We’re Halfway and Had a Whale of Week!

This week marks our 26th week, the official half-way point of our Loop. It is a bittersweet point in time.  We have so enjoyed the first half of our Loop that we can’t imagine that the second will equal or surpass it but we are also anticipating that second half being in the Great Lakes and River Systems and have hurried some of the first half of the Loop in areas with which we are familiar in order to have extra time to spend in these uncharted (for us) areas of our country.

We are sad to leave the Lake Champlain area but, raising our yellow quarantine flag, we are excited to cross the USA-Canada border on July 1, which is Canada Day.


 We are the first boat to approach customs this morning and we think the fact that there are several boats behind us waiting (they only allow one boat at a time on the customs dock) might have played into how quickly we are processed and cleared through.  We have our lock passes for the season and are ready to go now!


We know we have a long day ahead of us with 11 locks to clear, which can be very time consuming but it starts out well and here we are in Canada!


We are pleasantly surprised by how little boat traffic there is and how efficient the locks system on this part of the canal is.  Each lock has its own DRY lines (no slimy, miserable lines like those we have had to deal with in NY) and each pair of lock tenders call ahead so that the next lock is open and ready for us.  This is VERY unusual in our experience and we are able to travel this beautiful section of the Chambly canal very quickly, which is good because the temperatures are rapidly climbing into the 90’s where they will remain for a week.


A swing bridge that opened for us.

The Chambly is a VERY narrow, man-made canal that travels alongside the Richelieu River, separated from it only by a narrow bank, topped by a bike path that is very popular on this day.


Our boat is a stately dowager who never hurries and we have been amused to see all the different kinds of craft, people and animals that have passed us on this journey and this day is not an exception to this experience!  At some point, I will do a separate blog-post entitled Things That Have Passed Us On The Loop! and many of the photos will come from this day!


This day we are very grateful to encounter no other boats traveling in the opposite direction as the rocky sides of the canal are too close for safe passage.  The locks towards the end of the canal are also unique in that they are tiny.  Some of the locks we have encountered, thus far, have been able to fit a tug and barge, along with several other boats, comfortably within their gates.  Others have been smaller but have still been able to accommodate a number of pleasure craft.   There is no way that more than one boat at a time can fit in these locks as some of them are as small as 110’ x 23’.  Our boat is 47’ long including the bowsprit and swim platform and is 13.5 wide, so you can imagine how proud I am of my captain who puts Makin Memories into each lock and extracts her successfully without ever bumping once.


These locks are old, made of wood and are man-powered or maybe I should say teen-powered.  Once we are secured in the lock, a pair of teens hand cranks the gates behind us shut. Then they walk to the front and again crank the sluices open by hand and once the water in the lock is level with the water level of the canal on the lower side, they hand crank the front gates open and out we go.  There is a bit of distance between some of the locks but the last three are a stair-step affair where we progress straight from one lock into the next.  It is amazing to look out of the top one and see the stair-step set of locks down into the Chambly Basin where the real celebration of Canada Day is happening.  We see boats anchored all over the basin and lots of others zipping around towing kids on all kinds of inflatable craft.


At this point the Canadian heat wave is getting to us and when we finally get into the basin, I beg Jerry to go ahead and anchor so we can swim to cool down.  I NEVER pictured my weenie-self swimming in Canadian water but once I am able to catch my breath again, the water is very refreshing.


Jerry using the fender that Bob Wilson gave us for swim safety

We decide to spend the night here, thinking that there will be some fireworks to celebrate Canada Day even though the customs folks informed us that most celebrations will take place the next night.  We relax on the front deck, drinks in hand and picnic while we watch the shenanigans taking place all around us.  It feels like a real vacation! While this year is a semi-respite-sabbatical year, once we left the keys little of it has felt like a vacation.  There are continuous challenges in weather, navigation, planning and mechanical issues and so we draw great breaths and relax into the sunset.  Ducks by the hundreds land all around us, munching on the lake weed and grasses that float nearby.  It is a lovely evening and we tuck into bed after checking the weather and battening down everything as there may be thunderstorms before dawn.


At one AM we are tipped out of our bunk by the wind leaning into our boat and the rain starts to pound on the decks. We climb up to the flying bridge to watch as lightning flashes and hail starts to pock off the decks all around us.  It is a little scary for a while because the wind gusts are so powerful.  We are almost always surrounded by sailboats so the lightning is not much of a concern.  The storm is fierce but moves through pretty quickly, returning the basin to stillness and leaving it that way until dawn.

IMG_4987I don’t know what church this is but it was gorgeous! I thought it was Varennes but couldn’t find a Google match.  It was along the east side of the St. Lawrence just north of Montreal.

We make a VERY long, 12 hour day sketching a giant U-turn as we go north up the Richelieu and then about face and head southwest up the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal.   There isn’t much current in the Richelieu but we are going against the tide and current on the St. Lawrence and it is a long, slow day.  We can actually see the SAME mountain Mt Sainte Hilaire when we reach Montreal that we passed that morning on the way out of Chamby Basin!!  IMG_4959The only saving grace is that we are able to beat the storm into our slip where we encounter Chris and Jay on Carolina, the first Loopers we have seen in a while.  We have pushed rally hard today so that we can take some time off the boat to go to Quebec City, by train and spend a few days there.

We take a train and enjoy a quiet ride through the countryside. Quebec City is a lovely blend of old and new and we wander the streets in the afternoon, enjoying the feel of Europe that is in the air here.  The gates and walls of the old city remind us how much history is here.

We book a tour (thanks to fellow Looper, Susan Webb for the idea) to whale watch the next day and turn in early so we can be up and ready for our departure from the foot of Chateau Frontenac the next morning.

IMG_4995We bus past Montmorency Falls (higher than Niagra) and the Cathedral of Ste. Anne de Boprais (wish we had another day to tour these) and through the gorgeous Charlevoix area.  The Laurentian mountains are visible in the distance on one side of the bus and the St. Lawrence seaway, which is VERY wide here, is on the other.


We learn that Quebec actually means, “place where the water narrows” in Algonquin.  Our bus driver/tour guide/whale naturalist machine guns information at us in French and then again in English.   I am pleased to see that I still understand a good bit of French, though speaking it is another matter!

We learn that Tadoussac is located on the north-west shore of the Saint Lawrence River, at its confluence with the Saguenay River. The cold, fresh water from the Saguenay and the warmer, salty water of the St. Lawrence, meet at an alluvial uplift that forces krill and other small animals upwards, to create a rich marine environment. 9 species of whales come here to feed though they mate elsewhere, which makes our chances of seeing some pretty good.

Upon arrival, we are divided into the groups we requested, the large boat folks and the zodiac folks.  They are herded onto a large triple decker boat and off they go.  We are outfitted in gear that looks like firefighter apparel – waterproof and to keep us warm.  This seems unnecessary as it is again 93 degrees but once we get out on the water of the fjord, the temperature drops precipitously and we are glad to have our gear.  We immediately see a pod of Beluga whales (we could kind of see them from shore because their white skin almost glows against the deep blue of the icy water).


A Beluga mother and calf

We see a pod of a dozen or so whales but cannot approach them as they are protected and fines are levied against captains who come within 400 yards of them.  We have a savvy captain though and he gets close enough and stops and lets their playful nature draw them closer to us.  He doesn’t want to get them too interested in us explaining that every 15 minutes they take exploring us is 15 minutes of missed eating that could really impact their overall health and so we are content to view them from a distance though the whales have ventured much closer to us now.


Next we are looking for Minke whales.  The Minke Whale is the smallest member of the rorquals and the second smallest species of baleen whale.  Our captain closes in on one and then a pair and we learn how to spot them and tell whether they are feeding or about to dive from the posture of their backs.  They are beautiful and very graceful and time flies as we watch them feed.


Lastly, we are on the lookout for the Fin Whale.  The fin whale is a large baleen whale that belongs to the cetacean species, which is composed of all species of whale, dolphin and porpoise. Measuring in at up to 90 feet long they are considered the second biggest whale in existence in terms of length, right after the blue whale and we now see where the term, “Thar she blows” comes from.  We glimpse the spout a long way off and motor closer.  This whale is not shy and rolls right next to our boat, dives and then comes up further away on the other side of the boat.  Again, we find a pair rather than a single animal and every eye on the boat is scanning the water to catch a glimpse of their spouts.  Sometimes we hear them before we see them and it is an amazing experience.


A couple of hours pass in no time and we zip back to do a last inspection of the fjord that was created by a quick moving glacier during the last ice age.  Amazingly, we had learned earlier in our cruise that the Hudson River actually meets the definition of a fjord as well, though most of us don’t see it as such.

This is beautiful country and we are glad we chose the zodiac as we seem closer to nature in it and it also moves faster so we end up seeing more species of whales than do our counter parts on the big boat (they only saw belugas).

We enjoy a quiet bus ride home, stopping at a local dairy that has a store where they sell all kinds of homemade cheeses and more impressive than that are the homemade pâtés  – they have rabbit, pheasant, duck and I’m not sure what else.  We saw these exact same terrines on the menu the prior night for $20 and here they are $3!  So we buy a baguette and a couple of bottles of local beer, a terrine and enjoy a mini-feast on the way home.


Arriving back in Quebec, we are starting to see evidence of the Fete d’Ete du Quebec (Summer Festival of Quebec).  They have been setting up venues all over town and the concerts start tonight.  Some of the venues are free and others, where the big name performers (Jethro Tull, Shawn Mendes, Lorde, Dave Matthews Band,  The Weeknd etc) will be require a wristband ticket.

It is hot but we venture out anyway and enjoy a young performer who is a warm up to the bigger names who will come later.  Fortunately the heat has been taken into account and the organizers have set up water stations for filling bottles and also for cooling off  and many young people hand their cell phones to friends and take advantage of the chance to get cool.

We are exhausted and return to our hotel and the music accompanies us. We are on the 18th floor, overlooking 3 of the venues and we can hear clearly when Jethro Tull starts playing Aqualung around 11!


Quebec has been an amazing side trip that we are really glad we did.  I wish we had more time to explore but we feel that we covered a lot of territory (walked over 20 miles while here) and became familiar enough with our part of town to walk different streets each time we ventured out without getting totally lost.  The flowers in parks and in the window boxes are breathtaking – begonias, trailing ivy, cosmos and more put me in heaven as did the ingenious ways in which they were displayed.  I totally understand the Quebec motto of  “Je me souviens” Literally translated as, “I remember” Because who could forget this wonderful place!


This morning we grab a quick breakfast and jump on the train back to Montreal.  There is internet aboard and so we are both able to catch up on some of our writing and other work and the 3 hours passes very quickly.  We arrive at the station in time to hustle to the Westin in time to make the Rotary meeting and are VERY impressed with how cosmopolitan this little club of 29 people is.  There are almost more visitors than club members as we have people from Ghana, New York, British Columbia and a couple of places I didn’t understand due to language challenges.  The man sitting next to me informs me that at one point they had 19 languages spoken in their club! That is impressive and even more impressive is that they netted $40,000 at a gala the week before.   For a small club, they do BIG things here!  Our lunch is amazing – two courses that we choose from a variety on a menu.  My table-mate says though the food is good here, it is nowhere near as good as when they met in Chinatown and had 5 course lunches!  We enjoy it, exchange banners and stay to chit-chat with members, one of whom invites us to a Chinese cultural event scheduled to happen the next day.


After lunch, we explore the old section of Montreal and enjoy the amazing architecture until it is time for the highlight of the day which is the Aura, a digitized laser/music experience that was designed specifically for Basilique de Notre Dame.  I remember being impressed by the laser show at Stone Mountain, GA when this was a relatively new type of entertainment but this show blows that away.  Montreal’s Notre Dame is possibly one of the top 5 most beautiful cathedrals I have ever been inside.  Now add an originally designed show that traces God’s creation from the birth of light, through the seasons and into every type of weather there is including the great flood and it is enough to leave you breathless.  Some consider this sacrilegious and Jerry and I talk about how we feel about this, concluding that this daily event brings people into God’s house, people experience art, music and God’s creation and an added bonus must be that the revenue helps maintain what has to be an exorbitantly expensive building in terms of keeping it as elegant as it has been since it was built in 1832.


What an amazing couple of days we have enjoyed to mark the halfway point in our Loop.  Can’t wait to see what’s next!


Categories: Cruising

5 replies »

  1. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that you packed in all those activities into such a short excursion. Your planning is outstanding for being on a boat where time really tends to not matter. Really enjoying your posts…. making me very envious. Keep up the good work!

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