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Misty Pearl on America’s Great Loop and The Down East Circle

Here are maps of Misty Pearl’s stops along way, right down to our actual slips.  (Except for Beaufort, N.C., where D Dock is too new for Google Maps.)  Pressing one of the little red balloon-looking thingys on the first map will load up our blog posts related to that spot on The Down East Circle.   The second map will do the same for our Great Loop posts.

Misty Pearl on The Down East Circle

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Misty Pearl on America’s Great Loop

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Call us Ishmael

So maybe it’s a smidge audacious to bastardize an iconic line from a literary masterpiece to use as the title of a silly blog post, but like Captain Ahab we’re in search of whales now.  Today was supposed to be the day.  The couple of boats ahead of us both reported seeing them by the bushel.  For us, maybe tomorrow.  Because there barely was a ripple in the Saint Lawrence all day, and certainly nothing that was caused by anything remotely Moby-Dickish.

In order to play the tide/current game again, we left at 5:45.   But by then the sun was high enough to sort of light up Chute Montmorency, so that made the early departure somewhat acceptable.  We found it odd that this huge waterfall is right by a city.  Locals drive past it every day on their way to work, probably cursing at the tourists who stop in traffic to take a picture.  Too bad for them.  If we were in a car, we’d stop.

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While in Quebec City we feasted several times on vegetables and wine from the farms and vineyards of Île d’Orléans.  Today we cruised past them

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Pretty quickly the topography changed.  The prevalence of churches remained the same, of course, although the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré was extra cool.  Interesting factoid from Google: the convent someplace right around the Basilica has been the home of Redemptoristine nuns since 1907.  Now they’re all dead or dying or leaving, so the convent was abandoned until some dude decided it would make a good mortuary.  Anyway, the church is still a church, although apparently the cost of upkeep is stressing the Redemptorist brothers responsible for it.

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When we get sucked into the scenery, sometimes we need stuff to remind us we’re on an enormous river.  Cargo ships and lighthouses do the job nicely.

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Hey here’s something we haven’t seen in our seven thousand miles of traveling by boat: ski resorts.  Le Massif de Charlevoix has the highest vertical drop in eastern Canada.  Which sounds pretty awesome, but we’re guessing it’s probably pretty cold.

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What feels like only a week ago, we boasted of riding current downstream to Quebec City.  Fourteen knots.  Fourteen knots!  Boy were we proud of that record.  It lasted only until today.  This current is ridiculous.

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At one point we throttled back to 1200 rpms.  We still were doing the 14 knots that we’re now embarrassed we ever mentioned.  The good news is that even speeding along like a pontoon boat with a small outboard, we were able to get sucked back into the scenery.  Like the field of yellow something-or-others on top of a green hill.

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Just before Cape Eagle we passed another one of those cool Château hotels.

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There’s a casino next to the hotel but we didn’t bother with a picture since we figured they wouldn’t let us in, what with Doug taking a cool $200 (American) off the Golden Nugget when we were in Atlantic City.  Word gets around.

Then on into the marina.  This has to be one of the most picturesque settings for a marina we’ve seen.

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Tiny joint—and the current at the entrance brought a few seconds of unexpected excitement—but very comfortable.

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We sat on the shore for a while to give the whales one last chance to show themselves, to no avail.  Oscar was particularly sad.

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We did see seals and ducks, though, so didn’t leave empty handed.  All in all, a solidly enjoyable day.

Tomorrow, however, rain or no rain we’d better see frickin’ whales, or we’re lodging some complaints.

Has Queen Elizabeth ever even been to Quebec?

Quebec City is a way cool city, which shocked the one of us who didn’t expect to find such amazing culture and history outside of East Tennessee.   It originally was an outpost founded Jacques Cartier but later made into something more by Samuel de Champlain, a Frenchman who either was a great explorer or a native-killer, depending on who you ask.  There are statutes and paintings and logos galore depicting Old Sammy, most of which have faces that resemble Guy Fawkes.

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Here’s the interesting part.  There are no paintings—and certainly no photographs—that actually show what he looked like.  It’s kind of like pictures of Jesus or Santa Claus.  Nobody really knows.  Anyway, he saw the high bluff on the Saint Lawrence River—after somehow sailing up it against the current that Misty Pearl almost surfed to plane—and figured it would make a good fort.

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Plus after the long trip from France he probably wanted to stop at some of the great shops and restaurants we found over the past few days.

Quebec City—the old part at least—remains mostly walled.  It’s the only fortified city remaining in North America.  There are roads and doors and stairways, of course, so it probably isn’t very secure but it’s damn picturesque.

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At the top of the hill—which we know from extrapolation would be quite hard to climb without stairs while carrying 17th century battle implements—is La Citadelle de Québec.  The Citadel is an old fort, but unlike the other old forts we’ve visited on our trip this one remains active.   It’s still home to the Royal 22e Régiment, whose storied past is detailed in the fort museum.  For example, here’s a huge iron emblem they took off the Nazis.

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Normally it’s costs $16 Canadian per person to enter the fort and the museum, but we lucked into an Open House.  Everything was free.  Which saved us between $2 and $80 U.S.  We’re still unsure about this whole exchange rate thing.

The official motto of the Royal 22e—as well as all of Quebec—is Je me souviens, which means “I remember.”  Our French-Canadian friends from Trois-Rivières take this motto very seriously, as sort of a rallying cry for those dedicated to preserving the French culture of the province.  We just thought the flowers were pretty.

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The Citadel also contains a house, which serves as the official secondary residence of the Governor General of Canada and the Canadian monarch.  Who is Queen Elizabeth.  Which is really, really weird, since (1) Queen Elizabeth probably doesn’t give a hoot about Canada, (2) she’s got plenty of houses in her own country, and (3) the people here all speak French.  Go figure.  Maybe she just loves maple syrup.  But hey, the Open House included the actual house, set we went on in.

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If indeed this is the Queen’s house, she gets credit for hanging up some of that third-grade art little Charlie brought home and everyone pretended was really good.

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She’s probably also got some pinch-pots from kindergarten pottery class packed away as well.

Although most everything around here is French, right next to the fort are the Plains of Abraham, which doesn’t sound French at all.  The place got its name because some poor slob named Abraham Martin had the bad luck of seeing a large and important battle between the French and the English take place on his farm.  The English won a decisive victory, which may in part explain why Queen Elizabeth has a house inside the fort.  Now mostly the Plains of Abraham serve as a concert venue.  Battle of the Bands and all that.

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Did we mention that the town is full of narrow paths and streets?

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And the famous cannonball tree, although we looked it up and this is not a cannonball at all.  It’s a firebomb.

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Did we mention the food?  Paillard’s is a famous bakery.  We actually bought croissants there every day.  Yum.

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We don’t know if puns are a thing in French, but we ate at one.

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We also discovered the Fromagerie des Grondines, which simultaneously was awesome and sad.  It was awesome because we picked up some delicious fresh local cheeses.  It was sad because in our post about Campbellford, Ontario, we wasted a reference to the Cheese Shop sketch.

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Back to Guy Fawkes and the logical progression to Anonymous and then to Scientology.  We found the Quebec City “church.”  How do you say “ridiculous cult” in French?  Also, up here are their absurd “religious artifacts” called E-meters or E-metres?

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Until today, we were docked in the marina with the Old City off our port side.  Easy walking, except for the insane hills.

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We also got to witness the famed aurora borealis.  Not the real one, of course, but the one they showed every night on the silos along the waterfront.  Mostly it looked like Las Vegas, but without people trying to lure us into strip clubs.

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So our first day or two we were the only U.S. flagged boat in the marina.  Then Dana came back and announced that another one had just pulled in.  That wasn’t the odd part though.  The odd part was the flag on the bow.

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What the hell?  The boat is No Drama, and that’s the first Arizona flag we’ve seen in two years.  Turns out Jeff was a Phoenix attorney of some renown, although our paths hadn’t directly crossed. Now we consider Jeff and Ann our friends.  Later Laughter and then Drift Away came in, bringing the Yankee Doodle contingent to four boats.

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Tomorrow high tide is at 7:45.  To get to Cap-à-l’Aigle efficiently we have to leave two hours before that.  Wait, that’s 5:45, which isn’t quite as bad as the last travel day but it still sucks.  And the lock guarding the marina doesn’t open until 7.  So today was our shortest travel day ever, as we cruised through the lock and then stopped just on the other side.

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But hey, we’re ready to go.

How do you say “scary fast” in French?

When the sun rises at 5 a.m., getting up before dawn is terrible.  Actually it’s damn terrible.  However, a massive volume of water goes up and down the Saint Lawrence with the tide.  Fighting that water—rather than riding it down—is worse than losing a bit of sleep.  Plus there are naps to be had.  So we shoved off at 5:30.

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We weren’t the only ones who decided on this strategy.  Cargo ships from Montreal apparently copied our plan, which we realized when the Nunalik came barreling up from behind and passed us at almost 16 knots.  Since we can’t communicate effectively in French, we just moved out of the way.

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Have we mentioned the churches?  Seemingly every mile or two we pass a small town with a distinctive steeple.  Dana has photographed just about every one, but mostly they all look the same.

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Have we mentioned the current?  Today we blistered along at between 10 and 12 knots at the rpms that usually get us just under 8.

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The Richelieu Rapids—which oddly we encountered on the Saint Lawrence River rather than the Richelieu River—were a swirly-churny mess of rushing water.  That was enough to push us to 13.5 knots, which was faster than we could recall Misty Pearl ever going before.  Wheeee!

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Shortly before we reached Quebec City, however, we hit the Pierre Laporte Bridge.  This bridge has the longest suspension span in Canada.  Pierre Laporte apparently was the Quebec Minister of Labor—or Minister of “Labour” in these parts—when the equivalent of the People’s Front of Judea kidnapped and killed him.  The bridge name probably is small consolation, but it’s something.

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Anyway, just under the bridge we caught another surge.

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We actually touched 14 knots.  That’s faster than we can recall Misty Pearl ever going before.  Two records in less than three hours!  Wheeee!

Around the bend we passed the Château Frontenac.

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This historic hotel is the east coast bookend to the Château Lake Louise, which we recommend highly as a reward for anyone who (1) backpacks through Banff National Park and (2) has a high tolerance for annoying photo-blocking crowds.

Arguably the biggest downside to current is docking.  (We say “arguably” because going up the Ohio River against the current arguably was worse.)  Quebec City solves this problem by jamming a lock between the river and the marina.  We had no problem getting in.

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It’s the getting out that seems to be a problem.  First, you have to make a reservation.  Second, they pack boats into the lock in a way that would make sardines uncomfortable.

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That part we aren’t looking forward to.  What we do look forward to is exploring more of Quebec City.  We’ve been excited about Quebec City since we decided to do the Down East Circle.  Heck, we even scheduled a walking food tour for Tuesday.

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We’re tucked in just below the Old City.  We don’t plan to move again until at least Thursday.

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Cones suck, but French-Canadians are awesome

Yesterday was gray and dingy and gloomy, so we’ll start with a dash of color.  One of our favorite activities is sitting on the bow watching sunsets.  Unless it’s cold.  Or hot.  Or rainy.  Or bugs are about.  The night before, however, we got a good one.

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The forecast included a “squall watch” and rain, but not until late afternoon.  At about 8:00, our weather apps predicted a zero chance of rain in the morning.  We’ll take zero chance of rain every time.  We figured to be safely docked at Trois-Rivières—Three Rivers but not the one where the Pirates played—long before the storms hit.   We set up the flybridge for the five-hour trip without a care.

Ten minutes after leaving, the downpour hit.

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We still could see the stinking marina off our stern.  We immediately checked the same apps, which unhelpfully now reported a 100% chance of rain.  Duh.  Someone somewhere is really bad at the weather thing and should be sent back to working the McDonalds’ drive-through rather than pretending to be a meteorologist.  But the marina in Saint-Ours was pretty tricky and we didn’t want to go back so we settled in—in the sealed pilothouse this time—for a day in the rain.

The Saint Lawrence is another of those confounding rivers that goes the wrong way. Everyone knows that north is up and south is down and water flows down and every river in the world joins the Mississippi and ends up flooding New Orleans. Yet somehow the Saint Lawrence defies the laws of hydrodynamics.  It starts in Lake Ontario and empties in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence somewhere near Newfoundland.  Go figure.

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We cruised up the river from the source last year, and the Down East Circle will take us out to the Atlantic this year.  We thought maybe there’d be a good photo opportunity when we dead-ended into it yesterday.  Nope.  But just past the big ships is where we turned right.

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Last year we commented on Saint Lawrence (the person) so we’ll skip that this time.  The important point here is that Jacques Cartier explored Saint Lawrence (the river) on behalf of France, which explains why we can’t read the breakfast menu.  Based on our first day on it, we reasonably might deduce that the Saint Lawrence is gray, with fast current, and has some of the more unattractive lighthouses we’ve seen so far.

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However, we also were pretty confident that yesterday was an outlier and in the sunlight things would look much better.   Anyway, we made it to Three Rivers.

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Given the whole language problem, we’ve come to like the pictograms that not even fools like us can misinterpret.  For example, even though we found one we’ve not seen at any of the 150 or so marinas so far, we immediately understood to watch out for people who might be trying to step out of water puddles.

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For two of us, the day improved tremendously when we met Gold Loopers Maurice and Renée, who live aboard Le Marie-Sophie.  They both are local to this marina since the 1960s.  For nine years, however, they wintered in Gold Canyon and explored much of the Arizona we love.

The other one of us didn’t really care about meeting Gold Loopers, yet his day was best of all.  Last week Oscar managed to get an eye infection so he’s been a bit cranky.  

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When we docked we removed the Cone of Shame.  He didn’t even mind walking in the rain.

But that all was yesterday.  Today was glorious.  The sun was out, which made everything better.  Maurice and Renée drove us around town before taking us to their favorite breakfast place, where we weren’t embarrassed at all but may have embarrassed them with our weak attempts at French.  They were great.  Lots of good tips about our upcoming route.  Many funny stories.  They confirmed that the railroad bridge that scared the crap out of us is well known as being incredibly dangerous.  Taught us some words.  Unbelievable.  Turns out they’re sort of royalty, since Maurice’s father and ancestors ran the government side of things here while Renée‘s ancestors ran the merchant side of things.  Just great people to hang around.

But Maurice and Renée weren’t done.  Maurice grabbed two of his buddies to help raise our mast.  That was huge, because we couldn’t figure out how we could do it without speaking the language.  Knock, knock.  It was Maurice again.  He knew we needed a spare water pump, so he called a marine supply store in Quebec City and arranged for us to pick it up when we arrive.  All while insisting that he was doing it for himself, not for us.  Unbelievable.

Knock, knock.  This time, a different Maurice.  This Maurice heard we were heading around Nova Scotia and worried that we didn’t have fender boards.  So he drove Doug to the local equivalent of a Home Depot to get boards, then to two other places in search of the right lines, then to his home to trim the boards.  Unbelievable.

Back at the dock, the Maurices drilled holes.  Then Renée spent two hours patiently splicing lines.  Unbelievable.  Several of their friends stopped by to sit and chat.  We couldn’t understand anything, although we laughed along when it seemed appropriate but probably wasn’t.

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Because the day was so unbelievable, we did a piss-poor job of taking pictures to show it.  But we did wave to Le Marie-Sophie when she headed back to her mooring ball.

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We’ve added Maurice and Renée to the short list of the most incredible people we’ve met while underway.  And mostly because of all the wonderful people, we’ve added Trois-Rivières to the short list of our favorite places.

Bon soir nos amis.

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It’s like a different country up here, Or “No hablo Français”

Today was supposed to be leisurely, at least until we had to start the chores that have been backing up on us like a toilet about to explode.  We even slept in, until Oscar decided it was time to get up.

Yesterday we got our first inkling that this language thing might be more, um, interesting, than we anticipated.  When we were in British Columbia, the locals sounded almost like they were from Minnesota.  Last year in Ontario, the accents almost were bland.  Like everyone was from Kansas.  Not so much in Quebec, where French is the official tongue.   Unfortunately, Dana—like Sam Cooke—don’t know much about the French she took.  Doug knows a bit about a science book but never studied French.  Which left us pretty disadvantaged.

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On our walk around town this morning we stopped for breakfast.  Uh oh.  No English subtitles on the menu.  Some stuff we sort of could figure out.  Some stuff not so much.  And the waitress—who was fun and engaging and attentive—couldn’t help.  But we’re learning.  For example, using our powers of linguistic deduction we now know the French word for “gas.”

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Anyway, we walked to the church over which we watched yesterday’s sunset.  It was pretty cool today as well.

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We also bopped over to Fort Chambly.  Which was closed.  We knew it was closed because locked doors speak a universal language.

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About then, Dana suggested that with the possibility of bad travel days ahead, perhaps we should go part way down—which is up on the map—the Richelieu River.  Hey that’s a great idea!  Back to the  boat, walk Oscar a last time, clean the strainer, fire up the engine.  Off the dock at 11:15.  Chores can wait.

Although we’re headed due north, the Richelieu flows that direction.  We immediately picked up the current.  Hey we’re going almost ten knots!  We don’t know the exact exchange rate, but we figure that’s at least thirteen knots Canadian.  The quaint towns lining the river zipped by.

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We’ve passed a bunch of ferries during our journey, but can’t recall another one that  just rides back and forth on a cable, almost like the one that Josey Wales shot loose while escaping incompetent bounty hunters.  No propellers.  Today we saw three of them.

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There was one and only one slightly concerning bit about the run up to Saint-Ours.  While in Burlington, we met Loopers heading south.  They claimed there was a railroad bridge that makes men cry and women faint.  The current funnels through an opening just wide enough for one boat, they warned.  Companions of theirs were swept into the rocks and it took three boats to pull them out.  But we’ve heard horror stories before.  Probably nothing to fear at all.

Hmmm.  Navionics shows the path through the bridge, but mostly it’s covered with red warning icons.  This can’t be good.  The comments say lay on your horn and make sure nobody is coming upstream because once you commit there’s no bailing out.  But since going downstream in fast current makes a boat difficult to steer, down-streamers have the right-of-way, which we figured was good enough for us.

Ok, the bridge is coming up.  What the hell?  Why would the river be littered with kids right near a danger zone?  Just our luck.

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The opening is on the port side, hard against the shore.  Which means you fricken can’t see what’s on the other side UNTIL YOU’RE ALREADY IN THE CHUTE.  We tried creeping up to the blind corner, but there’s only so much creeping one can do when the current grabs the hull.  We laid on the horn. Dana craned her neck.  “Nobody’s coming we can go.”  Followed almost immediately by “Oh shit there’s a big boat right at the bridge!”  It might have been our clean living.  It might have been our choice of a good boat.  Regardless, we threw the prop into reverse at about 1800 rpms and managed to back up just long enough to let the bastard get by us.  In the panicked moment Dana failed to get a photo of said bastard’s boat, but she recovered nicely in time for this one, just before we rode through like it was the log ride at Dollywood.

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The Navionics screenshot of our path—in yellow—tells the story.

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Well that was exciting!  How about no more excitement for the day?  We’d be fine with that.

A couple of hours later we reached the Saint-Ours Canal.  The Saint-Ours Canal is another National Historic Site, which is a tad odd since it takes less time to traverse the canal than it does to say “National Historic Site.”  The entire canal is just one lock.

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On the side, Parcs Canada rents out oTENTiks at the lock.  No joke.  That’s what they’re called.  But they do look like fun.

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Around a couple more bends and we docked at the Parc Bellerive Marina and Campground.  The last time we were at one of these marina/motor home joints was in Everglades City.  Our inability to read or speak French was an issue—again—at the adjacent restaurant, but it’s actually kind of fun.  Our “French” comes out sounding absurdly like something between Inspector Clouseau and Pepé Le Pew.   The nice Canadians all try to help us out, of course, in a way that Aunt Terri might finish off with a “bless their hearts.”  But hey, it’s their beautiful country.  We’re just happy to sit back and enjoy passing through.

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