Category Archives: Sailing publications

Imperfectly Known Dangers: Sailing Directions for Hillsborough Bay 1855

The 1830s and 1840s saw a major improvement in the aids to navigation on Northumberland Strait and Hillsborough Bay. A black can buoy was in place at Fitzroy Rock to mark one known hazard by the late 1830s. The Bay was surveyed under direction from the Colonial Government in 1839 and a chart published in 1842.  In 1841 Captain Henry Wolsey Bayfield transferred the headquarters of the Hydrographic Survey from Quebec to Charlottetown and quickly began to chart the Strait as well as the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1845 the colonial government commissioned the building of a lighthouse at Point Prim which showed the entrance to the Bay. The following year a chart of the Bay was published based on Bayfield’s survey.

Prior to this activity the only charts were those of J.F.W. DesBarres published in the 1780s  and they contained little more detail than the information from the Holland survey in 1764, twenty years earlier. Since the Holland survey dealt with the land, the chart contained little marine detail and only a few soundings.

Detail from J.F.W. DesBarres Chart of the South-Eastern Coast of the Island of St. John. Published as part of the Atlantic Neptune ca. 1785. Detailed soundings are rare and many hazards are not shown.

One essential aid to navigation, then as now, was the series of published “Sailing Directions” or “Pilots” which added navigation details to the charts. These were often complied from the observations of ship’s captains.  For example many of the observations on the navigation of the waters of the Maritimes are from the log of H.M. Sloop Ranger which was on fisheries patrol in the area in 1831. The Sailing Directions could be extremely detailed or frustratingly vague. An edition of 1810 said only this of Hillsborough Bay:

Hillsborough Bay is the finest bay in the island, and the River Hillsborough is a fine navigable river; but timber here is not plentiful.  Before Charlotte Town in this river, there is good anchorage in from 6 to 9 fathoms.  

We praise Bayfield for the excellence of his charts but the first edition of his Sailing Guide which includes Prince Edward Island, published by the British Admiralty in 1847 is a magnificent achievement and is as much a contribution to navigation as the charts themselves.  He introduces the section on Hillsborough Bay thusly: “The numerous dangers it contains, having hitherto been very imperfectly known and represented have rendered its navigation extremely difficult to strangers in a large ship; but this will now be obviated, it is conceived, by the Admiralty Chart accompanied by the following directions.” He then goes on for a full ten pages describing the hazards of the bay and the directions for avoiding them.

Detail of Bayfield’s 1846 Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing Huntley Rock, Fitzroy Rock and Astyanyx Rock. Detailed soundings can easily be seen.

The sailing directions were a very marketable item and every ship, except perhaps those in the local coastal trade, would have had a copy for the area for which they were destined.  Copies were published using Bayfield’s information with no regard for the copyrights of the Admiralty. There were English and American editions, both official and otherwise, as well as dozens of other editions, reprints, additions, improvements and condensations. A French-language of the Bayfield volume was published in 1864. One English version by hydrographer J.S. Hobbs published in 1855, had the remarkably comprehensive and descriptive title:

Part of the title page of an 1855 edition of Sailing Directions

A small sampling of the information contained (condensed from the Bayfield edition)  follows:

Hillsborough Bay is the finest bay in the island; within it is the principal harbour and capital town of Charlotte Town, which is advantageously situated on the northern bank of the Hillsborough, where the deep water approaches nearest to the shore. The town is well laid out with squares and its streets at right angles; the houses are generally of wood, and the population about 5000. All kinds of supplies may be obtained here, and there is sufficient water in the harbour for the largest ships; and the Hillsborough River is navigable for large ships 7 or 8 miles above Charlotte Town; smaller vessels may go farther up: the shores are all well settled. It is high water full and change, at 10h. 45m. ; spring-tides rise 9 1/2 feet, neeps 7 feet. Ships generally lie off the wharves of the town, where the channel is nearly 10 fathoms deep and 280 fathoms wide.

Strangers or those unacquainted, when bound to Charlotte Town, should take a pilot; but in the event of not meeting one outside, the bay may be safely entered, and good anchorage will be found N.W. of Governor Island, until a pilot can be obtained. When entering the bay from the westward the leading mark is Pownall’s Point, just touching the north point of Governor Island, bearing E. by N. run in with this mark, until you see the Presbyterian Church , and as soon as it is in one with Block-house Point  N. by E. 1/2 E. steer N.E. by E. or N.E. 1/2 E., according to the tide, until the west side of Government-house and Battery Point come in one bearing N. 1/2 E.; these latter marks lead up the deep-water channel to Trout Point, at the entrance of the harbour. If you cannot see the leading marks, keep along the southern and eastern edge of the St. Peter’s Shoals, in 5 fathoms, up to near the Spit Head buoy, then anchor.

When coming from the eastward at night, Point Prim Light must not be brought to the westward of N.N.W., to avoid the Rifleman Shoal; and Prim Reef should be rounded at 10 fathoms, in a large ship; smaller vessels may cross it in 4 or 5 fathoms. As soon as the light bears to the southward of E. by S. 1/4 S. , and in not less than 10 fathoms of low water, or with Point Prim E. by S. , you will be to the northward of the reef. The course across the bay must be north or N. 1/2 E. , in thick weather or at night; the object being to strike soundings on the southern edge of the bank off St. Peter’s Island, and following it to the north-eastward, in 5 fathoms , till about 1 1/2 miles within the Fitzroy Rock, where you may anchor off Governor Island, in good holding ground, and wait for daylight, or a pilot. In clear weather, your course from the outer end of Prim Reef, in 10 fathoms, will be N. by E 1/2 E., about 5 miles.

Except in areas where there was silting in the harbours or where sandbars and shoals shifted with wind and tide the hazards to navigation changed little over the years. Although published over 170 years ago Bayfield’s sailing guide could still be used today to bring a ship into safe harbour in Charlottetown.

Sailing Diversions When the Winter Nights Are Long

A photo in the local newspaper yesterday pictures ice boats on Charlottetown Harbour – which means it may be some time before Ebony gets back into the water. In the meantime I have taken some comfort from the resources available on the internet to continue both my amusement and education as regards things nautical.


I have, in an earlier post, made reference to Dylan Winter’s site, Keep Turning Left. Winter is a professional documentary videographer who several years ago embarked on a not-so-mad scheme to sail around Great Britain in a small boat.  Setting out on weekends and holidays over the last five years he has now made it up the east coast of England and Scotland and is set to start back down to where he set out near the Isle of Wight.  He is now on his second boat (actually there was a brief fling with a third which proved to be too much capital investment) having worn out the first one.  These boats are small, slow bilge-keelers ideally suited for his meandering travels up rivers and into sheltered harbours.

I enjoy Dylan’s running commentary on the places he visits and the people he meets. He is an engaging, opinionated and entertaining guide.  He visits impossibly small ports, avoiding marinas where possible and often ties up to abandoned wharves and riverbanks.

His videos are not nail-biting adventure films but are more like the kind of sailing that I do and would like to do more of.  The scale of his excursions mirror the journeys I take and he visits places I would like to visit. He now has over 800 videos and blog entries which, as well as documenting his voyage, offer his observations on subjects ranging from cabin heaters using upturned flower pots to shopping in Orkney.

Oriental004Besides simply wishing to share his adventure Winter has an ulterior motive for posting his blogs and videos and that is to help pay for his travels and filming. For example, it seems the salt water exposure costs him about a video camera each year and these aren’t just the little go-pro type cameras that have cluttered the internet with poorly edited and produced video snippets.  Winter has tried a whole host of funding models over the years and his site has followed the changes and improvements in internet video technology.

Originally funded partly through click revenue from Google he ran afoul of enthusiastic supporters who thought they would help by continually clicking on sites until Google cut him off.  Then there was subscription model along with mailed-out quality cds with groups of videos edited together.  Less than a month ago he moved to a voluntary pay-per-view  pay-what-you-like  system and from his postings this seems to be meeting with early success. At the same time he also moved the content to the Vimeo platform  so that the video quality of the HD footage is superb, especially when watched on a large format screen.  I, for one, am quite happy to hit the PayPal button to contribute a few pounds to the travel fund once I have passed a half hour watching the banks of the River Wear slip by accompanied by Dylan’s engaging commentary and chosen music. Highly recommended for armchair and iced-un sailors

Another other site I continue to enjoyed is the Off Centre Harbor series. This is a joint effort among a number of individuals with impeccable boat building and sailing credentials, mostly from New England.

Oriental003There are a number of parts to this site – all impressive. First there are over 200 high quality videos covering such areas as boat handling,  notable boats, machinery and equipment, rigging, maintenance, boat building,  places to sail and a host of others. In addition the site owners/authors/experts have contributed notable videos from across the web. There is a section on recommended and favourite reading and another with musing and essays from those in the field.

The emphasis is on traditional and wooden boats but it is not exclusively sail.  You won’t find reviews of the latest Tupperware boats or thinly disguised advertisements for chartering catamarans in the Carib like most of the boating magazines on the news-stand. In some respects Off Centre Harbor is more like a cross between Wooden Boat and Small Craft Advisor and in my opinion is the best site of its kind on the web.

logo-och (2)The current charge is $39.00 US per year but there is new content of the highest quality  every few days. The web page usually has a few free teaser videos to give you some idea of what this is all about. This site is slick (in a good way) and I have already gleaned a number of excellent tips that will be put into play as soon as the spring thaw allows Ebony to be hoisted off the trailer and into the harbour.

Small-Boats-Monthly_70hA third site that I watch on a regular basis is Small Boats Monthly which is a new e-imprint from Wooden Boat magazine. I have been an avid collector of the annual Small Boats Annual that Wooden Boat has published for about a half-dozen years. With the catch-line “A guide to trailerable small craft you can store and maintain at home” the annuals have introduced me to all sorts of boats.   These volumes have resulted in many hours of idle speculation concerning boats I “could” build (if I had the ……… – fill in the blanks).   Apparently I was not alone and now the publishers have decided to feed the beast by making content available on an ongoing basis. The cost is $2.99 an issue which is considerably cheaper than print material and there is no advertising.

None of these sites impose on you to “keep up”  You can productively go back and forth and sample what you would like without feeling that you have to spend hours on end in front of the computer. However when you do spend time you come away with the sailing itch scratched, if not cured.


Winter Small Boat Sailing Reads from England

Product-Shot-Lugworm-300x400“Is there ANYTHING to equal the first chuckle of water under your hull at the start of a new summer cruise. The thrill of response as the boat heels under the press of her sails, free as the wind itself and all the cares and tribulations of life ashore sailing away like nightmares from a waking man!”

Elsewhere I have noted the fine books coming out of Lodestar Books, a small English publishing house run by Richard Wynne, which specializes in “new and neglected nautical writing.” This fall, having laid Ebony up for the winter, and having completed my fall construction project of a garden shed and cider press I have had the opportunity to put my feet up and sample a number of the recent Lodestar offerings. They have certainly helped me face the long winter evenings and the mind and body numbing view of a frozen harbour and have stirred the imagination planning for my next season of sailing.

The Lugworm Chronicles is a nearly 500 paged omnibus edition of three books by Ken Duxbury first published in 1973, 1975 and 1976 respectively. Duxbury recounts his fairly low-key adventures sailing in the Greek Isles, taking the boat back from Greece to England, and finally thinwater sailing in the Scilly Isles and the Hebrides. The fact that the boat in question is an 18 foot Drascomb lugger makes for stories to which I can relate. These are not nail-biting tales of struggle against the sea, but rather are more sailing observations of the trip or trips filled with the minor triumphs and challenges, the like of which I often face in my own boat.  However, the first two books in this set are a little too much travelogue and a too little sailing for my taste. The third volume has more about the boat and the sea and to my mind is the best of the three volumes. Incidentally a Lugworm is a type of large sand worm often used as fishing bait. Unlike some of the earlier Lodestar books this is softbound but does have sewn bindings and high quality production. The Chronicles has drawings by the author and charts and illustrations from the earlier volumes. My sole production criticism is that the published did not take the opportunity to have a few better charts drawn as the typescript originals look shabby compared to the rest of the text.

Product-Shot-Under-the-Cabin-Lamp-300x400The second volume is by an author with the intriguing name of H. Alker Tripp. The Trip book is the fourth by this author published by Lodestar. The first three volumes first appeared in the 1920s and are “casual explorations” of sailing in the Solent, Sussex and Essex. Beautifully produced, these are excellent examples of the English small-boat sailing tales. Under the Cabin Lamp was first published in 1950 and consists of  yarns and reminiscences of fifty years spent in England’s coastal waters.  Although written about harbours and channels a full ocean away from Atlantic Canada and from a time a century ago, many of the incidents strike a familiar note to someone sailing today. Romanticized just enough to suggest the atmosphere of an imagined snug cabin on a small craft at anchor these tales told under the cabin lamp are a good read.  This too is a quality soft-cover edition, the hard cover production costs pushing the price up too much for the publisher to have any return on his efforts.

sea  country001I am a big fan of Tony Smith’s blog Creeksailor which details his continuing explorations of the Thames Estuary and Essex  Coast in Charles Stock’s old boat Shoal Waters.  Writing in the immediacy of a blog his travels and accounts seem to have a freshness to them which disappears when the writings are brought together in this book which he has called Sea-Country. The book is pretty slight with just over 130 fairly large-print pages.  The other problem is that its been done already and done well. Stock’s book, In Shoal Waters (also published by Lodestar),  covers his fifty-year experience in sailing a lot of the same territory in the same gaff-rigged centre-board 16-foot boat and to my view does it better.  The latter book also has maps or charts which I always find are a necessity to Product-Shot-ISW-510x679understanding the text.  It is interesting to contrast both of these recent volumes with H. Alker Tripp’s account Shoalwater and Fairway published in 1924 (90 years ago) and still available through re-publication by Lodestar.  It has almost twice the content of Smith’s book. An interesting and contrasting companion to both of these books is Dylan Winter’s Keep Turning Left video series, the first part of which explores much of the same geography and includes the bonus of Winter’s wry humour.

The publisher’s website has his full catalogue with reasonable prices for overseas shipping. As he notes, the purpose of the imprint is to furnish “new and neglected nautical writing” and the list now numbers eighteen volumes with a couple of more books already out of print.   His success in the venture is evident in the increasing shelf footage that his books occupy on my book-case.

There is incentive here for next sailing season but in the meantime it is certainly nice to  use these volumes and be able to transport one’s self to the cockpit or cabin of a thin water boat.  I am content that Northumberland Strait holds the promise of as many inlets and harbours as are documented in the Lodestar volumes… now  if we could just change the climate to allow for a longer sailing season.