Tuesday, September 19th, 2006
The crew of the Picton Castle enjoyed a short stay in the town of Gaspé, sailing in late Monday afternoon and leaving Wednesday morning. The ship was anchored in the middle of the bay and skiff runs dropped us off at the yacht club behind a stone breakwater. From there it was a short walk over the bridge into the commercial centre of town. Most of the downtown area was under construction, which slowed tourism for this summer, but they have hopes of drawing more people in future summers with the improvements. Many of the crew found the local bakery and a few other shops, and had a chance to practice speaking French. Those who can’t speak French didn’t have much worry though; most people in Gaspé also speak English very well.
The whole Gaspé peninsula was a beautiful sight from the ship, with leaves on some of the trees just starting to turn bright red and orange. We were lucky to have light wind from the northwest for most of the day on Wednesday, which meant we could sail out of the Bay of Gaspé. Most hands felt it was a slow sail, especially compared to the speed we had been making in the St. Lawrence River, but were happy to sail nonetheless. Just before dinner the wind shifted and we took in all sail, turning on Big Blue (the trusty diesel engine) once again.
We motored through the night and most of Thursday, arriving in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, late on Thursday afternoon. We received quite a welcome in Summerside from Ron Casey of Downtown Summerside and the Youth Ambassadors who were dressed in period costume. Ron, who is a great friend of the Picton Castle and of the Captain’s, had a ton of great things planned for us. He offered to take people out to dig clams, pick potatoes, and see the island. He also arranged a dinner on Saturday night, showers at the Silver Fox Yacht and Curling Club, and burlap potato sacks full of local maps and information for every crew member.
Friday morning I went digging for clams with Ron, the Captain and Dave (the cook). Ron took us to a good spot near the Confederation Bridge at low tide and taught us to look for the holes in the sand, stick our shovels in and carefully extract the clam. It is more difficult than I imagined because it takes a while to find the clams, and it’s tough to not crunch their shells with the shovel. Imagine hiding raw eggs in a wet sandbox and having to find them and dig them out whole with a spade. After two hours of work we had almost two buckets full of whole clams and a scattered mess of wet, sandy holes and smashed shells. We went farther down the coast to see if we could also get some oysters and mussels. They attach themselves to rocks, so instead of digging we were prying them off. Filling the bucket went more quickly this time. We took all three buckets back to the ship and let them sit with water added to them for 24 hours so the sand would come out of the shells and settle to the bottom.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoons we opened the decks for tours, and we had a huge turnout of visitors. We also happened to be in Summerside the weekend of the air show, which ran both Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1430 until 1530. The show began with a demonstration of a sea rescue by the Coast Guard; then a single F-18 did a series of acrobatics, followed by a show from the Snowbirds—the Canadian military precision flying team of nine planes who do all sorts of tricks while flying very close together. A number of the crew watched the show from aloft, and at times the planes flew so close to the ground that people aloft on the royal yards were looking down on them! We had to stop deck tours during the air show, but we were a very popular attraction before and after the show.
Saturday night we enjoyed a traditional PEI corn and mussel boil. The corn and mussels were boiled and steamed in giant pots on propane burners on the pier, then brought aboard for people to eat. The mussels and the corn came from a local farm, and the food was fantastic. Almost the entire crew was there, along with a few invited guests. We even had entertainment with a local musician set up on the bridge to sing and play while dinner was prepared. The whole dinner was a great treat for the crew because the company was interesting, the food was hot and tasty, we could eat the whole meal with our hands, and the cleanup was minimal because we had paper plates.
Most of the crew were able to get away from the ship and see some of the island. With its red sand beaches, farms everywhere, and small fishing villages, PEI really is a beautiful place. The whole island province has only about 135,000 people. Fishing, farming and tourism make up their main economy, with most of their tourists coming in the summer. They have a few different driving routes laid out on tourist maps to include the best sights—everything from Anne of Green Gables attractions to natural scenery and quaint settlements. Definitely there is a lot to see and do on PEI.
Unfortunately it was time to say goodbye to our new friends in Summerside on Monday afternoon, as the Picton Castle headed out on the final leg of our summer voyage. We steamed out of Summerside harbour into a light easterly wind and headed out into the Northumberland Strait, passed under the new Confederation Bridge, and are now headed for the Strait of Canso and eventually Lunenburg.