Montréal to Québec: ça va de mieux en mieux

Yes, mieux en mieux, it’s getting better. This ArioseNote steps back a couple weeks to our departure from Montréal as we set our sights on Québec City.

We left, as is usual in leave-takings, with a good-bye. Whenever I need to say goodbye to my kids, despite more than a decade of farewells since they flew the nest, it still tugs at my heart. Inevitably, I get emotional. That final hug with my Montréaler was no different. As we embraced, I was over-taken with the sharp reality that our sailing adventures come at the cost of being apart from those I love. Sensing my impending tears, they laughed and reminded me we’d see each other in a couple weeks. Oh yeah. Tim and I have a commitment at home that requires us to return to North Bay at the end of September. More about that in a future ArioseNote. We’ll rent a car and stop in Montréal en route, gifting us with a record 4 parent-offspring visits in 2 months! How sweet. That made parting a little easier.

Those stirred emotions were mirrored by the confused waters that hit as we headed out of the marina. Winds were moderate, there were only a couple speedboats in the area, and all freighters within view were secure at the loading docks, so the waves hitting us from every direction caught us off-guard. We bronco-ed our way out of the harbour. There’s no natural shoreline here, with piers and cement walls framing major industry, so perhaps the wake from the recreational vessels is amplified creating the turbulence we experienced? It was a rough start to this next leg, but once at the east end of Montreal island, the sea state settled, and so did we.

We’ve already shared the challenges we dealt with before we even got underway, and those we encountered during our first week. We looked forward to now being able to pace ourselves according to the weather and our wishes, and not have our schedule be dictated by bridge and locks. What we haven’t yet shared was the storm clouds in our relationship that first week.

Neither of us had much in our coping reservoir as we set out, and re-acclimatizing to being aboard was demanding. When stressed, Tim and I have very different responses. Actually, we have very different responses to pretty much everything, stressed or not! Tim’s hyper-attuned to sensory stimuli. This is great when it comes to earning a living as an environmental biologist. He will, for example, notice that a black-throated blue warbler is hiding in those distant trees, whereas my ears detect not a sound. That super-power, though, can be a curse when living on board. Sailing is often imagined to be a zen-like, peaceful undertaking. It can be, but typically, it is not. Frequently, life on board is accompanied by a cacophonous soundtrack: waves crashing against the hull, wind whistling through the rigging, sheets straining on their hardware, dishware crashing against restraining cupboards, sails flogging, anchor and chain rattling, and the occasional abrupt startling crash as the boom and mainsail flies forcefully from one side to the other during a less-than-controlled gybe. This affects both of us, but especially takes a toll on Tim, and my concern about his mounting anxiety takes a toll on me.

We also needed to re-acquaint ourselves with actually sailing. I learned to sail as a kid, and skills laid down in young neuronal pathways, like bicycle riding, tend to come back more easily, which for me, they did. Well, easy if you don’t count those horrendous gybes in our first couple days . or Tim, however, everything related to sailing felt new again, and difficult. His only significant sailing experience had been when we cruised 5 years ago, and he was rusty. Tim’s at his best when he has time to process information and act on it, ideally, being able to focus on one thing at a time. When under strain, his natural oppositional tendency, his “thanks, but I’ll do things my way” response that has served him well in his non-mainstream way of life, ramps up and makes it especially difficult for him to be open to suggestions. When I’m stressed, on the other hand, my attention scatters in every direction, and my natural tendency to command and control that I constantly struggle to keep under wraps, breaks loose and kicks into high gear. Make that HIGH GEAR! Chop-chop!

So we had several episodes that ran something like this. The winds would strengthen, and we’d feel tension rise as things began to get wild. As Tim would slow his actions to think through what we need to do, I would hit him with a rapid-fire volley: “We need to put in a reef. I’m going on deck. Here, take the wheel. Head up, pull in the mainsheet. Release the halyard. The main halyard. I said release the main halyard! It’s caught in the thingy. Release it. Lift the, you know, the thing-a-ma-bob that the line’s running through. Too much! I didn’t say drop the full sail. Just let it down a bit!”

As I wrestled the sail, I would assault him with round two: “Harden the main. Tighten it. Pull it. Hey, keep us into the wind and pull the damn halyard.” Tim would give me the look. You know, the look of someone who has just experienced a drive-by shooting. Our differing stress responses do not bode well for harmonious music on Ariose. Tough working these difference out in any situation. Especially tough in the confines of a small boat at tense times. Over the first weeks, it was a work-in-progress to re-learn how to make the most of our strengths, and how to be patient with each other’s quirks. Can’t say we’re at the mastery level yet, but as we began this second leg of our voyage, we were getting much better at drawing on what we were each best in offering. There was good synergy on board. Ça va de mieux en mieux.

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So back to departing from Montreal. As we left the amusement park roller coasters and chaos of the harbour behind, we began to pass the quintessential Quebec towns and villages marked by church spires along the shores. Apparently, before the river was well marked, captains would mark their progress up the St. Lawrence by the numbers of church spires passed.

There were still freighters, but much more sea room to stay out of their way. There were still some industrial areas, but less so. There were still marked channels, but less need to stay rigidly within them. There were still bridges, but freighters glided easily under so we did too, with confidence! This was better.


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For Tim and I, one of the greatest appeals to cruising is how it provides such a close and immediate connection to nature. There are so many moments of beauty and awe in a typical day. When on the water, the skies can seem particularly immense and laden with drama. At one day’s end, near the village of Contrecoeur, whose name translates as “reluctance” or “hesitation”, the sky & water seemed to hold a certain determination to be anything but!

We found a place to anchor, a place to call home for the night, and were graced with the most incredible vista of sky and water. If awesome was not such an over-used word, that’s how I’d describe it. Such spectacular colours and intense mood. I was transported back to primary school when a curious kid in my class, I think it was Scott, or maybe Ian, would make sure science lessons included at least one broken thermometer so we could all witness the beads scatter and pool. On this magical evening, it felt as though we were on such a pool of spreading mercury.

The skies have not all been serene. One late afternoon near Batiscan, we were considering calling it a day, but had yet to find a safe anchorage. Suddenly, the clouds turned threatening . Check out what was coming at us!

We lashed all our gear, found a suitable spot, and dropped hook in record time. No orders issued. No orders needed. Just good teamwork. We fully expected to be hit, at the least with nasty winds, and at worst, feared a tornado. What relief! Whatever ornery weather these clouds delivered, it missed us.

We did get rain, though, our first heavy rains since departure. Have I already mentioned how much we are appreciating having a sheltered cockpit on Ariose? (She types with one hand, using the other to pat herself on the back.) As an aside, we’re also appreciating having this canvas enclosure on chilly mornings. We set it up most evenings before retiring, and even though temperatures fall into the single digits at night, the sun’s first rays warm the space, and offer a comfortable spot to start the day.

We continued for several days north east along the St. Lawrence, and at times, such as when we passed Sorel-Tracy, we headed due north, on this southbound journey of ours.

Sometimes, it seems, you have to head in the opposite direction to get to your destination.

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As much as we appreciate having so many people along with us on the voyage, and love getting comments in ArioseNotes, we’re uncomfortable with some of the accolades. Social media can be so toxic, painting artificially positive pictures that hold up impossible standards. We don’t want what we are doing to trigger the pervasive fear of missing out. This blog is intended to be our own personal journal. In sharing, it may inspire others to pursue dreams big or small, and that’s great. If it entertains a little, that’s good too. But we want to also be real, and present the good, bad, and the ugly of this sailing adventure. So, yes, there are moments of brief euphoria, and times of wonder, but want to remind from time-to-time that much of life aboard is occupied with the mundane tasks of daily life. Activities of daily living are all a little more difficult in this ever-bobbing space. There are meals to prepare, chores to complete, bird poop to clean.

Sleep, wake, repeat. And although we wear the same clothes day after day, until they are strong enough to pretty much walk off our bodies on their own accord, eventually, there is even laundry to do. If you are interested, here’s how that looks on Ariose. Biodegradable detergent and water in a dry-bag, add soiled clothes, close it up and toss it on the cockpit floor, ideally on a sailing day, to agitate while we’re underway. When it’s calm, some foot-powered rolling helps. Rinse with river water a few times, and then once with a little precious fresh-water from our tank. Hand wring. We had bought a snazzy old-fashionned hand wringer, but in the end, left it at home. Too heavy and too big to justify bringing it. String rope from rigging. Hang to dry. Oops, take down still-wet clothing when guests are on their way to visit so we don’t have panty flags as our conversational back-drop.

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As we neared Quebec City, we began to notice tidal influences and stronger currents. Drawing up the anchor in the morning would reveal a night’s “catch” of vegetation flowing by. The water’s patterns, especially in narrow areas as tidal currents were changing, would hint at the forces just beneath the surface. We had last experienced this a couple years ago sailing with our friend Bill on Scorpius, as he hosted us in BC’s gorgeous inside passage.

Near Portneuf, there is even a stretch of rapids. Running rapids in a sailboat?? We timed the passage at high tide so that the boulders would be well beneath our keel, and even though it was close to slack, it was an exhilarating ride. New friends, Lisa and Guy, who we had met in Kingston, also have an Alberg 30, and unknown to us were anchored on Inti for a break along this stretch of the river. They noticed us flying by, our blue hull distinctive, and captured this photo. How little we look.

When the current was in our favour, we made great progress. When it wasn’t, we didn’t. The tide turned shortly before we reached Quebec City.

We could see the Levis-Quebec City bridge tantalizingly close, for such a long time. How frustrating to watch the strengthening current put the brake on us. Our speed-through-the-water maintained a decent 5 knots (measured by the flow over our hull), but the speed-over-ground (this is the one that matters) dwindled: 4 knots, 3, 2, and finally, a miserly 1/2 knot. The last few miles took hours and we needed to find protection from the forecast easterly winds that would hit during the night. We always like to anchor before dark in unfamiliar areas so we can best assess the surroundings. We almost gave in and started the motor, but the winds picked up and allowed us enough power to gain distance against the current. We ended up reaching what looked like a good spot on the Levis side of the river just as the sun set, and we were rewarded with this post-card worthy view of the Chateau Frontenac presiding over Vieux-Québec.

We often anchor in unorthodox places. We make our decision based on what kind of hold the bottom offers, currents, forecast wind direction and protection afforded, depths, room to swing at anchor, and more. As we’ve shared before, we get a far better sleep than when in a marina, and just generally enjoy being at anchor. And the price is right!

Where we anchored that night, we knew there would be a 4.7 metre tide and strong currents. The chart showed a mysterious “box” nearby that appeared to be human-made and a hazard. At near high-tide, it was invisible to us. Our anchor chain was stretched out and it seemed like Ariose was as close as she would get to it, so we didn’t worry. We should have. Simple trigonometry. We were in the deepest water, so the chain angled up to our bow through about 25 feet of water. When at low tide, we would only be in about 10 feet of water, so that angle would be more gradual, allowing Ariose a wider range. Close to midnight (and low tide), I got up and conducted the usual spotlight check to ensure all is well before returning to sleep. What a shock to see this ominous mound rising from the water, just off our stern. It was sheer luck we hadn’t drifted over it and grounded. Whew. Close call but we’re pleased to say we still hold our record of this being the longest period remaining grounding-free for an Ariose voyage.

Next day, the winds allowed us to hop over to anchor on the west side of the St.Lawrence, just outside the Yacht Club. We wanted to be close to the city to play tourist so we chose a spot that gave easy access to walking into Old Quebec City. We also needed to address an engine issue while there (our alternator had not worked since we left Kingston). We dropped the hook then googled the marine repair business recommended by Patrick, our Collins Bay Marina friend and laughed. There would be no need for taxi costs. We were fortuitously close. So close, in fact, that when we rowed our dinghy Poco in, and climbed up the shoreline rocks, we emerged right in that business’ yard. We ended up staying 4 days, mainly to await a new alternator and battery. Not a bad place to be held up for a bit!

One afternoon, I was working on deck, when I thought I heard my name. Strange. No one on shore, and besides, no one here would know me. Again, I heard my name and looked out to the river to see Inti sailing in toward us with Lisa and Guy waving hi. They anchored beside us. We were honoured to welcome them aboard as Ariose’s first guests of this voyage, and enjoyed picking up the conversation where we had left off when we last saw them a few weeks ago in Kingston. We then buddy-boated for the next week – the two Alberg 30s – but more about that next ArioseNote.

On one of our days in Quebec City, we hiked into Vieux Quebec along the walking/biking route that zig-zags up the escarpment following the path the British soldiers took on another September day, 262 years ago.

The path is marked by artistic renderings of soldiers scrambling up with message boards re-telling the story. We had pavement underfoot. They had crumbling razor-sharp shale. What a fabulous way to work off our sea legs, we thought. I bet that’s not what they were thinking. The British siege of Quebec had lasted 3 months, but failed to lure the French from their walled encampment. Montcalm, based on the quotes we read from his diary, was feeling cocky. The escarpment afforded the French the ultimate protection. Or so he thought.
Wolfe’s army landed at 4am, and within a few hours, 4500 trained, disciplined soldiers carrying weapons and provisions, had scaled the cliff.
On the other side, there were few regular soldiers, the rest, untrained. Of the French defending force, about half were Indigenous warriors with no experience in this strange type of battle. I wonder about their perspective in aiding either side in the French-English clash for land that neither nation had the right to.
Wolfe had to search for grounds upon which they could fight a “proper” battle, you know, employing civilized European methods of slaughtering one another. The Plains of Abraham at the top was a perfect place where they could face off, and not be lured into the “savage” fighting methods of the new world. That blood-soaked earth now hosts a landscape of mowed park lawns and flowered lookouts.

The battle only lasted about an hour. General Wolfe, perhaps fittingly, was one of the first casualities, shot 3 times in the first few minutes. Montcalm died later of wounds he incurred. When told he would not survive, he’s alleged to have said “so much the better as I won’t see the British in Quebec.” Sounds like he would have been a Bloc Québecois supporter.

Ok, enough of the history lesson. Time to lighten and time to wrap up. At the risk of drifting too close to becoming a Quebec City tourist promotion, I will end this post with a photo montage of the very enjoyable day we spent exploring the charms of this historic city.

We’re pleased to say, even after leaving Quebec City, it’s continued to get better. …. à bientôt!

4 thoughts on “Montréal to Québec: ça va de mieux en mieux”

  1. So glad to hear all is well and once again you in motion! Sending love to you both…

  2. Hello Shirley and Tim

    We are loving your updates and photos. Your stories are so engaging. You are reminding me of fond memories of Levi and Quebec City but realizing it has been far too long since we visited.

    Stay safe and have a blast!

    1. We’ve actually had the pleasure of 2 trips to Quebec City in the past year, one by road to pick up a new toy (we bought a sawmill manufactured there … not very functional on a boat!), and of course, this time by boat. Prior to that it had been many years – it’s been lovely to return. One of the small silver linings to covid is to be able to explore touristy places without the hoards of tourists.
      So, when are you and Jeff planning to return?

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