July 11th, 2018: John and I had earlier debated on whether to stop in Quebec City. We both hadn’t been there previously and we knew it was worth the visit, but the Marina de Port du Quebec was quite a bit more expensive than all the others we had encountered and we were anxious to move on further. Once we studied our route however, we realized there was nothing else nearby that would suffice as a stopover as the next leg would be long and we would need all the daylight possible. So we agreed to spend two nights to stop, restock, and check out the city.
Marina de Port du Quebec is a stunning marina. There is a valid reason why its cost is higher (and it’s worth every penny). The marina is located in the heart of Old Quebec and has its own lock system to get from the tide-vulnerable lower basin into a stable upper one. Once in the marina proper, you have access to incredible views, excellent wifi, a lounge, a kitchen, washrooms, laundry, showers, a fuel dock, marine store, and a pool. It’s central to practically every amenity you could hope for. And they will bend over backwards to make sure everything is perfect for you. Well, as much as is within their control.
We came in through the marina’s lock and was given the easy access dock that we had hoped for. It was perfect. A straight shot in, right on the end, port side docking. Once we tied up, a young dock assistant hurried up to us with a look of concern on his face. He asked if we would like to move as our dock hadn’t been cleaned yet. In fact he pretty much insisted. We laughed. We were fine. The bird shit that was scattered over the dock did not bother us in the least. He looked down at the dock in what seemed like disbelief. Were we sure? They really wanted to clean the dock but the last thing we felt like doing in that moment was to move the boat. We were quite highly amused with his horror at the bird droppings that littered our finger dock but we also didn’t want to give him a hard time. Poor kid was just doing his job. He tried again; could they at least send someone down to power wash it? They would be very careful not to splash the boat, would we mind the noise? And with that, we knew that this was unlike any other marina that we had ever been to. We had just pulled into the marine equivalent of Quebec’s Fairmont Le Château Frontenac.
After our finger dock had been scrubbed clean of any of nature’s remnants, John and I took a quick tour of the neighbourhood. We sourced out the grocery store, the liquor store and grabbed more ice from the registration office as our fridge drama was far from over. It was challenging even as night fell to not just keep snapping photos from the boat. Our view was spectacular, the city scape to one side and the Northern Light Art Installation projected onto the Silos on the other.
One thing that we have learned is that as a couple, we make a great team in a multitude of ways. There are certainly jobs that get divided up on the boat: my tasks and his tasks – usually only because of where our individual expertise and experience lies. But the one thing that we started doing as a team that quickly turned into a solo project was shopping for food. I have claimed that as my job. Because it’s not a job to me, even if I have to carry it all, several kilometres, back to the boat on my own. It’s a joy. I don’t make shopping lists. And I will go down the same aisle (or through the entire store) several times to make sure I haven’t missed anything or to seek more inspiration. I’m sure this will always drive John a little batty. Even if he comes along to help carry our provisions back to the boat, I have asked for his practical, logistical, organized, (and I’m sure impatiently judging) self to not follow me throughout the store. Because food shopping for me is akin to something holy while to him it a practical errand to strike off of the check list. I can’t blame him, I’m sure it takes a very unique person to put up with me while I’m food gawking. It makes me happy, lighter, and honestly, somewhat euphoric. I chat with everyone. I evaluate what’s in season, seek out what’s on sale, and immediate concoct our week’s menu in my mind. I check out products I’ve never heard of before (even better if there are samples being offered). And the errand becomes even more of a glorious event when I find an actual farmers market. You will lose me there for hours. Finding out that the Marche du Vieux Port was open seven days a week, and was just on the other side of the marina, was almost too much for this happy soul. I was in provision heaven.
Because we needed to leave incredibly early in the morning, and since the lock was only functional at a decent hour after dawn, we had to leave our beautiful slip for our last night and dock outside in the lower basin along with the Coast Guard and enormous commercial vessels. I was sad to depart as I hadn’t had a good opportunity to do a photo walk through the city during our short stay but we figured that once our circumnavigation was done, we would find our way back one day. So that evening, we passed through the lock and tied up to the long, very squeaky, dock in preparation for our early departure.
But Quebec City obviously had other plans for us.
We left the lower basin at 4:30 in the morning and just made it into the channel when our engine decided to cut out. John tried to get it restarted and it would start, for a moment, and then promptly die again. The current has us drifting down river and although there were thankfully no other boats out on the water at that hour, we were floating in the middle of the shipping channel. Though I’m sure if worse came to worse, we could have hoisted sails to help get us out of the way of any oncoming marine traffic, we didn’t relish the idea of trying to get back into the Quebec City harbour under sail. I got to make my first Pan-Pan call on the VHF. (For those that don’t know, Pan-Pan is basically the equivalent of “hey, we need help but we’re not dying or in any immediate danger but that might change so if you could come now, that would be great”, unlike Mayday which means, “we are sinking/dying/on fire, please use whatever transporter you have to get us out of here as fast as possible”.)
The Canadian Coast Guard are truly some of the nicest human beings on the planet. They arrived like stereotypical white knights on horseback (boat-back?) and rafted up beside us, towing us back to the harbour. I’m not sure our boat will ever travel that quickly again.
They delivered us right back to the lower basin and we tied back up to the long squeaky dock. Unfortunately with an engine that refused to run, we weren’t able to get back through the lock to our lovely, quiet slip, the excellent internet, or the real-plumbing washrooms within 50 steps. They were all still available to us, (except for the slip of course, unless we decided to somehow tow her back in), but now were a bit more of a hike – only a slight inconvenience (but at the same price tag) – while the engine was going to prove to be a slightly more frustrating situation.
The next morning we were still trying to figure out what was going on with the engine – scratch that – John was figuring out (and understandably swearing at) the engine while I took the opportunity to get out of his hair and go on a photowalk through the city for a few hours. Definitely trying to make the best of the situation. It really is an incredibly beautiful city.
By Saturday morning, we were enveloped in an overcast day in shades of grey and we were still tied up in the outer basin. John had been working nonstop on the engine since early morning and I took the time to run errands and do laundry. The mechanic that we called never got back to us but John had a lead on what to try next thanks to our very helpful Coast Guard who were obviously keeping an eye on us while they waited for their next emergency call. (They were tied up right at the end of our dock and definitely felt for us, coming over to check often on John’s progress.)
Sunday, John spent further narrowing down the possibilities on the little engine that just wouldn’t… He told me that he officially doesn’t like Quebec anymore.
Monday arrived and the mechanic had finally gotten our message that we had left on his voicemail before the weekend. John managed to get the engine started just as the mechanic arrived at the boat. Turns out that it was more a fuel line problem than an engine issue. If you need a technical explanation, you’ll have to ask John, but from what I understood, the air line wasn’t properly installed by the last owner (or the one before him, who knows how far back this problem went?), and was causing the fuel line to not feed fuel into the tank. So we basically ran dry since we unknowingly were only able to fill up the actual fuel line hose when we stopped previously for diesel instead of filling up the tank. So with new fuel filters, a fresh oil change, and now a fuel line that actually was functioning properly, we looked like we were all set to finally depart Quebec City the following morning.
I do have to say that the staff were so incredibly helpful during this ordeal… we’d highly recommend this marina to other boaters for so many reasons: staff, location, amenities… (though obviously don’t wish anyone the same circumstances). We were also just happy to not be outcasts anymore and be back inside the wall.
But Quebec City once again had other plans for us.
Later that day, we realized that with the stress and frustration levels that had been soaring over the previous few days, and impending thunderstorms on the forecast for the next day, (and the adrenal crash from the stress being lifted since John awesomely fixed the engine) it would be a good idea to take one more day to decompress, regain our balance, and stay dry before we moved on. We decided that Quebec City could have us for the entire week and we would refuel, provision, and prepare at our leisure the next day instead for an early morning departure on Wednesday.
Tuesday, July 17th: A dramatic sky to mark the end of the drama. The clouds appeared far more menacing than they actually were though it did mist and rain all morning and most of the afternoon. This winds kicked up momentarily during the afternoon while we were comfortably docked, now in the upper basin again, and this incredible cloud appeared but moved on minutes later. The skies cleared quickly afterward and our plan remained the same: depart for Cap-A-L’aigle Wednesday morning. It was a wise decision to stay put. Both of us had a good amount of much needed down time.
Wednesday morning, we refuelled and left the city behind. I don’t think we breathed easy the entire day. Our little red engine had a long way to go to rebuild our trust.