[ FROM QUEBEC, CANADA, TO PLATTSBURGH, NEW YORK STATE ]
FROM QUEBEC TO SOREL
THE WATER-WAY INTO THE CONTINENT. -- THE WESTERN AND THE SOUTHERN ROUTE TO THE GULF OF MEXICO. -- THE MAYETA. -- COMMENCEMENT OF THE VOYAGE. -- ASCENT OF THE RIVER ST. LAWRENCE. -- LAKE OF ST. PETER. -- ACADIAN TOWN OF SOREL
The southern and shorter coast route to the gulf leaves the great river at the Acadian town of Sorel, where the quiet Richelieu flows into the St. Lawrence River. Of the two long routes offered me I selected the southern, leaving the other to be traversed at some future time. To follow the contours of rivers, bays, and sounds, a voyage of at least twenty-five hundred miles was before me. It was my intention to explore the connecting watercourses southward, without making a single portage, as far as Cape Henlopen, a sandy headland at the entrance of Delaware Bay; there, by making short portages from one watercourse to another, to navigate along the interior of the Atlantic coast to the St. Mary's River, which is a dividing line between Georgia and Florida. From the Atlantic coast of southern Georgia, I proposed to cross the peninsula of Florida by way of the St. Mary's River, to Okefenokee Swamp; thence, by portage, to the Suwanee River, and by descending that stream (the boundary line of a geographical division -- eastern and middle Florida), to reach the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, which was to be the terminal point of my canoe journey. Charts, maps and sea-faring men had informed me that about twenty-three hundred miles of the trip could be made upon land-locked waters, but about two hundred miles of voyaging must be done upon the open Atlantic Ocean.
As I now write, I smilingly remember how erroneous were my advisers; for, while prosecuting my voyage, I was but once upon the open sea and then through mistake and for only a few minutes. Had I then known that I could have followed the whole route in a small boat upon strictly interior waters, I should have paddled from the Basin of Quebec in the light paper canoe which I afterwards adopted at Troy, and which carried me alone in safety two thousand miles to the warm regions of the Gulf of Mexico. The counsels of old seamen had influenced me to adopt a large wooden clinker-built, decked canoe, eighteen feet long, forty-five inches beam, and twenty-four inches depth of hold, which weighed, with oars, rudder, mast and sail, above three hundred pounds. The Mayeta was built by an excellent workman, Mr. J. S. Lamson, at Bordentown, New Jersey. The boat was sharp at each end, and the lines from amidships to stem, and from amidships to stempost, were alike. She possessed that essential characteristic of seaworthiness, abundant sheer. The deck was pierced for a cockpit in the centre, which was six feet long and surrounded by a high combing to keep out water. The builder had done his best to make the Mayeta serve for rowing and sailing -- a most difficult combination, and one not usually successful.
On the morning of July 4, 1874, I entered the Basin of Quebec with my wooden canoe and my waterman, one David Bodfish, a "shoreman" of New Jersey. After weeks of preparation and weary travel by rail and by water, we had steamed up the Gulf and the River of St. Lawrence to this our most northern point of departure. We viewed the frowning heights upon which was perched the city of Quebec with unalloyed pleasure, and eagerly scrambled up the high banks to see the interesting old city. The tide, which rises at the city piers eighteen feet in the spring, during the neaps reaches only thirteen feet. Late in the afternoon the incoming tide promised to assist us in ascending the river, the downward current of which runs with torrent-like velocity, and with a depth abreast the city of from sixteen to twenty fathoms. Against this current powerful steamers run one hundred and eighty miles up the river to Montreal in eighteen hours, and descend in fourteen hours, including two hours' stoppages at Sorel and Three Rivers. At six o'clock P. M. we pushed off into the river, which is about two-thirds of a mile wide at this point, and commenced our voyage; but fierce gusts of wind arose and drove us to the shelter of Mr. Hamilton's lumber-yard on the opposite shore, where we passed the night, sleeping comfortably upon cushions which we spread on the narrow floor of the boat. Sunday was to be spent in camp; but when dawn appeared we were not allowed build a fire on the lumber pier, and were forced to ascend the St. Lawrence in quest of a retired spot above the landing of St. Croix, on the right bank of the river. The tide had been a high one when we beached our boat at the foot of a bluff. Two hours later the receding tide left us a quarter of a mile from the current. The river was fully two miles wide at this point, and so powerful was its current that steamers anchored in it were obliged to keep their wheels slowly revolving to ease the strain on their anchors. Early on Monday morning we beheld with consternation that the tide did not reach our boat, and by dint of hard labor we constructed a railroad from a neighboring fence, and moved the Mayeta on rollers upon it over the mud and the projecting reef of rocks some five hundred feet to the water, then embarking, rowed close along the shore to avoid the current. A deep fog settled down upon us, and we were driven to camp again on the left bank, where a cataract tumbled over the rocks fifty or more feet. Tuesday was a sunny day, but the usual head wind greeted us. The water would rise along-shore on the flood three hours before the downward current was checked in the channel of the river. We could not place any dependence in the regularity of the tides, as strong winds and freshets in the tributaries influence them. Earlier in the season, as a writer remarks, "until the upland waters have all run down, and the great rivers have discharged the freshets caused by thawing of the snows in the spring of the year, this current, in spite of tides, will always run down." To the uninitiated the spectacle is a curious one, of the flood tide rising and swelling the waters of a great river some eight to ten feet, while the current at the surface is rapidly descending the course of the stream.
Finding that the wind usually rose and fell with the sun, we now made it a rule to anchor our boat during most of the day and pull against the current at night. The moon and the bright auroral lights made this task an agreeable one. Then, too, we had Coggia's comet speeding through the northern heavens, awakening many an odd conjecture in the mind of my old salt.
In this high latitude day dawned before three o'clock, and the twilight lingered so long that we could read the fine print of a newspaper without effort at a quarter to nine o'clock P. M. The lofty shores that surrounded us at Quebec gradually decreased in elevation, and the tides affected the river less and less as we approached Three Rivers, where they seemed to cease altogether. We reached the great lumber station of Three Rivers, which is located on the left bank of the St. Lawrence, on Friday evening, and moved our canoe into quiet waters near the entrance of Lake of St. Peter. Rain squalls kept us close under our hatch-cloth till eleven o'clock A. M. on Saturday, when, the wind being fair, we determined to make an attempt to reach Sorel, which would afford us a pleasant camping-ground for Sunday.
Lake of St. Peter is a shoal sheet of water twenty-two miles long and nearly eight miles wide, a bad place to cross in a small boat in windy weather. We set our sail and sped merrily on, but the tempest pressed us sorely, compelling us to take in our sail and scud under bare poles until one o'clock, when we double-reefed and set the sail. We now flew over the short and swashy seas as blast after blast struck our little craft. At three o'clock the wind slackened, permitting us to shake out our reefs and crowd on all sail. A labyrinth of islands closed the lake at its western end, and we looked with anxiety to find among them an opening through which we might pass into the river St. Lawrence again. At five o'clock the wind veered to the north, with squalls increasing in intensity. We steered for a low, grassy island, which seemed to separate us from the river. The wind was not free enough to permit us to weather it, so we decided to beach the boat and escape the furious tempest. But when we struck the marshy island we kept moving on through the rushes that covered it, and fairly sailed over its submerged soil into the broad water on the other side. Bodfish earnestly advised the propriety of anchoring here for the night, saying, "It is too rough to go on;" but the temptation held out by the proximity to Sorel determined me to take the risk and drive on. Again we bounded out upon rough water, with the screeching tempest upon us. David took the tiller, while I sat upon the weather-rail to steady the boat. The Mayeta was now to be put to a severe test; she was to cross seas that could easily trip a boat of her size; but the wooden canoe was worthy of her builder, and flew like an affrighted bird over the foaming waves across the broad water, to the shelter of a wooded, half submerged island, out of which rose, on piles, a little light-house. Under this lee we crept along in safety. The sail was furled, never to be used in storm again. The wind went down with the sinking sun, and a delightful calm favored us for our row up the narrowing river, eight miles to the place of destination.
Soon after nine o'clock we came upon the Acadian town, Sorel, with its bright lights cheerily flashing out upon us as we rowed past its river front. The prow of our canoe was now pointed southward toward the goal of our ambition, the great Mexican Gulf; and we were about to ascend that historic stream, the lovely Richelieu, upon whose gentle current, two hundred and sixty-six years before, Champlain had ascended to the noble lake which bears his name, and up which the missionary Jogues had been carried an unwilling captive to bondage and to torture.
We ascended the Richelieu, threading our way among steam-tugs, canal-boats, and rafts, to a fringe of rushes growing out of a shallow flat on the left bank of the river, just above the town. There, firmly staking the Mayeta upon her soft bed of mud, secure from danger, we enjoyed a peaceful rest through the calm night which followed; and thus ended the rough passage of one week's duration -- from Quebec to Sorel.