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'Battling waves, watching whales'

Last modified: 9/7/2012 12:00:00 AM
I wrote last week's column in Parc National du Fjord du Saguenay near Rivere Eternite, Quebec. This week, I'm home. Frankly, I wish we were still in Quebec enjoying one of our best Active Outdoors getaways ever.

Our goal on the trip was to paddle our sea kayaks on spectacular Saguenay Fjord and, hopefully, see some whales as we paddled. We'd signed up for two guided paddles with OrganizAction (OrganisAction.com), one of several companies that run kayak tours on the fjord.

On our first excursion, a

strong wind kept us within Baie Eternite. The winds continued next day; we saw other kayakers out on the cove at L'Anse Saint Jean but they were clearly struggling and we stayed ashore. Thursday would have been ideal for kayaking but (naturally) I was committed to fishing on the Petit Saguenay. Heavy thunderstorms rolled through that night.

Friday was our last hope for paddling among the whales. Not a breath of wind so much as rippled the water when we met our guide, Mathieu Bergeron, at low tide on the shores of Anse Saint Etienne and dragged our boats about 200 yards to launch. A half mile later we paddled into the main fjord with a breeze rippling the water. Our goal was Baie Sainte Marguerite, a common hangout for whales about 3.5 miles away.

As we paddled, looking for whales, the winds picked up - but so gradually we hardly noticed. Still, by the time we reached Cap Sainte Marguerite, a sharp rain squall blew through, leaving the waves topped with whitecaps. I jokingly told Marilyn her new nickname was "She Who Calls The Winds." Mathieu, who sits in a rocking sea kayak as comfortably as most of us sit in an easy chair, didn't seem concerned, but I asked to pull out at the first safe beach for lunch. As we fought the wind, Marilyn saw our first whale of the trip, about 50 yards ahead. I was looking in the wrong direction and missed it.

We sat on a rocky point, ate our lunches, and watched for whales, but all we could see were building waves and whitecaps. By the time we finished lunch, the quiet little beach we had landed on was being pounded by 3-foot waves. Launching was a trick, and the next 10 minutes were just plain scary in closely spaced waves as high as our heads.

Mathieu stayed close to Marilyn to help keep her safe. I could barely control my boat, but made it safely into a tiny, semi-protected cove where I waited for Mathieu and "She Who Calls The Wind." From there, we decided to raft the three boats together and, basically, let the wind push us where we were going. Marilyn's boat was sandwiched in the middle as she held on to both Mathieu's boat and mine. Mathieu and I paddled as needed to steer us on the correct course. We floated about three miles that way in 45 minutes, back to the mouth of the cove where we'd launched.

As we separated and paddled into the protected waters of the cove, we began to see pure white Beluga whales around us, nine in total, some as close as 50 yards. We could see and hear it when they spouted. In the calm water, seeing the whales was like seeing a rainbow after a violent storm had passed; it felt like a blessing.

The 10 scary minutes around Cap Sainte Marguerite were just that, 10 very scary minutes. I'm glad we did it, glad no one capsized, glad we didn't have to do it any longer. Overall, paddling among the whales of Saguenay Fjord was one of the most soul-satisfying experiences I've ever had outdoors. Marilyn and I are already planning to go back as soon as we can.

Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!Where to stay, eat, play

Our first night was spent in the Auberge de la riviere Saguenay (aubergesaguenay.com) in the village of La Baie, where innkeeper Pauline Gagnon and her husband welcomed us as friends, fed us a great dinner and breakfast, and put us in a room with a spectacular view out onto the improbably named Baie des Ha! Ha!. Highly recommended.

Our second night was in the comfortable "Hutopia" cabin tent in Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay, which had clean sheets and blankets, stove, fridge, pots, dishes and utensils, even a heater - essentially everything needed for comfort. We cooked our own dinnerand went to bed very early.

It rained and the wind blew much of the next day, but we had fun touring the village of L'Anse-Saint-Jean and whiling away the afternoon in the Nordic Spa at Edouard-les-Bains (edouard-les-bains.com). Our third night we ate an excellent dinner and slept in a very comfortable room at Auberges des Cevennes, where innkeeper Thomas Dufour served up a delicious dinner of local produce and fresh salmon.

After a day spent fishing on the Petit Saguenay River (petitsaguenay.com) while Marilyn stayed at the Auberges des Cevennes and explored L'Anse Saint Jean, our fourth night was spent in a cozy cabin right next to a waterfall (Chutes St Antoine) on the Petit Saguenay River. Talk about relaxing - listening to the water flow all night long! We ate dinner that night in the lovely Auberge du Jardin (aubergedujardin.com) and enjoyed one of the top-10 best restaurant meals ever (five course, each perfect!). Don't miss it.

Launched from the Village Vacances Petit-Saguenay (a summer camp for adults and kids on the shores of Anse Saint Etienne), we paddled with the whales on Friday. A beautiful spot and a great place for a "French immersion" vacation for you and your kids.

For our last night, we drove down to Tadoussac, where Saguenay Fjord empties into the St. Lawrence River, and spent one night in the elegant Hotel Tadoussac (hoteltadoussac.com). If you like the Omni Mount Washington, you'll love this place. Same elegance, beautiful garden, gorgeous views. The buffet dinner at their Le Coverdale Dining Room was simply excellent.

Then we had to drive home ... sigh.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)


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