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20 July 2014

Vive la France!

Sunday July 20, 2014

Vive la France!

20 July 2014
Sunday July 20, 2014
McCallum, South Shore, Newfoundland and Labrador

We Made it to France and We Didn't Have to Cross the Ocean

Who knows if Eric and I will ever cross an ocean on Mad Dash. If we do, I might have to get a tattoo. Eric isn't a big fan of deliveries, which is essentially getting a boat from one place to another without stopping for a lobster roll and taking in a bit of scenery. Deliveries for me are a challenge. A challenge in sleep deprivation, concentration, and well, lets be frank, hygiene. If you are in rolly seas for hours, even days on end, really there is no stable opportunity to have a nice little shower, fix the hair and reapply the lip gloss. Our trip to St. Pierre and Miquelon from Halifax, a 48 hour journey at sea entombed in fog, was yet another one of those voyages where changing your t-shirt and putting on another layer of deodorant while holding on to something fixed, was essentially having a shower.

Day 1, we were in a cab en route to Pearson airport in Toronto, with my 69.3 pounds of duffel bags in the trunk, talking about Hurricane Arthur and checking its projected path on our iPhones. Our friend, Scott MacLeod, in Halifax, who had spent the last two years tirelessly planning the bi-annual Halifax to St. Pierre Sailboat Race, was undoubtedly pulling his hair out at this point. It was 5 days before the race. I mean, for God's sake, they were feverishly baking croissants in France for us, and stocking extra wine and unpasturized cheese! Arthur was becoming a Weight Watchers weather bomb! We were not officially registered in the race, but were tagging along. It was a perfect stop for us as we made our way to investigate the shores of southern Newfoundland for three weeks. (St. Pierre and Miquelon are only 25 km from the south tip of the Burin peninsula in NL).

Arthur, turned into a tropical storm and unfortunately wreaked havoc on the southern tip of Nova Scotia and dumped a lot of rain in New Brunswick causing a big floody mess. We were still on for St. Pierre though and continued with our preparations. The south shore of Newfoundland is spotted with small towns and villages, many of which don't have any roads and use the ocean to get around. From word of mouth, this meant I may want to stock up on foodstuffs for the trip. The day before leaving I was in the Superstore, deciding on produce based on longevity. For the record, in my days at sea studying the deterioration of many types of produce in our little fridge, zip-locked romaine heads, carrots, celery, radishes, apples and potatoes are all good bets for long trips.

I saw some French guys in the meat department pondering over that weird sandwich meat area next to the bacon, and guessed that they were from St. Pierre here for the race. I introduced myself to the crew of Ososoy as a fellow sailor, and told them in my basic French that there was a better deli area "a gauche de la pain". I remember in Beaufort, North Carolina, I was in the Piggly Wiggly, and all they had was that weird deli stuff next to the bacon and no other deli area. Back then, I felt like I was going to provision the boat with white powdered mini donuts and bologna that didn't seem to have a first name or a last name. (Beaufort is an amazing place though - with wonderful people and a Harbourmaster that lends out 1970's Oldsmobiles to boaters who tie up at the marina to get around town. Flash forward, I was able to see Eric at age 85, when I saw him put the Oldsmobile in gear with the large stick attached to the steering wheel - this is how we got to the Piggly Wiggly. By the way - I love saying Piggly Wiggly so much, that it is now frowned upon if you speak the words on Mad Dash). I did end up finding half price brie at the Superstore that day in Halifax, and I embarked on a goodwill mission for our visiting French sailors and delivered them the brie (and some leftover strawberry mousse I made for a BBQ the night before). This commercialized version of French brie was probably an offence to their tastebuds and maybe they used it as bait for fishing.

St. Pierre - Rocks, Fog and Fishing Collide with Chic and Style

I've got to hand it to the French. Situate them anywhere, even thousands of miles across the ocean from their geographical headquarters on a tiny island, so rocky and so raw, and they manage to make their lifestyle chic, sophisticated and worldly. Despite the relentless, damp, foggy, windy, harsh climate, they can walk down their quaint little streets with fresh pastries neatly tied in cute boxes with pink and green ribbons (really) and have their scarves tied ever so perfectly. (I will never ever master the art of tying scarves like the French - I hope someone on St. Pierre will someday take me to their secret scarf tying school and find me a scarf mentor.)

On a map, St. Pierre and Miquelon is essentially the period at the end of the North American continent sentence. Only 25 km from the southern tip of NL, they receive a ferry that leaves from Fortune, and regularly drops off mostly Canadian and American tourists; along with cruise ships that dock in St. Pierre harbour.

The locals are extremely hospitable, warm and friendly. Each boat in the Halifax St. Pierre race is assigned a local host - or "grand-pere/grand-mere", who take care of all your needs while you are visiting, along with providing a big dinner. Since Eric and I on Mad Dash, were not officially in the race (tag alongs!), we didn't have a grand-pere/grand mere but were adopted by Mike and Andrew from Sea Smoke's hosts Jean-Pascal and Frederich and Scott from Easy Company's hosts Denis and Natalie. As you can very well-expect, their combined BBQ dinner we were invited to, was outstanding! Really lovely people, who of course, can cook up a storm and master a BBQ like no other. There were snacks with wine, then more wine, then steaks, chicken, ribs, salads, more wine, then the CHEESE COURSE, which, frankly, was the Best. Cheese. Ever. And then the pastries. Multitudes of them - all delicious, creamy, chocolatey, flaky melt-in-your-mouth pieces of perfection. Then more wine, and some sort of sweet type of wine that I never got the name of.

Frederich gave me a tour of her backyard. She had a vegetable garden and a wonderful greenhouse (which a lot of them seem to have due to the lack of a long warm growing season) and showed me her potato, lettuce, rhubarb and tomato plants. She even had a small grape vine that was taking off by leaps and bounds - I think the French could grow grapes in the Antarctic given the chance. The thing is, is the island is basically all rock. There is no real soil to speak of. Where does Frederich get the soil? Well, it gets imported from France. She showed me an area where she had a bunch of small wind-swept pine trees where she told me about her plans to create an "orangerie" with chairs, tables and a bench. The way she described it to me sounded so beautiful and cozy, I could just imagine it all in its wonderful French style!

The rest of our visit on St. Pierre was fantastic. The cute shops, great restaurants, beautiful scenery (once the fog disappeared!) and fascinating history. Like most parts of this area of the world, its history seemed to follow a familiar pattern. Some guy in the 15th century, an explorer from Europe, who had more cajones than all the current world leaders combined, drifted off on a boat, never really knowing day by day in the open water if the ocean was suddenly going to come to an end and he would fall off the edge of the earth in what I imagine was envisioned as Niagara Falls on steroids. (*Note - the exception here is that the Vikings arrived in 1000 AD in L'Anse aux Meadows at the tip of Newfoundland, thus being the first Europeans to discover this area. Even more interesting is that archeologists found a burial mound of Maritime Archaic Indians from 7,500 years ago in L'Anse Amour in the Labrador Straits - the oldest burial mound in the world!)

So, the explorer finds new land, Europe sends more people to settle. They find the land harsh and go home. But more somehow arrive, make a go of it, build a fishing industry. Then the European countries realize that hey, there's a lot of fish out there. Then they fight over the newly settled territory for a couple of hundred years - finally come to a conclusion as to who gets the territory. Then there are a few more skirmishes. Meanwhile fishing continues. Eventually the area becomes over-fished. The fish populations dwindle to scary levels, so much so that the government says whoa, we've got to stop this for a while. The fishing industry is threatened, and fishing villages dry up and disappear or new ways of making a living evolve. For St. Pierre, public works provide a lot of jobs now. A new airport was built in 1999, a new hospital was just completed and a new power plant is in the pipeline. Tourism also helps.

Interestingly, one of St. Pierre's claims to fame, is that the island was the only place in North America to ever use the guillotine, and they only used it once. A guy committed murder in the 1880's so they ordered a guillotine from France, and had it shipped over. We saw it in the museum. The problem was that no one wanted to do the deed on the island. So they got the new guy on the island to do it. The whole town, including children, were forced to watch, to basically say - hey - you want to murder someone, this is what happens. Gruesomely, the guillotine didn't quite do the job and thankfully, the new guy had his fishing knife with him to finish it.

We left St. Pierre on a sunny morning and saw all of its angles without the weight of a blanket of fog. There were massive amounts of birds flying all around it's northern tip. And as I have come to realize, where there are birds, there are usually seals, dolphins or whales. And in this case whales. A lot of them. We could hear the water coming out of their spouts, see their backs popping out every so often while many different types of seabirds along with my beloved puffins circled around looking for leftovers. A nice parting cadeaux from St. Pierre.

Taking a Leap

Eric and I were crammed in the back seat of a mini-van that gives 1 hour tours of St. Pierre, along with two other couples. The French, whom I would define as a touchy-feely populous, I think have a different sense of personal space than what I perceive. Which may be a good thing, as the world would be better off with a few extra kisses on the cheek these days. The woman squished beside me was French (I was sitting in the middle just like I normally do on airplanes, like a sacrificial lamb, so Eric can have the window seat).

We are stopped at the top of a hill that overlooks the south shore of St. Pierre, a beautiful panorama of steep rocks, hillsides and pastures in the distance. The French woman turns to me and exclaims, "Ohhh, der is a boy - jumping, off de cliff!" Just as I turn to see what she is pointing at, very far down below, I see a dot of a human against the rocky cliffs jump into the churning cove below. Beside where the van is stopped there is a mountain bike and a t-shirt attached to it. The French woman tells the French driver what just happened and he says in English, "Out of my tirty years on St. Pierre, I never seen dat, ever..." He gets out of the van with one other man, the van is silent, and they go look for the boy to pop up out of the water. It is an odd angle from atop and they can't see anything. After five minutes the van driver calls the Gendarme (police) to report the incident and we carry on with the end of the tour. It's a bit odd, as we don't find out what happened to this kid. We can only assume that the gendarme are going to make sense of it all.

The next day we leave St. Pierre and head to Fortune, Newfoundland to start our journey on the south shore of the province. We knew that Larry, a Virginia native, from Dawn Treader, who was in the Halifax - St. Pierre race, with his hired mate, was taking a five day diversion to cruise the south shore of NL as well, and was clearing in with customs in Fortune and also heading to Grand Bank for the night. We see them come in at about 6:30 p.m. and they raft up next to us (as there is no where else to go - small harbour).

Being completely wined-out, cheesed-out and croissant-ed out from France, I lay down and feel the oncoming low pressure inside my head (huge winds that night!). Eric goes over to Dawn Treader for a few hours and chats to Larry and his hired hand, 20-year-old Wheeler from Minnesota. In my cheesy hangover-haze later I look up at Eric, who is back on board, who says to me, "Wait until you see this video Wheeler has, it is going to BLOW YOUR MIND!" Next morning, I make banana muffins and invite Larry and Wheeler on board for coffee.

Wheeler is a bright guy - he runs a small business for himself working on boats in Newport, RI in the summer and is off to university in Colorado in the fall. Larry, a long-time maritime lawyer, is strong-minded and I think has met his perfect match in Wheeler, who comes across as the kind of kid who can work in all types of situations. Wheeler brings out his iPhone and starts to show me this video Eric has been anxious for me to see. My eyes pop right out of my head as I stare at a Go-Pro video of Wheeler, jumping off a cliff in St. Pierre, popping up out of the 50-degree water with a big smile and turning off the Go-Pro camera. "Holy crap - you're the guy! We thought you were dead!", I said startled. Wheeler said the police showed up and said a bunch of stuff to him in French that he didn't understand, et voila, they parted ways and that was it. Wheeler did measure his risks in advance. He swam out into the frigid waters to check the depths and study the rocks. He carefully set up his Go-Pro and kept it running to catch the big jump. Although, he did say when he was jumping off the cliff, he thought to himself that he wasn't clearing the rocks as much as he thought he would.

I don't know why the universe spits out little coincidences like these. What is the purpose of knowing Wheeler's extreme sporting adventures? Do I think he's a bit nutty? Yes. Do I admire him? Yes. Maybe it's all about just taking one big leap and hoping that it all goes well.

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