Friday, September 24, 2010

Shippagan Report

Cheryl and I packed up the boys and drove the 13hrs out to Shippagan, New Brunswick for a two week fall vacation. Really, we didn't have much idea of what to expect other than two things: i) windy and ii) with a kite school for Cheryl to get some instruction. Shippagan is well known in the kiting and windsurfing communities as a place that gets decent winds and has huge variety in terms of sailing/kiting spots and directions, some areas even like Hatteras, with large expanses of shallow water.

First off, 'kiting'? What am I thinking... Well, it really has little to do with me and all to do with family! Cheryl is keen therefore I am keen for her to be keen. Make any sense? Well, for anyone with a non-windsurfing or non-kiting spouse who drags your family to windy spots - well, that can go well for some and not so well for others. I'd say we are about 50/50, but, her interest in kiting could change everything. To sum it up, I would happily trade water time with Cheryl to have our vacation priorities in alignment. Yes, this could work.

Anyway, the vacation started off on a very windy note! So windy in fact, with Hurricane Earl remnants passing through the whole area at large, that we delayed our departure to Sunday, and I joined the 100 or so others who were feasting on the waves of Sandbanks Provincial Park. Well worth it, but with my current level of condition (rock bottom), I destroyed myself and needed a few days off to recover from a two-ankle tweaker, huge charlie-horse and hands full of blisters. This was good for Cheryl though, as she could easily head off to Club Wind and Kite and get her lessons started without me competing for time! And she did!

Shippagan is a very interesting place - beautiful in many regards, but also challenging in some. One thing we take for granted around here is the lack of tides. There is only about 2ft of tidal range in Shippagan, but where we were staying, it has a big influence on conditions, and whether or not you can actually go out or not (moreso for a windsurfer for sure). Coming from Kingston, where chop is king, what amounted to glassy flat water just out front of our beach house was awesome! For freestyle, my god, everything just gets so much easier!! I never caught the wave conditions quite right there, but was blissfully in heaven anyway in the flat water. There are tons of places to sail, but for sure I was a little wary due to the tides and not 'knowing' the spots, you never know where there are rocks down below just under the surface. Thankfully, it was never a problem. Weeds are abundant and weedfins a must (see earlier posting on the Makani Nai'a)!

On the kiting front... let's just say this is daunting sport. I am more than happy to splurge on lessons for Cheryl and make sure she learns all the correct way to do things right from the start. Nothing but the best for the mother of our children. Me on the other hand... whatever... I'll figure it out somehow. I flew our 12m Ocean Rodeo Rise on the grassy area at Club Wind & Kite's 'Pool' spot, and certainly experienced some pretty scary moments, including one that dragged me across the grass. Thankfully the sacrificial skin on my lower legs was willing to impart some friction to the situation and keep me going further. Second time I tried was in the water, on a light wind afternoon. I figured I could just walk out with the kite, get it up and then fly it in the shallows. If I felt like it, I might even body drag myself around. Alas, the water was just deep enough that I rarely touched bottom, so basically I just got pulled along, my feet just scratching the surface of the muck below (it ain't sand!). Anyway, I had the kite flying for a while until the wind died, parked itself on the water, leading edge down, directly downwind, and there it sat and continued to drag me the 1km across the bay. Let me tell you that the committment level is very different than windsurfing. In windsurfing, you can always let go. In kiting, you are actually supposed to be attached and stay attached. Just the thought that you are at the whim of the wind and your abilities to control the kite is a new sensation for sure. Anyway, despite pretty dismal first outtings for moi, it is definitely intriguing and I'll give it some more go. Maybe in the winter on some fluffy white stuff.

So, what else does Shippagan have going for it? For sure the action had died off while we were there, probably after labour day the tourist population is on a rapid decline. There was simply not much going on. Not so bad for us (for lesser 'crowds' - as if there are any out there), but for the kids, it is a bit more problematic. Next time we go, no doubt we will tackle it in the late summer, when the kids are more likely to be able to swim, but also there will just be more alternative activities going on, like actually having a seal or two in the aquarium seal tank, and having farm animals at the Acadian Village. Those issues aside, still had lots of fun and easily filled our days. There are some beautiful walks/short hikes to do, like at a small 'Eco-Park' at Lemeque, and the Peat Bogs up at Miscou (huckleberries were in season!! YUM!), plus the Miscou Lighthouse itself. Don't forget to pick up some fresh lobster in Lemeque at the Poisonnerie.

For kiting, the place is really good. Eric Girard (see photo below) has done a great job setting up Club Wind and Kite to be a premier destination for kiteboarding and learning to kite. There are not many places like this, if any, in the rest of Canada! He has purchased a hook of land that handles a few different directions well and has some perfectly flat water for kiting, and learning to kite. We'd for sure recommend it, or Shippagan in general, for a neat vacation spot. Obviously though, we like to relax, and will take natural beauty over built-up tourist destinations any day of the week. If you like places like Hatteras for its quiet beauty, then you'll probably like Shippagan too.

I have not a single windsurf photo from this trip.... Yes, thumbs down for that. Sorry.

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