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.
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 day tripping 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.
Pink Bottom, Piccaire Bay
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.
Patrick's Harbor, Bay D'Espoire
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.
Hacher's Cove, Bonne Bay
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.
Northwest Arm, Hare Bay
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
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 treacherousfavor 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
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.