear we were not going to make our intended destination before dark. We had veered so far off course that it was going to take more daylight than we had left to reach the anchorage. In the waves, we had also slowed to about 5 knots. As this coast of New Brunswick has lots of shifting sand dunes we were not comfortable with entering a strange anchorage at night. We briefly considered back tracking to Shippigan Gully, but according to guidebooks it is a fishing port with no amenities. Also, we knew we would soon cross into the Northumberland Strait which had light winds all day and so the seas should calm down. There is a 45 NM stretch from Shippigan Gully to Mirimichi where there is no place to pull in, anchor or tie up. Richibucto, Buctouche or Shediac were options.
Our spare diesel jerry cans were lashed onto the bow but some strong waves crashing over the sides had dislodged both. I was keeping a wary eye on them and planning as soon as the waves calmed to go forward and re-lash them. After one particularly large wave, the port side jerry can slipped over the side, with only a small rope (the secondary line) keeping it attached to the boat. Jay donned his life jacket and safety line and, with me slowing the boat right down to keep it as steady as possible, he went forward to rescue the jerry can, keeping himself tied on with his safety line at all times. With the boat slowed down, the waves were manageable, so we decided to top up our fuel by empting both cans into the tank. Less than twenty minutes later we were on our way again.
As we moved into the Northumberland Strait, waves and wind quieted and sailing became relatively smooth. However, as darkness fell, it was pitch black. The cloud cover was so heavy, no moon or stars were in evidence, nor were any lights from land visible.The rain at times was so heavy we could not see any lights on shore. The radar and the chartplotter were all that kept us moving. We were adrift in a sea of darkness. We could see small intense rain showers on the radar and track them as they approached.
Despite the blackness of the night, we made relatively good time. Our course took us close to West Point PEI. Around 11pm, after some discussion, we decided that since Summerside was not more than 2-3 hours further than Shediac, we would push on and rather than enter Shediac Bay before sunrise, we would enter Summerside Harbour just after daybreak.
The night passed uneventfully as we motor-sailed in about 10 knots of wind. Although Jay saw many lobster buoys, while I was on the wheel, it was so dark and rainy I never saw any. As I took the helm at 5am, I watched the sky lighten as Summerside, PEI came into view. I have never seen such a welcome sight.
After a 150NM and a 25 hour crossing we were home in PEI. We still have to sail to our home base in Souris, but it is really great to be back in PEI!