Waiting at the ferry at Cap aux Meules in the Magdalen Islands, heading home to Ontario. The sun coming up over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. $192—plus fuel charge. The sky clear. CBC Radio says Hurricane Arthur is approaching, or what’s left of it.
Most of the cars in the lineup are from Quebec. The sports coupe behind us has Ontario plates. Hope we make it through the hurricane, I say to the Ontario guy. He huffs me off.
Park on the ferry, grab laptop, books, Sudoku, pencil. The ferry goes to Souris, PEI, takes five hours. Watch for whales. Whales that live in the St. Lawrence: beluga, killer, northern bottlenose, sperm, humpback, minke, northern right, fin, blue, other kinds too.
Give up looking for whales after three minutes. You could watch for hours and not see a single one. Do whales live in the St. Lawrence? Bison roam plains. Caribou migrate on tundra. The northern bottlenose floats? swims? exists? in the St. Lawrence.
Find a seat, comfortable enough. Start writing an article for my blog, Dining Out with History, about the Fromagerie Pied-de-Vent on Havre aux Maisons, where cheese makers use the milk of Canadienne cows, cross between Bretonne and Normande cows brought over from France in the seventeenth century.
The black Canadienne is the oldest breed of cow in Canada.
Waves swelling. The sky clear and bright. Must be the beginning of the storm. Walk over to the cafeteria, looking for a cheap sandwich. Food reasonably priced, a tad Frenchish, but still ferryish. Will wait for a better lunch when we land on Prince Edward Island.
The boat rises and then plunges down, rises and plunges.
A calm male voice speaking in French over the PA system at some length. Woman sitting across the aisle tilts her head and opens her eyes really wide. Try to appear concerned. Then the voice says in English, “This is your captain speaking,” etc., etc. Then: “There is heavy wind in Souris of between 90 and 110 kilometres per hour. We will do our best to land. But this may be impossible.”
Ferry sinkings around the world: Greece, South Korea, Zanzibar. Sit still, look out the window. Everyone very still; some sleep.
Wake up and the shoreline is close enough to jump out and swim to. Waves high and raucous. People on shore watching us; hair and clothes flapping in the wind. Waves crashing against the dock and against the ferry and spraying up on the ferry. Ferry takes a wide swing and heads back out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. People calling out: “Qu’est-ce qui passe?” “What is he doing?” “Calice!” Silence.
Then the same male voice on the PA—less calm—comes on, in French. Then in English, “Ladies and gentlemen, we were unable to land in Souris due to high winds. We are sailing for sheltered waters,” etc., etc., “until the wind changes. The winds are expected to shift at nine p.m. We may be able to attempt a landing then.”
More silence for a long time, a cough here and there. A woman begins to wail, “I don’t want to die out here.” She walks over to the corner and pukes. Sunburned guy wearing a Tilley hat pukes on his seat. Several more passengers puking. Two men in cute uniforms, with rags, sponges, spray bottles and bags. Brows furrowed. They look out the window. Then continue to the puke spots.
Waves banging against the ship. Was it like this with the Titanic? “I should have brought my violin,” I say to husband. Husband goes for a walk. Returns, having discovered a band playing in the bar, country music, with a drum machine. Twelve hours since we left.
In the dining room bar no one orders food; an air of social sophistication. The ballroom on the Titanic, stiff upper lips dancing the night away. I start writing for my blog about bagosse, a homebrew made of sugar, yeast, water, then flavoured with whatever one wants. Each family on the Magdalen Islands has their own recipe, passed down from one generation to the next.
Residents of the Magdalen Islands are called Madelinots.
The sun is falling toward the horizon. A couple playing Scrabble, laying down words in French. Histoire. Sortie. Eau. Regle. Ost. Rompe. Eh. The clock on the wall shows 9:00 p.m. The man at the Scrabble game leaves, comes back with two thick grey blankets. A group of men playing cards. Others playing board games. Some read. Two couples in the corner eating lobster sandwiches and drinking wine. Husband off to find blankets, comes back with one. Competition is stiff, he says. Dark outside, very cold inside. How much extra fuel does this thing have? Four women in their forties or fifties barge in and start to sing in French. Drunk. Others in the bar and dining room begin to sing.
A waiter wakes me up. A female voice over the PA says Freedom Writers will be showing soon. Dubbed in French. Our chairs are big and plush and in the middle of the boat. Hilary Swank plays a new teacher in a high school with gang and violence problems. She inspires her students to write. Heartwarming.
Past midnight, wandering around looking for a place to sleep. Bodies covered in grey blankets, lying on the floor, stretched out on seats. Find a spot on the floor between two seats. Heavy breathing, snoring all around.
In university, wrote an essay on The Raft of the Medusa, painted by Théodore Géricault in 1819, depicting the strong, standing against the waves at the front of the raft, and at the back of the raft are those who have given up, dying, slipping off the raft into the sea.
The male voice again in French, then English over the PA, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” etc. “Please remain seated until we have landed,” etc. The sun just rising over the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Storm still raging, the waves slapping the boat. How is he going to land in this?
The dock now visible. Twenty-three hours since we sailed from Cap aux Meules. Perky female voice over the PA says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching Souris,” etc., “return to your vehicles.” As if nothing ever happened. Passengers rush down to the car deck. Ontario guy leans against his sports car. Enough adventure for you? He grunts.