Into the Great Wide Open
We finally leave the St. Lawrence River and head out into the salt water of the Bay, headed for the Mingan Archipelago!
Getting to Rimouski is the last bit of the St. Lawrence River. It’s also the last bit that involves worrying about the tides and currents and such. We were told to leave Tadoussac 1.5 hours after high tide and that’s what we did. We were escorted out by the belugas which we enjoyed seeing again.
Rimouski, if you’ve never heard of it like me 3 months ago, is a small city located on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River, about 300 kilometers northeast of Quebec City. It is known for its maritime heritage.
The Pointe-au-Père Maritime Historic Museum is a popular attraction. It features the Onondaga submarine and the Empress of Ireland Pavilion. HMCS Onondaga was a Royal Canadian Navy vessel. She operated mainly in the Atlantic. She was decommissioned in 2000. The museum purchased her, moved her, and opened her to the public in 2008.
The Empress of Ireland was a passenger ship that sank in the Saint Lawrence River in 1914. She is now a dive site for advanced divers since she rests in 130 feet of water. The museum provides insights into her history. Coming on the heels of the Titanic, she was equipped with water-tight compartments and enough lifeboats for everyone. However, she sank in 14 quick minutes and over 1,000 people died. Empress of Ireland
The marina at Rimouski is absolutely gorgeous. The staff was friendly and helpful. We met Eugenie working at the gas dock. We’ve met several young people on our voyage who are free spirits and love to travel. Eugenie had spent years traveling the US, living on the East and West Coasts. Her Canadian friends accused her of seeing more of the US than her own country, so she moved back home and is now making her way around Canada. It’s great to meet such adventurous people.
Rimouski Marina is newly renovated with giant lanes. It seems hard to imagine any boats having trouble maneuvering here. Later on our travels, I mentioned that thought to a sailing family we met. They also had the same thought at Rimouski. However, they were then immediately smashed into by the boat across from them! The other driver panicked and accelerated directly into them. The crazy driver got most of the damage. Her stantions were ripped right off her deck by the other sailboat’s anchor. She didn’t even stop! With all her wires and steel dangling in the water, she yelled back to the family, “The marina has my information, I’ll be back in three days!” Fortunately, the unsuspecting boat just had a ding in the gelcoat which the captain fixed up in a few hours. She did return and gave the family a bottle of wine.
At the gas dock, an enthusiastic Corbin owner approached us. Her English wasn’t very good and our French is even worse but we understood. Her Corbin had just hauled out an hour before. She, her husband, and her two children had spent the last year sailing from Rimouski to the Bahamas and back. After we parked our boat, we checked out thier boat on the hard. We would have liked to talk to her about her trip but we never saw her again.
We also spotted the fanciest Corbin we had ever seen, Nordin. I wanted my Corbin to grow up to look like her! She gleamed and sparkled in the sunshine. I had texted with her owner, Martin, on the Corbin facebook group. He turned out to be a lovely person in real life. We really enjoyed talking with him. He gave us a tour of his fully restored boat. He had spent three years renovating her and everything on her was perfect. I really liked his wife too! They spend winters in Mexico and she talked to me in a mixture of Spanish, French and English!
Dave, me, and Martin (owner of Nordin)
After two days of riding our bikes back and forth to the store (love those Canadian bike paths) and completing some much-needed boat jobs, we headed off for the first real sail of the trip!
Low Tide in Rimouski. View from the bike path.
Going downriver, the wind was always directly on our nose forcing us to motor the entire way. It was a glorious moment when we could finally, finally shut off the noisy engine and let the sails do all the work.
We left Rimouski and headed directly for the Mingan Archipelago, a group of islands in the Bay of St. Lawrence famous for their limestone monoliths. It is roughly a 200-nautical mile sail. We calculated that at an average of 5 knots, the trip would take us about 40 hours. I’m not sure what we were thinking because we left at 9 am. That put us arriving in the night to an unknown anchorage, not our smartest planning. The wind was behind us and we surfed down 12 foot waves, we sailed almost every bit of it.
This was the first time on our voyage that we needed to take shifts since we'd be going nonstop for almost 2 days. I took the Midnight to 6am shift and the Noon to 6PM shift. Dave did the opposite. 6-hour shifts worked well for us. It gave the other person an actual chance to get some real sleep. Although with the waves we were in, we dreamt about flying as we were periodically launched in the air with a really big wave. Good thing our sea birth has a canvas wall to hold us in bed.
So what is night watch by yourself like? Well, first bundle up. It is a very cold wind that blows in the Bay of St. Lawrence, even in June. I was decked out in 2 pairs of pants topped with my offshore foul weather pants. 2 shirts, a sweater, a fleece, my offshore foul weather coat, and my knit cap.
Otto the autopilot was doing the steering. My job was just to watch for ships (we crossed two shipping channels), whales, floating trees, and whatever else might pop up. We had radar pinging an 8-mile radius and I’d scan the seas every ten or fifteen minutes looking for lights.
It was an overcast night so there were no stars or moon visible. At first, it’s nerve-racking being in total darkness in a moving vehicle, but like everything, you get used to it. We were moving about as fast as I used to run in an hour. We weren’t breaking any speed records.
On my watch, I read my Kindle and listened to podcasts to pass the time. I got hooked on Smartless, a funny pcast that lasts over an hour, making time go quickly. I also do some cockpit exercises to try and wake up a bit. It’s not easy to exercise when the boat is pounding up and down waves. I was forbidden to leave the cockpit, even tethered, without waking Dave up first. Rule #1 of boating, don’t fall off the boat.
We arrived at 11 pm in the dark exactly as we stupidly planned (or not planned). Dave doused the sails. There were no lights from shore or headlights on our boat. It was pitch black out. We navigated through a very narrow channel between two islands, a 25-knot gust sideswiped us toward land. Dave kept calm but was worried if we had any engine trouble there was no way he would be able to get a sail up in time to do any good at all.
I was freaked out about entering an unknown anchorage, finding a good spot, and dropping anchor in the black void of night. We could smell spruce trees and campfires (which turned out to be forest fires) and could feel the warm wind as we entered the tiny bay but could see nothing. We found a spot solely by looking at the Navionics screen (hoping the charts were accurate) and dropped anchor. I was shaking. We promised to never sail into a new place in the dark again. We enjoyed a celebratory beer then went to bed.
In the morning, we jumped up to look out and see where we were. We found we had a beautiful bay to ourselves. The bay was surrounded by rocky beaches and a blanket of evergreens. The sky was smoky from the forest fires east of us. The sun was just a small orange ball in the haze. We quickly built our 2 part dinghy and launched her toward the shore.
Just like in the Saguenay Fjord, the island we were on and the surrounding islands are protected as a National Park. There is a dock available to use for short visits. The island has beautiful trails with wooden boardwalks to protect the fragile ecology. The trails took us to the seashore, the woods, the peat bogs, and to an area full of caves. We hiked the entire interior of the island and a big portion of its circumference.
The boardwalk hiking trails on the island.
The highlight of the island is the limestone monoliths on the beach. The limestone monoliths are a result of natural erosion over millions of years. They come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from tall and slender pillars to broader formations resembling massive sculptures. Some of them are over 30 feet high and display unique patterns and textures created by the natural processes that shaped them. They stand as awe-inspiring natural landmarks amidst the rugged coastal landscapes of the archipelago. The forest fires added to the Mars-scape feel of the place.
Limestone Monoliths on Ile Quarry
We really enjoyed the two days of exploring the island. As the fog eerily rolled in one afternoon, we decided it was time for us to end our happy stay in Quebec and sail away to Newfoundland. This would be an even longer passage but we were sure to time it to arrive in daylight!
Thank you for reading our blog, that means a lot to us! Cheers if you made it all the way to the end.
Dave and Diane