Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Pining for the fjords

We are under way downbound on the Saguenay River, or, more appropriately, fjord. Today is our third day on the fjord, and it is stunningly beautiful here. Today it's raining gently and there is a mist in the hills, for a different sort of beauty than we had our first two days.

Downbound on the Saguenay fjord, with the mist creeping in from the hills.

After my last post Saturday we enjoyed a fair tide most of the way to the Saguenay, where the extensive maze of shoals and the mixing currents of the two rivers make for a difficult-to-predict current. As we navigated the bar our speed dropped rapidly, from over seven knots all the way down to less than half that. As planned we arrived at the turn of the tide, and after completing our wide sweeping turn to port the tide was again with us the rest of the way to the harbor.

We had the anchor down in Tadoussac Bay (map) by 3pm, dropping in 85' of water with 210' of chain. Our windlass is certainly getting a workout here in the fjord. We had good holding, and after a bit of relaxation aboard, we dropped the tender and headed ashore for dinner.

Vector at anchor in Tadoussac Bay. The other boats you see are on moorings, and are actually much closer to shore than we are

The seawater temperature had dropped to 43°F as we made our turn into the river, from 70°F when we left Isle-aux-Coudres in the morning. That gave us some concerns about whether we'd be able to run the reverse-cycle heat, as the air temperature had also dropped into the 50s. Fortunately, by the time we made Tadoussac the water had warmed up to 50° and the air was in the 70s. Still, that water is deadly cold, and we wore our life jackets for deck operations and in the tender.

The cafe served drafts from the local microbrewery, which we passed on our way up the hill.

We tied up at the local marina for a $10cdn landing fee and strolled through town. This is a tourist destination, centered around the whale-watching business, with a resort hotel in the middle of town, a marine mammal center, and several shops and eateries. We ended up at a nice outside table at Café Bohème. Afterward we walked a few doors down to the épicerie to pick up some fresh veggies and a few other provisions.

We had a very calm and quiet night, the only boat on anchor. In the morning as we sipped our coffee we were treated to a pod of belugas feeding across the river. Too far for a photo, but we watched them quite a while through our glasses. Afterward we spent some time taking the online course and getting our boating certificates from the park, wherein we learned quite a bit about the several species of whales that frequent here, and the extensive regulations in place to protect them.

Starting our upbound journey into the fjord.

The tidal current here is difficult to forecast, but with the best information we had, we weighed anchor at 11:30 for the trip upriver to Baie-Éternité, which we had heard is perhaps the most beautiful spot in the entire park. And by park, I mean at the same time the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, which comprises the water and is administered by Parks Canada, and the Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay, which is a provincial park that comprises the land. The Quebecois call their provincial parks "parcs national" because, well, Quebec.

It is a remote and inaccessible landscape, and the aids to navigation are maintained by helicopter. You can see the helipad to the left of the light tower.

We learned in our online course that the Baie-Sainte-Marguerite was a breeding/calfing/nursing ground for the belugas, the only species that spends the entire year here. The bay is off-limits to boats, and in the river it is required to keep moving past the entrance a a speed of five to ten knots. We did see dozens of belugas there, including some calves, and at one point a pod surfaced less than 400 meters from us, necessitating a course correction to proceed directly away from them and open the gap.

As we passed Anse St-Jean, whose marina is the upriver turnaround for many cruising boats, we were approached by a park ranger patrol boat. We had heard about this ahead of time; they visit every arriving pleasure boat to educate them about the rules. They seemed quite pleased that we had already taken the online class, so they just took some information and handed us a map of the Marine Park showing the various restrictions.

Reminiscent of Yosemite Valley, our view up the Éternité Valley from the bay. The campground is a mile in and 300' up.

We had a very enjoyable cruise through the fjord, in depths that, at times, exceeded 850', according to the chart (our sounder only works to about 350'). The fjord itself is much deeper, thousands of feet, but millions of years of erosion have filled in the vee with rock and sediment. At Cap Éternité, which is across the river from Cap Liberté, Cap Egalité, and Cap Fraternité (I'm sure there's a motto of a fraternal order in there), we turned to port and entered  Baie-Éternité.

The cliffs dominate the view from our aft deck If you zoom in you can see the cable bridge of the Via Ferrata to the right of our flag.

It is just as beautiful as we had heard, and after hunting around a bit, we found a spot in 110' of water to drop the anchor (map) on 250' of chain. There used to be a few mooring balls here for boat-in visitors, but they fell into disrepair and the park removed them. We had the entire bay almost to ourselves, with one sailboat a half mile from us anchored on a 20' ledge that seemed, to our eye, perilously close to the rocks.

We had a lovely dinner on the aft deck just completely immersed in the experience. In the evening we could faintly smell the campfires from the campground a mile distant, but all we could hear was the sound of an unseen brook emptying into the bay. It was so dark that the sky was filled with stars. I could see satellites whizzing by overhead, four Jovian moons, Mars, and one of the best views of the milky way I have ever experienced.

Passing the statue of Mary as we head upriver.

There is a small dock to get ashore here, with access to a small "discovery center" and numerous trails. Most climb hundreds of meters to lookout points, and one leads to the Statue of Notre-Dame-du-Saguenay, perched some 590' above the river on Cap Trinité since 1881. Had we time to spend a second night I might have gone ashore, but with no time for any hikes we opted to forego the $9.25 park entrance fee and just enjoyed the scenery from on board. Our night in Baie-Éternité ranks as one of the most beautiful in our decade of cruising.

This diminutive tug pulling two wood chip barges upriver passed Baie Éternité just as we left, and we passed him here, further upriver.

While many of the small handful of cruising boats that come this far turn around at this point, we opted to see the entire length of the park by continuing upriver, and so yesterday morning we weighed anchor with the tide and continued upriver to the enormous fork in the fjord at Cap a l'Ouest, where we stayed to the left to enter Baie des Ha! Ha! (Ha! Ha! Bay -- really). At the head of the bay is the La Baie district of Saguenay and the industrial Port Alfred.

This monument to the nearby air base is made from locally produces aluminum; the Alcan plant is a major industry in Saguenay.

After passing an enormous freighter anchored in the bay, perhaps just twenty minutes from our destination, the autopilot pump slowed to a crawl and, a few seconds later, several instruments went dead. Our 12 volt battery system was reading low voltage, even though our main 24 volt batteries were full. Normally we would drop the anchor to deal with such a situation, but that was not an option in nearly 400'. I handed the conn over to Louise and scrambled down to the engine room.

Vector at anchor in the distance, with the end of the cruise pier and city dock at right, gives a sense of scale to the enormous bay.

As I had guessed, one of the fuses on the voltage converter had blown, leaving the 12 volt battery to run everything with  no charging source. I bridged the engine starting batteries over to get us to the anchorage. There we hunted around until we found an undersea promontory that was only 70' deep and dropped the hook (map), a short tender ride from the La Baie city docks, attached to the cruise ship pier. We could not get any information about these docks before our arrival, and so after replacing the blown fuse and getting settled, we splashed the tender and I headed there stag to scope things out.

The modern cruise terminal building. Lots of small ships and a couple of large ones call here.

No one ashore seemed to know anything about the docks, either, although the locals seem to use them at will for day docks. Someone in the visitor information center attached to the cruise port finally reached the dockmaster and I got permission to tie up. The docks are very nice and very modern, and we presume they really exist not for transients, but for the endless parade of tour boats that inevitably will arrive to service the cruise ships when they are in town.

I walked the entire port area, which is not very large, scoping out the half dozen restaurants and enjoying the nice waterfront park. I also stopped in the "general store" to pick up some beer using my rusty French -- I was OK until they tried to sell me lottery tickets and I had to ask them to speak more slowly. Having been misled by the cold temperatures at the mouth of the river, I was overdressed for walking in what turned out to be the high 80s in town, so I made it a short visit.

Vector looking like a toy boat set on the cruise pier between two bollards.

We returned together at dinner time for a casual meal on the patio at Au Pavillon Noir, with a very modern interior but an oddly pirate-themed menu. We had the "cochonne" pizza, which in Quebec is what is sometimes called a "garbage" pizza in the US. The English-language menu they handed us called it the "Loaded Gun" (keeping with the pirate theme), but when we had Google translate the French version ahead of time, the only one on the web site, it helpfully translated it as "slut pizza" and so, of course, that's the one we had to have.

Passing a bit further away on our return trip puts the statue of Mary in more context.

This morning we weighed anchor with the tide for the return trip. equally as beautiful as the upbound journey. The small amount of rain we had overnight and this morning has energized quite a number of small waterfalls down the cliff faces, too distant and obscure to photograph. We have our sights set on a small cove for the night at L'Anse de Roche, where Google says there is a small cafe. Tomorrow we will exit the fjord and continue downriver on the St. Lawrence.


  1. Wow, amazing! Love the description of the night sky. How much chain do you carry? I noticed a couple of 2 or 3 to one scopes. I wonder what is necessary for this trip...

    1. Good catch. That's a complex question; the easy part is that we carry 400' of 1/2" chain in a single, uninterrupted length. As far as scope, "it's complicated." With so much chain we often put out more than we need; I'm not sure where I heard this expression: "It ain't doin' no good sittin' in the locker." But as you well know, there are often reasons why you can't put out as much as you'd like, for example because of other vessels in the anchorage, or limited swing room due to depth or other obstructions. When we were new, we bought the party line and tried to keep to a minimum of 7:1, but over time we learned that was way overkill for our boat and tackle. We now consider 7:1 to be for gale force, and 10:1 for tropical storms.

      Nowadays we scope for the expected conditions during our stay, plus some safety margin. Since we're aboard nearly full-time, a tight alarm circle lets us sleep soundly. In a decade I can count on both hands the number of times we've dragged. And I believe you are familiar with the worst of those: we had scoped for benign conditions for a short stay in a fairly crowded anchorage, and simply failed to increase that scope for forecast storm conditions when an unexpected hospitalization extended that stay considerably.

      All of that is a long-winded way of getting to the fact that we "normally" put out 4:1, and sometimes as little as 3:1 in a tight anchorage in settled weather. But to the meat of your question: everything changes in deep water. With a quarter ton of ground tackle out, we consider 3:1 to be excellent scope in depths of 70'+, and 4:1 would be for heavier weather. The deeper the water, the less scope required, and we figure our 400' of chain to be good, in a pinch, for depths to 200'.

      The reason we have to stick to 3:1 or less here is simple: the mid-bay depths around here exceed 350' and we've seen as much as 600'. We're having to hunt around on the edges for places where we think there's some mud, sand, or silt, but also a gradual enough slope to get some purchase. The slopes are steep, and we've had to reject several spots because even 2:1 would have our swing circle overlapping the shore.

      In Baie-Eternite, we found a ~100' deep spot that was close to 300' from "shore" (an area that covers and uncovers in the 16' tide swing) so we were able to put out about 2.5:1 and still have some safety margin if we swung over toward shore. With 400 pounds of steel on the bottom and another 250 pounds hanging straight down, we slept quite soundly. Last night we dropped the hook in 25 knot winds, and we put out 250' in about 80' of water, or over 3:1, and the hook set quite aggressively. This morning we found ourselves just a boatlength from someone on a mooring; any more scope and we might have touched (we set the hook very precisely to give us the swing room from the moorings, which were taking up all the good spots in shallower water).

  2. Baie-Éternité ---- GOOSEBUMPS :)


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