Boating in Southern New Brunswick
As a cruising sailor I feel blessed that I live in Saint John, NB. Here we have so many cruising alternatives: to the north, the Saint John River and its tributaries (The River); to the west, Passamaquoddy Bay, the Fundy Isles and the coast of New England; and to the south, Nova Scotia.
The cruising options of southern New Brunswick not only accommodate whimsy, they also allow the choice of destinations and sailing areas suited to the weather, wind, time constraints and the level of boating experience. The Saint John is fresh water river and it seldom experiences fog. Its' protected waters prevent seas greater than a steep chop. It is ideal for leisurely family boating and those new to the sport. It is also ideal for those sailing on a schedule, for conditions will seldom prevent a return home.
It is the tidal-barrier affect of the Reversing Falls that allows for such benign conditions. These conditions are very different than those experienced on the near-by Bay of Fundy. Saint John Harbour has a tidal range of 22' or more (below the Reversing Falls) and The River has a tidal range of 2' or less. So it is not surprising that most of the recreational boating activity in the area occurs on the Saint John River.
The limited tidal range of The River also means that, in warm summer weather, the water temperature exceeds 22C; versus 8C in the Bay of Fundy. Therefore, The River is a glorious place to swim. Warm air and water also help to explain the absence of the fog that can be so prevalent in the Bay of Fundy in the summer.
Anchoring is generally easy with mud bottoms holding ground-tackle like glue. Almost anywhere, where there is a lee, there will be an acceptable anchorage. Of course there are many natural and preferred anchorages offering various degrees of protection. They will be obvious to visitors as they are heavily populated with local boats and noted in the cruising guides.
Many of these popular anchorages are best in (the prevailing) south-west winds, however. The options for protected anchorages in easterlies, the local storm winds, are fewer. Planning and local advice can be helpful if severe weather is in the offing.
The River is very well marked which makes navigation easy. Up-to- date local charts should always be on board, of course; but with generally good visibility, lots of aids to navigation, few under-water obstructions, a 'soft' bottom and with main-channel water-depths seldom less than 10', it is easy to operate a boat of reasonable size here. Vessels with drafts in excess of 8' and vertical clearances in excess of 75' are the exception.
Sailing in the Bay of Fundy and the salt-water beyond does have its compensations, however. Eventually, as experience is gained and the challenge beckons, heading into the salt-water becomes, in my view, a necessary step in sustaining one's interest in boating.
First one must navigate through the Reversing Falls (The Falls). Getting the timing right for slack-water is an essential first step. A government tide book will provide the times of high and low water in Saint John Harbour and, in turn, one can calculate the times of slack water at The Falls.*
Saint John Harbour is an inhospitable place for small vessels. The limited exception is Market Slip and its' floating docks. This tiny oasis can quickly become untenable due to wave action if it is blowing hard from the south or west, however. As well, one has to compete for the limited dock-space with local tour-boat operators who are very territorial (avoid the north-side by the gang-way). As the harbour is a working sea-port, port security precludes accessing the relative shelter of the slips on the west-side of the harbour, unfortunately.
In Saint John Harbour and the Bay of Fundy one must be aware of shipping traffic coming and going. "Fundy Traffic", of the Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Management System, is available on VHF Channel #12 to provide advice on ship movements.
The currents in the Bay of Fundy are strong (2 knots +); so displacement-speed boats should operate on the tide. Also, the prevailing winds blow from the south-west. Inland heating as the day progresses results in a building breeze. So if your destination, when departing from Saint John, is Passamaquoddy Bay or the Fundy Isles (west of Saint John) then an early-in-the-day departure is advisable.
Heading west, there are harbours at regular intervals (every 10 miles or so): Musquash, Chance, Dipper, Beaver and Blacks Harbours. All of these offer shelter and host fishing fleets. Services and supplies are limited so one should be prepared to be self-sufficient. From there one has the option of heading south to Grand Manan or north into the shelter of Passamaquoddy Bay. The latter is the location of the lovely town of St. Andrews and a number of good harbours like Chamcook. There are also attractive destinations like Lords Cove and Head Harbour on Deer Island and Campobello, respectively. The latter, being deep and land-locked, is a true hurricane hole and it is my first choice for refuge if poor weather threatens while I am cruising in this area.
Remember that you are now near the US so border protocols must be obeyed. Care must also be taken upon entering Passamaquoddy Bay via either L'Etete Passage or Quoddy Roads due to strong currents. Traversing these at slack water or with a fair tide is recommended.
From the sultry and bucolic beauty of the Saint John River to the bracing and rugged Bay of Fundy, it is this diversity of the boating experiences in southern New Brunswick that I believe makes this such a wonderful place for sailors.
* Note on the timing of slack-water at the Reversing Falls in Saint John.
The actual time of slack-water at the Revering Falls will vary depending upon the level of the Saint John River. The calculated times: 3 hours, 50 Minutes after Low Water in Saint John Harbour and 2 hours, 25 minutes after high Water in Saint John Harbour are based upon what the charts refer to as 'mean datum' (meaning some calculated average height of the river).
The actual time of slack water can vary a lot. The Saint John River tends to be below this 'mean datum' late in a dry summer, for example. Conversely, it is above it in the spring flood period (locally called a 'freshet') associated with snow run-off into the Saint John River and its tributaries, or after a period of heavy rain.
So if the river is 'low' then a high slack (or slack after high water in Saint John Harbour) will be later than the calculated time as it will take the Bay of Fundy longer to come down to meet the river level. Conversely, a low slack will be earlier than the calculated time. The opposite of all of this is true if the river is 'high'. Note that Fundy Traffic will usually not provide advice on timing variations due to the changing river level.