The currents were what determined the direction we took; the winds determined how long we travelled. The first we could predict with some certainty, with the help of the tide atlas and current tables, the second we could hope would be favorable.
We left Rivière du Loup before sunrise and set off, as advised, diagonally across the river, heading for Cap à l’Aigle. As we went across the flood current lifted us upstream, and by the end of that segment of our trip we were outside the marina at Cap à l’Aigle. We might have stopped there – many do – but we were considering our finances and looking for opportunities to anchor. Or continue on.
The marina looked inviting. High breakwaters around a basin that doesn’t dry out, and set in a beautiful area. But we had read in one of the sailing guides that you can maintain five knots and stay with the current you can ride it from the Cap to Quebec City. A very tempting thought. And the wind picked up, so we decided to try.
Alas. the wind proved fickle. It dropped soon after, and now we were travelling too slowly. We were still on the north shore, where the currents were weaker, but even so we spent time tacking backwards before the current began to run our way again.
As the ebb tide eased we began to travel diagonally back across the river. There are areas of rip currents and eddies to avoid, so Richard had set the course carefully. This time we rode the current into the night, motor-sailing (and charging the batteries with the generator, as much as we could) through the day. By the time we were facing an opposing current and near a place we could anchor it was close to midnight and we’d been running the generator for nineteen hours.
We dropped the hook off Île aux Coudres. Currents are strong in many places around the island, so (on our second attempt) we found a spot comparatively free of current, and stopped there. Through the rest of the night we kept the generator running, trying to replenish our batteries as much as we could. Come morning it was time to move on again.
I’m on the helm when we pick up the anchor, while Richard works the windlass up at the bow. Normally, knowing which direction to go isn’t difficult. But this time I hadn’t picked out a good landmark or light to aim toward, and the waters here are full of islands and almost-islands, rocks and shallows. And the chart plotter doesn’t indicate the direction you are steering in accurately until you’re underway and have picked up some speed. That meant there were a few moments of disorientation before I saw which way to go. A feeling I dislike strongly! After this I made sure I picked out my landmark/light as soon as we anchored anywhere.
We still hoped we could ride the current from here to Lévis, across from Quebec City. Once again the winds were not strong enough. We spent the day working our way across banks and shallow areas, avoiding the areas with rip tides shown on the charts or suggested by the current atlas. The current atlas and the tide charts for this area of the St. Lawrence are invaluable. Between them we figured out when to travel, and how to avoid the strongest currents against us.
But they couldn’t help us with the winds. And because of the wind (or lack thereof) we didn’t make it to Lévis on that run of the tide. Instead we dropped anchor off Île Madame, and watched a workboat travel from there to the park on the other side, then back again. The people aboard gave us a friendly wave as they passed. Once they were done they used their tractor to haul the boat up the shore, making us think about the high winds predicted for the next day.
High winds here are usually best got through in the shelter of a marina, and so we phoned ahead to a marina in Lévis to request a slip. The tide was going to change and the current run with us again around midnight, and we would be at the marina before there were any staff there. Arranging for a slip meant we would know where to go, and we could be sure there was a place for us.
We slept for the next six hours, waking periodically to change battery charger plugs. We woke up and had a snack at about eleven (or to put it the way we do in our ship’s log, 23:00 hours). Just before midnight we picked up the anchor again and set off.
This time we made very good time motor-sailing. Night sailing at sea is something we love; this was not quite the same, but we enjoyed being in the cockpit together, seeing the stars above, the lights on the water, watching for the pattern of lights that said there was a ship coming along the channel. Behind us a sliver of a moon rose through the clouds.
Most of the time we were going over five knots, the speed we knew we needed to maintain to make it to Lévis on this turn of the current. Sooner than we expected we were passing part of the Port of Quebec, sailing through eddies off the wharfs and watching for any ships that might be coming or going.
By four o’clock we were off the marina. It was an hour earlier and a lot darker than we had expected. We circled outside the marina entrance, trying to see where the docks were and how they were arranged, figuring out what the entrance was like. While we circled Richard put on lines and fenders, and then we angled through the entrance and tied up at a reception dock we saw immediately in front of us.
As soon as we were well tied up Richard got off to find the dock we had been assigned – it was two slips away, and the one between it and where we were was empty. So we had breakfast and worked out how to move ourselves over so that we would end up bow out. We have a boat that tends to reverse in the direction it chooses (or the wind and tide do), regardless of the wishes of the person nominally in control. In the end a long rope at the bow, a shorter rope at the stern, a small amount of power strategically applied, and between Richard on the dock and myself at the helm we got the boat around the dock and into the right spot.
We could still feel some of the effects of wind and current; the boat moved constantly, the ropes creaked, the dock banged as the wind rose. But at least we didn’t have to worry about the anchor dragging. And as soon as Richard had taken care of formalities we slept away some of our tiredness, then cleaned up and set off to take care of a very necessary chore – getting more groceries. We had arrived on a holiday weekend, and we didn’t want to take a chance that stores might be closed the next day.
This time there were grocery stores within walking distance, a Metro Plus and an IGA. No-one said it was an easy walk, though. It began easily enough, with a pleasant walk along a paved path beside the river. Then it got harder – to reach the rest of the town we had to go up. Up a steep, winding road with no sidewalks. The short walk through town that came after was an opportunity to catch our breaths. Shopping completed the return to the boat was less breathless even though our backpacks were heavier; it’s easier walking downhill!
The path along the river has been designed to be used for walking and biking and running and other such activities. It’s wide and well-travelled by all kinds of people, and after it passes the marina it runs alongside a shoreline area with sea grass and bird houses and a small catamaran stuck up in one corner, looking sadly lost. Then there’s a large park and playgrounds and buildings, and across the river there are spectacular views of Quebec City.
We were quite happy to look across at Quebec City. The marinas there have more services and give instant access to a beautiful city, but they are also more expensive than in Lévis. And the marina we were in was accessible at any point in the tide (there is a lock to enter the marina in the Port of Quebec), even if anyone coming in had to judge carefully the effects of wind and current and adjust their approach to the entrance accordingly. Though it was a little bit more expensive than we’d expected; once again the fees in the Quebec Nautiguide were lower than the ones we actually had to pay. Which was a consideration, since we knew we were going to be there for at least a couple of days, until the bad weather passed.
From our slip we could look out and see what conditions were like on the river. Depending on the wind and current we could watch sailboats sliding sideways or moving briskly forward, and see how local sailors worked with the tide and conditions. And we could see herons around the rocks of the breakwater, listen to ducks calling nearby, hear something unseen splash beside the boat, watch a young cormorant land clumsily.
On the second day of our stay the wind blew hard. There was rain, then a break, then rain again. In one of the breaks Richard decided to fill our gas cans and set off along the docks toward the shore, only to find that the main dock connecting us to shore was underwater. And there were electrical connections on it. A local sailor saw the situation and went back to advise the staff, who later came past to say they had disconnected the electricity to the dock we were on because the cord it ran through was underwater. Apparently this was not the first time this had happened when the wind blew hard from its current direction.
No electricity – that was a bit of a problem for us, since we expected to leave the next day and wanted to set off with our batteries full. After some discussion we moved (in the strong wind, which made maneuvering interesting – we were very glad to have the help of that local sailor and of staff) to another slip on a dock across from us. At least our original decision to dock bow out made that move easier! And we quickly realized there was another benefit to moving – this slip was much quieter and we rocked less.
That night we went to bed with the wind howling and woke to its noise the next morning. But it dropped steadily through the day and by the time we were ready to leave things were a lot calmer. While we waited for things to settle Richard found opportunities to take pictures between the rain showers, fill the gas cans and put more water in our tank. Then it was time to go.
One of the staff members (who has a boat in the Bahamas) helped us cast off. Then we were on our way to an unwanted adventure in anchoring. Which had something to do with learning more about the use and care of our batteries and electric motor.
Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Richard Mair and Margaret Mair