We left Rimouski early in the morning (for us), sometime around six. There wasn’t much wind when we set off, and we never did see the ten to fifteen knots promised in the forecast. The consequence? We quickly realized that what we’d thought we could do in a day was going to take quite a bit longer. So we motor-sailed as far as we could through the day, and then kept going overnight.
Late in the day we saw ships in the distance. Ships are much larger than we are; we kept an anxious eye on them, trying to figure out what they were doing. As we came closer we saw that we needn’t have worried. They were anchored; we passed them as the sun was setting, going down in a spectacle of red and gold.
Travelling slowly does have its advantages – we had lots of time to look around. We saw seals and cormorants and a lot of other water birds; as night fell we watched some of the birds settle down on the water and drift away with the current. Where did they end up, we wondered? And we glimpsed whales, possibly belugas.
The weather was still cold, colder than we thought it should have been at the end of August and definitely colder than we had prepared for. And when we checked weather forecasts they said the temperatures would stay at about 15C for the next six days. We pulled on our layers, had soup for lunch and supper, and warm drinks in between, and hoped we were travelling toward warmer temperatures – eventually.
Overnight the current turned against us, and then, with the change of the tide, favourable again. Richard worked hard to find a good balance between progress and husbanding the power in our batteries. We pulled the generator out again, and kept going as long as we had the current with us. Then we anchored between Îl-aux-Pommes and Île Verte to wait through the cycle until it turned favourable again. That’s when we appreciated the lack of wind. No need to worry about dragging anchors.
Richard slept as the boat rocked gently, the alcohol heater made the cabin a little warmer, the generator kept charging the batteries while we paused. I had slept the night before, so it was my turn to stay awake and change the plugs for the chargers so that each battery bank was charged equally. I did mention we can only charge one of our two battery banks at a time, didn’t I?
Now, finally we could see both sides of the river (which is why the currents were growing stronger). Weeds drifted past in the current. Cormorants flew past, the occasional seal lifted its head. I glimpsed something swimming not far away, but couldn’t tell what it was.
Then the tide changed and so did the wind. North east winds at 10 to 20 knots had been forecast, and when they came they filled in fast. The wind made the water rough, but it also gave us enough power to sail through the remaining (weak) current against us. And now we were sailing on a beam reach – one of the best and quickest points of sail for us.
Richard steered, taking us across some shallower waters as we came closer to Rivière-du-Loup. Suddenly he saw something diving and surfacing behind us; when he called me I heard it before I saw it, heard the pop of its breath as it surfaced. A beluga! Then just as suddenly as it had appeared it disappeared again, and we were left feeling oddly alone.
We got to the marina at Rivière-du -Loup just as the sun was fading. We had tried to call them before we got there on the radio, but without success. We tried our phones as well, but they refused to phone out; later we turned them off and back on again, after which they worked for a while – but the same thing happened several times as we travelled through Quebec. Whether we could get in touch with them or not we needed a sheltered place to stay now, and there the marina was.
So we went in past the breakwater, figuring out the layout from the chart and what we could see in front of us, circled in the basin (noticing that it was shallow and had a current) and went into an open slip where we tied up with help from a kind gentleman who didn’t speak English (we asked). If he had we might have learned more about what we were getting into. But there were other sailboats there, different kinds and sizes, so we thought – where they can dock we should be able to as well. We were soon reminded of the risks of thinking that way!
Then we cleaned up minimally, put our batteries on charge and plugged our electric heater in. We could deal with the formalities in the morning. It was warmer in the main cabin, so we slept there – you could say it was cozy. At about three in the morning we woke to find ourselves sleeping on a slant, and the dock lower than it had been. Our keel was obviously resting on the bottom. However at that point there was nothing we could do about it, so we went back to sleep.
The next morning Richard got ready to sign us in. Luckily that’s when someone who did speak English came past – luckily because he told us the person in the office did not (though later we did find gestures and my rudimentary French worked in some situations). They went up to the office together, and not long after Richard was back to tell me that we could get a drive to one of the grocery stores if we could be ready by nine. A ride? That was worth hustling for.
There’s a good reason the offer of a ride was so welcome. None of the grocery stores is within walking distance of the marina; without a ride we would have had to take a taxi or not go shopping at all. So we got tidied up and ready by nine, and made sure we were ready to go back when our friendly driver had finished his business in town and was going back to the marina, where he oversees travel to and bookings to stay on the Île aux Lièvres, one of the scenic islands in the Lower St. Lawrence. And a great place to go to see birds and water creatures.
The advantage of driving with someone is that you have a chance to talk to each other, and we did. We learned about his time spent travelling in the north and on the Atlantic, and about the Île aux Lièvres where visitors can camp, stay in a small inn, stay in cabins or just visit and hike for the day. We also learned why the weather was so cold – across the river, where the Saguenay enters the St. Lawrence, there is an upwelling of very cold water; when north east winds blow they bring the cold across the river to Rivière-du-Loup. Summer days can be as warm as 25C or as cold as 8C.
He also introduced Richard to someone he said might have some good advice, a captain of one of the boats that takes visitors across to Île aux Lievres, a sailor who winters on a boat in the Caribbean and works in Quebec in the summer. That introduction was one of the kindest things he could have done.
It turned out that the captain had been involved in measuring currents for the current atlas that was to be our bible for the next little while. And that he did indeed have a lot of useful knowledge to share. On his recommendation we mapped a course toward Quebec City and Lévis that took us diagonally across the river to the north shore, to Cap à l’Aigle, and then diagonally back again toward the south shore, making sure to stay out of rip currents and eddies along the way. And avoiding the dangers posed by boulders along the south shore that may or may not be in their charted position after winter ice passes through.
So our time in Rivière-du-Loup was spent gathering very useful information and getting ready to move on. Which did not leave much time for other kinds of exploration or picture taking. Though we did manage to get a few. And then it was time to get ready to leave.
We left our slip in the basin when the tide was high enough (meaning we were floating, with a little space under the keel) to move to the official visitors dock. We could leave from there when the wind dropped and the current was right. This dock, we learned, is the only one with sufficient depth for most sailboats to float in any tide. It was also close to the entrance, and not as well sheltered as the basin; and we had to wait for the boat that was there to move before we could go there. It was an interesting dance.
The boat that was there was a Valiant, a 40 or 42. The wind was still blowing hard as it cast off, and the current was running strongly. Unable to turn toward the entrance it found itself caught in the small basin, and was helped out by the captain who had helped us. Meantime we were trying to stay out of the way, maneuvering backward and forward – this is where the simplicity, torque and quick response of the electric motor shines – and dock where they had been. In the excitement we didn’t take sufficient account of the wind and current and scratched our boat on the dock corner as we went in – a souvenir we’ll keep until we haul Into The Blue next year and can work on the hull.
But we made it there, watched the dark fall and the lights come on in the ferry against the wall, ate supper and went early to bed. We were going to be up at four so we could leave at five, with the tide and before the sun rose. When we woke up the next morning we saw another sailboat sitting at the service dock beside us, lights on, waiting for the tide. By the time we left the dock and the marina they were already gone.
And then so were we, bound across the river. Next stop, Lévis.
Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Margaret and Richard Mair