N E W   E N G L A N D   1 9 8 6 


© By Ellis Simon


This may be the year we do it.  Last year I started out to go to Nova Scotia but when we reached Portland, Maine, it turned out to be just too much hard running to make it all the way up and back in two weeks.  This year things worked out well at work and so, armed with 23 days, I'm going to give it a try.  The Amberjack is all ready and on Friday, August 1, 1986, all the food, supplies, and tools are loaded aboard.  The initial plan was to go over to Barnegat Light and anchor out so as to get an extra early start on Saturday morning.  This fell apart because the loading process took until nearly midnight. 


SATURDAY, AUG. 2. At 5:20 am, the Amberjack pulls out of Southwinds Marina in the dark.  The early morning mists form again and again on the windshield as fast as it is wiped clear.  I finally have to take a panel out of the Plexiglas curtains on the flybridge in order to see where I'm going. 


We clear the inlet at 5:30 am and are on the way to Block Island.  As soon as the Amberjack is in deep water, the speed is about 8.1 knots at 1800 rpm.  The autopilot is set, and the buoy off Montauk Point is keyed in on the loran as the waypoint.  These new lorans are really remarkable!  It has a tiny battery in it, which maintains the memory even when the unit is disconnected.  All winter, while it sat in the garage, it was thinking about the waypoints from last year's trip.  All I had to do was key in # 12, and there it was. 


The weather forecasts are full of predictions of thunderstorms but none are reported as actually existing.  The seas are running about 3 feet.  Nothing to be concerned about, but just enough to give an uncomfortable ride.  As the day wore on, the weather stays overcast with little flashes of sun.  About 3:00 in the afternoon, the first reports of violent thunderstorms start coming on the VHF weather channels.  They're all located in central New York State and Pennsylvania.  As time goes   on, they intensify and become more numerous.  I begin calculating whether they'll spread to the east at a rate faster than I can outrun them.  The only viable inlet on the eastern end of Long Island is Shinnecock Inlet.  Going in there would put us in protected waters but it would also raise hell with my plan to get on up to New England quickly.   At 5:30 the whole state of New Jersey as well as New York City was involved in violent weather, but nothing was reported near the Amberjack.  I decide to continue. 


The seas have quieted somewhat.  Darkness falls and the Amberjack grinds her way eastward.  It always is a disconcerting feeling when you are out in the ocean and the last light fades away, leaving you with a pitch black, overcast night.  Even the stars are a consolation, but when they aren't there, and when you can't see a light, or the horizon, and your whole world is the instruments on the bridge and the fan of light from the "lobster pot finder," you feel very lonely.  It's sort of like one of those sensory deprivation chambers. 


Finally, at about 9:00 pm, the powerful light on Montauk Point bores its way through the mist.  It's the first land-based thing I've seen for about 13 hours.  Shortly thereafter, the MP buoy shows up on the radar screen.  Then its short-long flash of the Morse A can be seen.  At 10:00 pm we leave the buoy astern and continued on toward Block Island. 


It's around this time that a mysterious target shows up on the radar screen off my starboard quarter.  It's a large target, like a ship, but slow moving, not moving much faster than the Amberjack.  Further, it certainly jammed my radar for a while.  I think it was probably some kind of military ship, possibly a submarine.  After a while it drew abreast at a distance of about 4 miles and slowly increased the range.  I never saw it.


Visibility has dropped to what I would guess is less than 1/4 mile, but I have no way to tell for sure.  Then it improves again.  The light on Block Island appears, and the island is outlined on the radar screen.  Now, after 16 hours of running, and with nothing but the light in front of the boat to look at, I start to get the marine equivalent of highway hypnosis.  Finally, we round the southeast corner of the island.  Shortly, the lights of town came into view.  They're doubly welcome.  The sky to the northwest has been lighting up with lightning flashes.  My luck won't hold for much longer.


The approach to the Old Harbor is short, deep, and straight.  The harbor itself is very small, as was noted last year.  Instead of going into the inner harbor, we pick up a mooring very close to the ferryboat that has been docked there for the night.  Sleep comes very quickly, and ends just as quickly!  A brilliant flash and a simultaneous crash of thunder announce that the storm system has arrived at Block Island!  After more of the obligatory heavenly fireworks, the storm settles down to intense rain.  We don't know where that first bolt struck, but it was close. 


SUNDAY MORNING, AUGUST 3, brings overcast skies and NOAA forecasts full of the same dire warnings.  Since the thunderstorms are not expected until afternoon, the Amberjack sets off to the east for the Cape Cod Canal and points north.  Seas are about two feet and the skies are heavy and threatening, but the only rain is a light shower in Buzzard's Bay.  The approach to the western end of the Cape Cod Canal is certainly much simpler in the daylight.  We arrive at the canal at slack water.  The passage is slow but simple. 


I'm sure this is a coincidence that is unique to me, but when we exit the canal into Cape Cod Bay, for the third time, the seas are flat and the sun comes out.  We make our way into Plymouth Harbor and tie up at Plymouth Marine.  The price has gone up here.  They are now charging $1.25 a foot for overnight dockage!  Electric is extra! With tax, it comes to just over $50.  I feel that it’s worth it, after a long day where the piloting required a lot of close attention.  The floating docks with concrete surfaces are wide and as stable as dry land.  The marina is right in town and everything is nearby.  We have a quiet dinner at the small restaurant that is part of the marina and overlooks the docks, and then collapse.


MONDAY, AUGUST 4 is one of those hazy, hot summer days with no wind.  Just the sort of day a cruising power boater loves and a sailor doesn't like.  The Amberjack gets a late start from Plymouth.  When I reassembled the engine exhaust riser after having it repaired, I placed it too close to the hatch above.  It has been singeing the hatch.  It's a simple task to reposition it so that there is a little more clearance.


Our course from Plymouth to Cape Ann on the north Side of Boston Harbor takes us a bit too far west of Stellwagen Bank for any good whale watching.  The glassy sea slides by, and I take advantage of it by stripping down to my bathing suit and getting greased up with suntan oil.  Then I get out the polish and wax and go to work on the chrome rails from the bow back.  The day wears on and we pass to the east of the Isles of Shoals.     


North of the Isles of Shoals, there is a set of ledges marked to the west by Boone's Island.  These shoals lay directly across the path to Kennebunkport.  There is a deep passage through the shoals with a width of about 1/2 mile.  I set the course line into the loran and follow it anxiously.  The depth finder shows that the loran has once again demonstrated its incredible accuracy.  We're able to raise Chick's Marina in Kennebunkport and assure a place to tie up on arrival.  The Amberjack slips between the jetties at 8:00 pm and this leg of the journey is over.


TUESDAY, AUGUST 5 is another perfect day.  The first leg of this day's run is short, only two hours from Kennebunkport to Portland, Maine.  I need fuel and I need charts if we are to go beyond Eastport.  Fuel was available in Kennebunkport but the price was high.  Also, I need an excuse to tie up to the dock for the time it will take to go chart shopping.  I decide to run on plane for this short run.  This run is done at 11.2 knots.


The refueling is accomplished without incident.  The planing, plus pushing harder all the way, has caused a higher consumption than last year's trip, but this was to be expected.  My visit to the marine store meets with mixed success.  I'm able to get all the charts for further northeast that I need except for Canada L/C-4011, Approaches to the Bay of Fundy.  This is the large-scale chart that puts the whole area together.  I'll just have to try further north.  At 2:00 pm, the Amberjack leaves Portland in clear weather and light chop.  As the afternoon wears on, I'm faced with a choice of running out of the way about 10 miles to Boothbay Harbor or taking the chance that we can find shelter at Monhegan Island, about 10 miles at sea.  This would put us in an ideal position to continue up the coast in the morning.  I decide to take my chances with Monhegan.


There is a tiny harbor to the southwest, formed by a smaller island, Manana Island.  The entrance is simple and deep.  Depths inside the harbor are 10 to 20 feet.  There is an unoccupied mooring, so we take it.  If the owner appears, we will just have to make our apologies and do something else.  On the harbor side of Manana Island, there is just one dwelling.  This structure seems to have been put together out of pieces of structure from some other time and place.  We never see any occupants, but there is a horse, dogs and a goat wandering this half-mile piece of rock.  The house, if you could call it that, is built in three stories up the rock face of the island.  It must be occupied, for there was an electric light inside.  At the head of the harbor, there is a 50-foot wide pass through to a cove on the northwest side of the main island.  This cove would provide excellent protection at anchor for anything but northwest seas.  Since the harbor itself is open to the southwest, you can take your pick depending on the seas.  The seas were not a determining factor this night, however.  The main weather factor was the temperature.  It was in the low fifties!         


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6, we depart Monhegan Island at 5:40 am, head for Eastport, Maine.  The weather is clear and painfully cold.  I'm really thankful for the enclosed flybridge.  There is considerable seaweed in great floes in the water.  This seaweed entraps debris, but other than watching for the debris, it's not a problem.         


At 8:00 am, we passed between Matinicus and Ragged Islands, another good refuge from the sea, about 20 miles to the east.  By 2:30 pm, it becomes evident that we can't make Eastport before dark.  Not wanting to enter a strange port after dark, I decide to alter course and go into Jonesport, Maine.  (Not necessarily a good decision!)  Jonesport is about 30 miles west of Eastport.  The Amberjack proceeds through the Moosabec Reach to Jonesport.  We tie up to the town float at 5:00 pm.  Jonesport is a fishing town.  We're about the only pleasure boat around.  The town itself has one hardware store, one post office, one bank, and one IGA, which is the Maine equivalent of an ACME.  No tourist stores, and no restaurants.  I was surprised that there were very few lobster pots east of Bar Harbor.  In fact, there weren't very many in the more southern waters.  I don't know what the cause of this is.


THURSDAY, AUGUST 7.  The good weather has left us.  The fog in Jonesport varies from 1-mile visibility to 300 feet.  I have to call my insurance company to get an extension on my policy to permit me to operate the boat in Canadian waters.  By the time this is accomplished, it is 11:00 am.  We depart Jonesport in fog with visibility varying from 1/4 to 1 mile.  Once out in open water, the fog isn't too much of a problem.  You have to keep a careful radar watch and simultaneously watch for lobster pots and debris, which won't necessarily show up on radar.  It does require undivided attention; whereas clear weather cruising allows you to read or do something while keeping a periodic scan forward. 


The Grand Manan Channel is one of two channels connecting the Bay of Fundy with the Atlantic.  It is about 30 miles long and funnels down from 10 miles in the west to five miles in the east.  The Bay of Fundy is noted for the world's highest tides, ranging from 20 to 50 feet.  This results in currents in the Grand Manan channel of greater than 2 knots.  When the current is against the prevailing seas, a memorable chop develops.  As we near the channel into Eastport, this is exactly what happens.  The chop reaches six feet, and the fog thickens to about 300-foot visibility.  Just to be sure I stay alert, a whale surfaces 50 feet off the port bow!  Then whole schools of porpoises start playing around the boat.  Finally, much to my relief, I turned into Quoddy Narrows and fight a strong current up past Lubec and into Friar Roads off Eastport.  The fog lifts to 1/2 mile when we pass inland.


The chart shows a protected area inside an L-shaped wharf.  There is a very large freighter moored to the wharf in the process of loading 800 tons of paper products.  Her mooring lines are extended to large mooring blocks set right in the entrance to the protected area.  Not wishing to experiment with getting into the tight space around the mooring block, we continue past the dock to see what is further along the waterfront.  There isn't much of anything, except for a float at the end of a pier extending out into the harbor.  We tie up to the float and I'm immediately reminded of a very unpleasant night we spent last year in a similar situation at Bar Harbor.  That time, the weather kicked up and the Amberjack had two to three foot seas driving her against the float.     


It turns out that the dock and float are part of a restaurant complex called the Cannery.  Visiting boats are welcome.  Further, dockage is free for one night if you eat at the restaurant.  Since this is one of two restaurants in town, and the next town is a long way away, it isn't hard to make a decision.  The restaurant turns out to be excellent.  Service is good and the baked stuffed lobster is outstanding.  Around 9:00 pm the large freighter warps away from the pier and departs.  It is quite a sight to watch about 800 feet of streetlamps pick up speed and move past an island.  I later learned that the harbor pilot for Eastport is the master of a supertanker on the west coast.  The supertanker job is three months on and three months off.  During his off months he is the harbor pilot.  He gets $500 for one run up or down the 10-mile channel.  I don't know what the port does the other three months.  Maybe they have another master who comes in.


At about 2:00 am, I'm once again awakened by swells pushing the boat into the float.  Since no other boat is at the float, I decide to put an end to it right now.  Marilyn is incredulous, but we crank up the engine and move to the leeward side of the float.  After this, we’re able to sleep the night away. 


FRIDAY, AUGUST 8, starts out overcast, but visibility is about 3 miles.  I set out to explore Eastport and get the needed charts to continue northeast.  It doesn't take long to observe that Eastport is a very depressed area, economically.  In the past few years, several canneries have shut down, leaving the town's population without income.  Much of the citizenry is retired, and the depressed real estate market makes it impossible for them to sell their homes.  Meanwhile, their retirement pay doesn't allow them to keep up the property.  There have been sporadic attempts to bolster the economy by increasing tourist trade, but the town is sited on an out-of-the-way island.  The weather is given to extended periods of rain and fog, so it isn't likely to become a boating mecca.  The deepwater port is used occasionally for freighters, but there simply isn't enough industry in the area to support much traffic.


My first stop is at Moose Island Marine Supply.  This is the only marine equipment dealer in the area.  They have charts, but the elusive L/C-4011 is out of stock.  I purchase a Bangor newspaper and am delighted to see the expected press release on our progress in fusion research headlined on the front page!  I then visited the US Customs Office.  The agent there indicates that nothing is required to leave the country.  On our return, I will have to check in with customs at the first port on arrival.  I show the newspaper article to the agent and he immediately launches into an interesting discussion on the problems and politics of energy supplies.  He is quite well informed and it is an enjoyable exchange.  In answer to my question about the chart, he said that he had bought one last week from the hardware store down the street.


The hardware store is just that, and carries little or nothing in the way of marine supplies.  In response to my question about the chart, the owner says, "Follow me and we'll see."  He leads me up two stories past all sorts of supplies on shelves.  In a little side room overlooking the harbor, there is a floor to ceiling rack with charts.  The master catalog chart is fastened to a table.  In short order, he finds L/C-4011!  On my way back to the boat, I stop to look over the protected side of the wharf.  There are six or eight trawlers rafted out from the side of the wharf.  Then there is another tier of smaller fishing craft.  In the corner is the Eastport Coast Guard station, which consists of a 40-footer moored to a float.  At the head end of the harbor is a float and ramp with a sign that allows two hours for loading and unloading only.  There is no water or electricity available, both of which we have at the Cannery float.  The inner side of the harbor consists of pink granite rocks arranged along the shore jetty fashion.  At low tide, the whole harbor measures about 600 feet by 200 feet.


Back at the Amberjack, a check of the weather shows that a weak low pressure system will pass through, bringing with it rain, wind and thunderstorms.  Since it's now about 11:00 am, it looks like an excellent time to declare a day off.  Besides, the Amberjack has a dark film of soot all over her from tens of hours of constant running.  I get to work shortly after lunch and when I finish, it's after five o'clock.  While scrubbing, there was a constant stream of talkers who love to watch someone work.  I learned that an excellent home in the area would run 40 to 50 thousand dollars.  20 acres of waterfront property was available at $4000 per acre.


The tide range at Eastport while we are there is a mere 20 feet!  The ramp between the pier and the float is almost level at high tide and is at a forty-five degree angle at low tide.  The shoreline consists of rock bluffs that give way to a gravel beach.  The ferry between Eastport and St. Andrews, Canada lands right next to the pier.  "Lands" is the right word for it.  The ferry consists of a flat barge big enough for four or five cars.  At each end of the barge is a large ramp that can be raised and lowered by winches.  The barge is propelled by a small tugboat, which is entirely separate.  On landing, the tug, which is tied alongside, simply pushes the barge in to shore until the ramp is on shore.  Then the cars drive off and up the gravel beach to the road.  On departure, the tug pulls the barge out into deeper water, and then releases only the stern line.  The inertia of the barge allows the tug to pivot around, still tethered by the bow, and when the stern is again attached, off they go, with the vehicles facing forward for debarking.  While the ferry is away, fishermen launch outboards from the same beach.  Much of the time, there is a customs agent present at the landing, but at other times, motorists are admonished to report to customs at the post office. The rains come on schedule and one small thunderstorm passes near, but nothing exciting happens during the evening.


SATURDAY, AUGUST 9, in Eastport, Maine, starts out with unlimited visibility and crystal clear skies.  This is not to last, however.  By about 8:00 am fog has rolled in and visibility is down to 200 feet.  There is little or no wind, however, so I decide to make the run to Saint John, New Brunswick.  The waters are deep with few shoals.  With radar and loran, the trip should be uncomplicated.  We proceed out Head Harbor Passage past Campobello Island.  At East Quoddy Head, the fog lifts and we're able to see several fishing boats, plus a number of small outboards and a whale watching boat with a whale nearby.  The whales in this area are small whales, called mink whales.  The outboard boaters are something of a mystery to me.  They don't have anything but a compass, yet they operate in near zero visibility in waters with currents up to four knots.  I talked to one of them (to get some local knowledge as to how they do this).  He was from Pennsylvania!


The good visibility is not to last.  By 3:20 pm (Atlantic Standard Time) the fog has thickened to about 150-foot visibility.  The sea is calm with a glassy surface.  It is extremely difficult to operate in these conditions.  The sea and the fog merge, since the water surface is reflecting the fog.  There is no horizon, and you feel as though you are in a gray globe.  It is much like flying on instruments, except that you don't have the reassuring artificial horizon in front of you.  The skipper's workload is heavy.  You have to look for targets on the radar, and constantly be on the lookout for debris and lobster pots in the water.  Since the visibility is so foreshortened, you have to keep almost a constant watch ahead.  In addition, you must check the loran information and make corrections to the heading to stay on the course line.


Point Lepreau slips by to port, the only evidence of its existence a green painting on the radar screen and a mournful foghorn.  By monitoring Channel 16, I become aware of the existence of a controlling authority called Fundy Traffic which was controlling shipping in and around Saint John.  Various cruising yachts were calling Fundy Traffic as well as commercial traffic.  One such boat stated that he wanted to go to the Saint John Marina and inquired as to what time the slack water was at the Reversing Falls.  He was told that slack water was at 5:25 pm.


I must digress at this point to explain the reversing falls.  The St. John River originates in Maine and flows north and east for some 330 miles before exiting into the Bay of Fundy at Saint John.  About a mile and a half above the Bay, the river passes through a rock gorge that is about 200 feet wide at its narrowest point.  There is an underwater rock ridge at this point, which is about at the low tide level of the Bay.  When the 26-foot tide in the Bay of Fundy is at the low point, the water drops about 18 feet from the river to the bay through this narrow gorge.  The result is roiling, boiling white water traveling at about 20 knots.  It is impressive to see!  At high water in the bay, the flow is reversed, and the water falls into the deeper water above the sill in the river.  Since the outward flow includes the flow of the river, it is the more intense.  Now, once each tide change, near mid tide, the current becomes slack with about 15 feet of water over the ridge.  This lasts for about 20 minutes.  Above the falls are several yacht clubs, and marinas, 90 miles of navigable river, and several bays that are 20 miles long and 5 miles wide.


Getting back to the story, in planning to visit Saint John, I had absolutely no intention of getting anywhere near the reversing falls with the boat.  In fact, I thought that the falls were not to be navigated under any circumstances.  Now I realize from the other boat's conversation with Fundy Traffic that not only is it common practice for vessels to negotiate the falls, but that is the only way to the small boat facilities at Saint John.  The Amberjack has a slim chance of making the 5:25 slack and hence being able to spend the night at the small craft facility.  I crank her up to full speed and we go charging off through the fog at 11 knots.  While this goes on, I have a quick look at the charts to familiarize myself with the river above the falls.  Surprise, surprise!  I have no chart that shows anything above the falls!  I didn't think you could go that way, so I never even looked for such charts.


About 10 miles out, I call Fundy Traffic and make known my intentions.  Saint John harbor is funnel shaped with a straight channel running up to a compact deepwater harbor at the end of the funnel.  The seaward end of the channel is marked with a conveniently placed island called Partridge Island.  The following is a lesson on the importance of planning.  In flying by instruments, the rule is to stay well ahead of the airplane.  If you let the situation get to where you don't know what you are going to do next, you are in trouble.  The same thing goes for boats in fog and/or in strange waters. 


We made the sea buoy off Partridge Island in fine style.  It's then that I realize that I don't have the latitude and longitude of a waypoint at the harbor itself keyed into the loran.  I then compound my mistake by trying to interpret a strange harbor on the radar.  This is additionally complicated by the fact that my chart of the harbor mysteriously doesn't show the buoys marking the channel.  To my credit, I had assured that the harbor is deep enough (and safe) for the Amberjack, whether in the channel or not.  Within 5 minutes, I am completely disoriented and headed in the wrong place.  Fundy Traffic comes to my rescue and soon has us vectored up the channel.  I tell him that I don't have a chart to go upriver and ask if he could suggest a place to tie up.  He directs me to a float at the head of the harbor and volunteers that, if I would step up to their office in the nearby Coast Guard building, they would make a copy of the needed chart for me.  As we enter the harbor, the visibility improves to a half mile and we have no trouble tying up at the float.


The float is located in a 100-foot wide notch that extends off the harbor about 200 feet.  On the bulkhead above the float perches the Saint John Hilton.  Next to it, and also overlooking the notch, is Market Square.  Market Square is a shopping mall consisting of about 70 stores.  At the end of the notch is an open-air amphitheater.  The only problem was a sign on the float that said "Warning!  This area grounds at low tide!"  The float is about 150 feet long and two commercial fishermen were tied up at the inner end.  As soon as we are tied up, and being several hours from low tide, I walk the two blocks to the Coast Guard building and meet Fundy Traffic.  The control center consists of a floor to ceiling console about 30 feet long.  Two high-resolution radars show the harbor and the Bay of Fundy on 25-inch screens.  Numerous radios and RDF equipment augment the radar.  There are two operators on duty, each with his own set of equipment.  One of them locates the river chart and makes a copy of it for me.  When I inform them of the sign warning about grounding, they state that they had never known the area to ground and suggest that I stay the night there.  They then call Canadian Customs for me and arrange for an agent to visit the boat at the float.       


When I get back to the boat, I find that a 25-foot cruiser had come down through the falls at slack water and was mooring to the float.  They had come down to have the Sunday brunch at the Hilton.  They invited us to join them and to follow them through the falls the next day.  A short time later, the agent from Canadian Customs arrives and checks us in to Canada.  The check in is very simple, consisting of filling out a visitor document with name, address, boat's identification, and date of departure.  He was particularly concerned about whether we had any firearms aboard, asking about it two different times.  They have to place a customs seal on any firearms.  The whole check in took about ten minutes and was very pleasant.     


Now that we are legitimately in the country, we do an exploration of the mall and the adjacent area.  The ground floor of the mall building facing the harbor is lined with cocktail lounges with patios about 40 feet deep.  The patios are filled with tables.  On the curb across the street from the patio is a bandstand.  They are setting up rock music equipment on this stand that would be heard in Ontario.  All this about 200 feet from the Amberjack.     


After a dinner aboard, the rock music starts and we go up to have a look.  The cafes and the patios are full and quite a crowd is standing in the roped off street in front of the bandstand.  The rock band is really pretty good.  Unfortunately, it is so loud that it completely overloads the audio on my video camcorder.  After a couple of songs, we wander back to the boat.  Shortly thereafter, nature decides to put on a sound and light show of her own.  A thunderstorm rolls in from the west and it starts to pour.  I don't know what happened to all that expensive equipment, but when I go up the next morning, it's all gone. 


SUNDAY, AUGUST 10, it's still raining when I awaken in the morning.  It's time to meet my adversary for the day, so I wrap the camcorder in my raingear and set off on foot to get a good look at the reversing falls.  As I mentioned earlier, the falls are strongest when flowing outward due to the combined tidal flow and river flow.  I reach the gorge at about the maximum in the cycle.  Upstream of the falls, the water appears smooth.  At the sill, which is bounded on either end by rock walls, the flow increases to the point where rolling and boiling of the water occurs.  All this rolling and boiling water is then funneled into the narrowest part of the gorge!  As if this weren't impressive enough, the gorge then makes a 90-degree turn to the left.  It is no place for a boat, although I remember reading somewhere that several performance boats once traversed the falls at their maximum.


There are two bridges over the gorge above the falls, a roadway and a railway.  Observation points are located on both sides.  A large flock of cormorants was feeding in the white water in the roughest part of the falls.  They would hover and wheel above the water, then dive into the boiling mass and disappear for a while before reappearing.  Flocks of gulls stood on the moss-covered rocks at the side of the water, but they didn't actually get into the water.  Ducks were swimming along in eddies and pools of quiet water along the bank. Champlain discovered the Saint John harbor and the falls in 1702.  They immediately deduced that the falls could be negotiated at slack water and took boats up through the falls.  Imagine the trepidation with which the seamen must have faced this task!  More probably, they just didn't tell them about it, since you can't see it from the water until you are around that sharp bend.


As I was exploring the falls, the rain stopped and the sun broke through for a short time.  I walked back to the boat and prepared for the run up the river.  Slack water was at 1:25 pm.  At about 1:00 pm we cast off and fell in behind the local boat.  At about 1:15 we were at the gorge.  It looked a little too active yet, a 3 or 4 knot current was shooting out of the gorge, but the local boat just plowed on ahead and disappeared around the bend!  After a minute or two of hesitation, I plunged ahead.  The crosscurrents and rips were very strong.  Remember, you can't see anything of the falls or the gorge itself until you have entered and made the turn.  It is possible to turn around but not very advisable.  As I rounded the bend, I was shocked to see several sailboats coming down with the current.  Further, the lead sailboat was already in the narrow part and heading right straight at us!  I was able to stay over just far enough to the left to allow him to squeeze between me and the rock wall on the right.  I had swung too wide on the turn and was taking my half out of the middle.  After the sailboat passed with inches to spare, I got back to the right where we belonged.  The local boat had taken us through a little too early.  It was right for them, since their boat is fast and maneuverable, but I would have done better to wait another five minutes.  The water in the rest of the gorge was roiling and boiling with rips that required constant heavy rudder control, but was no worse than the East River at Hell Gate.  However, the current was strong against us and I had to use cruise throttle at 9 knots to make reasonable headway.  As we passed over the sill, the chart recorder showed the expected 15 feet.


Immediately above the falls, there is a small basin that can be used as an emergency anchoring spot for disabled boats.  It is about a half mile wide.  There have been cases of vessels going down the falls at full flow, but all the tales I heard had a happy ending.  A full-sized barge made the trip intact once. The following paragraph was excerpted from Duncan and Ware's "A Cruising Guide to the New England Coast.


"The Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club is a center for yachting on the river, not only for visitors, but for local people as well.  On one occasion, the Cruising Club of America, an assemblage of salt-water, stick-and-string gentlemen accustomed to Bermuda and transatlantic passages, visited the club.  They proceeded from Massachusetts in a seamanlike manner through all kinds of weather.  From Mt. Desert on they had it thick all the way, but being accomplished navigators, they all made it without serious incident, by means of compass, chart, Fathometer, RDF, and all the best of equipment and judgment.  At Saint John, a local pilot met them.  At just the earliest reasonable time they passed the falls and proceeded triumphantly through the last of a sunny summer day to the peaceful anchorage at Milledgeville.  As they were snugging down, a power cruiser came roaring in, flying the American yachting ensign and bearing a nondescript pennant at her bow staff.  The owner bumped up to the wharf.  A member of the Cruising Club, thinking perhaps the new arrival had been a little late for slack water at the falls asked, "How did you make it coming up the falls?"    "What falls?" inquired the new arrival. He had come all the way from New York on an oil company chart; and, without any advance planning, or even knowledge of their existence, had hit the falls at exactly slack water!"


A half-mile above the falls, the waterway narrows down again for about a mile.  This part is breathtaking.  The steep hills on either side are densely carpeted with pine and hardwood trees.  The water's edge is lined with granite boulders and gravel beaches.  After this, the water opens out into the first of several beautiful bays.  This bay is roughly l-shaped and runs about five miles on one leg up the river and about 20 miles off the river.  The 20-mile leg is about 3 miles wide.  The yacht club and a marina are located on this first bay.  Water depth varies from 10 feet to 50 feet.  Our local experts had advised us to go to the marina for diesel fuel and so we cross the bay to the western shore where the Saint John Marina is located.  Several floating docks accommodate about 50 boats.  There is fuel and a building which serves as a clubhouse, bar and restaurant.


After refueling, we tie up to one of the floating docks and enjoy the rest of a hot, sunny afternoon.  At this point, I do the only repair of the trip.  The engine had varied in rpm a couple of times on the high speed run up the Bay of Fundy.  An investigation of the big Racor fuel filter showed that there was about a cupful of sediment in the sediment bowl.  I flush the bowl out and replace the filter.  There was no more sediment or speed variation for the rest of the trip.


The marina is located on a heavily traveled two-lane blacktop road with many residential dwellings.  There is no sign of any commercial establishments within a couple of miles in either direction.  From the time we arrived at Saint John, we have been trying to find a Canadian flag which we could fly as a courtesy flag and which we can use as a souvenir when we return to the States.  The mall in Saint John had them in all sizes, but the shape was wrong.  They were too long on the fly and too short on the hoist.  Being in a proper marina, we ask about a flag.  The marina has no marine supplies, but a lady offers to drive two or three miles to the local store and get one for us.  She comes back with a fine nylon flag of just the right size for about half the downtown price.  When I open the package, I found that it is too long and narrow again!  I then look around at the dozen or so that are flying from boats in the marina and see that they're all that way.  It finally dawns on me that my opinion of the proper shape for a Canadian flag doesn't count for much in Canada! 


The marina restaurant turns out to be the social center for the area.  The clientele varies from little old ladies in print dresses with lace collars to motorcycle riders with black leather jackets.  Everyone is friendly and well behaved.  There is a buffet on Sunday afternoon with music and the place was very busy.  The marina owner says it is amusing to see one of the grand old dames dancing with a member of the leather jacket crowd.  However, the only problem he has ever had is some flying gravel from spinning wheels in the parking lot.  Despite the inviting social situation at the restaurant, I was dead tired from the excitement of the day and so we ended it with a simple dinner aboard.  The owner keeps a beautiful old 40-foot Nova Scotia built cabin cruiser at the dock.  The notable thing about the boat is the varnished hull.  Try that in Barnegat Bay


MONDAY, AUGUST 11.  Everyone emphatically insists that if we have come that far, we have to see the St. John River, known as the Rhine of North America.  The marina owner lends me a cruising guide for the river and promises to scare up a chart for me, so we decide to take a day and see the river.  The weather has other plans, however.  Rain moves in that night and continues into the morning, bringing more fog.  Waving off claims that the weather would be much better inland, I decide that we'll catch the midday slack water at the falls and then decide what to do, as there are predictions of more showers and bad weather as a front moves in from the northwest.     


The showers end and visibility slowly increases to about 5 miles.  We cast off about 90 minutes ahead of slack water and explore the bay a little, having a look at the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club.  We leisurely make our way down river, planning to arrive about 10 minutes before slack.  As we travel, we're overtaken by two commercial fishing vessels and a couple of other boats.  I use them as impromptu guides and follow them.  When they make for the falls, I follow behind.  This time, the timing is just about right.  The water is still roiling and boiling, but there is only about a 1-knot current running with us and we slip down the gorge and around the bend without incident.  I even have a couple of seconds to stare back at the thousands of tourists lining the banks.  


In the face of the threatening weather, Marilyn lays an emphatic rejection on my half-hearted proposal that we make the five-hour run across the Bay of Fundy to Digby, Nova Scotia.  Breathing an inward sigh of relief, I set course for Quoddy Head to the west.  From there, we can either go to one of the harbors on Campobello Island, go back to Eastport, or, if the weather miraculously improved, go on to Grand Manan Island.   


We're about 10 miles out of Saint John and just approaching the 630-foot chimney on Musquash Head when a heavy rainsquall announces the arrival of the front.  Shortly, the visibility is down to a couple of hundred feet in rain and fog.  The seas keep rising and the going gets rough as we slog westward.  The current is running east and our speed is about 7 to 8 knots.  Each time we pass a headland, the seas really go wild.  They vary from 4 to 8 feet.  The wind shifts and drops, indicating an early frontal passage, but the seas aren't about to leave the party yet.  Further, the fog is dense and the light is failing due to our late departure from Saint John.  Not wanting to muck about in a strange harbor at night, I make for Eastport and the snug float at the Cannery. 


After an eternity, the Amberjack finally slips into the quiet waters of the Head Harbor Passage.  I have to lay in loran waypoints right up to 100 feet off the Cannery float and navigate by loran and radar all the way in the dense fog.  Much to my relief, the float materializes out of the fog right in front of us.  Even more to my relief, there's no other boat there.  We get the boat tied up and I breath a sigh of relief.  It has been a long, hard day.  Of course, it's required that a meal be consumed in the gourmet restaurant if the dockage is to be free.  So it was, with much gusto!      Before dinner, I trek down to the Customs Office to check in, but it's closed and a telephone call to the customs number brings no answer.  So, technically, we are in the country illegally and hence must quarantine ourselves to the boat!  (Right after dinner!)


TUESDAY, AUGUST 12 in Eastport, Maine.  The day starts in startling contrast to the frontal turmoil of yesterday.  The sun lying just above the horizon pierces the crystal clear air to bathe Eastport in a golden glow.  The air is calm and cool.  After casting off, I pause off Eastport to get some good videotapes of the town, and then it's out Head Harbour Passage once again for the trip to Grand Manan.  As we pass East Quoddy Head, a ramshackle old freighter is making her way into the channel for Eastport.  She is so rusty and stained that we can't make out her name.  One peculiar feature is a vast netting rigged over the afterdeck behind the superstructure.  It looks like one of those nets you see in an aviary, but this one, I'm sure, is for protection from tropical insects.      


Once clear of East Quoddy, there is little of interest on the ten miles of waters to Grand Manan.  The island itself is already clearly visible ahead.  A mystery of the prior two fog-shrouded passages in these waters is cleared up as a good-sized ferry appears off Black's Harbour on the mainland and makes her way toward the island.  On each of our previous passages, a very loud foghorn was heard, accompanied by a large target on the radar.  The target crossed at some distance in the fog, and I didn't know what it was.


Grand Manan is roughly 11 nautical miles long and 6 miles wide at the widest point.  High rocky bluffs line its straight western shore.  The only harbor on this side is Dark Harbour.  Dark Harbour is sort of a miniature version of Saint John's reversing falls.  Only here, you have six feet at high tide and a dry bar at low tide!  Not a good place to mess around.  Dark Harbour is the dulse capital of the world.  Dulse is seaweed that is gathered from the rocks at low tide.  It is then spread out to dry before being exported for sale as a health food, condiment, or seasoning.  It is said to contain large quantities of vitamins and minerals.  The islanders eat it as a finger snack food.  The accounts of its taste range widely, with some reporting that it is less than desirable.  I didn't happen to see any in the stores and didn't think to ask if it was available, so I have nothing further to report.


The main industry on the island is herring fishing in summer and Lobstering in winter.  The lobster fishery is closed in the summer months.  The island is roughly triangular with the long side parallel to the mainland.  The eastern side of the island is fraught with smaller islands and shoals.  The rips formed by 5-knot tidal currents meeting with ocean seas are said to be destructive to vessels.  No place to be careless!  There are two towns of any size on the island, North Head on the north end, and Seal Cove at the southwestern end.


The Amberjack soon slipped to the eastward of Northern Head and continued on into the main harbour of North Head.  The port here is made up of a tee shaped quay, wide enough to carry two lanes of traffic.  The quay is a box, constructed of massive bulkheading timbers.  The box is filled with boulders and covered with a deck, which can support tractor-trailers.  Tides here range about 25 feet, so at low tide you have a climb of more than 20 feet to the top of the quay from your deck!  There is no charge for docking here.  The first boat lies alongside the quay.  When all the spaces are taken up, a newcomer just rafts alongside another boat.  Every 30 feet or so, a piling is placed alongside the face of the quay, about 6 inches out from it.  This piling is fastened at the top only, providing a free column that a mooring line can slide up and down with the tide.  At other places, where there are no pilings, the boats are held by two long spring lines, one fore and one aft, which extend about 50 feet in each direction from the boat to bollards on the deck of the quay.  At high tide in a wind, your boat, with three others rafted to it, can be riding about 20 feet off the quay.


We tied up to the quay for a while and I walked up into town to get information on Grand Manan.  Town consists of a post office/customs building, a very small restaurant, a real general store and a gas station.  I got some brochures on Grand Manan and found that all the commercial business of the island is listed on a brochure that is 8 by 11 inches.  On the whole of the island, there are about two dozen guesthouses and motels, about a dozen restaurants, and a dozen stores.  The island is a beautiful place to get away from it all and relax, but not the place to go if you are interested in nightlife.


I returned to the Amberjack and we decided that it would be a good idea to take advantage of the good weather and make our way down the east side of the island and spend the night in Seal Cove.  As we were exiting from the wharf area, Marilyn was walking back along the side of the boat when her glasses fell off into 20 feet of harbor water.  They sank quickly into the clear water, and though we could watch them go down for many seconds, there was nothing we could do!  We anchored off a gravel beach nearby and debated the alternatives.  I could go diving for them -- the water seemed clear enough -- but it was right in the entrance to the harbor, used by the ferry as well as the smaller boats.  We also could surmise that the bottom was covered with seaweed, which would make a search hopeless.  We finally decided that there was nothing to be done.  The really serious problem was that she had no other glasses and would not be able to see clearly at a distance.  We debated having her contact lenses shipped up from New Jersey, but decided not to do anything until we got back to the USA.


Finally, around noon, we lifted the anchor and left the eyeglasses behind.  Permit me to digress here and make note of a facility that I hadn't mentioned before.  We are all accustomed to using NOAA charts or copies thereof.  When you want charts for waters outside the United States, you will learn of another agency of the US government, the Defense Mapping Agency.  They produce charts for waters outside the US.  In the case of Chart # 14061, Grand Manan, it is a licensed copy of a Canadian Hydrographic Service chart.  The DMA publishes a chart catalog similar to the one NOAA publishes, if you are interested. 


The chart shows a complex set of islands and shoals extending from 2 to 5 miles to the east of the main island.  The first part of this trip is uncomplicated, except for the 3-knot current, which runs north or south.  Considerable care must be taken, however.  The water rushes into and out of the numerous passes between islands.  Dubious identification of islands, few navigational aids, and fewer landmarks make visual piloting treacherous for the first time visitor.  Even with near calm seas and unlimited visibility, my chart shows loran fixes every 5 minutes in some parts.


Toward the south end of Grand Manan, the situation gets worse.  First of a series of bad areas is Bulkhead Rip.  Here, the strong currents flowing over the shoals often produce a watery hell.  Today it is calm, so we are able to slip behind Bulkhead Rip and travel up a narrow pass between Tinker Shoal and Brazil Shoal.  Still, to seaward, I can see some boiling white water where the chart shows nothing shallower than 24 feet!  The going is slow as we make our way up the passage, as we are fighting a 2 to 3 knot current on the ebb.  We work our way carefully to the west, passing to the north of Three Islands, where someone has a pretty home on an isolated island.  Finally, after another dozen loran plots, we round the sea buoy and make the 4-mile run up to Seal Cove.


Here again, we find a massive quay with a tiny opening.  We venture inside and find an assortment of herring fishing boats tied up to the quay and to floating sections of docks in the center.  I inquire of a couple of fishermen working on a boat as to where we can tie up.  They say pick any spot we like and just tie up!  I pull in to the quay just behind an 80-foot commercial fisherman with a 20-foot high bluff bow.  By now the tide is about 15 feet down.  One of the gentlemen from the commercial boat comes down the wharf and takes our lines.  He also gives us some guidance in using long lines to allow for the tide.  Shortly, we are shut down and settled in for the night.  A 60-foot line stretches from the bow forward to a bollard on the quay.  Another 60-footer stretches aft from the transom.


After watching for a while to make sure that the Amberjack is riding OK, we take a stroll up to look over the town.  There is one small auto repair shop, two general stores, a tiny Italian restaurant (Why Italian?  I don't know!), a post office, and a large fish processing plant.  The plant is a beehive of activity with forklifts bustling around, laden with bins full of herring.  One large shed is equipped with many doors in the side.  Just inside the doors are racks with thousands of herring hanging in the air, being dried.  The aroma was indescribable!  Flies don't seem to be a problem, though I don't know why.  After a brief shopping spree in one of the 30-foot by 30-foot general stores, we buy the last two lobsters for sale in Seal Cove and head back to the boat.  It was interesting to stop and watch an artist capturing the harbor on canvas.


We arrive back at the boat in time to see two 40-foot sloops with blue hulls come into the harbor.  After some shuffling around, the first boat rafts up to one of the fishing boats.  He just about gets settled when another fisherman said he hopes they are planning to arise early as the fisherman is set to sail at 5:00 am!  The second boat asks if they might raft up alongside the Amberjack and I say "sure."  When they got tied up, I expected the other boat to raft alongside, as I thought they were traveling together.  It turns out that two nearly identical boats, down to the hull color, just happened to arrive at Seal Cove at the same time.  They don't know each other!  The other boat ties up to one of the floats in the harbor and that's that.  Our neighbors invite us over for a drink in return for our hospitality. 


On arriving in the Provinces, they had had a long stay in Halifax while their transmission was repaired.  Then, after going up the coast of Nova Scotia, they had spent three days weathered in there.  According to them, Halifax was not much larger than Seal Cove and they were glad to be gone.  They were from the New York area and were headed for Camden, Maine, where they expected to keep the boat over the winter.  They have done extensive cruising in northern waters and a fascinating hour is spent picking up information from them.      


After an excellent on-board lobster dinner, I climb up on the quay to take a stroll.  A native of Grand Manan strikes up a conversation with me.  He has two boats fishing out of Seal Cove and was then waiting for the arrival of a third boat in which he has a one-third share.  He's particularly interested in the Amberjack and where she was built.  It seems that their wood boats are beginning to be too much in the way of maintenance and they are looking to replace the fleet with fiberglass.  He is impressed with the lines of the Amberjack's hull and thinks that a 40-foot version of the same hull would be just the thing for them.  Of course, I'm walking about a foot off the quay after that piece of information. 


The fishing boats up there have a peculiar sheet metal machine over their deckhouse, where the flybridge would be.  This machine has large flexible hoses attached to it, as well as a large chute that swings out abeam.  I asked my acquaintance what the function of this machinery was.  It is a scaler.  Believe it or not, the great value in the herring fishery is in the scales!  They are iridescent and, after being ground and processed, they are used in reflective paints, ladies cosmetics, lipsticks and a host of other places.  When the net is pulled, the fish are sucked up out of the nets and run through this machine, which removes their scales.  The scales drop down into buckets on deck while the fish go down the chute into a bunker boat lying alongside.  So the next time you paint your lips, girls, just thank the lowly herring, for you're covering your mouth with fish scales!


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13.  The weather holds good.  At 7:30 am we say goodbye to Seal Cove and set off for the Mount Desert area of Maine.  As soon as we clear the whistle buoy off Southwest Head, we start to get a mild chop.  The chop continues for the ten-mile run to Machias Seal Island.  This island has several attractions.  It is the southwestern most of the Grand Manan group.  It is the southernmost breeding site of the Atlantic puffin.  It has an active seal colony and is a breeding site for Razorbill Auks and Arctic terns as well.  A veritable nature paradise!      


The island is manned by light keepers the year around and by a resident ornithologist in the summer.  Several observation blinds dot the rocks.  It is possible to moor and go ashore by dinghy but we're merely interested in having a look at the famous puffins.  These members of the Auk family are noted for their brightly colored parrot like beaks.  Books about them and replicas of them abound in the coastal gift shops.  It is said that their behavior matches their comical looks.  The approach to the 1000-foot long island from the northeast is simple, but the run down the east side is tricky, with a 14-foot shoal less than a quarter mile off.  This presents a hazard due to the seas that form on it.  The island itself is formed of lava like gabbro rock with the typical grassy crown across the top where the sea cannot reach.  These grassy areas started with a single undigested seed, dropped eons ago by a bird.  Slowly, over the centuries, the grass expands and captures dust from the air, enabling it to expand further, until there is a crown of soil on the rock.  Eventually, the soil becomes deep enough to support larger plants such as bushes and trees. 


Conditions are not right for such growth yet on Machias, however.  We round the southern tip of the island without incident and without sighting any of the famous life.  A shallow cove in the middle of the island provides dubious protection to a rugged workboat and several people can be seen sitting at breakfast on the porch of the light keeper’s building.  Things pick up as we head up the western side of the island.  Sizeable flocks of birds are riding on the seas.  Several flocks are the famous puffins.  In the water, or flying low above it, they look like the black ducks that frequent Barnegat Bay.  I take some video pictures of the birds as we move slowly north, about 30 yards off the house sized rocks.  Try as we might, there were no seals to be seen.


From Machias Seal Island, I lay in a course directly to Frenchman Bay and Southwest Harbor on Mt. Desert Island.  The early morning chop gradually dissipates to one-foot seas and the cruise is pure pleasure in bright sunlight and cool air with a light haze.  Cadillac Mountain is clearly visible as the day grows older.  After lunch, as we near the mouth of Frenchman Bay, several whales appear.


The entrance into the protected harbors behind the Cranberry Islands off Mt. Desert is deep water and simple.  It also marks the end of one type of cruising and the return to another.  All the days north of Bar Harbor were spent with very few other pleasure boats nearby.  It was common to be all alone in a circle of 20 or 30 miles.  Bar Harbor on Mt. Desert Island seems to mark the northeastern most point for many cruising yachtsmen.  Maybe it is a good decision, for the weather northeast of this point is either very very good or very very bad, with more of the bad than good!  Now, we are back in civilization.  Even on Wednesday, there are boats all over and the helmsman has to watch for traffic and lobster pots, which have also reappeared.


Southwest Harbor is 1/4 mile wide and about 3/4 mile long.  It is packed with marinas and moorings.  At the head of the harbor is the mall business district.  At the mouth on the south side is the Hinckley Yacht Company.  Seeing some empty places at their floats, I go in to see if we can get a spot for the night.  Before I can get near the float, I'm emphatically waved off.  The floats are for boats to be worked on but I can take a mooring, I'm told.  After mooring, I go ashore in the dinghy to check in with customs.  The procedure here is to call Customs and inform them that you are back.  The Customs Office in Bar Harbor gave me a recording that I should call their office in Bangor.  When I call, the man asks for my name, address, boat name, and document number.  Then he welcomes me back to the United States and informs me that I should send $20.00 to the office for the service fee!  It seems that's the way that Customs meets their cost reduction goals.  The thought crosses my mind that since no Customs notification is required on leaving, one could reenter without notifying them and avoid the fee.  The present government drives to block drug traffic make this choice dangerous, to say the least!      


Now legally back in the country, I walk around the boat yard and am properly humbled.  Hinckley is known for its line of outstanding sailing vessels.  The hulls shine like glass.  The sails furl into the mast.  The joiner work is perfect.  Each vessel looks huge when seen out of the water.  No bay boats, these!  Most draw well over 6 feet.  The evening is spent at a quiet dinner in the Ebb Tide restaurant, which is right next to the Hinckley yard and from where I could watch the Amberjack riding at her mooring. 


THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, in the morning I go for a jog and have a look at the town.  Like most towns that are not right on the main tourist routes, it caters more to the vacationers than to the gift shop crowd.  I find a quiet library in a picturesque old house where I can do a little background research for my writing. 


At about 10:30 we drop the mooring and go in to the float to take on water.  Water is always a problem to the cruising yachtsman.  The boat carries enough fuel for a week but only enough water for a couple of days.  Being addicted to gadgets, I've considered adding a water maker, but their high cost and cantankerous nature have discouraged me.  Fortunately, we like to see the landside as well as the sea, so we can usually refill almost on a daily basis.  Remembering the unenthusiastic reception at the float the day before, I employed a brute force tactic.  As the attendant came running down to wave me off, I simply informed him that I needed water -- then as an afterthought, mentioned that I also had to pay for the mooring.  He helped us tie up and was really quite pleasant. 


When he jokingly asked when I was going to forsake the smelly power boat for one of the fine Hinckley yachts, I replied, when I can be assured of going where I want when I want.  He pointed to a sixty-footer nearby and confided that it was equipped with two diesels.  I'll bet it was also on the far side of a half million dollars.


The day was pleasant, so for the first time since Kennebunkport, the bridge curtains came down and we did a little exploring.  The first side trip was a short run up into Bass Harbor on the southwestern end of Mt. Desert.  This is a popular, well-protected harbor that is about 2 miles by land from where we spent the night.  From Bass Harbor it was a short run up Blue Hill Bay and then a 5-mile run southwest to Casco Passage.  This is a very narrow but well marked passage through rocks and ledges to Jericho Bay.  Then it is about 10 miles through the beautiful islands that dot Deer Island Thoroughfare to Stonington.  Billings Diesel Service in Stonington is a must stop for me.  They sell diesel fuel at the lowest prices I've seen since the Arab fuel embargo.  I tanked up for 72 cents a gallon.  Billings Diesel is also an excellent place to buy engine parts like filters, so we stocked up on fuel filters, which I had been unable to get.


Continuing west through Deer Island Thoroughfare, we soon emerged into East Penobscot Bay.  There is an east and a west Penobscot Bay because there are two large island systems in the middle.  To the north is Islesboro Island and to the south is Vinalhaven Island.  Innumerable smaller islands surround each.  The larger islands are summer vacation paradises with the ever-present ferry service.  Vinalhaven is bisected by 5-mile long Fox Island Thorofare and I decide to travel this route.  If it looked good, we would spend the night here.  The boat traffic picked up considerably as we approached the island.  There were an unusual number of gold platers in evidence.  For a while I thought I had discovered the Riviera of the Northeast.  It turned out that the New York Yacht Club was holding a regatta there.  As we passed the entrance of the thoroughfare, the committee boat was at anchor with uniformed officers presiding over the races.


The thoroughfare is actually a chain of four protected bays with good holding ground.  In the center, on a 1/4 mile wide waterway is the town of North Haven.  Across from the town was the main anchorage of the regatta.  About 20 large yachts were serving as mother ships to an impressive array of competitive sailing vessels.  Some had three or four 12-meters rafted off them.  We picked up a mooring just off North Haven and watched the frenetic action for a while.  The mooring didn't say rental and the place was so crowded, I didn't think it would be long before someone chased us out.  Also, the town looked far too small to support that kind of influx.  So, after watching awhile, we dropped the mooring and continued our journey west.   


Leaving Vinalhaven Island on Thursday afternoon, August 14, 1986, we round Drunkard Ledge, (probably aptly named for the regatta activities that night!) and take a northerly course across West      Penobscot Bay to Rockport.  It's close to 6:00 pm by the time we arrive.  This picturesque harbor is nestled between two high ridges, and the town seems to rise vertically above the head of the harbor.  The harbor is packed with moorings and only a couple are empty.  Several other boats were making their way in ahead of us and traveled on up to the head of the harbor.  I've learned that the wise thing to do is ask someone on a moored boat about the mooring protocol and then get onto a mooring before they all disappear.  We do just that and are informed that you pick up an orange mooring, then dinghy into town to pay the fee.  While riding at our mooring we watch the other boats turn and make their way out to where there is only one left now!  As the light fails, we watch several boats trolling in amongst the moorings for mackerel and doing pretty good at catching them too.


FRIDAY MORNING, AUGUST 15, is clear and calm.  We decide to dinghy up the 1/4 mile to the town where Marilyn will pay the mooring fee and take a walk around while I do some jogging.  I'm embarrassed to tell the following story, but it was part of the trip.  We settle into the Sportyak with the tiny Cruise-n-Carry outboard and whine our way up the harbor.  After tying up with the other dinghies to the dock, Marilyn goes on her way.  A small park doubles as a museum of devices used when the town was a major seaport for processing and shipping limestone. I'm inspecting a tiny locomotive, which used to haul the limestone when a green car with an official seal pulls up and the officer within calls me over.  He's a Maine Marine Policeman.  He asks if I had just arrived in the tiny dinghy, to which I answer yes.  He then asks if it is registered, to which I answer no.  He then expresses his opinion as to the safety of its carrying two adults and asks if it is equipped with the required equipment, specifically, a PFD for each person on board, to which I answer no.  He then asks if the boat from whence we came is a documented vessel, to which I answer yes.  He points out that the dinghy does not have to be registered as long as it is used only for the business of the documented vessel, that is, not for pleasure trips and writes me a warning for not having the required PFDs aboard.  Needless to say, the Sportyak has been registered and will be equipped with PFDs at all times.


Back aboard the Amberjack, schools of mackerel swirl around the moorings.  Sometimes, thousands of them form a shining cloud just below the surface a few feet from the stern.  A fat seal is having a noisy time feeding on them!  At 10:40 am we drop the mooring and set out for Boothbay.  With good weather forecast, and a short run planned, I decide to run through the channels behind the islands that pepper the shoreline in this part of Maine.  We would also pass across the mouth of Muscongus Bay, which is a large and complex body of water with dozens of small islands and hidey-holes.


The first part of this run, down Muscle Ridge Channel and then along the coast to the mouth of the St. George River is very pleasant with only the need to carefully check off the navigational aids lest we find a rock ridge.  At this point, I decide to sneak back of some complex little islands and then make my way into Muscongus Bay itself.  The channels are well marked, but the lobster pots became incredibly thick.  Markers are every 15 feet!  Since each marker is at one end of a line with six pots, the bottom has to be covered with pots.  Further, for reasons known only to lobstermen, about a quarter of the markers have the nasty little float ten or 15 feet along the line, causing the line to be stretched horizontally.  It's something like making your way through a spider web without touching any strands.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that this area is being overfished.  Yet, I guess it is impossible to tell one person they cannot put out pots when another can.  I don't know how they get their pots up with so many strings of pots criss crossing on the bottom.


Our luck finally runs low, but not out.  The Amberjack suddenly squats down in the stern and almost comes to a sudden halt!  Then, before I can reach the throttle, she picks up speed again.  Astern, a pretty green and white marker is traveling right along in our wake.  I cut the throttle and take the engine out of gear.  Instantly, the marker goes underwater and I can see it travel down until it's out of sight.  Apparently, when we initially hooked the line, it parted somewhere in the middle of the pots, and we carried one end with one or two pots into deeper water.  When I stopped, it came loose and the weight of the pots carried it to the bottom.  Now, the question is what is on the bottom of the boat and what would happen if I put the engine in reverse, for example.  Putting the engine back in forward doesn't seem to produce any adverse effects, so I decide to put into nearby Port Clyde and have a look under the boat.


Fortunately, an empty mooring is available and we pick it up.  I'm not too keen on suiting up with scuba gear and going into that icy water!  I can get very clever when trying to avoid an unpleasant situation.  Lying on the swim platform with a facemask on, I hold a hand mirror down in the water and am able to inspect the rudder, propeller, and bottom while staying warm and dry!  There is nothing unusual down there, everything looks proper.  The propeller is behind the large trawler keel and is protected by a substantial skeg, which extends to the rudderpost.  Apparently, the line slid along the keel until it hooked on the front end of the skeg, where it stayed until I stopped.  Since it was below the propeller, it didn't have the usual consequences. 


We drop the mooring and make the rest of the trip to Boothbay Harbor without incident.  Having telephoned Brown's Wharf from Southeast Harbor, they are expecting us and we're tied up in nothing flat.  We are placed just ahead of an 80-foot Broward whose bow towered over the Amberjack.  I can just see over the bow when standing on the flybridge!  Boothbay is always an interesting port.  With moorings and six or eight marinas, it is a boating mecca.  There are massive yachts as well as all sorts of smaller vessels.


After washing the boat down and having dinner, I call my parents to check in.  It has been almost a week since I've called.  I'm shocked to learn that my father has been taken to the hospital for an operation due to circulation problems in his leg.  There is nothing to be done, so, after many telephone consultations with family members, we decide to continue with the cruise and stay in close contact.  Early in the evening, the weather deteriorates and it rains all night. 


SATURDAY, AUGUST 16.  The rain stops in the morning and at 10:00 am, we depart Boothbay for Kennebunkport.  As we clear Demariscove Island and get into the open sea, it becomes evident that the night's storm has done a job on the open water.  Seas are running five feet with a rough, short period chop.  Fortunately, they're coming on the port quarter and the ride isn't unbearable. 


Channel 16 comes alive with a fisherman off Portland.  Seems he was hauling his net when he realized he had what appeared to be a torpedo in the net.  The weight of the thing had overloaded his lifting gear and he was unable to do anything but sit there with it half in and half out of the water.  He really sounded forlorn as he discussed his alternatives with the Coast Guard.  He couldn't get to the trip line to dump the thing and he didn't want to lose a $6000 net.  On the other hand, he didn't want the thing to blow his boat up.  The Coast Guard called in an Army bomb squad and cleared a 3-mile radius circle around his boat.  All this took most of the afternoon.  By the time we reach Kennebunkport, there is still no word of the outcome of the drama.  The next day's newspaper has a small article on the story.  The torpedo was the propulsion part of a WW-II torpedo.  This is the second one this particular fisherman has tangled with in the past decade.


SUNDAY MORNING, AUGUST 17, the rough seas have departed but our old friend, the fog, has returned.  In aviation weather, there is the acronym, SIGMET, which makes pilots' blood run cold.  This stands for significant meteorological phenomenon.  It is reserved for things like thunderstorms.  Our SIGMET for the day is Hurricane Charlie.  My log shows a table of entries of latitude and longitude and predicted directions for the storm.  At the time, it is at Lat. 35 North, Long. 76 West, or a couple of hundred miles southeast of Cape Hatteras.  Since hurricanes go north and Amberjacks go south, we will have to meet or pass soon!


First things first.  The seas are one foot and the sky is blue overhead, but the fog down where we are was 1/2-mile visibility at best.  I make the now routine passage over the ledge east of Boone's Island and also see the first whale of the passage.  After lunch, I ask Marilyn to take the helm while I visit the head.  I'm just contemplating the smooth purr of the engine, less than 3 feet away when it suddenly stops!  Bursting from my sanctuary with my pants at half-mast, I realize the engine is ticking over at idle.  When I ask the helmsperson what the hell was going on, I'm informed that she was concerned about a large target on the radar screen.  We never see the vessel so blatantly depicted and it goes off to seaward without incident.  As the day progresses, we sight first one then another whale feeding on the surface. 


About midafternoon, I again have to relinquish the helm to make a visit below.  This time, I check the radar first.  There is nothing within 12 miles.  There haven't been any whales for over an hour.  The water is 300 feet deep, not likely there will be lobster pots!  I brief my relief and slink below.  Once again I get settled and listen to the smooth purr of the Perkins a few feet away.  Once again it stops!  Once again I burst out of my sanctuary with my pants at half-mast!  I meet Marilyn in the salon.  "There's a whale out there!" she shouts.  "Where?" I ask.  "It surfaced not 30 feet off our bow!"  I spin around checking all quarters.  Off the port quarter, again not 30 feet off, another whale surfaces!  My eyes swivel ahead of him to my giant tuna trolling rod and line just in his path.  The rod bends like a bow and then snaps back just as quickly!  The lure, with its heavy hooks, has apparently passed over his back but hasn't hooked in!  Thank God!  I wouldn't like to tell about losing the entire line and tackle by foul hooking a whale!  (I have made it a private rule to henceforth make any "nature calls" before and after passages!)


At 4:30 we make Race Point and tie up at Provincetown Marine an hour later at 5:30.  The very tip of Cape Cod spirals in on itself and so you spend a long time riding within 2 miles of town to spiral around the cape. 


MONDAY, AUGUST 18, Hurricane Charley is off New Jersey and headed our way.  I get on the landline to Plymouth, Mass. to see if we could get accommodations there to ride out the storm.  They inform me that boats from yesterday are still there and today's boats are coming in.  There isn't anything to be had!  The Provincetown Marina informs us that all boats will have to move to moorings to ride out the storm.  While a massive breakwater protects the harbor, the surge that can roll in from Cape Cod Bay would be destructive to a boat at the floats.  On the plus side, the moorings consist of 1500-pound blocks with stout chain to the buoys.  They had all been checked at the beginning of the season by divers to assure that there was no deterioration.  So, at noon, with the hurricane still bearing down, we move to a mooring.  Each boat uses the regular 1" mooring pennant and backs that up with a second line of their own.  The lines are wrapped with cloth where they pass through the bow chocks to protect them from chafing.  All bimini tops and radio antennas are taken down and full hurricane preparations are made. 


Some of the owners then board the launch and go ashore to wait.  We decide to stay aboard.  If nothing else, I can ease the tension on the mooring lines by running ahead slow.    As the day draws down to darkness, the wind picks up and the rain comes in sheets.  The anchorage comes alive as the wind, out of the northeast, pushes a chop before it along the two miles of harbor shoreline.  This is complicated by a separate swell rolling in around the breakwater from the southeast.  Hypnotically, we watch the reports of the storm's progress on TV from Boston.  It is predicted to pass to the south of Nantucket, a scant 100 miles from us.  By midnight, the seas have built to 3 feet and the wind is in excess of 30 knots.  All the boats are riding well, although the ride is a mix of pitching and rolling.  I have just drifted off into a troubled sleep when the salon is bathed in light. 


The Coast Guard boats, stationed at a dock downwind of us, have taken up riding stations and are playing their searchlights over the moored boats, looking for trouble.  At about the same time I hear a diesel engine nearby and se that the marina launch, a stout 20-footer, is scurrying about, making sure that all the boats are riding ok.  After that, the diminishing rains and winds signal that the worst is over.  Still, throughout the night, I check everything every hour or so. 


I was subsequently roundly chastised for being so foolish as to stay with the boat in the face of a hurricane.  Having seen the damage done to moored boats by recent hurricanes, I agree that it is far safer to prepare the boat as best you can, and then get to the safety of land.  Had the storm struck Provincetown, there would have been nothing I could do, and Marilyn and I would have been in serious danger.  It would have been far wiser to sit it out in a motel room and hope that the chafing gear and ground tackle did its job.


TUESDAY, AUGUST 19, it is still blowing close to 20 knots.  I am in a quandary.  We can sit still, snug in Ptown, for another day, but that will put us on a tight schedule for winding up the cruise by the end of the week.  We could make the run across Cape Cod Bay to the canal and then lay over at a number of places on Buzzard's Bay, but as sure as grass grows, it will be one hell of a ride across that bay!  Finally, as noon approaches, I decide that the short 2-hour ride across the bay shouldn't be a major deterrent to getting on with the trip.  The first hour isn't bad at all.  The seas are choppy, but not really uncomfortable.  Then we pass out of the protection of the Cape and I get a golden opportunity to see what that placid bay can really do! 


The seas are out of the north, which puts them right on our beam.  They average 6 feet with some going higher and every third one is breaking.  It's impossible to hold the boat on course, as she would be set on her beam-ends every other wave.  I set up a system of tacking upwind 20 degrees until I am about a half mile off course and then tacking down wind 20 degrees until I have shifted off course a half mile to port.  At least three times, seas breaking right under the boat bring the wheel out of the water and there is a great noise until it catches again.  This is a propeller that is 3 feet under a 34-foot trawler!  Finally, after three eternities of 140 minutes, we're within a mile of the canal jetties.  Miraculously, the shoaling bottom has the perverse effect of diminishing the onrushing seas and everything is calming down.  Just when I think we've seen the last of it, a rogue wave catches the boat and really sets her on her beam-ends!  Anything below that hasn't already wound up in the shifting pile on the cabin sole goes flying.  After that little surprise, I steer hard and careful until we're in the protected waters of the canal. 


It's interesting as to what really gets to you when you're in real slop.  I have a little plastic tub of essentials like dividers, pencils, calculator, etc. which always sits quietly on the flybridge deck.  In really sloppy seas, this little tub takes on a life of its own, skating all over the place.  Sloppy seas require that one cup of coffee be dumped on a chart and one container of soda be spread all over the area where the helmsman is wont to put his feet.  I wonder, if I started the day with a sacrificial ceremony where I soak my only chart in coffee, pour a soda on the deck, and throw things in a jumble in the cabin, would the heavy seas go away?  Marilyn says no, because that's the way I start most every day! 


The trip through the canal is uneventful, and I decide that the crew can easily do without any of the renowned Buzzard's Bay nastiness so we make a quick right as we exit the canal and duck into Onset for the night. 


Onset Bay is a busy boating area with several anchorages and Onset Bay Marina.  This facility is all new, having been totally destroyed by a hurricane in 1985.  The best description for the town itself is quaint.  Turn-of-the-century gingerbread dominates.  There is a minimum of business in Onset.  Just enough to buy provisions for the boat.  The town is summer vacationland at its easy-going best. 


WEDNESDAY MORNING, AUGUST 20, the weather has cleared nicely and the air is still.  We make an early departure for the trip down Buzzard's Bay and on to Newport, R.I.  When the Amberjack pokes her prow out into the main channel, she is hit with the full force of the tidal current.  Over two knots of current is dead against us.  Ground speed is a blinding 6 knots.  I hug the western shore to minimize the effects of the current, but it still is slow going.  The seas are low, so the ride is pleasant.  Finally, we pass Gooseberry Neck to the north of Buzzard's Light and move out of the effects of the current.  When we're abreast of Sakonnet Point, I turned north and ran up the Sakonnet River to visit Tiverton.  This is where we had hauled the old Amberjack several years ago to repair a started seam that was the result of a very rough passage from Nantucket.


Once again the current is against us as we slog up the river.  There is an interesting point right at Tiverton where jetties that protect the harbor from the broad reaches of the river narrow the waterway to a couple of hundred feet.  The Sakonnet is fed by the considerable waters of Mount Hope Bay, and the current through the narrow opening is impressive.  We ride on through past the railroad bridge into Mount Hope Bay.  Then, turning southwest, we slip into Naragansett Bay.  This bay could serve as a cruise territory all by itself.  The Providence River and Greenwich Bay connect to it on the north, and a number of small coves and rivers line its shores.  Prudence Island takes a 5-mile chunk out of the center.  On the eastern side, just above the mouth, sits Newport. 


Once again, the gracious Newport Yacht Club at the head of Newport Harbor gives us a slip with a commanding view of the harbor.  There is always something to see in Newport Harbor.  Ship-sized yachts from all over the world come and go.  The anchorage in the center of the harbor is vast and crowded.  Launches, sightseeing boats, and water taxis shuttle back and forth.  The largest yacht in port at the time was the Empress Subaru, with her own helicopter aft.  The BOC single-handed round the world race was in the final stages of preparation for the start of 27000 miles of lonely sailing.  These 50 and 60-foot sailing vessels are marvels of high tech and automation.  Across the harbor at Newport Marine, the annual Wooden Boat Show was poised to open the next day. 


THURSDAY, AUGUST 21.  In the morning, as I sit on the flybridge writing this article, I gaze across the harbor.  I notice a man standing on the swim platform of one of the megayachts.  He is peering around the transom at something along the waterline.  In the lower center of the transom, there is a funny dark mark that obliterates a part of the ship's name.  As I watch, he walks across to the port side and looks along the port waterline.  Then he walks back along the platform, steps through the funny dark mark and closes the door behind him! 


The Wooden Boat Show is primarily a gathering place for wood boat owners to try to sell their boats.  Every type of vessel was on sale there.  I am happy to see the Chantey, a 38-foot Alden schooner that had been owned by an old friend on sale there.  She is on the block for $60,000.  I'm sure he didn't buy or sell her for anywhere near that decades ago.  I send him one of the brochures to make him feel good.


We depart Newport at 2:00 pm for the 3-hour run to Block Island.  The weather is going down again with low overcast and intermittent rain.  Visibility is infinite on the water and the seas are running a 2-foot chop.  Once again, the current is against us and the seas from the east with a strong current from the west build up an impressive chop.  As we near the north end of Block Island, the seas build up to 6 feet and are nearly vertical and breaking.  The ride rivals Cape Cod Bay for unpleasantness.  Finally, we get in the lee of Block Island and make the run down to the Great Salt Pond in calm waters and poor visibility in the rain.  The run in to the salt pond is straight and well marked.  Champlin's Marina has a slip for us and we tie up in the rain. 


FRIDAY MORNING, AUGUST 22, and the rain has cleared out.  We depart Block Island for the run down the Long Island coast.  There is no way to really plan the day since predictions are for 4 to 6 foot seas and they won't permit us to enter Shinnecock Inlet if they materialize.  If it's too rough in the Atlantic, I might have to run behind Montauk Point and then either go through Gardiner's Bay to Shinnecock or continue on down Long Island Sound and go through New York Harbor.  I don't really like this route because it is impossible to make the run without having a full current cycle.  The time that the current is against you far outweighs the time that it is with you, so it makes for slow going.  When we get out of the lee of Block Island, the seas are 4 feet as advertised, but they're long period rollers that don't give an uncomfortable ride.  By 11:00 am, off Montauk, they've grown to 7 feet but the ride is still ok. 


I correctly predict that once we're well past the point and out of the effects of the current, they'll settle down again.  Some peak at 6 feet but the average is 4 feet with about 50 feet between crests.  When we get off Shinnecock, it's out of the question to run the inlet.  The tide is dead low and those rollers have the inlet boiling.  I set in a course for Manasquan Inlet and settle down for a long, long run.  The seas vary from 3 to 6 feet as the day goes on.  They're coming from the port quarter and the autopilot is having no problem handling them. 


Our ETA at Manasquan is midnight, so I treat myself to a nap after dinner so I'll be able to take the dark part of the run and stay awake.  Shortly after nightfall, the full moon rises behind us and I watch the airliners making their approach to Kennedy airport.  A brightly lighted cruise ship passes 5 miles ahead, headed south, and several freighters go by.  Eventually, the lights of the night party fishing boats show up and then the New Jersey shoreline lights twinkle into view.  A cloud cover obscures the moon, but we're now almost home.


We run Manasquan Inlet exactly at midnight, as the loran had predicted 12 hours earlier.  By now, the adrenalin is up, and sleep is far away, so I just continue up the Manasquan River and through the canal.  I know I can stop anytime I feel tired, but since there is no need to do anything the next day, we might as well keep going.  The run down Barnegat Bay is quiet and uneventful, and at 3:00 am, after 17 hours of running, the anchor drops at Tice's Shoal and the cruise is over.  We have covered 1500 miles in 21 days, averaging 75 miles per day.  The only repairs have been the cleaning of the fuel filter and tightening a setscrew on the autopilot.  ....But I still haven't been to Nova Scotia....