After three days in Quebec City, we left in the dark. The plan was to stage the trip from Quebec City to the Saguenay River over two days and spend the night in Cap-a-l’Aigle. Cap-a-l’Aigle is the closest harbor to Quebec City that doesn’t dry out at low tide and it’s a long 70-nautical mile squawk. We studied the tide tables and left at 4:30 am and although we’d have to motor against a 2-knot current for the first two hours, for the rest of the trip we’d have a strong tidal current pushing us downriver. The forecast (from more than one source) predicted 15 knot Northwest winds to help us along so all appeared to be in order.
By 6:30 am we were in fog using our radar and AIS system to spot the big ships. By 9 am, we were nose into 14-knot winds from the east but the good news was the fog had blown away. By 11 am, the wind had died to a dead calm but we were in fog so dense we could hear the ships’ foghorns yet couldn’t see them. Whenever we are anywhere near those big ships, I start to pace. Fortunately, our AIS system identifies exactly where the ship is and all the details such as ship name, size, destination and its predicted course; a very handy thing to know in dense fog. At one point, according to our radar and AIS, we appeared to be “close on” a collision course so I called the ship. The captain answered me immediately. I think I read somewhere that the captains of these big freighters don’t ignore you if you call them by name especially if it’s a female voice on the radio; in this case I was happy to work that angle.
After a few conversations, we agreed to skedaddle over to shallower water and the captain agreed to alter his course as well. Thanks very much to the captain of Sauniere, a 196 meter cargo ship! After a long slog, we hobby-horsed our way into Cap-a-l-Aigle in high winds. This is called a harbor of refuge and for us, it certainly felt like it. That was an interesting day to understate it; at one point, Blair asked me what Plan B was and for the first time ever in our sailing life, as the navigator, I had to say that there was no Plan B. There are no harbours that we could slink into that would not be dry at low tide and the only emergency anchorage was wide open to the Northeast which, perversely, the wind kept blowing from. So, in retrospect, I’m not sure we would have done anything different but we’ll be more wary of the coast guard weather reports for sure. Unlike the marine weather forecasts in the Great Lakes and Thousand Islands which are updated a few times a day, out here we get a 3:30 am weather forecast for the following 24 hours so it’s not surprising that they aren’t as accurate as we’d hoped. Beth called the coast guard to see if there are weather broadcasts more regularly and they told her she’d just have to listen to the one at 3:30 am; pretty frustrating.
The water temperature has dropped from a high of 22 degrees at Iroquois to 9 degrees in the Saguenay River and last night we used our diesel espar heater for the first time. We’re pleased to say that it heats the boat from bow to stern just nicely and made for a very civilized meal not to be bundled up in four layers.
Friday morning we arrived in Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay. From Cap-a-l’Aigle east, we’d been seeing kelp floating in the water and sort of a salty foam in our boat wake; even the water was a brownish green. The Saguenay river water is a deep dark blue and while the St Lawrence runs east, the Saguenay hits it at right angles creating an obvious rip tide.
The whales, dolphins and seals love this area where the two rivers meet because there’s so much food here. We motored slowly into the huge river mouth, hoping to see some whales or seals and were amazed to see lots of beluga whales and a few of the larger grayish minkes surfacing on all sides. Because some of these whales are endangered, there are pretty strict rules about boat behavior when you spot a whale; you’re meant to stay 650 feet away from the whales and 1,300 feet away from the belugas. If one of these guys happens to surface close to your boat, you’re meant to stop the boat and drift. We followed the rules but there were lots of whale watching tours that were darting here and there actively seeking out the whales; both the fast inflatables with their passengers dressed in survival suits and the larger cruise-type ships where you can view the whales from a toasty cabin behind plate glass windows.
Since the first lock at Iroquois we’ve been seeing the same few boats that are making a similar trip. They lag behind or they jump ahead but at quite a few stops, we see them again. One boat, Bagatelle, is from Kingston and is a friend of our club manager, Liz Lazier. Bagatelle finally left us after dark late last night and headed across the St Lawrence to Rimouski to drop off one of their crew. Another boat, a 34.5 Beneteau called Wings, carry Chris and Mary Stewart and their daughters Ellen and Monica. They picked Wings up in Etobicoke and are bringing her downstream to their home in Summerside, PEI. Wings will leave us tomorrow to cross to Rimouski while we head up the river.
Tadoussac is not as remote or quiet as we expected. Last night, we hiked the hill behind the marina and in a small cafe caught the impressive guitar act of Barry Dawe. Barry, a cross between Meatloaf and Pierre Bensusan, played nonstop tunes all night and we were mesmerized by his intricate guitar stylings and clear and beautiful voice; definitely a high point of our stay here in Tadoussac.
We’d only planned on spending one evening in Tadoussac and are chomping at the bit to head up the river to Baie Eternitie but the wind is not cooperating. If someone asked me what my impression of the St Lawrence east of Quebec was, wind would definitely figure in the description. In Quebec City, we changed our 135% sail for a much smaller 100% foresail and even that is sometimes too big. The wind is either non-existent or howling at 35 knots. Today, we decided to stay in Tadoussac because the forecast was for high winds “sur le nez”. We’ll sit in the comfortable lounge of the Tadoussac Hotel and get our emails, post this blog, read a little and maybe walk into town for an ice cream cone. For today that is our Plan B.