Monday, August 23, 2010

The Log: It Was the Worst of Times, It was the Best of Times

Apologies to Charles Dickens, without whom I probably would have passed up reading as a worthless waste of time.

Having successfully traversed the fearsome Richelieu Rapids we entered the marina at PortNeuf looking forward to a reunion with old friends Ben Blangez and his wife, the long suffering Andree.  The marina at Port Neuf is a very good marina with excellent  friendly staff and fabulous protection for your boat.

Our every expectation with respect to the reunion was met.  In spades.

Both Nadir and Zenith of our trip out the St. Lawrence were to play out on the day following.

Departing Port Neuf at 5:30 a.m. the next day we elected to follow the North Channel along the section of river from Port Neuf to Tadoussac.  This channel was deep, well marked, and comfy.  We should have selected the South Channel or the old Sailing Channel, a route with less adequate channel markers and frequent shoals but some big advantages. 

As luck had it we ended up on the South shore by the end of that very long day.

The North Channel was beautiful.  Bathed in sun the north shore rises up to fantastic heights seemingly straight out of the water.  How true that was.

The gotcha for the North Channel was passage between Ile aux Coudres and the north shore.  Here the river narrows and the current, river and tide, quickens.  Our guide book warned in sternest terms to avoid the passage during most of the daylight hours available to us. 

Our timing was way off.  We had ourselves positioned badly with respect to timing of the tide. We worried we would need to lay up and wait anther day to pass.  Needless as wings on a porcupine were our fears.

Scanning the charts my dear Budget Committee found a pathway of charted 12 foot water which, if adhered to closely would carry us effortlessly from the North Channel to the Middle Channel.  We were on it like a Bay Street banker on a ten point spread.  We found a decent range: two points of distinguished elevation that if kept in line would carry us from channel to channel.

Lining up our unofficial range we were off and in only 90 minutes found ourselves in a significantly shallower but slower section of the St. Lawrence.  The Ile aux Coudres passed or rather we passed it without event or even ripple in the water.  Shortly thereafter the middle channel and north channel merged again into the seaway.  As we congratulated ourselves on work well done we were even then unaware that we had delivered ourselves again to the wrong channel.

The balance of the day was uneventful.  Until, that is, the end of the day or what we thought would be the end of the day.

At 6 p.m. we had traveled enough and looked forward to getting the boat anchored and ourselves straightened away.  From the guide we had selected Port au Saumon as our anchorage.  It is critical to note here that  there are few anchorages on the section of the St. Lawrence from Quebec City to Tadoussac.  Very few are shown in the guide.  Port au Saumon is the first.   As we came up on Port au Saumon a serious line of squalls showed its ugly head over the cliffs along the north shore of the river. 

Judging we had sufficient time to get into shelter in the port and drop hook we hastened our pace.  Imagine our shock when the promised dock at Saumon proved not to exist.  Not even a stick of wood or piling to show there had ever been a dock.  But that was not the biggest omission in the guide.  There was NO PORT.  How the hell can you call something that is just a rock wall with no identifying features a port is beyond me.  But then I do not write guides.

Remember when I mentioned that the rock walls of the North Channel seemed to emerge vertically from the water.  Well, that is exactly what they do.  There is no bottom.  We were a boatlength from shore and still in 75 feet of water. 

The squalls took our attention.  In fact they demanded it.  We moved away from shore as fast as our Beta diesel would carry us hoping to reduce the chance of injury to boat.  Wind grew from 5 knots to 30 to 40.  Rain pelted as hard as rocks.  We did what any intelligent person would do in the circumstance.  We turned and ran for all we were worth.   Max revs fed to the prop normally produce 8 knots in calm water.  The anemometer when I had time to look showed 42 knots of wind direct from the stern.  Add to that our boat speed running away and that's as close to 50 knots as I ever want to get.

Squalls are supposed to be short lived.  You know, they blow in fast, blow hard and leave in a hurry.  Apparently this is only a lifestyle decision for squalls.  Some squalls choose to live alternatively.  Ours did.  Rather than blow itself out in 20 minutes our storm lingered for near to 40.  Rain came so hard you could not see your own fingers let alone the other person in the cockpit.

When it blew itself by intent on inflicting itself on other hapless folk we were well along the river.  Luckily so for it placed us close by the next prospective anchorage: Port au Persil. 

Can you imagine we were not even chagrined to find this "port" to consist of no more than a pile of rotten lumber set on top of a short rock wall.  And there was a bleach bottle considerately placed midchannel in the 30 foot wide channel to warn of depths below 3 feet on the dock side.  Actually depths were too shallow by half for any keelboat and we quickly abandoned this "anchorage". 

It was of course then time for the second round of squalls which although less spectacular were just as dampening and much more cooling.  The sun was going down and we were drenched although dry in those parts covered by our offshore gear.

Saint Simeon, namesake of the next in series anchorage promised by the guide, would have become my patron saint had the dock or anchorage bearing his name been anything but the pathetic and shameless sham that it was.  Instead I trust the good saint rots in hell with the balance of the lapsed Catholics. 

A sand bottom was promised.  What the guide neglected to mention was that the "bottom" sloped away from shore at a precipitous angle, in fact in one boatlength it fell from 10 feet to 75.  And at 10 feet we would have been set on dry ground come low tide. 

Now the sun was down and we were running on the light provided by gravity's bending of the last remaining rays of hope emanating from that great orb.  It was getting cold.  We were wet.

The Budget Committee, looking as she so often does, at the charts declared the North shore of the river off limits.  We needed to cross the river from Saint Simeon and dock at Riviere du Loup.  I needed no encouragement. 

As we made our way across the river, about 15 miles at this point, to ensure we adequately avoided the island situated between Saint Simeon and Riviere du Loup I saw that a nice protected bay sat just on our side of the town.  It was not shown in the guide.  It would shave an hour of travel time off our trip and save us having to enter a strange marina in the dark. 

We agreed.  By 10 p.m. the hook was down, we removed our wetsuits and fell into bed. 

How do you think we slept?

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