Cruising Grounds

               This page is dedicated to random notes and observations that may be of interest to sailors heading ‘Down East” and into the Bay of Fundy. The information presented here is not meant as a stand-alone cruising guide, but is intended to supplement some of the excellent information that has already been published in established cruising guides.

 Passamaquoddy Bay and Approaches: 

           Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a sailor from U.S. is entering the region. The approach to the Passamaquoddy by way of the Grand Manan channel and the mouth of the Bay of Fundy ( NOAA Chart #13394) can be a particularly nasty piece of water. The tidal current can be considerable. I remember on one trip, we had flat calm conditions and the tide in our favor, while checking our speed at one point in the trip I found that we were moving at four knots through the water under power, but were traveling at over eleven knots over the bottom due to the tide. On another trip, contrary to the weather forecast, the wind backed into the north forcing us to beat into the Bay for the last four hours. When the wind turned against the incoming tide, the seas became so steep that we were submerging the bowsprit into each oncoming wave. Another time as we sailed into Canadian waters, we found ourselves engulfed in fog. We found our way into Deer Island to clear customs and were making conversation with the Canadian Customs officer, and asked how long this fog bank had been hanging around the area; he thought for a moment, and then informed us that this was the twenty-seventh straight day of fog.

Passamaquoddy Bay

             The lobster fishery in Maine is a summer fishery and in Canada it is a winter fishery, so, in good visibility, you can see the international boarder as you cross it.
             Clearing customs into Canadian waters for a private, US Documented vessel is fairly straight forward, and can sometimes be done by phone if you have all the information available about the vessel and crew, and are at one of the approved locations. The four most common places to clear customs are; at Grand Manan Island, Quoddy Head Harbour, on

Head Harbour Campobello

Campobello Island, Leonardville, on Deer Island, or St. Andrews, although you have to pass all these other places to get to St. Andrews. If you have not brought your vessel into Canadian waters before, you are more likely to be inspected by Canadian Customs. Be sure to have all ships papers ready, passports for crew, and if you have a dog or cat on board, be sure you have copies of vaccinations records and current rabies certificate.
             Clearing customs returning into the U.S. has become more complicated in the last few years. It used to be possible to clear customs at Cutler (the first real harbor on the U.S. side) but that is no longer an option. You also used to be able to clear by phone if you crossed the border regularly and applied for the border sticker in advance. It is now required that you appear in person, with ship’s papers and passports. The three best options are Eastport, Lubec, and Bar Harbor. Eastport and Lubec are problematic because after clearing Customs you either need to head North and round Campobello Island and then head back South, adding nearly a day in transit. Alternatively, if your vessel is small enough to get under the Campobello bridge, but not too small for the dangerous current, you can pass through the narrows under the bridge and out into the Bay of Fundy. Either way presents challenges in navigation and judgment, particularly regarding the tides.
             Services for vessels in the Passamaquoddy are few and non-existent. Eastport and Lubec on the U.S. side of the bay are your best bets and St. Andrews on the New Brunswick side.

Cautions:
             Whales feed regularly in the section of water from the East side of Campobello Island all along the chain of islands up to, and beyond Blacks harbour and Back Bay. Give these animals room, the rule of thumb is to approach these creatures with caution and get no closer than 100 meters.
             The “Old Sow” is the name for a particularly dangerous section of water between Indian Island and Eastport. At mid-tide a standing whirlpool forms (the actual Old Sow) reputed to be the largest of its type in the Western Hemisphere. Additionally smaller whirlpools form, dissipate, and reform (the piglets). This area should be treated with the greatest respect, caution, and conservative judgment.  A mistaken course of action in these waters can be and has been, fatal.
             Submerged weir poles are a common hazard in this section of Eastern Canada. As working weirs are abandoned the upper stakes get carried away by winter storms and ice leaving the lower stakes anchored firmly in the mud waiting for unwary mariners. My experience has been that local fisherman, though sometimes possessing a gruff exterior are very willing to share local knowledge and generous with sound advice on anchorages, holding ground, and uncharted hazards.

Good Holding Ground:
             The Maine Coast Guide and a Guide to the Bay of Fundy that is now out of print cover this area. Of the two, the Main Coast Guide has the most information about best anchorages, and the guide to the Bay of Fundy has more information about tides and tidal currents. Without treading into someone else’s purview, I will say that Harbour de Lute, on Campobello Island, has excellent shelter and excellent holding ground with a mud bottom.

Harbour De Lute

It does have a tricky entrance however due to submerged weir stakes from abandoned weirs. St. Andrews has moorings available and a down pier, but two words of caution, the tide can leave large parts of this anchorage high and dry, so check with locals before anchoring, also the wind has a tendency to funnel through this anchorage so you may wish to get a mooring from the town. It is also worth noting that most charts do not show the new buoyage at the Western entrance to St. Andrews. The entrance is clearly marked and easy to enter, at any tide, in clear weather, but making this entrance, for the first time in the fog could be very confusing.
             One of the safest places on this section of coast is North West Harbour on the western side of Deer Island. An easy entrance, deep water, and excellent holding ground in mud make this an outstanding place to hole up in bad weather. At the entrance, the only dangers are a submerged weir stake just North of Dinner Island, and Mink Rock, which is well marked with a day-mark. If you stay in the middle of the channel on approach, you should have no problem.

Deer Island NB

The only other areas of concern are two ledges visible at low tide that are on the north side of the Harbor at the mouth of  a shallow cove dominated by a white house, barn, and waterfront fish house that are the Home of Seascape Kayak Tours. The ledges may (or may not) be marked in the summer months by two private markers, red spar buoys numbered #2 and #4. The other area to be wary of are submerged weir poles that lie to the West of the point that marks the inner boundary of the northern cove. There is no public landing in North West Harbour, but there is plenty of shelter and you can go ashore at the beach Below Seascape Kayak Tours. We own a mooring just off Northern Cove, check with Seascape about picking it up.

Spar Buoy #2 North West Harbour

One Response to “Cruising Grounds”

  1. Chris Salmon Says:

    Hello Dovetails! What an amazing blog. I am inspired at every turn.

    Some of my family and friends and I are sailing down to Passamaquoddy Bay from Saint John at the end of the week and will be cruising the area on an off until September 10th or so on our family sloop, Infinity, an Oday 34. I just wanted to verify that your mooring is still in place and ask permission to use it if it is available.

    Also, we are new to the area and to coastal cruising in general, so if you have any local secrets or tips you wouldn’t mind sharing I would love hear.

    Thanks for the great resource and the inspiration! I’m very excited by your treehouse and also by the wood stove on Black Star. (I’ve been working on convincing my father that a stove on a boat is a great idea.) Perhaps we’ll find you in some lonely anchorage over the next few weeks!

    Chris Salmon

    PS – I sure wish I had a stack of hand drawn maps and notes like the ones in the post above! Looks like you have plenty of knowledge to share.

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