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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

S/V Capitaine Bontems
Young Québecers on a voyage south
December 21, 2022

n the water, they’re co-captains. On paper, she’s the captain. On the hull, reads the name of their boat: Capitaine Bontems.

“There’s three captains of this ship,” joked 21-year-old Marika Vachon with her boyfriend, Olivier Bisson, 22.

The three captains: Marika, Olivier, and SV Capitaine Bontems.

Capitaine Bontems, or ‘The Captain’ as they refer to her, is a 1980 Niagara 35. A production boat that was built in Ontario for a little over a decade, it is home to the young Québécois couple.

The couple tied up at the town dock in Oriental mid-November. Not only was it their first trip outside of Canada by boat, but also as adults independent from their families. Relaxing on the settee from the cabin, Marika and Olivier gently leaned into one another as they corrected the other’s English.

“The real captain,” Marika said with a laugh and pirate voice, blanketed by her French-Canadian accent, referring to Capitaine Bontems.

Marika and Olivier below deck.

But Marika is the real captain.

“Olivier taught me everything,” she said. “I learned with him. I don’t care about the title because we are co-captains in every way, but people immediately look at Olivier like it’s his boat when actually I’m the captain. Because technically it’s only mine.”

“It’s 100% her boat,” Olivier chimed in, as he’s done since the beginning when he’s been mistook as the vessel owner. “She is the captain, but we compliment each other well.”

Marika is wide-eyed in her excitement, while Olivier more reserved. Both enjoy physical outdoor pursuits, even if their only hiking these days is to the grocery store. In the galley, he is the chef and she is the pastry chef.

Cooking aboard Capitaine Bontems with Olivier. Not all provisions are kept together.

Olivier taught Marika all he knew about sailing two years ago. The rest they have been learning together. Like living aboard, tackling repairs, routine maintenance like painting the bottom, “which was very long,” they said. And upgrades such as adding refrigeration.

Capitaine Bontems was well maintained as a collectively owned club racer, spending winters on the hard. The name of the boat, the charcoal heater, stainless propane oven, halyards and reefing lines led aft, and overall general good condition of the old sailing yacht is thanks to that. Olivier and Marika recognize how good the condition is; they feel they got really lucky.

And not just because of the previous owners.

On Capitaine Bontems, there’s a partition in the center of the saloon, creating more room to cook. The head aft to port, just before the berth.

Marika received an inheritance from her godmother, a Canadian Police Officer or ‘Mountie’ (Police Montée to some Quebecers), who died from cancer 20 years ago. Had it not been for that inheritance, Marika and Olivier would be on a much smaller boat.

“That’s why the boat is technically only mine. It was my mother’s idea to use the inheritance for this. She wanted me to have this journey” Marika said.

Olivier has already put in quite a bit of sweat equity and invested in repairs, plus costs of living aboard. They have also both worked for the last year and a half to save up for the boat and trip.

“We’re good like this,” he said with a thumbs up and smile.

The layout of the 1980 Niagara 35.

Their goal is the Bahamas. They will try to find work which will determine if they have to return to the North immediately next season or can continue further into the Caribbean. The couple have been brainstorming different seasonal or short term jobs they can do in the near future.

Though it has become a popular way for some young cruisers to earn an income, Marika and Olivier have no intention of building a YouTube or web presence themselves. The website etched onto the boom is also leftover, and obsolete, from the yacht’s racing days.

“We are too boring to make videos,” Olivier said. “We don’t have anything that’s new or original to say. It’s not our strength. So we are going to put our energies elsewhere.”

A centrally located King Cole stove keeps the cabin warm.

But they find some channels useful. In fact, their entire visit to Oriental was because they saw a video on another Québécois YouTube channel “La Copains” who visited Oriental in 2017 en route to the Bahamas. Also a 20-year-old-couple at the time, Le Copains showcased what was once the nautical consignment store on Broad Street, where they got a mainsail for their boat.

“That’s why we wanted to come here,” Marika and Olivier laughed, seeing as it had since closed down.

Marika handles the lines as Olivier stands by.

Despite nearly everything else that was in excellent condition aboard the boat, the sails were shot. Leave it to avid yacht racers to blow out their sails.

“Oh well, we have plenty of duct tape,” they said.

Marika and Olivier took the opportunity to adorn their head sail with a drawing in permanent marker instead. It matches the decor on the mast down below in the saloon, where visitors have signed the aluminum mast and left their mark.

The head sail with custom markings by the crew.

Since leaving Québec City via the St. Lawrence River, they only met other cruisers as they got closer to Oriental. Their journey took them through fjords to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Canadian Maritime Islands. They sailed past Nova Scotia, on to Maine, through the Cape Cod Canal, and down the coast. Their longest passage was from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to Norfolk. Marika and Olivier had left Québec a little over a month from when they arrived in Oriental, and were headed offshore from Beaufort Inlet to Charleston Harbor.

Even though the boat is generally well equipped with navigation electronics, solar, a gifted life raft from their parents—Marika and Olivier still have no auto pilot, very tired sails, and not much money. This was also their first time sailing on the ocean.

The young couple got a taste for sailing big water, and working and living aboard together, while cruising for a season on the St. Lawrence River and Gulf in Gaspé Bay. This was all on a C&C 25, which Olivier purchased cheaply, and learned to sail on.

Olivier and Marika on deck.

They got jobs at a lobster restaurant further north, anchoring for the weather depending on which way the wind was blowing. Sometimes they had to kayak and hike hours to get to work. Sometimes they simply could’t get to shore. Their boss understood; it could be mean water.

But the season is short so Olivier sold that boat, and they lived in Québec City on Olivier’s mother’s property to work and save money. Marika worked at a small pub right on the river. Olivier worked on a tug boat receiving large ships, having completed an able-bodied seaman course prior. Marika also has a certificate from her studies in Montreal, but chose not to pursue a full university degree when she preferred to be in the outdoors or more remote towns and villages.

They met when Marika was visiting where Olivier was keeping his 25-foot-sailboat. And soon fell in love with the magic of sailing together.

There’s plenty to look at down below, much of it geared toward entertainment. The location of the fire extinguisher is also noted.

“I love connecting with the ocean it’s such a powerful entity,” Marika said using her hand to mimic the swell of the sea. “Out there when it is so wide, no boats, and you are all alone,” she said, “I think has made me a better person.”

And, they are practical sailors.

“With three hour rotation, after 24 hours, that madness starts to set in,” Olivier said noting their two-day passage to Norfolk. “Crazy things can start happening, but we enjoy being out there. The stars, animals, sunsets, sunrise. We were a little tired but after 49 hours six knots west wind, reefing on and off…all of it from the cockpit. It’s very safe and we take turns. We always set reef before setting out.”

Olivier and Marika raise the sail to show off its decorations. On deck around them are two kayaks, two bicycles, and two paddleboards.

Olivier holds fast to “anyone can do it.” The C&C proved that. “It just might take a little longer for some than others to go further, but anyone can do it.”

How far they want to sail, might also take a little longer. Olivier dreams of crossing oceans, and doesn’t really like the beach. Marika is excited for snorkeling in the Bahamas. While the wilderness and ruggedness of Nova Scotia was astounding, Marika missed having more friends to socialize with, but the two keep each other entertained.

Meanwhile they’re enjoying creating their own lifestyle and philosophies, with a library full of books from zen buddhism to celestial navigation.

Marika and Olivier aboard at the Oriental free dock.

Having both grown up in traditional middle-class families in Québec, the two only experienced life outdoors on vacations. For Olivier it was backpacking trips in the woods and later bicycle touring. For Marika it was a family chalet, where her family would tap maple trees to make maple syrup. Now, they are focused on building a life where they can adventure more often.

“Originally we liked the idea of living on a boat to escape society.” Marika said. “Like that 9-5 life with the house the kid the dog,” Olivier said.

“There’s beauty in that,” Marika chimed in. “And I would like to find a way have a dog someday, but that’s not the life we want right now.”

Story, photos, and video by Emily Greenberg

Posted Wednesday December 21, 2022 by Allison DeWeese

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