A new tool for armchair cruising

With temperatures slated to dip to -20 over the next few nights and with two feet of ice in the harbour and three feet of snow in the backyard  it is a fine time plan for the summer’s cruising. Over the years I have come to depend on a number of tools to stir my imagination and get me through the winter.

Machon's Point wharf from Navionics Chart

Machon’s Point wharf from Navionics Chart

One is the old reliable paper chart with all the details you need to know set out in glorious black and white. The same information, albeit in a more colourful and accessible way is the electronic navigation app which can be installed on the computer or tablet. I have the Navionics program installed on my Ipad which is great fun as it will plot courses and compute times and distances.  You can blend the charts with air photos but the added detail doesn’t always add to the daydreaming experience. This is pretty much a working tool but it hasn’t stopped me from plotting summer cruises in the privacy of my own home.

Machon's Point Wharf from Google Earth

Machon’s Point Wharf from Google Earth

Google earth can also be lots of fun especially as in many areas the bottom hazards and reefs are clearly visible and channels can be spotted even when charted depths are absent. However for much of Prince Edward Island the satellite photos are in fairly low resolution so details get lost as you zoom in. The quality of the images is gradually being improved but where this has not yet taken place.  In addition there can be a problem in some areas in that the photos are taken throughout the year and the ones making it onto Google Earth may show the area as it appeared in February – complete with pack ice and snow drifts.

This week I came across another tool.

Marinas. com is a website whose subject is obvious but the highlight of the site for me is the number of high-quality photos from the air of the marinas, ferry terminals, lighthouses and inlets.  I was surprised by the high number of ports covered. For Prince Edward Island there are detailed photos of thirty-four places to tie up your boat.  Some are obviously included. One would be upset if Charlottetown, Summerside, Souris and Montague  didn’t show up in the listing but there are a host of smaller harbours one might not expect; Beach Point, Abram Village Harbour, Nine Mile Creek  Milligan’s Wharf and Howards Cove. The term “marina” is used a bit loosely. The Higgins Shore Slipway (on the shores of Egmont Bay dontcha know) appears to have no services and no resident boats  – and possibly no water at low tide. Several of the harbours pictured are very much working harbours and although I can’t imagine a pleasure craft would be turned away a visitor should stay out of the way of the lobster boats which take up all the available wharfage.

Machon's Point wharf - one of seven photos on Marinas.com

Machon’s Point wharf – one of seven photos on Marinas.com

Unlike Google earth – where the satellite photos might show harbours iced-in and the fields a dull grey and brown – the pictures on marinas.com are beautiful. In most cases there are about six or seven different angles in the photos including one sea approach and one aerial directly overhead which shows shallow water and obstructions.  In addition the site has location details, reviews of port or marina from boaters who have visited and current weather conditions – not much good to me at this time of the year.  The photos are also available for purchase and as free e-postcards which is a nice touch to show your friends where you have been or where you are going.

Murray Harbour inlet. Detail from Marinas.com

Murray Harbour inlet. Detail from Marinas.com

There is a special part of the site for photos of lighthouses and ferry wharves. A nice touch is what they call “inlets” such as the entry across the bar to Murray Harbour or the entrance to Cascumpec Bay.  And like they say on my electronic navigation aids “not to be used for navigation” but useful none the less for getting a sense of where things are and what they look like.  I like having a perspective from above because it can show a lot that isn’t immediately obvious from the surface, no matter how good the placement of the navigation buoys has been.

I have also had a look at the coverage for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick bordering Northumberland Strait and find that most of the places that I am interested in can be found. The harbour at Cape John directly across the Strait from Charlottetown now looks like it might be an alternative to Barrachois. The coverage isn’t perfect. In anticipation of the 150 Sailing Challenge I wanted to have a look at the harbour for Harve-Aubert in the Magdalene Islands and found not a single harbour listed or pictured.  On the other hand the Gaspe is well covered and the Maggies may simply be a project for 2014.

Whether you are doing an imaginary cruise of the Bras’dor Lakes or planning a trip down the intercoastal waterway this is a great site. Of course the site owners would like you to book marina space through them and to patronize their advertisers but in my present incarnation as an armchair sailor this is a useful addition to my toolkit.  And I think I’ll be using it a lot this summer when I actually have a boat in the water.

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