Position: 55°42’10.4″N 12°43’51.0″E
Occasionally this blog gets practical. Not often. But once in a while we are solicited for advice by other sailors. Aleta created a stir wherever she went in the Baltic, as much for her lovely lines as her American ensign flying off the stern rail. We are hailed by Swedish, Danish, and German boats, “You’ve had a long trip!” Then, to be sure, we are asked if we sailed all the way from Portland? We have to admit we only sailed from Annapolis, but that’s enough.
During an overnight on a small island just off the shore from Copenhagen, Thomas introduced himself and said he was planning on crossing over to the Caribbean next year. Then he would take a trip up the east coast of the United States and into Canada as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia. He asked me if I had any advice. Here’s what I wrote him (with added links to key moments from our trip):
A few thoughts. In general sailing up and down the east coast is easy with lots of good marinas and places to anchor. Our information is now almost 5 years old, so I’m not sure how the pandemic has impacted prices or staffing. For reference we used Waterway Guides and Maptech /Embassy Cruising Guides.
I think the question is, do you want to visit towns and cities on the way up and the way down, or would you prefer to take your time in one direction and go faster in the other? Summers are hot and humid and crowded, but everything is (generally) open. After Labor Day (first weekend in September), the tourists start heading home and crowded anchorages and marinas open up all along the coast. Of course, by October many seasonal businesses are also shutting down. The guides will help.
Our trip to Nova Scotia found us there in late August and we left a couple of weeks later around mid-September. I wouldn’t leave later than mid-September unless you’re planning a long offshore passage to save time on the way back. It’s about 600 kms from Nova Scotia directly to Boston, so that’s very achievable in 3-ish days with the right conditions. Or you might get really ambitious and head straight for Bermuda and then back to the Caribbean from there. But weather windows close quickly after mid-September.
We took our time in both directions. In general, I’d recommend a route that includes Halifax, Lunenburg, Portland ME, Isles of Shoals/Newburyport, Provincetown/Gloucester/Boston, Cape Cod Canal, Cuttyhunk Island (Nantucket and/or Martha’s Vineyard if you can in the off-season), Block Island, Rhode Island Sound, Long Island Sound, Mystic Seaport, Hell Gate, New York, Sandy Hook (good stopping off for a long passage to the mouth of the Chesapeake), Chesapeake Bay, (Washington DC, Baltimore, Assateague, Annapolis, etc.), ICW, Charleston, Savannah, Brunswick (perhaps), then head straight to the Bahamas skipping Florida altogether. But if you have to do Florida, then there’s lots of ICW to explore, Cape Canaveral, Mar-el-Lago, the Keys, and other iconic places.
We left for St. Thomas in mid-November (after waiting for the weather for two weeks in Beaufort). The Chesapeake is wonderful in the off-season, and we’ve sailed there as late as December, and you have the place to yourself. Heading south I’d take the ICW between Norfolk, VA and Beaufort, NC. The weather, currents, etc. all work against you (on the outside) in that direction. Heading north around Cape Hatteras is easier. I’d check the weather and follow the Gulf Stream. If you can spend more time in Canada, the Bras D’Or lake and Cape Breton are supposed to be amazing.
On the way up you’ll have to watch out for hurricanes and other summer storms. On the way back, there’s typical October weather which can be really lovely, or occasionally really nasty. The beginning of the month north of New York is often Indian Summer, warmer, sunnier. Towards the end of the month, it’s cold and wet. Of course, the weather can be unpredictable, but the east coast has so many places to tuck into, with a little planning you shouldn’t have any problems. In addition to GRIBS, there are continuous weather reports on the WX marine VHF channels.
I hope this helps. Are you a member of the Ocean Cruising Club? They have an active group on the US east coast and always available with advice and help.
All the best,