The St Lawrence

Written Sept 3-4, 2021, dates covered August 31 – Sept 4, 2021

One of my dreams has been to go out the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. I had this desire long before we owned or were even thinking of Rincon Feliz. Just one of those things. The Panama Canal, Great Barrier Reef and the mouth of the Amazon are three other “like to” for me. Nope, we are not going out the St. Lawrence on this trip. Not ready, not enough time and there is a Hurricane names Larry headed that general direction in any case. But, we are ON the St Lawrence in OUR boat. That is very cool to me.

Our first view of the St. Lawrence. Not as scary as it might seem. Just water. Many places in the St Lawrence are not so deep. And, there are lots of islands and little channels. Not what I think about as a big meandering water course. There is a very minor tide here of a few inches even though nearly 500 miles from the Atlantic.

Getting here

I’ve explained the basic route from New York City to the Saint Lawrence. The piece in Canada is the Richelieu  River, through the Chambly Canal and the St. Ours Canal where the Richelieu dumps into the St. Lawrence. Apparently the Richelieu  is the biggest tributary on the south bank of the St. Lawrence, originating in the western slopes of the Green Mountains and the eastern slopes of the Adirondack Mountains. The Champlain Valley makes up most of the drainage basin.

Not a wide canal. Lots of our-of-use bridges and then new ones in place.
Sometimes, the river is right beside you. And, there is a nice bike path (the old tow path?) And, A road on the left side. No necessarily always in the hinter lands, but pretty.
And I mentioned it is not deep, not wide. It had enough depth, but one did not want to get too far off to either side. That orange ball is attached to the side of our boat. We don’t normally run with them, but when we are going through lots of locks and narrow bridges, they just get left out.
The 2nd of the three locks heading into Chambly. There are 3 more leaving town.

The Chambly Canal is a series of 9 locks that take you around the rapids on the Richelieu. Very narrow and old locks. There are several towns along the way where we stopped breaking the trip into several pieces, although the whole route is only 11 miles long, if you just do it in one piece, it takes 3 – 5 hours due to the speed limit to protect the canal banks. I’ve already mentioned St Jean at Lock 9. Our next stop was above Lock 3 in Chambly.

Chambly is actually only about 30 miles from Montreal, although by water is nearly a 110 mile journey. Chambly is clearly a weekend playground from folks from Montreal. Quite vibrant, well-to-do and more lively than St. Jean.

A very nice spot to tie up, right in town. It would have been perfect except for the flood lights at night.

We spent a couple days here as we are moving slowly, partially as we can’t get into our marina in downtown Montreal until Monday due to the Labor Day holiday (yes, Canada celebrates a similar Labor Day 3-day weekend.) We made a visit to Fort Chambly, one of the multiple forts between the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain that were controled by the Americans, British or French depending upon the fort and the specific war or time period. This one had some very good exhibits talking aobut life in the forts during various times, food, clothing and how one ended up there.

A 1600’s solder uniform. Winter or summer. Man, that would be hot in summer.
The rapids of the Richielu River just outside Fort Chambly. This would not be easy in a boat! Glad they have the little narrow canal. The early solders had to portage this portion. That would be hard with our boat!

The next morning we headed down the last three locks, into the Chambly basin and then back in the Richelieu, headed for the St. Ours Lock, our last before our return journey south. The plan was th stop just south of the lock. The Richelieu is wide here and provides the impression of a grand river.

Entering the last 3 locks. You basically drive from one lock, directly into the next. All hand cranked. Entering the top lock, a car bridge opens and you enter the lock. Snazzy.

The St. Ours Lock, built in 1849 was replaced in the 1930’s with a lock more in keeping with the Champlain locks. The goal to make the shipping easier between Montreal and New York. Alas, the lock was built, but the rails took control of the shipments between the two cities making the lock somewhat obsolete. But, Parks Canada maintains it for personal water traffic and historical significance. A more civilized lock in that you tie to a dock in the lock, and the dock rises or lowers with you. Just like with floating docks and a tide. We loved this!

So civilized. We were dropping in the lock while paying above. We were not even on the boat!
In one way, this part of Canada reminds be of Mexico. Every small town has a very grand church. These churches are very prominent along the lower Richelieu. In some cases, a church like this is on each side of the river.

On towards the St. Ours Canal

We had a lovely, quite night at St. Ours and some pretty good nachos and in the morning croissants before heading to our marina in Sorel-Tracy. Now a bit of a backtrack. Back in Chambly, I called the marina and the guy on the phone told me, “nope, he does not speak English.” A Quebecois through-and-through. Hum, my French is definitely not up to the task (almost non-existent.) We have stopped at the marina in Chambly to take on water. The young woman at the marina speaks quite good English. And we’d already spent time showing her our boat and chatting while the tanks filled. We ask her to call the marina for us which she does and gets us set up for one night. Everything is booked here as well as Montreal due to the holiday.

The very tiny gas dock (water fill for us) at the bottom of the last lock in the Chambly Canal.


Now…. we have to call the marina on arrival and find out where to park our boat. We call…. Same guy, no he does not speak English. I TRY sorting this in ”French” to no avail. I had been practicing typing phrases into Google translate, knowing full well they would be of no use when the time came. He finally succumbs and has someone who speaks some English come to the phone to help us figure out where to dock. Whew! We think we know where we need to dock. In we come to the marina…. We definitely do not understand as the spot we though we were going is occupied. Pull into the gas dock which is right in front of us.

Talk to the English speaker, figure out where to go. Jim and I walk the dock and talk about how to do this. This is a small marina and it is tight. But, it is do-able. Several folks from boats say they will be there to help as needed to get us in.

A tight fit, but we made it. Clearly the biggest boat in the marina, but not the most expensive. Lots of kudos for this docking.

It was tight. But boat neighbors helped from the docks to let us know how much space we had forward as we tucked in. Lots of very nice folks in this marina, chatting us up and offering anchoring advice as we only have one night here and 3 nights before Montreal.

We walk into town to give it a look. Again, this is a town that understands river-walks. Peetty walks along the St. Lawrence. We find downtown and it is Gib-Fest! A Summer festival of food, music, arts and revelry. We stop to visit some artists, buy some jewelry and Jim has to buy the John Deere winter cap, complete with pompom. We have a John Deere engine in Rincon Feliz., so he MUST HAVE the hat! How could he not? The woman tells us about gibelotte a tomato stew of veggies with fish, the namesake of Gib-fest.

Jim getting his John Deer winter hat with pom-pom.

We seek out food, drink, music and new friends. Gibelotte is very tasty, the local beers are good. Conversation ensues. JP the General manger JP engages us. Not many outsiders so we stand out by not being local and… our English. Good conversations. He calls the commodore of the marina and helps to arrange for another night for us at the marina. Remember, this is a packed weekend, where they DO NOT have space. But, miraculously today, we do have a second night which is so nice and what we wanted. Sadly, we did not go back for tonight’s Gib-fest. Ready to hang closer to home.

The marina kept filling as the day went on.

We had boat cleaning to do. Although we are the biggest boat here, there are lots of expensive and nice boats here. Everyone, as they showed up today for the long weekend, washed their boats. We don’t want to be the dirty boat. Even though everyone as being so nice chatting us up and asking about our boat. And, we have the mast back up, thanks to others in the marina’s help! But, the boat deck is so dirty. So, a boat wash, a trip the the grocery and lots of watching as more and more boats arrive. Many are here for the day, then out for partying in Il de Grace (a small bay), then some back for the night, some out all night, then out again.

Most of the boats were occupied and many were headed out for the party at Il de Grace. Heading up river today (Sept 4th) we must have see 100 boats heading down river seemingly towards the party. Glad we were headed the other direction.
A few of the boats headed down river for the party. We’ve heard there might be hundreds of boats there! Crazy.

We have been warned to steer clear unless we want to party hearty and be stuck with hundreds of boats in tight quarters for the whole weekend. Not out gig. We have been told of a couple of quite place we can go to anchor out for a couple nights before heading to Montreal. Looking forward to some down time.


The St Lawrence — 1 Comment