Boaters seeking unspoiled waters, uncrowded anchorages and the amenities of an upscale resort community increasingly are cruising Down East to St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, New Brunswick. Atlantic Canada’s historic resort town lies near the head of Passamaquoddy Bay, on the east bank of the St. Croix River mouth, protected by Navy Island.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of the area’s [28-foot] tides and foggy reputation,” says Peg Davison, who cruises here with her husband seven or eight times a year from Ellsworth, Maine, aboard their 31-foot power cruiser. “The channel is well-buoyed and there’s [at least] 8 feet of water at the dock.”
May might not be the best time to visit St. Andrews, but it’s certainly a good time to plan a cruise for later in the summer.
The Davisons prefer visiting in the fall, when the cruising clubs have come and gone, moorings are easy to get, and winds keep the fog away. “St. Andrews is a good place to enter Canada before exploring Passamaquoddy Bay,” she says, “and a good stopping place before [going to] Saint John [New Brunswick]. It’s a very pretty town with lots of nice shops and restaurants. Everyone who comes here likes St. Andrews.”
“There’s so much to see and do here,” says local boater Tim Easley. “But the biggest tourist attraction is B.B. Chamberlain, the wharfinger [harbormaster].”
B.B., who is 63, seems to know everyone in town and will arrange for whatever service boaters request. His office on Market Wharf, “B.B.’s Emporium,” is the hangout for locals and visitors — fishermen, aquaculture workers and pleasure boaters. Conversation and advice flow as freely as the coffee. Locals nursing java helpfully supplement B.B.’s recommendations on restaurants, attractions and the delights of gunkholing around Passamaquoddy Bay.
Approaching the harbor, you’ll spot the 1824 Greenock Presbyterian Church’s white steeple and, on the hilltop, the 1889 Algonquin Hotel’s red roof. The town clusters around Market Wharf, as it has since 1783 when Loyalists from Castine, Maine, barged their homes here after the Revolutionary War to settle the tip of this peninsula.
In addition to being a prominent Colonial port, St. Andrews has been a premier Atlantic Canada resort town since the 1840s. For generations the Canadian Pacific Railroad brought wealthy industrialists from the inland cities to vacation here. Today, downtown’s simple 19th century clapboard structures have a vintage appeal, and several buildings that date to 1820 are historic sites and museums. Others contain a variety of restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and services.
The railroad was abandoned decades ago, and its track bed along the shore has eroded. A bulkhead protects shops along Water Street from the ravages of storm tides. At low tide, mud flats sprawl 100 feet or so from shore, almost to Market Wharf’s floating dinghy dock. Near shore, vessels on wooden cradles await high tide, while men probe the flats for the worms that are prized as bait.
St. Andrews’ population of 1,700 year-round residents swells to 2,600 with summer tourism, though the aquaculture boats and equipment in the harbor indicate the equally important salmon industry. Fishermen take their harvests from the Passamaquoddy Bay pens to other harbors for processing and shipping.“Boaters like the fact that most everything in St. Andrews is within two blocks of the dinghy dock,” says B.B. “Even golf, tennis and the beach are within walking distance.” So is the Visitor’s Center, where you can pick up maps and brochures.
Water Street extends north and south from Market Wharf. Boutiques specialize in hand-knitted goods, English woolens, bone china and Celtic items in a range of prices. Galleries feature local artists and craftspeople, from painters and jewelry makers to potters and glass blowers. Restaurants cater to a variety of tastes, from fudge and 27 flavors of ice cream to coffee shops and sidewalk cafes to the Kennedy Inn and the highly recommended Europa, both popular with boaters. Knowledgeable locals stress getting to Sweet Harvest Market early for Pam’s legendary cinnamon buns. Many restaurants serve breakfast, but none equal the Fairmont Algonquin’s luxurious Victorian Sunday Brunch, which includes prime rib.