The Story Of Venture I - Part Ten
We stayed for one week in the old port of Quebec. While there, we were visited by two St Lawrence River pilots who told us they had long been avid admirers of the style and quality of the Fleming. One of them piloted ocean-going ships from Quebec down to the mouth of the river and the other from Quebec up to Montreal. They confirmed my observation that, in order to enter the St.Lawrence Seaway locks, the "Lakers" had to use considerable power to force out the water trapped ahead of them.
We had topped up our fuel and were ready to leave Quebec on Sunday but the forecast was for gale force winds from the northeast which would result in nasty conditions in the river due to wind against tide and current. We decided to delay our departure by one day, which turned out to be fortunate because a Fleming 55 came into the port and the extra day gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to the owner. He was from Montreal and was very enthusiastic about his boat and was so very generous with providing us with advice and even books. We also had a second visit from a person we dubbed the enthusiastic Frenchman (EF for short) who showed us photographs of the 41 ft boat he had built himself over seven years. He waxed lyrical over Venture and provided much valuable advice about the towns and places downstream.
With a tidal range of 18', it is essential to time your departure from Quebec to coincide with favorable currents. For us this meant getting underway at high tide and, even though better conditions were forecast for the following day, we decided not to delay further because we had guests with schedules to accommodate. Just as forecast, we had up to 30 knots on the nose and a combined downstream current and tide of seven knots predictably resulted in steep waves and sheets of flying spray.
According to the guide books, the most notorious place along this section of the river is the Ile aux Coudres where it is essential to time your arrival for slack tide but for us the conditions were calm in this area and we made the mistake of believing that all the rough conditions were behind us. Unfortunately they returned even though the wind and tide were now flowing in the same direction. We also encountered weird swirling currents and areas of dancing whitecaps which had no appreciable effect on the boat but which were unlike any conditions previously encountered. We put this down to the mixing of fresh and salt water which we now encountered for the first time since we traveled up the Hudson. The water temperature dropped today from 72 degrees in Quebec to 49 degrees once we reached the seawater.
We reached the small marina at Cap a L'Aigle (Eagle Cape) around 5.30 and had to spin the boat around in her own length in very tight surroundings to tie up in her berth. Fortunately, the 65 with her twin screws and thrusters is exceptionally maneuverable. Sounds of a nearby waterfall filled the air. We walked up the hill to the small town and were impressed by the immaculate gardens surrounding the well-kept houses.
The following morning the blustery conditions had died and we awoke to a beautiful, still dawn. The estuary, now averaging 10 miles wide, was calm as we headed northeast and kept a look out for the distinctive Prince Shoal lighthouse marking the mouth of the Saguenay fjord. With water depths as deep as 1,000 ft, the area is known for the sightings of up to nine different types of whales including the highly endangered white belugas. Numerous whale watching boats of all sizes from ribs to triple-deckers were milling around and we took Venture to join the fray. Unfortunately, other than an occasional, distant blow or a tantalizingly brief glimpse of a fin, we failed to see any significant sightings, but the contortions of the water were a sight to behold as the currents swirled out of the fjord to join the mix of river and seawater in the St Lawrence.
We turned into the fjord past the town of Tadoussac and wound our way between the steeply forested banks. Water depths plummet to 900 feet right after the entrance to the fjord and remain 300 ft right up to shore. As in all fjords, the downside of this spectacular topography is the scarcity of places to anchor. The guide books were a bit gloomy about the chances of a boat the size of Venture to be able to get into the small marina at L'Anse St Jean so we went a few miles further to Baie Eternite (Eternity Bay) where there were moorings. These turned out to have either orange or white floats and all the former had attached to them a laminated card informing us in French that those with orange floats were out of order and to use only those with white floats. Unfortunately, while we were preoccupied with orange floats, the last of the five white floats was taken by a sail boat. We tried anchoring in 60 ft of water but the bottom was rock and the anchor would not grip. As we turned reluctantly to leave this spectacular bay we were called on the radio by one of the power boaters already tied up at a mooring who offered to use his tender to assist us in any way he could. Unfortunately his generosity did not alter the realities of the situation but we very much appreciated his kind offer which was typical of the friendliness which had been extended to us since we had arrived in this area.
Before heading downstream we took a look at the 32 ft high statue of the Virgin perched on a natural step up a steep bluff 400 ft above the water. This white statue was lit by the rays of the sun while tiny figures of people who had climbed up to it could just be picked out with binoculars. A cross, on another step 300 ft above the first, was almost hidden among the trees.
We then headed down fjord to see if we could get into the marina at L'Anse St Jean. We were in luck and they fitted is into a tight spot well inside the marina. Venture towered over every other boat and we attracted a crowd of onlookers as we felt our way in. Even though the thrusters were primed and ready to spring into action, they were not required and I was once again thankful that Venture had proved to be such a maneuverable vessel.
The following day we retraced our route down the fjord and crossed over to the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River to the town of Rimouski. It was just east of here that the third worst disaster involving passenger ships occurred on May 29th 1914 when, after exchanging mailbags in Rimouski, the Empress of Ireland, collided with the Norwegian collier Storstad and sank with the loss of 1,012 lives. One of the survivors of this tragedy was a stoker by the name of Taylor who, two years earlier, had also survived the sinking of the Titanic. Incredibly, less than one year after the Empress of Ireland tragedy, he survived a third sinking - this time the Lusitania torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. After surviving the three worst passenger ship disasters in history, he wisely decided not to push his luck any further and hung up his sea boots. A number of families who settled in villages along this coast are descended from Irish immigrants whose ships sank on their way along this treacherous coast.
For the most part, the weather was fair but on more than one occasion we spotted white caps ahead of us through binoculars and when we reached them, the wind speed increased dramatically and we were plunging into short steep seas. These waters can be unpredictable and to cruise it safely you need a boat designed by knowledgeable people experienced in their use.
The huge swathe of land lying to the south of the St Lawrence River is the Gaspesie Peninsula whose steep coast was lined with green hills on which there were literally hundreds of modern, three-bladed windmills including one monster vertical-axis, egg-beater design towering 360'. Despite this impressive display of modern technology, we lost all AT&T cell phone service east of Rimouski. Presumably this is because AT&T has formed a liaison with Rogers wireless in Canada who seem to lack coverage in this region. Certainly any phone related services we saw were their rival network Telus.
It was near here at, 49 degrees 18 minutes, that we reached our most northerly point since leaving Mexico. Averaging 80 miles per day, we stopped every night at small ports like St Anne des Monts and Riviere au Renard (Fox river). Most were snug harbors protected by a fortress of high walls made up of rocks the size of a refrigerator - stark evidence of the weather conditions they had to resist. The harbormaster at the workaday town of Riviere au Renard told us that the temperature on August 4th, just four days before our visit had been 32 degree F! No matter their size, every place we stopped had been able to accommodate the Fleming 65 and everyone we met was exceptionally nice and helpful. French is the language in daily use but almost everyone spoke some degree of English.
By this point we had left the St Lawrence estuary and were now in the waters of the North Atlantic, The next day's journey to the town of Gaspe took us past the tallest lighthouse in Eastern Canada as well as the dramatic cliffs on the Forillon Peninsula which were hidden from our view by a veil of fog - our first of the trip. Fortunately the fog thinned as we headed 17 miles up the inlet to the town of Gaspe which was protected by a natural breakwater formed by Sandy Beach Point.
The following day, the fog had lifted sufficiently for us to backtrack to view the dramatic cliffs hidden from our view the day before. Continuing south we passed the landmark of Perce Rock so named because of the large hole which is pierced right through it. We circumnavigated the nearby Ils Bonaventure which is a national park famous for hosting the second largest - but most accessible - gannet breeding colony in the world. Here, tall cliffs provide nesting sites for over 50,000 of these dazzling white birds with their 5' wingspan.
The nearby town of Perce does not offer a secure harbor so we went another five miles to L'Anse a Beaufils. This small harbor was approached by driving straight at the shore until, when no more than 50 yards from the beach, a hidden entrance opened up between the arms of massive rock walls. Our cell phones still did not work and this marina had no VHF. When we tried to call, a caller from a local boat advised us to enter the harbor and tie up where we could find a spot. This we did and found ourselves alongside a wharf set up as a bar crowded with people enjoying jugs of draft beer; within a few minutes of our arrival, a guitarist launched into a lively mix of songs in English and French. We learnt later that Venture was the largest yacht ever to use this harbor so our arrival in the center of the party created quite a stir. The dockmaster told us that they had a maximum of 14 weeks in the summer to make a living because, in the winter there were virtually no tourists along the coast and practically every facility, including the hotels, closed down. He told us that this was the last weekend of the summer (August 9th) when people would be sitting out on the terrace to listen to live music.
The following morning we took a taxi back to Perce and boarded a tour boat out to Ile Bonaventure so we could visit the gannet colony. The jetty in Perce was a hive of activity with boats of all sizes taking visitors out to nearby Pierced Rock and to see the gannets. The boat ride to Ile Bonaventure cost $20 per head and the fees collected on the island were #3.50 per head. The shortest route across the island to the gannet colony was just under two miles on a well groomed trail. We could hear and smell the birds before we could see them but when they did come into view the scene was startling. Here were literally thousands of these magnificent birds densely packed and almost within touching distance or wheeling around about our heads. There were many young birds whose long black beaks and piercing eyes peered out from a body that closely resembled a ball of white cotton candy. The ranger told us that only 40% of the young survive and, as they have to leave the colony in September and fly to Florida one month ahead of the adult birds, many of the young birds we saw would mature too late and were doomed.
We stayed for more than two hours watching and photographing the birds before re-crossing the island and returning to the mainland. Perce is a nice little town and like all the others we had visited on the Gaspesie Peninsula was immaculately clean and tidy. According to our taxi driver this had not been the case when it had been strictly a fishing town but, with fishing all but dead, tourism was now the main source of income for the entire region and it was obvious that the residents of Gaspesie had worked very hard to make their towns attractive and to provide amenities for tourists. Perce was luckier than most in having the twin attractions of the rock and the gannets.
It was now time for us to leave the province of Quebec and enter New Brunswick where the population are known as the Acadians who speak a different flavor of French. There was also a time change to put us one ahead of East Coast time. We headed for the small port of Ecuminac which was dedicated to commercial fishing with no special amenities, either ashore or afloat, for cruising yachts. We tied up along the seawall and in due course the welcoming harbormaster showed up in his truck to collect the princely sum of $9 for the night's mooring! The commercial boats had elegant lines and were small and low enough (with fold-down radar arch) to be transported to other locations by road. However, the high cost of fuel together with fishing being in the doldrums, many fishermen were heading for Alberta to find work in industries associated with the oil industry and this season only about 12 boats were going out after herring instead of the more normal 100 plus. Nearby, as a reminder of the risks of this profession, there is a memorial dedicated to the 35 who lost their lives in a storm in June 1959 and also to those who risked their own trying to save them.
An easy run across the Northumberland Strait brought us to Prince Edward Island and the charming town Summerside where we tied up outside the Silver Fox Yacht Club. We had been dodging lobster trap floats all day but got caught up on one even though we had made sure we were several yards from the floats. The local rules are that each trap should use non-floating line having two floats - one for low tide and one for high - with a sinker below the low tide float. In fact, none of these guidelines are followed and there are usually several yards of blue line floating just below the surface upwind of the floats. This means that you need to allow an unusually large clearance around each of the multitudes of floats and, wherever possible, pass downwind of them. We consoled ourselves by indulging in a full lobster dinner at a local restaurant.
The following day we continued down the Northumberland Strait to Charlottetown which is the capital of Prince Edward Island. Here too we found a berth at the Yacht Club within easy walking distance of the main shopping center. We will be here for six days of sightseeing and details about what we see will be included in the next update.