By Mark Cardwell

Without saying how much the port of Sept-Îles paid for the rowboat used by Montrealer Mylène Paquette on her 129-day solo trip across the Atlantic Ocean last summer, the Port’s President and CEO says having the 7.3-metre-long, fiberglass boat on permanent display in his facility’s main administration building will reap rich rewards for years to come. “It is a symbol of determination, passion and vision,” Gagnon said about the vessel, which Paquette dubbed the Hermel. “It’s like the people in our (North Shore) region.”

According to Gagnon, the port was one of three bidders for the Hermel when Paquette put it up for sale earlier this year. Paquette made international headlines in 2012 when she rowed the 1,300 kg boat from Halifax to Lorient, France. The self-righting vessel was capsized ten times by waves of more than 10 metres in height. She notably made contact with the cruise ship Queen Mary 2 in mid-Atlantic, waving at awe-struck passengers on deck.

In addition to starting bids at $100,000, Paquette asked bidders for a commitment to display the boat publicly. “We submitted a plan that she loved,” said Gagnon, who heard that the region of Rimouski and Islet sur Mer also put in bids. That plan, he added, involves the boat being displayed prominently in the lobby of the Port’s new administrative building. “We’re proud to have it,” said Gagnon. “It’s a historic artifact.” He defended the purchase, saying it fits with the port’s role in the region. “We have to be an agent of growth,” said Gagnon.  “We are an important player in the tourist industry. Cruise ship tourists as well as local tourists will have the chance to actually see the boat up close, as will local school kids.”

He added that the boat might also help to entice the owners of the Queen Mary 2 to schedule a future stop in the port of Sept-Îles. “She has never been here,” said Gagnon. “But because of her meeting with the Hermel at sea, and with all the international publicity that generated, we’re hoping that we just might see the Queen Mary 2 here in our port someday soon.”