28/06/2007/10:00 pm, Cap-a-l'Aigle
We left Sillery, home of the Yacht Club de Quebec quietly in the predawn. There were four of us - Bagatelle (out of Kingston), Wings (headed to her new home in Summerside), Strathspey and Madcap - all bound for Cap-a-l'Aigle - and we had to leave early because we needed the ebbing tide to help us cover the 70 nautical miles we had to make that day.
I had pictured Madcap flying along beneath the cliffs of old Quebec every time we drove this stretch of highway on our way to Nova Scotia and every time I imagined us making this trip. It wasn't quite the same as I pictured, but it was still pretty nice. I'm not in the habit of rising at 0400 hours and being in thinking and doing mode by 0430, but it was a really nice time to be out on the water. The sky was bright enough to see; the lights twinkled on the ships and streets; and everything was soooo quiet. There was no wind so we were motoring and the sails were still tucked under cover.
We motored and motored, moving in and out of fog banks, which afforded us an invaluable opportunity to use our brand new radar. This was good practice for the more extreme fog conditions we are likely to experience in the North Atlantic. The radar shows other ships in the area as various sizes of blobs and we came to recognize which blobs were buoys, which were other pleasure boats, and which ones were the very large commercial vessels. At one point we could see on the radar that there was a big ship coming our way, and Mary identified it even earlier with their AIS. We never did see that one, although we heard its horn as it passed within a half a nautical mile of us.
We eventually did get a little bit of wind and unfurled our stay sail - the smaller foresail that cutters have at the ready. The wind came up nicely, but it was close to being on our nose - or sur le nez - as we have come to call it - so we didn't put up the main, and we kept the engine running. The sail helped us make a bit better time. We can generally make between 5 and 6 knots under motor, a little better than that under sail if we are going at a good angle to the wind and have our sails trimmed well. "The Book" said we'd probably make the distance in about 8 hours - but that didn't account for the headwind.
I decided to taste a bit of that water that was beginning to spray up over our deck and sure enough it was salty. Yeehaw! Madcap's introduction to salt water. The air was cold and the water was colder. Jim and I were dressed in our longjohns, and fleecy shirts and we kept changing jackets all day, finally ending up in our heavy foul weather gear, complete with boots, wool caps and gloves.
That little bit of wind grew steadily and as Jim monitored it on the wind speed indicator, he noted many gusts in excess of 30 knots, and it didn't drop below 25 for the rest of the afternoon. A gale is 34-40 knots; a near gale is 28-33. It sure seemed like a gale to me!
The spray kept coming and when it was my turn at the helm Jim ducked under cover to dry out and warm up a bit while I braced myself with feet apart, one hand grabbing a cleat for support and the other hand on the wheel. We were heeled over a bit but nothing like the day we blew into Batiscan. The difference, this time, was in the amount of water swooshing up over the bow, along the decks and cabin roof and right into the cockpit. The waves weren't all that big, but they poured up and over our rails like never before. I would duck away as I saw one coming, hunching my shoulder up to catch the worst of it. I had to keep wiping my eyes because the water was streaming down my face - and all the way down to my boots! That went on for over an hour. I was alternately glad we were off shore far enough that we weren't dodging a dozen other boats, and wishing we were much closer in so it would be over with!
We reached the harbour about 1600 hours, furled in the sail and lost our newest and best fender as I tried to tuck it under a line before hanging it off the rail. Jim circled a couple of times and I caught a bit of it each time but lost it again in the waves. We gave up and rounded the corner of the breakwater into such a warm and quiet little harbour neither of us could believe the difference between "in here" and "out there". Cap-a-l'Aigle is called a port of refuge on the chart and we could clearly see why.
Strathspey was next in and we went to work spraying off the salt. This was a new experience and made me wonder a bit about why I was so fired up about getting into salt water. Ordinarily we'd have made fast the lines, tidied up a wee bit and settled in with a "cheated death yet again" beer. This time we were spraying and wiping down for a good 45 minutes before we sat down to debrief all our new experiences in this one day- with drenched clothes hung on every rail.
Bagatelle and Wings arrived in safe and sound and after dinner, we conferred on departure times for the next morning. That darned tide. It called for another 0400 - 0500 hours departure. We split the difference and agreed to leave at 0430 if the 0330 weather report was favourable. Those of you who know us can guess that it was Jim who was on duty to receive the weather!
27/06/2007/10:00 pm, Quebec City, PQ
How can it be that it has taken us 10 days to travel what takes us less than 5 hours in a car? I guess we are getting a feel for the time it took to travel in the old days. Cruising down this river certainly evokes a sense of the history of travel in days before highspeed highways and trains and powerboats.
We spent a night in the well-sheltered little harbour of Portneuf with its solidly constructed breakwaters and floating docks, and then continued on to Quebec City. Basin Louise, right in the heart of the old city, was full so we stayed at the Yacht Club de Quebec, arriving late morning on June 25th. It was a good decision and we were happy there. They were very accommodating, gave us a good dock and warmly conversed with us in our imperfect French. Well - that would be my imperfect French. Jim is sounding very impressive as he takes every opportunity to converse en francais.
We putzed around on the boat, crossing a few more of the jobs off our to-do list. In late afternoon we shared a cab with the Buchanans into the old city and had a fine time wandering the streets. The friendly young woman at le Lapin Sauté beckoned us in so we enjoyed rabbit and duck at an outdoor patio accompanied by music in the park next door. My duck confit was lovely, and Jim declared his rabbit in two sauces to be delicious as well.
Of course we took the funicular to the top of the cliff, strolled along the boardwalk and ended the evening on the terrace of the Chateau Frontenac, sipping nightcaps and listening to a talented keyboard player on the boardwalk below - another one of life's special moments.
The next day offered opportunity to do laundry - sipping coffee and reading at the little café while I waited, more boat jobs, a run up to the local IGA with Joan, a lovely woman who offered us a lift there and back again in her audi convertible. Along with the ride, we got suggestions for future stops, and a little tour past some grand houses in the Plains of Abraham neighbourhood. We visited the chandlery next door to the yacht club where we spent some money and got good advice, and then Jim and I walked into the city along the waterfront trail. That was a good workout - 50 minutes and a steady pace. We strolled through the gardens on the Plains of Abraham, and admired the parliament buildings. As we stood there, we were amazed to see a great number of people all dressed in period costume come out the front doors and down to waiting buses. It took us back a bit at first and then seemed so very appropriate.
On Wednesday, we borrowed bikes from the yacht club and pedaled past the Coast Guard Base with a yard full of buoys and the big boats charged with the responsibility of protecting us. It is fascinating to see the buoys on dry land; they are like icebergs - just as much or more below the water surface than on top. We shopped at the market and enjoyed an especially good lunch at l'Ardoise, a perfect little bistro.
The afternoon was taken up with consulting tide charts and timetables and sailing directions. There are some excellent publications that are invaluable to us in planning routes and schedules. The guidebook that has become "the Book" in our conversation is the Downeast Circle Route, written by Captain Cheryl Barr. While it is not quite as all-inclusive as the Ports Books we are used to in the 1000 Islands, it is very good. Fisheries and Oceans Canada publishes Sailing Directions to the St Lawrence River, as well as the Canadian Tide and Current Tables and the Atlas of Tidal Currents - with excellent visuals. These books have become our best friends as we work out the math to determine the best times to travel. Jim and I have both found it satisfying to sit with the charts and the books and the GPS to plan our routes and schedules.
After conferring with the folks on Strathspey and on Wings (whom we found again here) we all agreed to depart at 0430 hours on Thursday morning. It's a long haul to Cap-a-l'Aigle, 70 nautical miles down river.
24/06/2007/10:00 pm, Batiscan, Quebec
Blowing into Batiscan
We motored onward from Montreal through the well-marked channel, watching a continual series of huge tankers and container ships heading upriver. We have a book called Know Your Ship and we look up each ship as we spot it. This year we have had to add many, many new checkmarks. Interestingly, far more ships were headed upriver than down. We've spotted ones from Panama, Shanghai, Morovia, Majuro, Helsinki, Rotterdam, London among others. We have found it fascinating to see these ships from far away slipping by, unnoticed by most of us on land. We have certainly become more aware of the international shipping traffic.
In good time, we arrived at our destination, Contrecoeurs, and wound our way through a narrow and shallow channel. Strathspey, with a shallower draft, kindly went ahead and called back the depths. Pas de problem! We cruised past the public wharfs and what to our wondering eyes did appear?? A Bayfield. A Bayfield 36 to be exact. I trained the binoculars on it and was amazed to see it was Little Gidding - the boat owned by our friends Eileen Quinn and David Allester. It was David and Eileen who encouraged our interest in traveling south and whose company we enjoyed in Belleville last summer when we were getting our cockpit enclosure made and they were first arriving back in Ontario after many years south. You can bet it wasn't long before we were in the dinghy and heading over to see what was up. We had a very pleasant conversation with Rene - the new owner - and confirmed that Eileen and David are entertaining lucky passengers on cruises on Lake Killarney this summer.
We paid a visit to the local supermarket and were delighted to find a very well stocked store in this little town. There were good produce, exotic herbs and spices, interesting meats - including bison and cheval. We didn't try the latter. Every store in Quebec has a selection of beer and wine, which is handy for cruisers who dine on their boats. This is a fine little town, and a beautiful anchorage. We were entertained by birdsongs and a fabulous sunset.
We made another early start on Friday, again in light wind so the motor was roaring away as we inched through Chenal Sud and rejoined the shipping channel. We passed Sorel, crossed Lac St Pierre, cruised by Trois Rivieres and were pleased that the wind picked up. Our sails went up, the motor was doused and we had a magnificent ride the rest of the way to Batiscan. Mary took some great shots of us as we blew along (the one on our profile is hers). I was marveling at how far over Madcap can heel without actually having the rail in the water. The waves just rise up and fly by, kissing the gunwales as they go. It was hard work handling lines though, letting them out a touch as we leaned too far and winching them in as we straightened up so we were happy to confer with Strathspey and head into Batiscan.
Jim and I had stopped here for a satisfying lunch on our drive back from Nova Scotia last summer and so it was with warm memories that we dropped our anchor just opposite the marina and near the bridge that spans the river. All that sailing had whetted our appetites so Blair and Mary, Jim and I hustled ourselves up to the restaurant. There we met Patrick, the smiling young owner, who informed us that we were parked "a little far from my wharf", but who welcomed us for an excellent seafood dinner cooked by his talented wife.
After having a look at the charts and the schedule of tides, we decided that in order to do our sailing in daylight, it made sense to linger another day, and then spend three nights in Quebec before heading toward the Saguenay. We have had experience sailing at night, but when all this is new territory, we'd like to see it! This is also St Jean Baptiste weekend and Patrick promised entertainment and fireworks on Saturday night, so we happily settled ourselves in for a two-day stay.
We walked past beautiful gardens down to the village on Saturday looking for a hardware store, only to find that it closed at noon on Saturdays (and this was 12:30). Even though we didn't find our screws and bolts, we found life decisions that make sense and that was good. The entertainment was loud and enthusiastic in the evening and the fireworks were set off in the river near our boat so we had a perfect view.
On our way out, we learned just exactly how precisely our depth sounder is aligned with our true depth (in boating terms, what we "draw") The tide was low as we headed out and we learned that 0.3 means we are afloat, and 0.1 means we are touching bottom. No problem because the bottom was mud and we just plowed our way through the short stretch to deeper water. Another time, we'd probably leave when the tide was a little higher!