We arrived in Halifax late afternoon after a pleasant passage. To our relief we encountered no lobster pots after passing the Canadian border. We decided to have some dinner first and anchored near Mc Nabs Island. A few hours later ARIA arrived too.
We were not sure if we should contact the border control yet or wait until morning but at some point André decided to call them. First they seemed very relaxed and wanted us to come over to the waterfront the next morning but as soon as they realized that we were not US residents they wanted us to come over right away. We told them that we will be there at the waterfront in one hour.
It was about 10 pm when we moored at one of the floating pontoons at the Halifax waterfront. No one showed up… we could watch the people at the waterfront enjoying the night and taking selfies. After endless hours of waiting two officers showed up. They were friendly but determined and explained us that the borders are open for US residents only but of course they would allow us to provision and to wait for a good weather window to move on.
So we prepared for plan B which was sailing to the two small French islands Saint Pierre et Miquelon, southwest of Newfoundland. Like Reunion Island in the previous year the French will save us once again… After the first day, no one checked on us again and we split the provisioning in several tours so that everyone could have a stroll. Karsten had also moved over to the waterfront and as he had a flight ticket to Switzerland they allowed him to stay on the boat and wait for the flight. Lucia had to do a school exam back home. We would meet them again in Halifax in September when hopefully Canada will open his border to Europeans as well.
We left for SPM on Thursday. The wind was perfect but there was a lot of fog. Thick fog was something we had not experienced yet in that way. We were sailing for two days in fog and did not see anything at all. Thanks good we have a radar, otherwise this would have been very scary. Just before St. Pierre the fog lifted and the sun came out. It was a beautiful arriving.
The harbourmaster advised us where to go and took our lines. Right after that he asked us about our Covid tests… because boats with no test would get a 700 Euro fine per person. We still had our pcr tests from the US and as the Canadians did not let us in, we officially came from the US with a short stop (but no entry) in Halifax. Luckily the French do not ask tests for kids younger than 12. So there we were. We could stay at the dock for free and the sailing school was just a few steps away. The harbourmaster explained us that maybe the local television would come the next days as they were always curious about new boats in the harbour. That sounded familiar to us… we all remembered the Réunion news channel very well.
It was Saturday afternoon and we got ready to have a first look around in the village. As we walked past the townhall we heard some noise… people clapping hands… it sounded like some party or festival. We followed the noise and came to a big orange red wall ” le fronton” they call it. There were two teams of two players playing against each other ” la pelote”. It is a game that the Basque people brought to the island. The first settlers were Basque, Norman and Breton fishermen in times when cod fishing was a big industry on this archipel. The flags of the Basque, Britanny and Normandy are still represented in the local SPM flag.
The festival “La fête des basques” had started the beginning of the week and would end on Sunday. These were now the last two days with the finals in the pelote turnament and Basquue folk dances and games. Perfect timing for us to see that part of the local culture. We ate some delicious risotto and basque sweets at a food stall. Of course we would came again on Sunday afternoon to see the games of “force des basques” and the final of the pelote turnament. It was great fun! Several teams played against each other to proof their skills in sawing a tree stump, throwing hay stacks over a high line or carrying heavy jerrycans as long as possible and so on. The whole village seemed to be there to cheer the teams. What a great event and fun beginning of our stay in St. Pierre.
On Monday morning the television team came to ask for an interview and it was broadcasted the same day in the evening journal. Two days later we had a friendly visit of Emilie. She had seen us on television and was curious to see the boat. Her daughter Lilia was 5 years old and went to the sailing course for the small kids. Emiliee’s husband Guillaume worked for the French marine. He had already worked in a lot of different places, like the Caribbean, French Polynesia and before coming to St. Pierre they had lived in La Réunion for three years because of his job. With our love for this beautiful island in common we connected very quickly and arranged to do a picnic together on the weekend.
Amina would have loved to join the same sailing course as Lilia but it was unfortunately fully booked. Where as Jaël was able to join the optimist course Thursday and Friday and the whole following week. But first she had to proof that she can swim… on Wednesday afternoon they took her to the étang where the sail school had their sup and windsurf classes . The water temperature there was a bit warmer than in the sea. The instructor quickly saw that she could swim, so she was welcome to start sail class the following day.
Jaël loved the sailing course. It was the perfect setting anyway. She could jump off our boat and just walk over to the sailing school. The team there was extremly friendly, motivated, well organized and great with the kids. Amina always accompanied Jaël in the morning in order to play with the other kids before the class and towards the end of the class she would hang around there, hoping she would also get a chance to climb up the mast and ring the bell. And she did! They let her climb up too and she was so happy!
After one week, Annika and Thomas from ASTA arrived. We had not met them in Maine as they where always a bit ahead of us but we had been in touch with them on whats app. They had also tried their luck in Halifax but were not let into Canada either. So Saint Pierre et Miquelon was also their Plan B. It was great to see them again.
Our days were filled with boat schooling and exploring the island on beautiful hikes. Blueberry season had already started…. hmmmm… delicious! Some afternoons Jaël and Amina went to the scooter park by themselves and they enjoyed their independence. They even walked to Emelie’s house to play with Lilia one afternoon. Saint Pierre is a very safe place. There is hardly any crime and people don’t even lock their houses.
We felt very at home and had also found our favourite restaurant ” le petit gravier”. It does not look very special from the outside, you can barely notice the restaurant sign, but what a surprise when you made it through the ” tambour”. You will find yourself in a beautiful restaurant with a very nice interieur. They serve French cuisine with a local touch… we can highly recommend!
These “tambours d’entrée”are a typical feature of the houses in St. Pierre. It is a small enclosed porch projecting out into the street. This has the practical effect of allowing everyone to get their wet gear off before going inside. The town of St. Pierre is packed closely around the main harbour in small colourful houses. Most houses date from the first part of the 20th century, after a series of fires destroyed the old 19th century town. St. Pierre had a burst of prosperity in the 1920s, when it was the base for smuggling liquor to the east coast of the US during prohibition. There are even a few houses built from the discarded whisky cases. Since the collapse of the cod fishery SPM largely depends on subsidies from Metropolitan France.
The signs of the ancient cod fishing industry are still very present though. On Île aux Marins, the small island close to the main harbour, there is a beautiful museum built in several historical buildings, where you can learn more about the life on the archipel these times. There is also a group of people “les Zigotos” who would like to preserve the heritage of the traditional fisherboats called “les doris”. Jean-Marc and his friends are happy to welcome people in their small museum and sometimes they have live music and small events at their boatshed. We were invited to go rowing in one of these doris on a afternoon…. not so easy… they could stack these boats on a bigger boat and deployed them at the fishing grounds… that must have been tough work for these brave fishermen to be out there in these small boats in rough weather.
As Miquelon has not many protected anchorages you have to pick a good weather window to go there. We missed that oportunity because of Jaël’s sailing classes. But so we enjoyed St. Pierre even more. On Sunday the 5th September there was a charity childrens play day on the football ground near the scooter park. Jaël and Amina were all excited about it and could not wait.
Lilia and Emilie joined us and it was a great event with a lot of fun games for the children and even pony riding to Amina and Jaël’s delight. Later in the afternoon we met another family from la Réunion. Nicolas, the father had a 3 month job as emergency doctor in the hospital in St. Pierre. After that, in December they were planning to travel from Canada to Central America. They had four kids: the oldest Lola, a bit older than Jaël, then Timothey, who had been in the same sailclass as Jaël, another boy called Mahé, a bit younger than Amina and baby Zoë, the cutest little person you can imagine. Nicolas and Méli invited us for dinner the next evening, which unfortunately also was our last evening in St. Pierre before leaving. We spent a wonderful evening together with and the kids had a great time. Of course everyone was sad to leave our friends in St. Pierre.
We left St. Pierre on Tuesday, 7th of September. Finally the Canadian borders will now open for Europeans. Unfortunately the weather forecast also showed hurricaine Larry making his way up North to Saint Pierre and Newfoundland… The plan was to sail to Fortune, which was only a 20 nm trip, clear into Canada their and then sail West to the South coast of Newfoundland. We were planning to hide deep into a river fjord. There we should at least be protected from waves and swell.
Thank you to all the friendly people we met in Saint Pierre, especially Emilie, Guillaume and Lilia. We enjoyed our time on this beautiful and very special place on earth and will keep wonderful memories.