A combination of sailing and motoring propelled us through an atmosphere alternately foggy and clear, aided by up to three knots of fair tide through the Grand Manan channel. Raising the Maple Leaf courtesy flag and phoning Canadian Customs covered formalities. Easy peezy. We had arrived on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada. Phil, the assistant harbor master, hailed us from the wharf at North Head as we arrived, directing us to an open spot on a floating dock to tie up.
At thirteen miles long and six miles wide, Grand Manan is a perfect size for bicycling. We broke out the Bromptons and started our exploration with a visit to the first of four lighthouses we found on the island and its satellite, Whitehead.
A sign at the first lighthouse we visited, Swallowtail, educated us on Grand Manan history:
“During the War of 1812, the United States invaded Canada because of the practice of impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, trade restrictions, British support of native tribes blocking American westward expansion, and the possibility of annexing Canada. Settlers on Grand Manan saw much hardship as privateers on both sides occasionally raided villages.
“Much of coastal Maine near Grand Manan was occupied by British military forces during and after the war with Eastport not freed until 1818, after the signing of the treaty of Ghent. This treaty reestablished borders between the U.S. and Canada to their 1811 configuration. A joint British-U.S. boundary commission was suggested to resolve a dispute of several islands in Passamaquoddy Bay, including Grand Manan, claimed by both sides.
“In 1817, the boundary commission declared that Moose, Dudley, and Frederick islands belonged to the United States while Grand Manan and the other islands of the Bay belonged to Canada.
“This treaty and subsequent commissions failed to mention or deal with Machias Seal Island because it is not an island of Passamaquoddy Bay and it remains the only unresolved boundary dispute between the United States and Canada, with both countries claiming sovereignty.
“In 1979, both countries submitted a joint application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, The Netherlands, to determine a starting point for the division of the Georges Bank for fishing and mineral exploration. The resulting ruling was silent on Machias Seal Island, however, mentioning only that the area would be considered a “grey zone,” the name given to it by fishermen.”
Little did we know a week ago that we had sailed through disputed waters when approaching Machias Seal Island to view the puffins!
To stretch our legs, we pedaled to the north end of the island and Whistle Lighthouse, which stood on a cliff overlooking roiling waters beneath.
The next morning, we found a small café near the docks and asked the barista if the island had a taxi service. No, she said, but she could call a gentleman named Mr. Spicer who would accept donations for taking people to wherever they wanted on the island. An hour later, we climbed into Mr. Spicer’s minivan with our Bromptons for a ride to the south end of the island.
Along the way, Mr. Spicer told us that the island had 2,500 permanent residents and only 10 percent of the houses were summer homes. “Used to be able to buy a house for $50,000. Now it costs $150,000,” he grumped, coughing as a consequence of the COPD he suffered. He pulled over at Grand Harbour to show us a very large whale jaw bone leaning against a tree trunk in an islander’s front yard, saying the owner was a fisherman who had dredged up the bone in his fishing nets years ago. He then detoured to a church with a jigsaw puzzle stone wall painstakingly rebuilt recently after disintegrating over the years.
Arriving at the island’s southern extremity, we photographed our third lighthouse, Southwest Head, and walked along the adjacent cliffs. Climbing onto our bikes, we enjoyed following breezes helping us along on the 12-mile ride back to North Head. We saw Mr. Spicer in his minivan no fewer than three times along the way. He tooted a greeting each time.
On Friday morning, we pedaled six miles to Ingalls Head to catch the ferry to Whitehead Island.