We left Marina de Saurel just after eleven in the morning. The staff were busy, so two cruisers from a trawler that was pausing to be hauled after hitting something in the water helped us away from the dock. Asking for help is one of those things we wouldn’t have done before I found myself with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, but it has its advantages – this time it introduced us to two very nice people who would help us again later on, further up the river.
We sailed into the wind through the day, tacking back and forth and staying out of the ship channel’s strong currents as much as possible. By early evening the wind had grown light and we were motoring. Then it was back to balancing what we took out of the batteries against what was going back in. We ran the generator as we travelled through the night.
Day was coming when we dropped anchor in an area between three islands – Îles aux Vaches, au Veau and Sainte-Thérèse. Rain started and mist filled the air shortly after we got there; it rained off and on all through the day, and the landscape was filled with greys except when the setting sun added colour to the mist and clouds. The only other spot of colour we saw was the red coat of a fisherman in a small boat off one of the islands.
Not that we minded. It was a good day for sleeping, and we did a lot of that before we woke and looked more closely at what was around us. There was a marina on the big island, full of mid-sized powerboats, with what looked like three sailboat masts among them. Along the part of the shore closest to us small powerboats and pontoon boats sat at docks and on moorings. It looked as if the area was shallow. The docks and moorings with sailboats – and, we guessed, deeper water close to shore – were further away. Large electrical towers carrying cables marched off into the distance from the islands closest to us.
We had thought we might go into the marina close by for gas, but that would have meant putting the dinghy into the water and we were feeling lazy. If we could find a marina that was deeper we could go to their gas dock and away again – and easily dump garbage and get water as well. Richard made a phone call to one of the marinas further away along the river’s shore, and found out that while they didn’t have a gas dock there was another marina on Île Sainte-Hélène that did. So we decided that the next day we would move close to those marinas and to the start of the channel that leads to the first of the locks.
We moved the next morning, picking up the anchor and motor-sailing to a spot off the marina Richard had phoned (the one without gas), outside their mooring field. We passed through the port of Montreal, spotting many different kinds of vessels – large and small cargo ships, cruise ships, powerboats, sailboats, ferries – at the dock or underway. We sailed past what looked like an abandoned ferry floating by the channel, looking empty and forlorn.
The currents were strong, even though we avoided sailing where they were highest. There, in currents close to our hull speed, we would have been moving through the water but not actually going anywhere. Or perhaps it’s better to say the water would have been moving us backward as quickly as we were moving forward through it.
We found our anchoring spot in good time, and settled in. For a while we kept watch, making sure we were well hooked in and staying in place. We had good reason: possible thunderstorms and squalls were forecast for the area. This time we were lucky, and the only thing that came our way was showers. Though the glimpses of lightning and occasional rumble of thunder did keep us alert. As night fell we saw people gather round a small fire on a beach not far away. When we went in to sleep they were still there, barely glimpsed figures around a heart of flame.
After a quieter night we rose to find rain falling. It continued as we ate breakfast, tidied up, got ready to sail and picked the anchor up again. Somehow, in the picking up, we went past the very close-by entrance to the channel to the locks, and found ourselves heading toward the main ship channel. We oriented ourselves, turned around and motored toward the marina on Ile Sainte Helene, by the channel entrance. But then we passed too close to shore, and our keel briefly made the acquaintance of a rock. Happily it said goodbye to it as quickly and with no harm done.
The gas bar in the marina opened at ten. We already knew this, but the marina was so close to where we had anchored that we arrived earlier than we intended. So we had lots of time to get water and dispose of our garbage while we waited. Promptly at ten a man arrived from the other side of the marina in a small runabout, said a friendly hello and made sure we wanted gas, then went to open up.
The pumps had obviously been turned off all night. And someone who did not know that had obviously tried to get gas for themselves – without paying for it. As soon as he turned on the power to the pumps gas started flowing from one of the handles, which had been jammed open against the body of the pump. He came running when he saw me pointing, turned it off and cleaned things up quickly. Then he filled our gas cans, and saw us off with good wishes and a smile. And there we were, heading up the channel to the first of the locks.
As we approached that first lock we could see a trawler travelling steadily, getting closer little bit by little bit. Both boats got to the lock at almost the same time, and we hung back while they went to the dock first, coming in behind them. There we discovered that two of the people on the trawler were the two people who had helped us when we were leaving the Marina de Saurel. And we had time to learn a little more about each other while we waited – because of a problem with the lock gates we, and the larger sailboat that had been waiting when we got there (for two hours already, they said), did not get into the lock till after noon. So much for an ‘early’ start.
Inside, the linesmen indicated where we should place ourselves against the lock wall, and gave us two ropes to use to hold our boats in place. On Into The Blue we each handled one rope. I was on the bow, Richard on the stern where he could make the transition easily from driving the boat to handling the rope, then back again. It took a few minutes for me to decided on the best way to use my rope; finally I put it under the rail of the pulpit and around the cleat, and used one hand to pull it in and the other to keep it around the loop as we went up. A technique I continued to use in most of the locks. Once up we handed our ropes back when the linesmen came to take them from us, pushed away from the wall – and that was one lock down. We were through and clear and on our way to the next one.
We made good progress between the locks, with help from the trawler (thanks, Illusion). They would have to wait for us at the next lock anyway, they said, so why didn’t they give us a tow there? As soon as we were well clear of the first lock we set the tow ropes up, and then travelled steadily together till we were close to the next one, Côte Ste-Catherine. And there, tied up at docks that were overgrown and old, we all had to wait while they fixed a problem with the lock gates and then locked through a ship travelling downriver.
The officer in charge decides how the boats are arranged in the lock. In the first one we each sat in our own spot against the wall; in the second our boat was rafted to the larger sailboat. That gave us a chance to exchange a few words with them – the words limited by their speaking mostly French, while we spoke even less French than they did English. But we did learn that they were planning to go across Lake Ontario and down the canal south to the Bahamas. The folks on Illusion were on their way to Ottawa.
While we were waiting at the second lock Illusion offered to tow us a little further after we were all through. This didn’t work out as well as the first time – fastening the tow ropes did not go smoothly, and in the end we decided that it was less aggravation to just continue on our separate ways. So with smiles and waves, and apologies for a brief meeting of our bow with their rub rail, we said goodbye and watched them move steadily off into the distance.
We would have had to give up the tow at the Kahnawake Lift Bridge anyway, since they would have fit underneath and we did not. As it was we had to wait (and circle, there being no other traffic) at the limits of approach, until finally the bridge started to rise and we could go underneath. As briskly as we could, hoping that the bridge operator was not wishing we would move even faster. Looking back, I watched it start to go down again behind us as soon as we were through.
There had been another squall watch all that afternoon, though we saw none and by the time we anchored it had been lifted. We found a place to drop anchor after we had passed Kahnawake, well out of the channel, where the bottom was mud. All was quiet as the sun went down in a blaze of red. The generator worked away at recharging our batteries. Richard went over our course for the next day, and then set up our “make ahead” oatmeal (we found the idea in something we read, setting up the oatmeal and fixings and hot water in wide-mouthed thermoses so it cooks gently overnight). Then it was time for as much sleep as we could get. It had been a long day.
And the next one would be too. But I’ll tell you about that next time.
Written by Margaret Mair
Photos by Richard Mair and Margaret Mair