Following the Champlain rendezvous we headed north, anchoring at Valcour with the Foshays, then in King Bay near the Chazy River. Then on past Rouses Point and Fort Montgomery to cross the Canadian border and enter the Richelieu River. Canadian customs was quick and easy at the dock just north of the border on the west shore. We were motoring into a north wind. It is very rare that wind, currents, weather and time cooperate on rivers and canals, so 95% of the trip we were a motor boat. We still had our mast up the first 22 miles to St. Jean sur Richelieu where we stopped for the night at the southern end of the Chambly Canal. This was our first French town-I had been practicing my high school French but it turned out we hardly needed it. Just about everyone we met spoke excellent English. We bought charts for the St. Lawrence, a Quebec courtesy flag, new docklines, visited a bank and had a lovely meal on a terrace across the road from where Time Enough was docked. With the exchange rate at $.65 US to $1. Canadian, everything was a bargain.
If you can't afford a trip to Paris, Quebec is not a bad substitute. In the morning we unstepped the mast and entered the Chambly Canal. The locks are tiny-21 feet wide-and operated by hand by friendly, helpful park staff. On one side is a bike path next to the rapids of the Richelieu River, the other side literally in peoples backyards. The bikers traveled a little faster than us, the walkers a little slower. Plenty of time to chat, look at the lovely gardens, get to know other boaters locking through with you. Last year we passed through Quebec by truck, but we weren't really in Quebec, we were in our truck. Traveling at 5 knots, you really get to see the countryside and meet the people. Everyone we met was friendly, helpful and welcoming. The houses were neat and tidy, often with bright colored roofs, and every one different. The towns were neat and clean, not a speck of trash to be seen. The river and canal are heavily used by Quebecois boaters, also there were plenty of marinas along the way.
A flight of 8 locks brought us back on to the Richelieu at the Chambly Basin. Chambly is a good stop for provisions with a large modern supermarket a short walk from the docks. And lots of good restaurants, including a brew pub. We continued north on the Richelieu, hurried along by a 2 knot current. We anchored out that night between two islands, and restepped the mast, as supposedly the bridges were all high the rest of the way to Sorel on the St. Lawrence. And they were, except for the very last in Sorel. It was a swing railroad bridge that was being dismantled, and the opening was blocked by cables, a fact we only discovered when we were 50 yards away, with wind and current behind us. We circled and lowered the mast far enough to sneak under - only on a Macgregor! The next minute we were sailing past large freighters on the wide St. Lawrence, enjoying a brisk sail across Lac St. Pierre to Trois Rivieres.
Trois Rivieres (Three Rivers) is a heavy duty industrial city with a large port. The marina is in the shadow of a large paper mill, which is ok if the wind is right, but less than charming. Starting at Trois Rivieres we had to take tidal currents into account. If you reach Quebec at the wrong time the flood current can be more than our boat speed. In other words, we would go backwards. We followed the recommendations and flew the 69 miles to Quebec in 8 hours, averaging over 8 knots. Richelieu Rapids was exciting - the current boiled up around us as we went through this narrow section at over 10 knots. We reached Quebec at low tide with thunder storms threatening. The mean tide is 14 feet; it can get over 18 feet. To cope with this the inner marina basin is entered by a lock. When you emerge from the lock you are in a totally protected basin in the heart of Old Quebec, with the city walls and the famous Chateau Frontenac looming above you.
We stayed at Quebec City for three days and barely touched the surface. A resident told us that most of the early settlers came from La Rochelle, and built Quebec to resemble home. It is certainly the most European looking city in North America, with narrow streets and stone buildings. And lots of great food. The town was full of tourists, including many from France.
We pressed onward toward Tadoussac and the Saguenay Fiord, again riding the tide. We anchored near Isle aux Coudres about half way (50 miles), but spent an uncomfortable night in strong currents and rolling from wakes. There are very few good anchorages along the St. Lawrence. Protected coves tend to dry out at low tide, strong tidal currents and boat (and ship) traffic make things too lively.
The next day brought us to Tadoussac, at the juncture of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence. This is also the juncture of St. Lawrence River water and the Atlantic Ocean water-you can clearly see the line between the brown river and clear blue ocean. Clear, blue, COLD, Labrador Current. The water temperature was 48 degrees and TIME ENOUGH became a floating refrigerator. This conflux of currents also results in a bounteous feeding ground for whales, seals and dolphins. As we approached we were greeted by curious looks from Harbor seals and saw the dark back of a Minke whale.
The small marina at Tadoussac was chock full, with boats doubled up, so we decided to anchor out, choosing a spot in six feet of water, stern anchor on the lovely beach, bow out to any swell or wake. We had a very peaceful, restful night, until 3:30 AM, when we were awakened by a very loud GLUGG right under our ears. A panicky check of the bilges assured us we were not sinking, but the glugging continued. I parted the curtain and looked out to see dry sand surrounding TE. I thought I had anchored at near low tide but I was off in my reckoning. The glugging was caused by our water ballast slowly leaking out. We had come to rest so softly on the sand we hadn't woken. There were large boulders scattered around us, so truly luck was with us. There was nothing to do but wait for the tide to return. At 4:30 it was light (the days are long up here) and I got off and strolled around, took a photo and cleaned the hull. By 10 AM we were floating again and moved to the marina, nothing injured but my ego and self confidence.
Tadoussac is a popular vacation spot offering whale watching cruises and tours of the Saguenay fiord, lots of B&Bs and restaurants, hiking trails, and a nice promenade and beach. Again everyone was friendly and pleasant. A boy who couldn't have been more than 4, walking by holding his father's hand, looked up at Carol, smiled and said "Bon jour". The thought occurred to me that we teach our children to be unfriendly, not to talk to strangers, be fearful of others.
We took Time Enough up the Saguenay River. It looks as if you took Yosemite and filled it with sea water. Granite cliffs go straight up over a thousand feet. Endangered belugas (white whales) are common here and we sailed along side their family groups. It was wild and beautiful, but COLD! At night you could see your breath, and I slept with a knit wool cap on my head and dreamed of swimming in Champlain's warm, fresh water; so we didn't linger as long as we might have. We returned to Tadoussac and went out on the St. Lawrence to look for whales, but were turned back by 20-25 knot winds and rough seas. We were weathered in for another day, enjoying more delicious meals ashore, including a wonderful buffet dinner at Hotel Tadoussac.
We did get out whale watching and saw fins, minkes, belugas, seals. Then back toward Quebec. The upstream trip is tougher, taking three days to cover the distance we did in two downstream. The Richelieu Rapids have only a two hours period when the current is slack, so you have to time it carefully. All went well until we reached Lac St. Pierre, where we got caught in the open in a series of violent thunder storms. At times I could not see from one marker to the next. Suddenly I was surrounded by shallows and islands where none should be. I tossed out the anchor and went below to dry off. When the storm abated we saw we were only 150 yards out of the channel, but protected by an island and in what turned out to be the best anchorage of the whole trip. Once again luck was with us.
The next day brought us back to Sorel, the railroad bridge now dismantled and clear. In the Richelieu we were also fighting a current, using more time and gas. At US customs in Rouses Point we were asked if we were bringing any thing back. "Only about an extra 10 pounds around my middle." I don't know why the Quebecois are not as big as houses, but they are fit and trim, smile and laugh a lot, a very attractive people. We were three weeks in Quebec and wish we had more time to spend, particularly at Quebec City and Saguenay fiord. We are now back on Champlain enjoying the sun and swimming,then home to Albany. Next-cruise the ICW to Florida this fall? I'm loving retirement.