A determined, malevolent wind pushed me off the Baie 7km or so west of Maisonnette. Despite an early start and the forecasted promise of an offshore wind, I simply could not push any farther than Grand Anse. Any thoughts that I might be able to make more were quickly dashed when I struggled to clear the breakwater protecting the harbour.
The shoreline beyond Grand Anse angled more east than north. This rather abrupt change meant that I was more exposed to the swells rolling in from the Atlantic and a strong easterly wind that was stirring up whitecaps further offshore. Grand Anse would do just fine. Tomorrow would be another day. Tomorrow might see me clear the last of a 7600km long seemingly endless procession of obstacles.Point Maisonnette is a low, windswept, rocky outcropping jutting out into Baie de Chaleur. Open to the south, east, and north, it is an unkind place in almost anything but a flat calm.The forecast had not changed appreciably for days. It also had failed over the same number of days to predict the strong easterly component to the breeze. I figured no appreciable change in the forecast would also mean no appreciable change in its accuracy. If I could get to Maisonnette early enough, I might be just ahead of a shift in the wind to the south and low tide. Too late and I would not be able to paddle upwind against a strong and building breeze in water barely deep enough to float the canoe let alone bury the blade of the paddle.
I paddled out of Grand Anse early. Hopeful. Expectant. Anxious. Curious. Clearing Maisonnette would put Shippagan within reach.Beyond the breakwater, conditions were perfect. Baie de Chaleur still slept and posed no problems. Point Maisonnette would be the last obstacle guarding Shippagan. I set out with a purpose, Maisonnette an unmistakeable smudge on the horizon.The forecast that had been predictably wrong was now unpredictably right. I began to struggle against a building headwind and increasing chop. Making Maisonnette before low water gradually faded from certain to probable to not.
I pushed around Point Maissonnette and into the teeth of a miserably stiff headwind blowing out of the southeast. The open water separating Maisonnette from Caraquet was bristling with whitecaps. I was pinned. To make doubly sure I was stuck, the tide was nearing low water exposing sandbars and weedy shallows strewn across and about the bay.Not wanting to call it a day just yet, I decided to do what any decent adventurer, explorer, or survivalist would do. I sat down and ate lunch.One eye on the whitecaps, and the other on the tide left little for lunch. Walking around Maisonnette for a better view of the approaches to Caraquet had me thinking that as soon as the tide allowed, I could paddle against the breeze long enough to make the shelter of the far shore. If I faltered, not able to push Kai Nani hard enough, I would simply be blown back to the Point and not out into the Baie de Chaleur properly.As is always the case, the go-no-go decision boiled down to a game of chance. The probability of success today versus the probability of success tomorrow. The probability of tiring before making the far shore. The probability of finding and staying in the channel where I could at least paddle. The probability of the wind not backing into the east any further.Tomorrow’s forecast was calling for much stronger easterly winds. East as in opposed. The weatherman in me said go.I was back in the canoe not long after noon. Head down, paddling at a pace I figured I could maintain for the hour it would take to transit the open part of the bay. Head down staring at the compass, now and then glancing left or right to make sure I was still in the channel. Head down, sweat-soaked, and driven by 6 months of anticipation, I made for Shippagan.I did not tire. I found and could remain in the channel. The wind did not back into the east. There was shelter on the far shore and behind L’Îlette de Pokesudie. The clouds that had been building on the western horizon stayed away, content to watch and not intervene. Unknowingly, I realized I had been smiling and paddling, or paddling and smiling, I know not which, for the last half-hour at least.For the first time, the very first time in over a year’s worth of planning and preparing, in nearly 6 months of paddling, portaging, walking, pulling, and hacking my way through brush and deadfall, I allowed the luxury of thinking I will make it as opposed to might. Today, barring lightning bolts shooting from a clear blue sky, I would be in Shippagan.
This is the first view I had of the westerly approaches to Shippagan. The smudge on the horizon is two hours away. There’s a bridge to go under, another tidal flat to cross, a stretch or two of open, likely choppy water, and as must always be, a final against the wind and tide. And, of course, a race against the rain. The 8 or 9 days out of ten all the way across Canada rain. For the first time in six months, none of all of that mattered. Out of habit, I glanced down, searching for the compass wanting and needing to check my course. I read East. Due East. Hands soaking wet, the compass itself wet from the water and accumulated sweat sloshing in the bottom of the canoe, I reached down, closed it’s cover and tucked it away. From here, I knew the way.
6:30pm Sept 27th and Kai Nani is at rest on the docks in Shippagan, New Brunswick just beyond the lobster boat in the middle of the frame. The clouds that had been building in the west held off long enough for me to make landfall. Just to prove a point, it started raining soon after I landed.Zombie-like, I stumbled through the normal routine of packing, grabbing, securing, and toting. Today, there would be no tomorrow paddling regardless of wind or weather. Of tide or deadline or even desire.Tomorrow, I could rest. One last night in the tent near my tiny, precious, enduring, and faithful Kai Nani was denied to me by acres ofgravel and what was, and looked to remain, one big party place. Leaving Kai Nani upside down and secreted away on the docks, I walked the two miles to the nearest motel in light rain, immune to the stares of passerbys and gawking children.Big Shippagan Light, still 8km away, was now a certainty. Landfall there would wait for the arrival in New Brunswick of my brother Jan and my sisters Stella and Leah. And, of course, for me.