A Cruising Guide to the MAINE COAST
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Down East

Schoodic Point to West Quoddy Head

Down East: Schoodic Point to West Quoddy Head

As you pass Schoodic Point heading east, civilization falls behind, and you enter a more primitive world—one where fishing and lobstering are all-important, and the affairs of Boston and New York seem far away and insignificant. All the coves are working harbors filled with lobsterboats and trawlers, where the docks are piled high with traps and bait barrels. Yachts are rare, and facilities for yachts are almost nonexistent. The last big marina lies astern, so now you must depend on your own resources more than ever.

This is a land of weirs and blueberry barrens, of uninhabited islands, narrow bays, and countless estuaries. Wildlife is abundant here, including seals and ospreys and bald eagles. You can see puffins and razorbills at close range on Machias Seal Island. There are lovely white granite and spruce islands in Eastern and Western Bay, and unusual harbors and a remarkable Nature Conservancy preserve in the area of Great Wass. Just beyond is fabled Roque Island, with its mile-long white sand beach, a goal for generations of cruising sailors.

This is also a region of dense fogs, strong currents, and steadily higher tides as you approach Canada and the Bay of Fundy. Anchoring and docking in an area with tidal ranges of 20 feet or more require different techniques from those used with smaller tides. Starting with Cutler, the mean and large spring tidal ranges are given for every anchorage. Time your passage to take advantage of the currents, which flood east along the coast and ebb west.

The huge tides move enormous volumes of cold ocean water inshore, and the temperature difference between the ocean and the air can build thick fog. Fog is most prevalent in July and August, when the air is warmest and the humidity highest. Radar and GPS, while not essential, certainly add confidence to navigating this part of the coast.

The few good harbors are spread over greater distances that the cruising grounds to the west, and the water between them is bold ocean. Before starting, it is wise to identify on the chart a number of possible harbors of refuge along the way, including Winter Harbor, Prospect Harbor, Trafton Island, Eastern Harbor, Mistake Island Harbor, and The Cows Yard—all of which are easy to enter and not far out of your way.

Running east from Schoodic, you will go progressively farther out of shore-based VHF range, and don’t expect coverage for your cellphone. The U.S. Coast Guard station at Jonesport monitors channel 16 for emergencies.

Fuel for recreational boats is not readily available along this stretch of the coast. While many harbors have diesel or gas for their resident lobster fleets, it is generally sold on account at the commercial buying stations. In a pinch you can certainly tank up at the commercial wharves, but retail business is not encouraged. Plan your fuel use and range carefully, round Schoodic with full tanks, and keep topped off when you can.

Sailing Down East is very different from the typical cruising experience. This is where true voyaging begins. If you arrive in June or September, you will hardly see another cruising boat, and even in the summer months you’ll probably be glad for the company you find. When you return to more populated cruising grounds, be prepared for a bit of a culture shock. You will feel like you have really been somewhere, and you have.

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