Tag Archives: Magdelene Islands

Gannets in the Gulf

Last week I was crew on a sailboat racing to the Magdalen Islands, a 150 mile course from Charlottetown around Pictou Island. One of my most vivid memories of the trip was the remarkable sightings of large numbers of Northern Gannets on our return leg.

GannetFrom my sailing in Northumberland Strait I was familiar with these large gull-like birds that one normally encountered well off the coast in late summer.  These are the largest sea birds in the northern hemisphere with wingspans of 165-180 cm (about 5.5 feet).  Their distinctive smooth yellowish head and black wing-tips mark them as a beautiful and unmistakable bird.  However in Northumberland Strait the birds are seen only on ones and twos.

What I was not prepared for was the large number of birds we saw in the waters as we passed near Entry Island. One of their few North American breeding colonies is at Bird Rocks, to the north of the Magdelene archipelago and the waters surrounding the islands provide a rich fishing ground for both mature and immature gannets.

Without doubt one of the most beautiful and unexpected sights, not just of this trip, but of all my time at sea, was a flight of a dozen Northern Gannets which passed us flying wing-tip to wing-tip only inches above the waves.  Like a low-level aerobatics team they flapped and glided and turned as if they were a single organism, their black wings and white bodies flashing in the morning sunlight.  I have never seen this behaviour before and they are not noted as flocking birds.

Later in the day we encountered  a pair that were apparently feeding on a school of herring. Seemingly oblivious to our approach they stayed in place until they were rolled by our bow wave, bobbing up in our wake as if they were anchored buoys.  If these had been immature birds their behaviour might have been explicable as the young birds are not able to fly when they first leave the nest area and glide down to the sea where they teach themselves to fish and fly. However by their colouring I could see that these were adults. Elsewhere on the trip we saw Gannets hovering, folding their wings, and diving to feed.  All in all it was a wonderful exposure to avian life.




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.

A new “Round the Island” race?

The first Round the Island race was held more than 20 years ago and after a few years the interest waned and the series ended. A few sporadic attempts were made to revive the idea but nothing came of it. Now it may have new life.

Rebranded as Round the Islands (note the plural) an attempt is being made to have the race in 2014 with a new route which includes the Magdelene Islands in Quebec and Pictou Island off Nova Scotia.

The race could be a 2 leg race with one leg from Charlottetown to Cap-aux-Meules going west around PEI and the other leg returning around Entry Island and Pictou Island. It has some interesting possibilities:

  • 360 miles with leg 1 = 190 miles and leg 2 = 150 miles
  • 2014 date could leverage Sesquicentennial funding
  • Through relatively fog-free waters (unlike Halifax – St. Pierre)
  • By adding Quebec port could interest Quebec boaters
  • Same year as next Halifax – St. Pierre – could be timed after that race to attract large boats
  • Some early interest from offshore racers clear from discussions at Halifax Boat Show
  • New major event could be of interest to new sponsors

The idea has been raised with the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association and the Charlottetown Yacht Club.  Contact has also een made with those involved in Quebec sailing activities.  Stay tumed for further developments