National Geographic : 1970 Jul
North Through History Aboard White Mist ahead in longboats, and then made charts on his ship. With these, the invading fleet navigated safely to Quebec. As in Montreal, we got a friendly welcome from the mayor; M. Gilles Lamontagne invit ed us to dinner and then took us on a walking tour of the old city, reminiscent of Montmartre in Paris. Chimney pots clustered on slanting tile roofs above serpentine streets. The tracery of wrought-iron gates framed glimpses of peaceful courtyards. Nothing remains, however, of Champlain's original settlement, built in 1608 at the foot of the cliffs. Neither are there traces of the buildings in which Jacques Cartier passed the bitter winter of 1535-6, when scurvy killed 25 of his men and Indians kept the Frenchmen in constant alarm. At midnight we wandered by the old Ursu line Convent, where an order of French nuns has lived since 1644. The Marquis de Mont calm, loser on the Plains of Abraham, lies buried in one of the building's walls. "He and Wolfe were both killed in the bat tle," the mayor said. "You can be sure the fir ing was furious to get the two top generals." North Wind Carries Arctic Cold Below Ile d'Orleans the river broadens steadily down to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The look of the shore changes. Spruce on the Laurentians' slopes grows denser. Farms and villages stand farther apart. From Montreal to the Gaspe Peninsula, thousands speak French predominantly; some live in farmhouses like those of Normandy and Brittany. The weather offered fresh challenges. Strong winds whistled out of the north, chill with the breath of Arctic ice and the Labra dor barrens. Often we ran into fog and rain. "Strong norther," reads the ship's log for a typical lower river passage. "Tucked a reef in the mainsail. White Mist eating it up on a close reach with the lee rail buried. The morn ing watch look like bears in their woolly sweaters and oilskins." One bad night we had to copy Captain Cook. Beating for Ile aux Coudres in half a gale and driving rain, we found ourselves far from its shelter when night fell. Recalling the St. Lawrence River Pilot'swarning of violent currents in the roadstead, I sent Nat and Bob Watson ahead in the Whaler to find an an chorage with good holding ground. They buoyed a safe spot and came back aboard wet and cold. Bob rummaged in the library and came up with a very special chart book, reproductions of Cook's originals. "If you don't trust the modern charts, you could have used these and saved Nat and me a chilling," growled Bob. "Just look! Cook's soundings are the same as ours." Close Call in a Thick Fog We passed a night off Pointe au Pic, in the place called Malbaie-"Bad Bay"-or Mur ray Bay. We lay anchored bow and stern so we could slip our cables and run to safety in the event of a sudden storm. All night the big ships grumbled by in the river, and their wakes kept White Mist rolling without cease. Dawn found us clutched in the clammy grip of a fog so thick it was barely possible to see the ship's bow from the stern. We stood in the center of a cottony world all our own, aware of other living creatures only through the cries of unseen gulls and the nervous bellow ings of shipping in the channel. This was no river fog, but a real ocean pea souper, redolent with the fragrance of kelp beds at low tide. The water in which we floated was salt as the Atlantic itself. As we powered out into the river on com pass and set sail, the lookouts broke out our fisherman's foghorn. The old-fashioned horn produces bellows audible for miles and keeps the man who pumps it warm with exercise. All morning we passed ships we never saw, each time exchanging the signal-a single short blast on the horn-that meant we would pass each other port side to port side. Half way through the afternoon a ship thus sig naled from closer than usual. Answering, we altered slightly to starboard to keep well clear. Soon a fair-size pulp-log carrier loomed out of the fog. She came on fast with a bone in her teeth, but on a course to pass with room to spare. I turned to make sure the Whaler ran true in our wake. "Port! Hard to port!" lookouts John-O At one with the wind, White Mist flies down the lower St. Lawrence. Built in 1950 for deep-water rac ing, she has proven herself in eight Newport-Bermuda races. In 1953, skippered by her former owner, the late G. W. Blunt White, she was first to finish the 1,150-mile Buenos Aires-Rio de Janeiro Race. KODACHROME BY EDWINSTUARTGROSVENOR© N.G.S .