Sailing the Big Flush
By Eileen Beaver
464 pp, paperback, B &W Illus., $24.95
Review by Dan MacNaughton
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The author and her husband are old friends of all of us MacNaughtons, and furthermore they sail an Amphibi-Con, a 25’ wooden trailerable sailboat of which I have owned another example, and which is perhaps the very best of the trailerable breed. Currently I sail an Amphibi-ette, which is a slightly smaller version (See our article containing a description of the Controversy range of yachts, designed by Cyrus Hamlin and Farnham Butler, and look for an upcoming article specifically about these two designs).
Even better, the book is about a cruise of a type close to our hearts—a coastal cruise in remote shoal and tidal waters, overlaid with an internal journey on the part of the author.
I was pleased to write the Introduction contained in this book.
The book describes a cruise from Eastport, Maine to the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia, a small bay in the upper northeast corner of the Bay of Fundy, and back. This is an area almost unexplored by cruising yachtsmen, for whom the easternmost limit of cruising, short of a jump across the bay to the lower part of Nova Scotia, has always tended to be the St. John River in New Brunswick. The Minas Basin is a world beyond.
The story, like the cruise, is dominated by the tide. In Eastport, the tidal range runs to around 23’. In the Minas Basin it is over 50’, and the basin, which drains completely, is home to one of the world’s largest tidal bores. When the cruise was first being discussed, long before the advent of this book, I had to ask what a tidal bore was. It was not the first thing I had to learn about tide. When our extended family moved lock, stock and barrel to Eastport in 1989, I thought I knew all about tide, having grown up around Penobscot Bay in Maine, where the tide runs about 9’. One thing that had not occurred to me was the implication of the fact that the tide only has a little less than six hours to go in or out, regardless of the tidal range. Thus, Eastport’s tide rises and falls at a much greater rate than it did in my home waters, and I must confess that a certain dinghy occasionally drifted away from the launching ramp or became stuck under the wharf during the first season I was there. And the Minas Basin’s tide, being twice as high as Eastport’s, does its own thing at a vastly greater rate. It turns out that a tidal bore is something that occurs in areas with a large tidal range, when the flood tide is advancing over a very level, exposed ocean floor. Under such conditions the tide comes in like a rapidly travelling wave, followed by rapids, and when it is constricted by the Shubenacadie River at the head of the Minas Basin, there is money being made in tidal bore whitewater rafting. Guillemot and her crew went there, and they now claim the world speed record over the ground in a waterborne Amphibi-Con.
Of 30 nights out of Eastport, the majority were spent in harbors and river mouths which emptied out completely at low water. For this cruise, Guillemot had a set of legs, which allowed her to remain upright and livable when the tide was out. One of the messages of the book, on the technical side, is that reasonably shoal draft boats like the Amphibi-Con (which draws a bit over 2 ½ feet) are very happy on legs at low water, and the crew sleeps very well when the boat is firmly aground in a safe place. See our upcoming article about Guillemot’s legs for the technical details of this simple and useful arrangement.
Part of the message of the book is that cruising in the intertidal zone is both practical and enjoyable. Years later the author and her husband regard this cruise as the great adventure of their lives to date, and they are contemplating a return to the same waters. Other yachtsmen with suitable boats and attitudes should consider doing the same, and in many areas around the world and around the U.S. are cruising grounds that are no doubt being overlooked because they dry out at low water. While the tone of this book is distinctly American, there is a lot here that British author and editor Maurice Griffiths would have loved, and anyone who loves his book, The Magic of the Swatchways, will see some similarities in this cruise.
The author is a superb vegetarian cook, and beside all the other interesting material in the book are comments about cooking and food storage on board that are well worth reading.
Eileen and her husband Doug are very charming and outgoing, so the cruise is described from the perspective of people who generally have a great time with everyone they meet, and the people they meet are, naturally enough, the kind who are excited to meet people cruising in their local waters—a very rare event, as it turns out—and who literally run down to the beach to find out all about it. As such the book reminds me of stories from the early days of global cruising, back when a yacht was a rarity in all sorts of places. It is a story of welcomes, hospitality, and friendships forged, set against a background of stunning and unique beauty, and it cannot fail to raise one’s spirits.
The cruise occurred during a pivotal moment in the author’s life, and was in many ways a trial by fire, or better, trial by tide, of her new marriage. Fortunately the result was a realignment of priorities, a revelation of a larger reality, personal growth, and a happy ending. Sailing the Big Flush will appeal to those who are interested in the technical aspects of such a cruise, though it is not a very technical book. Having said that we do also believe it is certainly the most informative reference available for anyone contemplating a cruise in the same waters. Primarily the book is about humor, people they met, relationships, the natural beauty of the area, and growth. It is a wonderful story, well told, and if any one of the things mentioned above is of interest the reader will surely enjoy it and find it well worth the price.
Spar Hawk, Rockport Harbor
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