Monday, August 15, 2022


We are under way eastbound across the Northumberland Strait, headed for Prince Edward Island. I'm off to a late start today, and my attention is constantly being diverted to lobster floats, so I will likely finish this post much later from anchor.

After my last travelogue post we made our approach to Miramichi Bay via the marked entrance channel. That was somewhat nervous-making and it prompted me to write an entire post about navigating unfamiliar waters, which you can read if you have an interest in that sort of thing. Once past the tide rips that surround Portage Island, we dropped the hook in calm waters behind the island (map) and had a lovely, peaceful evening and night.

From there, it would have been about a 20nm cruise up the Miramichi River to the eponymous town, which has only existed for a quarter century after two towns on opposite sides of the river, Newcastle and Chatham, were forced to merge. There are, thus, two separate downtowns and two places we might dock to get ashore.

Newcastle, the westernmost of the two and on the north bank, is arguably more interesting and it is where our two sets of friends who have preceded us here stayed. Sadly, since then, the city has banned overnight docking where they stayed, at Ritchie Wharf, making it day-use only. That would either have us hunting for a spot to anchor, or tying up at the commercial wharf in Chatham on the south bank a good ways east.

After considering all our options, we decided that, as interesting as it might have been to visit this more Anglophone community of northern New Brunswick, it was not worth making a 40 nautical mile detour and then having to sweat the overnight arrangements. And so, Saturday morning after checking the passage weather forecasts, we weighed anchor, made our way out of the bay via the "swashway" ship channel, and headed around Point Escuminac and south toward the Richibucto River.

We had our sights set on the small town of Richibucto, which had a free deepwater wharf and where we thought we'd get most of what we would have at Newcastle, albeit in a Francophone community. A few restaurants, a couple of stores, and a riverfront town. But the day would not go as planned.

For starters, rounding Point Escuminac, we found ourselves in a sea of lobster floats, and a swirling maelstrom of lobster boats racing to and fro ahead of us. Fortunately, we were not caught off guard: after writing in our last update that the fisheries were closed here, which is still true of the big seiners, reader Kris wrote in to say that lobster season in the strait had opened on Wednesday. That made for a very tedious cruise dodging pot floats and lobstermen.

Sunset from our anchorage off Portage Island.

Worse than that, winds that had been forecast at five knots built steadily to five times that amount. As we were approaching the Richibucto sea buoy, waves had built into steep three to four footers on the port quarter. That made for an uncomfortable ride, and it also made the pot floats nearly impossible to see either visually or on radar. As we got closer and closer to the sea buoy, I started having second thoughts about entering the river. Appropriate, perhaps, after my long exposition about navigation here in my last post.

The Richibucto entrance involves driving nearly onto the beach in a channel that shallows to just eight feet, then making a sharp right turn and running along the beach in seven to eight foot depths for a few hundred feet before finding the protection of a low sand bar. We were arriving at low tide, just a little more than a half foot over datum, with high tide just a foot higher but hours away. The three foot seas would follow us in until we made the turn, and then be on the beam until behind the sand bar. That could easily bounce us along the bottom, or, worse, roll us over to catch a fin on the bottom.

It did not take us long to err on the side of caution and wave off. Unfortunately, that meant plodding on for another two and a half hours to the next safe harbor, behind Bouctouche Dune. We increased rpm to 1600 to give the stabilizers more bite and to shorten the misery by a tad. It was 6pm when we finally got the hook down in the lee of the dune (map), dropping in a dozen feet of water and 20 knots of wind.

We had planned to get ashore in Richibucto and did not have any dinner started, and those kind of seas are not the time to start. We pulled a steak out of the freezer when we made the wave-off decision and I threw it on the grill pretty much right after getting shut down. It was actually a very comfortable anchorage and we never saw any boats coming or going from the port of Bouctouche another two miles upriver. Even the few lobster boats in the small harbor of Saint-Thomas-de-Kent, just 600 yards from us, were idle our whole stay.

Yesterday winds were forecast at 15, which would have been fine for going the 16 miles or so to Shediac, our final planned stop in New Brunswick. But we awoke to 25 knot winds, and when they climbed to 30-35 while we were having our morning coffee, we started to plow the mud with our anchor. We briefly considered moving another two miles into the bay for a tad more protection, but we decided to just increase scope for the new conditions and stay put.

The rough conditions lasted all day, with rain alternating from drizzle to downpour. With wind and waves both on the nose, it was not too uncomfortable on board, but it was still too bouncy for any kind of project work or for Louise to sew. We were relegated to couch potatoes for the day, watching videos and surfing the Internet. Louise even wrote to the weather service to tell them their forecast was way off; they finally revised it to reality by 8pm. I did, however, have to spend an hour or so in the engine room working on a problem.

Saturday night Louise had gotten in the shower to find the hot water just barely warmer than room temperature. She managed to soldier through the rest of her shower, and we ran the generator to make hot water so yours truly did not have to suffer. But, more than an inconvenience, the absence of hot water is a very serious concern, and I needed to investigate.

When we are at a dock, or anchored for more than a night or two, we make hot water the way many households do: with an electric heating element in a water heater tank. But when we are under way, we get all the hot water we need for free, from waste heat from the engine. Just like the heater in your car diverts a small amount of coolant away from the radiator, some of our coolant diverts to a heat exchanger coil inside our water heater. That heats the whole tank up to the same temperature as the engine coolant, around 180°F. Too hot for safe showers, so we have a tempering valve on the water heater output for safety.

Bouctouche Dune and its diminutive lighthouse. This little spit of sand protected us for two days.

The tempering valve has given us trouble in the past, and we've replaced it once and I clean the calcium build-up periodically. But a quick check of the water heater Saturday night revealed the contents were cold, as were the hoses connecting to the heat exchanger. Hot water was not flowing through the hoses, which could mean a serious problem with the engine cooling system.

An hour of poking and prodding at the system, including inspecting all the hoses for kinks, crimps, or other external signs of blockage, and another hour of poring over the exploded diagrams of the engine cooling system got me nowhere. The water heater is, annoyingly, the highest part of the cooling system, so it could be a large air pocket causing an air-lock. Or it could be worse: delamination of one of the hoses causing a "flap" to block the passage; if pieces of hose lining start coming off, they can block small cooling passages in the engine. I topped up the expansion tank and the overflow bottle in the hopes that might clear any possible air lock.

It always helps to put problems into perspective, and yesterday we heard radio traffic that put our own heavy-sea discomfort and our hot water problems in their proper place. We heard the landward half of a conversation between Sydney Coast Guard Radio and the CCGC Cap Nord wherein we heard the cutter had taken the pleasure craft Loon into tow in nine foot seas and had a five and a half hour eta back to the station in Summerside, PEI. I recognized the name, a DeFever 43 that is also doing the Downeast Loop and has been a few days behind us.

We are hoping for a good outcome for them. I'm imagining what the inside of a DeFever that size looks like after being towed for hours in those kind of seas. And the crew must be physically and emotionally exhausted. We're guessing they were lead astray by the same poor-quality weather forecasts that put us in unexpected four footers off Richibucto and had us expecting to leave an anchorage yesterday where instead we were pinned down. I don't know what disabled them, but a good bet would be four decades of crud stirred off the bottom of the fuel tanks in heavy seas.

This morning we were again faced with route decisions. Shediac was our next scheduled port, which would have been a nice day's cruise from Richibucto. But it was just 16 miles from Bouctouche, and our first port in PEI, Summerside, is about the same distance from either. Shediac is considered the lobstering capital of New Brunswick, which would either make it fun or a nightmare right now, it's hard to say which.

There are two marinas in Shediac, neither of which we can access, so it would be an anchor/tender port for us, as so many are. Anchorage is limited there. Once again we decided that what Shediac had to offer was not worth a 15-mile detour to an unknown anchorage, and so when this morning's forecast (and visual observation -- we don't trust these forecasts now) showed good crossing conditions, we decided to make a run for PEI.

Tonight we will be anchored in Summerside. Perhaps we'll get a chance to put our eyes on Loon. Tomorrow we will continue along the southwest shore of PEI to the capital, Charlottetown, passing under the Confederation Bridge en route. I've emailed the port authority there, and if we can get a berth we will stay for a couple of days. I'm hoping to find some distilled water to I can work on the cooling system without worrying about losing some of the coolant.


  1. In Summerside, there is a brew pub called Evermoore. I've never tried their beer, but in PEI, it's common for craft brewers to sell products from other brewers. If you see anything made by Moth Lane Brewery, try it. Moth Lane makes the best beer I have ever tasted.
    It will probably be available in other restaurants and pubs in Charlottetown.
    As you know, it's lobster season, so that will feature on any menu, along with oysters and mussels, which PEI is famous for.

    1. We spent only one night in Summerside, and Evermoore was closed Monday. We walked past it, in the old train station. We did have lobster salad sandwiches last night, exacting our revenge.

  2. I have been thinking of you as we meander along the Trent system. I've been continually amazed/dismayed by the vessels we are meeting. We met 2 Defever 44s just east of Canal Lake a few days ago and there's a Fleming 65 tied up near us in Peterborough now. There's an Ocean Alexander that we've been locked through with sveral times tied to our T-head now as well. It has to be at least 50 feet. I can't imagine how stressful these waters would be for those vessels. And I'm sorry but I also can't help thinking "WTF were they thinking?" Stay safe and most Importantly keep lots of depth under your keel.

    1. Thanks, Bob. Or, at least, I'm guessing it's Bob. I confess to some envy looking at your TS photos. I would very much like to do it, but at 6' it's simply a no-go for us. But, like the DeFevers and the OA and the Fleming, I'd be the guy signing the waiver and making a go of it if we were just 5.5'. Of course, our heavy steel keel means touching bottom is a non-event unless we're going to fast that we actually get stuck. I'm sorry we missed you when we were closer to that neck of the woods.

    2. No idea why I'm showing as Anonymous but yes it's us.

      Your tale of Lobster pots reminded me of a trip through a crab pot minefield into Everett, WA. I thought I had successfully navigated through them but when we got back across to Cow Bay I found a length of trap line draped over the stbd fin and cut off exactly long enough to reach the prop. I'd rather be lucky than good any day.


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