Sometimes the ability to speak French significantly is underrated

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu turns out to be a really neat little town.  Although it was raining and 52°—which is 11° Canadian—we walked over to chat with the lockmaster and check out the cinema for later.  What could be better than movie-theater popcorn and Top Gun: Maverick? 

Hmmm.  There’s the rub, in print so small that unobservant Americans easily could miss it until too late: “Version Française.”  We figured the nice French-Canadians watching the movie might be annoyed if Karen used her app to translate the dialog in real time for us, so we decided to skip it.

Maybe we should walk around town and look at all the stuff explained by the historical markers.  Nope, that won’t work either.

No doubt a lot of interesting events took place around here, and no doubt—just like the sign said was the case in Sunbury—many famous persons lived here.  All of it was lost on the four of us because the three of us not named Doug got nothing useful out of high school French class, and Doug never bothered at all.

Instead we decided to eat lunch.  Lots of cute little places from which to choose.

Ultimately we settled on Captaine Pouf, a place Dana picked based entirely on the fact that she liked saying the word “Pouf” despite having no idea what it meant.  Captaine Pouf got 4.5 stars—which we figured was at least 6.5 stars American—and turned out to be a decent place.

Mostly, however, Captaine Pouf was interesting because they played “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” except it was in French and they warned the mammas against their babies becoming rock stars.  Startlingly odd, that was.

Almost as startling as discovering that historic Route 66—with which we westerners are very familiar—also passed through southern Quebec.

Here’s the thing though.  We now remember why we love Canada in general and Quebec in particular.  Great people who put up with our American nonsense, beautiful scenery, and we enjoy the sound of French even though we don’t understand a damn word of it.

Nice post-storm colors on the Richelieu River Saturday evening, after Brent flummoxed our French-speaking waitress by ordering the “French onion soup.”  In French-speaking Quebec, it’s just “oignon soup.”  It’s like ordering an “American steak” in Texas.  But we all had a good laugh so it was worth it.

Sunday was all about Chambly.  The canal first.  The town second.  The Chambly Canal is only about twelve miles long, but it’s probably the coolest twelve-mile stretch we’ve done in some 15,000 miles of cruising.  Nine locks, each barely big enough for Tumbleweed.

Last time through, we traveled alone through the locks.  This time, at each one we had a sailboat named Grande Ourse threatening to shove a mast up our aft.

But once again, the canal was gorgeous.

The Chambly Canal was completed in 1843 and intended to foster trade between Canada and the United States, which seems weird since the locks are so small as to make the swapping of beaver pelts and Vermont maple syrup inefficient.  Now the canal is used by people like us in the summer and people like Hans Brinker in the winter.

In part shipping through the canal would be inefficient because—although beautiful—it’s slow going.  Actually, “slow going” is an understatement.  Joggers who hadn’t seen the sun in eight months cheerfully passed us.  That’s not hyperbole.  Here are untanned joggers cheerfully passing us.

The plan was to stop for the night on the scenic and well-protected wall above Lock—“Écluse” in French—3.  The plan was foiled by Parcs Canada, which has the temerity to flush the locks every Sunday, thereby preventing overnight stays on the scenic and well-protected wall above Écluse 3.  We found exactly one open spot at the end of the concrete slab that juts out into Lake Chambly, but that was good enough.

Despite the high winds and numerous gawkers, we managed to walk around as far as L’église Saint-Joseph, which is the church we photographed a zillion times our last trip.

About the only thing we could tell from the plaque is that the church has been looking cool since 1881, which means it was two years old when Sam Elliott led the immigrants and country music stars across the untamed west until Elsa was shot in the liver with a poisoned arrow and then died right where generations later Beth would become the Badass of Yellowstone Ranch.

But we digress.  On the way back from the church we found another of those giant Adirondack chairs that up here are called giant Muskoka chairs.

Chambly is green and colorful and vibrant.  Just the kind of place we like.

Here’s another thing about Chambly.  From the blue dot on the concrete wall where we tied up Sunday night, it’s only thirteen miles to the Montreal Yacht Club.  Those cheerful joggers could’ve made it before getting  sunburned.  At Tumbleweed speed it’s a two day trip, with an overnight stay at Saint Ours along the way.

Before heading to Saint Ours, however, one last sunset photo sort of of the church.

Our only concern on the Richelieu River up to Saint Ours was what in our family is known as “The Bridge of Near-Certain Death.”  The French-Canadian name for it roughly translates as “Russian Roulette.”

Meh.  Not a problem this time.  In fact, the only bridge-related thing of note was Dana’s legitimate beef with Brent and Karen’s cavalier lack of fear.

Here’s something new.  A tractor lowering a seaplane onto the runway.

Seaplanes are dead last in the vessel right-of-way pecking order so we weren’t concerned.  It did occur to us though, that if Brent and Karen had the foresight to book a flight to San Antonio with this outfit it would have saved them the cost of an Uber to the Montreal Airport.

Our last canal system before the Saint Lawrence was the historic Saint Ours Canal.  From end to end the entire canal is about the length of three football fields.  American football fields, that is.  Canadian football fields are 110 yards, because apparently the football field exchange rate is approximately .91.

The lock at Saint Ours is our favorite of the many scores of locks we’ve traversed.  Pull up to the floating dock.  Hand the lock attendant a line.  Look at the scenery.  That’s it.  That’s the entire process.

Someone said the little café closed at 2, and we tied up above the lock at 1:30 so hustled to make sure we could make it.

Our old friend/nemesis Grande Ourse was docked behind us but later took off for Sorel, leaving us alone amongst the oTENTiks.

Speaking of oTENTiks, they basically are tent-like structures of the type found in those rustic summer camps where parents who need a break have been dumping their kids for centuries.  Parc Canada rents them out.  Fortunately we were a week ahead of the season opener, so avoided what undoubtedly soon will make the little island a boisterous carnival of family noise.  We’re also glad they put the emphasis on the “tent,” rather than the “tiks,” which we assume is French for “ticks.”  Our family is terrified of ticks.

Perfect evening.  Peaceful.  Absolutely quiet, except for the country music we enjoyed while grilling on the flybridge.

Our friends Maurice and Renee from Trois-Rivières gave us the skinny on the trip down to Montreal against the mighty Saint Lawrence current.  “Leave your fears,” said Maurice.  So we headed out this morning shortly after dawn and shortly after one last picture.

The Richelieu?  We’ve now run the entire river two times.  Smooth as a baby’s butt.  The current was with us so we bumped it up a hair.  Nine knots?  That’ll help the long day.

As we turned the corner into the Saint Lawrence River, everything turned gloomy.

Based on a sample size of two, we deduce that Sorel is gloomy 100% of the time.  It also doesn’t help that we turned into the current this time.  But we moved along at about five knots, which was not too horrible.  Forty miles seemed pretty doable.

After about three of those forty miles, we started getting bored.  Dana took a nap. Karen enjoyed the salon lounge chairs.  Brent and Doug debated the merits of the great Kris Kristofferson, until Brent finally conceded—sort of and begrudgingly—that at least in his younger days the dude could sing as well as write awesome songs.

Although there wasn’t much to see along the way, we did find one thing we hadn’t seen before.  In the States, fathers put up basketball goals in the driveway.  If your kid plays baseball or softball, maybe you build a batting cage.  But what if you’re Canadian and your kid dreams of being in Cirque du Soleil?

That’s right, you give him or her a backyard trapeze, although as parents of a kid who fell off a trampoline and broke her arm we’d tell her that acrobats are big losers so as to manipulate her interests.

As we approached Montreal, Doug and Brent started debating issues relating to the lifeboats hanging off the backs of big ships, which led to videos of lifeboats, which led to Spruce Glen sneaking up from behind and scaring the crap out of us.

Maurice told us the trick to avoiding some of the current north of the Jacques Cartier bridge, so we slid out of the channel as instructed.

Wait.  WTF is going on with that channel marker?   It looks like a green alien wakeboarding.

That’s because at the bridge, the current funnels right where we needed to go.  And hit 6.5 knots.  THE CURRENT WAS SIX POINT FIVE KNOTS.  AGAINST US.  At 2200 rpms we barely moved forward, although swirling around back and forth wasn’t a problem at all.

Somehow we made it to the protected waters of the Montreal Yacht Club entrance and around to our slip.  We’re lucky to have a slip at all.  Over the past few weeks Doug communicated multiple times with Debbie the Dockmaster and had everything lined up.  Doug called yesterday to confirm, but the dude who answered the phone apparently misunderstood “This is Doug on Tumbleweed and I’m confirming that we’ll arrive before 6.”  So he cancelled our reservation.  But Debbie found a spot for us anyway.

More on Montreal later, since we’ll be here for a week.  Right now it’s time to collapse.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes the ability to speak French significantly is underrated”

  1. Love reading your blogs! Definitely going to be sharing this one with the Mrs to help in convincing her of Canadian side trips we MUST take when we make it up there.

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