Sailing the West River

It is only about 5 1/2 nautical miles from the Charlottetown Yacht Club to the causeway blocking off sailing access to the upper reaches of the West River but in the right wind it can be a lovely afternoon sail.  The river, whose proper name in the Elliot River, but which is known by all as the West River, rises in the Bonshaw Hills at Green Bay. From the causeway at Meadowbank it extends a further 6 – 8 miles west into the hills becoming increasingly winding.  Until the early 1960s it was navigable up to the head of tide at Bonshaw where a mill-dam prevented further exploration. It was a popular camping and picnic spot for motor and sail cruises up to the 1950s and there are many yacht club photos showing excursions to the area.

Before the causeway was built there was a ferry service linking Rocky Point to Charlottetown. It was the last survivor of a network that served Charlottetown with ferries across all three of the bay area rivers.  Going up-river the Rocky Point wharf timbers are easily seen but it is no longer possible to tie up to them as the wharf roadway has almost completely eroded. The causeway effectively cut off the upper reaches of the river for sailng craft although small power boats can still make it under the bridges at Dunedin and Meadowbank.

The channel winds a bit and has deep water but abruptly rises to sand and mud flats without warning so sticking to the buoyed channel is advisable.  There are a couple of inlets where small creeks run into the river and these can be good spots to moor as long as one keeps an eye on the depth. The tide rise and fall is about 6 feet and it is easy, although not dangerous, to become stranded as the tide recedes.  In the main channel the tide can run quite strongly which can make a difference if the winds are light. At several spots along the shore there are colonies of summer cottages and many year-round homes have been constructed to take advantage of the river views.

At the causeway a low sloping beach and a curve of the channel close to shore has provided a good spot to launch and moor boats and there is quite a colony of vessels although there are no services anywhere near the spot.  Formerly the gap in the causeway was quite narrow and the limited amount of water flowing through made the upper tidal reaches quite brackish with unfortunate results for water quality and the creation of mud banks where the river was unable to flush properly.  A second gap has been created and now the problem has to great measure been alleviated.

An unintended consequence of the increased water flow is the creation of a new mussel bed below the causeway where the channel curves dramatically.  In this past this was the sole preserve of gulls and cormorants but during my most recent trip up-river I noticed that about a half-dozen of the the harbour seals had discovered the spot, which is awash even at high tide. They seemed undisturbed as I took the boat relatively close to the bar.

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One thought on “Sailing the West River

  1. Pingback: The Restless and the Roamer | Sailstrait

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