What an incredible adventure we had exploring the area around Tadoussac and cruising up the Saguenay Fjord. The confluence of the Saguenay River and the St. Lawrence Seaway creates a a rich feeding ground for several species of whales, as well as seals, porpoises and other marine animals. The Saguenay Fjord is more like a mountain lake than an actual river. It was created during the last ice age and it has a mountainous and rocky coast line and incredible depths. The whole region, including the 68 mile length of the fjord, is considered a parkland and the Province of Quebec is dedicated to its preservation.
We arrived in Tadoussac on Thursday, June 25 and were welcomed by the imposing sight of the Tadoussac Hotel dominating the waterfront.
The province’s dedication to preservation was evident to us as we were approaching the marina hoping to snag a slip since they do not take reservations. We were heading towards the marina hoping to beat out two sailboats that were also racing in when we were waylaid by what looked like a police boat. It turned out to be a park ranger who rafted up to us and proceeded to explain the regulations related to dealing with marine wildlife. There are very specific rules about how close you can come to the whales with more restrictive requirements for beluga whales because they are an endangered species. The ranger was very informative and provided us with literature about the whales as we watched the other two sailboats beat us into the harbor! Fortunately our friends Duane and Diane on Diva Di were expecting us and arranged with the marina for us to raft up next to them. They are also doing the Down East Loop and we will likely be traveling along a similar time table for awhile.
This is a popular tourist area for hiking, kayaking, sailing and whale watching. The marina filled up with boats and some had to raft onto others. The village of Tadoussac (population 850) is perched on a hill above the marina because in this part of the world the mountains meet the sea and river. It’s a cute town with friendly, mostly French speaking people. There is a fabulous cliff walk that lines the coastline and provides a taste of the dramatic vistas in store for us along the Saguenay. That evening Duane and Di came aboard for cocktails and nibbles and we decided to travel up the Saguenay together.
We spent the following day exploring the village because the weather was overcast and rainy. We had lunch at one of the nicer restaurants and visited the Marine Mammals Discovery Center.
Duane and Diane invited us for dinner – a delicious chicken and orzo soup prepared by Duane. That evening we finalized our plans for the next day to travel up the Saguenay River to Bay Eternite’, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful spots on this journey. It is too deep to anchor along the way and there are only three mooring balls available in Bay Eternite’. So we decided to travel together on Diva Di for the four hour journey up the Sagueney and stay at a marina in L’Anse-Saint-Jean. It will be fun to share the experience and it will save us all money by going on one boat and splitting expenses. We were also fortunate that Clyde the cat was willing to give up his berth to us!
Originally we were going to leave at 11 a.m. because Jonny thought the marina staff said that that was the optimal time to catch the currents up the Saguenay. We were taking our time getting ready when Duane came to tell us that he double checked and the marina staff had misunderstood our question and we needed to leave around 9 a.m. So after quickly packing our gear, we boarded Diva Di for the 4 hour cruise. It’s certainly helpful that Duane is able to communicate so well in French. Jonny does OK using the French he remembers from living and working in Algeria but he is very rusty (though he’s always willing to try)!
It turned out to be a glorious day! Bright blue skies. just the right amount of wind, a beautiful boat (34 foot power catamaran that is very roomy and comfortable) and great company. The Saguenay Fjord is lined with majestic cliffs rising hundreds of feet and dropping just as far into the river. The depth gauge stopped registering once it reached around 500 feet!
We were only an hour into our trip when we started to see beluga whales in the distance. They look like small white mounds on the water. If the water was choppy, they could easily be overlooked as white caps but we had a calm clear day. The more we looked, the more whales we saw and they were heading directly for us! We were concerned about not getting too close as per the park regulations which require that if you find your self too close to a whale, you must put your boat in idle and drift until you are in a position to move further away.
But the belugas were determined to come right up to our boat and stay there! And their friends followed so that we had at least seven belugas next to our boat. We were beyond excited! They ranged in length from about 5 to 15 feet. Some were pure white and the smaller ones were mottled grey. They came right up to the side of the boat as we stood there snapping pictures and videos. We could clearly see the blow holes on top of their heads and we could see the bubbles surrounding their exhalations. They frolicked around the boat for well over 20 minutes, playfully rolling over and over, jockeying for position, showing us their bellies, and slapping their tails at us. Lynn was torn between being mesmerized by their antics and capturing them on film.
After awhile the belugas lost interest and we needed to move along so we regretfully parted ways and continued up the Saguenay to the stunning Bay Eternite’ - the most beautiful spot on the Saguenay. Perched high on the cliff is a statue of the Virgin Mary that was erected 122 meters up on the mountain back in 1881.
We could see spots of color on the hillside which were the brave souls who chose to hike to the top of the mountain. We were not planning to join them this go-round. This pristine bay is breathtakingly beautiful . The bay is much too deep to anchor in. The boats we saw on the mooring balls were dwarfed by the size of the cliffs. There are only three mooring balls available on a first come first served basis.
Although there was one available, our plan was to go about five miles back down the river to the charming village of L’Anse-Saint-Jean and stay at a marina there. We had a leisurely dinner at a great little restaurant that was hopping on a Saturday night. We wondered where the people came from because this is still a very remote area!
After planning the next day or two of travel, we made an early night of it. Can you tell that the weather gets pretty chilly here – especially later in the day and when it’s cloudy!
Many thanks to Diane and Duane for hosting us aboard their boat. We clearly had a wonderful time!