The inlets on the east side of Hillsborough Bay were once busy commercial waterways. Steamers from Charlottetown made regular visits to Halliday’s Wharf near Eldon, the Brush wharf at Eldon and the China Point wharf which served the Ernscliffe peninsula. The 1880 atlas shows ambitious plans for a gridded community of six streets at Orwell Brush wharf (called Port Selkirk in the plan), not unlike Victoria, but it never developed beyond the dream. Small schooners stopped at the same wharves and also anchored and loaded from the sand flats as farmers shipped hay, potatoes and wood to Charlottetown and beyond. There was a ferry which provided a short cut across Orwell bay and the Orwell, Vernon and Seal Rivers provided and easy water access well into the rural area. There were no large towns but where the bridge crossed over the Vernon River there was a community with general stores and other services as well as a community wharf.
Today the whole area seems to have turned its back on the sea. The wharves at Hallidays and China Point have crumbled and almost disappeared, their former presence marked only by rockpiles leading out from the shore to the channel. While the beach access at Eldon is still maintained, the road to the China Point wharf has become completely overgrown by trees. Only the Orwell wharf remains and is the site of a mussel farming operation with beds extending up the Orwell River and down into Orwell Bay.
But there is still fifty feet of water off the China Point wharf and as the river tucks around the peninsula it offers superb protection from the prevailing winds. The landscape features dramatic sandstone cliffs to the south and gentle well-cultivated hills to all other compass points. The hills are punctuated by neat farmsteads and the area has not been completely scarred by semi-suburban cottage clusters.
I reached China Point at the end of a long sail which included a stop at Governor’s Island. Taking a bearing on Blockhouse light across the end of the Governors east spit brings you to the end of the reef at Gallas Point, I crossed the channel of Orwell Bay to a line of mussel buoys and then worked my way east deep into the bay. Turning north at Penn Point the depth sounder which had been registering a comfortable 10 to 15 feet under the keel of the Halman 20 suddenly showed a depth of 40 to 50 feet – I had arrived at the site of China Point Wharf. Slipping closer to the shore just north of the wharf site I found myself in a cozy anchorage and following a meal in the cockpit I watched the sun go down highlighting the red cliffs to the south and making silhouettes of the farm buildings to the west.
Overnight the sky was clear and the temperature dipped to just over 5 degrees but the gimballed stove quickly warmed the small cabin in the morning and I emerged with coffee in hand just as the sun peeped over the horizon. It was 5 a.m. Sunday morning in China Point and if there was a lack of activity on week days, its absence was total on Sunday.
There was no wind and gentle mist was beginning to rise from the water. The silence was absolute as a couple of small pilot whales slipped past the boat on their way out to the bay. I had resolved to see if my crewman, Ben, who lives only a couple of miles from China Point would able to sail back to Charlottetown with me but 5 a.m. was just too early to call. I downed my coffee, had a quick bite and decided to go exploring in the dinghy. I had been up the Vernon River a year or so before and that left the Orwell to explore. The flat calm and full tide made for easy rowing in the Greenshank. I was frankly amazed how easily it rowed. It was about 2 1/2 miles from where I had moored to the head of the inlet where the channel petered out and the road crossed. The route meandered from shore to shore but the high tide meant that I could row through the bends. That would not be possible at low water then the waters receded to a channel of a dozen yards. The five miles up and back took only about two hours. As I came up to Ebony I was able to grab a few photos of the boat in the dawn reflecting the sun on the water.
I rowed in to shore to pick up Ben who was able join me just after the tide turned. A condition of his passage was that he had to supply a lunch which condition he fulfilled in fine style. After we went down river and out into the bay the wind turned against us. We both had engagements later in the day so rather than provoke spousal anger we motored the last few miles back to the yacht club in time for supper. It had been a perfect excursion.