One of the real advantages of a Halman 20 is the relatively shallow draft which lets me get into some pretty inaccessible places – ones which have rarely seen a sailboat. And yet once I get into some of these places I find evidence that they were once much more active ports and were part of the Island’s marine heritage. Google Maps is a great tool for matching up what I see from the cockpit of Ebony with what exists on the charts. For the last few weekends I have visited the shore in several spots – strolling down muddy lanes to reach abandoned wharves and beach access points. I have cruised this shore both in my Nordica 16 Strait Rhumb and more recently in Ebony. This summer I will return to this calming part of Northumberland Strait.
A case in point is the stretch of shore just to the east of the entrance to Charlottetown Harbour. The area is mostly blocked to larger boats by the rocky spit running from Squaw Point rifle range to Governor’s Island. With low-water depths of about 2 feet in spots it is best negotiated at high hide or else the trip requires a trip out around Governor’s Island. The water inside the bay is still shallow but there are a number of channels leading to creeks and indentations in the shorelines which can still float Ebony. There are a few mussel farm operations but not as many as only a few years ago, probably because the area is less sheltered than is desirable.
Judson’s Wharf is marked on no charts and has no road leading to it. I stumbled on it (by dragging my keel across the wharf rocks) quite by accident one day last summer. This was a real local wharf, used primarily by the Judson family who had a lobster factory on Governor’s Island. East of the wharf site there are a couple of marshes with outcrops of trees favoured by eagles and inlets where seals chase fish into the shallows for feasts. Although open to the prevailing south-west winds it is possible to tuck up behind the marshes and anchor in quiet surroundings.
Following the shore past Crown Point is a more substantial and sheltered wharf ruin at Pownal Bay (Waterside). This was a public wharf until it fell into disuse a couple of decades ago. The winding channel has good depth and the spot has served as the mooring for one keel boat for several summers. A quarter-mile to the west of the wharf a sandbar just above the surface at high tide and well-exposed at low water serves as a sunning spot for many of the Governor’s Island seal population.
The shoreline from Cherry Valley around Ernscliffe is a rocky one and the reefs extend a considerable distance out into the bay, especially at Gallas Point and should be avoided. Gallas Point, incidentally, is one of the few spots on P.E.I. where fossil remains can be found. Turning the point brings you into the Vernon River Estuary. The river has some surprisingly deep spots (up to 40 feet) but the channel is narrow. There was once a ferry service crossing the river and providing a short-cut on the route from Belfast to Charlottetown. The ferry wharves, China Point and Orwell Brush Wharf were both stops on the weekly coastal steamer service in the late 1800s and early 1900s. China Point Wharf is completely abandoned and is visible only as a rockpile extending to the channel and an overgrown road linking the wharf with the land. Orwell Wharf has been taken over by a mussel growing operation and is the only one of the wharves still active. A staked channel winds up to Vernon River Bridge which is still used by a couple of fishing boats. The channel is winding and is best navigated at high tide. The area off China Point Wharf is the most sheltered of the area anchorages but the mooring spot should be chosen with care as it is easy to swing out of the channel and end up on the mud at low tide.
All of these s spots are an easy morning’s sail from Charlottetown on a good day and they offer a side of the Island not easily enjoyed, or even seen, from the land. Because they are so seldom visited one can anchor in the channel without fear of blocking other boater’s enjoyment of the area.