NB - Kayak Quebec - Iles de la Madeleine Magdalene Islands - 2002/06/29 to 2002/07/05

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The Magdalene Islands ( Iles de la Madeleine) are spectacular and it’s people are for the most part a joy and testament to the fortitude that is required for survival on small northern islands.

by Julio Perez

6/29 – Left Cape Cod at 5:35 AM to arrive at Calais, ME by 2:30 PM. Stayed at the Riverside Motel room #75 overlooking the St. Croix River.

Evening – Drove around Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. Did not see much.

6/30 - Up at 5:00 AM - Saw a coyote, two moose and one Bald Eagle before arriving at the my put in. On the water by 5:20 AM. Put in was at the roadside park that accesses the national historic site at St. Croix Island - one of the first colonial outposts in the continent, established in 1604. The tide was ebbing with no detectable wind.

St. Croix Island is small with only six acres dry at high tide. The island is rocky except for two small beaches at the south end. As I was leaving the cove for the island, I spotted a Bald Eagle abandoning a piece of fish on a nearby rock. Soon after I spotted a little black head moving toward me, it turned out to be an otter. The next little black head turned out to be a seal. The seal followed me around a rocky outcropping north of the island until we caught up with his friends. As it turns out, this outcrop is part of the island during mid to low tides. Viewing the island from the Canada side was a treat. Water like glass, black rocks textured by haphazardly strewn seaweed, red cliffs, bright green grass and dark green pine reaching to the blue sky. From my arrival at the parking lot I had thought I heard loons and sure enough just around the south shore there they were a male and female with three young on her back. An ebbing tide and moderate current slow my progress north but allow me leisure to view the spectacular coast line. It is spare of houses on the Canada side and noticeably populated on the U.S. side. On my return to the cove, I am again struck by the beauty of a sun that shed soft light on sand, red stone cliffs, forests of conifers, and small shore homes.

The water remains like glass, although it moves rapidly toward the Bay of Fundy. I arrive back at my put in to find that during my paddle of less than two hours the has receded by about eight feet. I guess I have now touched the infamous Fund tides. The design of piers hints at the extreme tides.

Floating piers with pilings extending 40-50 feet from the water.

Local natives at the time of European arrival were the Passamaquaddy. The earliest known European settlement was on St. Croix Island. This settlement was short lived due to the loss of most of the 100 original inhabitants. By the first winter 79 settlers remained and by the next summer ,when re-supply ships finally arrived only 35 had survived. Soon after, the settlement was moved down river to a site near the current town of Annapolis Royal.

The tide is out.

6/30 9:00 AM– After catching up on journal entries, breakfast at the Wickachee Dining Room and gassing up, I’m headed for the great north. I expect to spend the night in Souris, Prince Edward Island. I think souris means rat in French. There must be a story here.

4:00 PM – I’m at Souris and sure enough it means rat or mouse. The town was apparently over run with rodents early in the 20th century. For tonight a meal and a search to put in on the Souris river.

7/1/02 – Happy Canada Day

6:28 am – I am pleasantly surprised to see that tides here are moderate (2.5-4 ft). I put in at the public ramp on the town side of the bridge crossing the Souris River. I head northwest into this shallow river with a narrow, channel that winds through thousands of mussel and oyster farm buoys

Shellfish buoys

What is most noticeable to a guy from the frequently house cluttered shores of the Chesapeake is that in the upper 1.5 miles of the river there are a total of five houses. The scenery is typical of PEI with deep red rocks and soil, a thousand shades of green between earth and sky and cotton ball clouds floating beneath deep blue. The mild winds (4-8mph) are just enough to add texture to the water.

The Avalanche Restaurant - This quaint eatery is tucked into the right side of the Tourist Info. Center in the middle of town. The one room has the kitchen, register and nine tables. Except for over cooked, steamed vegetables, the two meals I had there were tasty, reasonably priced and imaginative.

Venture Out Cycle and Kayak - This place is on the right as you drive into town. They rent bikes and boats and guide trips in the area. You can usually put in behind the building. The very gradual slope of the shore may have you dragging the boat for 100-200 yards before you can paddle.

Their recommended trips were : Greenwich - The Fortune River - Spry Pt. - Basin Head

On the ferry.

The Iles de la Madeleine are part of Quebec so it is not surprising that most of those preparing to travel with me on the ferry are French speakers. In fact I had heard so much French over the past day that hearing English attracted attention

Praise Garmin

Believe it or not the Magdalene Islands are on the Garmin basic map. I discovered this when, four hours into the trip, I turned on the GPS to see how far we had traveled this morning. But don’t make the praise too grandiose because the map has the Magdalenes as part of Nova Scotia instead of Quebec.

Arrive in I de M at 7 PM local time, somehow I managed to check at Pluvier des Isles with my poor French and the lovely attendants limited English. After check in, tent set-up and dropping off some gear I’m out in search of put in sites in the north islands. Several of the Magdalene Islands are in fact connected by causeway, dunes beaches or marshes. The two non-connected islands are Isle d’entrée, Brion, Corps Mort, Shag, Rochers aux Oisiaux. The principal city is Cap aux Meules on the island of the same name and this is also the city where the ferry arrives. The other two towns on this island are Etang du Nord, with it’s beautiful, small port on the West and Fatima, known for it’s red cliffs on the north.

The highest point on the Magdalenes is Big Hill (imaginative Ehh?) on Ile d’Entrée. At 174 meters this hill is memorable for the red cliffs that nearly surround it.

Big Hill

My first view of Big Hill was from the ferry. This allowed me to appreciate the cliffs color but this memory is somewhat tainted by the soot and smell of the ships engines burning Bunker, a stinky low grade diesel fuel.

7/2/02 - Iles de la Madeleine

The woods at Les Pluvier des Isles are full of mosquitoes, but I must comment that they are very cultured insects. So far they have only fed on me at a proper dinner time. The tent is roomy enough but sleep was typically not restful, at least for the first night on the ground. I awoke to full daylight at 4:30 AM but lazed until 6:00. Dressed, packed boat and was on the road by 6:30. First stop Tim Hortons (Canada’s Starbucks/Duncan Donuts) for coffee and pastries. This morning I’m heading to L’etang du Nord at the west end of this island. This is a nice small town port with island charm and a small island close by where sea birds roost. Ile aux Geolands is accessible from an in town, beach put in (to the right of the public ramp) or a beach put in at the end of Chemin de Delaney. The put in at Chemin de Delaney allows approaching the island in full view. This island like so many of the small islands is red sandstone that has been whitewashed with guano for centuries. Cormorant, Black Guillemot, gulls and terns young and mature. This is a short ( 2.2mi) but scenic paddle that served me as good warm up to local conditions.

From L’etang du Nord I head east to South199 to a site on the Baie du Havre aux Basques that is marked for sailboarding. This put in is in the southern part on a low dune with scattered marsh grasses near the water. The water is very shallow (<1ft) for >1/4 mi). Enough to float a kayak but slowing progress considerably. My exploration begins with the islands at the southeast corner of the bay. The 20-25mph winds from the south are apparently typical for this area and make for a slow approach. Three small spits of sandy marsh separate the larger bay from the one mile long Baie du Portage in the SE. This is a secluded area with three short creeks and lots of wading birds. The conifers in the high ground give the area a nice wind shadow. On leaving the area, I skirt the islands and am attacked by a variety of gulls and terns that are protecting hundreds of down covered young. I paddle the southern coast of the Baie du Havre aux Basques ¼ to ½ mi off shore to avoid running aground. More than ½ mi off the west shore the water is too shallow to paddle through so I begin to head north expecting help from the stiff southerly wind. The wind was helpful in my new direction (N) but it was impossible to surf the waves due to the drag from the shallow water. The narrow sand bars shown on my map were in fact long wide islands that prevented paddling to the north end on the lagoon. Turning South for my return, I now had the wind as my plague for the last 3 miles of this mornings trip. Most memorable of this trip was meeting Estefan, who grew up here and had returned on vacation for the wind surfing and to share his copious local knowledge with me. I will also not forget the gull attack near the islands north of Baie du Portage. Trip total 9.6 miles/ 3 ½ hours.

Now home to my tent - eat drink siesta and out to RECON for the next outing.

Ile Rouge

7/3 Out early to walk the beach and trails on Dune du Nord. The paddle today is in the Lagune du Havre aux Maisons. Put in across from the fish plant on route 199( the blue building). There is a dirt road that leads out to a small beach marked Pointe Nelson on local charts.

The wind remains from the south 25-30km/hr gusting to 40. Temperature in the mid 60’s – a bright overcast day. From the windward side Ile Rouge is a treat with it’s thousands on birds falling all over each other, mostly Cormorants and gulls. The welcoming committee of two hundred or so flew up and dropped guano squirts as confetti.

Foul Fowl

The island was a deep red with off white bird poop for contrast. From the leeward side the odor was overpowering.

Iles de Cinchonas

It felt like I was breathing ammonia and old gym socks. From Ilea Rouge I paddled toward the bridge and played in the current and waves until I arrived at the channel to the south of. Ilea de Cinchonas. Ilea de Cinchonas is a dramatic contrast to Ilea Rouge.

Iles de Cinchonas is almost completely covered with grass and shows its red color only on the small east side cliffs. From the east of Ilea de Cinchonas one can enjoy the view of one of the prettiest communities on the islands at Cap Monett.

The Magdalene’s - land of hardware and paint stores.

From my first drive though I noticed that paint was advertised and sold all over the place and every community had several hardware and nautical gear stores. This is, apparently, because a huge proportion of houses in the islands are made of wood and require regular attention. Of those wooden houses, maybe 40% are painted outrageous colors with window details a complimentary bright color. This characteristic of the Magdalenes made every, otherwise mundane, drive entertaining. My favorite was a house on Rt.199 driving north from Cap aux Meules. The house was bright purple, with bright yellow windows. And in the drive way was a vintage VW bus in the same shade of yellow as the windows.

From Iles de Conchons I headed due north in search of windwaves and seals. I found both. The 40 km winds blew me across the 2mi+ bay in 15-20 minutes. I had to work hard to keep from beaching on the island with the seals. Two large males came out to investigate and show their disapproval of my visit. The colony consisted of 3 or 4 large males about 8 females and 4 very young ones. The next challenge was taking a picture while being pelted by windwaves every two to three seconds. I stopped at an adjacent island to watch them but after ten minutes out of the boat I was shivering in the wind. I resumed by allowing the wind to ferry me to Cap Vert and the beautiful grass covered red cliffs. It took some planning to get a picture because by the time I got the camera out and composed I was blown 100 yards closer to my subject. It was worth the effort to appreciate foamy water beating tossed at red cliffs that were topped by green grass, brightly colored houses and a graying sky that accented the colors.

Ile Rouge II

7/4 5:50 Up to pack, Tim Horton’s and at my put in by 6:45. This mornings put in is at the old bridge site as one enters Grosse Ile. The temp is again in the low 60’s, with no wind to speak of. Today is for exploration of Havre de la Grand Entrée. My first destination today is yet another Ile Rouge.

The Rookery

This Ile Rouge is a very similar island in size, shape and inhabitants to the one previously described near Havre aux Maisons. The island is 150 x 50 yards although it appeared initially much longer. The confusion stems from the fact that Ile Rouge was superimposed on Islot B, an island one mile away and one mile wide. Islot B is really just a sand bar with a maximum altitude of 3-5 feet. There however, the birds got more interesting. There were 4 or 5 species of Tern, 3 species of Gull and the young were all over from the nest bound downy chicks to those near the size of their parents trying their flight feathers.

Ile de Chanal

Once around to the southeast coast of the island I could see my next destination, Pointe de la Grand Entrée SSE of my position. Progress was good through most of the 3 nautical mile crossing but typical of these lagoons, once out of the channel there is less than two feet of water and noticeable drag for the last ¼ mile to the point. The water was even shallower around Ile de Chenal.

The drag was offset by some great scenery. This area, being less settled than the islands in the south, offers a combination of man made and natural scenery that made it my favorite of the trip so far. Red cliffs with caves burrowed by the wind and water, colorful communities with green lawns, simple white churches perched near the cliffs and beaches backed by conifer forests.

Lungue Point

The scenery was enticing enough to draw me to shallow, slower waters without complaint. Here on Lungue Pointe I found my fantasy house. A green house in it’s own little valley, in a meadow backed by a small forested area. The coast before it peppered with caves in red stone and bordered by two very personal beaches. Each is less than 100 meters long and accessible only by water or trails leading from the house.

Baie Ole Harry

This was the first time during this trip that I truly wished I had company to share it with. The beaches near Baie Old Harry redefined the concept for me.

Just near the end of Longue Pointe is one of those beaches who’s curves seem to end in nirvana. This beach redefined my concept of beaches. I grew up in Cuba near some of the most spectacular beaches in the Caribbean and have defined beaches by the log starches of white sand, palms, and Sea Grape trees. On this day I met a new beauty. A curvaceous beach, of pink sand, scattered red sand stones in the shallows embraced by undercut red cliffs covered by tall grasses and backed by conifers wrapped in peeling gray lichens. Spectacular.

Here is where the wind gods stopped favoring me. After a long break at my beach I sought to explore Baie Old Harry 700x300 meters. It was the picture of seclusion in the forest-viewed from the water. Upon landing you noticed that you were only 30-40 meters from the road. I turned north out of the bay then NE toward Grosse Ile where the 30-40 km winds drove me north into a confusing pattern of buoys that covered an area 1.5x2.25 nautical miles in the lagoon. These were two large Blue Mussel culture leases. This crossing became quite wet when I had to take the wind and waves from my right side in order to travel between the two float marked areas. At the end of the longer of the leases I turn north and enjoyed the ride to an interesting view. There was a saltbox cape cod in a meadow, above a cliff, at least 100 feet high. The house was surrounded by a lawn then a forest; but no visible way to get to the house. There was no road, stairway, pier or path. It seemed the epitome of the saying – “ it’s a nice place but you can’t get there from here.”

I arrived at my point of origin at precisely the time that the fishermen I met returned. Between my poor French and their limited English we managed to communicate. When they found out how far I had paddled they thought I was crazy (a point that I no longer argue) and when I saw their catch I thought they were crazy too. The poor guys must have traveled 10 miles per pound of fish. Well at least they had some fish to show for their troubles. All I had was a wet butt and hunger.

By 11:40 AM packed up and heading for food after 16+ miles in beautiful Havre de Grand Entrée.

On this night, I was lulled to sleep by a touch of exhaustion, prematurely dark skies and the patter of rain on my tent. Within two hours that rain pelted the tent as if shot at it and the once distant thunder approaches and becomes a nearly continuous groan from the south. Somehow I manage sleep with the sounds of a complete rhythm section approaching but that slumber loses the battle to the bright flashes of lightning and crack of nearby thunder that shakes the ground under me. This storm both aggravated and amazed me. It was so close that it felt like my personal tempest. I was repeatedly awakened by the clamor until 4:00am when the rain resumed it’s patter and a thick fog blanket was left to comfort the beaten island.

Launch into low surf.

7/5 6:30 I am disappointed that on my last day here I may not get the boat in the water. Visibility is very poor, the breeze is mild and now predominantly from the north.

I make my pilgrimage to Tim Hortons and miraculously after a large coffee and two croissants I am thinking clearly again and have found a short but interesting paddle for the day. There is a great light on Cap Alright that should make for good photos. An easy put in is across from Le Fumoir d’Antam on the south coast of Ile du Havre aux Maisons. Launch was easy into 1-2ft breaking surf then comfortable paddling into 3-4ft swells from the northeast.

Harve du Maisons

This small harbor is picturesque with a nice beach, red cliffs and a long stone jetty. As I leave the harbor I recall ( from yesterdays drive) the majestic coast that will lead me to the lighthouse and the long beach on the other side.

The swells build so that as I try to photograph the lighthouse from ¼ miles out, the roller coaster sensation makes for anxiety. There is enough water moving under me that taking 3 seconds for a photo requires me to shoot, drop the camera, grab the paddle and brace. I drift within 200 yards of shore and the rocks and notice that the lighthouse that is marked 58 meters high (191 ft.) is partially obscured by the swells now above me.

At this point I’m glad I’m wearing my dry suit, have a solid roll and the good sense to get the hell outa here before I need the first two items. My return to harbor is marked by a good ride on the waves and some sadness and a longing for more time or a return trip.

The Magdalenes are spectacular and it’s people are for the most part a joy and testament to the fortitude that is required for survival on small northern islands. I want to thank the folks at Pluvier des Isles, Aerosport and Produits Marins for providing me with the local knowledge to make this trip safe and enjoyable.

On my return I want to do trips to Ile d’entrée, the north coast from L’etang du Nord to Dune du Nord, Grand Entrée to Pointe del’Est and Ile Brion.




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