Cruising Stories

Navigating Newfoundland

July 2013
Frans Kok &
Mary Shirley

It is a long trip from the U.S. to Newfoundland, but once there, you are rewarded with a cruising paradise of inestimable beauty and challenges. If you'd like to explore long, narrow fjords 600 feet deep and lined by sheer rock faces; if you've dreamed of anchoring in solitary coves beneath steep, rocky walls covered in lacy waterfalls; if you yearn to visit tiny fishing ports clinging to the bottoms of cliffs and free of roads, where the people are unbelievably kind and friendly and speak with an almost unintelligible accent, then the south coast of Newfoundland is the place for you.

Getting There

You have many choices when planning your trip to Newfoundland from the east coast of the U.S. If you have time, you can crawl up the coastline in day trips and then somewhere between Boston and Bar Harbor take the plunge across the Gulf of Maine to Shelburne, Nova Scotia (NS), in an overnight passage of about 300 NM from Boston. You can then continue daytripping along the Nova Scotia coast until you reach Louisbourg. From Louisbourg it's an overnight passage of about 200 NM to the charming French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, where you must clear French customs. From St. Pierre it is only one more 40-NM day trip to Fortune, Newfoundland. If you stopped in St. Pierre, you must clear Canadian customs again in Fortune, which you could avoid if you skipped the stop in St. Pierre. But it would be a great pity to miss St. Pierre, a little bit of France in the western north Atlantic with terrific hiking and wonderful French food and wine.We recommend starting your cruise of Newfoundland's south coast in Fortune for a number of reasons:

  • There is a customs office right in the harbor. It is the only clearing port on the south coast of Newfoundland of which we are aware.
  • If you skipped St. Pierre, you can take the ferry from Fortune to St. Pierre and avoid having to clear your boat again through Canadian customs, while still exploring St. Pierre.
  • There is good reprovisioning at the local supermarket.
  • The harbormaster is very helpful, and the marina has showers and water. Fuel can be delivered by truck from the local gas station.
  • You can get decent service for your engine and electronics. Parts can be ordered in nearby St. Johns and will arrive within two days from anywhere in Canada.
  • There is a laundromat underneath the harbormaster's office, and some of the local motels will do your laundry for a reasonable fee.
  • There is usually plenty of space at the floating docks. You cannot anchor in the harbor.
  • We also recommend buying a copy of the Cruising Club of America's excellent The Cruising Guide to Newfoundland before you go.

The south coast of Newfoundland offers a myriad of splendid cruising options. We headed west from Fortune to Port aux Basques, visiting 14 harbors along the way. The distance was only 500 NM, but we took our time (19 days) because we wanted to see as much as possible. Although fog is always a risk in these waters, the two times we sailed there ( July 2012 and August 2006) we had surprisingly sunny weather. Below are the descriptions of four of the harbors in our cruise.



We were greeted by a friendly man on a Jet Ski who directed us to an empty space at the dock. The spot was too short for Remedios, so several people alerted one of the fishermen that there was a visiting yacht, and some fishing boats were moved to create room for us the sort of hospitality for which Newfoundland is rightly famous. If there is a fishing boat that looks sufficiently inviting for you to dock alongside, you should note that in the summer the fishermen start prepping their boats at about 4 a.m., so make sure you don't tie up to a fishing boat that is planning on leaving the next day. Anchoring in the harbor is also an option, but then you miss the social life ashore.Be prepared for lots of locals to come by to say hello. They will not invite themselves on board, but if you offer them a beer you can hear some interesting stories in heavily accented English. When we visited in 2012, the mayor, Erik Skinner, came by on his motorcycle and told us about the terrible landslide that killed three children, still fresh in everyone's memory even though it happened in the 1960s.


This is a snug and beautiful spot without any commerce. We anchored in about 45 feet of water and were surrounded by towering cliffs and bald eagles. Beware of the rocks at the east side of the entrance to Piccaire Bay.


You enter Patrick's Harbor through Little Passage, which has spectacularly tall peaks and waterfalls crashing into the sea that are not to be missed. Patrick's Harbor is a lovely protected spot with rolling hills in the distance.


Bonne Bay lives up to its name: it is very bonnie indeed. The bay has a number of salmon farming operations, which are not well marked, so if it is foggy we recommend going into McCallum on the west side after the entrance to Bonne Bay. Like most of Newfoundland's outports, McCallum's tiny, brightly painted houses snake up the sides of the hills along long walkways that also serveas roads for four-wheelers, but there are no road connections to the rest of the island. Although McCallum suffered badly when the cod disappeared, it is becoming prosperous again thanks to the salmon farms. There is a ferry dock and another wharf beside it that you can use to tie up. Make sure you know when the ferry comes in, so you can vacate the space in time.If you enter Bonne Bay on a clear day, do not hesitate to go up the bay to charming Hacher's Cove. The bay is spectacular, with very steep walls and 200-foot depths 20 feet from the shore. Be careful as you approach Hacher's Cove: the bottom comes up quickly as you get close to the waterfall at the north end of Bonne Bay. You can safely anchor in about 40 feet of water on the eastern side of Hacher's Cove. The scenery is beautiful green hills, lacy waterfalls, and soaring bald eagles.



Facheux Bay has no populated settlements. It is another incredible fjord with steep, rocky cliffs plunging into deep water, and magnificent waterfalls and mountains. We anchored in Allen Cove in about 40 ft of water but you can choose Brent Cove depending on which way the wind is forecasted to blow.


Hare Bay has a chillingly narrow, often tumultuous entrance. Once inside you'll find calm conditions and the beautiful, solitary surroundings typical of Newfoundland's fjords. The Northwest Arm is about an hour motoring at 7 knots up Hare Bay but it is by far the best anchorage right behind Sandy point. The depth is about 15 to 20 feet and the bottom is a mix of mud and sand.


The tiny outport of Francois, with about 100 inhabitants, is located about a mile from the entrance of Francois Bay. Colorful houses are nestled at the bottom of towering rock walls. Francois has wonderful walking trails up to the cemetery located on one of the few flat spots high above the village and to the tops of the 700-foot peaks that surround it. There are two floating docks and a ferry dock. Nothing is far from anything in this little village, including the two local stores; both are a short distance from the docks.


Do not miss this splendid bay, and the pool about three miles up at the head of the bay. It is the most spectacular anchorage on the south coast of Newfoundland. Once again, you are likely to be alone amid this beautiful scenery: a 1,100-foot cliff draped with a magnificent waterfall. Be careful when anchoring, because the winds can really howl between the steep mountain shores. If the winds prove too much, the site near the pool is still a wonderful place for a luncheon stop.


La Hune Bay is about six miles west of Aviron Bay, so it easy to reach after lunch. We motored all the way up to the top of the bay past Deadman's Cove and anchored in about 25 feet of water. While anchoring close to the shore is tempting, particularly when the wind is blowing, stay at least 150 yards away from the shore. After you anchor, check around with the dinghy and a lead line to make sure you have plenty of swing room with the depth you need from the point where you dropped your anchor.When navigating in Newfoundland, make sure you always attach a trip line to your anchor with a float, so you know where your anchor is set and, more important, so you can trip your anchor if it fouls. You never know what kind of stuff the old whalers and fishermen (and occasional rum runners) left behind when they used these fjords. Help could be far away and a long time coming. Because of the steep terrain, your cell phone will work intermittently at best, your VHF has almost no reach, and your SSB is pretty well blocked by the mountains. The only reliable signal you can get is via satellite, and even that can be intermittent. Make sure you are largely self-reliant.


The entrance to Grey River is amazingly tight, only a few hundred yards wide, and the tide can push against you at up to a couple of knots, kicking up a chop if you arrive at maximum flow. The sheer rock shores rise a steep 1000 feet straight out of the ocean. Once inside, the sudden calm you encounter is astonishing.The tiny village of Grey River has some supplies but very little dock space, and we have never landed there. The area is very well known for its wonderful scallops, and if you encounter a skiff flying the red diver's flag with the diagonal white stripe, you can cautiously approach and ask whether they will sell you some. The reply is usually positive and the fresh scallops are sublime.We usually anchor up in the northwest arm. You can swim and fish for trout in the river that empties into this arm. We anchored in 25 feet. Make sure you have the proper charts because there are a number of shoals in the arm.


Burgeo is a town of 1,600 inhabitants, a veritable metropolis on the south coast of Newfoundland. Unlike the outports, Burgeo has a road connection to Corner Brooke and indirectly to St. Johns, with regular bus service, so you can make crew changes here. Burgeo also has stores for provisioning and you can purchase fuel, but do not trust the water. The locals don't drink it and that should be a warning.The dock in Burgeo is difficult to reach and the approach is narrow and treacherous”favor the western shore, take it slowly, and make sure there is someone on the shore to help you tie off. Have fenders out on the starboard side before you enter the final approach. We used our hailer to good effect, and if you have to turn, a bow thruster will help. June, the harbormaster in Burgeo, is happy to assist, but she is not always present. Dockage is a bargain at about 20 cents per foot.If you want to avoid the harbor you can anchor in the Short Reach, which provides good protection from all but the east. It is a bit of a dinghy ride into town. In 2012 the harbormaster was working on getting some moorings into the Short Reach by 2013.



If you want to see Grand Bruit you'll have to be quick. This outport was resettled in 2010, meaning the Canadian government bought all the houses and everyone left. The power and water were disconnected, the entrance buoys were removed, and the ferry stopped landing. The site is still lovely picturesque houses nestled in the hills and a giant and noisy waterfall bisecting the center of town but it has become an eerie harbor. When Remedios visited in 2012, the ferry dock was solid and there was still a functional floating dock. In a few more years, the fish stages will start to tumble into the harbor, and it will become treacherous to enter.The church was still open in 2012 and the guestbook had four entries, all of them from boats we knew. You can ring the church bell if you feel so inclined. Small boats from Burgeo sometimes enter, and some of the former inhabitants have five-year leases with the government, which allow them to spend weekends camping in their old homes.


When entering Rose Blanche harbor you have to choose between three coves. We are only familiar with the middle and western coves. The middle cove is narrow, but it has a government wharf including a floating dock. There was only 8 feet of water at low tide when we measured it in 2012. The west cove is wider and has the ferry dock, and a closed and rapidly decaying fish plant. We docked on the west side of the ferry dock (the ferry docks on the eastern side) and walked over the hill to the town of Roche Blanche. The town has at most a few hundred inhabitants, but it has a road to Port aux Basques. The houses are scattered among huge, astonishingly white boulders; the town name is a corruption of roche blanche or white rock.It was drizzling when we arrived in town, and we were delighted to discover a snug and charming tearoom run by a very friendly woman, Lynn from Ontario, with wonderful teas and tarts. Lynn also owns the adjacent small B&B with a number of cozy rooms.The stone light house at Rose Blanche is reputedly the oldest light house in Canada and possibly in North America. It was built in 1871 by Scottish engineers from the family of author Robert Lewis Stevenson. It was entirely reconstructed and refurbished in 1999. You will be astounded that it actually housed a family of 16 people at one point.


Port Aux Basques, with a population of about 4,000, is the westernmost port of Newfoundland. Here you will find the ferry terminal for the large car ferry that goes to Sydney, Nova Scotia, back to civilization. About five miles before you enter the port, check with harbor control on channel 11 to make sure there is not a ferry leaving or entering at the same time. They will keep an eye on you and that is particularly helpful when it is foggy.When entering the port, keep Vardys Island to your starboard. The public docks are all located to your port. Here again a hailer is very useful to alert the locals you are landing. Request assistance politely and you will be amazed how quickly helpful and knowledgeable aid arrives. I never encountered a local in Newfoundland who did not know how to tie off a mooring line.The surprising thing in Port Aux Basques is that it is actually very hard to find fresh fish there. We finally gave up. There are some markets, and most staples are available. You can get fuel from the Irving trucks at the dock and the water at the harbor spigots is potable.We recommend you return to the U.S. by way of Bras d'Or Lakes”it is beautiful, and the most direct route. Make sure you time your arrival at the channel into Bras d'Or Lakes with an incoming tide. The tide runs at up to 7 knots and is not one you want to fight. You can leave Bras d'Or Lakes through the lock at St. Peter's at the other side of the lakes, and follow the Nova Scotia coast westward until you feel comfortable making the jump back to your final destination in the U.S.

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Exploring Antigua by Land and Sea

The beautiful island of Antigua was our destination for a short Caribbean getaway. Having visited many of the Caribbean islands, we were looking forward to exploring a new tropical locale and experiencing the wonderful local charm, culture, vistas and beaches. In fact, this Eastern Caribbean island boasts 365 beaches: one for every day of the year!

My travel companions for the week included my husband Jim, brother Anthony and sister-in-law, Amanda. Always a great group to travel with (our last adventure together led us to Greece, Italy and Croatia), so I knew a fun week filled with laughter was in store.

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Jim and Jen on the catamaran

As we peered out the airplane window on the approach to Antigua, we were instantly mesmerized by the pure turquoise blue waters and rolling green hills, and eager to get out on the water.

For my brother, this trip was not just an ordinary vacation. While it was my first time visiting the island, my brother has incredibly fond memories of trips to Antigua during the 1970s as a child, traveling with his grandparents, affectionately known to us as Meemah and Deedah. This week was an opportunity to share with us one of his favorite places in the world.

Anthony decided the best way to explore the island was by land and by sea. The first part of our trip was spent touring the island with a local driver and tour guide named Elvis, who is a native Antiguan living in one of the six parishes on the island with his wife and children. When Anthony spotted him on the beach wearing a Yankee cap, he knew this was the tour guide for us. Anthony and Elvis instantly bonded (even discovering they shared a birthday) and together planned our extraordinary excursion.

Our tour of the island started with a visit to St. Johns, the capital city of Antigua. While part of the town is geared toward the large cruise ships that help support the local economy, St. Johns retains its charm, filled with farmers markets, stalls and local restaurants. Amanda was immediately enchanted by one of the young local shopkeepers selling souvenirs with his mom.

The next stop was Betty's Hope, one of the earliest sugar plantations dating back to 1651. The sugar mills are beautifully preserved, and we learned about the large role these sugar plantations played in Antigua's history. While enjoying the scenery at Betty's Hope, Elvis surprised us with homemade sandwiches and rum punch. A delightful snack to recharge us for the next stop -- Devil's Bridge in the Indian Town National Park.

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Jim, Jen, Amanda, and Anthony

Devil's Bridge is a natural stone arch that was carved from the rocky coast by the constant pounding of waves. Locals say its name comes from surges of water that snatch away people who stray too close to the edge. The area around the arch features several natural blowholes that shoot up water and spray powered by waves from the Atlantic Ocean.

While Jim and I stayed far from the edge, Anthony ventured out close to the bridge for a unique photo opportunity. Later in the week, we would have a chance to see this incredible rock formation from the ocean.

We continued to travel up the rolling hills to Shirley Heights Lookout, first used during the Revolutionary War as a signal station and lookout for approaches to English Harbor. It is truly one of the most spectacular vistas I have ever seen.

Having reached the highest point in Antigua, it was time to get back to sea level. Our next stop centered around Nelson's Dockyard, a working Georgian-era naval dockyard, designated as a world heritage site in 2016. We delighted in exploring the dockyard and gazing over the beautiful yachts and sailboats moored at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.

Driving through the lush dense greenery of the rainforest led us to an Antigua delicacy the black pineapple. On the side of the road just outside the rain forest, we stopped at a local fruit stand and chatted with the proprietor while she carved us a fresh black pineapple, known as the sweetest in the world. It definitely lived up to its reputation.

The final stop on our island tour was my favorite -- a chance to taste the island cuisine! Elvis called ahead of our arrival and requested a platter of local foods for us to sample. We arrived at Darkwood Beach Bar & Restaurant and were immediately welcomed by the staff.

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Darkwood Beach Bar

After selecting a table near the beach and ordering the national beer of Antigua, Wadidli (another name for the island itself), we had the privilege of hearing Elvis' story, learning more about his life and family, and even calling his wife to thank her for the yummy sandwiches. Then we feasted on fungee and pepperpot, a hearty meat stew with eggplant, pumpkin and squash, as well as local Caribbean lobster, curries and roti. All in all, an amazing way to end a spectacular day. We said goodbye to Elvis, exchanging addresses and knowing we had made a friend for life.

After exploring Antigua north to south and east to west, we opted for a catamaran tour to circumnavigate the island as our next adventure. The morning was spent pleasantly motoring in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea around the north side of the island. Before we knew it, we were sailing along in the open Atlantic Ocean passing by Long Island, also known as Jumby Bay and a popular destination for celebrities.

After a wonderful morning on the water, we anchored in a protected cove for a stop to swim, snorkel and eat lunch near Green Island. It was a perfect destination for Amanda's first snorkeling excursion. After spotting a large sea turtle, magnificent coral reefs and exotic fish, we enjoyed a lazy swim near the beautiful powdery white sand of Green Island Beach.

Following a traditional lunch of jerk chicken, rice and plantains, we continued our journey around the island down to the southern tip to experience English Harbor and Devil's Bridge from the water. It was even more extraordinary from this vantage point.

As the sun started to dip low in the sky, we returned to the Caribbean Sea on the western side of the island watching a storm brewing in the distance. During the quiet sail back, each of us felt grateful for another magnificent day in paradise.

While traveling with your closest friends is always fun, my favorite memories of our time on this magical island were Anthony's reflections of his previous trips to Antigua with his grandparents, the excitement at sharing his favorite place with his new wife, and the joy that much of the island remained as he remembered it. We are already planning our next trip to Antigua!


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Join a Father & Son Trip up the ICW

Paul Kekalos - cruising - marinalife
Paul Kekalos and his father

"Might as well get going" said my dad as we stood on the dock, fresh out of things to prepare. I laughed to myself and replied, "Yeah, I guess we might as well." That conversation plays out in my head every time I set out on a boat a sign that all preparations are complete, and it's time to start the trip.

When my father asked me to help him deliver his Hatteras 40 from Charleston to Cape May via the ICW, I jumped at the chance to return to a special place in my life (I spent my summers in Cape May growing up) and spend bonding time with my dad. But I was not without apprehension. It would be my first trip on the ICW, his first in years, and the first on a new-to-him vessel. While I spend a lot of time on the water as a sailor, the twin diesels of the Hatteras were new to me.

As we were about to push off, dolphins showed up, easing the inevitable start-of-voyage jitters that accompany any trip. As we turned into Charleston Harbor and pointed toward the markers at the entrance to the first portion of the waterway heading north, our three dolphin friends escorted us through the channel markers. I took it as a good sign.

Starting Point: Charleston, SC

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Charleston Aerial | Pixaba

Estimated Mileage: 48 NM

We were warned that the first stretch of waterway was known for scattered shallow spots in the first few miles, but we found none. As waterfront homes of Sullivan's Island and Isle of Palms slowly peeled away to reveal the quiet wilderness of the Santee Coastal Reserve, I thought, "This is the ICW I imagined. Pristine, undeveloped and peaceful."

In the coming days, I would learn this was only part of the story. We pulled into Georgetown for the evening, and our first day was behind us. With that came the simple lesson: the only way to get over the nervousness of a trip is to start the journey. We slept well that night knowing we had done so.

Leg 1: Georgetown, SC to Southport, NC

Estimated Mileage: 72 NM

Leaving Georgetown and heading north up the Waccamaw River, the previous afternoon's tranquility continued. The soft light over the marshlands showed that ours was the only wake in sight, save for a few passing southbound boats. It was an easy way to start the day. And then ... Myrtle Beach ... on a Saturday... in June. The morning peacefulness gave way to a bustling stretch of waterway filled with all sorts of people enjoying the day center consoles, water skiers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers, floating tiki bars. Mile after mile of developed waterfront checked our speed and changed our perspective.

Eventually, we cleared through the beautiful chaos of Myrtle Beach, crossed into North Carolina and preceded toward that night's destination, Southport, NC. This was our first time experiencing the wonderful ICW phenomenon of just pulling over to dock on the proverbial side of the road. We settled into the facing fuel dock at Southport Marina and marveled at how the ICW contains multitudes of experiences.

Leg 2: Southport to Beaufort, NC

Estimated Mileage: 83 NM

The weather was mostly settled with morning showers, and thunderstorms were predicted, but clear skies were forecasted for the afternoon. Only on Day 3, we still were under the misguided illusion that the schedule was ours to keep. We wanted to cover some ground today, so we ducked out of the well-marked and relatively easy Masonboro Inlet for an outside run up the Atlantic to Beaufort, NC.

As we approached the Inlet, a local Sunday morning sailing race was underway. Half the fleet made it out of the inlet with us before we heard on the radio that the race committee was recalling the fleet due to approaching thunderstorms. We debated staying inside, but the weather quickly passed us, and we rode the gentle swell up to Beaufort Inlet. It was good to get in the miles by going outside the ICW, but we realized that was not the point of this trip. Leaving the ICW, we missed the variety that the waterway provides. We stayed inside for the rest of the trip to enjoy the view.

Leg 3: Beaufort to Belhaven, NC

Estimated Mileage: 50 NM

On a trip up the ICW, you discover it's anything but a highway. Leaving Beaufort, we noted how the waterway that we experienced thus far was a straight-line narrow cut with land close by on either side, often called the proverbial ditch. But the ICW also provides moments of wide-open beauty.Heading out of Beaufort and north up Adams Creek, the ICW gives way to the relative vastness of the Neuse River and Pamlico Sound. Navigation aids are more spaced out, and the wind waves have more room to gather up. We traveled a short stretch of the Sound, pulled into beautiful Belhaven Marina for the night and found the sleepy but utterly charming town was a great place to stop.

Leg 4: Belhaven to Coinjock, NC

Estimated Mileage: 58 NM

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Norfolk's Busy Harbor | David Mark on Pixabay

Years of boating taught me that you seldom go five days without seeing weather that you'd rather not see. The past four days were pretty good weather-wise, so we were due for something else. Pulling out of Belhaven in light sprinkles and overcast skies, we entered the famed Alligator-Pungo River Canal. This is truly the ditch 21 miles of a virtual straight line that connects the Pungo and Alligator Rivers. It is narrow and long, and it helps to see where you are going.Fortunately, the weather cooperated, and we navigated the canal with ease. But just as we emerged into the wide-open Alligator River, heavy rains and stiff squalls closed in around us. I'm always nervous with weather, but my dad has a measured demeanor, so he put me at ease. We picked our way from buoy to buoy and emerged from the storm just as we passed through Alligator River Swing Bridge and started across Albemarle Sound for the evening's destination, Coinjock Marina & Restaurant. Here I learned the real lesson of the day order the prime rib!

Leg 5: Coinjock, NC to Norfolk, VA

Estimated Mileage: 34 NM

On every trip, you reach a point where you've gone over the hump. With five days of ICW behind us, we hit that point and could sense a change coming. We left Coinjock and picked our way across the long, shallow Currituck Sound into Virginia. As we wound our way through the meandering and pristine North Landing River Natural Area Preserve, both of us were excited to make Norfolk that evening and enter the Chesapeake for our final stretch. Several bridges are on this stretch of the ICW, but our timing was good, and we passed each without much wait.

Sliding through the Great Bridge Locks, we approached Norfolk. The city and its surrounding waterways' bustle was an absolute eye-opener after the past few days. It made the pace of Myrtle Beach seem bucolic. We slept well, knowing that we had come to mile zero on the ICW safely.

Leg 6: Chesapeake Bay: Norfolk, VA to Chesapeake & Delaware Canal

Estimated Mileage: 200 NM

If approaching Norfolk from the south is eye-opening, then traveling into the Chesapeake past the heart of the Naval docks is something else entirely. Mile after mile of grey steel. More naval ships that I'd ever seen in one place. Amazing! And just like that, you pass over Hampton Roads Tunnels, enter the Chesapeake and you're back to wide-open beauty.

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Chesapeake & Delaware Canal | Lee Cannon on FLickr

Our time in the Bay was a bit rushed. I had to return to commitments at home, so we had to get in some miles now. The plan: proceed to Solomons for a night and then reach the C&D Canal. However, our optimistic timetable did not stop the Chesapeake from dealing us a few lessons along the way.

The Chesapeake does not care about your schedule. The weather was too crummy in Solomons to leave, so we wisely decided to stay an extra day. When we finally poked out of the Patuxent River, we realized the residual effects of the rain was still evident. The Bay delivered a wild ride, with wind, rain, short chop and limited visibility for a few hours. We pondered cutting our day short, but the weather lifted quickly. By the time we passed Annapolis, blue skies and flat seas surrounded us all the way to the C&D Canal. It was amazing how quickly and dramatically conditions on the Bay changed for the better.

Leg 7: Chesapeake City to Cape May, NJ

Estimated Mileage: 54 NM

After transiting the C&D Canal and entering the Delaware Bay for the final stretch, we were truly in home waters. But despite the time I spent on the Bay growing up, I had never navigated a boat down this tricky body of water. The Delaware is busy, with a narrow channel and many big working boats. We hugged the channel's edge as we made our way down the Bay leaving ample room for others.

As the bay widened out, we plotted our approach to Cape May Harbor. Our entry took us through the Cape May Canal and into the harbor, then on to the boats' summer berth, not far from where I had spent my childhood summers. With the trip virtually complete, we experienced the bittersweet feeling of nearing our destination. And the final stretch provided perhaps the best lesson of all: When you get the opportunity to bring a boat from one place to another with your old man, take it.

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The Blessed Isles: More than Just a Stop Over

SAILING ACROSS AN OCEAN IS OFTEN SEEN AS A MARINER's BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT. With 4,000 miles between America and Europe, the distance across the Atlantic means a four-week transit across a temperamental ocean. For this reason, a small collection of mid-Atlantic islands earned the name, The Blessed Isles. Officially called Macaronesia, these four island groups the Azores, Madeira, Canaries and Cape Verde have played a central role in trans-Atlantic trade since boats first started long-distance voyages.[caption id="attachment_324683" align="alignleft" width="300"]

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Kia Koropp and John Daubeny with their children, Braca and Ayla in Los Lobos | John McCuen[/caption]Located west of Portugal, Spain and the north-African coast in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, they continue to offer a mid-passage respite for modern-day mariners keen for a short break in route between the two continents.The four island groups are often considered relatively similar. All are volcanic in origin with several of the islands still active (as illustrated by the recent eruption of Cumbre Vieja in Las Palmas, Canaries in September 2021).Isolation from the mainland allowed species of animal and fauna to flourish, and their exposure to strong trade winds means a harsh environment during the northern winter.During my family's voyage here, we wanted to cut our trans-Atlantic passage by adding a mid-Atlantic stop, so we used the Canaries as a break point. Our plan: A week transit from Europe to the Canaries and then a three-week sail to the Caribbean.The Canaries is an autonomous region of Spain that consists of 13 islands. Given the geographic similarity to the Macaronesia islands, I was expecting an extension of Madeira and the Azores, but I couldn't have been more misinformed. Instead, we saw vast diversity within an island group. Each of the 13 islands has its own unique environment with a fascinating heritage that is evident today. To see one island is certainly not to have seen the others.

Tenerife Cave Dwellings

The original settlers of the Canaries were the Guanches who arrived from Africa in the 1st or 2nd century. They settled in caves across the islands, concentrated in Tenerife. What fascinated me about this history is that people still live in these cave dwellings today. Excursions throughout the countryside revealed numerous dwellings spread across the island with drying laundry splayed out on lines, dogs lounging outside cave entrances, chairs perched aside a rock wall and chickens living in their coops all scattered evidence of human habitation.We found isolated valleys where large communities were dispersed across a mountainside with small footpaths winding their way up the slope. I was intrigued by this current cave culture, still alive and vibrant. I've travelled to many countries where old cave dwellings are protected as UNESCO Heritage Sites, but this was the first time I'd seen established villages in remote caves. I drove aimlessly throughout the island, trying to find as many cave dwellings as I could discover a surprisingly easy feat given the number of them spread out throughout the Canaries.

Lanzarote Volcanic Vineyards

[caption id="attachment_324686" align="alignright" width="300"]

Cave settlements - cruising - marinalife

Cave settlements dot the hillsides across the Canaries. | Kia Koropp[/caption]Both the Azores and Canaries have developed a unique form of viticulture in a very inhospitable region. It's hard to imagine that someone can grow anything but the most rugged crop in the rocky, volcanic soil. Grape vines were the last thing I expected to crisscross the region. However, ingenious vintners have done just that they created an environment where grapes not only grow, but thrive.This form of deep-root horticulture called arenado is unique to Lanzarote. Small semi-circular walls called zoco are made from black lava stones that protect a single vine, providing a barrier against strong trade winds. It's a labor-intensive form of cultivation as each crater holds one vine, making hand-picked grapes the only option for harvesting. I did not anticipate a wine-tasting on our mid-Atlantic stop, but it was delicious and historically fascinating.

Lava Tubes & Subterranean Tunnels

Lava tubes and deep volcanic caverns riddle the Canary Islands. Several islands, such as Gran Canaria and Tenerife, have extensive pyroclastic fields and some display dramatic volcanic cones with impressive craters, such as Teide on Tenerife and Cumbre Vieja on La Palma.Given the range of erosional stages of the volcanic islands, each one offers a unique perspective. This means we could hike to the top of a volcanic rim that is covered in deep foliage (Gran Canaria), walk through volcanic moonscapes (Los Lobos), wander deep inside massive caverns (Lanzarote) and follow lava tubes deep inside (Tenerife).The different stages of each island display both the devastation and the beauty that volcanoes bring. As one explodes, another holds a breathtaking amphitheater and a species of blind crab that is indigenous to the island. While locals continue to deal with the aftermath of Cumbre Vieja's violent explosion on La Palma, Cueva de los Verdes, Lanzarote holds concerts for an audience of 500 in its expansive cavern and provides sanctuary to a species of blind albino cave crabs in its deep-turquoise underground freshwater lagoon.

Underwater Sculpture Garden

Equally unique to the Canaries is Europe's first underwater sculpture garden, a collection of 12 installations laid down by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor to raise social and environmental awareness. Museo Atlántico was made public in 2017 and holds 300 life-sized human figures performing everyday tasks: a couple holding hands, a man sitting on a swing, fishermen in their boats, someone taking a selfie. Four years on and the sculptures are starting to create a decent false reef. The effect is impressive ... and rather eerie. My dive at the site remains an unforgettable experience that should not be missed on a trip through Lanzarote.[caption id="attachment_324684" align="alignleft" width="225"]

Museo Atlántico - cruising - marinalife

Examples of individual exhibits in the Museo Atlántico underwater sculpture park, Lanzarote | Kia Koropp[/caption]Many sailors use the largest of the Canary Islands, Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, solely for provisioning and boat preparation before a trans-Atlantic passage. However, if you bypass the islands that surround the main island you'd miss out on interesting and diverse islands that should be a highlight destination in the Eastern Atlantic. The ones we visited on our sail through the island group were a continuous series of unfolding surprises.The villages hold their own quaint small-town European character, and each island offers an experience drastically different than its neighbor. From the bustle of Gran Canaries largest city, Las Palmas, to the silent cave dwellers of its outer communities; from the enormous sand dunes of Fuertaventura's ParqueNatural de las Dunas to the barren volcanic cone of Los Lobos to the lush laurel forest of Los Tilos de Moya in Gran Canaria; from sea to inland lake to crater rim to underground tunnels; from camel back to mountaintop to mid-city cafes. The Canaries' special diversity makes a hop-through in route from America to Europe a must-see adventure.

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