Octogenarian Odyssey Part VI

Wanda White Stovall

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To celebrate both of us turning 80 and our 60th wedding anniversary, my husband, David, and I took a long-distance cruise on the Down East Circle Route. The journey took more than 2,000 miles from New York Harbor through the Erie Canal and the St. Lawrence River, around Nova Scotia, and down the New England coast, ending back in New York Harbor.

Read part onetwothree, four and five.

Part VI: Chandler, Quebec, to Halifax, Nova Scotia

August 20-23: Chandler to Caraquet, New Brunswick

As promised, our dock help arrived at 9 a.m., high tide, to assist us in negotiating the difficult maneuvering required to take our large boat from the restricted dock space. With his usual calm and skillful piloting, David moved us away from the dock and expertly turned into the large expanse of the St. Lawrence River. With great weather, we were excited for a long day of cruising.

With the GPS programmed to take us past the shoals, I brought in the fenders and knelt to secure the small ladder we left attached to the hull. Just then a tremendous jolt pushed me forward toward an opening off the deck. I grasped the railing and held myself in place. A horrible noise indicated we had hit an unmarked shoal, hidden by the high tide. David had forgotten to go wide upon exiting.

Although we knew we’d sustained prop damage, we also knew there was no help at Chandler, so we continued our journey. We could travel at 7 knots maximum without considerable vibration. Despite frantic searching, we could not find a contact number or reference for the shipyard at Caraquet mentioned in our guide. (Later, we learned the name of the shipyard was in French, not English.)

With calm weather and increasing difficulty, we continued slowly to Caraquet. Our concern about boat damage didn’t deter us from appreciating the beautiful shoreline scenery, including the huge hulk of Percé Rock. The red granite monolith extends far into the water and is one of the most photographed sites in Canada. Across from the rock,  Île Bonaventure attracts many summer birdwatchers who come to see the huge population of northern gannets and other birds that nest here.

Although we could see the shipyard as we neared Caraquet, we had no means to make contact, so we continued to the harbor marina. The rustic facility had mostly fishing boats on its docks. When the harbor master saw our boat, he told us we were too large to dock there. I told him we had sustained damage and needed to come in, and he graciously came to hold our lines and help secure our 58-footer into a space meant for a 30-footer. After hearing our tale of woe, he called the shipyard and arranged for us to be there at 8:30 a.m. to be pulled and have our props replaced with the spares we had on board.

When we arrived at the New Brunswick Naval Center that morning, help was waiting. They placed our boat in the slings for haul out and moved it to the adjacent dock. After the prop workers surveyed the damage, we learned that the shafts, both props, and the port stabilizer unit were damaged. We had anterior and posterior hull damage and water coming through a small opening in the bow. The skill of knowledge of the staff impressed us.

On site fiberglass workers began their repairs within a few hours. After removing the shaft and props, workers took them to another facility. Held aground with blocks under the keel and securing units, The Bottom Line looked pathetic standing alone in the vast shipyard. The shipyard agreed to let us stay on the boat (highly unlikely in the U.S. due to OSHA and insurance limitations). The staff mounted a large metal ladder to the deck so we could board the boat safely and easily. We wanted to stay on the boat instead of going to a motel. The yard provided electricity, and we had plenty of water.  

After David tried unsuccessfully to rent a car, one workman insisted on leaving his nice pickup for us to drive. He gave us the keys to the gates, so we could come in after the facility had closed. The trust and generosity of Canadians overwhelmed us.

After 5 p.m. on Friday, we learned that the shafts had been repaired. A crew would come at 7 a.m. on Saturday to install them.  

August 23: Caraquet to Miramichi, New Brunswick

As promised, the prop and shaft repair crew arrived at 7 a.m. and quickly began installing the straightened shafts and the spare props. The workers used a hoist mounted next to the boat’s port side to remove the heavyweight props from the hold below our galley without incident.

At 10:30 a.m., I left the boat so it could be put back into the water. Another crew from the shipyard arrived to make this unusual Saturday departure possible. Their concern for us on a day when they ordinarily would not be working made us grateful and humble. After they lowered the boat into the water, I started to board, but the crew foreman stopped me and gave me a European kiss on both cheeks. The other men followed suit. As we waved farewell, we felt indescribable gratitude at being able to return to our journey.  

Marinas on the Northumberland Strait have limited depth and dockage size. Since we’d left Caraquet late (almost noon), we had few choices for our evening stay. Although located more than 20 miles upriver, Miramichi seemed to be a good choice. The Bottom Line is 18 meters long, and most area marinas offered little dockage for boats over 15 meters.

We turned into the Miramichi River at 7 p.m. The GPS indicated we would arrive at the marina by 9 p.m., just before the last light faded. Marked by red and green lighted buoys, the twisty and shallow river channel caused us to slow our speed. The sun disappeared 30 minutes before we reached our destination. David proceeded without incident to Station Wharf Marina, a rustic facility located just ahead of the giant Centennial Bridge that spans the river. As promised, the dockmaster and several helpers waited for us on the dock.

August 24: Miramichi to Bouctouche, New Brunswick

Once again, we needed to refuel. John, the dockmaster of Station Wharf Marina, met us before 9 a.m. and moved the boat by lines into place at the nearby gas dock. At low tide, we showed less than 4 feet below the stern and did not want to engage the props. Earlier, John had called his fuel distributor to deliver more diesel as he had less than 400 gallons on hand. Despite it being a Sunday, the distributor responded promptly. The slow pump meant that fueling took a long time, as Bottom Line held more than 500 gallons.

Our wait gave us time to chat with the marina staff and learn more about the area and its people. We learned that John and the other investors received a large grant from the Canadian Government to expand and improve the facilities on the Miramichi River, a renowned fly fishing destination popular with sportsmen.

Shortly after 11 a.m., John and volunteer help from the marina manned the lines and pulled us back to the main dock and into deeper water. They waved as we departed. During the long but delightful journey down the river and out into the strait, we glimpsed lovely, pristine homes and small churches. Sandy beaches lined the shores, and we saw many families with children in bathing suits enjoying the pleasant warm weather.

After several hours of smooth, uneventful cruising, we encountered hundreds of plastic markers denoting lobster traps. Damaged when we hit the shoal, our line cutters (the bane of lobster fishermen) had been removed by the shipyard crew. The heavy lines or chains of lobster traps can wrap around a prop, causing the engine to seize and resulting in serious damage. We carefully avoided them.

Even though we’d been assured the winding, shallow channel to Bouctouche had sufficient depth for our boat, we became anxious when our depth finder indicated less than 5 feet. After 4 nautical miles, we reached Sawmill Point, a beautiful small marina located in a lush green park with a magnificent clubhouse/office. John, our dock help, could not have been more gracious. For the first time in four days, we had access to the internet and promptly caught up on mail and personal matters. We enjoyed dinner onboard with a beautiful sunset off the aft deck.

August 25: Bouctouche to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

John arrived early to help us pump the holding tank, as red lights in the heads indicated an almost full tank. Afterward, we had the basics covered: We had an empty holding tank, full fuel tanks and an apple supply of water.  

Carefully evading the lobster traps in the strait, we charted our course across to Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown, the largest town on PEI, has a large harbor and many attractions, making it a prime destination for boaters. En route, we cruised under the magnificent Confederation Bridge. Uniting PEI with New Brunswick, the bridge extends more than 8 miles across the strait. With its long row of column-like supports and arc-shaped spans, it resembles a Roman aqueduct. Both beautiful and functional, the bridge is recognized as an outstanding engineering accomplishment.

As we approached Charlottetown, the wind diminished, making our cruise smooth and straightforward. Heeding warnings, we avoided the large shoal extending into the entrance channel. With deep water, we easily docked at Charlottetown Yacht Club, only a few blocks from the bustling downtown area. Ready to get off the boat, we walked to the main street and perused the small shops lining the sidewalks, the park’s war memorials, and the few historical sites. We also read the posted restaurant menus to find the best place for famous PEI mussels.

August 26: Charlottetown to Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia   

We left early for our long journey to the Canso Causeway. Looking back on previous locking experiences, we wanted to allow plenty of waiting time. With smooth water and light wind, we easily crossed the strait toward the Canso Causeway and our last lock. Small homes, churches and plowed fields dotted the pastoral shoreline.

A pod of whales breeching in front of our boat. From their size and identifying characteristics, we deduced that they were Pilot Whales. The black whales grow to about 20 feet long, have a highly rounded forehead and are very gregarious. David slowed the boat to a stop, and we stood on deck awestruck as they flirted playfully with us. The pod had about 20 members.

Lock communication was instantaneous, and they advised us to enter upon arrival. As the lock goes up only about 6 feet, it ordinarily requires little time to enter and exit. However, one of the lock gates had been affected by the heat on the warm 85-degree day and refused to close. As advised, we secured our lines and waited. After almost an hour, the lock personnel solved the problem and waved goodbye.

Throughout the day, our inability to reach anyone at the Port Hawkesbury Marina, the one nearest the lock, had frustrated us. We made numerous unsuccessful calls. After considerable research, we located another number and made more calls. Port Hawkesbury was the only stop with fuel for a considerable distance, so it was imperative we reached them. As we waited for the lock to open again, we received a call telling us the marina was expecting us. What a relief!

The Port Hawkesbury Marina is a public wharf managed by a local yacht club with volunteer help. It’s easily accessible from an extended boardwalk popular with the locals. We needed fuel, but their tank held an inadequate supply. Walter, a yacht club member, arranged for a fuel truck to meet us at 7:30 a.m. Throughout the evening, many friendly folks wandered to the wharf to greet us and ask about our boat and Texas.

August 27: Port Hawkesbury to Goldboro, Nova Scotia

The fuel truck arrived on time, and with a fast pump, we took on more than 500 gallons of fuel in less than 10 minutes. We left the dock before 8 a.m. on a beautiful sunny day with little wind. Weather reports indicated increasing wind, so we expected choppy waves when we entered the Atlantic.

We headed for a recommended marina at Liscombe, an eight-hour journey. Communication with Liscombe wasn’t encouraging. They had no space for us, and mooring was questionable. At 18 meters, our boat was too large for many small docks, and we were reluctant to anchor. Liscombe promised to call us later in the day with an update.

Before exiting Chedabucto Bay and entering the Atlantic, we experienced a marked increase in wind and waves. Apparently, a hurricane that had taken an unexpected turn was headed toward Newfoundland. We began to feel its accompanying winds, being battered as the bow lifted high and dropped down with considerable force. Despite having “battened down the hatches,” we experienced our furniture being moved, books thrown from the shelves, and a cabinet door in the galley shaken loose. Since it was too dangerous to go below, we spent most of the day in the helm.

We hoped the waves would diminish as the hours passed, but this didn’t happen. We both agreed; this was our worst day ever on a boat. At 4 p.m., Liscombe still hadn’t contacted us, making us reluctant to continue another two hours to an uncertain destination. Goldboro offered a public wharf in an easily accessible location, so we quickly changed course. We entered a lovely, protected bay and proceeded a short distance to a small dock. With relief, we pulled into the one available space, and one of the fishermen on the dock secured our lines.

Goldboro, an idyllic community of lovely homes and churches tucked into the lush forests surrounding the bay, has an impressive community center on the wharf. Ladies inside sold ice cream and snacks to the many visitors. With only 35 residents, Goldboro remains a popular local destination. Delighted to find this refuge from the storm, we recommend Goldboro to other mariners as a great stop on the way to Halifax because of its natural beauty and easy accessibility (no shoals and only 2.5 nautical miles inland).

August 28-30: Goldboro to Halifax, Nova Scotia

Weather reports gave us a one-day good weather window before the onset of high winds from the hurricane off the coast of Newfoundland, which had been the cause of the previous day’s violent storm. We left the dock at 7:15 a.m. prepared for a long day of cruising to Halifax, 100 nautical miles away. We hoped to arrive before 6 p.m.

Exiting the bay, we headed into the Atlantic on a course that would avoid the many shoals indicated on the GPS and charts. Initially choppy, the waves lacked the violent turbulence of the previous day. We could handle it without difficulty! As predicted from weather reports, winds greatly decreased as we neared Halifax, and we spent our last three hours on a glassy, calm sea.

Joel at Halifax Waterfront had arranged for extended dockage, as we’d leave on August 30 to fly to Texas. Bottom Line would remain in Halifax until we returned on September 21. Joel had reserved a great docking place for us, putting us in a wonderful position to observe the active waterfront scene. It was a warm, beautiful evening with many people visiting the nearby sites, playground areas and souvenir shops. With Halifax’s tall buildings only a block away, we were eager to explore.

Unfortunately, Friday dawned gusty and cold as predicted. After checking in at the marina office, we headed back to the boat to do some cleaning and small repairs. Our tour of Halifax would wait for better weather. The naval war monument we were docked beside attracted many visitors despite the harsh weather. Painted white and blue, the restored Sackville, one of fewer than 300 Corvettes manufactured in World War II and assigned to protect supply vessels from roaming German U-Boats, had been designated as a war monument and docked in Halifax.

Although we had been onboard since May 24 (except for a 10-day trip to Texas), David and I were reluctant to leave our beautiful boat. Although comfortable and content, we had a strong desire to see family, friends, and home (and attend the Baylor football game).

The journey resumes in Part VII of the “Octogenarian Odyssey,” out in Winter 2024.

Wanda White Stovall

Wanda and David Stovall live in Fort Worth, Texas. She is a retired speech pathologist, and he is a semi-retired certified public accountant. Their boat remains at a lovely marina near Wickford, Rhode Island, where they spend five months of the year enjoying delicious seafood and great boating experiences in this beautiful area.

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