Nicolas Knap - St. Lawrence River (Escape from Grosse Île)

Grosse Île to Berthier-sur-Mer

10.57 km (6.6 miles)

2 hours, 14 minutes on 1 August 2021

Observed and documented by Nancy Thibault & Paul Boisvert



  • Name: Nicolas Knap
  • Gender: male
  • Age on swim date: 48
  • Nationality: Canada
  • Resides: Quebec City

Support Personnel


Swim Parameters

  • Category: Solo, nonstop, unassisted.
  • Rules: MSF Rules of Marathon Swimming, without exception or modification.
  • Equipment used: One swim cap (no name, no brand), one swim goggles (Leader), one swimsuit (Speedo Fastskin II Male Jammer-FSII).

Route Definition

  • Body of Water: Saint Lawrence River
  • Route Type: one-way
  • Start Location: Ferry Ramp, Grosse Île (47.019460, -70.670888)
  • Finish Location: East side Wharf Marina, Berthier-sur-Mer (46.935298, -70.735819)
  • Minimum Route Distance: 10.57 km (6.6 miles) (map)

Swim Data

  • Start: 1 August 2021, 08:30:00 (America/Montreal, UTC-4).
  • Finish: 1 August 2021, 10:44:06
  • Elapsed: 2 hours, 14 minutes, 6 seconds.

Summary of Conditions

Feature Min Max
Water Temp (C) 21 22.2
Air Temp (C) 17 17
Wind (kph) 9 12

GPS Track

Trackpoint frequency: 10 minutes. Download raw data (CSV).

Click to expand map.

Speed Plot

Nutrition: Every 15 minutes. Maxim Sports Drink Fresh Orange Taste. Maltodextrin (60%), fructose (30%), minerals (trisodium citrate, tripotassium citrate, magnesium carbonate), acidity regulator (citric acid), natural colour (carotenes, beetroot red), natural flavoring.

Observer Log


by Nicolas Knap

What inspired you to do this swim?

The COVID-19 pandemic situation worldwide has inspired me since september 2020. During summer 2020, it was possible to move around Quebec city and I decided to visit “the mysterious island”. Since I moved to Quebec city I have heard things about this island. It was to me a prison island like Alcatraz. I heard that people died on this island due to health problems. It was a strange island to me.

After my visit I understood that the real “mysterious island” name is Grosse Île or the Irish Memorial National Historic Site. Located in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, Grosse Île was once the main gateway into Canada and served as a quarantine station for the port of Québec from 1832 to 1937.

Over the course of its history, the Grosse Île quarantine station has welcomed hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

However, there were more dramatic episodes when epidemics, even pandemics, raged.

The cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1834, as well as the typhus epidemic during the Great Irish Famine of 1847, are the best known examples of these dramatic waves of immigration.

On these occasions, the majority of these immigrants came from Ireland.

The healthy immigrants were still under quarantine. As a result, they were confined to the western sector.

I was very inspired by the whole story and compared the island with Alcatraz. I wondered if the people of the time tried to escape to the lands of Canada. The guides told me that there were attempts and many immigrants died trying to cross the river.

I am an immigrant myself and I left France to join Quebec in 2005. The pandemic of 2020-2021 makes me feel like I’m on “a big island” where no one could leave their home and had to stay isolated in their home for months, “a modern prison”.

I thought it would be a nice project to escape from this island and hope that life would return to normal soon and that we could train normally.

Please describe how you planned for the swim.

I have been thinking about this escape in June 2021.

I contacted the captain of one of the cruise ships (Croisière Lachance) who had been following me for several months on social networks.

At the end of June 2021, I told him about my idea to escape from Grosse Île and to be accompanied by his cruise ships like in the 30-40s. He thought it was a great idea. I asked him when he would like to realize the project. He answered at the end of July 2021.

I called the captain of my boat from last year and he gave me the date of July 31, 2021 to cross the river with the best tide conditions. I had 3 weeks to prepare and organize everything.

Croisières Lachance had to take care of the logistics of the boats, AML cruises had to take care of the marketing. 2 weeks before the departure, AML informs me that I have to contact Parks Canada to get an authorization. No one had taken any steps and no one had informed me. AML is a partner of Parks Canada to make tourists visit the island and Croisières Lachance works with AML.

Parks Canada refused the request to dock on the island and to leave from a beach. I had to contact the federal congressman to try to change the decision. I could not do it.

Because of the refusal, AML and Croisières Lachance had to withdraw from the project for business/political reasons. One week before the crossing, I found myself without a boat.

I put ads on social networks and someone decided to help me. Yanick Morris and his zodiac “Bully”. I contacted Yanick and explained my project. I told Yanick that I had 2 kayakers with me to accompany me. I explained his role.

Everyone was watching the weather forecast 5 days before the crossing. The conditions were not good in the area. Lots of wind and waves.

48 hours before the escape (July 31) I received a call. A man told me he had found another boat for me. I am very happy and I thank him. It will be easier to ensure security and to take pictures. At the same time a journalist tells me that she can follow the event live and write an article in the regional newspaper.

24 hours before escaping from Grosse Île, I have to move the departure to September 1st because of the big winds, big waves, etc. It is very dangerous.

On September 1st, I have in my team 2 boats (4 people), 2 kayakers, 2 judges. Everyone is ready to take up the challenge even without the help of Parks Canada.

I dived from the boat to reach the dock of Grosse Ile and then I crossed the river. I started at 8 h 30 AM

How did the swim go, generally?

The escape was not easy.

There was a lot of wind, a lot of waves. The air and water temperature was pleasant.

We waited several minutes in the shelter of the dock before escaping from the island. The kayakers had difficulties to navigate at the beginning of the swim. From the beginning to the end, I felt like I was in a washing machine. My shoulders suffered during and after the race. I couldn’t see that I was moving forward at the beginning of the course. After 30 minutes I could still see the island. The kayakers were telling me that I was still moving forward…

I was cutting the waves, going up, down, under, swallowing water, but it was funny… The kayaks were surprised to see me swimming in the waves. They were getting sprayed. One kayak capsized because of a wave. The reporter threw up twice.

When I passed the halfway point, the conditions were better. Calmer.

As I approached the south shore of the river, conditions became more and more difficult. There were more and more waves. The closer I got to the finish, the stronger the wind became. It was a good thing we left an hour earlier than planned (the departure for Sunday was supposed to be at 9:30 a.m. because of the tide).

After 2 hours and 14 minutes, I hit the dock at the Berthier-sur-Mer marina. The mayor of the city and the people welcomed me and congratulated me.

Successful challenge. The whole team is happy.

Did you face any unanticipated challenges?

The most unexpected challenge was to find myself without a boat 1 week before the crossing. I was surprised by the strength of the winds and waves.

I had to swim alone for several minutes because a kayak capsized.

We had to change our route 24-48 hours before departure because of the weather conditions.

Everyone did a great job.

I had confidence in everyone.


Click to enlarge.


The Start

The Swim


The Finish

Appendix: Route, Tides, Weather, Media