113 Tadoussac, Quebec to West Point, PEI


Movement drew our eyes to port. A whale had just surfaced and the mist from it’s mighty exhale had caught our attention. It’s back glided along for long seconds as we watched. Finally a fin appeared and then the whale disappeared heading upstream as we headed down. We dove for our reference book and quickly identified it as a fin whale probably about 60 feet long. A whale a day became routine as we continued northeast moving rapidly with the current. Occasionally a seal would show up. They always seemed to stop and watch us pass before they too continued moving upstream.

The rugged north shore of the St Lawrence sank lower and lower as we headed northeast and finally disappeared as the river continued to widen. Finally, the river was too wide even for our radar with its 24-mile range. Navigation remained easy. We followed the south coast of the St Lawrence running in water over 100 feet deep but never more than a half-mile from shore. Lighthouses marked progress down the coast. Up on the mountainside a string of modest homes lined the invisible road following the mountainside hundreds of feet above us. There was no beach, or shore–just steep mountain edges rising out of cold waters.

Three towns divided our 287-mile run from Tadoussac to Cape Gaspe into manageable segments and provided a place to tie up since anchoring isn’t practical in the deep waters of the St Lawrence. All are small, functional, and clean. Harbors are home to fishing boats. Floating docks for pleasure boats are a recent addition.

We found the fish ladder around the dam in Matane, but no fish were running in July. People in costumes were leading tours talking about town history as part of a town celebration. Alas, everything was in French and too fast for us to follow.

Sainte-Anne-des-Mont is working hard to develop a tourist business with a new large museum and sports activity park. A group of boaters appeared with many questions about Odyssey. We invited them aboard for a tour and one lingered. He’s the captain of a shrimp boat. We sat and talked with this colorful gentleman, learning about his unique life style.

Between Sainte-Anne-des-Mont, and Riveire au Renard we set a new personal record for going north. We were well above our previous high point when we’d gone as far north as we could go on Lake Superior at Red Rock, Ontario in 1997. We laughed as our latitude, always climbing for the past four months, began to drop. We were finally heading south again. Technically we also were entering the Gulf of St Lawrence, but it seemed like a moot point since the St Lawrence River is 70 miles wide at this point.

Fishing Fleet at Riveire au RenardRiveire au

Fishing Fleet at Riveire au RenardRiveire au

Renard, home to a large fishing fleet, felt like a frontier town. Modest homes without much landscaping was all we saw in our walk through town. There were shops catered to daily living needs and not much more. A modest beach with black, clinging sand just short of being defined as mud, attracted locals who splashed off the sand in water warmed a bit by the protection of the harbor. The bathers provided a reason for a crumbling old step van selling hot dogs to camp out in the parking lot. We joined the line and got lunch from the ‘roach coach’ as the ones that always seemed to hang out around factory gates were affectionately—or accurately called.

Cape Gaspe

Terrain and color changed dramatically as we approached Cape Gaspe. The Cape extends like a long thin finger out into the Gulf of St Lawrence. Rugged cliffs grew steeper, higher and lighter. Trees and all vegetation disappeared from the cliff but continued to hang over the top now high above us. In places the cliff face passed vertical; leaning out over the water. A lighthouse capped the top of this magnificent headland jutting out into the vast Gulf of St Lawrence. In the early morning hazy sunlight we had the stunning vista to ourselves. Passing the tip of the Cape the true extent of
Cape Gaspe's back side

Cape Gaspe's back side

its uniqueness became apparent. Behind the towering cliff facing the Gulf of St Lawrence wooded land fell away sharply to sea level on the Bay side providing a new dramatic vista as we now headed southwest.

Too early for tour boats we had the magnificent rock at Perce to ourselves.

Rock Formation at Perce

Rock Formation at Perce

The mammoth formation rises straight out of the water as a singular formation. Town is directly next to the rock and does a huge tourist business with people coming to see the massive rock pierced by a hole. We were tempted to stop, but the weather forecast sounded marginal, and we were eager to get across Baie de Chauleurs to Shippagan, New Brunswick.

Quebec is French. New Brunswick we thought was English. Much of it is, but in Shippagan French predominates, and we found ourselves still struggling with language. It got complicated fast when we asked for diesel and learned the literature we had was wrong and that there was no diesel for sale at the marina, or for that matter in Shippagan. I pressed the dock boy to find out how the town fishing fleet refueled and listened in frustration as he contacted Irving, the fuel supplier for the Maritimes, and talked at length in French. Finally, I was told there was no way we could get diesel in Shippagan, sales were only to fisherman at special prices, and Irving had no provision to sell retail. The nearest place we could obtain diesel was at a marina over an hour away in the wrong direction to our travels.

While phone calls were in process Ruth had gone back to Odyssey and began answering the typical flood of questions we got about the boat. She mentioned our fuel problem and one boater he said he’d help. He came in, introduced himself and started making phone calls, all in French. Finally, he said he’d contacted his brother, a fisherman who’d let us use his key to operate the fisherman pump. Payment would have to be in cash, and I explained I didn’t carry that much cash and would have to find a bank. Minutes later we were in his car heading for the bank and an ATM. Next he picked up his brother’s key, and we headed for the fishing dock to fuel. Back at the dock I met his brother and happily counted out twenties to pay the bill. It was the cheapest fuel we’d obtained in Canada.

A Catalina 28 sailboat pulled into the slip next to us and fluent unaccented English could be heard. Martin and Vivian were just starting on a month’s cruise and were as eager to talk about their adventure, as we were to just have conversation without having to be careful about word selection or listening and watching to see if we were being understood. We swapped stories late into the evening and learned about additional ports in the Maritimes as we enjoyed each other’s company.

We left in predawn light the next morning heading for Prince Edward Island. Shippagan, however, wasn’t done with us. Just as we were passing under the lift bridge Ruth noticed the starboard battery charger warning light glowing. A bit of testing confirmed the alternator wasn’t working. We turned around and headed back toward the dock. By 7 a.m. I had the alternator off and settled down to wait for the marina office to open.

A boater stopped by to ask if we’d been fishing and how conditions were outside. When I explained why we’d returned he left and then returned with the phone number of the town boat repair yard. A cell phone call resulted in someone from the yard picking up the alternator. The next day a man showed up to take me to the yard to pick up and pay for a rebuilt alternator, once again in cash.

Finally Shippagan let us go and we crossed the Northhumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island. Our 83-mile passage ended at a tiny unnamed harbor in the wilderness near West Point on the island. It was a fishing harbor used by local fishermen. We tied up along the wall and paid our $10 fee for dockage and 20-amp electricity. A short walk away the West Point lighthouse has a motel and restaurant. We celebrated our successful crossing by walking the beach to the lighthouse for lunch.

After lunch we started back by road. Signs indicated there were trails heading into the meadow and woods beyond. Ruth spotted flowers and suggested a short diversion. I reminded her about the insect cautions we’d heard, but she figured it would only be a short walk and started out ahead of me as I stopped to read the trail sign. As I looked up she seemed blurry and gray; I called after her to turn back. As she turned back to answer, she too saw the thick cloud of mosquito’s materializing out of the bushes behind her. She beat a hasty retreat, and we walked back to Odyssey along the beach.


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