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The premier event of Carnaval de Québec has become ice canoeing, a unique sport stemming from early French settlement along the St. Lawrence:  in summer boats connected the opposite sides of the river, and in winter sleds traversed, but during the times between, canoes alone could provide this contact.  The need for treacherous crossings ended after the introduction of steamboats and building of bridges.

Now, hazards are addressed, and a total of 290 canoeists raced this year, 58 canoes.  Rules require that canoes weigh at least 225 pounds and provide a prescribed amount of flotation.

Use the map below to orient yourself.  The top three photos I took standing at point 1 looking toward the river.  Here a crane lowers a canoe onto the frozen portion of outer part of Bassin Louise.

See the pine tree cluster in the photo above?  That’s point 2.  U is upstream (to the right) and D, downstream (to the left).  The race happened on an ebb tide, so ice floes moved at 4 to 5 knots from U to D.  Obviously, since the race is from 1 to 2 to 3 for four crossings, racers leave the bassin and turn upstream, making the course triangular.

 

The rest of these photos I took from point 2, over near the pine trees.  Here the safety tug Ocean Henry Bain departs the bassin to break up ice that’s gathered at the opening over the past hour.

You can barely make out the city of Lévis–marked as 3 on the map–on the other side.

The bonhomme banner flies from the mast.

After the third prolonged blast from Ocean Henry Bain, the first racers–the elite women’s teams– depart, five -person crews wearing spiked crampons push the waxed bottomed canoes to open water.  The technique here is this:  keep two hands and one knee on the boat at all times in case your boot goes through.

Note the crowd;  numbers estimation has become a contentious sport in itself, but I’d guess 10,000 spectators braved the cold to be there.

Here the transition from pushing to rowing–with spiked oars–

begins.

Ten minutes later, other teams head out, again after a third blast from Ocean Henry Bain. 

Only the crew member at the stern has a paddle, rather than an oar.

Recall that at this point, crews turn upstream to contend with the 4 to 5 knot current;  the water flows that fast, and any ice chunks there do too.  So the technique here is to get momentum upstream ASAP.

Or else.  Here the blue canoe–heading for the tug, i.e., the wrong direction, got pushed downstream by that ice floe.  The red canoe also going the wrong way got turned by the blue canoe.  The three teams on the ice need to get to open water upstream ASAP because they are floating downstream.

Click on the photo of Jean Anderson below to get the article I’ve copied it from, but you’ll have to translate it.  Anderson is ice canoeing royalty,  a perennial champion of this event, as well as an innovator of gear for the sport.  Jean and his brother Jacques are mentioned in this article in English.

If you decide you have to witness ice canoeing, four more races are coming up in the next 30 days:  Montreal Feb. 11, Isle -aux-Coudres Feb. 17, Sorel-Tracy Feb. 24, and the grand championship back at Bassin Louise March 3.

All photos by Will Van Dorp, who wonders what other unique sports events like this there are . . .  All I can think of right now are woodcutters festival like the one in Tupper Lake and Boonville and the Iditarod.  Surfing maybe?  Schooner racing?  Eleven Cities Tour? Bronc riding?  Help me out here.

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