can-st_john_river-largeThere are great boating experiences to be had all around the province of New Brunswick. The eastern shore ports on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence offer very unique and picturesque harbours to enjoy during the summer months. There are numerous opportunities to gunkhole through the areas of the Northumberland Strait separating New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in the Bay of Fundy; there are also many beautiful harbours to tuck into and explore, but that's another article. The highlight of New Brunswick boating has to be cruising the Saint John River.

The Saint John River begins in the very northern part of New Brunswick where it meets Maine and Quebec. It forms a scenic valley where the Trans-Canada Highway follows down the western half of the province to the Capital of Fredericton. Below Fredericton, the river winds toward the south through gorgeous farm country and rural life toward the booming city of Saint John (not to be confused with St. John's, Newfoundland) where the river empties out into the Bay of Fundy. The Saint John River offers many scenic anchorages and access to other bays and lakes to explore. It also offers some unique challenges to test the skills developed in those courses offered by the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons during the winter, such as anchoring, tides, current and fog, to name a few.

The city of Saint John is formed around an excellent harbour offering protection from the Bay of Fundy. There are an increasing number of larger freighters tied alongside in port or at anchor a few miles out into the bay. For boats coming up the Bay of Fundy these ships offer a reassurance as they approach the harbour. The Bay of Fundy offers some of the largest tides in the world and, in Saint John, they can be over 25 feet in height. Along with this tidal range are some interesting currents that need to be negotiated as you make passage to Saint John.

To enter the Saint John River, boats need to go through the harbour and turn west under the harbour bridge into the narrowing gorge that forms the reversing falls. The falls reverse direction as the height of tide changes with the level of the river. If you don't time it for the half hour around slack water the ride could be somewhat akin to white water rafting. There are many locals and the Coast Guard to ask for help in timing the trip through the reversing falls and into the river.

Most boats tie alongside the floating docks in front of the Hilton Hotel. These are free for docking for a few hours and offer tremendous access to the center of town. While you wait for the slack tide you can visit the market, some of the loyalist sites, do some shopping or grab something to eat at the numerous excellent restaurants. Be sure to get back to the boat in time to make the trip into the river. Even though the distance is only about 5 miles, there can be quite a difference in the weather. Often the fog of early summer is replaced by brilliant sun and warmth 'up river'. Once past the falls, you have the opportunity to tie up at several different marinas and yacht clubs in order to reprovision and to explore the area. The passage along the river from the reversing falls opens onto Grand Bay – a beautiful cruising area. Saint John sailors are competitive and this is an active area for races. Sailing up the Kennebacasis Bay offers more marinas and places to access interesting and historic attractions. The local residents are very friendly and will answer any of your questions. Save a few things to see and do on the return trip.

After exploring the Saint John area, there are numerous waterways to explore for the cruising boat, all the way to Fredericton about 70 nautical miles north. After transiting across Grand Bay you cross one of the many cable ferries that move vehicles across the river. Always cross behind these ferries; remember that it is customary to request permission to cross the cable as movement is unpredictable. The river is well-marked by buoys and several lighthouses along the way. Remember that there is still a tide almost all the way to Fredericton and there is also a current, which at time can be strong.

The Long Reach of the Saint John River is a beautiful stretch of water with hills on either side. There are numerous sandy points and beaches for a cooling swim. At the top of the Long Reach is Catons Island, which was once owned by the Oland family, owners of a local beer brewery and more recently by a religious order as a retreat. There are several well-protected areas to drop an anchor or pick up a club mooring ball that is not being used. There is a series of cement wharfs protruding into the river that were used by the early 19th century boats plying the river loaded with goods and people. However, most wharfs need to be approached with caution, as they have not been maintained in good shape. Other wharfs however are very convenient for access to the shoreline stores and walks down country roads. You may even be able to find a few wild bushes of strawberries, raspberries blueberries or blackberries during a refreshing hike.

Going further up the river, you need to work your way around Oak Point that also provides good anchorages and swimming, and up towards the entrance into the Bell Isle Bay. This is a fabulous area that has both cottages and farmlands dotting the shoreline. It is not a wide bay but is quite long which makes it feels quite rural with a charm that is lasting.

Returning back to the Saint John River allows boaters to continue north to tie along at the Evandale Wharf. In the past, the Inn adjacent to the wharf had reopened and was a wonderful place for lunch and refreshments. Further upstream is the Washademoak River. This leads to a wonderful lake that has a beautiful countryside consisting of cottages, farms and forests. Larger boats generally cannot get beyond the bridge at Cambridge Narrows – a good location to visit the store for an ice cream or other treats.

Continuing up the Saint John River is the village of Gagetown. There is a well-equipped marina with a couple of restaurants to enjoy as well as some historic sights and local crafts. Now, who was that famous Canadian politician and father of confederation of Canada that came from Gagetown? Sir Leonard Tilly. Gagetown also hosts a wonderful fair in late summer.

Above Gagetown is the Jemseg River that leads into Grand Lake and a beautiful anchorage destination for many local boaters on the north side of the lake, known as Douglas Harbour. The Jemseg is renowned for their strawberries; some say there are 'none better'. Douglas Harbour can get crowded, especially in foul weather, but it is a nice anchorage even on a rainy day. The lake is quite open for good sailing and boating.

The Saint John River continues to wind north to Oromocto that has an excellent marina and provides easy access to grocery stores and other services. Further on is the city of Fredericton with a yacht club just before the large bridge or anchorage off the city greens (park) on the north side of the bridge. There is a dock near the downtown for smaller powerboats and tenders. This provides easy access to the many attractions in Fredericton and represents the limits of navigable waters.

Above Fredericton is the Maqtaquac Dam that forms a head pond with excellent boating. Those traveling with trailerable power and sailboats have several spots that they can put their boats in the water. One of the most popular launches is at the Mactaquac Provincial Park's marina, approximately 20 minutes north of Fredericton. From this point the navigable waters wind northward about 100 kilometers to Woodstock with numerous good locations to anchor overnight.

The lower Saint John River offers the boater a vast system of waterways that are as enviable as any cruising ground. There are an extensive number of bays and inlets that provide excellent anchorages, and impressive scenery. A two-week cruise to Fredericton and back seems to go very fast and leaves most wanting to return and explore some more. The many long-term boaters in the area have not tired of the river and return from other cruising grounds with the belief that the Saint John River is as good as it gets for boating.