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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.

~~~~~~~~

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!

Sailing Kingston to Montreal: A week of contrasts

Here’s two vessels awaiting transit of a lock, with Tim in the middle, trying to figure out which is ours … a fitting opening photo we thought, for this post where we share the first leg of our voyage. It was a week of contrasts sailing the St. Lawrence Seaway from Kingston to Montreal.

There will be more photos and an attempt at fewer words this time, offering a welcome break, I’m sure for all who slogged through the last couple of lengthy narratives. I admire those with the talent to communicate succinctly – clearly not something I have a knack for! If you want a closer look at any of the images, just click to enlarge. And in case you need any incentive to keep reading, let me offer this: There will be adrenaline-fueled screams at the end of the post.

As we shared last ArioseNote, by the time we set sail, we felt fully drained. There were some small seeds of invigoration, though, leading up to departure. One was the morning we awoke to peak through the porthole, and confirm that we were not dreaming. Indeed, we were no longer looking down upon cars and marina garbage cans. Ariose was off the jack-stands and we were back in the water. Wonderful. The night before we left, we enjoyed another boost. We got our newly-made cockpit canvas up (a winter’s worth of sewing seasoned with bits of frustrated swearing for this novice seamstress), and enjoyed dinner in its shade. Ahh. This was more like it. Even more marvelous, though, was raising a different sort of canvas on our first sailing day. Sweet. And waking at 6:10am after a sound sleep gently rocked at anchor on Lake Ontario, to see dawn breaking and not another boat in sight. The past month of frustrating delays was quickly fading.

Every “first” of this voyage has felt like an accomplishment and another step in the transition from our terrestrial life back to being amphibious creatures once again.

On Day 1, we allowed ourselves a much-needed sleep-in, then started with a simple afternoon sail past the Kingston shoreline to Brakey Bay, on the east end of Wolfe Island. So good to have Ariose where she belongs. Next morning, I enjoyed a row in Poco, our dinghy, having breakfast while exploring the shoreline. There was such a feeling of familiarity. We were slipping back into sailing and the routines of life aboard that we had carved out on our 9 month voyage 5 years ago. There was even a sense of familiarity in these surroundings that reminded us of our home waters. So similar to Dawson Point limestone on Lake Temiskaming in northern Ontario.

Then on through the beautiful Thousand Islands, there were some areas that were also reminiscent of home, of the rock and pine and charming cottages of Temagami, and the landscape we enjoy when we paddle off our dock down the Mattawa River. It’s such a gentle beginning when you get to start from the familiar.

Similar, but different. The contrasts quickly emerged. So many quaint cottages tucked into the Thousand Islands, but also homes, if you can call them that, that ooze obscene wealth. One extreme example is Singer Castle, built in the early 1900s by a CEO of, you guessed it, the sewing machine company. I wonder if those generations of “housewives” creating curtains and clothes for their families, had any inkling of what their hard-earned dollars were funding. The castle, situated on the aptly named Dark Island, was owned by the Bourne family until the 1960s, apparently, one of their two summer homes. Like other mansions in the area, it was open for tours and rentals. We just glided past to gawk at no cost.

We had variable conditions our first days out, bringing lots of opportunities to brush up on the basics, from managing all points of sail to refreshing ourselves on what safety checks to undertake. We figured out the spider web of lines to hold a whisker pole in place when the winds were pushing at good speed. Without the pole to stabilize the foresail, the headwind from the boat’s forward motion would spill out and be wasted rather than push us along. Oh, yes, not just “figuring out”, what array of fore and aft guys work on Ariose, but doing so without the pole hip-checking us overboard in the process. And that experience naturally lead to re-learning how to work on deck while tethered securely. We had heavy enough winds to need to reef the mainsail so we wouldn’t be dangerously overpowered. That first effort to reef was a wrestling match that my aching hands reminded me of for days. Have since finessed that process!

We dropped the hook every night, and quickly re-mastered sailing on and off anchor, going days without ever using the motor. At each day’s end, we were (and still are!) weary. This though, is the healthiest of exhaustion, the kind where you have just enough energy to brush your teeth, then crawl gratefully into the comfy v-berth to be gently rocked to sleep. Very different from the bone-tired weariness I used to feel at the end of work days, with a body fatigued from nothing more than back-to-back meetings broken up with rushed completion of computer tasks in a window-less office. In that life, 3am awakenings that lasted hours, found my mind ruminating about the past day, and planning for the next, ensuring I would need to dig deep to muster the energy to face that day, once again, with insufficient sleep. Living aboard and sleeping at anchor is a world away. A boat usually orients to the breeze ensuring fresh air channels through the cabin. There are no dock noises, no traffic, and if we secure our own halyards properly, no clanging mast “music”. Within a couple months of our return home last time, we invested in a state-of-the-art 18kg Rocna anchor as an essential factor in the sleeping exceptionally well equation. So far, it has been holding us securely through all conditions, and we’re getting uninterrupted sleeps.

In about 6 week’s time, we are hoping to be able to enter the US. Not for any length of time, mind you, just for the occasional rest and provisioning as we make our way south. Sailing from Canada to the Caribbean non-stop is a little beyond our experience and ability level. Here, in the Thousand Islands, however, we moved freely in and out of American waters, thanks to the cross-national agreement allowing vessels of either country to transit the St. Lawrence Seaway. If only it could always be so easy! No formalities required, and in fact, our first notice that we had strayed outside of our own country was Bell Canada texts advising that roaming charges were now in effect. Borders! Such arbitrary lines.

We did get comfortable navigating by our paper and electronic charts once again, although hardly necessary in these waters. The St. Lawrence Seaway is generously marked with charming light-houses and seagull roosts otherwise known as buoys. Just keep red to port and green to starboard, and all is usually well. Favourable currents, as the waterway empties out the Great Lakes, gave quite a boost, at times, allowing us to almost double our usual speed.

Did you catch the all is usually well? The opening photo in this post of freighter vs sailboat, was not just a showdown at locks. It was initially quite intimidating to share the waters with these behemoths. So incongruous to be lazily sailing past cottages, with tour boats and seadoos as companions, to then notice one of these beasts bearing down on us. That’s when we’d move out of the marked channel tout-de-suite, and let the big-boys have it all to themselves. The violent wake-induced rock ‘n rolling we’d be hit with a few moments later was their parting gift.

When we did stray (or rather, escape!) outside the marked channels, we did have to keep a hawk-eye on the electronic charts to avoid the plentiful shoals. Much of these waters were dredged in the late 1950’s when the St. Lawrence Seaway was created. Freighters needed sufficient depth for to move freely from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic. So in addition to the natural shallows, there’s all sorts of unlikely piles of dug-up debris. Although we have a plentiful armory of getting ungrounded strategies from cruising 5 years ago, we’re hopeful that this time, we never need to use them, and certainly not in our first week out! The fear of grounding was a minor concern, though. It’s so disturbing to consider how opening the “industrial and agricultural heartlands” through creating the Seaway did so at the expense of the people whose land was expropriated and lives turned upside down, and the harsh impact on nature. Tim tells me 250 square kilometers of land was flooded. I’m not sure of his source, but anyone who knows Tim knows he’s up on environmental facts!

So I guess that’s a good segue to the contrast between the natural landscape and the human-made structures along the way. When googling the St. Lawrence Seaway to learn a little more about it, we saw that it has been grandiosely described as the 8th wonder of the world. Yes, canals, dykes, dams, bridges, and locks abound. Lots of engineering feats bending nature to capitalist purposes. Here’s a selection:

We lost track of how many bridges are on the route. Most we passed smoothly. They were either high enough to sail under or we arrive right on schedule and the bridge lifted on time. Not all were smooth, though. We arrived at the Laroque Bridge to a green light, signifying permission to pass. As we approached it turned red and without any regard to us barrelling toward it, fueled by a strong current, it lowered. We were less than 2 minutes off in our timing. We were able to do a quick gybe and head off to the side of the channel to drop anchor and wait a couple hours for the next opening. Frustrating, but not a big deal. Nap time!

Another bridge passing though, got our hearts racing. Our guidebook indicated that the Kahnawake Bridge, when closed, is 12 metres. That’s 39 feet 4.44 inches. We knew our mast was close, but had never measured height from the water, so here was a chance to do so. Before we weighed anchor that morning, we pulled a rope up the halyard to the top, then held our grab hook level at the mast base and measured from there to the water, adding another 6″ for the VHF antenna and wind direction indicator. We came up with 40 feet 1 inch. So close! Some sailors will hang weights (or crew) off the end of the boom to force the boat to heel over. With the mast angled, they are able to sneak under bridges that are just a little too low. Should we be so daring to try this? Nope. We’ve said it already, but will say it again. We intend this voyage to be notable for its lack of mishaps. We’d managed at that point to be 5 days into our voyage without major incident, and we wanted to hold on to this new record. Tim, get off that boom right now!

Our charts, both the official Hydrographics Canada paper version and our electronic Navionics, however, indicated that the bridge was 48 feet high. We would make our decision once we arrived and could eyeball it. As we approached, we both agreed. There’s enough height for Ariose. Forty-eight feet must be accurate. No need to hail the operator or wait for a scheduled opening. Our confidence waned the closer we got but we continued as we knew from experience that almost any bridge looks deceivingly low as you pass under. There’s a strong urge to duck, even with the 100 foot bridges, as you look up your mast to the girders above. We were speeding along at 6 knots (that’s fast for us), and just as we were about to go under, we spotted a sign posted on the bridge: 12m. Panic!! Too low! I was at the helm as Tim shouted “turn around!” Sailboats need water passing over the rudder to be able to steer them. When it’s the current pushing the boat from behind as it was for us, the boat is moving along with the water, not through the water. I didn’t have enough steerage. We readied ourselves for a hard impact and all the worst case scenarios flashed before us. Hopefully we would get away with just losing the antennae not the mast crashing down on us. But we made it through. Unscathed. We had enough height after all. Breathe. Kahnawake is an indigenous community, well known for standing up to colonial injustices. Was this their way of messing with those using and abusing these waters? I wouldn’t blame them if it was.

We needed to transit 7 locks on the voyage from Kingston to Montreal, as we dropped 570 feet from Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence. Two are American; five Canadian. Interesting, yes, but inconvenient. Each lock required prior booking and payment, but it was impossible to know when we needed to set out to make that actual reserved time until 7:30 am, when the actual daily lock schedule is posted on the Seaway website. Sometimes there was only one downbound passage in the morning, and one in the afternoon, and to complicate planning, some have lengthy canals between locks, as much as 12 nautical miles (that can easily take 4 hours to sail), where overnight stopping is prohibited. Anyways, we did have some lengthy waits, but otherwise made it smoothly though all. The many New York Canal System locks we transited on our southbound voyage last time, and then again on our return (I think it was 39 each way) prepared us well for these.

The locks are set up for their main customers, the freighters, but at some, there was a waiting area for pleasure boats. I think they wanted to keep us out of the way and we were happy to have a place to be out of the way. We would dock, and then attempt to follow what seemed, according to our guidebook and to the signage, a clear process. We laughed with the absurdity – check out the first instruction, then what we found at the phone booth:

We’d try unsuccessfully to hail them on our vhf radio, pace the dock, peer through locked gates, and eventually would be acknowledged by the lockmaster. Sometimes they’d let us know we’d need to wait for a freighter, and sometimes they’d let us know we could proceed. Here’s a slide show to take you through a sample canal transit:

The night before arriving in Montreal, we tucked in behind a tiny island on Lac St. Louis for another peaceful night. The next day as we sailed across the deeper channels of the lake, we caught sight of Oratoire Saint-Joseph perched on the slope of Mont-Royal. A very different first view of the city from the usual highway access. Another canal, a couple bridges, and a couple locks, and we emerged in the city.

We glimpsed the Montreal’s signature Olympic Stadium, made a hard port turn to St. Helen’s Island and we were right at La Ronde amusement park and its marina where we had booked for the next two nights. From tranquil anchorages to an amusement park? You might be thinking that’s not a great call for sailors seeking peace and calm. No worries. The marina was open but the park was closed. The price at $1.70/foot, we thought, was very reasonable. Upon getting the invoice, I realized my rusty French had failed me. That was the day-stay rate; we had to pay a more typical city fees of $2.50/foot. Most importantly, though, it was conveniently located near my Montrealer offspring’s Hochelaga neighbourhood. An unprecedented two precious visits in less than a month! My heart was happy. Our backs and legs were pretty pleased, too, to have car access for provisioning and other heavy errands.

For our first week of sailing, we had remained exclusively on Ariose. Our feet never touched ground. It was with wobbly legs that we disembarked in Montreal. For me, the sensation of being trapped in the the amusement park’s fun-house diminished over our 48 hours there to a mere feeling of having consumed one glass too many of red. Tim always gets his land-legs more quickly, and regained his usual stride within a few hours.

Even with the park closed, it was a rather bizarre place for us to dock. Roller coaster backdrops, and needing to navigate a maze-like route through parking lots, past security booths, and under rides to exit onto the main road and the Jacques Cartier Bridge was just weird. Not our usual habitat. On our last morning, as we prepared to do our final errands, we noticed empty-seated park rides in operation. Strange. Then we hopped in the car and as we attempted to head out, encountered people streaming in, in a very unpandemic fashion. We needed security’s assistance to part the growing crowds so we could pass. Quite the celebrity experience. My rusty French had also not picked up on mention of the park’s opening day.

There. That’s all for this ArioseNote. Hope you’ve enjoyed coming along with us on our very diverse first week. As promised we’ll end this post with the adrenaline-fueled screams – not ours! – that served as background as we untied the lines and bid adieu to Montreal.

Screams of excitement as we depart from Montreal!

Depleted departure

Good news. Ariose is back in the water, and we’re underway!

In fact, we already have 5 glorious days on the water in our wake.  It’s taking a lot of focus as we scrape the rust from our sailing skills. Having been restricted to land for the past 4 years has resulted in some corrosion, but we’re relieved to find that our neurons are no different than many boat parts:  a bit of elbow grease and a bit of use, and we’re beginning to feel quite polished. By the end of a full day sailing, however, despite great intentions of updating our blog, we just crawled into the v-berth to sleep. We’ve been completely exhausted, in the best kind of way.

Last week, though, the exhaustion we felt was of a very different flavour.

It had been a month since we left North Bay and towed Ariose to Kingston to launch on our sailing adventure. A month. A long 30 days. A protracted, hot, patience-testing, claustrophobic, on full public display, noisy, sleep-deprived month fighting wasps determined to move in with us. We had expected to feel euphoria as we finally set out, but no. As we departed this past Friday, we were able to fill Ariose’s diesel tank and jerry jugs at the marine fuel dock, but there was not much left in Tim’s and my tanks. Empty. Emotionally depleted.

Selfie at the fuel dock as we’re about to depart… Are we just squinting into the late day sun or is this how we look when we’re out of steam?

The month had not been all draining by any means. We were in a well-run marina, in a lovely city, and as we’ve mentioned before, we have enjoyed time with lots of great folks. Being able to fit in a couple visits with my friend Sue, was all the more special in that I got to meet a few of her brood of grandkids.

A bit of cockpit socializing, a little touristing, interesting chats and daily cool showers to thwart the high temperatures helped keep us fueled. We got to witness Danny launch his newly refinished gorgeous wooden sloop, deservedly bumping Ariose from the prettiest boat in the marina honour. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

Sophanna, Danny’s gorgeous pride and joy.

A quick review of the past few weeks helps explain.  Ariose was craned in the day after we arrived in Kingston and we set to work completing final preparations.  Five days later, we were ready to step the mast with the expectation we’d set sail 1-2 days later. August 4th at the latest we’d be underway. That was the plan. We’ve learned, though, that our intentions and what actually unfolds are often not the same. For me, retired manager and consummate planner with a need for control rooted in my genes, I seem to require frequent refreshers on this life lesson. Sailing is an obliging teacher.

A memory lapse had resulted in us needing a quick crane out to check the security of the propeller before getting going. Then, as 9,000 pound Ariose was being lifted – bam! – a strap slipped and her rudder took the load causing irreparable damage. No rudder = no steering. We’d lost our way. Aimless. That happened August 3rd. We then lived aboard Ariose, mid-marina parking lot, for the next 21 days, hauling water, provisions, and our weary selves up and down the ladder. Each bit of progress whether projects we completed or good news about a replacement rudder, boosted our morale.  Overall, though, our moods slipped and we grew increasingly inpatient each passing day.

The noise really began to get to us. Deafening planes overhead, trains across the bay, heavy equipment in the yard, halyards tapping rhythms on masts and alarms going off on unoccupied boats at night. We’re used to little more than soft sounds of the forest as we sleep. No peace here.

The heat was oppressive, typically high 20s/low 30s Celsius with humidex adding 10 degrees.  We have no idea how hot it was inside Ariose. Her black bottom exposed to the sun soaked up the heat all day long. Then the few thousand pounds of cast iron in her keel acted like a heat sink, emitting that energy through the night to further warm her already over-heated inhabitants.

Once the new-to-us rudder was on, congratulations abounded. We had people keeping an eye on us and we chuckled when we received this enthusiastic email  “I did a Happy Dance when I checked the webcam”, from someone home nursing a recovering Misty the cat 😉 . Although we appreciated all the excitement on our behalf, we felt strangely dissociated.  I think we were just too exhausted to feel much of anything. And the work wasn’t over.

One, two, three – lift!

Boat Repair Guy had done an excellent job sourcing and repairing a rudder, perfect for Ariose. With Tim and the marina crew’s help, he got it back in place. Next, the propeller and drive shaft needed to be reinstalled, but at this point, Boat Repair Guy threw up his hands and shrugged.
Can’t help you there. I don’t do engine work.
What?!
He hadn’t hesitated to remove this same propeller and shaft in order to drop the rudder a couple weeks ago, but now, would not be a part of putting it back together. He did, taking a long drag on his cigarette, offer instructions to us. It’s simple, he said.

Right.

Simple, maybe, if Tim didn’t have to squeeze into a cockpit locker with feet up and head wedged on the downward slope.  Simple if there was access that allowed two arms in and a two eyes’ view rather than the one arm/hand, one eye (depth perception be damned!)  elfin-sized opening. Simple if that tight space hadn’t been baking in the sun all day.

View through to the “simple to work on” drive shaft (lighted area)

Tim got to to it, but each time he tried to tighten the propeller, the entire drive shaft would move. This was not good, so we tracked down Boat Repair Guy to help troubleshoot. He was still on site, on a break from another job, and provided more direction. (Seemed to know a lot about drive shafts for someone who doesn’t “do” engines.) This time he parked his smoke in one hand while offering  demonstrative gestures with the other.
You just need to measure from the grub bolt to the opening of the coupler, he said, then mark that distance on the shaft from there to where the dimple is, so you know how far in to put the drive shaft. You need to line that up with the grub bolts. Then just tighten them and wrap with seizing wire. Like I said, it’s easy.


Yup. Easy. I glanced at Tim, and (as is often the case), couldn’t read his look, so we stepped aside to discuss.

Tim had already spent hours helping this person who was being paid to repair damage that was not our doing. We both were resenting this amount of labour. We were well aware that this work, if not done properly, could prove disastrous. We also knew that we had had enough of the delays. Tim, despite being exhausted and I feared, near hyperthermic, was willing to keep working at it. Tim’s proven himself time and time again to be able to pull off super-human feats of perseverance. I knew he’d eventually get it done, but I feared by that time he did, my sailing partner would be little more than a melted puddle at the bottom of the cockpit locker.


I over-ruled him – enough was enough – a marine mechanic should be brought in to do the work. Tim agreed, and headed off to the shade of our favourite maple tree while I tried to negotiate. The marina owner, who was paying for the repairs, explained that this wasn’t an option.  There is only one marine mechanic who works on site. We had noticed this fellow at various boats, with his girlfriend/assistant at his side. They were conspicuously the only people wearing masks while outdoors.

Apparently, she has health issues that she believes would be exacerbated by the shot, so has remained unvaccinated.  He was refusing to work on any boat that people had recently been aboard to ensure he didn’t contract covid and pass it on to her. That ruled us out.  I haven’t researched the science, but I suspect the air and surfaces inside the baked-in-the-sun engine compartment would quickly cook the spike proteins of the feared virus, rendering them harmless as scrambled eggs.  There was no interest getting creative and figuring out a work-around. Besides, he was over-booked.


So, a slightly refreshed Tim returned to work, putting in a couple hours that afternoon, and was back at it by 8am the next day. He emerged for food and water breaks, and soldiered on. As if the simple job wasn’t already challenging enough, there was an added hitch complicating things in the form of a teeny tiny metal bar.  The drive shaft is held to the transmission by a coupler, and that little bar acts as a key to hold it all together. When Boat Repair Guy and Tim had slid the shaft in before BR Guy backed off the job, they had unknowingly (we think) dislodged the key, forcing it in, until it came to rest, wedged perpendicular deep in the coupler. (Disclaimer – author`s knowledge of what she writes is at a greater distance than it may appear. )

Whether I fully understood the mechanics or not, I did understand this was bad news. Miraculously, by the end of the afternoon, Tim retrieved the key. Tah Dah! Then I heard the slight sound of sliding metal on fibreglass, a soft kerplunk, and hard expletives from Tim. Then more expletives when stung by one of the ever-present wasps as he emerged from the locker.


The key had slipped, and splashed into the dark water at the bottom of the bilge. (For non-sailors, the bilge is the deep, narrow cavity, the lowest inner space in the boat, under the engine and floor boards. Its official purpose is to accumulate water that inevitably makes its way into the boat, along with dirt from living aboard and grime from the engine. Pumps are in place to keep larger quantities out. I think its real purpose, though is to elicit salty language from sailors when that critical tool or piece of hardware slips from fingers and slides in, lost forever in its depths.

I had been unable to be of much help to this point. I do have had lots of experience garnered while painting lockers, installing the self-steering windvane and mucking around in Ariose`s innards, of fishing out losts bits and pieces from the bilge.   Tim returned to the maple tree and I got to work.

I sponged out the small quantity of water, which, thanks to the thorough cleansing Ariose got this past year and the lack of use this season, really was water and not the hazardous goop that usually haunts the bilge’s depths. I got down on my belly, and reached under the engine armed with a long screwdriver to lift and a spotlight to peer under hoses. Spotted it!  The nifty reacher/grabber gizmo given to us years ago by my father was the perfect tool for the job. Got it!

The elusive key to our departure.

And get this. We were rewarded with a bonus: I also found $2.40 in change that had slipped from Boat Repair Guy`s pockets. Now that`s one tip from him that we were happy to accept.

The marina crew stayed a little late to crane us back in – uneventfully this time.

Next task:  ensure the engine would start.  It had been 4 long years since Ariose`s Yanmar had been run. Last fall, Tim had performed the Houdini trick of removing the fuel tank from under the cockpit floor (muscling it this way and that, one millimeter at a time). He installed a sight-tube so we can be certain about how much diesel we have, and gave the tank a thorough cleaning. Good thing he did. There was a shocking amount of thick, fist-sized, gloopy gunk, probably from bacterial growth in the old fuel, that had settled on the bottom. So we knew the tank was clean, but he proceeded to spend the morning offering lots of TLC to increase the likelihood of it starting. Once fresh fuel was in, he cranked the starter. What a relief to hear that lovely sound of a diesel engine grumble to life.

Then, it was over to the crane to step our mast, and another day of getting rigging in place and dealing with other essentials that kept coming up.


On the day before we departed, Tim erupted. From the soaked state of his t-shirt and beads of moisture on his face, it looked like he had just emerged from a clothed swim. He hadn’t. He’d just been taking care of the usually easy task of inserting the cotter pins and rings that fix the shrouds and stays in place. These cables, in turn, hold the mast secure.

 As an aside, as I think about these small cotters that prevent essential rigging hardware from slipping out and causing a catastrophic dis-masting, I can’t help but see the covid analogy. Sometimes, it’s the smallest of things that keep the supports we need in place, that hold us upright and allow us to be safe and function at our best. For many of the “fortunate” ones, although not tragically affected by the pandemic, it seems like the virus has removed the small daily life cotter pins,  like Thursday duplicate bridge nights or tai chi gatherings. I worry about the effects on those I care about most. How much are they, like a mast without adequate support, at risk of toppling over?

Anyways, back to drenched-in-sweat Tim, and his late-afternoon outburst: I just want to pack it in and go home! He spit this out but I had been thinking the same for days.  Like the relief felt after a late afternoon summer storm, Tim’s thunder clap did dissipate the growing tension, and we continued the slog forward to get away.

Working through fatigue to hank on sails in the slightly cooler temps at day’s end.

Finally, departure day. Danny, marine surveyor extraordinaire, somehow made time in his many priorities, to show up at 7:30am to complete the in-water portion of the inspection.  It felt more like a personalized 3+ hour tutorial, with his willingness to patiently answer all our questions. What a rich source of learning, so affirming to have him confirm the quality of improvements we’ve made to Ariose, and so helpful to hear his suggestions (none urgent, thank goodness). 

Water tank and jerries filled, and we just needed food provisions before launching. It’s only a kilometer or so to the grocery store but by now it was mid-afternoon and once again, scorching. Then, perfectly time, down the dock came Claudia, to see if any assistance was required and to bid us farewell. I gratefully accepted an air conditioned lift and her company, and picked up enough food for us to eat well for a month!

By 6pm, we untied the lines and set off, on a short hop to anchor in Parrott’s Bay for the night. We had begun.


Next post, we’ll grumble less (I promise) as we share a little about our first week under sail, through the beautiful Thousand Islands, and into the St. Lawrence Seaway. We’ve had an amazing start to the on-the-water portion of our adventure.

We’ll wrap up with this photo taken as we departed Collins Bay Marina. We were feeling utterly depleted, but with the tiniest seeds of anticipation beginning to stir once again, we passed one of our dock neighbours out for a dusk sail in her cute little catboat. Her boat’s name?  

“Joy”.

What a perfect reminder of why we push through the patience-testing times.

Well Secured in Kingston. Still!

No danger of Ariose dragging anchor.  We’re securely on-the-hard. If you’re not familiar with the term, this marina webcam view of Ariose is as good as any definition.

Ariose pictured on-the-hard

Good news, though. A rudder in decent condition from a derelict Alberg 30  is on its way to us. As tempting as it was to go with a new rudder (Competition Composites Inc in Arnprior offers impressive quality and customer service), the fabrication time required would mean postponing our cruising to next season. Besides, giving new life to a chunk of fibreglass and metal, likely on its way to a landfill, also seems a more responsible choice. We hope to be back in the water within the week, and once rigging is up, and we’ve confirmed that the engine, dormant for 4 years, is ready to run, we’ll be on our way. I’ve tried to bribe the boat repair dude, just putting it out there that there will be fresh baked, solar oven brownies waiting for him should he arrive with the rudder early in the week. So far, he’s not biting.

In the meantime, we wait. Some days, patiently. And others, heat and humidity-induced crankiness sets in.  We countered that last Friday with a date night that will dispel any envy others may feel for the “romantic” life we’re living. We started the evening by donning backpack and shopping bags and walked to the closest grocery store. Once we had gathered needed provisions, we hit the frozen foods aisle to treat ourselves to a 4-pack of ice cream sweets. We then paid, plunked down at the staff-break picnic table, and gobbled two up in the ambience of the moonlight reflecting off the No Frills yellow wall. Then we raced home burdened by the groceries’ weight  to stash the remaining bars in the fridge before melting. That’s a romantic evening!

We’re keeping busy as, well, you know … sorry for the cliché… but couldn’t resist including a photo of this little fellow determined to gather pollen from our boat.  Actually, we’re not busy as bees. We’re not even particularly busy at all. The sweltering temps of this past week and living up a ladder combine to make it difficult to be productive.  Cool mid-day showers & siestas are a saviour for me.  Tim tends to engage low gear once fueled by his morning coffee, and power through the heat with the occasional transitioning-between-tasks break. For the most part, we’re tackling projects that we planned to complete once underway, so checking them off our list now will provide for more leisure later, and most likely, fewer tools donated to the depths.

It’s not just gear that is at risk of falling overboard when underway.  We are as well. One of my tasks this week was making new lifelines. These are the “fence” that helps keep us on board.  They offer security, albeit not iron-clad protection, so we do our best to never put ourselves in a situation in which we would test if they would indeed keep us from falling overboard. Our lines had lived beyond their safe lifespan, so I set about to replace them.

Typically, lifelines are steel cable running through bolted-on stanchions (2.5 foot high stainless steel posts) around the perimeter of the deck. Having them custom made is beyond our budget, and a DIY apporach requires specialized swaging tools or costly fittings. The cable can be hard on hands, and if any of the strands chafe, they can make mincemeat of skin that is unfortunate enough to come in contact with it.  To alleviate this, the cable often is vinyl coated. That’s far more comfortable to touch but it holds in moisture so not only promotes but hides, corrosion. We’ve heard scary stories of undercover rust running rampant, only to be discovered when an apparently strong lifeline gives way at the worst possible moment. So, for many reasons, cable wasn’t a great option for us.

Over the last decade or so, there have been amazing developments in the world of rope.  High density polyethylene (HDPE), often referred to as Dyneema, one of the more common brand names, is literally stronger than steel and much lighter. There’s all sorts of applications for it on boats, from standing rigging (the ropes that hold the mast up), to soft shackles to attach boat parts to other boat parts, to lifelines.

As a kid, I had fun playing around with macramé – I was a child of the 60s after all!  Since getting into sailing, I’m enjoying upping my rope-work skills as opportunities arise, so the ideal of using Dyneema had extra appeal.

Signature “S” of the Brummel splice, at sunset.

We went with 1/4” thick rope for the upper lines, and 3/16” for the lower, far thicker than needed, but we wanted to have something substantial enough to feel ok to grab as moving around the deck. With tensile strength of 9,700 pounds, we could use a single strand of 1/4″ Dyneema to lift Ariose into the water. We could, but we won’t! One drawback is it will suffer UV degradation, so over-sized Dyneema allows the outer fibres, once damaged, to act as a sun-shield for the more-than-strong enough remaining inner fibres.

 With my trusty google tutor on my iPad, a canvas shade rigged overhead, and a dollar-store spray bottle for cooling spritzes at my side, I set to work. It took me a couple days to complete our new lifelines.  Dyneema is a bit pricey, but lends itself to a DIY approach, so in the end, here is much saved in labour cost and hours. It would have been even more economical had I not mis-measured before cutting a section. Twice.  Oh, I was supposed to measure twice and cut once? My brain seems to have a tendency to flip spacial orientation mid-splice, making me realize that I need to adopt a protocol of  measure twice, do a mock-up, measure again and THEN cut once.  My mistakes mean we now have a healthy supply of left-over Dyneema to repurpose elsewhere on Ariose.

So there you have it. Snazzy Dyneema lifelines: strong, easy on hands, easy to inspect, rust free, chafe resistant, they look good, no more costly than other options, and are (relatively) easy to make. Done!

Tim’s been busy too, mainly focusing on electrical projects, tidying wires and trouble-shooting gremlins. He’s made some sweet improvements, like moving the engine starter to a new position where it will no longer get a saltwater bath every time waves broach our cockpit (which, with our low freeboard, is often). We now have the safety of a solenoid switch and a sensor for the propane that fuels our stove and heater, and USB outlets in convenient spots. He’s also created an array of pretty coloured lights at the binnacle. Tim is sticking to the official rationale that they are warning lights for various situations, but I detect a 70’s disco sparkle in his eyes as he demonstrates their operation. He’s also installing new equipment (radar and iridiumGO – more about these in a future post perhaps), far easier with the mast down and cockpit lockers empty, than had we waited to do so once underway.

No, really, he has been busy! (Respite from the heat under our “backyard” maple tree.)

Having extra time to complete boat work is one of the silver linings to this delayed departure. Meeting lots of interesting people is the other.

We’ve enjoyed hours of conversations every day, some quick and casual, and some engaging enough that we’ve chatted through voracious dusk-launched mosquito attacks, right Lisa & Guy?  Many who keep their boats here, like Claudia and Bill, and Wayne, and others, are fortunate enough to live in the neighbourhood. They are a pleasure to chat with as they drop into the marina, and have been generous with offers to help out. There is a camaraderie among Alberg owners and admirers, and it’s easy to feel a strong kinship with the many who have stopped by. Decades ago, Brian, his wife and 3 kids sailed their’s south. For a year! There is little cabin space on an Alberg 30. Very little. It’s not effort f without effort for Tim and I to be able to cohabitate peacefully aboard. We have great admiration for any family of 5 able to make it work.

Liveaboards like Jane, have been welcoming to us as temporary residents. Mike’s kindly lent us his jeep for errands, and gifted us a canvas canopy that is saving us from baking ourselves. We’re rooting for him to follow his South Pacific dreams.  We’ve enjoyed good wine with Patrick at sundown as he prepares to return home to France via Greenland.  Meeting kindred spirits like George who has cultivated a simple life on land and on sea, has been heart-warming.  Robert’s plans to solo-sail Sarah Lynne parallel ours, so we’ll buddy-boat with each other along the way, easing spouse Eunice’s worry. Charles has dug into his reservoir of sails on the St.Lawrence to share all sorts of useful tidbits for our voyage. We’ve learned much and been entertained by the stories of more accomplished sailors. Hopefully, we have been able to pay it forward by inspiring and sharing our bits of hard-earned wisdom with others. It’s affirming to be in a more experienced and prepared position as we launch this time around. But we know we have much yet to learn.

It’s not just the boating community that we’ve connected with. Sue, my best friend from primary school, and hubby Mark, also live nearby.  She surprised me when she hustled down to the marina within minutes of our last post. She found me in the same chair that I had just taken a selfie in to include in that post! It’s always good catching up – there’s been far too few opportunities over the years. Once we’re beyond the bizarre initial time-warp moments as 40+ years condense, we get comfortable connecting with the aged incarnation of our 10 year old selves that now resemble our respective moms.

Living among mid-project clutter on-the-hard

Living-on-the-hard is, well, hard! Up and down the ladder. At bedtime, shifting gear that’s settled on our v-berth. Having a perpetually cluttered cockpit. Carving out space on the already challengingly-limited galley counter to prepare meals. Clonking our heads multiple times daily on the mast that bisects our deck and cockpit. Spending more time looking for mis-placed tools than using them. I decided to take a  brief break from the boat and leaving Tim alone made it easier for him to check more items off his task list.

So I’m writing this post as I return from Montreal , having spent a lovely couple days with one of my kids. Getting such a late start to our departure will mean we may not stop to visit en route, so it was really special having time with them.

I’ll wrap up with a hot-off-the-press update. Just got confirmation that the rudder will be installed tomorrow or Friday this week! I think I’ll still bake up some brownies. Their promise may not have been effective in moving things along more quickly, but we’re grateful nonetheless and hopefully they will express our thanks.