Story by Jody Robbins
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — I’m drenched to the bone within minutes. We plough directly into the eight-f00t high waves that assault the boat and explode over our heads. The winds are fierce, not quite gale force, but enough to do serious damage to your newly coiffed hairdo. Fortunately, I’m not at the Flemish Cap. Unfortunately, George Clooney isn’t beside me, though it seems at times I’m in the Perfect Storm.
I’m jet boating along the Lachine Rapids of the St. Lawrence River, with Saute-Moutons, a white-water rafting company located at the Old Port of Montreal. The one-hour ride makes for a rip-roaring good time, through a spectacular stretch of white water that’s surprisingly close to downtown Montreal.
Consider it an adrenaline-fuelled boat cruise tour. Onboard guides tell the tale of early French explorers and the history of the St. Lawrence Seaway, while pointing out notable landmarks. It’s also the most refreshing way to see the city.
“If you don’t get wet on the boat, we’ll throw you overboard,” threatens guide Todd Gatien.
Not just any craft can ride these rapids, deemed unnavigable by Transport Canada. Due to the swift current and shallow water, the Coast Guard won’t venture between the Island of Montreal and the south shore, but Saute-Moutons will. Their custom-made, oversized aluminum jet boats of 1,300 horsepower, have no trouble negotiating this area.
After watching an instructional video, passengers suit up with a fleece pull-over, one-piece nylon jumpsuit, life vest and hooded rain poncho. Tip: Despite all the gear, you’ll still get soaked through, so wear a bathing suit. For your feet, take the guides up on their offer of booties, unless you like sloshing around with wet footwear hours later. Oh, and be sure to bring a towel.
MONTREAL’S AWESOME WHITE-WATER RAPIDS
Once boarded, it takes about 10 minutes on the water to reach the rapids. Then the real fun begins, as the boat plays amongst the eddies of the Lachine Rapids. We plunge, bow-first, into the waves. I feel like I’m on an amusement park ride, but the foam padding on the back of the seat in front of me (there in case a wave suddenly knocks your head down) reminds me this is the real thing.
I’ll admit it, I’m scared. But I feel the need to act cool and roll with it, or my seat mate, nine-year-old Justin from Toronto, will think I’m a wuss.
“That was epic!” he screeches, each time the waves strike with unwavering vehemence.
I get used to getting wet, but not the eerie sensation of water swirling around my calves, a virtual current within the boat, left in the wake of the waves. And the precarious angle of the boat has me worried about tipping over. But I remind myself, over five million passengers have ridden these same rapids in the past 30 years, without incident.
“We do something seemingly dangerous, in a very safe way,” says Jack Kowalski, founder of Saute-Moutons.
Just as I get the hang of being a wet noodle, dark, ominous clouds appear, moving faster across the water than the boat. Lightning seems all too close, yet we manage to outrun the storm and return safely to the dock.
The rain lashes at us, just as we make our way inside to dry off and warm up with complimentary hot chocolate. We’re all intact, and there is no wreckage — except, of course, my hair.
MORE ABOUT SAUTE-MOUTONS
Boarding Location: Quai de l’horlogue, Old Port of Montréal (see map below)
Contact: Telephone, 514-284-9607; website: www.jetboatingmontreal.com.
Hours of Operation: Daily departures from 10 am-6 pm from May until October.
Admission Prices: $67 per adult, $57 per teenager (13 to 18 years old) and $47 per child (6 to 12 years old).
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NOTE: Photos courtesy of Saute-Moutons