We were informed by other cruisers that there were a few words that we should know in French when travelling through Quebec. Since my four years of grade school French were completed when I was in my very early teens, I can confidently say that the only things I truly remember besides “bonjour”, “merci”, “merde” and the surprising odd word here and there is the phrase “Je ne parle pas Français” (incredibly indispensable) as well as the French lyrics to the Oscar Meyer Bologna song (incredibly unhelpful) – which I had done as a translation project in grade 9 and something I have never been able to get out of my head since… Seriously, it’s the worst earworm.
Our book French for Cruisers (author: Kathy Parsons) came in handy several times. The words we were told to learn were obviously boating terms: port = bâbord, starboard = triboard, bow = étrave, and stern = poupe (yes, pronounced poop). But the phrase I used over and over again (thank god for Google Translate) was “Notre bateau ne manœuvre pas bien.” In other words, we don’t turn well, and we really don’t back up.
One thing we have learned is that although WE understand that we are a classic full keel sailboat with “awkward maneuverability” (to quote John), we are in a world of power boats that can basically turn on a dime and dock parallel by moving fully sideways to the dock with incredible agility and control (I’m incredibly jealous of this feature), and modern sailboats that have bow thrusters and fin keels which can actually allow you to move in a straight line both forwards AND backwards. The marinas don’t really understand when you tell them you need something with incredibly easy access because turning around (especially next to other expensive boats) gives you heart palpitations because the boat does what IT wants to do and not what WE want it to do. And now, try to explain that in French.
Sometimes you luck out; they get it. And then there are times they really, REALLY don’t.
July 11th: still stuck in the incredible heat wave, we got held up at the Beauharnois Locks for three and a half hours before being able to transit through the dual set of locks. There was no reprieve from the heat but we attempted to create some by hanging towels off our Bimini for shade. The staff at the locks apologized for the delay but commercial traffic always comes first and since there is a twelve nautical mile canal in-between the upper and lower locks, once a commercial vessel entered the lower lock, it was a long wait until it exited the upper one.
We arrived in Lachine Quebec late that afternoon and had gotten instructions on where our slip was located at the Port de Plaisance de Lachine marina. Both John and I were confused by the directions. It seemed that they were putting us into the thick of things, alongside a very shallow and narrow canal. I asked again if it was easy access. The woman at the marina said yes. I stressed that we were a full keel boat. She seemed to not waiver in her decision on where to put us. John was admittedly getting very adept into getting us into tight spaces but we were surprised and trepidatious at where she wanted to stick us. She definitely didn’t understand our limited capabilities. But John did it, and we tied up for the night.
We registered at the marina, and then went in search of food. The entire town seemed to be closed but after trudging for a while and getting a bit hangry, we finally found a great spot for authentic Mexican food – El Meson – and we managed to relax with a drink and a huge dinner while listening to the multi-language servers chatting with the patrons in French, English, and more predominantly, Spanish.
We strolled through the park on the way back to the marina. René-Lévesque park is beautifully picturesque.
As a side note, Lachine is very close to where my friend Liz lives, and it was Liz who was very gracious in letting us use her address to ship the replacement part for our broken fridge. We had managed to arrive in Lachine on schedule, but our fridge part had not. We had, in fact, spent much of the day on the water chatting with Liz about how the “overnight” UPS shipment had not arrived and trying to track it down. We figured we would give it another day as our plan had us only moving to the other side of Montreal the following day and it was still feasible to get the parcel if it arrived a day late. We’d worry about it later.
The next morning brought with it the realization that our trepidations about our slip were well founded. Easy access, my ass.
There are no photos of this debacle. There are memories however that I wish would erase from my brain. I’m told I’ll look back and laugh one day… that day has not yet come.
So the channel is narrow. Very narrow. And we can’t back up in a straight line. And then there was the wind which, though not overly strong, was funnelling it’s way down the channel and caught our boat as we were backing out of the slip, turning it into a 13.5 ton moving wall, aiming right for all the lovely, expensive power boats that were very close by. Every time we got control of our beautiful classic boat, John would try to turn her into the wind and the wind would turn us back, pushing us farther down the channel into what we assumed was shallower waters. I ran, fender in hand, and quite literally fended ourselves off from hitting other boats, or at least hitting them without a small rubber pillow in-between their pricey hulls and our pointy anchors.
We may have caressed a jet ski. There was thankfully no damage. And that was, most incredibly, the worst of it other than our helplessness of the situation and my building notion of “what the hell have we gotten ourselves into”.
Finally a very kind gentleman, looking somewhat nervous on another docked boat, yelled to us that the end of the channel was deep and wide enough for us to make a run at successfully turning around. Well, he not so much yelled as spoke loudly – we were close enough to him, listing sideways in a way that you really don’t want to see a boat move, that he didn’t have to yell. We went down the channel further into what looked like a certain dead end, and John was able to turn us around, though I’m not sure the kayakers understood our situation as they fairly lazily watched us from a too-close-for-comfort proximity.
No one died. Nothing was damaged. And we learned our lesson. We needed to watch the wind more closely when we were in tight quarters. And we needed to stress our “easy access” needs with more clarity to future marinas.
We set out on choppy waters, without our fridge part, and have never been happier to leave a marina behind.