To celebrate both of us turning 80 and our 60th wedding anniversary, my husband, David, and I took a long-distance cruise on the Down East Circle Route. The journey took more than 2,000 miles from New York Harbor through the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence River, around Nova Scotia, and down the New England coast, ending back in New York Harbor.
Part IV: Montreal to Quebec City
July 6-7: Brockville, Ontario
Resting up after our long and stressful trip the day before, we left the boat as the afternoon began to cool and walked up the hill to explore Vieux-Montreal, or Old Montreal, Quebec. People were everywhere. We walked the old streets, checking out the small cafes, bars and shops. The massive French Gothic Notre Dame Basilica dominated the square nearby.
I had searched online and in various nautical supply stores, but I could not find charts for the downriver part of our journey from Quebec to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Several boaters recommended McGill Maritime Services about eight blocks from our marina. This small but exceptionally well-stocked shop didn’t carry chart books for our destinations, so each chart had to be bought separately—expensive but necessary. While GPS had proven to be reliable, we were more comfortable having chart backups.
While I was out, David met a fellow boater, Wayne, who owned a ship repair service in Montreal and kept a boat at the marina. He invited us to attend a dock party that evening with some of his friends. When we arrived at his party a little after 7 p.m., two chairs were waiting for us. Wayne’s brother, an acoustic guitarist, provided an hour of good music. Everyone on the dock sat on their boats enjoying the music and the cool weather.
Montreal provided ample opportunity for entertainment and sightseeing. We attended a special light and sound show at the basilica, took a bus tour of the city to Mount Royal and the massive Saint Joseph’s Oratory, walked the eclectic village area and enjoyed the excellent cuisine of numerous restaurants. Our marina location provided a convenient doorway to the city’s main attractions.
On July 20, we departed, reluctantly, for Texas to see family and complete some business matters. The Montreal marina staff agreed to watch our boat in our absence.
August 4-5: Back to Montreal
When we returned to Montreal, we found the boat just as we’d left it except for some spiders on the exterior. A fellow boater from Fort Worth and two of his friends surprised us with a visit. An experienced sailor, our friend had planned to complete the Down East Circle Route Cruise. He left New York a few weeks after we did in his late-model Selene powerboat. En route to Cornwall, he went through Polly Gut.
Although the low bridge was not a problem, he moved to the side to avoid an eddy and hit a submerged steel girder. The boat tilted severely, terrifying his family. Unfortunately, the boat sustained considerable hull damage, and he left it for repairs about 50 miles from Montreal. The next day, he returned home to Fort Worth, Texas, where he planned to stay until the work was completed.
August 6: Trois-Rivières
Ready to move on, we left Montreal with blue skies and sun. After passing numerous commercial docks, we entered the main channel of the St. Lawrence River. Palatial homes and small residences banked the shoreline, and fishermen and commercial tankers crowded the river. The landscape gradually changed from level to hilly on the way to Trois-Rivières.
With excellent help, we docked at a marina behind a breakwater. One of the guys owned a mobile home in Donna, Texas, where he went every winter. He was eager to talk (in broken English) with “fellow Texans.”
August 7-14: Quebec City
The morning sun receded behind the clouds as we prepared to depart Trois-Rivières. While removing the ladder from the side of the boat, our dock helper dropped a critical mounting connection for the ladder into the water. Having already used our spare, we couldn’t install the ladder on our preferred starboard side. Replacement would cost almost a hundred dollars.
Light rain impaired visibility as we departed the marina. Riding in a good current, our speed increased about 3 knots. After several hours, the rain stopped, and the skies cleared. The current increases dramatically in Richelieu Rapids. Without any change in engine speed, our usual 10-knot speed quickly rose to over 15 knots. With our powerful engines, David maintained control easily as we sped down the river for several miles. After the rapids, we enjoyed a straightforward and uneventful journey. Beautiful homes lined the hillsides leading into Quebec City.
Entering the Port of Quebec Marina via a short lock and a swing bridge, we were fortunate to arrive at high tide when both were open. We once again docked securely with excellent help.
After a quiet evening on board, we set out to explore one of North America’s oldest and most beautiful cities the next day. With blue skies and cool temperatures, we walked to a nearby grocery store to replenish our galley supplies. Checking in with a fellow walker, we learned about a renowned farmers market across the boat basin from the marina, which was much closer than the grocery store. Dark clouds came into view, and raindrops began to fall. We made it to the fully enclosed market just as a tremendous thunderstorm hit the area.
Clean, organized and crowded, the market had numerous booths with an array of gorgeous raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, other fruits and vegetables that looked fresh from the harvest. Freshly baked pies, tarts, cookies and breads added wonderful smells to the place. Buyers crowded a large cheese booth. Refrigerator cases displayed an assortment of pork, lamb, chicken and seafood. Splendid flowers filled booths, adding beauty to the scene—truly a feast for the eyes!
On a beautiful Saturday morning, we returned to the market area and caught the sightseeing bus. Walkers, bikers and automobiles crowded the streets for the annual festival celebrating the establishment of New France.
Effortlessly switching from French to English, the excellent narrator on the bus described the sights and history along the way. The bus moved slowly due to traffic and street closures for the festival. Quebec City takes great pride in its many gardens and parks, and we saw flowers everywhere. (Quebec, specifically the Historic District of Old Québec, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the only walled city in North America north of Mexico.)
We left the tour in the Lower Town (below the Château Frontenac hotel in Upper Town) to walk the cobbled streets. Among the tourists, costumed citizens portrayed various roles from life in the 18th century. Booths along the lanes sold a variety of handcrafted items to music provided by a hurdy-gurdy player.
We returned to the Upper Town and Place Royale near the Château Frontenac by funicular. This interesting conveyance climbed the steep hill in about two minutes and saved us much arduous effort.
At 10 p.m., we enjoyed a fabulous fireworks display a short distance from our marina. With a supermoon overhead, clear skies and no wind, the wonderful event was a highlight of the festival.
On Sunday, we spent a quiet day on the boat, visited with others in the marina and observed the arrival of the Majestic, a 201-foot yacht. Originally owned by a Walmart heiress, the yacht had been sold for millions of dollars to purchase a larger, more luxurious vessel.
Next to the marina, the bright yellow and blue peaked tents were the summer home of Cirque du Soleil. We bought tickets for an early Sunday performance and walked across the marina parking lot into the entrance of the main tent. Like other Cirque du Soleil shows we have seen, the show, titled “Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities,” was exceedingly clever with a surrealistic touch in the sets and props.
Monday was a day of preparation. After unsuccessfully trying to repair a leaking dinghy, we got the name of a local Zodiac distributor from a fellow marina dweller. He agreed to come out on Wednesday. With unfavorable weather reports, we spent another day in port, concentrating on needed repairs.
The dinghy repair crew arrived before 8 a.m. Wednesday. They found and repaired the leak in no time. We refueled minutes before the rain began. Although the rain continued all day without pause, we were delighted when UPS delivered the two connections for the ladder. Since David had a bad cold and needed lots of rest and TLC, we took advantage of the weather delay so he could recuperate.
The journey resumes in Part V of the “Octogenarian Odyssey,” out in Summer 2023.