Québec City to Tadoussac: close encounters

Last Ariose Note wrapped up with a photo of Québec City’s Pierre Laporte bridge. You may have been able to spot the distinctive blue hull of Ariose, our Alberg 30, among the boats there.

We’ve started this one with a dazzling night-time panorama of the same scene. What could possibly be more special than being moored with this spectacular view? I’ll tell you what. Spending that same evening on the patio of Marina de la Chaudière, one of the most charming low-key marinas we’ve had the pleasure to be at, swapping stories with the proud owners of 3 other Alberg 30s!  A30 love-in time!

Alberg 30 appreciators.

Lisa and Guy, who we became friends with last year buddy-boating on these same waters, were there, and this would be our only opportunity to cross paths this season. They passed on their recommendations from having spent the summer sailing Inti, their A30, around Gaspe – PEI – Cape Breton – les Îles-de-la-Madeleines. We took notes. Lots! Being fed these tidbits stokes eager anticipation for what’s ahead but I also feel a rising regret that we didn’t allow time to do more than skim the surface of these cruising grounds as we pass through en route to warmer destinations. Fear of missing out of a different sort.  

By “last call” (nothing, to do with alcohol – just the final chance for us to be taxied back to our boats by the Marina’s dinghy) we were still discussing cruising pragmatics and had hardly even touched on the really important conversations, those that inhabit the intersection of the philosophy of sailing & of life. Next morning we rushed to take advantage of the marina services before moving on, then once bodies were showered and clothes laundered, we decided to adjust our plan. We paid for a 2nd night, and enjoyed continuing the camaraderie for another day.  With access to a large communal kitchen (countertops! cookware! running water!), we shared a potluck feast and dissected everything from the faulty engineering of below-the-waterline through-hulls, to natural home construction and making earthen floors,  to the pernicious harms of consumerism. At the end of the evening, we scored a trade with another patron:  Salmon fillets for our surplus chick pea cauliflower curry. Long live the barter system! 

When travelling by water, there’s few opportunities to chat with local folks. With those Quebecois we have interacted with, I’m pleased to find my very rusty French improving a little. Tim’s even resurrecting some long lost high school vocabulary. Unfortunately, porte/fenetre, chien/chat don’t take him too far in conversations. All have very kindly thrown in their reservoir of English words, we all throw aside our self-consciousness, and somehow manage with no more than minor misunderstandings.  One Chaudière marina member helpfully directed me and my pillowcase full of laundry to the closet housing the washer/dryer. Later that evening, I nodded to the same guy sitting on the patio with several cans of beer in front of him. As he opened one, he asked me “Blah blah blah seché?”  I’ve managed so far by honing in on the words understood and filling in the gaps, so noticing what seemed to be his surplus of alcohol, and putting that together with “seché”, which I know means “dry”, I assumed this was his way of asking if I was thirsty. He was offering me  a beer. “No, merci” I responded with a smile, but wasn’t sure what to make of his quizzical look. Had he been hitting on me, seeing himself as irresistible, and was puzzled by my decline? Later, in replayed the interaction, I had an aha translation realization. He had asked if my laundry was dry, not me! Imagine how it would have gone down had I instead responded with a “Oui, merci” and helped myself to one of his brew.

The following day, after phone t’ai chi with my Mom, we said our farewells. Some Albergs remaining here at their home marina, Inti continuing westward as they wrap up their season, and Ariose taking a short hop to the opposite shore, to sample Vieux-Québec before we carry on eastward

Québec City was hot. In fact, as I write this a little over a week later, I realize it was our last taste of summer heat. Ariose is currently absorbing frigid temperatures from the cold outer St. Lawrence waters and it feels like we’re living in a walk-in fridge. Multiple layers, wool toques and warm jackets are haute couture aboard. Anyways, as I get back to writing about Québec City I’ll try to channel that warmth.

We spent a day – a sweaty day – hiking from our anchorage, 5km up the escarpment path, in the 250 year old footsteps of Wolfe’s British troops, and along the Plains of Abraham to the walled part of the old city. It’s easy to understand Montcalme’s confidence, between the steep climb and loose shale, that this French stronghold was invincible. It wasn’t.

With Tim and I having been to Québec City a couple times recently [last year’s stop], combined with the energy-depleting heat, we had no appetite for touristy activities. We spent the day ambling along from one shaded bench to another, soaking up the peculiar ambience of sightseers of every shape and size and tongue, desperately creative buskers, and souvenir shops and restaurants luring in passersby among the historical streets. Quite the melange.

Next day, it was onward. Au revoir. The Chateau Frontenac dwarfed by the massive cruise ship along its harbourfront, receded in our wake.

From this vantage, as we leave Quebec City, the Chateau Frontenac is dwarfed by a cruise liner.

We attempted to sail by Îles d’Orléans, but after hours of minimal progress against a headwind and unfavourable current, we gave up, dropped anchor, and hung out for hours until the tide turned. Feeling refreshed, we could once again make our way. That’s since been a strategy we’ve employed a few times.

Purple line shows our track’s slow eastward progress turning to no progress. Black waypoint marks the point of conceding, then hours later, onward we go.

I used to think that I’d love sailing because of the freedom. Constraints would be left ashore. Hah! Naïve. When we’re cruising we don’t have the 9-to-5 type limitations, but have discovered we actually have very little agency in how we spend our day. Winds, currents, boat issues, and even our psychological state all dictate our progress or lack thereof. I’ve since come to the realization that part of the gift of what we’re doing is that it helps me accept what is within my control and what isn’t, and to be ok with that. When I say “ok”, I don’t mean I’ve attained any zen-like state. Definitely not. I still feel frustrated, but less so. Through my upbringing and my career, I’ve been rewarded for being a strong organizer, and now I’ve come to see the other side of that coin. I recognized myself so clearly in my father, spending his final days planning every last detail from his obituary to instructing us on how to remove the stains from the laundry tub. I, too, suffer the curse of being a planner, with delusions that I am in control. Tim’s so much better at going with the flow.  We balance each other. You likely know the saying, you can’t control the wind, but you can adjust the sails. Îles d’Orléans was a reminder of this wisdom’s less eloquent version:  You can’t fight the current, but you can drop the anchor, eat, putter at projects, nap, and wait for conditions to change.

Over the next few days, we really enjoyed the familiarity earned through last year’s sailing.  There’s reassurance knowing that we have safe anchorages ahead, and knowing where the wonky currents are that we’d be good to avoid (note – we stayed far from Iles Aux Coudres this year ).

On one particular day sailing eastward, it was not only recognizable territory, but lacked interest.  We commented a few times during the day on the monotony. The word “boring” may have even been uttered. Perhaps Mother Nature heard, and thought we were asking for some excitement, or perhaps, judged us ripe for a lesson.  We had heard the Coast Guard issue gale warnings on the VHF early in the day for the Trois-Rivières area. Our weather app didn’t show anything concerning, so we didn’t pay much attention. Besides, it was about a week’s sailing from Trois-Rivières to our current location, and it felt too distant to be relevant. But at less than 200 km away – for winds that could be travelling up to 90 km/hour – it was not so far.

At day’s end, we had few options for anchoring but were fine with an unprotected spot. It was such a mild day, after all. I don’t think we even recalled the earlier warnings, until we dropped hook and noticed the western sky looking rather ominous. Hmm. Better prepare. We had just begun to secure things on deck when we heard it coming. The air was still but the unmistakable roar of a wall of wind moving across the water was alarming.   I snapped this photo, capturing a flash of lightening, and

and within moments, the water’s surface went from calm to rolling whitecaps crashing over the bow. We considered putting out more rode to prevent us being blown onto shore (the longer the chain or rope, the better the anchor will hold). With Ariose’s bow bucking high on each wave then plunging into the trough with a wall of water crashing over us, we didn’t feel safe even trying. Then the lightening show picked up … always a little scary when hunkered down in a vessel on the water with a tall metal pole sticking into the air. We remained secure and unscathed, and within an hour, the worst had passed. Later, we realized there was more we could have done to reduce our windage. Tim designed our solar panels’ mounting with a hinge so that the side ones can close over top, but we didn’t think to do so. We actually zipped in our cockpit enclosure, thinking we’d appreciated protection from the rain, but we should have gone the other direction and removed most of our canvas. Lessons for next time, because there will be a next time.

As we approached Saint-Jean-Port-Joli the next day any residual feelings of boredom – not that we would have dared acknowledge them – were eliminated as we spotted distinctive smooth ‘whitecaps” in the distance.  We were now in beluga territory. Refrains of “Baby beluga”, the signature song of Raffi, an entertainer popular when my kids were young, running through our heads. We were now focused on scanning the waters, shouting sightings, “off the port bow!”, “there’s another immediately aft!”, and trying, unsuccessfully, to catch a photo of these lovely creatures. They look to be formed from the smoothest white kaolin clay, with their creator leaving an excess glob on their foreheads. That fatty tissue likely helps with echolocation to navigate and locate the 60 pounds of small fish they feed on a day. It’s also believed to aide communication with one another. They’re one of the most vocal of the whales, nick-named the canaries of the sea because of their varied range. At night, I strained to hear their song through the hull, but no chance of that with the usual wracked of wires clanging from within the mast.

Unsuccessful in capturing a photo of belugas in the water, but here’s one on land (in Tadoussac).

Here’s an interesting fact: Phlegm from beluga noses – yes, snot – is being analyzed by researchers for stress hormones. I don’t know how it’s collected. I do suspect that those scientists don’t get invited to many dinner parties. With the noise of tankers, and the constant stream of whale watching tour boat traffic, I  imagine the stress levels are extreme (for the whales, and maybe the now-socially isolated humans studying them, as well).

As we continued, we began to learn to use our radar, one of our major upgrades to Ariose. It’s given us confidence now that we can “see” freighters hiding in the fog banks, or when we look ahead to clouds pouring down from the mountains, .we don’t need to feel anxious. I can even spot suspicious small green vessels rowing near (note the photo on the right of the ipad screen showing a red dot off Ariose’s port). Ah, that one is friendly!

Within a few more days’ sail, we reached Tadoussac, at the mouth of the Saguenay fjord and the St.Lawrence. We’re so grateful to Lisa and Guy for having introduced us last year to this remarkable area . Something about the very cold fresh water mix with saltwater, and the unique currents in the area, draws all sorts of marine mammals. And their human stalkers, er, watchers.

Minke abeam!

Apparently, over a dozen kinds of whale are found here, most remaining for the summer to feed and fatten up before heading south to more comfortable, but less nourishing waters. Kind of like what Ariose is up to. We just saw 2 species: belugas and minkes. I say “just”, but our sightings were anything but “just”. Amazing? Astounding? Awesome? Difficult to put into words.

We hung out around the Tadoussac/Saguenay area for a week. A wonderfully memorable week. We timed our entry into the Saguenay on the early part of a rising tide to avoid currents that can be strong enough to spit us back out into the St.Lawrence. We set our hook inlovely Anse à la Barque, a less than 2km walk into town, along the Parc National du Fjord-du-Saguenay’s trail system.

We had a neighbour at our anchorage, or rather neighbours. It was interesting chatting with the owners of the one other sailboat, Montrealers who spend their summers cruising the outer St.Lawrence. It was even more interesting being entertained by the resident grey seal. While rowing to shore one day, we approached it, holding the oars quiet as we drifted closer. It was looking the other way, oblivious to our approach. Back pack off carefully off, phone removed and in hand, and still oblivious. Then as we were about to collide, I called a gentle “hey big guy” , causing it to turn, suck in air through rounded nostrils, clamp them tight, and get out of there. We were relieved it didn’t choose to lean its chubby 400-500 pounds into us and cause us to be the ones to take a dive.

Tadoussac is a touristy town, but without crossing the line into kitsch. Whale watching is clearly the local economy’s mainstay, with excursions being offered on everything from kayaks to zodiacs, to large enclosed vessels for those who prefer a not so close connection to nature.  Many also spend hours on the smoothened rocks and enjoy more than their money’s worth of sightings.

While re-provisioning in Tadoussac, we stumbled across services for travellers who are roughing it … showers! Next excursion into town was with toiletries and towels. A $1 investment gave 5 glorious minutes of hot water – enough to scrub 2 long overdue-for-a-cleaning bodies. Then, ‘cause you only live once, we put in a 2nd loonie and soaked up the opulence of more steaming water pouring from above.

Sorry JM, I was too slow with the camera! 😉

Personal hygiene standards take a big dive when living on a small boat with limited fresh water and a kettle as our heating device. As much as we savoured the experience, the giggling couple in the stall next to us seemed to get even more pleasure from their shower than did we.

Tadoussac’s marina has a unique feature. The interpretive centre’s parking lot is below water level but kept dry with a lock-type door, transforms into a winter boat storage yard. At the highest tide each fall, the doors open intentionally flooding the area, boats are floated in and over their respective cradles. Then with low tide, water flows out and doors are shut. Safe and secure and dry for the winter. A dock attendant described the scene to us. Sounds like quite the team effort to get this done within the few hours that nature allots.

Last year, we glimpsed up the Saguenay fjord, and vowed to return to see more. So we did. We spent 3 days sailing inland, but could have easily spent 3 weeks exploring the 170km. The landscape felt nostalgic for me. There’s a majestic rock face on my home waters of Lake Temiskaming, known as Mani-doo Aja-bikong (many refer to as Devil’s Rock). Sailing up the Saguenay was like taking that granite escarpment and enlarging and extending it. Some peaks are over 1000 feet. Magnificent. If we could see below the surface, with depths plunging to nearly the same, we’d be marvelling at that too.

The whales seemed to appreciate those depths. We had many sightings of beluga pods and minkes, but one night was particularly incredible. Tim had been at the helm for much of the day and was early to bed. A couple hours after dark, I heard the unmistakeable – and close! – whoosh of a whale coming up for a breath. I woke Tim and climbed into the cockpit to check it out. There were more. For over half an hour, a pod seemed to be partying all around Ariose, noisily exhaling here and there. What an experience, rocking gently in the pitch black, seeing nothing, but hearing and sensing and being honoured by the presence of these graceful mammals.

Sadly, it was time to move on. We do want to make Nova Scotia before the weather turns too chilly. So back to Tadoussac where we topped up our water and diesel jerries, and headed across the Saguenay to Saint-Firmin to anchor for the night.

We intended an early departure when the currents would be favourable. Next morning, plans changed. We awoke to thick fog. Not just thick, it was a wall.

Yes, we now have radar, but at this point had only minimally experimented with it. This is such a busy area with whale watching tours, and shipping freighters, so it seemed wise to stay put. It was a relaxing day, and a project and chore day, punctuated with the excitement of minkes keeping us company.

Although they are one of the smaller fin whales, from the perspective of our  30 foot, 9000 pound boat, the 20-30 foot, 20,000 pound creatures seem massive.  With each high tide, they moved in, and delighted us as we watched them, or were they watching us? Such a surreal experience to be sitting at anchor, enjoying dinner, while scanning the waters around us waiting for the next to surface as they ate theirs. What a privilege.

The following day, we were off. We timed our start perfectly, with currents pushing us out on our way into the St.Lawrence. We sped along at over twice our usual, reaching up to 10.4 knots under sail. This, for Ariose, nears her record of 11 point something when riding the Gulf Stream on our first adventure. Fun!

So, I could, and perhaps, should, end with that. We had no idea that the gremlins that have plagued us on past voyages, were about to visit. That’s the reality of cruising. Things can change so quickly. No, I’m not going to get into it until next Ariose Note. Our Québec to Tadoussac leg has been wonderful. Period.  I’ll leave it at that.

Nature’s muted Saguenay palette reflected in the calm waters of Anse au Barque.

7 thoughts on “Québec City to Tadoussac: close encounters”

  1. Always great to read about your adventures Shirl, you’re such a creative writer as I have said many times! Nova Scotia may be getting hit shortly so I hope you are nowhere near there now, have to get to the next posting. Travel safe xoxo

  2. Get the popcorn out Shirley has written another riveting account of the journeys of Ariose! Great pictures as well ! Looking forward to meeting up with you in Nova Scotia.

    Looks to be a little breezy on the Gulf today!


    1. Hah! Maybe some caffeine with that popcorn? Yes, just a “little” breezy! 90 km/hr winds yesterday! As you know, we usually avoid marinas but are super appreciative to be hunkered down in one in Gaspe waiting for this low pressure system to move on so we can continue on to NS.

  3. Loving to read about your adventures
    We’re on Anchor Georgain Bay tonight
    Looking forward to reading more
    Sue and Steph

    1. So good to hear that you’re out enjoying Nimbus IX. Hope you’ve found a comfortable protected bay to call home for the night. Gotta say that there are some nights where we are longing to be anchored in smaller waters with a lot less rock ‘n rolling!

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