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Grand Manan Island NB, 9/7-9/11/23

Joseph Berkovitz

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People: Joe Berkovitz & Janet Lorang (co-organizers), Ricardo Caivano, Dan Carr, Bill Doucet, Stephanie Golmon, Cath Kimball, Yong Eik Shin.


This trip consisted of 3 day paddles which the group undertook while camping at a single site, The Anchorage Provincial Park. We did it this way rather than crossing Grand Manan Channel from the mainland, because a series of day paddles is far more flexible with respect to weather than a long, committed channel crossing plus circumnavigation. There is also a limited set of campsites on Grand Manan that makes circumnav logistics tricky for a group.

Generally each day featured high water early in the day followed by an ebb until afternoon. It was neaps so the currents were a fraction of their usual strength (GM Channel was running at max ebb of 0.5-1 kt instead of 4+ kt). This made for even more flexible route planning options, although cutting down on some of the potential exciting conditions.

The forecast kept changing right up to (and during) our stay, invariably predicting a mix of fog and rain. The fact was that the forecast was wrong nearly all the time. Sometimes it was foggy, sometimes not (particularly on the north side of the island). It hardly rained at all during our stay until the morning we left. On the last day there was bright sun although fog and drizzle were predicted.

Day 0: Thursday 9/7, arrival

We traveled through all of Maine, then through about 1 hour of New Brunswick after crossing the border at Calais. Eventually we arrived at the ferry terminal in Blacks Harbour, NB. The ferry was very pleasant. The Canadians make it really easy to get to Grand Manan, and it isn’t very expensive either. The total drive time to the ferry terminal is shorter than to Lubec because the roads are better and more direct. Time on the ferry is about 90 minutes. 2 passengers in a car can travel round trip for about $50 US.



The Anchorage Provincial Park is operated by New Brunswick, and it is first-rate and is clean and well kept up. The sites feel private and secluded—we reserved 4 sites for 8 people, one of which was a group site where we had lots of room to gather and hang out. The regular sites easily fit 2 tents. The park includes its own very ample beach, which requires a 2-minute drive or walk. Many bunnies gambol among the clearings—they are a domestic species, not wild rabbits. It sounds corny, but they really give the place a cozy feeling, which is a good thing as the park is often foggy and gray in the morning as is much of the south end of the island.  The cost per person for 4 nights was $55 (it would be more if each person had their own site).


After checking in, a few of us drove off at sunset to check out the big views from Southern Head. It was still not fogged in, and we were unsure that these conditions would last.



Day 1: Friday 9/8, Long Pond to Southern Head and back (16.5 nm)


This day’s goal was to leave straight from the campground (no shuttle needed), reach the cliffs of Southern Head and see the big sights there, hopefully finding a landable beach, and then return. We launched straight from Long Pond Beach which was convenient. We could not see much of anything though, due to the thick fog. Staying together was a big priority and we took special care to maintain mutual visibility. There was almost no wind and only some small wind waves. 


Our route took us through the substantial fishing village of Seal Cove where we explored the harbor (many unfamiliar kinds of large fishing vessels) and observed a bald eagle hanging out on some industrial debris.


We overheard fishermen on some boats yelling to each other about “the kayakers in the harbor” but as far as we could tell, they were just exchanging information and no one’s mother was insulted or even mentioned. On we went.

The landscape slowly rose higher and higher, passing cliffs and the occasional beach. The fog began to lift and for the first time we could see more than the tiny patch of coastline next to us. Finally, we rounded Southwest Head a little after noon and the big scenery kicked in.


The southwest of Grand Manan is 200-300 foot high basalt cliffs which fracture in dramatic vertical columns. There are a series of small bays containing cobble beaches coming right up to the cliffs. The bays are separated by sharp, high rocky outcrops. Below the cliffs, the beach disappears at higher tides. They were landable at our low water tide level of about 5 feet (although the cobbles get larger as the water gets lower). They are not steep.

The combination of light, landscape and fog was special. We explored up and down our little bay. With steep headlands to either side and the cliffs towering above it, it formed its own self-contained microworld, looking out into Grand Manan Channel. Somewhere out there was the Bold Coast of Maine but it wasn’t visible.



On our way back we took a different route and headed out to low, gravelly Western Green Island for a break. We also scouted the outside of Outer Wood Island, which is said to be a great island to explore but it was too foggy and we were too tired at this point to explore something else: it was around 4 pm and we still had some distance to cover. We did identify a single really good looking landing spot on the outside. The island is very rocky and has some elevation on the outside though not all that high - perhaps 30-40 feet in a few places. Allegedly there is a sea cave but we didn’t see it in the fog.

Turning north, the fog made for a slightly confusing experience trying to thread our way back up the east side of Wood Island with various ledges poking out. As it happened, there was just enough water to make it over the Pond Point Ledges that were trying to block our progress (though we couldn’t see them). Janet then led us right up to the channel marker for a final short, direct crossing back to the coastline, while boat engines noisily churned, unseen, to our left in Seal Cove.

Overall, the currents on this trip seemed minimal, except in a few obvious constricted waterways like the Seal Cove harbor entrance.

Day 2: Saturday 9/9, Dark Harbour to Stanley Beach (10 nm)


The next day we decided on a shuttle trip to explore the north side of the island, both east and west. We would depart at high water (around 8:30 am) from Dark Harbour on the west side of the island, rounding the northern cape of Long Eddy Point, coming around North Head and eventually landing at Stanley Beach which is on the east side of the island.

Dark Harbour Pond, a lagoon enclosed by a naturally-formed steep cobble berm, is the launch location for the west-side dulse harvesting fleet. There is a single narrow gut connecting the pond to Grand Manan Channel which is passable only for a short time either side of high water—at other times it is either too swift or too low to paddle in. So we had the perfect tide timing for departing from Dark Harbour, assuming we could launch in time (which we did).

The dulse boats apparently launch 2 hours before low tide, so they have to be winched up and over the berm. They are dories surfaced with sheet metal on the bottom to make this less destructive. You can see them lined up near the kayaks; each with its own little outboard motor. The dulse is pitchforked or raked into the open boat.


While we were waiting I chatted with a herring fisherman who was going out to tend his weir (there are many, many herring weirs scattered everywhere around Grand Manan). He said it would be rough on the outside at first, but that as soon as we got around the northern point everything would calm down until we finally went around the Swallowtail (see map above - it’s a thin peninsula hanging off of North Head on the east side). There is usually a large tide rip in that location since it sticks way out into the Bay of Fundy. Since we were planning to hit the Swallowtail around slack, this didn’t seem like a big concern.

Leaving via the gut, we were rapidly pushed out to Grand Manan Channel at a pretty good clip, but not an adrenaline-inducing one.


Our departure had a few moments of clear visibility but then we entered another socked-in zone as we paddled along the west side cliffs heading north. We had a 10 knot tailwind blowing from the south against the ebb, but the area near the cliffs is basically a series of eddies running counter to the flow and blending into each other, plus the main flow wasn’t that big in the first place. So the water was a bit rough with wind waves, but in a low-key way that made it fun to slalom among the rocks along the cliffs.

We stopped for a quick break at Money Cove, another lagoon/berm combination with a couple of decaying cabins on top.


Eventually we reached Long Eddy Point where the fog lifted and the sun came out. The landscape here was basalt but more varied than the columns we had seen in the southwest. Big features included The Bishop (a sort of chair-like form) and Ashburton Head (named after a famous shipwreck). Here's The Bishop:


At Long Eddy Point we did observe a big tide rip maybe a quarter mile north of the point and we went out to look at it; some of us surfed the steep waves at its edge. It looked like it would probably carry us substantially backward if we outright played in it and lunchtime was looming.

Ashburton Head also had a very substantial counter-current that generated a just about surfable standing wave over some ledges. This current must be some kind of eddy since it basically runs north (although the overall ebb runs south), but it’s a really strong one. Apparently on a spring tide this countercurrent can be too strong to paddle through.

(The whole current situation at the north end was another reminder of just how complex the tidal situation is on Grand Manan – what is happening in the channels does not in any way clue one into what’s going on near the coast of the island which is very complicated. One would need to put in some sustained time here learning all the squirrely local deviations.)

Our lunch stop was Seven Days Work Cliff. The cliff was impressively high and sported some very cool looking formations. Many of the rocks at its base are sprinkled with thousands of tiny multicolored geodes and sparkly inclusions like confetti.


From here it was on to the famous Hole In The Wall on Fish Head, although first we had to cross a lane where the southwest wind was blowing hard through a gap in the landscape.


Just past the Hole, a beautiful beach beckoned and basically forced us to land on it because it looked so nice that we just had to. There was a cool sea cave in the back of it with a skylight.


Finally it was time to go around North Head and the Swallowtail. As soon as we rounded Fish Head the water began to perk up and roughen, and once we went around the Swallowtail we were in a tide-race kind of seascape, though the waves were only around 1.5 feet. It certainly made us think about the conditions here with a similar 10 kt SW wind, but on a spring ebb tide instead of slack/neaps. Not something to take lightly. The rough water lasted a good 15 minutes of paddling, it was not just a limited patch of ocean. We landed at Stanley Beach just after passing the ferry landing. Fortunately we were in between ferries so we didn’t have that to worry about!

It was nice to finish early with this day’s shorter paddle and have a relaxed hangout/dinner.

Day 3: Sunday 9/10, Stanley Beach to Long Pond Beach (16.5 nm)


Our final day was another clockwise shuttle that began where the previous one left off, taking us back to our campsite at the very end of the day and making the shuttle relatively easy to set up. There was no big tidal gate and we could have a relaxed start, although it naturally fell out that we launched at high water anyway.

The day dawned at The Anchorage with clear skies and no fog, to everyone’s surprise. The moon and Venus shone brightly before sunrise. There was essentially zero wind. It was a perfect morning, except that we sensed we might get a bit hot paddling in drysuits.

We drove up north and launched onto glassy water, heading for our first of a chain of uninhabited islands that run north/south lying off Grand Manan’s populated, low-lying eastern shore. Some of these are pretty substantial.



Long Island is used to graze some sheep, apparently.


From here we visited High Duck, Low Duck, Great Duck and then after a more substantial crossing, White Head Island. The scenery and water were gorgeous, never mind that another odd current was sometimes opposing us, running counter to the ebb. By this time we had paddled almost 10 nm and were getting hungry. White Head has inhabitants and we were looking at some not so great landing choices when we spotted a narrow but perfect beach on a wild ledge called Gull Rock lying just offshore. That was to be our lunch spot: an “up and over” pebble beach that is really just a gravel bar connecting two parts of the ledge, and disappears at high water.


Following lunch we continued working our way through calm seas through the ledgier parts on the south of White Head Island until we reached Long Point, another place that sticks way out and can potentially generate big tide rips. Here there were some actual conditions at the very tip due to some current and swell interaction. When I was here over a year ago, this place was really wild, but today it was just a little bit of entertainment layered on top of a very calm day.

Our final leg took us up the edge of White Head, where we rested briefly next to the namesake bright white rocks that line this narrow neck of the island. Thence, back to Anchorage via a long WNW slog. It was now flooding and of course, we encountered yet another bunch of weird currents at the edges of some of the islets in the area. Some of these made sense in terms of water flooding nearby harbors, while others left us scratching our heads. We finally landed at Anchorage ready to call it a day as the evening fog began to roll in.



Edited by Joseph Berkovitz
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While sitting at my local coffee shop, I found reading this trip report enjoyable. Reminds me of reading articles of this nature in the now defunct Sea Kayaker magazine. Outstanding article and great pictures. What a way to start a day. Coffee and reading a great informative kayaking article. Thanks much for sharing your adventure.

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In a word, yes. I want to connect the dots on my next trip there.

We could have done that southwest trip instead of the out and back on day 1, it’s about the same mileage. However Janet and I didn’t want to start the trip with setting up a shuttle, and we did want the ease of launching directly from the campground the first day. 

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