The fun starts beyond Schoodic

Commercial and recreational craft share dock space in North Head Harbor on Grand Manan Island. Photo  by Thom Perkins

December 2022

By Thom Perkins

For me, heading east on the coast of Maine past Schoodic Point is where the fun stuff starts. We’ve made this trip many times over the past 30-plus years, and this year, these waters were cruiseable after two COVID-summer closures.

Early this year, we posted an invitation on Facebook’s Maine Sailing and Cruising group: “Anyone who hadn’t been beyond Schoodic Point can buddy-boat with us past the Canadian border.” Robin and Tom aboard s/v Althea, out of New York City, were keen to go. Over the past three summers cruising in Maine, Althea had been as far as Winter Harbor on Schoodic Peninsula but had not ventured farther east.

The four happy travelers (left to right: Thom, Kathy, Robin and Tom) pose for a selfie on Barred Island. Photo by Thom Perkins

I made it clear that this would not be a yacht club cruise with a rigid itinerary. Our cruise would be dictated by wind, waves and weather. Our destinations could and would change with the conditions. We sail by the motto, “We have no plan, and we’re sticking to it.”

Sailing beyond Schoodic requires attention to tides and currents. We inspected the tide chart before setting the departure date.

Thom’s Tip No. 1: Head for the border on a morning low tide day favorable for making distance, allowing time to get to a safe anchorage. For the return trip, an ebbing tide dictates the departure time.

After leaving our homeport of Rockland, Maine, we stopped at Little Cranberry Island in the Mount Desert area, where we met up with Althea. The next morning, we set off in earnest for Lakeman Harbor at Roque Island. The forecast was 20-knot winds and three-to-four-foot seas. Leaving Little Cranberry, we enjoyed a great broad-reach past Schoodic and ’tit Manan Light (Petit Manan Light). The wind peaked at 23 knots, and we saw some six-foot seas. We held about four miles off until Great Wass Island. Closer in, the tidal currents flow in and out of the fingered coast rather than along our course.

We doused our sails just outside of the western entrance at Roque Island and snaked our way through the thorofare. We yielded to two lobster boats coming through in the opposite direction, exchanged waves, and continued across Roque Island Harbor, anchoring in Lakeman Harbor.

We stayed two nights to give us time to walk the great beach and explore the surroundings. We combed the tide-and-current tables to confirm an appropriate departure time for maximum benefit of the flood tide. From this point on, the whole bay moves with impressive velocity. Our next chosen destination was Cutler, only 17 miles away.

Thom’s Tip No. 2: Over the years, I’ve found – based on my boat’s speed, current velocity and distance run – that Cutler makes a great last stop to avoid a foul current before the next safe harbor.

The morning dawned rainy in Lakeman but was forecast to clear. On a cruise of this length, we knew that there would be rain some days and there would be fog; it’s a fact of life that cruisers accept. Despite the rain, when the current turned favorable, we raised anchor, and off we went. Our course took us inside Libby Islands, which appeared out of the fog, passed several lobstermen hauling and setting their traps, and then outside Cross and Old Man islands. The tops of the famous Cutler radio towers were still enshrouded in the lifting sky as we passed.

To avoid the significant back eddy south of Western Head and the entrance to Cutler, we stood about a mile offshore. We played the currents by watching the speed over ground. We closed on the coast until the ground speed deteriorated, then headed back out until the SOG recovered. Finally, as the harbor entrance came abeam, we turned and made our way into an appropriate spot to drop our hooks.

Thom’s Tip No. 3: An excursion ashore in Cutler is always interesting, with nice trails to explore and, for the needy, Wi-Fi at the Cutler Library. The folks at the lobster co-op always have friendly advice when needed.

We decided to clear in at Head Harbour, Campobello, New Brunswick, our first Canadian port. We checked the weather, current and tide tables for a departure time one-half-hour after low. At the appointed hour, we weighed anchor and headed out into the Grand Manan Channel.

Thom’s Tip No. 4: A run up the bay is an exhilarating experience. SOG is impressive, and the last of the large ball lobster buoys are dragged under, providing an inkling of the power of the current. Include the current velocity in your navigation calculations.

The whole Grand Manan Channel moves at up to three-plus knots. Shortly after passing the iconic West Quoddy Head lighthouse. We entered Canadian waters and took delight in the immediate absence of lobster pots. We were finally able to set the autopilot and enjoy the scenery. Campobello, with its cliffs, came abeam on our port. We passed interesting landmarks – Red Head, Big Whale Cove, Nancy Head, Whiterock Cliffs, Scott Head and Mill Cove Point – then turned into Head Harbour. Having been there several times before, I knew to leave the three green spars to port on the final approach to the narrow anchorage. The shoreline was close-to on starboard.

Thom’s Tip No. 5: Arriving in the big-tide world, one is expected to raft up to a floating dock or a local fishing boat. The locals are very friendly but deserve the respect of first-class watermen. The app for ArriveCAN (canada.ca/en/border-services-agency/services/splash-arrivecan.html) is mandatory, easy and effective. You can initiate it anytime, even months before your trip, then submit final details within 72 hours of your arrival. Follow the directions. The free ArriveCAN app is available at your phone’s app store.

As soon as we finished fastening our lines to a massive lobster boat in the crowded working harbor, we called customs. After a short phone interview, we received our entry number to display in a portlight. Our Canadian courtesy flag was proudly raised to the starboard spreader.

The afternoon found the crews stretching their legs, then moving the boats to raft to a weir pile driver. Kathy and Robin launched their paddleboards to explore the harbor. The evening was spent socializing and discussing our next destination, Saint Andrews, in Passamaquoddy Bay.

There are three ways to get into Passamaquoddy Bay: Letite Passage, Little Letite Passage and Western Passage. We chose Western Passage for our approach and Letite for the eventual exit. The waters move – a lot.

Thom’s Tip No. 6: Expect to clear your prop of kelp if you are motoring, as it will clog the wheel and slow you down by up to two knots. There is a lot of kelp. Clearing involves putting the machinery in neutral, then into reverse – increasing the rpm dramatically for a moment – then shifting back into forward. Repeat every 10 to 15 minutes. Also, expect to be thrown around by the swirling tides – not dangerous, just amusing. It helps to keep an eye on the surface-water movements. Use aggressive corrective-steering action when necessary.

Western Passage takes one by the Old Sow, the Western Hemisphere’s largest whirlpool, with its “piglets” spinning off the main disturbance. We enjoyed the exhilarating ride, with our SOG hitting 11.3 knots.

Thom’s Tip No. 7: Arriving in Saint Andrews is a special experience. Tom Clark, the Wharfinger (pronounced: war-fen-jer), and his staff are extremely helpful. They will come out to meet you and show you to a mooring for your stay. Give them a little warning on VHF Ch. 16, or call Tom at the Market Wharf at 506-529-5170. Water and, by arrangement, fuel is available on the dock. Talk to the dock staff and plan to dock after the whale-watch boats depart. Showers are available at the Wharfinger’s building at the top of the dock ramps.

The crews strolled to the center of town, at the far end of the extended wharf, and found an amalgamation of amazing colonial Loyalist history with the trappings of modern life in a busy but not overrun tourist area. We reprovisioned at the nearby shops and stores and overindulged in an area specialty: authentic poutine.

After exploring Saint Andrews, we struck out for one of my favorite anchorages, Digdeguash Harbor. It’s a lovely hassle-free sail across the bay, past the impressive Oven Head Rock to the anchorage east of the little islet off the north end of Long Island. With a Rocna anchor, one-hundred-and-fifty feet of chain held us nicely in the settled weather and the 24-foot tide range. This anchorage rates more than one night. You will be alone.

The decision was made to make Northwest Harbour, on the south side of Deer Island, our next stop, and the jumping-off place to visit Grand Manan. The route from Digdeguash took us across Passamaquoddy, and out Latite Passage, with exhilarating speed on an ebbing tide. We proceeded west among small islands and industrial salmon farms, passing Lords Cove close aboard. Following the shoreline, Northwest Harbour showed up on the starboard bow. We passed several well-charted fish weirs in the little fjord and continued until the depth sounder showed seven to nine feet at low before putting our anchor down. Another comfortable night, again without company.

Grand Manan beckoned only 19 miles away, and we called Jeff Foster, the island’s Wharfinger, who assured us of a place on their crowded but well-protected dock.

Thom’s Tip No. 8: You can reach Jeff at the Grand Manan Harbour Authority at 506-662-8482.

After a foggy start leaving Northwest Harbour, weaving our way past small islands before passing East Quoddy Light, the sun came out, and we pointed our bow toward the island. With the complete lack of lobster pots and wind and a flat sea, we motored along, letting our autopilot keep us on course while we lounged on the foredeck to watch the world go by.

As we approached the Island on the incoming tide, we crossed Long Eddy, a two- to three-mile-long, half-mile-wide piece of turbulent white water. Long Eddy occurs at the northwest corner of the island at every incoming tide. Standing waves are full of life: whales, seals, porpoises, white-sided dolphins and a variety of birds. Though we didn’t see him, a killer whale named “Old Tom’’ by the locals has been hanging around there for the last three years.

Once through the turbulence, we pushed along through a slight foul current toward Swallowtail Lighthouse. We went close to the cliffs to do some sightseeing – and to find a countercurrent – knowing that there was plenty of water right up to the beach.

Turning at the lighthouse, it was a short shot to North Head Harbour. A massive stone breakwater had been added since my last visit. We wove ourselves around the ferry terminal and into the extraordinarily well-protected harbor. Jeff and the locals couldn’t have been nicer or more generous.

Shortly after our lines were secured, we were offered a fisherman’s truck to get to the nearby campground for showers. “Just leave the keys over the visor,” we were told. We were offered help with getting additional fuel and water and dealing with our trash.

Our intention to stay a day or two was impacted by a nor’easter that developed, so we spent a total of four comfortable nights despite the storm. Cruisers can get around the island by foot, by local taxi or by e-bikes rented from a local bike shop. I love Grand Manan.

With the weather past, the collective decision was made to head back to the States. To clear customs, we headed to Lubec, where the dock is close to the customs office. The CBP ROAM app (a free mobile app that enables recreational mariners to report their U.S. entry to Customs and Border Protection) didn’t work, so we took a short walk to clear customs. After clearing, we stopped at a brewpub for a delicious beverage, then moved our boats to available moorings among the small fleet of lobster boats.

Thom’s Tip No. 9: Two rental moorings are available: Call harbormaster Ralph Dennison at 207-733-2009.

Althea’s mast is too tall to make it under the bridge to access Lubec Narrows, so we decided to catch the first outgoing tide to make the passage around Campobello.

I knew that when heading out, with Campobello on starboard, a track a couple of hundred feet or so to port or starboard makes a two-to-three-knot difference in SOG in the swirling currents. We kept adjusting our course to find the best speed. Once rounding East Quoddy Light, the favorable current and the resulting SOG continued to build as the ebbing flow from the bays reached maximum ebb three hours after low.

Passamaquoddy had one more trick up its sleeve as we passed the eastern end of Lubec Narrows. A two-mile-long whitewater river of standing waves pokes out into the Grand Manan Channel. Nothing alarming, but certainly an interesting indication of the volume and power of the waters in this vicinity. By this time, we were well underway back to the Cow Yard anchorage, where we planned to spend the next two nights.

Once past Schoodic, on our way west, the currents seemed insignificant compared to what we had just experienced. Robin, Tom and Kathy all agreed that being beyond Schoodic was special indeed. We were already talking about a return to the Canadian Maritimes as part of our sailing plans for summer 2023.

The author has been wandering the coast of Maine and Maritime Canada for the past 40 years and has contributed several articles to Points East. He and his wife, Kathy, cruise Oriane, their 1982 Pacific Seacraft 37, from their homeport of Rockland. His website, sailingthecoastofmaine.com, has more helpful hints and a list of favorite harbors. When not cruising, Perkins is a sculptor and musician.