Art galleries, Jazz concerts and smoked meat sandwiches aren’t usually the first things you associate with a boat trip – but this year’s PDQ Flotilla from Whitby to the Hudson River took a turn from the usual and headed into Montreal, North America’s first-class European city.
It has become a Spring rite of passage in Whitby. On May 18, 12 Powercats left on the 3rd Annual Spring Flotilla on a 3-hour trip east to Cobourg. From there, 8 boats headed south along the Erie Canal and 4 continued east to Kingston and Montreal – where they connected with the Chambly canal, into Lake Champlain and the Champlain Canal System.
Before leaving on the flotillas, new owners participated in PDQ U – learning about their boat’s systems from industry professionals. Representatives from Yanmar engines, Northern Lights generators and Raymarine electronics were on hand to give presentations. PDQ’s ABYC certified electrician Dan Rankin also gave an in-depth presentation on the Powercat’s electrical systems.
Long-time boat owners and veteran cruisers Larry and Sharon Duhaime were also on hand to answer first-hand questions about traveling in the Bahamas and to share tips on cruising and living aboard the Powercat.
Building on the success of last year’s Confident Navigation for Women program – there were two boats on the water to teach new owners how to handle their new PDQs. Captain Nanette Kruze lead several groups of women on a hands-on training session on boat maneuvering. This year, the program was expanded in include a separate program for men – some of whom where new to maneuvering with twin engines.
With spirits high and motors revving, the flotilla of 12 boats left for Cobourg at noon – practicing various formations and getting used to traveling as a group. Attendants from the Cobourg marina where on hand to meet us at the city docks – where everyone celebrated their first leg of the trip with a traditional French-Canadian meal of Tortiere and maple baked beans at the Cobourg Yacht Club.
The flotilla of 8 boats lead by Dick and Carol Tuschick from Rhumb Line Yacht Sales crossed Lake Ontario in a record 4-1/2 hours to Oswego where they cleared immigration and went through the first canal on their journey down the NY Canal System (see 3rd Annual Flotilla).
Heading east 120 NM toward Kingston, the remaining 4 boats were set on their first leg of what would be a 10-day journey to Waterford, NY. The participants in this Flotilla were Howard and Carol Petrea aboard Cinghaile, Bob and Beth Jones aboard The Hye Life, Steve and Ann Hancy with crew members Rich and Genie aboard Day Dreamer, and Mike Heier and Lisa Koslowski with crew member Ken aboard Row Day-O. Of course, the usual suspects were Rob Poirier and yours truly, Salwa Farah from PDQ.
We traveled into the Bay of Quinte via the Murry Canal – a protected waterway that bypasses the series of islands in Prince Edward County. The attendants at the Murry Canal hold out a well-seasoned brass bucket tied to the end of a stick where you drop $4 to go through the canal. Indecently, they do give change. Crossing several swing bridges, the Murry Canal takes you into Trenton – the start of the Trent-Severn Waterway.
We continued east to Kingston, a one-time capital of Canada steeped in a rich history and vibrant culture. Our first impressions where to the Royal Military College and Fort Henry – set on the banks of the St. Lawrence River – a vital trading route. The original fort was built during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the US but has since turned into a tourist attraction for Americans!
We docked in Confederation Basin in the heart of Kingston and meandered into town for dinner – some dined at Chez Piggy’s – a Kingston institution started by Zal Yanovsky, a member of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Others dined at Windmills Café, another highly recommended restaurant. In addition to the Royal Military College, Kingston is also home to Queen’s University, which brings with it a vibrancy and arts culture similar to Annapolis, MD. Also similar to Annapolis, is the proximity to some of the best boating in the area.
The next day would take us into the 1000 Islands, and what qualifies as an island is at times an outcrop of rocks with a handful of pines perched on them. Of course, the 1000 Islands are one of the best tourist destinations.
Once through the Islands, we headed into our first locks – the Iroquois lock, and the Eisenhower and Snell locks – each with a 40-foot drop. These locks were built in the late 1950’s and link to the uppermost portion of the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes and are suited for large, industrial ship traffic. Unlike the Erie canal, the locks are equipped with floating buoys recessed into the wall for securing a line amidships.
We docked at the Cornwall Town Marina, which had helpful staff and good marina facilities. That evening, Rusty and Carol Petrea, aboard their Powercat Cinghaile, put together a wine tasting evening – featuring some of the finest Italian vintages. The Petreas import wines from various Italian regions and are extremely qualified connoisseurs.
Mike Heier and Lisa Kozlowski cooked up a fabulous meal of Trinidadian-style rice pilaf and spicy shrimp. It wasn’t long before the music of Patsy Cline and Ray Charles was playing in the background and everyone began to share their stories of how they chose their boat names. Bob and Beth Jones’ The Hye Life was inspired by Hye, Texas where they have a ranch. The Caribbean Islands/Calgary inspired the name Row Day-O, Cinghaile, which means wild boar in Italian, hails back to the Petrea’s time spent in Italy, and Day Dreamer, well, that speaks for itself.
An early morning departure would take us the 60 NM distance into Old Montreal. We passed through 4 more industrial canals to lock through, including the Upper and Lower Beauharnois, Cote Ste. Catherine and St. Lambert locks – all of which required us to raft up in pairs. With the exception of the Beauharnois locks, the rest of the locks require you to lock to the starboard side.
Once at the lock, you will find a designated pleasure craft dock where a reporting-in telephone is located. By the way, there’s no sense in passing freighters on the canals with the expectation of getting through before them – all industrial traffic takes priority in the locks as we learned after being delayed at two locks.
We arrived in Montreal at 6:00 that evening and docked right in the old city at the Port d’Escale marina – a highly recommended destination, which has excellent facilities and an extremely helpful bi-lingual staff.
It was here that we realized that it is something greater than time that dictates the speed in which you travel – in this case, it was the 40-km winds from the East and 4knot currents coming from the opposite direction that allowed us the opportunity to extend our stay for 3 days in Montreal and discover the many charms of an old European city with a clearly distinct culture unlike any other in North America.
Montreal is a perfect balance between old and new – the cobbled streets of old Montreal are lined with heritage buildings dating back from the 1700s and are a mix of humble wooden taverns and brick-faced buildings to the more imposing pillared structures housing financial institutions and civic centers.
Of course, Montreal is host of many vibrant cultural events – from jazz, theatre and comedy festivals to exceptional art galleries and exhibitions – including the home-base for the world famous Circe De Soleil troupe, which incidentally is adjacent to the Port d’Escale – Montreal is a city with a lot to offer – including fine dining…
While smoked meat may not be considered haute cuisine, the world famous Schwartz’s deli on Rue St. Laurent is the place for smoked meat sandwiches for anyone willing to brave the line-ups. Established in 1928, Schwartz’s décor has hardly changed but the energy and vibe of the place is compelling.
For those with a finer palate, Gibbys, set in a 200 year old building serves the best steak in town, Restaurant Du Vieux-Port, one of Montreal’s most popular restaurants, and Modavie – a restaurant serving Mediterranean food and live jazz all come highly recommended.
The extra day also gave us a chance to hike up Mount Royal for some of the most impressive panoramas of the city – old and new. Incidentally, we could clearly see the white caps on the St. Lawrence River from even that far distance! While the hike is highly recommended, you can also reach these vistas by taxi.
It wasn’t until Tuesday at 3:00 pm that the winds had died down enough and the waters had calmed for us to leave Montreal. We headed further east on the St. Lawrence River towards Sorel, Quebec where we would start heading south along the Richelieu River.
We docked at Parc Bellerive, a trailer park/marina located 3NM upriver from Saint-Ours Canal. Steve and Ann Hancy aboard Day Dreamer treated us with a fantastic pasta dish. Everyone reflected on how wonderful our stay in “France” was, and what a truly unique city Montreal was.
The next day, we caught the first 8:30 lock opening. Completed in 1849, the Saint-Ours canal was later rebuilt in 1929 to accommodate larger barges and compliment the Erie Canal System. This project was abandoned – and never reached the same scale or traffic as the NY Canal System.
Again, this canal is different than any other – and is perhaps the easiest one to lock through. A floating dock lined with bumpers fends the boats while Parks Canada staff greets you to help you tie up. You hardly feel the lock filling as you walk around the dock and socialize with other boaters.
This lock was to be our last lock as a group of four until Essex, NY where we would meet up with Day Dreamer again. The 8 narrow locks on the historic Chambly Canal system can only accommodate 2 Powercats, and because we were cruising in the pre-summer boating season, the canal system only operated twice a day.
We bid adieu to Row Day-O and Day Dreamer and docked in Chambly until the next locking at 8:30 am. Chambly is a typical small Quebec town and is the setting to Fort Chambly – a historic fort dating back to 1711 built on the banks of the Richelieu River, at the foot of the Chambly Rapids and marks a clear presence of the French in North America.
With fender boards secured and boat hooks in hand, the remaining two boats set off down the Chambly Canal the next morning. Throughout the trip, no two locks have been the same. In the case of the Chambly locks, the attendant would toss you two lines – one at the bow and one astern. It’s a good idea to lower your fenders to the waterline – with fender boards to keep the wall away from the boat.
Like the Rideau Canal, these locks are hand cranked open and close by attendants who travel all the way up the canal for the next 5 locks on golf carts. The Chambly Canal is quite narrow and you have to pay particular attention to the very narrow channels at the swing bridges. Because the bridges only open at specific time, the “flying bridge” master will follow you by car from lock 8 to the last lock, adjusting your speed to coordinate it with the bridge openings until you reach the last lock.
The Chambly Canal is lined with gentle, pastoral landscape dotted by old sliver-tinned church steeples and the distant outline of Mont St. Hilaire. We arrived in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richeleau in time for the 12:30 drawbridge opening where we left the narrow, winding channels behind and headed into the open waters of Lake Champlain.
From there, we had another 21 NM to travel to Rouses Point where we cleared customs without a hitch and Rusty and Carol Petrea picked up another 3 cases of fine Italian wine!
Under overcast skies, we traveled another 49 NM to Essex, NY – a very quaint little town that seems to belong in a Norman Rockwell painting. We docked at the Essex Marina, which had excellent and clean facilities and was within walking distance to all the little historic buildings and restaurants in town.
The next day, the 3 remaining Powercats headed toward the Champlain locks. But first, we would travel perhaps some of the most gorgeous coastline of the trip – the lower part of Lake Champlain. Rugged rocks and lush forests lined the Adirondacks edging Lake Champlain – a very popular summer boating and camping destination.
Open waters gave way to marshy channels lush with bird life and eventually to a familiar landscape similar to the Erie Canal. We reached Whitehall – the location of lock #12 and a one-time Naval Ship factory. From here we began our accumulative climb of 44-feet before our 139-foot descent into the Hudson River.
While we could have easily locked through the entire system in one day, we chose to stay in Schuylerville, just below lock 5, for the evening. Not exactly a town to boast about, we did find a little Italian restaurant in town.
The early morning sun quickly burned off the fog on the river before we left the docks and made our cruise out of the Champlain Canal System. With only 12 locks, including the federal lock at Troy, the Champlain Canal has a fraction of locks compared to the Erie Canal, which meet at the confluence of rivers in Waterford.
This was our parting destination – where Rob and I began our journey north to Canada and the Flotilla of 3 boats headed toward their last lock at Troy where they would eventually go on to their home ports in North Carolina, Florida and Texas. It was another exceptional Flotilla, and yes, we all successfully Cheated Death!