Sunday, October 16, 2022

Crossing our wake and closing the loop

We have departed Port Jefferson, New York, where we anchored (map) just a short distance from where we anchored back in June, thus "closing" our Down East Loop. Cruisers who complete a circumnavigation of anything, including the circumnavigation (of the planet), call this "crossing one's wake." This post summarizes the trip.

We actually crossed our wake at the last stop, back in Sag Harbor, but considering our earlier stop there preceded a full week of visiting local friends, I did not want to include that week in the stats. Beside that, we had not planned to stop in Sag Harbor at all on this leg. As with so many of our stops along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and New England, we ended up stopping there because of the weather.

The actual track of our Down East Loop, as recorded by our chartplotter.

It has been an interesting 16 weeks. We've been through some of the most incredibly beautiful and scenic places to which we've ever ventured on the boat. At the same time, parts of the journey were also some of the most challenging boating we've done in our nearly decade aboard.

Our route took us along very familiar water, west along the north shore of Long Island, through and to New York City, and then north along the Hudson River. The Erie and Oswego Canals, on our second pass through, brought us to Lake Ontario and thence to the Thousand Islands, where we left the familiar behind and crossed over to Canada, clearing in at Gananoque.

The Montreal Wheel; we docked in sight of it.

The next 1,800 miles would be new territory for us, taking us along the easternmost portion of Ontario and into Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. We transited the entire St. Lawrence Seaway and along the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula. The Northumberland Strait brought us to Cape Breton Island and the Strait of Canso.

Once through the strait we proceeded along the Nova Scotia coast in the North Atlantic Ocean, around Cape Sable and ending our Canadian travels in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. We crossed the Bay of Fundy back to the US and the familiar waters of Maine.

The Canadians are serious about summer flowers. Outside the Frontenac, Quebec City.

From there back to here has been more of a "delivery trip" than cruising, as we've spent a lot of time here previously, and winter is soon upon us.  So anyone reading this for planning their own Down East Loop trip should bear in mind that there are lots of great stops along the Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island coasts that are not covered by our Down East Loop cruise, along with numerous ports along the north shore of Long Island Sound. I've documented all of those previously in this blog.

I will mention here that our visits out on the east end of Long Island, followed by a family visit in upstate New York, dictated part of our schedule, and had us leaving north out of Poughkeepsie on July 4th. That's really a late start for this trip, and I recommend anyone in the planning stage to figure to be at the start of the Erie Canal in Waterford, New York at the end of May or beginning of June. Starting a month late meant we did not have time for a side trip to Ottawa, and we limited our stays in Montreal, Quebec, and the Saguenay fjord more than we'd have liked.

Quebec City at night.

Highlights of the trip included the Thousand Islands, the Saguenay fjord (with whales!), and Lake Bras d'Or. I enjoyed many of the small towns and harbors, and I especially enjoyed Montreal, Quebec, and Halifax. The Nova Scotia coast was stunning, but we did not have the time or the weather we needed for more relaxed exploration.

Here's the recap, by the numbers:

Number of days 111
Statute Miles 2947
Nautical Miles 2561
Up lockings 20
Maximum elevation 420'
Down lockings 17
Tidal lockings 3
Stops/Nights on free wall         10/10
Stops/Nights at anchor 59/69
Stops/Nights at marina 10/31
Engine hours 430
Generator hours95
US States 5
Canadian Provinces 5

This cruise brought Vector as far north as she's ever been, rounding the top of the Gaspé Peninsula, and as far east as she's ever been, in Lake Bras D'Or. Our previous "records" in those regards were en route to Lake Superior for northernmost, and Campobello Island, departing Eastport, Maine for easternmost. (For the curious, the Laguna Madre in Texas was our westernmost point, en route to South Padre Island, and South Point, Caicos Islands remains our southernmost reach.)

This whale just off our stern was one of the highlights of the trip.

As always, every anchorage, wall, and marina at which we stayed has a Google Maps link in the blog. Die-hards who don't mind wading through my detailed descriptions of repairs to the boat and the logistics of shopping trips and route planning can read through the descriptions of every stop. If you start at the link in the very first paragraph to our stop in Port Jeff in June, you can click "newer post" at the end of each post until you get back here to this summary and you'll have seen the whole trip.

If I had it to do over again, I would have started a month earlier, even if that meant stashing the boat someplace along the St. Lawrence and driving back to New York for our family and friend visits in June and July. And while we are unlikely to go through the effort of going around through the St. Lawrence again, we may very well return to Nova Scotia earlier in the season to do more coastal cruising there in better conditions. Almost certainly we will return to explore the Bay of Fundy, which we basically skipped this time around.

The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay presented some of the heaviest currents we've encountered. 

Crossing into Canada (and again back into the US), we were very focused on not having any fresh items (meat, fruit, vegetables, dairy) that we might have to discard at the border, or a dutiable amount of alcohol on board. What we should have done, however, was to stock up on non-perishable staples in the same way we routinely do going to the Bahamas. We had trouble finding, and spent way too much on, such things as toilet paper, nuts, trail mix, juice mix, and canned goods.

Border crossings were easier and less fraught than we expected. We cleared into Canada over the phone, and we cleared back into the US on a smartphone app. We never met with any border personnel in either country. And while adding Canadian charts to our collection was expensive ($250 for our main plotter and $30 in upcharges for our tablet apps) they were mostly accurate and detailed.

Vector in Halifax, next to HMCS Sackville.

We had to add an insurance rider to extend our navigation limits between Quebec City and Maine, which is outside of our normal limits. But really that, the charts, and slightly higher prices for provisions were the only added expenses beyond what we normally spend cruising.

The language barrier became an issue between Quebec City and PEI, and I had to draw on my rusty Parisienne French from four decades ago, plus copious use of Google Translate, to get by. We had to wave off one port because I could not get the harbormaster to speak slowly and simply enough to understand him. Coast Guard radio watchstanders and Seaway radio personnel are universally bilingual.

Rafted to a fishing vessel, preparing for Hurricane Fiona.

We had the new experience of staying in three commercial harbors, and of rafting up to a fishing vessel. And we rode out our first tropical storm outside of US waters (after more than a dozen in the US). We learned a great deal about Canada, and we were taken by the hospitality and care extended to us by the denizens of the more remote regions of the country, where depending on your neighbors can be a matter of life and death.

We're glad we made the trip, but we are equally glad to be back in more familiar and easier waters. That said, we are already missing the overall politeness of Canadian society now that we are back in New York.

We'll miss the beer. Every town had something local and most of it was excellent.


  1. Curious about the more difficult waters; was the massive tide the difference. What specific advice would you give would be travelers of your path. Thanks

    1. The tide was not really an issue. It's more that seas up in that area are notoriously rough, with calm days few and far between. My advice is to have a well-found boat and be prepared to wait out the weather in remote anchorages.

  2. Hello, sounds like my dream trip. I live just outside Halifax and follow a number of loopers . I am glad to hear you felt the maritime hospitality.
    Are current boat is not quite large enough to challenge this route. Maybe some day

  3. Fran Murphy ketchdoc@yahoo.comOct 17, 2022, 10:10:00 AM

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I am a Grand Banks sailor on Lake Ontario. I have sailed the length of Long Island and well into Connecticut. We often think of more aggressive distances, but pets, gardens, grand kids and home keep us tethered. Thanks for helping us envision this adventure.

  4. Hi Shawn! Thanks for the info. We will finish the Down East Circle next summer when we continue from Burlington to the St. Lawrence and back to Maine with a side trip to Newfoundland.


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