Color my summer vacation gray. Sprinkle it with abundant moisture. Throw in a day of sun. Put it on an island in the Bay of Fundy.
That pretty much sums up a week I spent in mid-August on Grand Manan, that great wall of cliffs you can see to the east from Cutler and Lubec.
The last time my wife and I ventured there (also in August) the first day was foggy, but it was followed by days of sun. We explored. We had fun. We vowed to return someday.
Five or so years later we decided it was time to head back. August seemed like the month to go since the books say August is the driest month (1.4 inches of precipitation) and the whales are prevalent (Not so — on both counts — during my vacation week).
We packed the van to the gills, threw on a tandem kayak, double-checked to see we had our pass cards and set course across the Airline for Blacks Harbor, New Brunswick, on Aug. 14.
We ran into signs of fog as we approached Calais and continued encounters along the roughly 30 miles through southern New Brunswick along the Trans Canada. Blacks Harbor, where the ferry to Grand Manan lives, was socked in. Deja vu all over again.
The Grand Manan V spirited us 15 miles south through the dense fog to North Head, Grand Manan, and we wended our way south to The Anchorage, the provincial campground offering 100 sites (24 with electricity and water) and half a dozen “wild” rabbits. Optimistically (“The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar it will …”), we wrote a check for a week’s stay at an open “unserviced” campsite located not too far from the washroom and a cook shelter and very near where we camped years earlier.
Faded memories told us the site had a view of the distant ocean looking easterly to White Head Island. Turns out there were a few occasions in the ensuing days to refresh our memories — at least for a moment. In between we mopped up after what seemed to be interminable, wind-driven mist. When it wasn’t raining it might as well have been, because the tall spruce trees adjacent and windward to our site filtered the mist from the air and deposited it on us.
Actually, we had a pretty nice day on Wednesday and got in a hike from Whale Cove to Fish Head with a stop in between at Hole in the Wall, a circular hole in a protruding rock outcropping through which one could paddle a kayak at high tide. We figured we’d try the paddle part on Thursday, which was predicted to be a nice day. Wrong!
So we racked up more than 150 miles on the odometer (pretty impressive for an island with about 20 miles of roads), exploring north to south and east to west. Tea and scones on the front porch in Harrington Cove, visiting The Whistle at Long Eddy Point on the northern tip, the empty smokehouses at Seal Cove, Red Point and the beach where you can see the geologic fault that runs north through the island, the airport, the whale museum, the cliffs at Southwest Head and east to Dark Harbor, where the dulse (allegedly edible red algae) harvesters have numerous camps at water’s edge.
The miles-long beach at The Anchorage soaked up hours of beachcombing and the Thoroughfare at Grand Harbor supplied us with enough scallop shells for a year’s worth of crafting projects. White Head Island didn’t look much different bathed in fog, although it would have been nice to see it on our way out and back on the free Lady White Head ferry.
Part of the mileage accumulation was because we learned not all of Grand Manan is created equal when it comes to fog. There would be heavy, misty fog at The Anchorage in the south where we’d mop up everything and wring out what we could, then head up to the northern end of the island where, lo and behold, the sun might be breaking through the darkness — at least for a few moments.
So it went throughout the week — explore a bit in the southern fog, head north, and get a peek at the bright orb in the sky.
I’m thinking a return visit is necessary, one when the weather’s a bit more cooperative and one when we can get in at least one or two kayak excursions and definitely a whale watch trip. August is the month to see these behemoths. We saw a couple from the ferry going over this time, but that was it. Last time we watched them from shore on a couple of occasions and saw 12 or 14 from the ferry on our return.
If you haven’t visited, put Grand Manan on your list. Maybe knowing that the brand-new Grand Manan Adventure (practically a luxury liner) ferry is in service will spur you onward. Call a day ahead to make sure you’ll get on the boat. Even though its capacity is 380 passengers (versus 300 for the Grand Manan V) and 80 cars (versus 60 for the Grand Manan V) you may not catch the boat. Through Sept. 11 there are seven departures daily from Blacks Harbor. After that it drops to four a day. You’ll pay only on the return leg — about $52 for car, driver and passenger.
For information on the island start with a look at http://www.grandmanannb.com/.