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 V: Quebec City to Chandler
August 14: Quebec City to Cap-à-l’Aigle
After a brief wait for the lock to open, we entered the St. Lawrence River headed eastward on a rainy Thursday morning with little wind and limited visibility due to fog. My new charts lay unfolded next to the GPS showing our route to Cap-à-l’Aigle, about 70 nautical miles away.
Following the northward route around the Île d’Orléans, a large island often referred to as the bread basket of Quebec because of the abundance of produce grown there, we passed numerous small villages adorned with high-steepled churches. Just past the huge span of the Île d’Orléans bridge, we got a delightful view of the magnificent Montmorency Falls, which are almost 100 feet taller than Niagara.
After leaving the sheltered north passage around Île d’Orléans, we entered the wide span of the St. Lawrence. The water changed dramatically with a heavy chop and tide rips, as noted on our GPS. David had to abort his nap when I called him back to the helm. The boat’s stabilizers proved no match for the strong waves that lifted and dropped us with a resounding crash. The rain and limited visibility continued. At 2:25 p.m., we finally arrived at our marina at Cap-à-l’Aigle. Sheltered behind a formidable stone breakwater, this small marina was a welcome haven for two weary travelers who had been buffeted by hard-hitting waves for more than three hours.
To our dismay, one of the dock helpers accidentally dropped one of our new ladder connections into the water. Fortunately, we had ordered two, but now we had no spare. Afterward, David wisely devised a solution for this difficult, expensive and seemingly persistent problem by attaching the connections to the boat with wire.
August 15: Tadoussac
We left the marina on a beautiful sunny day heading for Tadoussac at the headwaters of the Saguenay River, the focal point of an enormous marine conservation area with seals, turtles and whales. A beautiful, active harbor surrounds the charming community. A magnificent red-roofed hotel was the area’s focal point, and impressive homes dotted the verdant hillsides.
Returning to the boat from the marina office, we noticed that the previous day’s storm and winds had shredded our bimini. Upon further inspection, we saw that the dinghy had moved more than two feet off its stand, and its cover hung precariously off the side.
I mounted the bridge console and used scissors to untangle and remove the canvas. We hired help to move the dinghy back to its proper position. Unfortunately, the dinghy repair in Quebec had failed, and it was once again deflated.
August 16: Matane
David insisted on adhering to a schedule that would bring us into Halifax, Nova Scotia, by August 26. He wanted to return to Texas to watch his alma mater, Baylor University, play its first football game in its new stadium. This meant continuing despite less-than-favorable weather. As experienced boaters know, this isn’t always the best decision and usually creates problems.
Leaving Tadoussac before 8 a.m., we soon captured the speed of a high tide. Wind was minimal, and the water was glassy smooth at times. The incredible contrast of blues in the sky, clouds and water was amazing. It seemed like the perfect day for making the long cruise across the wide expanse of the St. Lawrence from its northern to its southern shore.
With smooth seas and a boat that was performing exceptionally well, we relaxed and took turns at the helm. Unfortunately, our serenity evaporated three hours from our destination. The wind velocity increased considerably, a light rain began, and the water became choppy, tossing our boat as we fought the wind, waves and current.
Matane Marina had English-speaking help who met us on arrival at the fuel dock. Since diesel fuel isn’t available at every marina on our journey, we fuel up at every opportunity. With a strong crosswind, David had difficulty bringing the boat into the small, rustic fuel dock. When the dock help proved inadequate for the task, several boaters appeared to help us secure the boat. Despite the rain, they later reappeared to help us dock. They were gone almost before we could express our gratitude.
August 17: Sainte-Anne-des-Monts
After our previous arduous day, we chose to make a short six-hour cruise to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, one of Canada’s premier winter playgrounds. We had a great day for cruising with sun, little wind and spectacular scenery. Small villages, red-roofed cottages and steepled churches dotted the verdant hills.
Behind a formidable breakwater of huge granite boulders, the marina provided excellent shelter and great docking facilities. With only 15-amp electricity available, we kept our generator running, as it’s quiet and uses little fuel. We docked with help from several boaters and the lone harbor master. Dockage was only $1.25 per foot! We loved the low marina charges in Canada.
We left the boat to explore the adjacent area, which has a locally renowned seafood restaurant and enormous Catholic church made of native stone.
August 18: Rivière-au-Renard
Determined to make the 90-nautical-mile journey to Rivière-au-Renard, we demonstrated careless disregard for the forecast, which called for light rain and winds. Leaving the dock at 7:30 a.m., we had great visibility of the charming villages we passed. As we continued on, the mountains became taller and the granite cliffs steeper.
Suddenly enveloped by fog, we were soon navigating via GPS and radar in zero visibility. Since the wind wasn’t a significant factor, we stayed the course. About an hour from our destination, everything changed. The wind increased considerably, the water became choppy, and waves buffeted the boat—not a pleasant experience!
Thankfully, Rivière-au-Renard was protected behind a huge stone breakwater. The marina shared dockage with the large commercial fishing fleet that made this area a mecca for seafood processors. We were assigned a great place on the new dock.
The continuing rain restricted us to the boat. Although the postcard-perfect village ahead of the marina beckoned, we were reluctant to venture that far in the rain. After dark, we saw a large lighted cross next to a small church on the hill.
August 19: Chandler
Chandler seemed to be the perfect place to stop before crossing Chauler Bay, noted for its high afternoon winds. Morning rain and wind caused us to consider staying docked, but a favorable report from Chandler encouraged us to continue our journey.
Because of shallow water, we needed to enter the marina at high tide. After arriving an hour early, we floated about in the bay, noting the marked and unmarked shoals. We planned to take a wide arc around them upon departure.
The small marina was tight and exceedingly shallow. But with lots of dock help, David expertly parallel parked the boat, which appeared gigantic compared with the others in the marina. The marina fuel dock had a limited supply of diesel, and we drained their tanks of 300 gallons.
The dockmaster, Simon, invited us to his sailboat for rum and Cokes. We spent a delightful hour with him and three of his friends. They gave us considerable information about the area’s small marinas, which are government-funded and staffed by volunteers. A lawyer who specialized in labor negotiations, Simon loves sailing and was thrilled to be a volunteer for part of the summer at the Chandler marina.
We ate dinner at the marina restaurant, which had an incredible view of the wide expanse of water beyond the breakwater. The service and food were excellent, and we spent a delightful evening recalling our wedding 60 years ago.
The journey resumes in Part VI of the “Octogenarian Odyssey,” out in Fall 2023.