EXPLORE: Sailing Atlantica with Bruce and Bonnie

Sailing the Gulf of Maine is a special adventure. We published this interesting blog post years ago. Still works today I think. For more exciting postings, visit Bruce and Bonnie’s Blog at:



Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Bay of Fundy has the biggest tides in the world with one tidal station recording rises and falls of over 16metres. This means strong currents for the whole of the bay and around the southern foot of Nova Scotia. Timing is everything. To get it right we left Shelburne at 0430 and had a wonderful sail around the bottom of Nova Scotia and then set course for Bar Harbor, Maine. The weather forecast was good with light winds and patches of fog. Because of the strong tidal currents we simply set a compass course and ignored our cross track error and rumb line. The plot of our course was fascinating as it is the first time our track formed a perfect sine curve as we went up with the flood and down with the ebb. We motored for a while but were making such good time we estimated we would arrive in Bar Harbor berfore dawn the next day so we killed the motor and were content to sail at 3 knots with very little breeze.

By early morning we started the motor again and motored the rest of the way. By 0600h we were in dense fog which thickened further as we approached the coast of Maine. The forecast patches of fog became a dense blanket covering a large area. The visibility was reduced to little more than the length of our boat. Then the nightmare really began when we encountered a mine field of lobster traps with lines and floats just waiting to wrap themselves tight around the propellors of unsuspecting yachts. Bonnie was on the helm and the visibility was so bad she could not see the trap floats in time to alter course to miss them. Bruce stood in the bow pulpit to gain an extra 12metres of visibility and pointed furiously in the direction he wanted Bonnie to head. We still had a number of near misses. Because of the high tides most of the traps have lines with two floats with a span line between them. The traps were so thick that at times it was difficult to find a path through them. At one stage Bruce saw two floats a reasonable distance apart and signalled for Bonnie to go between them only to spy the span line just below the surface as the bow passed over it. The screams and violent gestures provoked the quickest response ever performed at the helm as Bonnie slammed the motor into reverse but our momentum carried us over the line before we began to move astern. The back of our keel caught the line and dragged the trap with it. We were getting dangerously close to traps behind us when the line and its floats finally popped out from under the boat and we were able to proceed. A few minutes later we heard an announcement over the VHF radio that the fast Catamaran Ferry from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth was leaving Bar Harbor. We could hear the roar of her motors quite distinctly but could see nothing but fog. Our minds conjured pictures of a huge catamaran roaring out of the fog on top of us. We jumped on the radio to tell them our position and were reassured that they had picked us up on their radar and that we were about 3 miles from them.

Bar Harbor is protected on one side by a breakwater with a narrow gap between its inner end and the sharply rising land of Mt Desert Island. Believing we were good at pinpoint navigation we set a waypoint at this narrow gap with steep land on the port side and a beacon marking the end of the breakwater on the starboard side. We sailed a precise course until our arrival alarm sounded to indicate that we were almost at the waypoint. We could see no land, no light or beacon and no sign of the breakwater which at low water is just below the surface. Lobster traps were everywhere. Bruce said “I don’t like this. Let’s get to hell out of here.” We headed out towards where the chart indicated the main wide entrance to the harbor should be still with no sight of land and more lobster traps. Bruce spoke to the harbor master on the VHF radio and was told there was a cruise ship at anchor in the entrance to the harbor and that if we sailed past her stern and then headed in we would find the dock. Bruce directed Bonnie on a perfect course but forgot to tell her about the cruise ship. Suddenly it appeared through the fog towering over us and about 30metres off our beam. “Shit! Look what’s coming” was the horrified high pitched scream from the helm. “Just relax, its at anchor” came the calming reply. We wound our way past the stern of the cruise ship and through an area of moored fishing boats and finally a misty view of the dock appeared. We were very glad to tie up and clear in with US border protection.

Posted by Bruce and Bonnie at 7:45 PM

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