How can this article be connected to the Thousand Islands? For starters, we thought it was a great idea to take our little bow-rider that already provided tens of hours of joy in the Thousand Islands, on a road trip to the Saguenay River and Fjord to "watch the whales."
Within a day, it is possible to reach Chicoutimi (end of the deepwater) while staying under the legal speed limit. We took the inland route through the mountains and marveled at the excellent roads, versus the obnoxious potholes of Montreal, Trois-Rivieres, and Québec City.
The next morning, we headed to the boat ramp and learned that with four meters of tide, it is advisable to stay in the exact middle of the marked channel and to wait for the afternoon high water. If, like us, you travel without charts, you may, like us, find it helpful to click on the steering wheel on the yacht club's website, and find the local charts https://marinachicoutimi.com/fr
All of the ramps are much steeper than those in Gananoque, Ivy Lea, and Rockport combined, accommodating the tide while staying reasonably compact. You may think that the parking situation is a bit of a challenge at "our" ramps; how about parking your trailer 3km away in the church parking lot if you decide to use the ramp in L'Anse St-Jean because space is so tight and the area is so popular? The ramp in Sainte-Rose-du-Nord looks like a table tilted to 45 degrees, with no room for error ... So instead of saying goodbye to our transportation, we sat on the dock, scanning the waters for whales, and nibbling away at French Fries.
Off to Shipshaw, being upriver and past the tidal water, it should be easier to drop the boat. On the way, your attention is sucked-in by the enormous aluminum works. The river provides abundant hydroelectric power to process the bauxite brought up from South America. The not-so-steep ramp is free to use, as well as a parking lot, and we had the boat in the water in no time. The locals instructed us that the dam is to our left, and to our right, the water is clear and deep all the way to Alma. So off we went.
What a difference from the hustle and bustle of the Thousand Islands; you are suddenly all by yourself in this world of mountain cliffs thick with forest. Every now and then, there is a steep path that leads to a single residence. Floatplanes dot the shore, coming closer to Alma. It is there that the trip ends either at the small or big falls but just before the falls is a ski lift. It must look fabulous in the winter, when the river is frozen! https://maneige.ski/en/stations/centre-de-ski-mont-villa-saguenay/.
We saw a total of three other boats during the rest of our trip, and with the sun setting, we packed up happy and tired.
One of the trailer tires had started to bulge a bit, so we scheduled a change at the shop where coincidentally, our retired RCMP cruiser had received its last oil change before going to auction. The next day, with rain scheduled, had us visiting the Musée du Fjord in La Baie de Ha!Ha! (Yes, that is the real name!)
Dominated by the sulfur works, it now also features a dock for cruise ships. It was all tranquil, and we enjoyed a futuristic movie about the fjord, above and underwater, a fish tank with local species displayed, a celebration of the Quebec birth, marriage, and death register, as well as an exhibit about invasive species.
Finally, a quick visit to the national park in Baie Éternité, surrounded by towering cliffs, some with possibilities to do rock climbing, before we headed to our base in Chicoutimi.
So far, no whale, although we had kept scanning the waters constantly. We had decided on the ramp in l'Anse de Roche, with a steep 30-degree bend at the bottom, and lots of rocks at low tide. It was picture perfect weather; we headed up towards Baie Éternité. Going towards it, one will cross the marine protection zone.
Where the fresh waters of the river meet the salty tides, whales like to hang around, so we were all excited and expecting a whale encounter at any moment. We respected the forbidden zone and trotted along at 5 knots. We would remain all by ourselves for the next few hours, no boaters, no fjord cruise ships, and no whales. But what scenery, the water so calm it reflects every bit mirror-like, gentle winds and the sun shining. After a picnic at the foot of the statue, we headed back. Now to the confluence of the Saguenay with the St. Lawrence.
The tide started rolling in, and waves with annoyingly short intervals accompanied us for a short while until the gleaming sight of the ferry between Tadoussac and Baie-Sainte-Catherine manifested itself like a fata morgana at the end of the ever-widening fjord. Tadoussac is neatly tucked upon a little plateau; most prominently greeting you is the Hotel, a sight you may recall from its standing in the 1984 Hotel New Hampshire movie. The change in salinity and heavy current (7 knots!) made for some interesting sailing; it was harder to get on plane and we got tossed around a bit. With a quarter of the tank of gas left, we arrived back at the ramp. It was much easier to disembark, thanks to the high tide.
It was only half an hour to drive into Tadoussac. Everything was well kept, and apparently, no major hotel chains have established themselves, so unique places make up the charm of this town. The ferry, running 24 hours, carried us over to Baie-Sainte-Catherine. Jonathan, our youngest skipper, took the chance and climbed aboard our boat… So, he could say he rode a boat on a boat!
Once the rush from the ferry thinned-out heading toward Quebec City, you can hear the many animal sounds from the estuary. The smell is now indistinguishable from being at the sea-side; a moonlit beach walk ended our day. We dedicated the next morning for a last intensive binocular-supported scan of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence’s vast waters , but still no whales. Sadly, as many have experienced before ... you have to stay a long time to see them.
Somewhere in front of us flowed water that had passed through the Thousand Islands before, and that's how this story connects.
By Konrad Linckh
Originally from Germany, Konrad Linckh, an electrical engineer, was working as CEO for the US-subsidiary of a German laser equipment manufacturer, when he came to the Thousand Islands for a vacation, in August 2010 and as he says, “fell immediately in love with the scenery”. He applied for and received permanent residency in Canada and the Linckh family moved to Gananoque, in April 2011. In the late Fall of 2011. Konrad took a visitor on a tour of the Islands and learned some good lessons about boating safety, the hard way. In fact, he shared his harrowing experience with TI Life, in An Unforgettable Turn of Events… Then in the spring of 2013, he and his wife, Heidi, purchased Hill Island's Tower. You can read all about it in, “I’d like to buy a tower today…” You can see all of his article here.
Editor's note: A few years ago I was having trouble finding a place to hold our Summer Gathering for the 1000 Islands History Museum. When Konrad and Heidi heard about my dilemma, they invited us to the Tower on Hill Island. It was a wonderful evening and many realized what a special place we have to take visitors and friends so close to home. Want a special excursion next summer, Visit the Tower!