By Mike Gridley
In 2010, our crew travelled to New Brunswick to cruise the upper St. John River from Fredericton to Gagetown. Impressed by the river and Grand Lake I promised that I would be back in the future to explore the lower river from Saint John and the Bay of Fundy upriver to where we had left off in Gagetown. I wanted to be sure to make the two-way passage through the reversing falls.
This August, once again working with Patricia Nelder, Executive Director of the Atlantic Marine Trades Association and her many friends and contacts, we were back in New Brunswick.
For our time exploring both the St. John and Kennebecasis Rivers, we enjoyed the hospitality of the Royal Kennebeccasis Yacht Club. And no, I did not misspell that. When the yacht club received its Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1898, an extra ‘c’ was accidentally added to the name and it is still spelled this way by the club.
While primarily a sailing facility, it is also home to many powerboats, including its latest member the 142-foot yacht, Playpen, owned by the McCain family. The club is a full-service facility with an excellent dining room. David Morgan, the club’s commodore, was an excellent host, ensuring our needs were taken care of while in Saint John.
Joining us for our explorations were some people we now embrace as great friends. Along with Pat, Terry Conrad and Wendy Levy trailered in their Boston Whaler from Halifax, and Robbie Craig showed up from Quartermaster Marine in Charlottetown with a new Sea Ray Sundeck. Our local host and guide was Bob Harrity of Northeast Yachts.
Day one on the banks of the Kennebecasis River found us engulfed in a thick Bay of Fundy fog even though were miles inland. While rare in August, the fog determined our plans for the day. We headed up the St. John River where we could enjoy the sunshine.
The St. John River starts its 400-mile plus journey in Somerset County
The St. John River starts its 400-mile plus journey in Somerset County, Maine and flows northeastward to Edmundston, N.B. It then flows southeast forming part of the Canadian and American border until it turns to flow completely within New Brunswick near Grand Falls. The river continues through the Upper St. John River Valley down to the Mactaquac Power Dam.
Below the dam from Fredericton the river opens up, becoming more navigable for recreational boaters. Since the river flows into the Bay, many boaters from the Atlantic provinces and the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. make the trip to the St. John River a summer ritual.
Our plan was to cruise directly to Gagetown where we had ended our cruise in 2010. With the help of the latest in HD digital radar, we were able to navigate to the convergence of the Kennebecasis and St. John Rivers in Grand Bay. When rounding Harding’s Point on the St. John, visibility began to improve. We were able to pick up the pace for the 37 nautical mile run. Approaching Gagetown we diverted into Gagetown Creek. Halfway along the creek we arrived at Gagetown Marina.
Marina manger Glenna Law was on the dock to greet us and provided us with some information about the marina and the village. The marina provides dock slips and moorings for transient boaters as well as gas, diesel, pump out services and power.
good food and a friendly conversation at the bar.
The marina is home to the Old Boot Pub, a colourful local establishment where a cold one is always available along with some good food and a friendly conversation at the bar. You will also find a few shops in the small village to purchase gifts and pottery.
While chatting with Glenna, Bob Harrity readied his Bayliner for the trip back to Saint John and Phil Barrett and Rick Green arrived to join the cruise with a Bennington Pontoon.
The river through this section averages twenty feet in depth. The shores are lined with trees interspersed with fields. The lay of the land is relatively flat so you will not come across much rock out-cropping on land or water. The main obstacles on the river are sand and mud flats, but the river is well marked. Log booms once traveled this route and the occasional dead head will rise to the surface.
As we cruised along, we passed islands that appeared to be well maintained. The trimmed grass all the way down to the water line isn’t the work of human efforts, but due to the livestock that are barged over to the islands where they are free to roam and graze for the summer.
The sandy shoreline and islands make wonderful places for boats to anchor in the shelter of the islands or to beach their boats on shore to relax for a picnic and a swim.
Boaters can enjoy the pub, large deck overlooking the river and a heated pool.
Moving on, another gentle bend in the river brought a cable ferry crossing into view. It marked our approach to Evandale and our next stop, the Evandale Resort. Operated by the Olsen Family, the resort is a popular destination for boaters. It features excellent new floating docks for transient boaters and fuel and pump out to service visiting boats. On shore, the 125-year-old resort’s Victorian architecture serves as a reminder of the era during which it was built. Boaters can enjoy the pub, large deck overlooking the river and a heated pool.
There are all types of boats on the river, ranging from fishing boats and pontoons to cruisers and sport boats. While enjoying lunch, the McCain family’s yacht Playpen slid by, heading downriver to her berth at RKYC in Saint John.
While in Evandale, Pat had arranged for a group of performance boaters to take us on a quick tour of Belle Isle Bay. Ken Powell brought his American Offshore catamaran, his son Mike ran his Chris Craft Stinger, Brock McAllister piloted a 35 Cigarette and Don Alexander had his 28 Eliminator.
The bay is on the eastern side of the river and extends ten nautical miles into the rolling hills of the St. Croix Highlands. It’s called a bay, but it is really a glacial lake. I’m sure it’s quite scenic and a great boating destination to explore, but I only managed to catch a few glimpses during our high-speed tour. We ran close to maximum speed on the GPS in Ken’s cat when his own Sutton Engines twin 900 hpMercurys hit 120 miles per hour.
We enjoyed the changing landscape as rolling hills replaced fields.
After thefast-paced fun, we settled back aboard the Whaler and Bayliner for a more relaxing return to Saint John. As the afternoon and the river went on, we enjoyed the changing landscape as rolling hills replaced fields. Taking the place of farms were summer homes as we got closer to Saint John. As luck would have it, we hit a wall of fog again crossing Grand Bay to RKYC where we were to secure the boats for the evening.
Day two in Saint John was set aside to explore boating opportunities close to the city on Grand Bay and the Kennebecasis River. The bay is dominated by summer cottages, though the area is going through a slow transition towards more full time residencesdue to its proximity to Saint John.
The waters in the area see plenty of boating activity on summer weekends. The Saint John Marina is an expansive facility, the largest in the region. General Manager, Sarah Williams provided us with a tour and will be there to assist with your needs when visiting. There are numerous transient slips and a short-term dock so you can enjoy the restaurant and other services.
The appeal of Grand Bay is evident in the steep hills and rock formations that are covered with pine and deciduous forest. Looking around, I was reminded of some of my favourite views from the waters of Northern Ontario.
Our exploration of the bay and into the river took us through the sheltered waters behind Kennebecasis Island. On the backside of the island you will find shallow water to anchor in and beaches to wander.
On the mainland by Bayswater you can ease up to one of New Brunswick’s scenic covered bridges that is still in use as part of the provincial highway system. Back on the island there is a popular weekend or overnighting destination, Keith’s Cove. Here you will find sheltered waters and quite a few mooring balls that belong to boaters form the yacht club and marina.
Clearing the island we were back in the main Kennebecasis. Moving up river, we tucked in behind Long Island to enjoy the calmer waters. At the top of the island adjacent to Mather Island is another popular anchorage again with mooring balls. The attraction here is truly the sand beaches.
Cruising up river you will pass by the communities of Rothesay and Gondola Point. Both of these communities are split between summer and full time homes, just minutes from Saint John.
We turned back at the village of Hampton to run back to RKYC.
A perfect day to head down the last stretch of the river to experience the Reversing Falls.
It was sunny with clear skies for our final day in Saint John, making it a perfect day to head down the last stretch of the river to experience the Reversing Falls. Above the City of Saint John, the river courses through a narrow gorge, over an underwater ledge and into a deep pool. This causes the river to form a series of rapids and whirlpools. As the tides of the Bay of Fundy begin to rise, they slow the flow of the river and finally stop the river’s flow completely.
It is when the river is stopped, or at slack tide, that a boat can transit the falls in either direction. This happens every twelve and a half hours or twice a day. After this brief calm period, the tides in the Bay of Fundy become higher than the river level and, slowly at first, the river begins to flow upstream. As the bay tides continue to rise, the reverse flow effect of this turnaround is felt upstream as far as Fredericton, more than eighty miles inland. At this point the tidal waters are actually 14 feet higher. The river gradually increases in volume and the rapids begin to form, reaching their peak at high tide.
Passing the Irving plant and heading for the bridge, you can see and feel the current and the pull of eddies and whirlpools. This shows how important it is to consult the tide tables for the safe passage window times. With fast water and vertical rock walls this is not a waterway to be taken lightly.
After a bit of a thrill, the waters calmed and we headed down river to meet the St. John River and made our way to the public docks just off of the market district. Arriving at low tide, the docks were sitting 14 feet below the high tide line on the walls of the slipway. This makes for quite the climb up the stairs to the streets of Saint John. While tides in the port city can range up to 18 feet, other parts of the Bay of Fundy see tidal waters rise over 40 feet.
It was like a walk back in time to a city with a rich history on land and especially on water.
Our time in Saint John was limited, but we managed to walk around the market district and Old Saint John. It was like a walk back in time to a city with a rich history on land and especially on water. In 1785, it became Canada’s first incorporated City and within 66 years, Saint John had become the third largest city in British North America, after Montreal and Quebec City.
Shipbuilding, like in many other maritime cities, was a major industry in Saint John. The only remaining shipyard in the city closed just over a decade ago. Luckily, the history and cultural significance of the shipbuilding industry has been preserved through a collection of artifacts and displays in Saint John’s New Brunswick Museum.
A disastrous fire swept through the city in the summer of 1877. Being the 16th time the city had felt the damaging effects of fire, when reconstruction began, the buildings were made of brick and stone to prevent another tragedy from happening again. Now, as you wander the streets, a large number of these buildings still exist.
Spending time off the water gives you time to explore, shop, dine and enjoy the sights and people of the city. A must see is the City Market. It is one of the few major buildings that survived the 1877 fire. The wooden roof, built like a reverse hull of a ship clearly reflects the city’s maritime roots and the skill of the tradesmen who built it. It is still a functioning market, so we did stock up on cheeses and fresh oysters to enjoy back at the yacht club. After navigating the Reversing Falls once again, we headed back to RKYC to enjoy our purchases. It’s safe to say it was a tasty finish to our time in New Brunswick.
This article is featured in the Fall 2015 issue of Boats&Places and will be featured on the 2016 season of PowerBoat Television.