Overnight Through Thousand Islands to Waupoos

Deep to the shoreline, Photo by M. Mair

Deep to the shoreline, Photo by M. Mair

We left our friends waving from the dock in the Iroquois marina. Sailing up the cut the trees displaying their colors reminded us autumn was fast approaching. It was a beautiful day. Out on the river there were lots of small powerboats running around from here to there – wherever those might be. The sun shone. The weather was kind. We had chosen Prescott as our first stop, and found good anchoring outside the town.

Old Light, Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

Old Light, Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

We passed a quiet night (except for charging batteries, which as usual meant getting up to change charger plugs and refill the generator with gas when it ran out). In the morning we tried a breakfast cake we had found on our shopping trip while we were in Iroquois, at the grocery store close to the marina. We had been eating our oatmeal most of the trip, and were growing tired of it. Change is good – and so was this. Especially with cheese.

Full Moon Night off Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

Full Moon Night off Prescott, Photo by M. Mair

After breakfast we raised the anchor and found our way to the Sandra S. Lawn Harbour to get gas. We didn’t see the gas dock right away, so I radioed to ask for directions. It was well inside the marina, but easy to get to. A little tight for maneuvring, but the young lady there helped ease us away from the dock and we were quickly in and out.

Gas bought we set out for Brockville. It was a motor-sailing kind of day. We used about 25 amps to motor, plus the full main, and were able to sail in shallower areas where the current was less strong. Which got us to Brockville by early afternoon and left us plenty of time to settle into the anchoring spot we had chosen close to Skelton and Mile Islands. The chart said mud, we saw weeds; but the anchor grabbed and held, and that was what we needed.

Along the Waterfront, Photo by R. Mair

Along the Waterfront, Photo by R. Mair

The river had been getting deeper as we approached Brockville; in some places it was deep right to the shoreline. We began to see a lot more sailboats – at docks, on moorings, in marinas or on the move. The shore where we anchored was filled with houses and docks; some docks had boats at them, some brightly coloured chairs on them. We saw powerboats and pontoon boats and a houseboat, and that afternoon there were lots of powerboats cruising by. The islands on our other side were rocky and full of trees and bore their names on signs.

Skelton and Mile Islands, Photo by R. Mair

Skelton and Mile Islands, Photo by R. Mair

We settled in, charged batteries and planned the next part of our course. And watched the sailboats come out to race.

Brockville, Evening races, Photo by R. Mair

Brockville, Evening races, Photo by R. Mair

This was our point of departure for the Brockville Narrows. We were looking for sufficient wind from the right direction to get us through easily. The forecast for the next day was for good winds, increasing to strong winds out of the north briefly overnight and moderating again by the next morning. The best winds for leaving on looked to be close to noon, ten to fifteen knots out of the south.

Docks and more docks, Photo by R. Mair

Docks and more docks, Photo by R. Mair

So the next day we left our anchorage about noon. The winds we got were light; when they did pick up we were able to do some slow sailing. Then they died off, and we motor-sailed. We passed islands and more islands – small, larger – and every one that could accommodate a building seemed to have at least one on it.

Island Home, Photo by M. Mair

Island Home, Photo by M. Mair

We started off following the small craft route, then switched to the Canadian Middle Channel to avoid a too-low-for-us bridge. We travelled steadily but more slowly than we’d hoped, and as night was falling we found ourselves through the Narrows but in a place with few good anchorages. So rather than try to anchor in a risky area in the dark we decided to keep going.

It was interesting – in the dusk and darkness we encountered a powerboat travelling fast without lights and later two others hurrying along the channel in the dark. At least they had their lights on. There were unlit buoys that showed as lit on our chart, and buoys not marked on our charts would suddenly appear off our bow. Lights on shore, some of them coloured, made it hard to find the lights on the water we were looking for. Nerve-wracking.

But there we were, threading our way through the Thousand Islands in the dark, watching for those buoys and marks and watching our course on the chartplotter like hawks. We went under the Thousand Islands Bridge in the darkness; our friends had warned us about the swirling currents around it, and they were right. We steered this way and that, working to keep the boat on its course.

As we came through the cut between Grindstone and Leek Islands we ran into some rough water. High winds on the nose were funnelling between them. The boat tossed around, Richard concentrated on steering. Then we were through into the Canadian Middle Channel, and all the way to Kingston the wind was on the beam, the waters relatively calm, the sailing smooth and fast at over six knots. By a little after midnight we were passing Kingston, where we had thought we might stop, and setting our bow for Waupoos.

But there the smooth sailing ended. As soon as we were out of the shelter of the islands (and finally out of the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario) we had to deal with waves driven across the lake by the wind. They made our ride very bumpy and wet. This was one night that Richard had no problem staying awake! He was much too busy to fall asleep. I stayed awake too, as leaks inside reasserted themselves. The plaguey new vents we had installed in Halifax leaked mightily, even when closed, and places where we had used a less expensive sealer recommended to us by friends in Halifax decided this would be a good time to let water in.

Now the boat, driven by the wind, was going fast and pounding. Two reefs in the main and the small jib weren’t enough to slow her down – sometimes Richard had to let the main off. Even with the waves slowing us down, we covered fifty miles in a little over nine hours. During those miles the water pounding across the boat moved the dinghy strapped on our bow from its place. We would discover what else it had moved later.

The waves began to diminish as soon as we got to the shelter of Prince Edward Bay, and by the time we dropped anchor in the shelter of Waupoos island the water was wind-ruffled but wave-free. This time we adding drying out to the list of after-anchoring activities. As soon as we had recharged the batteries we used the generator to run our small, oil-filled electric heater. The weather was cool and rainy now, and its heat would keep us comfortable and help us dry out.

Off Waupoos Island, Photo by M. Mair

Off Waupoos Island, Photo by M. Mair

We were sheltered from the wind, but it was forecast to change overnight. It wasn’t forecast to be very strong – if the holding was decent there would be nothing to worry about, and in any case we were planning to move across closer to the marina the next day. The holding was not quite good enough. The Bruce anchor dragged during the night. We were tired, so rather than pull the anchor up and set it again Richard moved the boat and we set the plough so that the boat lay between the two anchors. Then, just in case we stood anchor watch for the rest of the night. All remained well.

The next morning we tidied up and moved closer to the marina. It has a breakwater made from tires, low in the water and marked. We chose our spot according to the depths on the chart, further away than we needed to – later we found out that there are places where the depths are deeper than marked. Local knowledge.

That’s when Richard began to put the dinghy together and discovered that when it had moved, one of the seats stored underneath it had moved right off the boat. The middle seat. We had nothing to replace it with (that’s now a job for spring or summer), so now two in the dinghy would now make it a little less balanced than it had been.

The Blue Moose in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

The Blue Moose in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

Richard went in first, to buy gas (as usual) and check things out. He found the marina much as we had remembered it from the last time we had been here– friendly, laid back and helpful. But he also found that the cafe and the cheese shop we had been looking forward to patronizing were closed, early for the season, because the cool weather had affected business. The Blue Moose lingered under the trees, but the Blue Moose Cafe had not lingered long enough for us to visit. Though Richard did manage to get the last package of cheese from the marina store.

Public dock in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

Public dock in Waupoos, Photo by M. Mair

What to do? We decided we would move on by late that afternoon; we needed groceries, and there was no convenient place to get them nearby. We went in to the marina that afternoon to use the showers and do laundry (payment on the honour system), wander around and enjoy the self-guided cannery tour, see what was new since our last visit. The air was clear, the light beautiful, encouraging us to take pictures. If it were not for needing groceries and knowing that the sailing season was rapidly winding down we would have lingered longer.

View through the trees at Waupoos Marina, Photo by M. Mair

View through the trees at Waupoos Marina, Photo by M. Mair

Instead we were back on the boat by about three that afternoon, getting her and ourselves ready to sail again. Winds were forecast to be good for sailing on to Cobourg. Would they be? We were going to find out.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair and Richard Mair

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There Were Electric Motor Problems – Because of Us!

Electric Yacht Motor, installed, Photo by R. Mair

Electric Yacht Motor, installed, Photo by R. Mair

You’ll know if you’ve been reading along, following our travels, that we converted from a small diesel to an electric motor before we began our trip. As we’ve described our journey we’ve talked a lot about our struggles with currents and their effect on our motor and batteries.

It’s time to confess: we were a large part of the problem. It all began when we ordered the motor.

It started when we sent the weight of the boat to Scott at Electric Yacht. We should have sent the weight of the boat fully laden (of course, that’s always more than you think on a cruising boat). Instead, we sent the weight of the boat empty. More weight creates more work for the motor and affects the gear ratios that work best. So when Scott set the engine up using our information the gearing was wrong.

The gearing makes the motor drive the prop at the right speed to move the boat efficiently – the engine turns faster than the prop, gearing reduces the speed at which the prop turns in relation to the engine. In our case there wasn’t enough reduction in the gearing to deal with the difference in weight. And that meant that the motor couldn’t turn quickly enough to perform at its best.

This also affected the cooling of the motor. The right ratio between engine and prop will make the motor turn in the range that’s most efficient for cooling. If the gearing meant that the motor couldn’t turn fast enough then the fan couldn’t give us optimum cooling.

And then there was the change between what we were planning to do when we ordered the motor and what we ended up doing. We thought we were going to be sailing up and down the American east coast, on the ocean, going into and out of inlets when we needed shelter or access to supplies, maybe doing some between-island hops if the opportunity arose.

We routinely wait for a suitable tide and current to enter or leave an inlet. If we had done what we originally planned currents would not have had the same impact. So we asked for the motor to be set to run at a continuous 20 amp draw, which we knew would get us in and out of the longest inlet we would use.

But as we all know, life changes and plans with it. Getting to Toronto became a priority, and going up the St. Lawrence a way to do it. Even after we had decided to sail up the St. Lawrence we weren’t sure, until we were there, how much extra current draw we were going to need to overcome the currents against us. It was a chance we decided to take.

That was how we found ourselves in currents on the St. Lawrence where we ended up regularly drawing 45 amps instead of 20. In the most challenging situations we used 55 amps to get the power we needed, and the motor overheated. Which would not have happened if it had been set up differently.

Scott did encourage us to test the system wide open and at its limits when we were first using the motor, and we should have. At the time we didn’t have an efficient way to recharge our batteries, so we hesitated. Which meant that we didn’t fully test the motor and current draw on the batteries until we were underway. And then we really tested them!

We’ve learned a lot as we travelled. And Scott has been there to answer our questions along the way. Now that we know what we know we’ll get the gearing changed over the winter, and use this summer to test the new setup (and that’s a great excuse for just spending time out on the water, though we do prefer using our sails).

And we should mention the things we really like about our motor: clean, quiet, simple controls, lots of torque, low maintenance, very responsive in the conditions we had originally envisioned… And no diesel smoke. With the other engine we had rather a lot of that.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photo by Richard Mair

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Squeaking Through the Last of the St. Lawrence River Locks

Along the banks, motor-sailing to the Snell Lock, Photo by Margaret Mair

Along the banks, motor-sailing to the Snell Lock, Photo by Margaret Mair

Yet again we found ourselves busy dealing with currents and winds and stressful circumstances, and forgot to pick up a camera for too much of the time. So in lieu of the pictures we could have taken we offer you a mixture of word pictures and pictures taken by others and licensed under Creative Commons, as well as some we took ourselves when we found a quiet place to rest.

When we set off toward the American locks at about 8:00 that morning we had no idea what was to come. Our batteries were fully charged when we started, and since there was not much wind (then) we motor sailed, planning to save our batteries as much as possible for when we would need their power in and between the locks.

It was a surprise to find ourselves battling currents a lot of the way, currents that grew stronger as we came closer to the Snell lock – in some places as strong as three knots. When we took a good look at the charts we could see why: not only were we in an area where the river was narrower but there were other rivers flowing into it and adding their current to the mix.

We had enough wind to make us heel a little, but not enough to overcome the current. This meant we were drawing on the batteries more than we wanted to, but couldn’t use the generator to recharge them (the generator doesn’t operate well at an angle). So we were hoping that there would be a pause at the pleasure craft dock when we got to the lock, giving us time to put some charge into the batteries. Things didn’t work out that way.

Eisenhower Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

Eisenhower Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

By the time we were approaching the Snell lock, sails down, we were already feeling frazzled. We missed seeing the pleasure craft docks (they are behind the approach wall on the right side, tucked well out of the way of the ships that slide along the wall as they approach the lock). We called into the lock on channel 16 to ask for directions, were told to call in on 17, did so and were told the lock would be ready for our approach momentarily, to come in and go to bollard 1 at the far end.

The system in these American locks is different. There are no ropes descending from above. Instead there are floating yellow bollards in numbered slits in the wall that move up and down with the movement of the water in the lock. They make using the lock very easy for a vessel like ours; you go to the assigned bollard, loop your ropes around it and hold them, then get ready to fend off as necessary. As the lock fills your boat and the bollard rise together to the top. Very simple. The only challenge for me was holding on to the ropes when the water tugged hard against the boat. I solved that by wrapping my rope around a stanchion in the next lock, the Eisenhower – when we finally got there.

We arrived at the top, and handed over our payment for the two American locks. Then we were through the gates and beginning the trip through the pool between them to the Eisenhower Lock, about 2.7 miles. And that’s when things got a little too interesting. We found ourselves travelling into an un-forecast and increasingly strong west wind, dead on the nose.

We had to motor. At least we were level, so we started the generator to help us maintain some charge in our batteries. But because we had to use more power than usual to battle the head wind we were putting much less charge into our batteries than we were using. And our motor seemed to be overheating. Between that and the lack of juice from the batteries it was giving us less and less power. Richard tried turning it off and then immediately back on again and nursed it as much as he could. But there were times when we were making no progress at all – a very uncomfortable feeling when you are expected to be able to maintain a decent speed.

By the time we were halfway between the locks the batteries were dumping (that’s when the voltage is lower than what’s needed to run the motor properly, and the batteries are down much further than they should be and going lower). We knew it was going to be close after battling the currents before the locks and the headwind between, and it was. But this ended up being much closer than we liked.

How did this happen?  When we consulted Steve at Electric Yacht he explained that our meter is not accurate when we are charging the batteries and running the motor at the same time. The charging voltage is always higher than the actual voltage, and the meter reads the higher voltage – which explains why we ran out of power more quickly than we expected.

At one of those points where progress simply stopped Richard called the Eisenhower lock (another channel, 13) to ask whether, under these circumstances, we could pull out a sail. But that’s strictly forbidden in any circumstances. Instead they offered to let us stop and tie up against the approach wall going into the lock while the motor cooled, as long as it would not take too long. There would be commercial traffic later.

The linesmen came down to help us, but as we approached and the wind became less we were able to move more easily. We decided to press slowly on (something I’m sure they preferred). As we moved into the lock we moved more out of the wind and movement became even easier, though still very slow. We were again directed to bollard 1 and floated up to the top of the lock, where Richard asked if there was any place close by we could safely anchor.

That’s when we learned another of the differences between the Canadian and American locks. The American pleasure craft docks are small, but they are also safely out of the way of oncoming ships. So they told us we could stay on the pleasure craft docks overnight, something that’s not allowed at the Canadian locks. And the linesmen met us there, took our ropes and pulled us into the dock against the wind. They had offered to turn the boat around using the lines so we could leave more easily in the morning, but with the wind blowing hard it seemed a much better idea to stay as we were and turn ourselves around when we were ready to leave.

As soon as we were well tied up and tidied up Richard went to sleep. A good thing to do at the end of a long and stressful day. I de-stressed in my own way – by reading. Later we checked weather the way we used to. On this voyage our phones have become the devices we go to when we’re looking for information, and our apps and the internet are what we use. But now that we were in U.S. Territory our phones were on roaming, making their use an expensive option. Use of the VHF radio, on the other hand, was free. So we listened to weather on that instead, and planned our course for the next day. At that point it looked as if Iroquois would be another day away.

Later, too, we heard ships approaching the locks scraping along the other side of the wall…

Ship transiting Iroquois Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

Ship transiting Iroquois Lock, from Wikimedia Commons

The next morning at about 8:00 we made sure there was no traffic into or out of the lock, backed away from the dock and swung ourselves around (we seem to like that time for leaving). We came out from behind the wall into a good wind from the north, a perfect wind direction for sailing to where we were going. What a difference a night can make.

After a brisk sail we found ourselves at the Iroquois Lock in good time to go through that day. We waited for three commercial vessels to lock through. This is a much faster process than at the other locks because the difference in height from one side to the other is much smaller, sometimes non-existent. Once they were through we went into the lock behind a large and expensive-looking power boat, and not much later we were exiting our last lock and heading toward the marina close by, a marina we had learned about from internet friends we were looking forward to meeting there.

If it were not for them we might have missed it. The marina entrance isn’t obvious, at least not to us, though it’s well enough known to its summer residents and the many boats that come to winter on land there. There’s a weather-beaten sign on the shore and a cut beside it, and once you’ve turned past the sign you stay in the middle of the long cut, passing rocky pools on the way to the buoys that mark the entrance to the marina itself.

Sun sparkles in the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

Sun sparkles in the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

At the end of the cut the water widens into a lagoon. And there you find docks surrounded by former farmland and watery channels. It’s attractive, quiet (or it was while we were there) and peaceful, and we would never have known it was there if we had not been invited to visit by our soon-to-be flesh-and-blood friends. They gave us a gift we didn’t even realize we needed.

Leaving the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

Leaving the Iroquois marina, Photo by Margaret Mair

They helped us find space and time for a pleasant rest, shared good food, good conversation and good music and offered us a needed pause before we continued on toward what we were told would be our next hurdle, the currents of the Brockville Narrows. And then there would be a wild ride through the Thousand Islands on our way to Waupoos.

*****

 Written by Margaret Mair

Some photos taken by Margaret Mair

Eisenhower Lock image: This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.

Iroquois Lock image: McCleary’s Spirit, a jet-fuel barge apparently, is being pushed by the tug, William J Moore, through the Iroquois Locks. The water was even that day on both sides. Picture by Mac Armstrong from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Posted in Ontario | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Christmas Wish (and a short break)

Margaret Mair, Sail Through The Season, Christmas 2013, Original art

Margaret Mair, Sail Through The Season, Christmas 2013, Original art

It’s Christmas time, and even though we arrived in Toronto at the end of September on our blog we are still on our way up the St. Lawrence, heading for the last of the locks and adventures still to come. Considering the weather and the cold, we’re glad that’s only on our blog! It’s icy, cold and there are many without power here now. Including us; we’re off the grid – or rather the grid has gone off.  This is one of those times when it’s an advantage to be cruising sailors.

We know we still have more of our journey to share with you, but we’re going to take a (very) short break and use this blog post just to say:

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays – whatever you celebrate, we hope you enjoy time spent with those you love and those who love you, creating good memories.

All the best to you!

Written by Margaret Mair

Picture based on original art by Margaret Mair

Posted in General, Ontario | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Through the Beauharnois Locks and on to Cornwall

Leaving on a windy morning, Photo by M. Mair

Leaving on a windy morning, Photo by M. Mair

Life was about to get very busy. So busy that we forgot to take our usual photos – so I hope some word pictures will do instead.

We woke early to a change in wind and bumpy water. By the time it was daylight we were ready to leave. We were not far from the next lock, the Lower Beauharnois, and we motor-sailed then motored there. It didn’t take long.

As we approached we scanned the lock wall, looking for the pleasure craft dock. Thanks to the Pleasure Craft Guide to the St. Lawrence Seaway you always have an idea of where the docks are (or almost always, but that’s another story), but actually seeing them is something altogether different. They are low to the water – often the thing you see first is the ramp from the dock to the phone you use to let lock officials know you are there.

We spotted it, approached slowly so we could see what it was actually like, circled and tied up. We let them know we were there. Then we sat and waited for an hour or so while they did lock maintenance. Even then we were the only pleasure craft – in fact the only vessel – there, so we were directed right to the far end of the lock close to the lip in front of the gate.

The Beauharnois locks are deep, so deep that instead of the linesmen throwing the lines down to you they let them down the walls and shake them. We saw them moving against the walls as we went into and along the lock. The damp, grey concrete walls towered high above us. And the ropes, more than long enough in the last two locks, did not reach the water.

We got to the end of the lock, where the ropes hung waiting. We reached for the ropes; I sat on the foredeck and twisted mine around the nearest cleat. As soon as we were ready the lock began to fill. We went up quickly and steadily, pulling in the ropes as steadily, sometimes fending off to keep the boat in a good position, paying attention. Once up we waited for the gates to open, handed over our payment receipts (did we mention that there is a cost for each lock, and that you can pay ahead of time on the internet?), handed off our ropes and motored off into the pool between the Lower and Upper Beauharnois locks.

The pool was a calm, pleasantly current-less patch. We were expected to keep moving so we didn’t interfere with other traffic, and we kept our speed up going through it. By now you can probably guess one of the consequences – we sacrificed power in our batteries that we might need later.

The upper lock was much like the lower – deep, walls towering over us as we came in. Again the ropes waited for us at the far end of the lock. We went up once more, holding in with the ropes and fending off with boathooks. By the time we motored through the gates we were tired but otherwise in good shape, though our batteries were not. As soon as we were well clear of the lock Richard fired up the generator.

Much though we wished for it, there was not enough wind to sail, not really enough even to motor-sail. But we did our best, unfurling the jib whenever we could. Still the batteries kept giving up more than we could put in. Richard nursed the batteries and adjusted our speed. We needed to keep going.

There were two lift bridges ahead of us, and no good place to anchor till we were past them. We made reasonably good time to the first lift bridge, and went briskly under it. As we approached the second lift bridge, going past the Port de Valleyfield, the current began to run strongly against us. It was frustrating – we could see the bridge in front of us but it took us a very long time to get there. By the time we got close to it our batteries were seriously low. We went under more slowly than we wanted to, conscious of our lack of speed. Past it there was more space to sail, so we tried pulling out the jib as soon as we were well clear and reduced the engine power. But the currents were still strong. They pushed us around and backward.

Still underway, Photo by M. Mair

Still underway, Photo by M. Mair

We pressed on, and finally our persistence paid off. The wind came up, the current grew less, and we made it to a place where there was enough space beside the channel to sail more easily. At last we could turn off the motor while we still had a tiny bit of battery left. None too soon; by then it was getting dark, and we needed to find a good place to anchor for the night. Because of the wind it had to be on the north side, where there was not enough fetch to create waves, have a sand or mud bottom and be shallow enough for the anchor to set at a good angle.

Not much to ask? We found a spot that looked good on the chart, and used the chartplotter to sail most of the way in through the darkness. Then we used the motor briefly to the put ourselves where x marked the spot (literally after we dropped anchor, since Richard put an x on the chartplotter to do exactly that). Then we set the generator going, plugged in the batteries, picked up the ropes and made supper – in that order.

That night we charged the batteries all night and into the morning. Since our generator can only charge one bank at a time Richard woke up every hour to swap plugs. And slept very soundly in between. But they still weren’t fully charged by the time we needed to leave in the morning. In front of us was Lac Saint-François; we hoped for a lot of sailing.

Waking up in the anchorage, Photo by M. Mair

Waking up in the anchorage, Photo by M. Mair

It started that way. We had a good crossing, sailing most of the way, fast enough to turn the prop so that it generated more charge for our batteries. There were all kinds of structures in this lake as well, and this time we saw all kinds of small powerboats running around, in and outside the ship channel. Many were occupied by fishermen (and women). We watched them race to a seemingly random point in the lake, stop and cast their lines, pause a while, then repeat the whole exercise. A fishing competition, maybe? Other small boats just ran around, going somewhere unknown to us (and perhaps them). One boater seemed to find it exciting to jump the wake of a large ship as it passed in the ship channel.

Our prop gave us some regeneration, but by the time we needed to use the motor our batteries still weren’t fully charged. Our plan had been to anchor after going to a marina in Cornwall where we could get the gas we needed to keep the generator running and the batteries charging. But there wasn’t enough in our batteries to get there. A Catch 22 situation: we needed to get to the marina to get gas to keep recharging our batteries, and we needed more charge in our batteries to get to the marina…

We were going more and more slowly. With no wind to help and the current against us, we needed to drop anchor and hope that we could do it in a place where we could get to shore and find gas. We ended up dropping anchor twice – the first time we anchored off houses, and then looking down found we were in weeds. Weeds are not good for anchor holding. Nor as it turned out, for our prop. They tangled themselves around it. Then we had to use some of our precious power to go backwards and forwards to clear it.

We got most of the weeds off. Then we tried to get closer to the marina, but there just wasn’t enough power to go very far. The second time we dropped anchor off a restaurant which had a dock area – very shallow, but fine for the dinghy. We weren’t sure what the bottom was, but at least there didn’t seem to be weeds. And we weren’t going to be able to go anywhere anyway.

We didn’t have enough power to fight the current. The batteries were way down, only about 10% remaining. Not enough to give us the power to overcome the current. And this meant the batteries were down further than was good for them – lead-acid batteries shouldn’t be run down past 20%. Running them down increases the risk of early sulfation (the collection of sulfa on the plates inside the battery that eventually ends the useful life of any lead-acid battery). Lifeline said we could run the ones we have down to 20% on occasion without serious harm to cycle life. Now we had run them down further.

Our dinghy off the Blue Anchor, Photo by M. Mair

Our dinghy off the Blue Anchor, Photo by M. Mair

What has been done cannot be undone, but you can find ways to deal with the situation you find yourself in. Richard put the dinghy together and headed for the restaurant dock.  The license plates on the trucks and cars reminded us that we were now in Ontario!  He asked and found out that there was a gas station about ten minutes walk away. It wasn’t dark yet, the gas station was open, so off he went. A brisk walk there, a brisk walk back and an energetic row back to the boat, and we had gas on board again. Finally there we sat with the generator running, bringing the batteries back up to power.

We relaxed a little, went through our usual evening routine. Then Richard checked our course from there and looked at the distance to the next two locks. The American locks.

The next day we would make it through them – barely.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair

Posted in Ontario, Quebec | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

In which we get to Montreal and through the first two locks…

Marina de Saurel, Photo by R. Mair

Marina de Saurel, Photo by R. Mair

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.

Montreal Est, between islands, Photo by M. Mair

Montreal Est, between islands, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Abandoned ferry, Photo by M. Mair

Abandoned ferry, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Anchorage and Ile Sainte-Helene, Photo by R. Mair

Anchorage and Ile Sainte-Helene, Photo by R. Mair

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.

Montreal Tower, Photo by R. Mair

Montreal Tower, Photo by R. Mair

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.

St. Lambert Lock, Photo by M. Mair

St. Lambert Lock, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Cote Ste-Catherine lock, Photo by M. Mair

Cote Ste-Catherine lock, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Leaving the Kahnawake lift bridge, Photo by M. Mair

Leaving the Kahnawake lift bridge, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Sunset from the anchorage, Photo by M. Mair

Sunset from the anchorage, Photo by M. Mair

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

Posted in Quebec | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

More Adventures Sailing to Sorel-Tracey

Bridges outside Quebec City, Photo by M. Mair

Bridges outside Quebec City, Photo by M. Mair

We left Levis with a smile and a wave, and a grateful thank you for the help which meant we didn’t have to reverse out of the slip. Backing up a full keel boat can be somewhat awkward. As we pulled away from the dock I took the rope from the gentleman helping us, and then went back to the cockpit before we were in rougher water outside. There I took the helm while Richard took in fenders and took off lines. Then we were off, riding the current.

We went past the Quebec bridges, travelling between high banks punctuated by bays and rivers. The water was dirty and scummy here, city water, but it wasn’t long till we were passing beaches, many the kind that only appear at low water. They would grow larger soon – the tidal range increases in fall till the difference between high and low is as much as twenty-two feet. That’s why they begin taking boats out of the water in the middle of September. And we were passing through at the beginning of September. Just in the nick of time.

Tidal Beach, Photo by M. Mair

Tidal Beach, Photo by M. Mair

We rode the current into the evening, as far as Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, where we dropped the anchor in sand and gravel. Not the best holding, there were waves and it was bumpy, but the anchor held until about 1:15 am (it’s usually some time early in the morning that the wind comes up or the anchor slips – at least that’s how it seems). The current wouldn’t be with us for a couple of hours yet, but rather than try to re-anchor in unfavourable conditions we decided to start sailing again.

We spent time tacking back and forth, aiming in the general direction of our next stop, feeling the push of the current against us. A couple of hours later the tide changed, the current turned, and we were really on our way, destination Portneuf. We had to stop there: after that there’s a narrower portion of the river with very strong currents, and the only way for us to get through there safely was to travel when the push against us was least. We got to Portneuf with time to spare before the tide changed, but not enough to ride it through the Richelieu Rapids ahead. So we dropped anchor again.

There’s not much in the way of good anchorage off Portneuf, though you can probably anchor safely enough if the weather is good. We dropped the anchor where the chart said the bottom was mud, in a narrow area quite close to the wharf that shelters the marina. For a while all was well, though the wind was strong and the water bumpy. The wind and current were against each other; maybe, we thought, things would grow calmer when the tide turned and they ran together. Then we would be able to wait more comfortably.

That wasn’t quite what happened. The wind was strong, and had enough fetch across the water to produce waves that pushed us off our anchor toward the shore behind us. The anchor alarm quickly confirmed what we could feel and see, so we picked up the anchor and tried setting it again. We dragged again. Then we tried setting two anchors, and still we dragged. For our third attempt we went to the other, slightly calmer side of the wharf and marina, where the area we might be able to anchor in was even smaller – and found ourselves sliding out of it with our anchor hanging. Nothing else for it – we had to go in to the marina. At least it was right there.

We had heard that the marina charged less if you were just waiting for the tide to turn. With an eye to the budget, as usual, we asked and were told there was a slip available and that the reduced fee might be possible. In the end it really didn’t matter – with no safe place to anchor and hours to wait for the current to change it was the only safe choice.

Going in proved an adventure in itself. We had seen there was a work boat and what looked like a buoy by or in the entrance. As we got closer we were trying to figure out what the buoy was. Was it connected with the work boat?  Or a did it show how we should approach the entrance? Red – were we supposed to leave it to starboard? That seemed logical. We tried that first.

Then, almost on top of it, I looked down and saw the rope that ran from the buoy to the work boat (which had no-one on board, but was moored, somehow, off the wharf by the marina entrance). We turned away, went toward the front of the boat to see if we were supposed to go around that way, tried to communicate by gestures with a group of men on the wharf with no results, finally picked our way through the entrance between the buoy and the stony breakwater. That, luckily, was the right choice. And as we were doing this the motor was slowing down, not giving us the power we were expecting.

Inside the marina the combination of an engine that wasn’t giving us full power and a strong wind made docking interesting. On the first attempt the wind blew us off the dock, and we had to circle and come back in again with more authority (otherwise known as faster). Then lack of power in reverse made it difficult to stop in time. But the dock helped with that. After some drama and with a bit of help we got settled in our slip, and finally all was calm. We could plug in, replenish the batteries and get warm. And try to figure out what was happening with our motor.

Marina de Portneuf, Photo by M. Mair

Marina de Portneuf, Photo by M. Mair

We had only planned to stay till the current was in our favour again, but that was several hours away still. Too long for us to be offered the special rate, as it turned out. The wind was still strong, but would be calmer the next morning – and so would the river. If we had to pay the same rate as if we were staying the night, well, we might as well stay the night. So we did.

It was a comfortable night and we slept well. We woke to all the signs that it had been cold outside – wet windows and moisture on the cabin walls above the deck, the places we had not insulated. So we dried up, dressed warmly, put the boat in travelling mode, and by seven o’clock we were pulling away from the dock. It was much easier with no wind and a co-operative motor!

The water was calm, the entrance to the marina was clear (the work boat that had been blocking it was now on the other side of the wharf), a fisherman was sitting peacefully with rod and reel. There was wind enough to sail almost as soon as we nosed out into the river, and we made good time to the Rapids and then through.

We had thought we would stop after that, but the wind was from a good direction and sailing was comfortable. So it made sense to keep sailing for the rest of the day. We motor-sailed a few times, either because the wind dropped off, or we needed to stay out of the way of larger traffic in a narrower area, but all-in-all it was one of those days that make you glad you’re out on the water.

Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Photo by M. Mair

Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap, Photo by M. Mair

Richard spent the day at the tiller, coaxing as much speed as he could from the boat. I played back-up, wrote up the log, helped in the cockpit when needed. By six that evening we had sailed past the beautiful Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap and were dropping anchor off the Marina de Trois-Rivières, settling in for a peaceful night.

A good thing that night was peaceful, since the next day and night couldn’t be described the same way. In the morning the wind was picking up as we set off toward Lac Saint-Pierre. High winds were forecast; it was one of those times when travelling would be hard, but anchoring would be harder – so we decided to press on.

Morning Mist, Trois rivieres, Photo by M. Mair

Morning Mist, Trois rivieres, Photo by M. Mair

We didn’t feel the full force of the wind while we were in the narrower part of the river. But as we came out of the shelter of the river banks into the lake we found ourselves in at first twenty, then thirty knots of wind, with higher gusts. And it was on the nose, so we had to tack back and forth across the path we wanted to travel, sometimes in the channel and sometimes out of it (this is one of the times we were very glad we had our chart plotter). Tacking, as every sailor knows, makes the journey about twice as long. At least in our boat. All signs pointed to a long transit.

As the wind built Richard tied in the third reef in the mainsail. At that point we were really glad we’d decided have a third reef point put in over the winter! And he stayed on the helm, trying to keep us in the shallower water where the current was less as much as possible. Of course the current and wind were less of a factor for the ships that passed us, and many did. Cargo ships, tankers, cruise ships – we watched for them in the daylight, and for their lights passing the channel markers at night.

Cruise ship on Lac Saint-Pierre, Photo by M. Mair

Cruise ship on Lac Saint-Pierre, Photo by M. Mair

That night we saw lots of lights. Lac Saint-Pierre is a shallow lake, with a lot of islands and structures in it, and a lot of keep-out buoys. And during the day we saw what looked like small, rocky islands with birds nesting or resting on them – those were outside the channel, unmarked. Still, the darkness was lit by many range lights and buoy lights and lights marking structures to be avoided.

Rocks in Lac Saint-Pierre, Photo by M. Mair

Rocks in Lac Saint-Pierre, Photo by M. Mair

Being a shallow lake it’s choppy when the wind blows hard. The chop was worst in the middle of the lake, and we looked forward to the relief of being in a more sheltered area. At last, early the next morning, we approached the larger islands at the other end of the lake. The chop began to die down though the wind remained strong. The gusts were strong enough to put the rail in the water from time to time. Richard ended up sailing the boat like a dinghy, letting the sail off whenever we heeled too far.

Then, finally the wind started to die down. Unfortunately, it died down at about the time we found ourselves facing a strong current against us. Richard decided to take out the third reef, to give the boat a little more drive and keep us moving forward. That meant he needed to wake me up, since I had fallen asleep a few hours before. Perhaps if I had been more awake things would have gone better? Or if Richard had been less tired?

Or if the motor had not been hot. We had been sailing briskly all night, and that meant that our prop was turning and producing current to recharge the batteries. Which produces heat. Which, we thought, must have affected the motor.  Because once more it wasn’t giving us the power we needed.

I mentioned that the current was strong. The boat was being pushed around by it, and I struggled to keep it pointing in the right direction. Then in an instant it turned enough to jibe, and Richard, untying the third reef, was carried across the cockpit by the boom. Happily across the cockpit was as far as he went, not outside. The sail, partially untied, dragged across the hard top of our dodger, and found a couple of sharp edges as it went. Our hearts sank as we heard it rip.

We knew we didn’t have any more sail tape, having used the last of it on some small wear areas. And this was the second time our motor hadn’t responded as we expected and needed it to, and we hadn’t even got to the locks yet. We really needed it to work well there. It was all too much. Tired and discouraged, we began to talk about what would happen if we found we couldn’t finish the trip the way we’d planned. But before we explored those options too thoroughly we decided we needed to get some sleep, pause and take another look at the state of things when we were more rested.

Marina de Saurel, Photo by R. Mair

Marina de Saurel, Photo by R. Mair

We consulted the Nautiguide and the charts. There was a marina not too far from where we were – the Marina de Saurel, in Sorel-Tracey. It would be easy to get into, a safe place to sleep, and a good place to pause and consider what we should do next. So we got on the radio, arranged for a slip, and took shelter there. Then we slept – most of the day, and ten hours that night. And while we were awake we made some enquiries – to a friend, about his trailer built specifically for an Alberg 30; and to Scott at Electric Yacht about why our motor might have done what it did, when it did.

Our friend took the time to discuss trailering with us, costs and possibilities, where from and where to. He injected (as he usually does) a dose of reality and common sense into the discussion.  Scott replied, and mentioned that the most likely cause for our engine behaving the way it had was that the gearing was wrong. Before this we’d never had reason to run the motor hard, so we hadn’t found ourselves in this kind of situation. But if it was geared wrong it wouldn’t be able to go up to what should be its maximum current draw. This would make it overheat more easily, because it wouldn’t be turning quickly enough to cool itself. He told us it would be best to use 45 amps as a maximum draw for the rest of the trip.

(A quick explanation, which you can skip if you’re not interested: When we look at our motor’s display it shows us the amps being used, the time left on the battery bank, the current voltage and the percent of discharge (how much of the battery has been used, as a percentage of full charge). Under other circumstances we would have expected to use 100 amps as a maximum, because that’s what the system is capable of for short periods of time with the batteries fully charged or close to it. That morning it would have been enough power for long enough to keep the boat into the wind and take the reef out of the sail.)

So we didn’t have full power. We could only use about half the power we expected would be available to us. Which was going to be a challenge at some other points during the trip. And there wasn’t much we could do about it until we were in Toronto.  Which wouldn’t be for a while.

The next day we woke feeling more optimistic. There were the usual things to take care of: groceries (turn right out of the marina, left at the corner with the Poutinerie, and there’s a convenient grocery store), water, fuel, maintenance (especially checking to see whether the motor had moved while we were pounding through Lac Saint-Pierre – it had, a little bit). Then there was the sail repair to figure out, since there was nowhere handy to buy sail tape.

We ended up buying two rolls of white waterproof bandage, the kind you use to hold gauze over a wound. And our sail was certainly wounded. We used it on both sides of the sail, putting strips along the tear to hold the ripped edges together, working with the sail partly off the mast so I could reach it easily. And tucked under the boom so it would not lift in the wind as I sewed. Then I stitched across and across the tape and the rip underneath, to make sure everything would hold – not elegant, and not what I would normally do, but a workmanlike solution we hoped would last till we got to Toronto.

Finally, less tired, we took another look at our situation. We would keep the option of trailering the boat from some point before the locks to Lake Ontario in the back of our minds, but for now we would carry on. We had come this far. Surely we could finish the journey? At least we could try.

Heron on the breakwater, Photo by R. Mair

Heron on the breakwater, Photo by R. Mair

Finally, decision made, we could look around us, enjoy a shower, watch the birds and boys fishing from the breakwater that kept us sheltered from the river. After dark, Richard went through the charts again, looked at the chart plotter, read more about the locks ahead of us and worked on courses. Then it was time to go to bed before it grew too late, since we would be sailing again the next morning.

Looking out from Marina de Saurel, Photo by R. Mair

Looking out from Marina de Saurel, Photo by R. Mair

Sailing to Montreal, to the last anchorages before we began to work our way through those locks.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Margaret Mair and Richard Mair

Posted in Quebec | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Across and Across on the Way to Levis

Off Cap a l"Aigle, Photo by M. Mair

Off Cap a l”Aigle, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Marina at Cap a l'Aigle, Photo by M. Mair

Marina at Cap a l’Aigle, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Sunset on the way to Ile aux Coudres, Photo by M. Mair

Sunset on the way to Ile aux Coudres, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Off Ile Madame, Photo by M. Mair

Off Ile Madame, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Waterfront Path (and hillside), Photo by R. Mair

Waterfront Path (and hillside), Photo by R. Mair

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!

Cat in the bushes, Photo by R. Mair

Cat in the bushes, Photo by R. Mair

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.

Quebec City seen from Levis, Photo by R. Mair

Quebec City seen from Levis, Photo by R. Mair

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.

In the marina in Levis, Photo by M. Mair

In the marina in Levis, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Looking across the river on a rainy day, Photo by R. Mair

Looking across the river on a rainy day, Photo by R. Mair

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

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Sleeping on an angle in Riviere-du-Loup

A Still Day on the Water, Photo by M. Mair

A Still Day on the Water, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Anchored in the St. Lawrence, Photo by M. Mair

Anchored in the St. Lawrence, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Travelling on a north-east wind, Photo by M. Mair

Travelling on a north-east wind, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Marina, Riviere-du-Loup, Photo by M. Mair

Marina, Riviere-du-Loup, Photo by M. Mair

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.

Riviere-du-Loup, Photo by R. Mair

Riviere-du-Loup, Photo by R. Mair

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.

An interesting home, Photo by R. Mair

An interesting home, Photo by R. Mair

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.

The ferry at night, Photo by M. Mair

The ferry at night, Photo by M. Mair

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

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Learning About Those Currents on the Way to Rimouski

Sunrise off Matane, Photo by M. Mair

Sunrise off Matane, Photo by M. Mair

It was early evening (and later than we’d planned) when we left Sainte-Anne-des-monts. The harbour master and staff were kind, and came to help us get off the dock easily. In fact they came so promptly that we left in a bit of a scramble. But as we moved away from the marina we got ourselves together, put away ropes and fenders and put the sails up, expecting to sail in something like the direction we wanted to go.

That’s when we were reminded how much a good current loves a full-keel boat. It grabbed our keel and pushed us sideways. So instead of actually moving toward where we were pointing we found ourselves moving away from where we wanted to go. There’s something a little discouraging and disconcerting about seeing the place you’re coming from slowly getting further away – in front of you.

We realized we weren’t going to be able to sail out of this situation, though we did try. So we turned the motor on again, and Richard experimented until he found a point at which the combination of sail and motor kept us moving in the right direction without consuming too much of our battery power. I think this was when I realized how much our batteries limited our ability to use our motor. They are our fuel, and we have to be careful that they don’t run out of power – or so do we.

The forecast had promised north-west winds, once again – they would have made it much easier to travel in the right direction. But instead (as they often seem to do) the winds dropped overnight. So we knew we weren’t going to get to our next harbour, Matane, before nightfall that second day. Though we did get tantalizingly close. Just not close enough.

That meant there was no point trying to go quickly, so instead we slowed down. By about 1:00 a.m. we needed to slow down even more. We were so close that Richard set the boat to drifting toward deeper water – he tied the tiller to one side, and put the mainsail in the middle – then drove it back to the starting point, then let it drift again. Part of that time I kept watch, and he slept. The nice thing? Between keeping watch as we drifted and a turn on the helm while motoring and a sailing watch I finally began to feel as if I were contributing more, and that felt good.

It was cold that night. We put on layers as the temperature went down, hats and hoods on our heads, warm socks inside our shoes. And still we were cold. So as soon as the dawn came and we could see well enough we anchored outside the port, started the generator and plugged in the electric heater. As it warmed our outsides we warmed our insides with porridge and coffee, and after that Richard fell asleep.

The lighthouse outside Matane, Photo by R. Mair

The lighthouse outside Matane, Photo by R. Mair

It’s interesting, the changes that having an electric motor has made in our lives. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t have a generator, but once we had a generator we began to make other decisions based on what we could use it for. We chose an electric heater because we could and chose the model based on its power draw so we could be sure our generator would be able to run it. We also adapted the way we charge our batteries based on the capacity of the generator, and worked out different combinations of sail and motor to use in different circumstances because we need to conserve battery power when we’re travelling a long way.

A view of the port of Matane, Photo by R. Mair

A view of the port of Matane, Photo by R. Mair

Matane was more obviously industrial than any of our other stops so far. We could smell chemicals as we approached, though we could not see the businesses the smells were coming from until we were on the other side of the harbour, leaving. A ferry runs from the port, two large fishing boats went into it in the very early morning, and we could see a large vessel being maneuvered into place along the breakwater facing us. There was obviously work being done in the port, we could see construction equipment on the breakwater and a building being built.

The beach at Matane, Photo by R. Mair

The beach at Matane, Photo by R. Mair

Right next to the port there is a much-used beach (at least while we were there). People came to walk and swim and play.  It seemed an odd juxtaposition, to have an area used for pleasure so close to one so industrial. Further away, where the bay curved back toward the river, there were homes protected by stony breakwaters, evidence of what could happen in rough weather.

Overlooking the bay, Photo by R. Mair

Overlooking the bay, Photo by R. Mair

As it turned out, that was almost all we saw of Matane, except for when Richard took the dinghy in to the beach and went for gas for the generator.

That was because later in the day I happened to glance out and see other boats leaving the marina to the north of us, and recognized another boat we knew was travelling in the same direction. We wondered why they were leaving, and so we checked the weather forecast – and to make a long story short it became obvious that unless we were willing to go into the port to seek shelter it would be wise for us to move on too. So about twelve hours after we had dropped anchor we picked it up again and set sail for Rimouski.

The weather forecast predicted heavy winds in the area, up to 30 knots, first out of the south-west then the north-west, that night and the next day. On the chart Rimouski looked like a place that would provide better shelter. We travelled through another cold night, motor-sailing when the tide and current set us tacking backwards again and motoring when the wind died – which it did from time to time.

Other boats motored past us, some well inshore, others far out. We chose the middle route, trying to find the right balance between less current in the shallower areas and less choppy waters where the water was deeper. Not that the current runs evenly – it bends around islands and into the mouths of rivers and bays. Nor is the bottom even; it rises and falls, and there are rocks and wrecks and obstructions that create eddies.

As the day passed Richard worked hard to keep the boat moving as efficiently as possible so we could get to Rimouski in daylight. We made it – but seeing the area where we had hoped to anchor was disappointing. It was not going to give us the protection we’d hoped for.

We did have one thing in our favour. The heavy winds were now forecast to begin early in the morning, so we decided to put off going in to the marina for at least that night. Then, if all worked out, we could go in to the marina early the next morning, and leave early the morning after.

Richard tried to contact the marina, but, as we found out from the kind soul who answered our radio call, the staff had already left for the day. But there were spaces, and the staff would be back reasonably early the next morning.

Forest of masts in the marina, Photo by R. Mair

Forest of masts in the marina, Photo by R. Mair

The wind woke us shortly before daylight, singing in the rigging. As soon as it was light enough we raised the anchor, and by 6:30 we had tied up in an empty spot in the marina. It took three tries to actually register – the first time there was no-one in the office, the second time there was but he was not officially working yet. Third time lucky… Then we slept the morning away.

Ferry and fishing boats, Photo by R. Mair

Ferry and fishing boats, Photo by R. Mair

Later we enjoyed showers, and spent our afternoon catching up on things that needed doing and planning ahead. We never did see much more than the harbour and marina. The marina shares the harbour with a wharf for fishing boats, and for a ferry that goes to Forestville. There is another section where larger vessels can dock. Fisheries and Coast Guard vessels have docks in the marina and while we were there we saw a group being trained on one of the Coast Guard RIBs.

Rimouski seen from the walking path, Photo by R. Mair

Rimouski seen from the walking path, Photo by R. Mair

We did make time to walk briefly along the walking and cycling path that goes by the marina, and admired the islands and mountains we could see fading away into the misty distance. We noticed a church that looked more contemporary than others we’ve seen so far, and gazed at a view of houses and shoreline. The only businesses we could see within easy reach were all marine or marina based.

Islands and mountains, Photo by R. Mair

Islands and mountains, Photo by R. Mair

We left early the next morning. We had been introduced to the St. Lawrence’s tides and currents, and now we were going to learn more.

Written by Margaret Mair

Photos by Richard and Margaret Mair

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