Riding the St Lawrence Seaway to Quebec City

I last wrote from Chambly, Quebec, a charming little town only 14 miles from Montreal that seemed more like it was 100. We ended up staying there 5 nights for various reasons. One is that our friend, Bill Hauser, who we haven’t seen for several years, drove up from Boston to join us for almost a week. The plan was complicated–the logistics of having people get on and off our boat are quite daunting, but manageable with a lot of forethought. It only took us about 5 hours of phone calls, emails, and in-person wrangling to figure it all out!

Besides the complicated logistics of arranging visits, other issues having to do with actually living with us on Golden soon became clear. We now realize that we should’ve warned Bill in advance of the fact that we avoid using our holding tank for anything but liquids. We do this because marine plumbing systems are NOTORIOUS for clogging, and, since we are mostly staying at marinas (thanks Hunny!), we want to take advantage of the facilities for which we pay dearly. Unfortunately, the marina restrooms are often much farther away than is comfortable. For example, at our stop in Tres Rivieres, we had to walk down what I’m certain were several miles of docks, and then, once on land, walk another few miles along the water towards the distant marina office, using the key to get through various gates and doors along the way until FINALLY arriving at the restroom door. Honestly, it was nearly a half mile of walking (or frankly, sometimes running cross legged) to relieve oneself. It’s a good test of bowel/bladder control, and one I hope you don’t fail if and when you join us.

Enough about bodily functions. After Bill arrived, we decided to stay in Chambly for a couple more days to make sure weather conditions would be optimal while traveling on the St Lawrence. We spent one of those days using Bill’s car to explore Montreal, visiting the Botanical Gardens,

a public market, and climbing 764 feet up Mt Royal (hence the name of the city).

Here’s a picture of a Starbucks in Montreal. By Quebec law, all business names MUST be preceded by a French word; hence, “CAFE Starbucks”!

The day we finally cast off from Chambly was clear and warm. While traveling north on the Richelieu, we passed through one lock which was much easier than usual because all we did was tie to a floating dock attached to the lock walls, and let boat and dock drift down with the water level with no exertion or worry about loosening lines on our part. David asked the woman helping us at the lock if she was a student because she looked to be about 12; she informed him in no uncertain terms that she was actually the lockmaster. Oops. Hunny licked her face as an apology.

Bill spent much of his time working on engineering problems for his students (he teaches engineering at Boston University)

We finally arrived at the confluence of the Richelieu and the St Lawrence River, and man, were we nervous. The St Lawrence is such a HUGE river, carrying an enormous quantity of water–it drains the entire Great Lakes Basin into the Atlantic at its mouth. The river is also used as a highway on the sea (or “Seaway”) for dozens of freighters and tankers per day, all going as fast as possible to ports up and down this 1200 km long river and beyond.

After entering the St Lawrence, we sailed about 35 more miles downriver to the small town of “Tres Rivieres”, a less than ideal marina, the marina of “miles of walking to the bathroom” fame, which also happened to be located right next to a quaint little pulp mill that emitted steam and noise all night long. I also learned something new–when trying to get a pan out of a locker, be careful that other pans don’t fall out onto your toe while doing so–particularly if they are cast iron. Ask me how I know.

The next morning we planned our departure to the minute. As one proceeds downriver from Tres Rivieres, the tidal flow gets more prominent—by the time one gets to Quebec City, the tidal excursion is 16 FEET. The consideration of tidal flow in addition to the swift currents and whirlpools in this huge river means there are a multitude of factors to consider when planning a voyage. We had read in our navigational notes that we should time our departure to arrive into Quebec at low tide, which was between 3 and 4 PM that afternoon. We also needed to try to pass the “Richelieu Rapids”–a section of river consisting of a very narrow deep channel, surrounded by rocks and rapids–at high tide. Obviously we did all we could to avoid crossing paths with a freighter while traversing that particular section of river.

As we proceeded down the river, we noticed the current got faster, especially where the river narrowed, and because the tide started running out. We were running the engines at our usual 2200 RPM’s, which normally gives us a speed of 8-9 mph at most. Here is a picture of our chart plotter that shows the speeds we were getting due to the current, the outgoing tide, and the (fortuitously) west wind pushing us towards the Atlantic:

We were FLYING!

We passed under the Quebec Bridge, which Bill told us was notorious in the engineering world for the multiple mistakes that were made in its design and execution. It is the largest cantilevered structure in the world, but it actually collapsed TWICE during construction, killing 88 and injuring scores of others. The disaster is often offered as a cautionary tale to engineering students.

Right after we passed the bridge there was a noticeable increase in the number of boats surrounding us. Not only were there now multiple freighters around us, there were also what seemed like thousands of pleasure boats and personal watercraft buzzing in and around us like annoying insects. Our ride became decidedly rough. Of course it was just about the time I needed to set out lines and fenders for mooring–I definitely needed my life vest.

Luckily, the marina where we planned to stay (Vieux Port du Quebec) had gone to great lengths to protect boaters staying there from the mighty St Lawrence. The marina actually has two harbors–an outer and an inner one. Its outer harbor was separated from the river by a breakwater, which provided a welcome break from the significant wave action outside. One can only enter the inner harbor by passing through a lock, which raises boats up to the high tide level. This ensures that the water in the marina stays constant, rather than dropping and rising 16 feet every 6 hours.

We successfully passed through the outer harbor, and entered the locks with six other boats.

Once we exited the locks and entered the inner harbor, we eased into our slip, breathed a sigh of real relief, guzzled an adult beverage, and waited for our hands to stop shaking. The day had been fun, yes, exciting, yes, but definitely stressful.

After relaxing a bit, we walked a half mile or so into town (the marina is located in the old city) and dined outside at “Chez Victor”. Quebec looks to be a beautiful city, and I can’t wait to explore it more tomorrow. Here is a photo of our boat at harbor that evening:

3 thoughts on “Riding the St Lawrence Seaway to Quebec City

  1. Just now catching up on the Swanson adventure. So fun to read about your trip. Dean and I did the Canal du Midi in France (I know that sounds pretentious) and had quite a few locks to go through. Your rope tying skills far surpass mine. Several times I threw the rope and it hit me in the head! Keep up the journal—it’s wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well Cindy, I don’t throw ropes and hit myself on the head. I throw ropes to other people and hit THEM on the head! Get with the program, lady! I’ll write you a separate email soon.


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