Pinette is a small port on Northumberland Strait about 5.5 nautical miles south and east of the reef off Point Prim which makes it about 20 miles from Charlottetown and a nice day’s sail for a Halman 20 – assuming there is wind. As it was I had a nice WSW breeze all the way to Point Prim. It was so nice I had to drop genoa and change to the working jib. Even leaving the point about a third of a mile off-shore three was still only about 15 feet of water at mid-tide. Just as I passed over the reef the wind dropped to nothing and I spent the last third of the voyage listening to the loud hum of the motor. I blessed my autohelm which allowed me to sit forward in the cockpit and busy myself with sundry tasks.
The entrance to Pinette is very narrow and somewhat tricky as the sands of Pinette shoals are continually shifting and the buoys must be re-set each year. Coming from the west one can cheat a bit but approaching from the south or east it is essential to honour the buoy at NV1 and follow the shore range before picking up the channel buoys. The channel gets deeper the closer upstream it goes and its banks are very steep. One can go from 20 feet of water to a quarter of that in just a boat length. However there are very good channel markers and as long as one stays on the right side of them it is not a problem. As I was to learn the next day it is a channel that is very difficult to sail in and motoring in is to be preferred.
There are actually two wharves at Pinette. The first encountered is at McAulays where I tied up in my last two visits. This is a small “U-shaped wharf but the entrance is shallow at low tide and requires caution. I was surprised to find that the harbour still held five lobster boats as the season had ended a couple of weeks before my trip. This left little room to tie up without rafting to an existing boat, something that I don’t like to do without first getting permission from the boat owner.
Instead I continued upstream to where the highway crosses the river essentially forming a barrier. Because this harbour is more sheltered it has even less of a breakwater and the wharf is little more than a simple breastwork. Again I was surprised to find almost all the resident boats still in the water. On the angle of the wharf there was a small sailboat which appeared to draw even less than the Halman’s 2’8″. However as I had towed the dinghy being alongside was not a requirement for my visit. I dropped the anchor at the edge of the channel making sure I had left enough room for the fishing boats to get by. There is a strong tidal current so I knew that I could expect the boat to turn 180 degrees as tide changed. If I had miscalculated I could well end up aground when the tide was lowest in the middle of the night but I was prepared to take the ground if necessary as it posed little danger.
Because the wharf is not connected to any village I rather expected it to be deadly quiet. However I had reckoned without the attractiveness of a warm summer evening and the delights of bridge jumping. As long as there was enough light youth from miles around gathered at the bridge to show off to one another and impress the girls. They were occasionally buzzed by guys on dirt bikes and by one enterprising lad who, lacking a motorcycle, tore up and down the bridge on his father’s lawn mower. However as the sun went down the noise ceased and except for the cars on the highway the port slept.
It was flat calm as the sun dipped below the trees and except for a swarm of mosquitos who has snuck into the cabin before I gave up on the idea of fresh air below decks it was quiet enough to sleep…. for an hour or so until the interior was lit up by a 1000 watt searchlight of a late returning power cruiser of considerable size picking its way from buoy to buoy. I was awake at 5:00 am and watched as the sky slowly took form and the sun struggled to peek out from beneath a cloud cover that was like a textured and quilted blanket.
After a fine breakfast the anchor was hauled and stowed by 6:00 am and I made my way out the channel, past McAulay’s towards the narrow pathway to the sea just as the tide reached it peak. Suddenly the motor stopped dead and I began to drift onto the sand banks. I was out of gas. (Memo to self: before starting out fill up the tank from the jerry cans in the lazarette.) I had gas but it wasn’t in the tank. I heaved out the anchor and filled the tank but the engine would not start. I suspect I flooded it in my haste to get going again. Luckily this was a sailboat! The good news was that in spite of a flat calm dawn the breeze had come up. The bad news was that the breeze was coming directly in the channel and gave every sign that it would not last. For the next two hours it was sail three boat lengths – tack, sail two boat lengths – tack, sail two boat lengths – tack. I knew that if I went aground at the peak of high tide I would be there for the rest of the day. A total of twenty-eight tacks covering less than a mile. I got up to a speed of 2.3 knots in some of the early tacks but as the wind abated by speed was less than .5 knots. I knew I would never escape the port at this rate and desperately pulled on the starter cord again to hear the happy cough and catch as the motor started – finally. However, even after clearing the fairway buoy the wind failed to return and I motored all the way back to Charlottetown pausing in Holland Cove to enjoy a swim.