June 15-18, 2012
Got up in the morning in Rouses Point, NY, ready to finally head into Canada. But as I was charting the course, suddenly the chart disappeared from our electronic chart plotter. Nothing there! I had a bit of a meltdown, but fortunately we were able to reach Bruce at Deltaville Boatyard, who had installed our system and trained us on it. He reminded us that the Canadian charts were loaded but were a different type than the US charts, and we simply needed to push a few buttons and all was restored! I finished plotting our course and off we went to the border. less than a mile away.
After days of fretting about what Customs might do or ask, and whether we might have a problem with either the dogs’ papers or the bottles of wine on board, it couldn’t have been easier. Very nice Customs guy who really only cared about whether we had any guns on board. Didn’t look at the dogs’ papers (although he did offer to keep Bailey if she wanted to skip the rest of the trip) and never asked about wine. He also gave us no documentation that we had been through Customs, and said we didn’t need anything. I hope that’s true, but we aren’t going to worry about that now. They do have our boat registration info on record, if we should ever be questioned again.
This also began our travels through French-speaking Quebec, an additional challenge. Our charts are primarily in French, and if understanding people on the ship’s radio was sometimes difficult in English, it’s impossible when they’re talking French! We did find that most of the bridge tenders and lockmasters spoke more than adequate English, though, so mostly we had no problems.
Most of our trip on the Richelieu River passed through residential areas, with houses lining both sides of the river. As we looked more closely, though, we could see that on the other side of the houses was farmland. The “neighborhoods” were just long rows of homes fronting the river. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had a pleasant ride.
Midway through the Richelieu River is the ten mile stretch of the Chambly Canal, a series of 9 historic locks, all but one still operated by hand as they were when the canal opened in 1843. There are also seven very low swing bridges that must be opened to allow boats to pass. The locks are small – 110 feet long and 22 feet wide – and easy to use, except when more than one boat is in the lock at the same time, which is the norm. Very close quarters! But the lockkeepers are very friendly and helpful, and they got us through without a scratch every time.
The first lock on the north-bound route is at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, another picturesque town with lots of shops and restaurants along the canal. As we pulled into the lock we were surprised to be greeted by Ralph and Celeste of Say Good-Bye. Celeste took pictures of us as we went through the lock. At this first Canadian lock we purchased our season pass for all the locks and mooring walls that we will use throughout the next five or six weeks in Canada. In addition to buying our passes, we also got to ride the lock down and up and down again because something wasn’t quite right the first time. While we waited in the lock, the very friendly lockmaster brought out two large dog biscuits. In typical fashion, Joey ate both.
Say Good-Bye was tied up at the mooring wall just below the lock and we tied there as well. What a pleasant spot! The old towpath (for the horses that used to pull the barges through the canal) has been converted to a walking and bike path that is very well used by the locals. Someone told me you can bike on this path all the way to Quebec City.
If Joey were writing this blog, I think he might say this was his favorite stop so far. He spent several hours lying on the deck and watching the people go by. Bailey still mostly prefers to peek out from inside.
The next morning we traveled the 10 miles of the canal, heading for our next destination, the town of Chambly, where we would meet up with Jackets II and 20 Buck$ again. We had a short wait at the first swing bridge, so the bridge keeper directed us to the fruit and vegetable market across the street, where we bought several goodies, including some just-picked local strawberries. There were several other swing or lift bridges along the way, but we didn’t experience any other waits. All the bridges and locks are in communication so they know exactly which boats are traveling through and they keep things moving along very well, at least this time of year before the heavy summer traffic starts.
The final eight locks are within 1.2 miles, so you really feel that you move from one immediately into the next. Most lockkeepers on the Chambly mind at least two locks, so when they have finished locking you through one lock, they jump into a golf cart type of vehicle and race to meet you at the next lock, where they give you the lock lines and then crank the lock mechanism by hand. They are very busy folks, but also very good natured.
There is usually a cluster of walkers and cyclists gathered to watch the lock procedure. One family with two cute little girls followed us for several locks, with the girls racing us on their bicycles.
We stopped for the night at the town of Chambly at the lock wall above the final three locks, which are joined like a staircase and literally run one into the next. Chambly is a very pretty summer resort community with a large lake on the other side of the locks. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant on the lake and I had my first taste of “poutine” a traditional French-Canadian dish that consists of french fries mixed with mozzarella-like cheese curds and gravy poured over the whole thing. Very healthy! I could eat only a small amount and brought the rest home to mix in with the dogs’ puppy chow over the next several days. They loved it!
After lunch we got out our bikes and rode to the restored Fort Chambly and along the historic streets along the river. We needed some exercise after the poutine!
These are the rapids the locks are designed to bypass.
That evening we all went to dinner to celebrate Stephen’s birthday. It was a really fun day.
The next morning we experienced the adventure of the stair-step locks. It’s an odd feeling to stand at the front of the boat and look down into the next three locks. It took us almost an hour to get through the three locks, but we chatted with people on shore throughout the process.
After the lake at Chambly, we were back into the Richelieu River again, which was packed with speedy, smaller pleasure boats who had little regard for “rules of the road” or even common courtesy in some cases. It was like dodging bumper cars in places.
We passed many small towns with churches with distinctive silver steeples.
Our last stop on the Richelieu River was at the lock at St. Ours. Jackets and Blue Heron tied up at the lock wall below the lock and enjoyed the very large and pretty park there. The dogs loved having a place to run. It was Father’s Day, so we enjoyed a nice wine time on the bridge and Wolf-burgers on the grill.
All while we watched Stephen wash his boat!
The next morning, we headed to Montreal. As we approached the St. Lawrence River at Sorel, we entered into the world of a busy commercial waterway again. We also passed the eastern-most point on the Loop. It wasn’t very scenic!
Entering the old port of Montreal where we were to dock for the next couple of days, we had to deal with the very strong current against us, almost 6 knots, or 7 miles per hour. A traditional trawler, topping out at 7-9 knots, would have a very difficult time there. We found it “exciting,” but very manageable. Once we entered the harbor where our marina was located, though, everything became totally calm. We stayed at Port D’Escale, a really top-notch marina right at the base of Old Montreal, right where any visitor would want to be. We loved it!
Next – Fun in Montreal. and you don’t want to miss Craig’s debut as a street performer!