Log #50e to the Saguenay River Fjord

August 26, 2010 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 50, The Logs

Ramea Island, Newfoundland

Aug. 26, 2010

Hi Folks,

Spending a couple of days in one town is giving me a chance to get caught up on my logs. I have attached several pictures with this log. Determining which of the many good pictures I have is difficult. They are attached instead of imbedded.

All the best,


Log #50e to the Saguenay River Fjord

La Poile Harbour, Newfoundland
Aug. 22, 2010

We were fogged in at Cap A L’Aigle, a phenomenon that was not without its own intriguing quiet beauty. In addition to the mysterious mists swirling in from the river, the boat was festooned with diamond necklaces of spider webs, the drops of moisture reflecting in the minimal daylight (see attached photo). A friend on Adagio said he was heading out as he saw clear sections on his trip back from the Sagueney River by road earlier that morning. So, off we went, motoring into the fog shrouded river. Once we were more than 100 yards from the marina, we could see neither the marina nor the far side of the river. Fortunately all our electronics were working well, we had a good image on our radar, and could follow our track on the GPS and on our Max Sea computer charting system. Adagio came out a few hundred yards astern of us, then passed us heading the same direction downstream. We followed astern of him, losing visual contact periodically, but had him on radar. We saw a few other blips, some of which were ships in transit, and a couple of other small boats. We had our navigation lights on, but did not bother with sound signals. There was no wind and the sea was flat calm.

We saw a couple of white-capped waves on the flat calm surface. They broke again, and we realized we were watching beluga whales breaking the surface. Their white arched bodies undulated above the surface like breaking waves. There were at least three of them lazily rotating through the calm water a hundred yards off our port beam. A few spouts gushed up from their blow holes as they silently surfaced and submerged again. We watched them for about five minutes. After they left we realized we should have shut down the engine as required by local regulations, as they are an endangered species and boats are not to approach closer than 200 metres, and are required to cut the engine within 100 metres

It was an eerie sensation to track a ship on radar, then see it materialize a hundred yards off our starboard for a short period of time before silently disappearing into the fog again. If there was any question of coming near a ship’s track, we would alter course radically inshore so he could see we were well out of his way. We only heard one ship’s foghorn. The others just quietly slid by, some visible, others not.

Then the storm hit!

We saw the radar clutter of a rain cloud and a darkening of the fog bank to our port. Then the rain hit, pounding rain, 35 knot gusts of wind from changing directions, then hail! We lost sight of Adagio in the maelstrom and continuously altered our course manoeuvring to head into the torrential rain and gale force winds for a good fifteen minutes. That is, until I saw another blip on the radar coming towards us! Time to head back towards shore, away from the traffic lanes, even though the wind-driven rain now lashed me mercilessly in the cockpit, as I was no longer heading into gusts and did not have the protection of the dodger. Veleda was able to handle the cross winds even though she heeled over, pounded by fierce gusts from abeam.

As we approached the wide entrance of the Saguenay River, the rain eased off, but the fog still persisted. It was so thick that we could not see the land as we approached the mouth of the river, nor could we see the buoys marking the entrance channel until we were within 100 yards of them. I felt nervous as we headed, visually blind, inshore for the entrance in this pea soup fog. Our electronics worked well. The GPS kept us on track and the radar was able to pick up the shoreline and most of the buoys, but we couldn’t see the land until we were within a quarter mile of the low-lying western shore. As we approached the fog started to thin out, allowing us to see the platformed Prince Shoal Lighthouse (see attached photo), our first visual confirmation of where we were.

We could see the western bank of the Saguenay, but could not see Tadoussac on the eastern shore. We saw an excursion boat heading out and another heading over to where we thought Tadoussac was located. The fog rolled around in banks blocking out sight of land and mysteriously enveloping and revealing excursion boats and ferries plying across the mouth of the river (see attached photo). Oh great, now we have to worry about ferries crossing at right angles to our course into the river when we can’t even see the shoreline from which they come! As we entered the river, we could not see both sides at the same time. Just past Tadoussac, where the river was less than a mile wide, we saw several ferries plying back and forth. We had to watch for them from both port and starboard sides, and anticipate whether their crossing courses would intersect ours. The ferries leave simultaneously from each side every 15 minutes. We took evasive action a couple of times to be sure to steer clear of them as we entered into the river proper.

The Saguenay River is actually a fjord scoured out by glaciers in the last ice age, and is the second largest fjord in the world, over 68 miles in navigable length (up to Chicoutimi), with the first 50 miles the most spectacular, bordered by mountains and 1000 foot cliffs. There are strong currents at the entrance, not only from the river current and tidal fluctuations, but also because of the underwater contours and overfalls. Near the entrance at Point Noire, there is a 60 foot deep shallow bar, but immediately inside the river, the water drops to 900 feet in mid river and 300 feet along the cliff-edged shoreline, creating an underwater cascade as the river and tidal currents cross this relatively shallow barrier. The ferries had to crab their way across the opening to compensate for the currents, making avoidance of their course more complicated. Lots of fun!

Inside the fog eased up to a misty late afternoon with interesting fog banks and clouds below the cliff faces. We saw a few more beluga whales. This area is famous for whale watching, and many excursion boats plied the waters of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers. But we needed to find an anchorage before sunset. The shorelines are too steep to, with depths of over 100 feet right up to shore. We tried to anchor behind La Petite Island, hoping it would have shallower water, but it was too deep, and so on we went. Sunset was at 2014 (8:14 pm) as we approached the wide, relatively shallow bay at Anse St. Jean, 22 miles up the river from the river mouth. It did not have good protection, but we had to get off the river before total darkness. Our first attempt, the anchor dragged. We went inshore more and re-anchored by 2040. It seemed to hold OK. However we were not sure how fast the shore shallowed and were concerned that the tide shift might rotate us around into the mud flats. I was up several times during the night to check our position. We were OK.

The next day was clearer and we enjoyed the spectacular scenery of the 1000 foot cliffs, their granite rock faces streaked with a variety of obsidian black, ferrous red, snowy white quartzite, and slate grey strata, with evergreen trees clinging to the shallow soils on ledges and ravines (see attached photo). We saw a large ketch coasting along the shoreline, dwarfed by the grandeur of these dramatic precipices (see attached photo ). We secured to a buoy at Baie Eternite, part of a large provincial park beneath the enormous guardian Cap Trinite (see attached photo). This bay is one of the most picturesque areas of the fjord, guarded by two gigantic capes, Cap Eternite and Cap Trinite. Cap Trinite is so named not only for the religious Trinity, but also for the three steps up to its 1500 foot height. On the lowest step at 400 feet is a 32 foot statue of the Virgin Mary, and on the middle step at the 700 foot level is a tall cross beneath an 800 foot cliff (see attached photo). We heard that cruise liners used to ply the fjord and at night while cruising by this cape, a white spotlight was shone on the statue and Ave Maria was played over the waters as the ship ghosted past. It would have been a very dramatic experience.

We spent a few hours in the park, at the excellent interpretation centre and walking a few pathways. Later in the afternoon Adagio came in and commented on the horrendous storm we had weathered a couple of days ago. We were glad each of us came through it OK.

We exited the bay next morning only to turn back when we were in the main river as 30 knot winds were howling down the fjord. A few hours later we ventured out again into 25 knot winds, but as they were blowing down the fjord, we decided to go for it with a full genoa assisting us, to go at 9 knots towards Tadoussac where we planned to spend the night. Unfortunately the marina was full. We had to press on another 30 miles, crossing the St. Lawrence to the Gaspe shore, to anchor at Anse -a-l’Orignal. Fortunately we had the wind and currents with us to travel over 75 miles in a ten hour period averaging over 7 knots. We pounded through tidal rips as the ebb current hurried us downstream (see attached photo)

We were now on our final leg of the St. Lawrence before crossing the Gulf to Newfoundland