National Geographic : 1970 Jul
Brotherhood and Tom Beers shouted together. "You mean starboard?" I shouted back. "No, port! Port! Quick!" I spun the wheel hard as I could. Then I looked up. We were barely clearing the stern of the freighter. She had turned directly across our bow! We passed so close I could hear her diesel clattering. Her wake hit us like a tidal wave. But we were safe, thanks to the Navy training of Tom and John-O, veterans of World War II sea watches. Guided by the radio beam from its tall lighthouse, we ran on for Prince Shoal. Soon we picked up the roar of the tower's diaphone, sounding at 20-second intervals. Now, as I look back on what followed, I know that the old mariners were not exag gerating when they described the maelstrom of tide- and current-ridden seas at the junc ture of Saguenay and St. Lawrence. The ebb tide swept us downriver faster than we knew. An unseen crosscurrent set us toward the shoal. When the 83-foot light tower (right) burst from the fog like a great sailing ship under spinnaker, we were headed directly for it at better than 10 knots. For the second time that day I frantically wrestled the wheel. Again we missed disaster by a matter of feet. Saguenay Squall Brings a Knockdown Now we entered the mouth of the river, and for half an hour White Mist sailed on without incident. Our heartbeats went back to normal. Then a full northerly gale funneled suddenly out of Saguenay's gorge, scattering the fog in racing shreds. I turned to Tom Beers to order the mainsail doused. But as I opened my mouth to speak, a vio lent williwaw, or white squall, laid the ship flat on her beam ends. This was the terrible knockdown mentioned at the outset of this yarn. Water filled the cockpit, and from the cabin came the sound of crashing dishes and my wife's voice, raised in alarm. I luffed White Mist back to an even keel. Tom and the watch brought the main down on the run and fisted it into a furl. We went on under jib and mizzen, looking for a good anchorage in front of the red-roofed Hotel Tadoussac on its green hillside. We let two storm anchors go in 40 feet of water as the north wind howled. I remember thinking, as the yawl settled to her lines, that if the sea gods would see us safely through the night, I'd return to the St. Lawrence next day. Candy-striped lighthouse, built in 1964, guards treacherous Prince Shoal off the entrance to the Sag uenay River. Wicked currents, powerful winds, and ripsaw shoals make this stretch a sailor's night mare. In thick fog, swirling waters nearly carried White Mist into the light tower's base. Pod of beluga whales, kin to porpoises, sport in the cliff-girt Saguenay. Man-shy, they dived at White Mist's approach. Tasseled by a slender cascade, this wall of rock plunges 600 feet below the water, creating a submarine gorge for the deep-diving white whales.