Montreal is a marvelous repair station for a storm-weary or cruise-weary family. But Montreal Harbor, with its strong current, difficult approach from the eastern side and virtual absence of small-boat facilities, is a good place to avoid. It is much better, particularly when going downstream, to turn off west of the city and dock the boat at Lachine. There are several excellent marinas in this Montreal suburb, which is only a short taxi ride from downtown.
We had, unfortunately, made no hotel reservations, and the city seemed to be full of conventions. Sorry, they said at the Laurentien. Sorry, said the Mt. Royal. Full up, said the Ritz-Carlton. Finally we were accepted at the new Skyline Hotel near the airport. We arrived dressed in sneakers and shorts, our clothing in duffel bags, the captain bearded and holding a rather travel-worn poodle on leash. The Skyline turned out to be a gleaming, modern place full of deep carpets, indoor shrubbery and well-dressed guests. I called the troops to attention. "If they try to turn us away," I said, "we fight." Instead the desk man smiled.
"Welcome ashore," he said and handed a bellboy our key. Apparently yachtsmen are accepted anywhere.
Montreal is an island created by the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, and there is about it the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a great seaport which, of course, Montreal is, although this particular seaport is located 800 miles from the sea. In the old waterfront section of town, where Jacques Cartier first stepped ashore in 1535 and where Champlain followed 68 years later, many of the old buildings are still standing. Near the famous French market is Bonsecours Church, built in 1657 as a sailors' chapel. The Chateau de Ramezay was headquarters for Continental troops for seven months during 1775-1776, and here Benjamin Franklin preached revolution to a not altogether attentive Canadian audience. In this same vicinity General Richard Montgomery planned his attack on Quebec.
Richelieu Park raceway was running, a magnet for Tracy, who will take a horse any day in preference to an entire fleet of boats. There were free band concerts at night in one of the parks, and enough great restaurants to please even a traveler from New York: Mother Martin's, Chez Pierre, Desjardins, Chez Ernest, the Mt. Royal, the Ritz. And we rode through the vast parks that hug the sides of Mount Royal, an extinct volcano in the center of the city.
From Mount Royal you can almost see St. Jean, the next night's stopover from Montreal, but by boat St. Jean lies 110 miles and 11 locks away. In the morning we headed back to the St. Lawrence, its waters no longer green but muddied by association with the Ottawa River. Dozens of tankers and freighters passed, standing upstream, strewing egg cartons and banana peels in their wake. Past the little towns with the French names we ran: Varennes, Vercheres, St. Sulpice, Contrecoeur, Lanoraie, any one of which can supply a wonderful French meal. At Sorel we threaded through the protecting rocks into an excellent harbor and took on ice and fuel and groceries for the run up the Richelieu River.
The Richelieu is delightful cruising country, sparsely settled and open. Occasionally a French-Canadian youngster in an outboard would dart out from his dock to race us, waving and shouting greetings that we could not always understand. We locked upstream at St. Ours and then, crossing the Chambly Basin, entered the Chambly Canal.
After the St. Lawrence Seaway the Chambly locks are microscopic. Two boats like ours fill them to the brim. The gates are opened and closed by hand. Water leaks through the doors, and small dead frogs float on the surface. But the cottages alongside are neat and clean, the gardens full of flowers, and in the Chambly locks you are never lonesome. Everyone in town comes down to watch the boats go through. Except on Sunday, of course, when all the locks shut down for the day.
In the canal we cruised drowsily along, looking out on vegetable gardens and pigs and clothes flapping on the line. It was 8:30 p.m. before we pulled into a slip at the fine marina in St. Jean, two weeks since we had left home.
Next morning we made a leisurely stop at He aux Noix to see beautifully restored Fort Lennox, which dates back to early French battles with the Iroquois. It later served as a strategic river-blockade point for French, British and American troops, who spent a great deal of time throwing one another out. You can close your eyes and almost hear the howls of the Indians and the shouts of the troops. We tried it and it worked, only the shouts came not from Iroquois but a large encampment of boy scouts. Under willow trees that covered the grassy banks we took a swim in a still pool and broke out water skis.