A Complete Cruising Guide to the Down East Circle Route
by Capt. Cheryl Barr
1) How long is the Down East Circle Route? The total distance from New York City back to NYC, including a few short side trips, is 2400 nm. Therefore, this loop route is perfect for a 3-month summer cruise.
2) When is the best time to set out on this route? Early to mid-June is the best time to head up the Hudson River to the Erie Canal. At this time of year water levels are high but not too high and traffic on the canal is fairly quiet.
3) Are there many marinas and fueling facilities along this loop route? Yes, transient cruisers can dock every night if they want to. In fact in areas of strong current docking is the recommended option. Facilities along the route are most often situated in towns and villages where all supplies and services are available. Dockage rates in Canada are very reasonable compared to summer dockage in New England which range anywhere from $2 to $10 per foot per night. The most expensive dockage in Canada will be in the heart of the cities at the city marinas, at the time of printing none were over $2 per foot (CDN) for yachts under 60 feet. As a general guide, expect to pay about $0.50 per foot per night. As for fuel, it is available almost everywhere along the route from a fuel pump. However, if a pump isn't available fueling can easily be arranged by truck.
4) What kind of weather can I expect? As much of this loop route is through an inland waterway you should expect hot and probably humid conditions from NYC through to Montréal and Québec City. Beyond Québec City weather conditions are much cooler with low humidity. Low pressure systems tend to track north of the St Lawrence River during the summer therefore, the prevailing fair weather wind pattern is westerly. A shift in this wind direction can produce rain. Fog is possible on the St Lawrence River around Tadoussac and along the Gaspé coast. Fog and rainy conditions along the Atlantic coast are more frequent during June and July. Mid-August through the end of September are ideal times to cruise Nova Scotia and the Maine coast when the prevailing wind shifts to a more westerly and even nor-westerly direction which blows the fog well offshore.
5) Should I be concerned about the locks on the St Lawrence Seaway? The beauty of the Down East Circle Route is that the seven seaway locks are all going to be locked downward. Down locking through the seaway is easy. The locks drain from the center so a boat is gently pulled away from the wall of the lock; this is a quick and simple procedure. Up locking through the seaway can be a much more difficult passage for a small boat as the turbulence can be horrendous. The Erie Canal locks are small by comparison and turbulence isn't really a factor.
6) What are the height and depth restrictions for this route? The height and depth restrictions apply only on the Erie Canal where you are restricted to a vertical clearance of 20 feet and a depth restriction of 14 feet. This is the depth of the locks at the sills. If going via Lake Champlain the vertical clearance restriction is 15.5 feet and a 12-foot clearance at the lock sills. By taking the Champlain route you will have bypassed the locks on the St Lawrence Seaway but will have missed some of the highlights of the Down East Circle Route, places such as the Thousand Islands, Kingston and Montréal.
7) How remote is this loop? It is actually not remote at all. There are marine facilities and fuel available the entire way, airports are situated at regular intervals and most towns will have a car rental agency. By car the U.S. border is less than a days drive away from any point along the route. Most places that you will stop for the night will have at least one grocery store where you can reprovision. Many of the towns visited along the route have weekly farmers' markets where you can stock up on locally grown farm produce.
8) Do I need to speak French? Most people in the Province of Québec speak English especially in the larger centers. In a few of the small Québec villages situated along the St Lawrence River you will find that very little English is spoken. This should not pose a problem as areas such as these are few. If you don't speak a little french, you will most certainly get by with a little creative sign language.
9) Can I take my firearms into Canada? No, do not bring firearms with you. Firearms must be declared to customs and will be held at the port of entry until you return; remember that this circle route does not take you back through your original port of entry. If you do not declare your firearms and they are found to be on board, the fine is steep. Traveling through Canada is very safe and firearms are completely unnecessary.
10) How does this route compare to the Great Loop cruise? This loop route is much easier and the time commitment is much shorter. Only one summer season is needed to complete this cruise compared to about a year needed to complete the Great Loop route. The Down East loop route has scenery that is more dramatic than the Great Loop cruise and there is much more wildlife to see. In comparison to portions of the Great Loop cruise there is little commercial traffic to contend with. Also, this cruise takes you through areas of great historical importance-events occurred along this route that changed the face of North America forever.
11) What kind of boat do I need to make this trip? Any vessel that can travel the Intra-coastal waterway and cross to the Bahamas is certainly adequate for this summer cruise. The majority of this loop route is inland waters with the Atlantic coast portion of the trip done in easy daytime hops. An offshore passage back to Maine is entirely optional and not at all necessary as Nova Scotia to Maine can also be completed in daytime, coastal hops.
...and much, much more information is included. Softcover. 8.5" x 11". 227 pgs. Pub 2011.