Roque Island Archipelago

44°34’40″N , 67°30’40″W

Jonesport

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Photo: Bill Barton

For generations of New England sailors, the Roque Island Archipelago has enjoyed a well-deserved and well-earned mythical status. Located at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, just around the corner from our country’s northern border with Canada, this collection of barrier islands is far beyond the cruiser’s comfort zone of marinas, mooring balls, dinghy docks, and access to support services. Not very much has changed since the first “fool yachtsman and his flapper” discovered the iconic mile-long sand beach and the gracious owner/family who maintains the working saltwater farm on the Island’s northwestern tip. The voyage to Roque is a challenging thirty-five-plus miles from Schoodic Light and Petit Manan Island. One must tame a substantial tidal current and anticipate the likelihood of fog and contrary winds. As with most hard-won prizes in a cruising life, the value of the goal accomplished is measured by the effort and care taken in doing the exploration safely and without any needless drama.

Approach & Cautions

Photo: Thomas Perkins – August 2022

The area around Roque has many navigational hazards. Yet, with today’s electronic systems and a hefty dose of caution, one can approach and discover safe ways to enter Roque Island and locate many anchoring options, some more protected than others. Yet all share the quality of being out there where few cruisers venture.

The two most direct routes to Roque Beach from Head Harbor Island are:

  • Directly northeasterly then north through the gap between Great Spruce and Double Shot Islands, being careful to avoid charted shallow areas and ledges along the way
  • Up Chandler Bay on a NW’ly course to enter through the narrow channel called “Thorofare” to the west of Little Spruce and Great Spruce Islands.

Both approaches are described below in “Details to Consider Carefully.”

CAUTION: Make a mental note to fully appreciate the span of the significant tidal range (up to 15 feet) for these cold waters. Low tide depths on your charts will vary considerably and be a few critical feet too generous during a fully mature lunar cycle. High tides can raise your anchor off the bottom if set without sufficient scope. Currents can swirl your boat in unintended directions and push you onto shorelines in narrow passages like the “Thorofare.”

Click the chart to open Navionics.

Not to be used for Navigation.

Docking, Anchorages, or Moorings

ANCHORAGES

The area around Roque Island offers multiple choices for anchoring to suit individual preferences for scenic beauty, protection from wind, waves, and currents, desire to explore the shoreline. The most obvious are:

  • Anywhere off the mile-long white sand beach (except near Seal Ledge)
  • Inside the Thorofare, outside of the powerful currents
  • Inside Lakeman Harbor east of Roque Beach
  • At Shorey Cove on the north side of Roque Island

These and several more are explained fully below in “Details to Consider Carefully.”

Getting Ashore

Photo: Robert Rubadeau

You are welcome to land your dinghy to walk on the beach away from the family compound but NOT venture inshore. This is a courtesy offered by the Gardner family. For the sake of the cruising community, please honor their request for privacy and wishes to protect a fragile environment.

DETAILS TO READ CAREFULLY

APPROACH #1

Following a full day of both riding with and then bucking the current heading eastward from Schoodic Point, you will round Head Harbor Island at Black Head and venture into Chandler Bay. The spruce-clad islands line up along the horizon from right to left: Halifax, Anguilla, Double Shot, Great Spruce, Little Spruce, and finally, the big reveal of Roque Island off in the distance. There are navigable channels between all the outermost islands as you make for the beach at Roque, but the most direct line is between Great Spruce and Double Shot. Beware the breaking ledge along this line called East Black Rock marked by a single standpipe that may not appear on your radar. This narrow island passage to an anchoring spot highlights a seven-foot shoal that must be respected while navigating between these two islands.

 

APPROACH # 2

An alternative to reaching Roque’s iconic beach, as you put Great Wass Island in your wake, is to proceed up Chandler Bay beyond Black Head, past Jonesport‘s entrance at Seguin Island Passage, and leave the Mark Island Bell to port. While the entrance to the Thorofare is deftly hidden from Chandler Bay around the end of Little Spruce Island, the path becomes clear as Patton Cove reveals a navigable channel that swings sharply to starboard. At the first dogleg to port, once inside the narrowing Thorofare, fondly called “The Gut,” between Little Spruce and Great Spruce islands, a small but beautiful anchorage nestles up against a rock headland of Great Spruce. There is room for one or perhaps two well-anchored boats in this wide bend in the tidal river named Bunker Cove. You are protected from almost all winds, but the current runs this slalom course filled with determination, so make sure your swinging room is sufficient and anchor well set for a 180 degree turn every six hours.

 

ANCHORAGE DETAILS

The first time you approach Great Beach, it is hard to grasp the unique scale and endless possibilities for an anchorage along this mile of unbroken white sand. No place is wrong. Each option favors a particular wind, swell, or the complete lack of both, which happens for brief periods almost daily. The norms are winds from the southwest to south funneling up the bays and channels, especially in the late afternoons. As you approach the gradually shoaling white sand beach, the five-hundred-yard section to your port, which hooks around in a tight arc and ends in a sharp pine-coned promontory called Point Isabella, should be respected as private property. You can spy the dirt wagon road leading inland to the homestead’s iconic self-sustaining farm and compound. Please appreciate the island family’s long-standing generosity in allowing the yachting fraternity to take a walk ashore only along the sand beach on this private island. It is an expected courtesy not to infringe on this section of the shoreline by anchoring too close or landing.

 

Visitors should explore the many possibilities down the arcing white sand to starboard for the ultimate sweet spot to drop their hook with plenty of scope and distance from other neighboring cruisers.  In the occasional strong winds that arise off the beach, north of west in these parts, the best protection is often found further to the east, down past the plowed hayfields along the dense wooded high ground under Great Head. Tall pines and steep hillocks offer an effective lee.

 

In building winds from any compass point to the east, anywhere from due south to due north, the tight refuge of Lakeman Harbor is the best alternative. Enter carefully into this protected cove and stay to the center once inside. The pond-sized bay shoals quickly but is predictable with good holding in mud. With the standard unrestricted lobster gear in abundance, only a handful of boats can shelter here effectively. While visiting Rogue Island, it is always best to listen to the daily updated weather forecasts and maintain a flexible attitude. This ensures a winning partnership for a good night’s rest.

 

The historical meteorological facts and real-life pitfalls of visiting Roque Island are not to be taken lightly. Occasionally, the worrisome combination of high winds and a storm-driven surge from certain quarters, strong tidal currents that never rest, and few refuges available all require vigilant and insistent concern. If the wind builds and backs anywhere to the east, the entire Great Beach soon becomes a lee shore and waves build quickly. An often used and much welcomed alternative to crowding into Lakeman Harbor to weather out the blow is to exit through the “The Gut” into Chandler Bay and turn north, avoiding the Roque Island Ledge off Squire Point and rounding the island to anchor in Shorey Cove. Again, please respect the landowner’s privacy rights and, if possible, anchor in the northeastern section of the beach under Great Head.

 

Another valuable alternative in a real pinch is nearby Moose Snare Cove on the mainland just across Englishman Bay. Exiting Roque Island Harbor between Lakeman and Halifax Islands, you pass between can #3 and nun #2, leave Hickey Island to starboard and enter Little Kennebec Bay. Proceed up-bay to Yoho Head and enter to starboard the Collins Branch of the narrowing estuary. Think of Bogart and the African Queen as you chug upstream. If you go much past little Hog Island, you’d best set a stern anchor to keep the boat off the mud. This is a real hurricane hole.

 

RECENTLY DISCOVERED SECRETS FROM A ROQUE AFICIONADO

The open expanse of Roque Island Harbor is prone to offshore swells entering through the barrier islands to the south and east. When the waves do not line up with the prevailing winds, the resulting roll from gunnel to gunnel can be at the very least uncomfortable. Even on calm days, an unmuffled lobster boat’s wake eventually finds you just as dawn is breaking and can roll you out of a sound sleep. An alternative anchorage that offers a solution for most of the nuisance waves in Roque Island Harbor is Twin Beach, just south of Isabella Point. This small alcove offers a tranquil piece of real estate behind the outcrop of rocky ledges at the Thorofare’s entrance.

 

Mussels and clams are available in Roque Island Harbor for those with the interest, patience, and skills to locate them. While not as prolific as they once were, the experience of harvesting these lusty bivalves is still a unique highlight of a stay at Roque. A local’s favorite mussel collecting, preparing, and cooking ritual is found in Bound for Roque Island: Sailing Maine and the World by R. J. Rubadeau.

 

A welcome amenity has recently opened just across Chandler Bay on Moosebec Reach in Jonesport. The Jonesport Shipyard and Marina is now offering dockage, storage, showers, and repair services that until now were only available in distant locations like Eastport or Mount Desert.

 

OUR REVIEWS

What CCA Members are saying:

The challenges of finding and exploring the Roque Island Archipelago can be a little daunting. Still, the rewards are worth the trouble. Yvon Chouinard, founder and mentor of the Patagonia clothing company, once described his passion for places like Roque Island as “offering daily survival opportunities of the finest kind.”

Robert & Mary Rubadeau

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