Belugas, Fjords and So Much More!
At the mouth of the Saguenay River lies the town of Tadoussac. When we told sailors in Quebec we were heading there, we got a lot of advice. Apparently, entering the Saguenay River at all but 2 hours a day is nearly impossible due to swift currents rushing out of the river. We needed to do even more planning and time it better than we had going to Quebec City.
Dave and I thought we had a pretty good plan. We had worked it out with the tides and current chart. We were sure we could get there in one shot without stopping and time it correctly.
We needed to leave Quebec 2 hours before high tide to get to the halfway point of Cap-a-L'aigle. We were told we needed to then leave Cap-a-L'aigle fours hours after high tide
to be able to get in the Saguenay River. We had it timed out differently but we acquiesced to local knowledge from the members of the Quebec Yacht Club. The members were absolutely great people! They offered to drive us anywhere we wanted to go. One couple even offered to give us their car to grocery shop. We opted to bike ride to get exercise but the kindness of everyone has meant the world to us.
Again, we set off in the middle of the night to time the river correctly. We were making excellent time. We slowed the boat down to reach Cap-a-l'aigle as we were told.
Along the way, we got the treat of seeing harbour porpoises swimming near our boat heading upstream. We were also excited to see little birds that look exactly like small penguins. It turns out they ARE small penguins.
They are Alca Torda Razorbills, a species of small penguins. They live in the extreme eastern regions of the St. Lawrence River. We saw these little birds everywhere we went They love to plunk underwater and swim around quickly. They have something over their bigger cousins, these little penguins can fly!
When we arrived at Cap-a-l'aigle exactly when we were told, the tide was now against us and there was no way we would make it for the optimal timing to get up the river. If we had just kept our speed up it would have worked out, like we had originally planned.
We had no choice but to turn the boat around and head into the marina a Cap-a-l'aigle to wait for the next tidal change at 3:30 in the morning.
I had read on their website that you can rest at the marina for $25 CAD for a tide change. If you stay overnight though, it's an exorbitant price of over $100 US. No one in the office spoke any English.
We recruited a fellow sailor, Alain, to act as translator for us. We found out that if your tide change happens at night then you have to pay the full price even though we would be gone before morning. It was a shock to Alain as well since he was planning to only pay $25. He had quite the back and forth with the clerk in French but we ended up paying the full price. A tariff for not speaking the language and not trusting our own planning.
Tadoussac Marina from our Anchorage
We headed out in the middle of the night and arrived exactly on time in the very picturesque harbor of Tadoussac. We didn't have any trouble motoring up the river. We dropped anchor near the mooring field in front of the village. The mooring balls take up most of the shallow water. We were forced to anchor in 60 feet of water. Dave let out all 300 feet of chain.
This turned out to be the absolute worst anchorage we have ever experienced. Every time the tide changed (every 6 hours) the bay sloshed and rolled us hard. It was so rolly, pots and pants were flying out of the cabinet and it felt like we were permanently at sea. Despite the moving waters, our anchor held fast and we never doubted it. Fortunately, Dave and I don't get seasick so we were able to make it work. We ended up anchoring here for three nights (not in a row).
One of the main attractions is the Tadoussac Bay, which is a prime location for whale watching. The bay serves as a feeding ground for several species of whale, including belugas, humpbacks, and minke whales. We saw lots of beluga whales but to our disappointment the locals told us the other whales were late this year and hadn't shown up yet.
Numerous whale watching tours and cruises are available in the bay. We had a lot of fun watching the tour boats coming and going. There are several different types of boats depending on your adventure level. Zodiac boats provided our favorite people watching. The boats are full of tourists dressed in inmate orange raingear. They marched to and from the boat like a prisoner exchange program.
The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, which encompasses the surrounding waters, is a protected area with special rules for boating near the giant mammals. You aren't allowed to approach the whales, you must keep your distance, lower your speed, and absolutely no drone flying over them.
The village of Tadoussac has a quaint and welcoming atmosphere. Its streets are lined with charming houses, boutique shops, and restaurants serving delicious local cuisine. We were delighted to try out the Microbrasserie de Tadoussac (of course). They made excellent beer and the view of the bay was perfect. We also loved that the grocery store was in walking distance to the dock. There is also a Whale Museum that we never got around to visiting.
We thought this was an interesting street sign in Tadoussac.
It gets lost in translation but the point is clear Don't run our kids over!
Waterfall on the Fjord
After one night in Tadoussac, the weather window was perfect to head up river to the Saguenay Fjord. Sailing a boat up a fjord is an awe-inspiring and thrilling experience. The steep walls offered us a unique and dramatic landscape. As we navigated through the narrow waterways, we were captivated by the majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls, and lush greenery that surrounded us. Our pictures and videos don't do justice to the beauty.
On the way up (and back down) we had the thrill of seeing beluga whales. Their bright white bodies glisten in the sunlight, contrasting against the deep blue surrounding water. They are very easy to spot at a distance and always exciting to see!
We anchored in Baie Trinité . It was blissfully calm and we got such a good night's sleep. We awoke to a sunny, warm day. We dinghied ashore to the National Park. There is a free dock and cruisers are allowed to use one side of it. The other side is for tour boats.
Our Anchorage in Baie Trinité
As soon as you step off the dock, you find the trailheads for different hikes. We opted for the upward walk to the Statue of Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay (the Virgin Mary statue).
According to the sign, this statue was sculpted by Louis Jobin in 1881. It is made entirely of white pine and is covered with thin sheets of lead to protect it from the elements. It measures 9 meters high and weighs over 3 tonnes. It was inspired by a guy who almost drowned in the river but didn't and credited the Virgin Mary as his savior.
The Virgin Mary was brought to its remote spot by a steamer ship, which couldn't get close to the shore. She ended up falling off the boat (I think she was pushed) and she was dragged ashore by a row boat. She was then cut up into fourteen pieces and raised, one piece at a time, 50 feet at a time, until the first level of Cape Trinité. Then, the monument was reassembled and installed on a wooden base.
In 2008, the Center de conservation du Québec covered the statue with sheets Dave and Mary of lead and restored her to her original appearance.
Mary and Diane Hanging Out
Since she is supposed to be looking out for sailors and keeping them safe, we made the trek up to see the old girl. We thoroughly enjoyed the hike. To get to her it is a steep climb up hill and then down hill, insuring that it is uphill both directions. It was a good 3 hour cardio workout.
Our thrill of the hike was spotting a porcupine hanging out up a tree. A couple told us about it in french. The word for porcupine is porc-épic. This was close enough for Dave to figure out what they were talking about and we spotted him too!
Back to Tadoussac
After two days at the Saguenay Fjord National Park, we motored back down river and returned to Tadoussac. The weather was going to take a turn for the nasty. We wanted to be tucked in the harbor. Smarter people would have tied up at the marina after that rolly night on anchor. We dumbly opted to anchor again for the next two nights and the swell got even worse on our last night!
We had timed our visit to Tadoussac perfectly (unbeknownst to us) to coincide with their Annual Music Festival . The weather was cold and wet but we were excited to hear some Quebecois music. The locals knew how to dress for the weather, winter coats under rain jackets with boots. Of course, Dave wore flip flops. I had scoured the agenda for all the free music events and had our line up all planned out.
Our first stop was at the brewery for the "band" (or so we thought) Boire Côte Nord. Dave was excited it was at the brewery but disappointed they weren’t serving beer when we arrived. We watched the singers set up, do sound checks. The crowd filled in. The room was full of French conversation. Dave and I speculated on what type of music this duo looked like they played.
At last, the music started, but the singers on the stools in front of the microphones weren’t singing. I leaned over to Dave “Who’s singing?” He leaned back “No one. It’s coming from the speaker.” We watched the two at the mics just smile and sway to the music. This was a weird show.
Then they started talking and talking and talking… in French. The crowd laughed and clapped. We laughed and clapped along. They invited people up who talked and made the crowd laugh some more and clap again. We had no idea what was happening.
The First "Band"
Then a woman came out with a tray full of beer samples and started passing them out. Dave and I looked at each other. I got out my phone and translated the name Boire Côte Nord. I found out it means Drink North Coast. I quickly looked up the program for the event online and translated it to English. We were at a free beer tasting and the people up there had a podcast where they paired music to drinks!
OK! Now we knew what was going on and we gladly took all the samples as they came around. Dave and I approved of Boire Cord Norte!
We didn’t hear any live music yet but the night was young.
The next free music venue didn’t start for a few hours. We had lots of time to kill so we ducked into an adorable restaurant Bistro le bar Raye for dinner. it was unexpected to hear the bartender and the only couple in the place speaking English! The couple at the bar introduced themselves, Jen and Carlos from Mexico. The bartender, Remi, turned out to also be the owner of the establishment.
We went on to spend the next few hours pleasantly getting to know these three. We learned all about their travels and plans. Jen hails from one of the original (non first nations) families to move to Tadoussac. Her great grandfather built the family summer home. She spent many of her childhood summers here and told us some great stories. They invited us to meet up with them again in Mexico when we sail there in a year or two.
We also met Julia and Annie. Julia had been a park ranger at Gros Morne in Newfoundland (where we are headed) and gave us great advice about the area.
When we stepped outside, we were greeted to a movable concert. A band was performing from the back of a pick-up truck. We all danced in the street. Even the drivers in the passing cars danced along as they slowly drove through the crowd.
We ended the night next door to Remi’s place at Cafe-Bar Le Gibard for the band Blamm. Although, it was completely in French, we had an amazing evening and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. You can see all this in our video above.
The next day the weather was even wetter and colder, we spent it just hanging out on the boat watching movies and blogging (Starlink is the best!). Early, early the following morning, we pulled anchor and headed for Rimouski. We were escorted by belugas on our way back into the St. Lawrence.