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Grand Manan Island, NB 6/25/22 - 6/28/22

Joseph Berkovitz

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Paddling Grand Manan Island: A Bolder Coast

Grand Manan is quite a large island in New Brunswick, Canada that sits right at the junction of the Gulf or Maine and the Bay of Fundy. It is comparable in size to Mount Desert Island but it is more triangular than round, resembling an arrowhead pointing north. The long sides of this triangle are 13-15 nautical miles in length. It’s right in the center of this map:


Bob Levine and I both wanted to go to Grand Manan for a long time, having seen it looming on the eastern horizon whenever we went to Maine’s Bold Coast. From that vantage point all you can see is a single line of high distant cliffs. One can paddle there from Campobello, a crossing of some 7 miles.

Jason Kates also joined the trip, and he had been there before; Jason wisely encouraged us to take the ferry rather than paddling over from the mainland. Not so much because of the hazards of the crossing—which do exist—but because Grand Manan has such a long coastline that it is difficult to explore its various regions without a car, and few solid camping options exist on the west side of the island. We took Jason’s advice, and it was very good indeed.

Unfortunately Jason had to drop out of the trip due to last-minute car problems. So in the end the trip consisted only of Bob and myself.

Travel and Amenities

Grand Manan is reached by a car ferry from Blacks Harbour, NB. The ferry is quite economical and at 6+ hours from Salem MA, the drive time to the terminal via I-95, Route 9 and NB-1 is comparable to the Bold Coast. The ferry crossing takes about 90 minutes and is a very pleasing part of the trip with great views of coastal NB, Campobello Island, The Wolves and of course Grand Manan. The ferries are substantial boats and run 365 days a year; they are essential lifelines for the island.


The island itself is a quiet place with a year round population of about 2,500. There is summer tourism to be sure but a lot of the island economy seems to be running on fishing, aquaculture, dulse harvesting and the support systems for those industries. It is hard to describe the feel of the place after such a short time there, but it is comfortable to be in. The people are very friendly. Appearances aren’t everything, but you don’t see broken-down houses and yards full of rusty stuff.

We opted to camp at Anchorage Provincial Park because it was cheap, seemed to get good reviews and was right on the water. In fact, the park is truly very beautiful and well maintained with super clean facilities. It includes long wooded trails and is adjacent to miles of deserted sand beach. The bugs were not bad at all (although the deer flies did annoy us on hot days, more by buzzing than by biting). There did not seem to be any wild animals around other than bunnies; more on those later. In June, it was not crowded because schools were not out yet. Cell coverage seemed quite reliable over the island. 



The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, and all of this tidal range moves in and out of the bay past Grand Manan on either side, twice a day. So it sits in an extremely dynamic environment, although there are also many quiet spots.

The entire west side of Grand Manan Island consists of near-vertical volcanic cliffs reaching several hundred feet in height. The coastline runs in an almost straight line. On this side of the island, the 7-to-10 mile wide Grand Manan Channel acts as a deep conduit where the currents can flow unimpeded. On the flood, the conduit narrows and acts like a funnel with a tide rip extending off the northern point for a mile or more.

On the east side, the island is flatter and consists of non-volcanic rocks, with an archipelago of outlying islands and shoals. The Fundy currents, encountering these obstacles and shallows, accelerate and become turbulent especially on the ebb tide. Many ships have met their end off the southeast of the island.



The timing of this trip was on a neap tide, so currents were not at their strongest: maybe 50-60% of the maximum speed that they reach on a spring tide.

[Continue to the next post in this thread for the description of the first day of the trip]

Edited by Joseph Berkovitz
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Day 1 Paddle (Sat 6/25/22): Anchorage / Hay Point


Distance: 17.9 nm
Time: 6h 45m
Tides (Seal Cove): HW 10:01am 15.7’; LW 4:12pm 3.76’
Currents (GM Channel): 7:01am 1.7 kt; 10:23am SBE; 1:18pm 1.5 kt; 3:59pm SBF
Weather: Sunny, 60s F air, high 40s F water, light wind building to 10 kt SW
Sea state: 2-3 feet @ 10 sec diminishing through the day

We arrived bright and early at the pristine, mile-long sand beach that makes up a large part of the park where we were camping. (Every morning of our trip I went for a long quiet walk on this beach with my coffee—a wonderful benefit of this location.) Our first goal for the day was to paddle from the campground to Southwest Head along Grand Manan’s southern coast. The flood would be running against us until we rounded the headland so we would hug the coast and look for back eddies. We hoped to reach Southwest Head around slack, with high water allowing free exploration near the cliffs and around outcrops, perhaps heading north a bit if conditions allowed. From there we planned to turn around as the ebb began to build in Grand Manan Channel, then we’d come back around the headland, cross the channel and explore the Wood Island area after midday before returning to the campground at Anchorage. We thought the opposing ebb might remain mild in the shallow area of Long Pond Bay to the east of Wood and Outer Wood.

Our 8:30 launch on the Anchorage campground beach was uneventful, a matter of timing the modest dumping waves arriving on the shallow sandy beach. It was really pleasant to drive only 2 minutes from the tent site to our put-in. Thankfully the dense fog that had descended during the night had left in the early morning; a local woman on the ferry had told us that the southwest of the island is a place where fog can stick around, while other parts can have bright sun at the same time.

At Red Point right near the campground, we had an opportunity to view a geological boundary that cuts across the entire island roughly o a north-south orientation, emerging at two points, of which this was the southern one:


After Red Point we continued up into Seal Cove. Sure enough, a back eddy helped us progress through this area as some helpful seaweed hanging off of a nav buoy demonstrated:


Seal Cove appeared to be one of the most densely populated areas anywhere on Grand Manan, with many houses and marine businesses as well as antique herring smokehouses. A large marine farm lay just offshore from the town. Soon enough the human population seemed to fade away, as we progressed westwards towards Deep Cove and Southwest Head. The cliffs became larger and the character changed from typical rock faces to striking columnar crystals of basalt. We reached the first of a series of rock formations known as the Flock(s) of Sheep: these are collections of round, light-colored glacial erratic boulders that sit on top of dark basalt pillars:


The visual contrast between the two kinds of rocks is very striking. As we continued, one or another of these “flocks of rocks” would come into view from time to time. They do look sort of like grazing sheep if you are far enough away… and if you pretend that sheep like to eat rocks…

As we got nearer and nearer to Southwest Head, the swells became larger and an element of spooky unpredictability crept in. Larger sets would suddenly arrive, rearing up in places we did not expect, presumably over hidden shoals. We kept our eye on what was coming from outside and pressed on, reading the water ahead of us carefully.

We rounded Southwest Head around 10:30, right as the flood ended, to the astonishing view of 150-foot sheer basalt cliffs facing Grand Manan Channel with mist floating around their base:



Maine’s Bold Coast was clearly visible across the strait and we could make out West Quoddy Light and the Quoddy Narrows in the far distance. While the point of the headland attracted considerable wave energy, as soon as we rounded the point and started up the west side the swells fell off rapidly. We landed below Southwest Head Light in a small pocket beach surrounded by rock walls on all sides:


Birds wheeled overhead. A few lighthouse visitors looked down from far above on the clifftops. The scene reminded me much more of Northern California more than the Northeast. The scale of the landscape here is simply huge.


While on the beach for a quick snack and leg stretch, we encountered the remains of an ATV that looked as though it had plunged to the beach from above, hopefully with no one on it. There is a rowdy ATV and dirtbike scene on the island and there have been more than a few accidents over the years. A picture I took from the cliff top two days later shows the pieces of ATV widely separated, so presumably this had been recent.

The beach was well protected from the swells by rock buttresses. Coming off the beach I snagged my skeg on some rocks and put the slider out of commission, but my trusty roll of Velcro tape (acquired thanks to WFA training) was able to bind the skeg up quickly so I could keep paddling. A good piece of kit, that Velcro.

The ebb had not begun yet so we continued up to Hay Point to take in a multi-mile view north along the cliffs, as far as Big Head and Pandora Head. This side of the island is profoundly empty. No roads access it, only hiking trails. It is a serene and austere place. There were a few rock play opportunities here but we were hesitant to do anything resulting in a damaged boat in an area with no takeouts and questionable radio reception. 

We turned back at Hay and returned around Southwest Head. Bob darted out to catch the ebb current while I stayed a bit further inside to catch more of a view. Bob was winning big-time on the speed front, and my advantage on the distance front was in the end not significant. We reconvened at the headland and decided to paddle from the buoy at Black Rock across to Wood and Outer Wood Islands for our lunch stop, a 1 nm crossing. We hoped the ebb would not drift us further away from Grand Manan, as the arrow on the map suggested it might. As we crossed, we didn’t detect any set to the left or to the right. But as we discovered when we reached the first lobster buoy (in what were to be many current-related surprises), we were actually paddling directly against a modest ebb current. Maybe we were far enough outside of Wood Island that we were encountering some part of the ebb that comes past it heading west. One just has to learn what the currents actually do here; often it’s not what one would expect.

Crossing to the narrow, shallow spot between the low islands of Wood and Outer Wood, we saw a couple of lunch beach candidates, but first we had to negotiate a rough spot where swells were breaking over shoals as they entered this area. With some timing and observation it was possible to get a ride rather than a capsize. Then on to our quiet lunch beach on tiny, deserted Western Green Island.


The remainder of the trip was a trip past marine farms and extensive rockweed ledges to the east of Wood that jutted a long way out. Our final leg back to the Anchorage beach was marked by a current helping us reach the beach—another total surprise, an ebb current pushing us towards land! The swell had mostly died out but one last tiny surfing wave helped us reach our low-tide landing spot. A perfect first day of exploration had ended.

Edited by Joseph Berkovitz
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Day 2 Paddle (Sun 6/26/22): Dark Harbor / Hole in the Wall

Distance: 15 nm
Time: 7h
Tides (Seal Cove): HW 10:52am 15.6’; LW 4:59pm 4.0’
Currents (GM Channel): 7:55am 1.8 kt; 11:17am SBE; 2:10pm 1.5 kt; 4:51pm SBF
Weather: Sunny, 60s F air, high 40s F water, light wind building to 10 kt SW (again)
Sea state: < 1 foot



Our second trip was dedicated to exploring the northern section of the island, which features dramatic rockscapes on both sides, east and west. Dark Harbour on the western side is the single point on that coast which is reachable by road. And below North Head on the eastern side, the island topography becomes mostly flat. This decided the extent of this trip.

We already knew that Dark Harbour featured a large saltwater lagoon (known as Dark Harbour Pond) with a seawall on its outside and a single narrow channel communicating with the ocean on the north side. We wondered how we would make it out to open water, recognizing that the tides were exactly wrong: we would be starting around max flood, with water rushing into the lagoon. However we also knew that Dark Harbour is a port for boats collecting dulse seaweed (one of the economic mainstays of the island) and that they had some way or other of getting the boats in and out over the seawall, said to involve winches(!). We didn’t know exactly what that technique would look like for kayaks. We also didn’t know the parking situation, although a poster advertising an upcoming rock concert at Dark Harbor implied it must have some places to put a number of cars.

Dark Harbour has a reputation as a sort of rough place where kids go to escape the “hustle and bustle” of the rest of the island—a odd-sounding need when you first hear it, but it makes sense once you spend time on the island. It’s a local party spot, a place where it feels OK to break some rules; the rest of the island feels very orderly by comparison. It is nicknamed “The City”, which is a sort of in-joke: it’s anything but urban.

The road there goes over the island through high wooded plateaus and then abruptly drops down through a dramatic gorge to a tiny seawall-enclosed harbor. Small camp-like houses are jammed up against each other on the shore with cliffs right behind them. Dulse boats are carefully spaced around the pond on the shore and perched on the seawall. In places the high water line covers the rough road encircling the lagoon rendering it impassable. It is a strange, improbable, atmospheric place—and it was indeed quite dark in the morning shadows, with bright water just offshore.


When we arrived we scouted the shore on foot. The narrow channel looked quite intimidating with a strong inflow of what looked like 4+ knots coming over a gravel bar.


We hoped the level would come up and the current would drop while we prepared to launch. At the same time we observed flattened road-like grooves or gullies cut into the seawall with channels leading up to them through the ledges at the edge of the lagoon. These were the hauling pathways for the dulse boats.



Returning to a small pier at the terminus of the road into the harbor, we talked to a young man working on a provincial salmon restoration project. He said it would be fine to park right on the pier today and that the tide would “be very unlikely” to come up over the parking lot. OK… so the tide sometimes covers the pier entirely… good stuff to know! The next local fisherman to turn up at the pier likewise reassured us. “These here are horrible tides right now. These dead tides aren’t going to give you any problems!” Further noted: neap tides were described as “horrible”. What’s the local adjective for a spring tide? We’ll have to come back to find out. In the meantime, we unloaded the boats and Bob parked a little ways up the hill from the pier. In any event, the later high water approached neither pier nor car.

We had to try going up the channel to get out of the lagoon although it seemed a bit hopeless. It was just about possible in terms of paddle power, but the bigger challenge was to avoid banging the hell out of our paddles trying to progress up the wafer-thin shallow eddy (it barely deserved to be called that) along the edge of the inlet. View of the inlet from the inside:image.thumb.png.76ad58fc3cfefa05bfb6e9215b58d113.png


In the end it was recognized that the dulse-boat haulout was the easier way to go… and so it went.

On the ocean side, crystal calm conditions awaited us. We stayed well offshore to catch the flood current and get a fast ride up to Long Eddy Point at the northern tip of the island, with the expectation that there would be ample eddies to work with on the northeastern side. In fact, we found ourselves drifting in and out of a complex eddy line even well offshore. We’d be paddling in glassy water and suddenly a little rotating vortex would appear in front of us. As we’ve found before on the Bold Coast, the current doesn’t always approach the shore even when there are no obvious obstructions.

Going around Long Eddy Light, we hugged the coast and entered a magical realm of more huge cliffs, pinnacles and hollows. Out of even the modest SW wind, with no swell, we explored channels running between all of these features as guillemots flitted in and out of hollows in the rocks above us. We paddled past many deserted and inaccessible pocket beaches in the stretch from “The Bishop” to Ashburton Head, a place of many northeaster-driven shipwrecks.





Finally, rounding Ashburton Head and running against a countercurrent through a narrow slot, we reached Whale Cove with enormous views of the Seven Days Work cliffs—so named because it took the earth’s creator a whole extra day to create the cliffs with their 7 rock strata. (Neither Bob nor I came up with 7 when we counted, but the creator surely has poetic license alongside their other powers.)


Our final outward leg of our trip took us to an iconic rock feature of Grand Manan: the Hole In the Wall. Invisible while on an approach to it, it is very prominent when viewed from the side: an arch some 20 feet high in a rock wall sticking straight out from the shore. Since the water sadly did not reach up to the bottom of the arch on this occasion, we resolved to climb out of our boats and stand inside the archway for respective photo ops. Maybe it can be traversed in a kayak on a spring tide.



Shades of American Gothic, eh?

Coming back we found a lunch stop at a pocket beach with overhanging rock spires behind it.


Eventually we made our way back around for a long trip along the cliffs, temporarily assisted by the ebb just north of Long Eddy Point, staying closer to shore this time. The assistance changed to modest resistance from a countercurrent in the eddy behind the point. We passed Indian Cove and Money Cove, two places where there are gaps in the cliffs with berms of large cobbles that allow one to land and potentially find refuge from the higher tides. There are shacks in both spots, many derelict. Conceivably camping could be possible here (in Dark Harbour, it would be unpleasant if at all possible). The property ownership situation was unknown to us and would need to be researched.

Reaching Dark Harbour, the inlet was now an outlet, even shallower and running strongly against us. After Bob made a sustained attempt to walk the shore of the channel back into the harbor (without his boat), we decided it was just too much to try to go in that way, towing the boats. The cobbles were very large and unstable to walk on. It was dulse-boat haulout time again. Finally the carrying ordeal was over and we landed in the harbor, back next to the pier. It had become quite windy at last, as promised, and the cool breeze kept the heat and the deer flies at bay as we unloaded the boats. Kids were riding dirt bikes up and down the hill leading to the harbor. A man passed us slowly in his pickup truck as his dog barked loudly; without his making eye contact we heard him say to no one in particular, “It’s only a dog… it’s only a dog…” We silently agreed and continued unpacking. Day two drew to a close.

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Day 3: Hike Long Eddy Point / Ashburton Head

This day featured a strong low passing to our north, with S winds building throughout the day over 20 kt ending in heavy rain showers and ultimately a cold front passage early the next morning. We would not be paddling. However, Grand Manan is a big hiking destination and we determined to check out some trails. Not surprisingly, they were great.

In the southwest we awoke to dense fog. We began with a brief detour to nearby Seal Cove to scout out potential launching spots nearer to Southwest Head, and found a very nice beach launch among some antique-looking herring smokehouses that now house more recent businesses. We then drove north from our foggy campground to Long Eddy Point on the extreme north of the island. As we’d been told might be the case, the northwest of the island was free of fog even while other areas were still socked in.


As we stood on the observation deck of Long Eddy Light, looking out at what can only be described as a long eddy, a strange black disc came flying into view in front of us, maybe 100 feet offshore, spinning in the air. It looked to be 3 or 4 feet in diameter. It slowly descended and landed on the water, continuing to spin on edge and skim the surface of the ocean, quickly disappearing from view. There appeared to be two reflective spots on it, going around and around. A couple of bicyclists turned up next to us, asking if we had also seen the strange object—so it wasn’t some strange folie à deux. Whatever it was, it seemed to be passively blown by the wind. Not a flying saucer. But darn close to one. Obviously artificial. And a mystery. Probably constructed by humans. But we can’t prove that. It’s no wonder that The X Files was largely filmed in Canada.

Our hike retraced a little bit of our previous day’s trip but this time journeying on land along the heights of the cliffs, from Long Eddy Lighthouse just past Ashburton Head to the start of Whale Cove. This trail is part of a longer trail system called the Lighthouse Trail. Basically, trails go around almost the entire island uninterrupted. In many places they pass through private land, but there doesn’t appear to be any conflict about that: for the established trails, arrangements have been worked out or the landowners have in some cases even placed benches to sit on. I don’t think we ever saw a “PRIVATE KEEP OUT” type of sign. (You can find out more about hiking on Grand Manan from the Hiking NB website.)

The views from the cliff tops were spectacular to say the least. Wildflowers abounded. The day was hot and sunny, but there was a stiff breeze from the building storm system. We could see much more of what the currents were doing from up there on the cliffs where numerous trail lookouts afforded panoramic views out over the water as fog trailed from the other side of the island, partly obscuring the ferry:


We ended our hike at an overlook that gave us an oblique view of the Seven Days Work. The trail continued, but it had been a rough and strenuous hike to that point with a lot of steep ups and downs. I was grateful for the single hiking pole I carried with me (the other one was supporting our camp tarp). We both decided to turn around at that point and work our way back to the lighthouse, stopping for lunch, with a total of maybe 3 hours or so on the trail. We found some nice wild strawberries along the way:


Our second stop that day—and a much shorter one—was at the Swallow Tail, a lighthouse on a dramatic outcrop on the southern tip of North Head. For a donation it is possible to enter the lighthouse and climb up to the lantern room at the top, which we did. Here we could look down the chain of islands that lie east, offshore of the settled area of Grand Manan that runs from North Head down through Castalia and Grand Harbour.



Our final stop, after a brief rest at the campsite, was at Southwest Head. By now the warm front was delivering steady pulses of heavy rain. I ran outside to capture a picture from near the lighthouse of the beach we had stopped on, on the first day. There are trails here too along the cliffs, but not for us this time. The rest of the day was devoted to staying warm and dry under our tarp and, ultimately, in our tents.

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Day 4 (Tue 6/28/22): Anchorage / White Head Island


Distance: 18.5 nm
Time: 8h
Tides (Seal Cove): HW 12:22am 15.3’; LW 6:25pm 4.5’
Currents (GM Channel): 9:21am 2.1 kt; 12:47am SBE; 3:40pm 1.7 kt; 6:23pm SBF
Weather: Fog becoming sunny, 60s F air, high 40s F water, light NW wind shifting to 8 kt WSW
Sea state: 2-3 feet @ 6 seconds, diminishing

The final day of our trip was devoted to the southeastern quadrant of Grand Manan with its many offshore islands. Since we did not have time or favorable current for exploring the southernmost and wildest of these islands (Hay and Kent), we aimed to circle around White Head Island and visit its cliffs and intertidal harbor. This would also take us near an area of shoals where the ebb current is more active, without venturing out into wide open exposed water.

The overnight cold front with its heavy rain showers finally lifted around 6 am, giving us a window to get ready for the day without being soaked. But the fog stubbornly stuck around, as advertised.

Launching into smallish dumping waves, we resolved to handrail to the east and follow the coast over to Ross, Cheney and White Head Islands, crossing the White Head ferry right near its landing on Grand Manan. We were not concerned about navigating in the fog per se; our main worries were not knowing what the currents would do (given the many unexpected observations so far) and on potential boat traffic including said ferry.


It took a surprising amount of time to work our way over to Ox Head Ledges and then up a channel into Grand Harbour as far as the ferry terminal, which turned out to be a very substantial breakwater enclosing a lot of working boats. Time gets elastic when you can’t see very much around you. Mostly as an exercise, we spent a few minutes trying to discern the direction of a nav marker horn that we assumed to be the closest such horn on our chart (a bad assumption that yielded obviously wrong conclusions). Later in the paddle we found that horn not to be operating. A small open boat full of what we assumed to be dulse came in as we watched. We crossed at the narrowest point of the channel, trying to sight a buoy that we found was not even there, only appearing on an older chart. Lacking the buoy, we still did reach the other side in very short order and without encountering any other boats; however, the flood was setting strongly to our right at 1 knot or more. Now we were against the shore of mostly uninhabited Ross Island, and continued our handrail south as far as the Cheney Passage.

Although we had planned on a CCW circumnav of Cheney and White Head, we had arrived at a point well inside the Cheney Passage which lies between Ross and Cheney Islands, near a fixed nav marker. This passage is mostly intertidal but has a narrow marked channel that stays open at all tides. We made a decision to continue the passage west-to-east all the way through to the outside and do a CW circumnav instead, since we had handrailed our way through most of the passage. We were going up against a surprising and strong current that, despite its being squarely during the flood cycle, was flowing west (to our south, the main flood current flows strongly northeast). Perhaps this entire passage forms part of a circulation that goes all the way around these two offshore islands—hard to say without putting in more time on the island!

On our arrival at the midpoint of the passage I parked in an eddy just behind a marker that was sitting squarely in the flow which I would guess was approaching 2 knots. The eddy was not very stable and the 4-sided marker was oriented at 45 degrees to the current, like a diamond. Thus, I was facing a corner of the marker while sitting in this eddy, while waiting for a fishing boat to come through in the opposite direction, with the current. Bob could see the boat but I could not as the marker was in the way. I realized that the boat would probably cut right next to the marker, which it did: the sternman gave me a thumbs up as they cruised by, and the wake immediately turned the eddy into a washing-machine mess. I managed to stay upright but my boat got pushed against one of the angled sides of the marker and the current was waiting for a chance to grab my bow or stern and flip me. It was time to get the hell out of this spot (Bob had stayed downcurrent and was now heading for the far shore of Cheney). I entered the stream and ferried across. A brief break from the action was enjoyed on a nearby deserted beach.

The next section took us around the rocky outside of Cheney, where we were exposed to swell once again. The rocks here reminded me a bit of the local Salem Sound coast.


It was beginning to approach slack and the current here was small and getting smaller. The sky was brightening and visibility improving by the minute. We passed a marine farm, looking for a (nonexistent) fish weir that was to mark the starting point of our crossing the 100% intertidal Cow Passage to White Head Island at high water. At this point Bob spotted a river otter swimming right near us! I only saw it for a moment but it was unmistakable. (Sea otters are only found on the Pacific coast of Canada, or I’d have said that’s what it was.) It disappeared before a camera could be deployed by the slow-witted humans.

The Cow Passage was crossed quickly to White Head Island and we began our clockwise paddle around it, intending to find a lunch spot on the south side. It was coming on 1 pm and the ebb should have just barely started in Grand Manan Channel, but it was certainly starting to show its presence here. We began to pass over a series of shoals sticking out from the island. The south or southwest wind opposed the ebb and with each shoal came a tide race of steep waves standing up in the current, over which the ebb quickly carried us. Each race was steeper and faster than the last one.

We continued past an area called The Bluff, which we had thought might contain a dramatic bluff below which we would eat lunch. It was a spot of great beauty and dramatic rock gardens, but there was no real bluff. We continued a little further with Long Point Light ahead of us. To its left, offshore of Long Point, lay what would clearly be the most dramatic tide race in the series. Just to its right, a sheltered, wide sandy beach.


After an ill-advised initial choice on my part, we landed on the beach for lunch.

We walked over to the lighthouse to scout the race off the point, which extended out to a point called Tinkers Shoal and perhaps beyond. It appeared from here that despite some substantial patches of white water, it was very doable: a mix of ledges and irregular standing-up waves reaching perhaps 3 feet with lots of spots where the activity was much smaller. We walked back to our boats and paddled around to the action. Going through a quiet spot the first time was rather anticlimactic. Bob (sounding slightly disappointed): “I guess there wasn’t very much to that.” Me: “How about we go back and do it again?” Bob: “Let’s do that.” We then crossed over and back in a more active part of the race with bigger waves. It was a highlight of the day, really. The larger waves were perhaps 3 feet high but retarded by the current and moving slowly. Paddling with the waves, one would begin to surf at intervals and then be backed up onto the wave face again right away until the next pulse of energy. It was an interesting feeling, like being pulled back by a big shock cord. Paddling back against the waves, the current simply swept one up and over each wave with little effort (assuming it wasn’t breaking…)

This leg ended at White Head’s brilliant white rock cliffs which we had seen all the way from Anchorage Park. Up close they were almost blinding in their brightness.


The water was very calm here and we made our way in and out of the strange little harbor. Only the ferry terminal remains navigable at low water; elsewhere boats lounged on their sides, waiting for rescue by the tide.

We followed the ferry route out of White Head Harbour towards the nav marker where the ferry turns. Obligingly the ferry turned up and passed by us so we could get a good look at its profile resembling a person giving a “what can I do?” shrug of the shoulders.


A final 4-mile crossing of Long Pond Bay via the Ox Head awaited us. It was a bit of a slog with a slight opposing wind, or current, or something that made it feel very long. We attempted to find another buoy that apparently was not there any more. Eventually we reached the beach lot, visible during most of those 4 miles and growing larger very slowly indeed. The sky was a deep blue overhead with a gentle southwest breeze. Our last paddle on Grand Manan was over.

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Did we see whales? Not a one! June is not an optimal time to see them, but later on in the summer is. We did see porpoises, seals, many different seabirds, and an otter though. In one area, cliff-dwelling guillemots. Most of these were hard to photograph. Apparently many of the seabirds have over time decamped from Grand Manan for the offshore islands, which we will have to visit another time (they are now refuges).

We did see a pheasant family from time to time at the park:


One species of particular note: dozens of tame rabbits frolicked around us on the well-manicured grass of our campsite. The bunnies have become a fixture at this park. Children chase them and feed them, and baby rabbits merrily jump in and out of the dense brush that borders the grassy areas. We wondered where they had come from originally, as we did not see rabbits anywhere else on the island. There is a partial answer in Donna Naughton’s The Natural History of Canadian Mammals (pub. 2014, pp. 241-242):



Unlike our native species, [the European Rabbit] burrows and creates extensive underground warrens. It has been introduced to the Canadian mainland and many islands and is a frequent escapee in suburban regions. This is the rabbit that has virtually overrun Australia and Tasmania following its importation there. Fortunately its survival in Canada is less assured…

Following introduction in the early 1900s, wild populations still persist in the west on Triangle Island as well as on part of southern Vancouver Island around Victoria. A small population of the domestic phase has survived off the east coast in Anchorage Provincial Park on Grand Manan Island for at least 30 years, but these animals are protected and possibly fed by humans.


I will attest to the fact that these extremely cute bunnies are definitely fed by humans. They lend a not inconsiderable amount of charm to the campground as they gambol and munch.


Mosquitoes were minimal on this trip and blackflies nonexistent. The deer flies were annoying on hot sunny days. They would follow us literally for miles on the water, unable to bite, but constantly swooping and buzzing. We only received two bites in the whole trip. However they were no fun at all and those two bites did hurt (mine on my head, Bob’s on a hand). I observed two different species. The larger one was boldly striped with bright yellow legs and looked rather like a fat yellowjacket. The smaller one had wings with black bars and indistinct body markings. A blurry mug shot of the offender:


FYI it is quite hard to kill them on the water. I only scored one in 3 days.

What’s Next?

Bob and I are thinking about organizing a club trip here in 2023 similar to the Bold Coast trips we’ve run in previous years. While going to a different country seems like a big leap, Grand Manan is very accessible compared to other parts of the maritime provinces, and the environment and the scenery are really a world apart. Nothing here is quite like what you find on the mainland or on the Maine islands. The feel of the place and the ocean environment are really a big departure. 

More on this later! In the meantime, I would recommend Grand Manan as a destination to any serious paddler or hiker: it’s totally worth the trip.

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Well this was a fascinating read. A few years back I had given serious consideration to adding a Grand Manan visit after the annual NSPN Bar Harbor September trip. I was hard-pressed to find good information, and didn't think a circumnav seemed feasible for me, but doing short sections, as you did, seemed like it would be interesting. Ultimately, though, I did not go. Your write-up, as usual, is outstanding and full of useful information. I would certainly be interested in a club trip there. 

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Thank you! Is this the sort of trip that could be done in July or August or are you aiming for June in 2023. Reminds me of Giants Causeway and rock formations in Ireland. What does a dulse boat engineered to harvest seaweed look like?

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It is definitely like Giant’s Causeway, the same type of formation caused by slowly cooling basalt from a volcanic eruption. Parts of Grand Manan also reminded me of Ireland.

we don’t have a timeframe yet but I think August or September seems appealing since that is whale watching season up there.

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Great write up and an epic trip.

Several of us paddled over from Campobello in Sept.2010. We hit Northern Head as the tidal race was starting. We went CCW and camped at Dark Harbor, then on a cliff at Big Head and the last night in town at a hotel. We took the ferry to Black Harbor and came back through the Western Islands. We wanted to ride the flood to the Wolves but we were a day late because we couldn't cross from Campobello when we wanted due to seas. We found the people very friendly and welcoming. I love how the west and east sides are so different. The abandoned fishing shacks on the west side are interesting.
  I have wanted to get back there and figure Sept. might be less fog. 

Couple questions? 

Did you see them winch the Dulse boats up and over the berms? That was really neat to see.

 We saw several different weirs and watched them working and fishing them. Are they still in use? Saw no pics of weirs from your trip.

Is there still a kayak outfitter on island? We used him for some camping info and he set us up with the Big Head campsites.

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We didn’t see any dulse boats in action because we were there on a Sunday. Too bad!

Many many fishing weirs everywhere. They too seemed not to be attended by anyone but they excited our curiosity. 

I would like to hear more about Big Head. I did talk to that outfitter about a shuttle pickup but in the end we didn’t need one.

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What an excellent trip report.  Captures both  the paddling essence  and the ...  "look and feel" of of the island as I remember it. . I was there for about a week , and would add a few things :


* A circumnav. should be doable, since you can really fly with the current  up and down each side of the island, but it would be a long day.  We did the entire east coast in one day, and the entire west side on an another day, paddling almost effortlessly at 5-6  knots  for big stretches. 
* I was there in extremely  fair and calm conditions after a big hurricane. But  it wouldn't take much at  all to ramp up the conditions  (currents with  standing waves) there.   I hear that Tom Bergh did a foray there as it was being considered one of the few places in N America with conditions  suitable for a BCU 5 star assessment. He reported eddies several boat lengths wide that were extremely difficult to  cross and generally manage. The area of ledges and islets south of the island feature an area that says on the chart '; " very heavy on the ebb" . 
* Dark Harbor is truly a unique place. There were a couple of cabins with Canadian and Confederate flags flying; which tells you... something, but I'm not sure quite  what.  On long holiday weekends people gather there , and the police just set up roadblocks to keep everyone from leaving until the weekend is over and the alcohol wears off. That would be an interesting place to get stuck on one of those weekends. 

Edited by PeterB
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On the west side, we noticed much the same as on the bold coast that in most spots you have to get pretty far offshore to catch the big current. Far enough that the scenic experience is diminished. And on the east side, things get pretty wild especially on the ebb. Even near slack and during a neap tide our foray off Long Point / Tinkers Shoal at White Head Island was pretty big with 3-4 foot tide race type conditions mingled with exposed ledges. This ventured near the “very heavy on the ebb” notation seen on the chart. I would not want to be out in the thick of that stuff. 

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On 7/5/2022 at 11:03 PM, PeterB said:
On 7/5/2022 at 11:03 PM, PeterB said:

 A circumnav. should be doable, since you can really fly with the current  up and down each side of the island, but it would be a long day.  We did the entire east coast in one day, and the entire west side on an another day, paddling almost effortlessly at 5-6  knots  for big stretches. 

We saw this, especially the first day on the ebb along the SW corner. Overall, as with the Bold Coast, depending on the currents you could either hit the "escalator" on the outside or run back eddies between headlands on the inside. Long Eddy Point on Northern Head is aptly named. Hitting the opposing back eddy there on the approach to Money Cove was a memorable lesson. On the eastern side of Grand Manan the currents around the islands are much more complex.

On 7/5/2022 at 11:03 PM, PeterB said:

I was there in extremely  fair and calm conditions after a big hurricane. But  it wouldn't take much at  all to ramp up the conditions  (currents with  standing waves) there.   I hear that Tom Bergh did a foray there as it was being considered one of the few places in N America with conditions  suitable for a BCU 5 star assessment. He reported eddies several boat lengths wide that were extremely difficult to  cross and generally manage. The area of ledges and islets south of the island feature an area that says on the chart '; " very heavy on the ebb" . 

I agree with Tom and was struck by the similarities to Wales. The long western coast has huge headlands (larger than Eastern Head on the Bold Coast and repeated). As in Wales, you are forced to navigate by assessing headland and bay curvature, topography, and spillways for water that appear on the chart. Combined with the currents and conditions, it is a great training or assessment area for 5*.

On 7/5/2022 at 11:03 PM, PeterB said:

Dark Harbor is truly a unique place. There were a couple of cabins with Canadian and Confederate flags flying; which tells you... something, but I'm not sure quite  what.  On long holiday weekends people gather there , and the police just set up roadblocks to keep everyone from leaving until the weekend is over and the alcohol wears off. That would be an interesting place to get stuck on one of those weekends. 

Confederate flags are gone now. The Dark Harbor folks were very friendly, and one provided guidance on the “dead tide” not reaching the landing. A careful assessment of the previous evening’s high-water mark and predicted upcoming high showed he was right. Yet, I parked up the hill -  not wanting to be reminded of the variability of water level forecasts by seeing my car in the harbor on the return.

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Has anyone paddled Digby Peninsula in Nova Scotia? Topography shows even higher elevations than the western coast of Grand Manan; but possibly set back. Looks like an interesting area.  

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On 7/7/2022 at 6:52 AM, rylevine said:

Has anyone paddled Digby Peninsula in Nova Scotia? Topography shows even higher elevations than the western coast of Grand Manan; but possibly set back. Looks like an interesting area.  

Mark and I visited Blomidon Provincial Park (on foot) on our way back from Newfoundland. It shares the cliff range that runs all the way up the peninsula from Digby. At low tide, of course, you would be some distance from the cliffs, but at high tide you would be right there next to them. Topo shows they are the same height (300') as at Digby, but right on the coast. There's a campground at Blomidon.



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