Shelter in Quirpon

The Zartman family seeks shelter in Quirpon with a broken engine.

October 8, 2013
Quirpon, Newfoundland
It turns out that the moss is becoming more boggy as the season advances, so watch your step. Ben Zartman

St Anthony, Newfoundland, was not an unpleasant place to spend a week. There were two decent grocery stores, a public library with wifi, a laundromat, and plenty of walking to do. Most importantly, there was a chart agent, and we needed charts. I had bought the two small-scale charts of the coast of Quebec that Campbell’s, way back in St John’s, had in stock. But those were no good for detail—we needed all the coastal charts from Blanc Sablon, at the edge of Labrador, to the entrance to Lake Champlain, off of the St Lawrence River. I’d been hoping to scrounge, buy or borrow some used ones, but all I had managed to rustle up was coverage through the Straits of Belle Isle. That still left me 29 charts short, and at the $20 apiece the Canadian government wants for them, not a trivial purchase. Still, I can’t get along without charts, so I bit the bullet and ordered the whole stack at once from Shear’s Building Supplies.

What I regretted more than the money the charts would cost was the time it took to get them in. Already the season was far along, and fall weather was beginning to set in. The Straits of Belle Isle are not to be trifled with at any time, with frequent gales, strong tidal currents, and all the fun that ensues when the two of those mix. Fall is, of course, notorious for heavy winds. In just the eight days that we sat in St. Anthony there were two full gales, with lesser windy days in between. So I was pretty keen to get along, since we still had to get up to the Straits, then through to the Gulf of St Lawrence, then across to the south shore of Quebec before we could start sailing back South.

Whale watching trail. Ben Zartman

The charts came in reasonable time, considering there was a postal holiday to wait through, but even so I was bursting with impatience when they arrived on a Friday afternoon. Even though it was rainy and windier than I like, and Danielle and the girls were busy making chicken pot pie and cookies, I got the anchor up and away we sailed. It was only fifteen miles or so to Quirpon (pronounced “cahr-poon”), and after some pretty bumpy seas getting around Cape Anthony, Ganymede settled in to race there in near-record time, scooting along at six knots with only her storm canvas set. The pie and cookies were set aside unbaked against our arrival while Danielle took the helm and I popped in and out of the companionway, matching coastal features with the chart, and trying to pilot Ganymede as close to shore as was prudent to avoid getting into bigger waves offshore.


The entrance to Little Quirpon harbor had just opened up on the portside when things got squirrely. With the wind funneling out of it at close to thirty-five knots, there was no chance of tacking into it, especially as it narrows to barely a boat-length at it’s end. But for only the second time since we sailed out of California, the engine refused to start when we really needed it. Almost every time it hasn’t started, we’ve been at anchor or tied up—not a huge deal. But here our arrival in port depended on it, and heading out to sea with dark coming on, the gale rising, and all the fetch of the Straits of Belle Isle waiting just an hour or two’s drift away was not to be thought of.

storm sail
Doused storm sail Ben Zartman

I had doused the storm sail just before trying the engine, but got it up again pretty quick so Ganymede could maneuver. We had only one choice: a little cove on Quirpon island, not very sheltered at all, and fraught with hull-eating rocks. We had to get dangerously close to shore before finding water shallow enough to anchor in, and then it was rocks, and the chain grounched and grounched as Ganymede pitched slowly in the swell. Horrible place to spend the night, but good enough under the circumstances to take the engine apart and put it together.

“Put the pie in the oven, I guess. At least we’ll have a nice supper.”


The sun was setting when an hour later, after having new spark plugs and the carburetor dismantled twice, the engine roared into life at last. Getting up all the anchor chain from eight fathoms down was backbreaking, even with Antigone in the locker to stack it as it came in and Danielle motoring into the furious wind to slack it a bit, but I didn’t really mind. The relief of knowing that we’d sleep quiet in a safe harbor with our bellies full of hot supper and ginger cookies, rather than clinging to a precarious, rolly, exposed cove made any amount of toil worthwhile.

The Zartman Girls Ben Zartman

“Can I do anything?” asked Danielle as I began dismantling the carburetor into a stainless steel bowl.

Of course the pie and cookies needed taking out and putting in to the oven just when we were at the trickiest part of the ‘tickle’—the narrow channel between Quirpon Island and the mainland. Evidently some cruisers get there, take one look at it, and go all the way ‘round. I found out later that we took a crucial rock on the wrong side, but I’ll never know how close we may have got to grounding, since I was too busy taking cookies out of the oven to heave the lead. Everyone we asked later disagreed on the available depth; some said 8 feet, one said 19 (?!), others said barely enough to float a cockroach. No matter; we made it through, and the chicken pot pie that night might have been the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.


More Destinations