From May through October specially designed jet boats leave Montreal's Old Port for a thrashing, splashing, soak-you-to-the-bone trip through the Lachine Rapids. We've taken this trip three times now. Each has been a treat, but none could compare to this year's trip when the air temperature hovered around 100 degrees F.
About a half hour before scheduled departure you sit and watch a video for a better idea of what you're getting into, followed by an entertaining lecture given in both English and French on safety, clothing and boat procedures. Following the talk, if the group is large enough, it divides into two boats: English speakers in one, French in the other.
Normally, the cold water and cool breeze require special clothing. Start with the absolute certainty that anything you wear will get soaked. The Saute Mouton people provide an Army surplus wool sweater (wool retains body heat, even when wet), life jacket, windproof poncho and neoprene booties but all we wore this trip were the life jacket and booties.
Then its into the boat for a 15 minute trip up the Saint Lawrence River to the rapids. Approaching the rapids conversations always stop and an air of apprehension descends. A guide who clambers all over the boat with total disregard for his personal safety keeps reminding you what to do: hold onto the rail, stay seated, and keep your mouth shut when the water comes at you!
The name Saute Mouton comes from the early explorers who were reminded of sheep by the white capped waves in the rapids - mouton is French for 'sheep.' 'Saute' is French for jumping, so Saute Mouton means Jumping the Sheep. The only thing is in most cases you don't jump the sheep so much as power through them or get tossed around by them.
The boats are built low to the water: when you're that low, everything seems to be moving faster and the waves look so much larger. Don't misunderstand - the boats can fly and the waves are big, especially when one lands in your lap! And everyone - front, middle and back of the boat will have a couple of waves crash over them. The body of the boat will fill up with water 2/3 of the way up to your knee at times before the powerful jet engines clear it.
After the first trip through, anxiety and fear disappear, turned to excitement and cheers. The boat turns and powers upriver for another trip through. You'll go through the rapids 6 times before heading back to shore; usually the complete trip takes a bit more than an hour.
It's pricey - It was about $53 CDN per adult, less for children (minimum age: 6). On a hot, sunny August day it's one of the most fun, most refreshing things to do in Montreal. On a cool day in May or October I'd think twice about it... but then I'd go anyhow!