Have You Paddled a Fjord…. Lately?
Ishmael, his son Kendrick, and I have just returned from a four day paddle in Saguenay Marine Park in Quebec. It was a wonderful experience and each day was different from the last. I had never heard of the place, and never considered that there might be fjords in places other than Norway, but it fits all the definitions of a fjord. When Ishmael first suggested it, I went to the Google satellite views and found images with two 600’ long lake freighters in the western end of La Baie and was left very skeptical. I have ferried racing yachts through the Welland Canal and was very unnerved by these monsters bearing down on us at 20 mph in the narrow channel and did not want to re-experience that in a much smaller kayak. But as I learned more about the area and the small amount of shipping traffic on the fjord it became doable in my mind.
We are also accustomed to finding plentiful camping spots when we visit the Adirondacks. This type of information was more difficult finding and coordinating along the fjord. Hence, we decided to reserve a chalet at the Domaine des Dunes two miles east of Tadoussac and take day trips. The chalets were perfect for three guys with lots of wet kayaking gear and we quickly redubbed our chalet “Domaine des Dudes” We drove the 8 hours from New Hampshire to Tadoussac for the most part in heavy wind and rain. We were thrilled to find our chalet had a wood burning stove.
Day 1: Paddling the Mouth of the Saguenay, 20 miles, Saturday, 6/29/2013
The next day we awoke to a light, cold rain that persisted for much of the morning, but this is nothing for kayakers. We put in at a public beach near the Tadoussac Marina. There is no launch fee here, however the parking was $1.00 at the meters. We left shore at high tide and found that by the time we were chasing after some belugas in the mouth of the Saguenay that there was a 1+mph current out of the river. We headed toward shore where the current was more manageable (it ultimately built to about 4 mph) and checked out the whale viewing area on some high rocks and then checked out the ferry landing. The ferries are immense (about 250+ feet long) and are much larger than the Lake Champlain Ferries that we are accustomed to. Route 138 is the major route on the northern side of the St. Lawrence, and hence the ferries have to accommodate the considerable through truck traffic. There is no charge for the ferries.
Hugging the north shore of the Saguenay for a long par 5, we came to Anse a la Barque, a small, quiet, beautiful bay, perhaps half a mile in length. The steep granite walls completely isolate paddlers from the heavy commerce going a short distance away.
After checking out Anse a la Barque, we hugged the North Shore for another 2 km where we crossed the river. By that time (about 2.5 hrs after high tide) the speed of the current was approaching 4 mph, which made for an interesting GPS track as I headed straight across the river. My course took me to a small peninsula formed by Cap Blanc with its associated cove on the upriver side. I really had to struggle to paddle up river of the peninsula, but once inside the cove I was grabbed by a back-eddy that took me rapidly into the cove. I was resting and looking straight ahead when a seal looking right at me surfaced immediately in front of me, with a loud “SNORT”. I got some photos of him as we do-si-doed around in the back-eddy.
We had crossed the Saguenay to check out a waterfall that I reckon to be about 500’ high. With all the rain in past few days all of the falls were really rolling for all four days of our visit. We took many photos and enjoyed that area for a while before heading back up river. We were making very slow progress against the current, so we turned around and screamed back down the river to the Tadoussac launch at 7-8 mph. Our landing site was perhaps 500 feet from the launch site due to the ebb tide.
We had some lunch and headed out into the St. Lawrence and downstream. We headed for the sand dunes that are the source of the name of our lodging. We walked around a bit and took some photos of another waterfall before heading out at low tide. The low tide made it difficult to exit through the rips in the sand and rocks but we made it without ado and headed back to Tadoussac Bay. As we entered the bay we were treated to several minke whales blowing and surfacing around us, one perhaps 25’ from Ishmael.
We had tide tables that we downloaded from: http://tides.mobilegeographics.com/locations/6307.html mobilegeographics.com was a great resource. We learned a lot about tides in four days. In general the tides advanced in time about a minute per mile as you moved northeast down the St. Lawrence. The tidal current speed was less on the St. Lawrence almost zero along the shore to only a mile per hour out where water depths were greater than 100’. This changed significantly near the mouths of rivers where we found it to be upwards of 3 mph near the town of Grandes-Bergeronnes. The tides were retarded about 30 seconds per mile up the Saguenay, and maximum current speeds were 3-4 mph near the mouth and only about 1 mph up near Baie Eternité.
GPS track and photos on Wikiloc: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4782460
Day 2: Anse de Roche to Ile Sainte-Louis, 21 miles, Sunday, 6/30/2013
On Sunday we drove to a marina about 11 miles up the Saguenay Fjord and put in at the small marina in Anse de Roche. We left the chalet in a pouring rain, but by the time we reached the launch site the clouds had opened up and it was becoming a clear and beautiful day. The launch fee was $6 Canadian. We left the ramp about 8:30a.m. which was about a half hour before high tide and found the current to be close to 0 for the next hour but then it increased rapidly such that we had to hug the north shore in order to make headway. Early on, we did see lots of beluga whales heading up river and Ishmael got a nice photo of an adult and a juvenile together. The whales are difficult to photograph because they surface and dive so quickly, but they are certainly exciting to watch. I did see some loons and got some nice photos of them. Our immediate goal was Baie Sainte-Marguerite where the belugas are known to congregate to feed. We arrived there about 10:20 a.m. which was apparently too late, because we did not see a single beluga after about 9:00a.m.
After lunch and checking out the camping facilities, we paddled up the bay which had a stiff 2+ mph current in the central part of the channel. We headed out and turned up the fjord still hugging the north side and finding a second camping site with tent platforms. Access and permits can be arranged at 800-665-6527 or 418-272-1556 which Ishmael photographed on the sign posted at the campsite.
We had set a secondary goal of circling Ile Saint-Louis (a.k.a. Grosse Ile) so we crossed the fjord into the wind and current shadow down river of the island. By this time a stiff down river breeze had combined with the period of fastest down river tidal current. It took a lot of effort to move up the channel south of the island. The up river end of the island features deep water and high cliffs that combined to give very chaotic waves. But we made it around the head of the island and paddled the seven miles back to the marina in about an hour and ten minutes.
GPS track and photos on Wikiloc: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/spati...act&id=4787015
Day 3: Whale Watching on the St. Lawrence, Monday, 18 miles, 7/1/2013
This was our day out on the St. Lawrence to spot some whales. We drove down river to the town of Grandes-Bergeronnes and put in at a tour operation with a boat ramp. There was supposed to be a launch charge, but the proprietor told us to pay after we got back from paddling. When we got back the place was locked up tight, so we got off free here. We headed out into the St. Lawrence and pretty quickly began to hear the spouts and see the arching whalebacks. We saw what we believe to be humpbacks, a fin, and some minke whales. There seemed a particularly good spot that the tour boats congregated around, so I placed a waypoint there, which you can get from our Wikiloc track. I spent some time there and did seem to spot several more than we had seen in the rest of this day.
GPS track and photos on Wikiloc: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4787087
Day 4: Anse Sainte-Jean to Baie Eternié, 21 miles, Tuesday 7/2/13
For our final day we decided to put in on the south side of the fjord, which meant about a two hour drive. Our itinerary was to put in at Anse Sainte-Jean, paddle to Baie Eternié and return. We crossed the Saguenay on the ferry and drove to Anse Sainte-Jean and put in at the beach of Fjord en Kayak, next door to the public ramp. Fjord en Kayak is a kayak touring business offering guided tours of the Fjord. They were very nice in offering us their beach, and Louis Dubord, the owner was very informative on the subject of tides and kayaks, so I made a point of purchasing one of their sport shirts and a map. He was very fluent in English. http://fjordenkayak.ca/PagesEn/excursion-sea-kayak.html
We headed out about 1.5 hours before high tide in Tadoussac but found zero current in the center of the fjord on each of four measurements. It should be noted that typical tide heights in Tadoussac are about 10 feet, but that day was a minimal tide height of six feet. The weather was beautiful and we could see far up the fjord and the cliffs on either side. We spotted the large, white statue of Mary of the Saguenay (ca. 40’ high) from more than six miles away. We paddled up marveling at the cliffs on either side until we were about ¼ mile from Mary which is located on the western side of Baie Eternité near Cap Trinité. There was a mild breeze down river all day, except in Baie Eternité which had a stiff northerly breeze into the bay.
We had lunch at the southern extent of the bay and headed back to Anse Sainte-Jean at a time of max favorable tidal current. But on this day the amount of current was so light we only averaged our typical 4 mph on our return to the launch site.
This culminated 4 days and 80 miles of paddling. Other than the first day, the weather was perfect in spite of a less than favorable forecast. The drive home on Wednesday was uneventful. For border crossings you will need a passport. Ishmael is fluent in French which made everything much easier. I found the Quebecois to be very friendly and helpful, most could speak English.
GPS track and photos on Wikiloc: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=4787237