Newfoundland is one of those destinations we’d quietly whispered about for years… maybe, one day, if the boat projects ever ended and the stars aligned… so when the opportunity came up to deliver a J-46 from Portland, Maine to St John’s, Newfoundland — with a leisurely schedule and the route up to us — we jumped on it!
For those who are not as familiar with the area, here’s a little overview map of our route and some of the highlights along the way. This turned into quite the long post, but I just couldn’t cut back on the photos!!
Side note: We have not abandoned our boat, Brio II 🙂 We’ll return to her in Panama this fall, after a summer with my family on the west coast… but I had to write up this not-so-little trip summary before I forget it all!
Leg 1: Maine to Shelbourne, Nova Scotia (240 nm)
We left on June 10th, and started with a nice little shakedown sail to Richmond Island. It’s one of those anchorages that’s never all that comfortable (the swell seems to always find its way in) but it was a good day-sail and we figured Zephyr would enjoy stretching his legs and chasing some sheep.
Knowing we had limited time, we decided early on to prioritize getting to Newfoundland as quickly as we could while also making a few nice stops in Nova Scotia.
Shelbourne was an *excellent* first stop. It’s a port of entry (that *just* reopened!) so we could clear Canadian Customs, we figured we could get there in one night, and it meant we avoided having to time the currents at Cape Sable.
The folks running the Shelbourne Yacht Club could not be nicer, and the 10-minute phone call clear-in was our easiest foreign country check-in to date!
As an added bonus, we met s/v Manzanillo – a French family with another 4-year old boy onboard. They were headed in a similar direction, so we exchanged whatsapp contacts and hoped to run into them again.
Leg 2: Shelbourne to the Bras d’Or Lakes via Le Have Islands, Lunenburg, Louse Harbour and St. Peter’s Lock (292 nm)
Leaving Shelbourne, our first stop was the Le Have Islands. The parents of my childhood cruising friend have settled here, so we couldn’t sail by without stopping to say hi! The fog was thick but the anchorage was settled, and we slept very well after a pizza party with our friends.
We intended to hop over to Halifax next, but the genoa had other ideas. We were beating into a beautiful 15-knot breeze when the head webbing snapped. All hands on deck! Jon quickly got the sail down and stuffed inside while I tried to steer the boat through the seas as *gently* as possible. We really didn’t want to lose the sail overboard, but we also really didn’t want to ship a greeny while the forward hatch was open.
At that point continuing to Halifax was out of the question, so we pulled a u-turn and sailed back to Lunenburg where North Sails Atlantic Sail Loft offered that they could get the sail fixed same-day!
A quick trip up the mast to retrieve the halyard, some on-deck gymnastics getting the sail folded up, and then the real dilemma: how to carry the rather large, rather heavy sail the few blocks from the dinghy dock to the sail loft.
Enter: the LL Bean rolling suitcases. My parents hate these things — we have two of the beasts — but these suitcases have been with Jon and I for a verrrry long time.
With the sail ratchet-strapped to the frame, they did the job as a rolling dolly perfectly.
With the sail repaired and back onboard, it was time to check the weather. Ah yes. We could leave — right then — or stay in Lunenburg for another 3-4 days. As much as we loved Lunenburg, Newfoundland was calling our names. So at 6:30 pm we upped-anchor and set off for as far along the coast as we could make it in one night.
The upside of cruising in June is that you have a LOT of daylight. Nights were really only 6 hours long, and I never tired of Jon asking if I wanted “the first night watch or the second one?”.
When morning broke, we spotted another J-boat sailing on the horizon, and you know what they say about two boats sailing… and so ensued some of the most exhilarating sailing we had on the whole trip, flying along with 20-25 gusting 30 on a broad reach.
We swapped radio plans with our new friends and settled on Louse Harbour. The charts make the entrance seem quite unappealing. We consulted the cruising guide and a few Active Captain reviews, and Louse Harbour’s entrance was totally fine depth-wise — but it was FULL of fishing traps strewn across the entrance with 15-30′ of floating line, making for a real maze of an entry!
Louse Harbour was worth the effort though, including stomping around on shore and getting to know the crew of s/v Boreus a little better.
The next day was equally foggy, but we were determined to press on. The short sail to St. Peter’s Lock was not fun. The seas were giant, the fishing floats were endless, and the fog was relentless.
Trying to spot fishing floats in the fog — with seas big enough that the floats are underwater at some points, and lazily on the surface at others — is no bueno.
When we finally crawled in to St Peter’s and tied up to the lock wall, we were pretty worn out.
St. Peter’s lock is super fun — I’m still not sure if we went up or down, and after the Panama Canal it’s a complete non-event. The marina around the corner offered a wonderful stop to refuel, celebrate Jon’s birthday, and have our first Tim Hortons coffee!
Leg 3: The Bras d’Or Lakes
I’m not sure they really count as their own leg, but the Bras d’Or lakes definitely deserve their own little write-up!
The novelty of sailing on completely flat seas with a fresh breeze and stunning scenery all around did not wear off. And nearly no boats! We still aren’t sure if it’s because we were early in the season, or if they just don’t get very busy — but we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.
At the suggestion of the St. Peter Marina manager, we anchored in Maskell’s Cove and had it completely to ourselves. Zephyr and I had a (verrrry quick) swim, we explored the beach, and we thoroughly enjoyed a blue-sky, fog-free day.
From here we needed to time our exit through the Great Bras d’Or narrows. What a pain! I’d been trying to research the best time to make this exit for weeks, and “The Google” had nothing but conflicting advice. The cruising guide was also a bit of a joke – “exit as close to slack as possible, as fearsome waves build when the wind is against the tide”. Thanks, that’s great, but how do we calculate slack? Other guides suggested that the current ran opposite to the tide at the narrows. What?!
In the end, our friends on Manzanillo – the family we’d met in Shelbourne – saved us. They were one day ahead, and radioed back to let us know that the current predictions were dead wrong and they had to stop and wait for the conditions to improve before they could exit. I did a little math based on their experience, and concluded that we could leave the following morning and expect favorable current with light SW winds.
For anyone trying to leave the Bras d’Or lakes: The advice to leave 2-3 hours AFTER low tide in Sydney proved useful. I have no idea why Sydney’s tide station is the reference, but it worked out for us. We had ~2 knots of positive current flushing us out of the lakes, and completely flat seas which was good because the narrow channel was once again FULL of floating line and buoys.
Leg 4: The Fjords of the South-West Coast of Newfoundland: Cape La Hune, Francois and Morgan’s Arm
We chose a relatively benign window to cross Cabot Strait directly to Cape La Hune, and have no regrets. Cabot Strait has a bit of a reputation, and we were keen to arrive on the SW coast with plenty of energy for exploring!
There are almost no words to describe the majesty of these fjords. Entering La Hune’s fjord through the fog, we had no idea what we were about to experience… it was jaw-dropping.
The waterfall in Deadman’s Cove was breath-taking.
The superlatives are not enough!!
We dinghied across the fjord to the “beach” on the western side and could see a few traces of the outport that once thrived here — stakes where houses had stood, and an old cemetery on the top of the granite rocks. We also got a peek at the cove on the other side — complete with its own waterfall, of course.
I had a small work project that needed to be uploaded, so we gambled that Francois might be enough of an establishment to have some form of wifi. The fog packed in and refused to let go, but we so enjoyed this charming town and its ~60 inhabitants.
The history of these outports is really interesting. At one point, Francois had up to 400 inhabitants and over 100 children in the school. Now there are 4 active students, and the locals say that when those 4 graduate the school will likely close. There was a post office and one store, and a small museum that we greatly enjoyed.
Morgan’s Arm – Hare Bay
It’s really hard to choose a favorite stop in Newfoundland — La Hune was amazing, and Francois was such a unique experience… but if pressed to just one, I think it would have to be Morgan’s Arm.
Caveat: It probably really helps that we had a picture-perfect blue sky day here. The weather definitely changes the feel of a place, so my real advice is if you get a clear day spend it in a fjord!
I lost count of how many waterfalls are in this fjord — you feel like you’ve seen the best and then it just… keeps… getting… better!!
The very best for last, of course… Morgan’s falls proper.
You can quite easily walk / climb the granite rocks alongside the falls, leading to a beautiful view of the fjord and the surrounding mountains.
If you’re feeling extra brave (we weren’t!) you can even bring your sailboat right in to the base of the waterfall. We probably would have tried if we’d been in our own boat, but when you’re delivering someone else’s very nice sailboat you really don’t want to arrive with any unexpected chunks missing 😉
Phew. Still with me? You’re a trooper. And we’re getting to the end…
Leg 5: St Pierre + Miquelon
I’d heard of “the French islands in the middle of Canada” for a while, but had never really looked at where they are. Well, turns out, they’re right off the bottom of Newfoundland, very conveniently located for anyone sailing the south coast.
We weren’t 100% sure we’d have the time to stop, but the weather lined up nicely — and we knew that Manzanillo would be there, and the boys were keen to play a little more if they could.
So off to France we went 🙂
The check-in process was a breeze — Customs and the local police were onboard within 10 minutes of tying up, they asked the usual questions, filled out the forms, and sent us on our way. Honestly we spent more time discussing which bakery had the best pain-au-chocolat than anything else! And there was no check-out requirement which made it especially easy to come and go.
The highlight of our stay — other than the duck foie gras, croissants, escargots, pain au chocolat, tartines, and scallops — was definitely dinghying over to Isle des Marins for a little exploring. The boys ran wild, and the island was the original establishment for St Pierre.
Leg 6: Sailing to Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club
The last leg — for us at least — was a big jump from St Pierre to the RNYC, just around the corner from St. John’s. The big attraction of this leg was sailing through the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, where we *hoped* to find ever-elusive puffins!
I struggled to get a good photo, but we did indeed find the puffins 🙂
And that’s it! A month of glorious sailing, lots of fog, a million photos, and incredible memories. We are so thankful we had this opportunity!!
And if anyone else wants their boat delivered somewhere super nice, you know who to call…
– The Brio Trio