blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Home in the rain

I am starting to write this post in the pilots' lounge at Trois-Rivieres airport (CYRQ) where we have touched down for lunch. I ordered a poutine with chicken and peas, something I'll probably not order again. Poutine is basically chips covered with thick and salty gravy. We had a smooth and easy flight here from Grand Falls, what a pleasure. The next and final leg of our trip may not be so enjoyable as we'll be in stratus cloud for most of the way. It is raining in Ottawa with low ceilings there, the weather will stay that way for the rest of the day and night; we just have to hope that the cloud ceiling will allow us to see the runway at Gatineau in time to land there. Otherwise we'll have to try again back at Mirabel airport which is "our alternate", as they say on IFR flight plans.

Over Edmundston
We did a short-field take off at Grand Falls to avoid further damage to the shimmy dampers on their bumpy runway and then set off across the farm country on the Canadian side of the border to Edmundston where the Saint John River goes round a large bend. For a while during this morning's VFR flight we were in and out of fluffy, lowish cumuli clouds, no threat at all, and very few of them over the St. Lawrence River as we crossed it between Montmagny and the Isle d'Orleans, but around Quebec City the cloud became less broken, so Chris air-filed IFR for the rest of the way to give himself a more comfortable feeling. Because there was no turbulence, I felt comfortable all the way to the destination. We crossed the fleuve twice more beyond Quebec, seeing the big tanker ships below us; one of them had a helicopter landing pad on its deck.

While we were in Yarmouth, George had explained about the strip fields. In previous centuries French families tended to have many children, and as the tradition among farmers was to bequeath land to one's children, the available land had to be divided into many narrow pieces, one strip for each son. There are many such patterns along the cote sud of the Saint-Laurent.

Descending through rain
End of post, end of journey: our CYRQ to CYRO flight was half in fine weather, half in IMC. We knew we were flying towards the stratus layers and Chris estimated that we would go into these rain clouds just before YMX (the Mirabel VOR) which turned out to be about right. What we hadn't expected was that there would be a dramatic rise in pressure (the VSI showing a sudden difference of 1000ft, even though we were flighing smoothly and horizontally along) just about at the point where we penetrated the wet murk. No turbulence worth mentioning on this flight, although we were somewhat blown about by the southeast wind as we moved away, by request, from the approach to Gatineau towards Rockcliffe, our home airport. Clearly able to see the ground by then, we were permitted to cancel our IFR flightplan and change frequencies. It was for the best that we headed away from the approach to Gatineau because we had a fighter jet on our tail, coming in to land in preparation for the Canada Day show on Saturday. ATC managed to keep a safe distance between us and the jet, notwithstanding the difference in our speeds; those planes fly twice as fast as we do, even at their slowest.
Home ... in the rain
Having tied PTN down in the wet, we are home now, tired and very satisfied with this holiday.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dodging storms over the St. John River

Big clouds ahead, at Grand Falls
Chris is sitting comfortably on a deck chair outside our Quality Inn room at Grand Falls / Grand-Sault, this evening. We are a good 5km from the town itself, and the famous falls, but no matter. When we acted helpless without a car, the hotel manager handed us the keys to his truck so we could drive into town anyway, thus avoiding either a soak from the oncoming storm cloud on a long and hungry walk, or an expensive taxi fare.

The clouds are our reason for staying here tonight. They are too big to penetrate, therefore we aren't where we had planned to be. We have had a dramatic day, but according to Chris we were perfectly safe at all times.

1st leg, Yarmouth to St. John, over the water in a straight line.
The wriggly snakelike line on the left is the edge of Maine, USA.

This is the flight-tracker picture of our afternoon flight
"1hr 44mins, diverted", but as this shows, we went straight
through the large cloud to the left of our starting point!

Local fog over Yarmouth
Because it was meant to be a long day, including the stop for maintenance, we got up early. A quick bite to eat and cup of tea at Tim Horton's along the Yarmouth commercial strip opposite our hotel, me rather envious of the group of elderly chaps clearly intending to sit chatting to one another a long time in their quaint Nova Scotian accent, over their daily breakfast in the corner, then we returned the rental car to Enterprise. The Enterprise lady was kind enough to drop us off at the airport after we had checked out, so we loaded and unloaded our luggage twice.

Chris had spoken with the mechanics at the Atlantic Flight Centre of St. John airport who'd offered him an appointment at 10:30am to change PTN's oil and oil filter, check her tyre pressures and check for traces of metal in the oil (not good --- fortunately they found none), clean the engine and the inside of the cowling -- it was a job thoroughly well done, costing $$$, but still.

Yarmouth at low tide
We first had to get there on time, cloud ceiling and winds permitting, so we felt lucky that the local mist seemed to be gathering elsewhere than at Yarmouth airport. We saw it hanging over the marshes as we took off, also noticing that the tide was right out, leaving the channel between Yarmouth and Yarmouth Bar quite unlike what we had seen of it on Monday: a narrow stream meandering between mud flats. No sign of the lighthouse, since fog lay over that too. We more or less followed the line of yesterday's drive to Digby, to start with, then our "St. John direct" line took us over the Digby Neck and out to sea. Only for 25 minutes, with views of the ferry entering the channel to Digby to our right and Grand Manan Island in the distance to our left. When, wearing my life jacket again, I looked straight down below our wheel, I could actually see the seabed with its treacherous reefs below me. I might have spotted
whales too, if we hadn't been at 7000ft above sea level ... literally. We told ATC at Moncton that we could now see the airport ahead and so we could do a visual approach to the circuit, none too soon, because this necessitated a fairly steep (1000ft per minute) descent during which our ears popped. In my experience, ears are pretty reliable altimeters.

Into the towering cumuli
At St. John, while the young men were working on our plane in their hangar, we had some snacks at the terminal building and watched (with some trepidation in my case!) the developing line of TCU clouds hanging in the sky in the direction of our next leg. Chris spent a long time studying the radar pictures, charts and weather advisories en route, showed me what he was interpreting, and thought we had a good chance of reaching Riviere-du-Loup on the St. Lawrence by the end of the afternoon, a two-and-a-half hour flight. I was not so sure, but climbed meekly into the passenger seat and resigned myself to whatever fate we'd meet, up there. We could see the first line of "build-ups" ahead which were highish, but didn't look any more threatening than towering cumuli we have flown through in the past. Chris asked for a deviation 10deg. to the left of one big cloud, but a necessary change of heading actually took us straight through an even larger one beyond it. Not many minutes after coming out the other side, rain having lashed onto our windscreen within the cloud, we were rather surprised to hear over the airwaves a commercial flight diverting around this very spot (the waypoint called MOWND). I'm guessing that this "build-up" was about 20,000ft high. Ahead, we could see sun shining on the ground, which was encouraging, implying holes between the clouds, but we could also see several of those ominous red dots on our strike finder in the cockpit, which mean lightning strikes in the vicinity, some of them straight ahead. So another deviation, this time to the right, and saw very black colours in the sky and on the ground to our left. From ATC's point of view we were "in the mix", says Chris, with all the other aircraft trying to avoid the larger cloud masses, to save their passengers from too much turbulence. Everyone was veering all over the sky round here. Their radio calls also warned us what was ahead, such as a cluster of "build-ups" close to Presque-Isle in Maine, the area through which we were about to fly!

Heavy showers over the New Brunswick-Maine border
Chris keeps admirably calm on these occasions. "I was interested, but didn't get excited," as he puts it. Which, I suppose, reassures me. We certainly would not cope so well if there were a nervous person like me in the pilot's seat. I helped him to look up some alternative landing places on our electronic charts, because it was clear that we wouldn't be able to continue as planned --- the storms ahead now becoming visible, too. "What beautiful clouds!" exclaims Chris, "Can you get a picture of them?" as I reply, "There's a small airport on the other side of the river, only 10 miles away. We could go there." Chris looks at the map and decides to continue a further 25 miles from this area, aiming to land at Grand Falls.

On the ground at Grand Falls
We did not actually cross the US border into Maine although we were talking to Boston Centre (kindly giving us the altimeter readings for nearby airports and advising us of dangers to the west of our new track when we told them that we were changing our flight plan). Grand Falls looks like a tiny airport in comparison to the others at which we have landed at on this trip; it is a narrow, anciently paved, 4000ft strip in a field, hard to locate from the air, and the uneven surface putting a considerable strain on our shimmy dampers as we landed in the crosswind that had sprung up ahead of the heavy shower approaching, but to me, it felt a lot safer being down on the ground than up in the air.

The Grand Falls
The manager has managed this airfield for 40 years, he told us, living in a house beside the airport buildings and I think we met him before when we landed here, for similar reasons, in 1997. This time, he offered to let us sleep at the airport where there are guest rooms and three or four double beds, but the accommodation did look a bit basic, and we had no available food to cook, so we chose to book whatever hotel we could find in Grand Falls. The Best Western was full, so I rang the Quality Inn who could offer us a room. I should have asked how far it was from town, too late now. A lady with a taxi came to fetch us, and when we borrowed the hotel manager's truck as mentioned above, we were able to view the falls like proper tourists and find a satisfying Chinese meal on Broadway. The Grand Falls Broadway, that is. The annual Potato Festival is supposed to be in full swing this week, but we didn't see any sign of it, other than on the posters.

I have been editing this outside our room in bare feet at the end of a glorious sunset that is reflected in the motel's duck pond. Someone has blocked my view of the duckpond by parking his boat on a trailer opposite our room. An extremely long freight train is rattling past along the railway behind the bushes to my right. On my left at the end of the row of rooms, a man is singing and playing the guitar to his friends. A crescent moon has replaced the storm clouds. Time to sleep soon.

More Acadia

Mavillette Beach

June 27th, 2017

Today's drive was up the coast to Digby and back, a super day! I know that other people will tell us we should have gone through Annapolis Royal to the UNESCO heritage site of Grand Pré to see the more famous Acadian territory at the far end of the Annapolis Valley, but why tire ourselves out when a more restful journey can be so satisfactory? This was our third day of sunny, bright weather, such luck!

Yesterday's hotel breakfast had not been worth repeating so we trotted across the road to Jungle Jim's where the food on offer was more appetising. Then we headed north along the "Evangeline Trail" (Rte. 1), which runs through all the little towns and villages on that part of the coast. The coves and headlands, churches, stores and fishing harbours along the road were named in a mixture of French and English: Port Maitland, Riviere des Saumons, Mavillette, Cape St. Mary's, St. Alphonse, L'Anse aux Ours, New Edinburgh, Brighton, Weymouth and so on. The Acadian flag and Vive l'Acadie! signs were in evidence everywhere, so I assume the locals are mostly Acadiens, with surnames specific to the region, Robichau, Doucet, Poirier, Leblanc, Comeau ... We heard the locals speaking; their dialect didn't ressemble any French I'd heard before. They say that even Quebecers have trouble understanding it. The roadside churches were either modest United Baptist or (the enormous ones) Catholic.

Catching a glimpse of the beach at Mavillette as we approached it, we pulled off onto the side road that led there, what a worthwhile detour! The tide had gone out leaving steaming sands, little waves breaking in the distance and big pebbles near the sand dunes where fragrant wild roses were in bloom, irresistible! We saw a motel and restaurant (Cape View) on the grassy hill above the bay and thought it would be good to stay or eat there. As it happened, we were at that very restaurant this evening, invited there by George and Heather, seeing that same splendid view through the windows as the dazzling sun began to drop behind the cape.

On our first visit to the beach we tore ourselves away to press on along the road as far as Digby where we guessed we'd find lunch and further interesting things to see. The most interesting thing was the arrival of the lobster boats after their fishing expedition this morning. The lobsters were still wriggling their claws as the buckets they were in were hoisted up to the white trucks waiting to weigh them and load them on the wharf. The white trucks then catch the twice-daily ferry to Boston, where there's a good market for them. The fishermen in their dark clothes looked as if they needed a wash and a rest now. The decks were rusty and untidy, but the men knew what they were doing with their ropes. They were dealing with freshly caught fish packed in crates of ice as well. We had learned about the lobster trade from the local bakery where the baker, from Quebec, chatted to me for a long time in French after his wife had made us nice sandwiches for lunch. We were the only customers. She was from Quebec too, but from the very far north.

Weighing the lobsters

View from the Memorial Garden, Digby

Bear River
We sat in the memorial garden looking out over Digby Sound before realising that our parking time by the lighthouse had long expired; we weren't penalised and visited the tourist information centre before we left town. George K had recommended we visit Bear River a short distance inland, so I asked about that. Bear River is in fact tidal and the village of that name used to have no less than five shipbuilding wharfs. Now it is a quiet place, all but deserted on a Tuesday afternoon in June, although this is where tourists (during the short tourist season of July to September) choose to tour the local wineries and arts and crafts studios. The white clapboard United Church with a creeper growing all over its front door, was for sale. The riverside houses are on stilts because the river rises and falls by 20ft each tide. The water was in when we came by; we sat by it in the shade of the garden by the war memorial, that used to be a graveyard, read the names of the local dead, and could see the remains of the wooden wharfs rotting underwater.

Chez l'Ami
In the second half of the afternoon we ambled our way back to Mavillette beach where we'd arranged to meet George and his wife, stopping opposite one of the massive Catholic churches with pro-life slogans on its notice board for an icecream cone from a roadside poutine shack called Chez l'Ami. We had time to see the lighthouse at Cape St. Mary too, before finishing our journey along the little beach road. The lighthouse is in need of a new coat of paint, but fully functional. We were surprised to find considerable, pointed cliffs on the point, that couldn't be seen from the other side.

Cape St. Mary lighthouse
We parked by the sand dunes again, near the Cape View restaurant, and I went down to the sand to take my shoes off and run to the waves (wavelets). As I did so, George and Heather reached the rendezvous as well, and Heather promptly came to join me with bare feet in the cold water. She says that it isn't usually warm enough for swimming in this area till September, although this year, her sister has already "been in". In the restaurant we sat by the windows, of course, and ate well with some beer for the men and wine for the women. On the back of the menu was quite a comprehensive history of the Acadians, which made informative reading. None of us ordered the Rappie Pie, a local speciality that involves squeezing the juice out of grated potatoes and "cooking the hell out of it" with two kinds of meat or meat plus fish, although we learned about it. I had the battered scallops, that tasted nice and fresh, while George kept us captivated with his story of survival after his plane once crashed in the forest, in the 1980s.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Yarmouth, Monday

Under today's blue sky, in a gentle breeze off the sea, we discovered Yarmouth Bar and Pubnico. In our rented Hyundai Accent, we drove along the narrow road to the Cape Forchu lighthouse, passing an interesting looking harbour on the way (John's Cove Wharf). I stopped to take photos of the boats and lobster pots there on our way back along Caie Lane; some of this road is a causeway. The lighthouse is not the original, built in 1839, but a taller 20th century one. A lighthouse keeper's family had lived on the headland for years, keeping farm animals and bees, growing their own vegetables and enduring terrifying storms in the winters. It is dramatically rocky and the views of the inlet and the open sea are wonderful. We watched fishing boats arriving and departing and waves breaking on the rocks, and talked to one of the volunteers presently re-shingling and redecorating the lightkeeper's house.

We came back to Yarmouth for lunch at a seafood restaurant; I had far too large a bowl of chowder with haddock and crabmeat floating amongst the copious potatoes, very tasty. Chris had haddock and chips ("Do you want fries with that?").

In the afternoon we took Highway 103 past Tusket Falls, Belleville and Argyle to West, Middle West and Lower West Pubnico. That strange name is a corruption of the Mi'kmaq name Pogomkook, meaning something like the-place-where-we-fish-for-eels-through-holes-in-the-ice. The first European settlers in Nova Scotia, the Acadians, led in this instance by the Sieur d'Entremont in the 1650s, called the place Pombcoup. Whatever it ought to be called, it is a pretty spot. We found something that wasn't advertised on the tourist map, a new feature right at the end of the Pubnico peninsula: a wind farm managed by NextEra Energy, with 17 enormous wind turbines, some male, some female, according to the engineers who erected them there. Between them, they generate enough electricity for 12,000 homes! It's almost as if the locals are coming full circle. From being an entirely self-sufficient community, raising their own livestock on farmland reclaimed from the salt marshes, fishing, and using their cottage gardens for their needs, they are now self-sufficient in energy.

We lingered for a long while at the point beyond the turbines (whooshing quietly in the background), sitting on the brand new benches and walking along the new trails along the rocky, marshy shore as well as through the woodland full of wild flowers --- a botanist's paradise --- and butterflies. We saw a large wild rabbit, a hawk and a whole flock of cormorants perching on rock-islands near the shore. The forest consisted of stubby conifers, deformed by the prevailing winds and hung with lichen, and shrubby bushes that I couldn't identify. Some of the flowers were cloudberries.

I insisted we stop at the Dennis Point wharf on the way back through Lower West Pubnico, which was worth it to see the large fleet of colourful working boats moored there, all named after their owners, some in French (e.g. Capitaine Simon), some in English. The Acadian flag was flying everywhere, alongside Canadian flags. We visited a little museum about the Acadian settlers, staffed by two local girls in long Acadian skirts and aprons, one of whom (who told us she had mixed French, English and Mi'kmaq blood) gave us a guided tour of the house, describing the Acadians' turbulent history, despite the fact that they were a peaceable people who wanted to fight neither for the English nor for the French. They were cruelly treated by the British, who banished them and went to the extent of burning their settlements. Some settled in Louisiana where they began to be called Cajuns; they were needed there for their land-reclaiming skills in the marshes. We learned how the aboiteau drainage equipment worked, a salvaged example of this being on show at the museum, quite recently found and recovered from a nearby marsh. They also had a kitchen garden at the back of the museum, planted with exactly the kind of plants that would have been grown here in the 1650s (cabbages, radishes, lovage, Jerusalem artichokes, spinach, carrots, chives, etc. etc.)

Returning to Yarmouth, we took the slower, quieter, less well maintained Route 3 through Lower Argyle, Glenwood and Tusket, round many curves and corners and across wooden bridges over the lakes and rivers, with deep green grass around them and on their islands. It was a lovely ride.

We walked into town in the evening and found a Chinese supper. The tide was right out, leaving parts of the muddy harbour floor exposed and damp seaweed on the harbour walls. We walked along the Maude Lewis trail again, a part of town that the songbirds seem to like as much as we do, where the wild lupins are in full bloom.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

To the end of the world!

Aerial view of Moncton and Petitcodiac R.
Chris said that the tip of Nova Scotia, seen from the air as we approached Yarmouth today, looked like the end of the world. We are south of the New Brunswick - Maine border here, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and Yarmouth harbour smells of the seaside.

Because of yesterday's transponder problem, we had no confidence that we'd get here, but the day began well. The weather was perfect for flying, fine, calm and clear. We ate breakfast in a room overlooking the Petitcodiac River, checked out of the Chateau Moncton and a taxi brought us to the Flight College where, to our amazement, we heard that there'd be no charge for Ken the mechanic's inspection of our transponder! Full marks and great praise for the service and courtesy at this place! Ken had cleaned the antenna when he took it apart and perhaps that's the reason why it gave us no trouble today. We did a single circuit to have our "1234" squawk checked from the control tower and the transponder transponded successfully all the way round. It also behaved itself all the way to Yarmouth, whither we flew after we'd loaded our luggage into the plane and donned our yellow life jackets. I sent a message from the air to tell our Yarmouth acquaintance George K that we'd be arriving at 2pm; he got my message and came to welcome us to his home town, which was really nice of him. We shall be seeing him again tomorrow, and his wife Heather.

Chris is dictating the following paragraph:
Approaching the New Brunswick coastline
As we departed from Moncton, the Tower controller reported that he couldn't find our flight plan. But before we left, Chris had definitely filed a flightplan, online. After we'd been flying for a little while, we were asked to contact the Flight Information Centre in Halifax, to talk about our flightplan! We did, and they reported that they, too, had no record of the flightplan. After some discussion, Chris air-filed a flightplan to Yarmouth and all was well, and we tuned back to Moncton Centre. About 10 minutes later, Moncton Centre told us that the FIC was hoping to talk to us again, so we switched frequencies and the almost hysterical FIC man explained that he had found PTN's original flightplan that Chris had filed. By inaccurate copy-and-paste of a previous flightplan, Chris had actually filed a flightplan from Ottawa-Rockcliffe, rather than Moncton, to Yarmouth at 100 knots, total duration, 2 hours. The FIC felt this was too optimistic. A good laugh was had by all ... at Chris' expense.
Over the Annapolis Valley
Coast of Nova Scotia,
near Greenwood
The flight rewarded us with spectacular views of both coastlines --- the cliffs and hills of New Brunswick and the gentler, but still wild, Nova Scotian side. We saw a few islands too during our sea crossing, which took about 20 minutes, and from Nova Scotia we could still see the vague blue outline of New Brunswick. Muddy swirls indicated the underwater currents. Talking to Moncton Centre, we flew through the military airspace near the Greenwood airbase, and beside the Annapolis Valley and its meandering river. We were surprised by the extent of the uninhabited, unfarmed country to our left, i.e. inland, this region mostly just used for logging operations, it seems. The lakes we overflew were unlike the lakes of Ontario, being outlined by pale shores (sandstone?) and full of rocks, presumably quite shallow waters, because dead trees stuck out of some. The fair weather haze prevented us from seeing a very long way ahead, but I think we could still see for a good forty miles. The views were best during the last few miles as we curved our way down towards Yarmouth airport over the inlets, swampy waterways and green islands hereabouts. I noticed several access roads to these beautiful places, so that's our plan for tomorrow: exploring by car (I have booked a rental car).

Marshland near Yarmouth

Aerial view of Starrs Road from the Yarmouth circuit

Yarmouth harbour: fishing boats moored there
We are staying at the Comfort Inn between the airport and town on ye olde strippe malle (as I think of such lookalike places) along Starrs Road. Typical of North America, all the commerce that ought to be downtown is located along this road, which leaves the older part of Yarmouth bereft, stores going out of business there, with their windows boarded up, such a pity. The town proper is an interesting place to walk into, as we did this afternoon; it lies beside the harbour, which, at the start of the 20th century, constituted the busiest port in the world. These days there's still a fishing industry (we saw a small ship called Obsession 1 moored in the harbour, opposite a few other such vessels) and regular ferry services to and from Portland and Boston in the USA leave from the central Ferry Terminal or terminate there, but it is relatively quiet. Water Street has a parallel walkway, with flowerbeds, by the water's edge, a series of informative plaques telling us about the history of the place and giving us a chance to gaze over the sparkling inlet to the narrow peninsula called Yarmouth Bar, with its muddy, reedy banks and fir trees, seagulls squawking overhead. One of Yarmouth's small parks has a stage with a painted backdrop of a sailing ship in trouble, so I assume there are times when people re-enact the drama of a storm at sea in 1866, and the ship called the Research floundering in it.
Stage backdrop: storm at sea
Sails were ripped from the  yards. A tremendous sea smashed the rudder. Without topsails and rudderless, the Research wallowed helplessly in the tearing winter gales. But Captain George Churchill was resourceful, inventive and determined. That all-important rudder had to be repaired or replaced. A man must go over the side into the icy water under the overhanging stern, and if possible, rig tackle, so that the damaged rudder could be steered from the deck. The job fell to the mate, the young, husky Aaron Churchill. Over the side he went, the control rope gripped firmly by fellow crewmen and Aaron, sitting perilously in a bowline loop. With one hand he struggled to rig the tackle; with the other hand he fought desperately to save himself from being smashed against the hull in the turbulent seas, dragged on board nearly insensible, he was given brandy to revive him, then over the side he went to complete the job. 
Main Street, Yarmouth, Sunday afternoon
The Yarmouth crew had to do this eight times by which time they had reached the Azores and they eventually arrived in Glasgow, safe. What a story! I don't know who wrote the above narrative, but he (or more likely she) does seem to have enjoyed writing about that heroic, husky mate, who was 16 years old, by the way.

Another waterside park had a memorial covered with names: those "lost at sea" from these parts.

We climbed the hill up to Main Street and walked along there too, where most places were shut on this Sunday late afternoon, but we found some refreshments at a place called Sips, then also found a newly constructed multipurpose (bike) trail from Parade Street to Starrs Road that avoided our having to walk back to our hotel by the strip malls.