Friday, September 05, 2008

Trial by Fire - Trois Rivieres to Cap a L'Aigle

Brown water sailing, in a river estuary, is an acquired taste! As we rounded the mark at Cap Tormente, coming out of the North Channel at Isle D'Orleans, we got our first taste of sailing in salt water. At first it seemed easy enough, the water was flat and the wind, although on the nose, was pretty light. About 10 miles up there is a small island call Isle aux Coudres, that one must go around in order to continue up the north channel. At the entrance to Isle aux Coudres there are these squiggly lines on the chart, that sort of look like the stylized waves one would expect on a paper placemat at a cheap roadside seafood restaurant.

Not realizing what they meant, we pressed on, not that we really had a choice because there are no tenanble ports of call or anchorages between Quebec City and Isle aux Coudres, and even then Isle aux Coudres is only to be used in emergencies. Well it turns out that the lines meant tidal rips, which of course do not exist in Lake Ontario. What is a tidal rip you ask?? It is where the sea bottom and the land features conspire to create a very fast current that can catch a large ship and push it around like a dinky toy. Seasoned mariners on the big ships know to either avoid these squiggly lines or approach them with great caution.

As it tuened out in our case we approached the current at full ebb, which is when the current was at its strongest flowing out to sea. Initially it was a quick ride, but at a place called Cap l'Abbatis the wind picked up considerably. Those of you who speak a French will realize that Cap L'Abbatis translates literrally as Cape Beaten Up. When I saw it on the chart, I thought that this was just one of the many colourful place names on the chart. Little did I know that in this case there was real reason for the name.

The St. Lawrence is oriented in a SW to NE direction, so when the tide is going out in the estuary, there are billions of gallons of water flowing at 3-6 knots in a NE direction. On the day we came through the wind piped up from 3-5 knots to over 20 knots out of the NE at, you guessed it, Cap L'Abbatis. We have all heard of standing waves, but you haven't lived until you have found your self in a situation where wind against tide creates 4-5 foot waves that look like the peaks in a bowl of whipped cream. It is impossible to steer with them or around them because they appear out of nowhere and disappear as quickly. Poor Threepenny Opera was like the proverbial Coyote running out over the cliff, when he suddenly realized there was no longer any support. We have been in situations where the boat slapped on the bow, but on this auspicious occasion we had most of the hull slapping into the water as the waves receded out from underneath the boat. We were like a giant wakeboard.

In the end we had about 90 minutes of this action and while it was uncomfortable, it was a huge confidence raiser, because now we know that ship and crew can hold together under some pretty uncomfortable conditions. Jest let me say that words like tidal rip, katabatic winds, and standing waves, are just glossary terms when you read them in the pages of Blue Water Sailing or Cruising World. They are a little different and much more acutely defined in the real world.

Fortunately for us the earlier part of our week was pretty easy. In the previous post, you know that we had spent 4 days in Pat's hometown of Trois Rivieres. Its a great town for boaters that has nice facilities both in the form of the municipal marina and in the many local anchorages in the river. I took advantage of the downtime in Trois Rivieres to get caught up on some boat chores and I now have a copper ground plane on the bottom of TPO. A nasty hot and dirty job to be sure, but worthwhile if we are to ever get our SSB to work properly.

On the trip from Trois Rivieres to Quebec City we got our first taste of working with the tides. All of the sailing directions specify a time to depart a location based on boat speed and the time of either the high or low tide at your destination. In the case of Trois Rivieres to Quebec City, a distance of 67 miles, we had to leave at 6.5 hours before the low tide at Quebec. By catching the tides right, we had a beautifully smooth sunny ride (no wind however) and covered the entire 67 miles in about 6 hours.

Quebec City was a tourist treat for Pat and me. After the weekend of family, and having people around all the time, it was good to catch a little downtime and see a few sights. This year is the 400th anniversay of the founding of Quebec City so the town was at its very best. What was so striking about the festivities was that everybody we met, from young to old were universally positive about their town and the arrangements that had been made to support the celebrations. A must see is the incredible Moulin a Images, in which the grain elevators in the old port are transformed into a HUGE 600 meter long multi-media show depicting the history of the city in animation, still images and 3D stereophonic sound....all for free!!!!

The Yacht Club de Quebec, QYC is one of the oldest in Canada. The current location is about 3kms upstream of the old city which means it is close enough to everything, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle. If you know the geography of Quebec City, you will find the QYC at the base of the extreme Western end of the Plains of Abraham. For Pat and me our welcoming committee consisted of Pierre, Claude and Charles, who were our slip mates on the Hunter 37.5 Impulsive. We didn't know it at the time, but our welcoming committee were all past and present flag officers of the club. Charles, as the current VC house, (Commodores Immoblieres)immediately offered to drive Pat and me into town, and in the process gave us a mini tour of places we needed to go and see.

Thanks guys for the hospitality, it won't be forgotten!!

We are off this morning for Tadoussac so hopefully we'll catch some whales on the way. I'm sure there are some more interesting things about cruising that we'll learn today and in the days to come. Right now we have to deal with the 9C water temps and the small craft warnings about wind on the nose. I guess we will find out what the warnings about arriving at the mouth of the Saguenay River at precisely the correct time are all about.

Until next time

"click on the pictures for the captions"


Carolyn said...

Well, I finally had a chance to log in and check out your adventures. Sound like you have had many that that it is only beginning. I am just realizing now how big an adventure you two are going on. Keep up the posts...I love them and the pictures. I am going to figure out how to get your site to automatically update me when there is a new entry.

Take of yourselves and stay away from squiggly lines.

Love, Carolyn

Pat & Addison said...

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