Imagine being thrown into a giant top loading washing machine mid-cycle and you have some idea what it feels like to ride Lachine Rapids on a Saute-Moutons jet boat. You are guaranteed to get wet!
The specially-designed flat-hulled boats, appropriately named 'Jumping Sheep' in English, allow the captain to navigate the rapids safely with lots of twists and turns, nose-diving into the waves to give everyone a proper soaking. The experience is a thrilling, adrenaline-pumping ride. I loved it!
You need to arrive at Saute-Moutons' base down by the marina at Clock Tower Pier in Montreal's Vieux Port 45 minutes before the scheduled departure to pay, sign the waiver form, watch a video and don the gear you will need to wear. Despite all the layers, you will still get wet, so bring a towel and bathers to wear or a change of clothes. I had none of these and wore only underwear beneath everything else and I had to wring them out at the end of the trip!
Dressed and ready to go! Saute-Moutons jet boat ride on Lachine Rapids
There are rest rooms and changing rooms and you can leave all your belongings in a locker room that is controlled by a member of staff. Plastic bags are provided for cameras and sunglasses, which you insert into a red bag in front of your legs on the boat just before you arrive at the rapids.
The introductory video gives you an idea of what you have let yourself in for, which is when it really strikes home just how wet you're going to get. One of the Saute-Moutons team shows you the various layers of clothing you will wear and the order in which you need to put them on. Starting from the first garment, these are a long-sleeved fleece, a windproof jumpsuit, wetsuit boots, a lifejacket and finally a hooded, sleeved waterproof cape. The last item is the only waterproof one - the others are to keep you warm or safe – but water gets in through the gaps in the sleeves and neck and your bottom half is not covered, hence my wet undies! By the time you're fully dressed in all the gear you look as though you're about to enter a sumo wrestling ring, which is very amusing to watch when everyone waddles over to the boat.
Three boats are available, each one taking about 48 people on tightly-packed bench seats with metal bars in front to hold on to, giving you just enough room to slip your legs under and sit tight. Having watched the video I decided to sit near the back as the people at the front seemed to feel the brunt of the waves – not true! Our captain clearly wanted to make sure we all had a good soaking and took some waves sideways on. I was on a bench by myself at one end with a four-person space between me and the two people at the other end and after one sideways manoeuvre into a wave I was tossed along the seat and water went up my nose. If you want to avoid this, hang on really tight and try to sit next to someone else. The captain gives you a few seconds' warning before diving into a wave and tells you which direction it will be coming from so you can keep your mouth closed and put your head down.
Saute-Moutons' base by the marina at the Clock Tower Pier, Montreal Vieux Port
During the 20 minutes riding the rapids the captain frequently asked for the 'thumbs-up' to make sure everyone is OK and asked us to stand up a few times with our hands in the air and lean with the boat as he tips it on one side turning a tight corner, which was great fun.
On the 20 minute boat ride back to base you do feel a bit chilly but the overriding sensation is one of exhilaration at having ridden the famous Lachine Rapids. A cup of hot chocolate awaits you once you've dried yourself off and changed back into your clothes.
Lachine Rapids are the only rapids on the Saint Lawrence River and are caused by permanent shelf-like drops in the river bed. They are about 4.8km long and are located between the island of Montreal and the south shore.
There are several of these one-hour boat trips a day during the summer season and you need to book in advance as Saute-Moutons' rides are very popular and places fill up quickly. Lachine Rapids Tours, the company which operates the Saute-Moutons boats, is affiliated to Wilderness Tours, a white-water rafting company that has been operating on the Ottawa River for more than 30 years. The company also provides Whirlpool Jet Rides on the Niagara River at Niagara Falls.