Two weeks ago we left off with the Captain and the Codger entering the first of the next set of locks on the St. Lawrence, the Iroquois Lock.
Continued from the Wednesday, Nov. 21 issue of the Bloomer Advance.
By Judy and Bill Hable
Passing through Iroquois Lock was uneventful. For twenty-two miles we enjoyed the warm sunny day, still in our short-sleeves and bare feet. It was the best day for autumn color so far, with the river’s banks lined with brilliant trees and vegetation; some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
With the Eisenhower and the Snell locks located in the USA we had to pay the fees with US cash; no credit cards here. But we were prepared, and though we arrived at the Eisenhower by 5 p.m. we had to wait for a tanker to get through coming in the opposite direction as we were headed. But by 6 p.m. we were on our way and into the next lock, the Snell, by 7 p.m. By now it was dark so we happily found a place to anchor just beyond the lock in a small creek known as Weed Creek.
Next morning, Oct. 11, Thursday, we had the anchor up shortly after 7 a.m. enduring cold mist and rain. So much for the short-sleeved shirts. Lake St. Francis brought with it open waters and rough seas. It’s a wide long lake on the river formed by dams to make it navigable for the large boats. Our plan was to reach the Valleyfield Bridge, a lift bridge, and still reach Montreal that evening. We made great time that day motoring thirty-four miles arriving at the bridge by 1:30 p.m. All day, there were no other boats to be seen so when we reached this bridge, we were the only boat that needed to have it raised so we could continue on. We waited for the signal that the bridge was ready to lift. Nothing happened. After waiting a while, Nick called on the radio. All responses were in French. Frustration began to set in. Finally we received an answer in English. It seemed that due to the late pleasure-boating season, the bridge and all the next locks were only to open to small boats from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. We were not happy.
We had no choice but to turn around and travel back upstream to the town of Valleyfield. Only forty nautical miles from Montreal, we were pretty disappointed. We had looked forward to an evening in Montreal. It took about a half hour through mist and rain before we managed to refuel and tie up at the Valleyfield Marina. Lucky for us it happened to be the last day to buy gas for pleasure boats.
By now, it was late in the afternoon and the rain had stopped. If we couldn’t go sightseeing in Montreal the least we could do was take a look at the village of Valleyfield. So we headed for downtown. We wandered around and soon found a pub to have a beer. The people were friendly and interested in why we were traveling the river at such a late date. And they were happy to speak English for a couple of Wisconsinites.
When we returned to the boat for dinner, Nick noticed a lot of condensate had formed inside the boat because of the cold wet day. This isn’t good on any boat because mildew could form easily. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise after all, that we had to wait to get under that lift bridge ahead.
We were up early Friday morning. Nick instructed me to find a laundromat while he figured out how to deal with the moisture. He needed to wash a month’s worth of clothes he had accumulated since he had left Madeline Island. I was also supposed to find some large safety pins so we could fasten the rain cover to the boat’s canvas dodger. I wandered all over downtown and found the laundromat but no luck on the safety pins. While I was gone, Nick did his best to dry out the interior of the boat. By the time he finished his laundry it was late in the day; time to have a drink and some dinner at the local Irish Pub.
Early Saturday morning at the marina, several large cranes arrived to finish pulling out all of the boats in the marina. They had started on Friday with three cranes but today they would be using nine cranes. The marina had no travel lift but with all those cranes they pulled 360 boats in two days. And come spring, they put them all back in two days.
By 9 a.m. we were waiting at the Valleyfield Bridge. After a short delay the bridge lifted for us and we were on our way to the next bridge five miles away. This time no delays. It was another five miles to the Upper Beauharnois Lock, where we arrived at 11 a.m. As at the end of all the Canadian locks, there was a small phone both where you had to phone to obtain a time to enter the lock. There was also a credit card machine for purchasing a ticket for the lock. Because of up-bound ships coming our way through the locks we were going to have to wait four hours. At 3 p.m. we were in the lock. This time we shared the lock with a Tugboat. At 3:35 p.m. we were in the Lower Beauharnois Lock. Out at 3:50 p.m. onto Lake St. Louis.
This was a large lake with no channel markings. The winds were 15 to 20 knots with high waves. With the wind directly astern, we sailed with only the Jib. Under these conditions, we traveled at almost 7 knots hoping to enter the canal at the end of the lake before 5 p.m. We didn’t make it.
With a small marina at the entrance to the canal we tied up at the end of one of the docks. The marina had a bar, so we stopped for a drink and asked if we could stay for the night. The answer was “no” because our boat was too big. So we left the dock and anchored in a bay nearby. With all of the delays, we had only traveled 28.6 miles.
Sunday, Oct. 14. Our plan had been to be in the City of Quebec by the night of Oct.15. Now we had almost 170 miles to go. To make this in two days we’d have long days of travel. It helped that the weather was cool but with some sunshine.
The length of the last part of the seaway, along a canal with two locks, is 28 miles. Even with a delay of one hour and ten minutes at one of the locks, we left the seaway by 12:30 p.m. The canal bypasses downtown Montreal with the river wide enough that there were no more lift bridges or locks. Down river is the port of Montreal. The port is many miles long with huge container storage areas.
With a favorable wind and the wide river channel we both motored and sailed using the auto pilot. The current helped to obtain speeds over eight knots.
Ship traffic was high and the ships were large with many of them hauling containers. There were a lot of facilities along the river, with almost all having a place to tie up a ship. After about three hours of sailing, the channel narrowed and became very crooked.
As we passed the canal that goes south to the Hudson River, Nick and I discussed the possibility of him going to the City of Quebec, then returning to this canal instead of continuing out the rest of the St. Lawrence River. The season was getting late and Nick was seriously considering this. But he also wanted to see the City of Quebec. When he contacted the canal authorities they told him it was shutting down for the season the next day; not enough time for him to make it back to the canal.
It was nightfall when we entered a wide place in the river called Lake St. Pierre. The channel across the lake was narrow and crooked with very shallow water on each side of the channel. The green and red buoys were well lit to mark the channel changes and we met many ships going both ways on the lake. Sometimes staying out of the way was a challenge but we had no problems.
We entered a marina at Trois Riveres at 10 p.m. There were no boats in the marina but we tied up at a dock anyway. That day, with the current, we achieved speeds over nine knots and had traveled 86.5 miles.
Travel on the river for the rest of the way is controlled by tides. The incoming tide dams up the flow of the river. Then when the tide turns, both the tidal water and the dammed-up water makes a very strong current. From information we had, we understood that we needed to leave Trois Riveres 8 hours before low tide at The City of Quebec. Unfortunately, I read the tide table wrong so we left Trois Riveres one hour too early in order to make the fastest time.
We left the dock at 8 a.m. The day was overcast with a chance of rain. All along the river were small towns, each with a church with many spires. We could see small farms beyond the river banks, except when the river narrowed and the banks became high. At the Reichelew Rapids the tidal current was supposed to be very fast. It was, but not what we expected. That’s when we realized that I used the wrong day when I read the tide tables.
As we neared The City of Quebec, it started to mist. I was at the helm using the auto pilot as it started to act up and then went dead. I called to Nick for help. He got us going in the right direction and headed for the Quebec bridge. Our speed was 10 Knots as we passed under the bridge. Rain began to pour as we traveled the last five miles to the city. We finally arrived at 5 p.m.
The small boat harbor that we were looking for is at the end of the old part of the city. To enter it, you have to go under a lift bridge and enter a small lock. This lock lifts you to the level of the harbor boat slips. The lock and dam maintain a constant level independent of the 10 foot tide changes in the river. Nick managed to get us a slip near the marina office and shower rooms. I packed up my gear and called a cab to take me to the hotel were Judy was staying. I was tired, cold and wet, looking forward to sleeping in a real bed. After an hour wait, with me standing in the rain, the cab still hadn’t arrived. Thankfully, Nick called an Uber cab for me. Again we waited. Finally, standing out in the street, Nick waved at the driver who was lost. By about 8 p.m. I arrived at the hotel with Judy waiting for me in the lobby. As I got out of the cab, I realized my sea legs were making it difficult to walk down the street.
What an adventure! Twelve days on a boat we had traveled about 500 nautical miles, through 15 locks, across one of the great lakes, motoring through a narrow crooked channel with large boats, and traveling a river with a tide. My strength improved because of the constant exercise I got from a constantly rocking boat. I learned a lot. Nick is an excellent and careful sailor. I would never have been able to make this trip without a person with his skill and knowledge.
I also learned about what I need on the boat I’m building to make it better: increase the number of places to hang onto both below and above deck; plan to have an auto pilot; what is the best anchor; and many other small details.
Many people have asked if I would ever do it again. No. Not because it wasn’t a great experience and adventure. But rather that I am looking for other adventures before I will need a wheel chair.
I have the greatest admiration and respect for young Captain Nick Nelson of Madeline Island. And I thank him publicly for giving me the opportunity to join him on a small part of his huge adventure to the Caribbean. But mostly I am very grateful to have gotten to know him better and to consider him a good friend. I hope there might be another adventure along the way.