ST. LAWRENCE RIVER
tied off nights at the Keewaydin State Park marina. Nice folks there. The inside
slips were quiet spots. Soon, however, the nomadic urge struck. "Let's stay
out on the river," El suggested. "Then we don't have the 'string' pulling
us back to the marina every evening. We'll see more of the river and feel her
pulse." So we loaded up on provisions and started out.
-----"Head up the river, or down?" I queried as we cleared the buoy by the marina entrance.
-----"Well, it's a coin toss - let's head down on the American side. Traveling counterclockwise, we can circumnavigate by returning on the Canadian." El and Magellan have much in common, and they both enjoy running counter the norm.
-----We turned to starboard, little realizing it would be a month before we "returned on the Canadian." We found some delightful anchorages amongst the islands, protected from wakes, other boats, and even from lights ashore. We wandered into a channel, one small-boat wide. Surprisingly, it is well marked by numbered buoys. We were later told it is the smallest (in length, width, and depth) navigable channel marked by the Coast Guard.
-----The anchorage that was to be the farthest east, behind Chippewa Point, was a delightful, quiet spot. We arrived at noon, hooked, had lunch, and took a nap through the afternoon thundershowers with the rain pounding a staccato on the cabin roof. That evening, as the sun broke through the receding cumulus, we sat in the cockpit. We watched cormorants dive for their dinner while we gnawed on our corn on the cob.
-----"Been looking at the charts," I said to El. "Looks interesting down river."
-----El continued munching.
-----"There are some locks and wide stretches, but Montreal's down there," I continued.
-----El perked up. "Why not? We have the time and provisions. The weather looks good. Let's go." Done.
-----The next morning, we headed back to the river, and again turned to starboard, down river toward the sea. And we had the company of many large ships flying foreign flags.
Two Whistle Pass One Whistle Pass
-----Rivers have always had a special fascination for us. There is something especially appealing about sitting on the back of a flowing river. This was first discovered while drifting in a canoe as a child. As grownup children, we still know the allure. A stream seems to be full of the mystery of life. It has a beginning somewhere, but where? It begins as a trickle, I know, but finding the source makes an intriguing quest. The source of the Nile? The headwaters of the Missouri? Imagination swells at the prospect. It challenges our human nature to find the origin of things.
-----Through most of our river-running days, a canoe, sport-yak, kayak or raft was our transportation vehicle. The headwaters have fast water, often whitewater -- and this was the allure. We have run, often many times, the headwaters of the great rivers of America -- the Colorado, the San Juan, Snake, Salmmon, Rio Grande, Green, Yampa, Umpqua, Willamette, the Thelon. Ten trips through the Grand Canyon. Two thousand miles in a double kayak down the Upper Missouri. These trips were always down the river and they usually ended at that proverbial 'head of navigation' -- the farthest upriver that powered boats can travel. In our youth, the romance of a river was along its 'youthful' course -- we left the power boats to others.
-----Now, older and living on a power boat, we travel upstream to the navigable limits -- of the river and ourselves.
-----We cruise both our halcyon days and those of the river -- below the tumult and dash of youth! What a different and delightful perspective. As Henry David Thoreau admonished, we have a 'wide margin' to our lives.
----- As we drift down the St. Lawrence eating breakfast in the cockpit, we feel the surge. We hear the murmurs and whispers. Sometimes the river growls as we drift pass shoals and marks. It appears to be full of purpose and it is definitely going somewhere - where? Sure, downhill, but perhaps that could be said of all of us. Gravity pulls on a river like time pulls on us. Inexorable forces causing change and motion. Maybe, if we could drift on down this river some of the mysteries of life would be revealed to the child inside - or to the grown-up outside.
-----Locks break our reverie - humans intrude on the flow of the river to control commerce. These locks on the Seaway are BIG. We step down locks with names laden with meaning: Iroquois, Eisenhower, Snell, Melocheville, Beauharnois, St. Catherine, and St. Lambert.
Full Ten Minutes Later -- A Canyon with Wet Walls
cleared Canadian customs over the telephone and cruised at our usual 11 knots
downstream. Halcyon was easily capable of more than twice that speed, but
what's the hurry when it's the process and not the destination that's important?
-----Before long, we were no longer on the St. Lawrence River, but on the Fleuve Saint-Laurent. That evening, we tied off to the wall of the abandoned Canal de Soulanges on the north shore of Lac St. Francis. We sat in the cockpit, sipping a sundowner, and toasted Halcyon. The three of us had traveled from Mexico to Canada.
-----El had a far-off look in her eyes. "Boaters like to say that the two happiest days with a boat are the day you buy her and the day you sell her." She scowled as she took a sip from her g & t. "That simply is not true. Sure, the day you buy her is an exciting, joyful day. But, if you buy a good boat and treat her well, the happiest times are those you share with her. I'm far happier with Halcyon today than the day we bought her. Now, she is a proven friend. We three have had some unforgettable experiences together."
-----She drifted off into silence as we watched the gulls fly through the golden clouds of sunset.
-----El and I have promised ourselves that we would carry paper charts of the water we cruise. Now that's an expensive decision. We have, however, heard horrific tales of fractured props, ripped outdrives, and holed hulls from folks without charts. Suddenly, the cost of a chart seems a reasonable price for 'insurance.' Besides, it keeps us in contact with the geography around us - the names, the towns, the creeks. Our personal identities are linked to names, and so it is with natural features.
-----Our abrupt decision to cruise down the St. Lawrence meant we had no paper charts beyond the Thousand Islands. Cruising down the big river is not particularly a problem - after all, if ocean-going ships can naviigate these waters so can a twenty-two-foot C-Dory. The Coast Guards of both countries maintain excellent navigation marks - massive green cans and portly red nuns. They reflect off our radar like huge ships. The route ahead is clear - the marine highway is marked on both sides by large black blips on the screen. The generalized maps in our Chartplotter supply the names for major features. The cruising guide tells us of marinas, charming towns, and even restaurants. Anyway, no one had paper charts for sale.
-----Computers have revolutionized cruising. Oh, sure - you can go without the fancy stuff. In fact, you had better know how to do without. All the gizmos are powered by electricity, and if the batteries go down or the wires short out you had better have a compass aboard, know how to take a fix and have the paper charts to guide you into port. Most of the time, the computers work and they sure make life easier and safer.
-----We remember a night down on the Gulf. We were making an overnight offshore passage. We were out of sight of land. A local fisherman told us that we could expect one foot of depth for every mile offshore, and we like at least five feet under the hull, so we were well out.
-----We stand four-hour watches on night passages. It is both frightening and magical to sit at the helm in the darkness, alone. We have promised each other that we will awaken the other if there is any doubt about a decision. I awakened El that night.
-----"There are lights directly aft," I told her as she sipped some hot tea to clear the cobwebs. "They have been closing on us for the past half hour. I have altered course to seaward, and they shifted course to follow. I shifted again farther to seaward, and they shifted again. He's getting closer."
-----El went into the cockpit and peered aft through the rising mist - "Yep, a red, a green, and an intervening white. He's coming straight at us. Better get on the VHF and see who he is."
-----We have read and heard tales of troubles along the Gulf coast. Smugglers, usually of drugs and sometimes people, board a cruising boat, throw the owners overboard, and take their boat. Almost every cruiser we have met down there carries a firearm for protection. I had proposed the idea to El. We are both familiar with pistols. I taught firearm use and we still owned a few sidearms. El practiced her revolver on a police range. The guys were impressed. She could outshoot the Massachusetts State Troopers who used the range. We had, however, decided not to travel armed - we choose to trust people. Now, watchingg the boat close on us, we had second thoughts.
-----On channel 16, El asked, "Power boat at lat long seven miles off such and so we are the boat dead ahead. What are your intentions?"
-----There was a long period of silence, and El had brought the mike back up to call again, when the VHF crackled a reply. "Ma'am - I reckon you all are hailing me. I'm flat lost. Can you help me?"
-----El suggested a shift to 68 and continued, "We are Halcyon. What is your name, sir?"
-----He gave it, and El asked, "What is your destination?"
-----He answered. He was bound down the coast for a port thirty miles short of our destination. El told him our destined port, and he responded, "Well, ma'am, I'd be much obliged if'n I could just hang onto your skirts. It's mighty lonely out hyah and you was the fust lights I've seen all night. Just after dark, my GPS busted. I reckoned it would be noth'n just to chug overnight to home, but lordy, it's DARK out hyah."
-----El asked if he had a compass or charts. "Nope. I know north is where the land is. And if you don't know where you are in the first place, what good is a map?"
-----El looked at me and shrugged. "Well, just hang on - but hold back a few hundred yards, please."
He hung there until dawn, spotted his harbor, gave a thanks, and vectored off to 'home.'
-----We were chartless on the St. Lawrence. We have, however, a modern substitute for paper charts. We stopped at a marina for fuel, and there on the wall were the required St. Lawrence charts. They had none to sell and wouldn't part with the wall charts. I photographed them with our digital camera. I couldn't upload them into the Chartplotter since the software was incompatible. Nevertheless, we had charts to study, in our laptop.
-----We crossed Lac Saint-Louis and found the South Shore Canal (fortunately, it has a geographic name so it was easy to locate). The canal dropped us down two more locks, and disgorged us back into the river again - below Montreal!
A Beautiful Flag - Québec A Beautiful City -- Montreal
-----It was near evening, and the billowy white cumulus clouds were starting to turn an ominous shade of gray. Looking for a good anchorage, we spotted a small private ferry carrying a farm tractor crossing the river ahead. We followed him into a channel that bisects Grand Isle. There, we found an anchorage, in a weedy shallow off the side of the channel that looked perfect for the night. We hooked, had supper in the cockpit, and turned in early. Locks are tiring.
-----Two hours after hitting the sack, the wind she blew. I heard the anchor line go taut and awoke to crawl into the cabin - we were swirling around in our little slough, but the anchor she held. Off to the east, the sky was splintering with massive bolts of lightening. No worries, though, eh? At this latitude, summer storms never come from the east, right? Just to be sure, I rigged a bed out of the settee in the cabin, curled into a sleeping bag, and slept where I could keep an "eye" on the storm.
an hour, the storm arrived (from the east). I awakened to driving rain pounding
on the roof and cabin-shuddering rumbles of thunder. I got soaked putting up the
canvas around the cockpit. We snapped back and forth on the anchor rode in the
strong wind. Then, suddenly, we stopped moving. As the storm passed, the wind
shift had shoved us against the muddy shore. Now, with everything calm, I sat
and watched as the thunderstorm broke in all its glorious intensity above us.
In an hour the show was over, and I went back to sleep on the settee until dawn.
-----Now, the problem. We were well aground and the wind waves had lifted us inch by inch onto the muddy shore. El awakened to find me shoving, pulling, and cussing as I tried to get Halcyon off the hard. "Hey, wait a minute, brains over brawn," El said. She deftly flipped the switch on the windlass, and then let it haul in against the anchor. In a few minutes, with me rocking the boat, she had kedged Halcyon obediently off the mud. I, however, was still ashore after the last shove against the stern.
-----"Tough luck, Bill. Anyone who isn't bright enough to kedge a boat deserves a morning swim."
we reached Sorel, we noticed the Richelieu River on our digitized charts. The
river gave access to the south, via the St. Ours and Chambly locks and canal,
to Lake Champlain. We couldn't resist, and spun the wheel hard a'starboard.
the trip south, El talked with a lady on a Vermont boat, as they were both tending
bow lines in the locks. "You haven't been to Québec
City?" The lady frowned at El's negative reply. "Why, it has been the
best part of our entire trip! You must go."
-----Serendipity again. When we returned from Lake Champlain and the canals, we had a short debate. At the junction with the St. Lawrence, we again turned to starboard and headed on down river bound for Québec City.
-----"We'll soon be in the Atlantic," I mused. "Are you thinking about circumnavigating all of New England?" I shouldn't have said that.
-----"Not a bad idea," the Magellanic El answered, deep in thought over the possibility.
-----The only reason we didn't was due to a commitment to meet our daughter 'somewhere in Ontario' later in the month.
-----We were now below the last Seaway lock and the huge tides of the Atlantic's Gulf of St. Lawrence extended far up the river. We timed our travel to ride the back of the tides. This not only conserved fuel but reduced the standing waves in the rapids near Québec.
-----The Vermont lady is right - Québec is fabulous. And what a romantic way to enter the city - by water! The Hotel Frontenac, the Citadel, the famed Heights - there they were, all out the port windows. The town marina, protected from the tides by a lock, is right in town - an easy stroll to the old town and all those restaurants. We love Québec!
Port de Québec Snuggled In
-----All good things come to an end, right? We had to leave Québec, and we were sure sorry to go. El e-mailed her thanks to the lady from Vermont. "Told you so," came the reply. So, now, folks, we've told you so.
-----Our trip back up the St. Lawrence was made in perfect weather. The experiences with the 'salties,' the big ocean-going ships, are always exciting in the close quarters of canals and locks.
----- The locks on the St. Lawrence cost $20 for each lockage. That starts to add up. The Iroquois lock is only a few feet up or down, at the mid-summer stage. We debated - $20 buys a bunch of miles of gas - so wee decided to run the dam instead of the lock. One floodgate was up, the clearance was close, but $20! It was exciting and if we didn't have other boats to watch and follow I think we would have lost our nerve - as it was, we thought we'd lose our radar dome.
Yikes! Filling the Lock
-----Just outside Sorel, as the sun was setting, we found a beautiful anchorage in Baie de Gráce, amongst the many islands in the area. The water surface was a perfect mirror and we were having our traditional libation in the cockpit, when an interesting boat appeared. It was a converted lifeboat, and well-fitted for cruising. We chatted with the folks aboard for a few minutes. As they departed, they invited us to stop by their cabin on a nearby island the next morning.
Baie I'ile de Gráce Sunset Rejean, the Chef
-----Not long after sunup, we pulled anchor, headed into the Chanel de Courdeau, and tied off at Champagne Cottage. Rejean and Louise were awaiting us on the dock. We had a delightful time, visiting like long-time friends, and enjoying Rejean's bacon and eggs. They epitomized the marvelous hospitality, joie, and sincerity we found among all the French Canadians we met.
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