A contribution from instructor Rob Lawnsby

A summer trip to Maine is the dream of many Rhode Island sailors. So what is the reality and how difficult and involved is it? I write this as I sit at anchor in a quiet cove in Penobscot Bay.  I have now made this trip twice. Let me break down what is involved and what to expect sailing up here. 

There are basically two hurdles:

1. Getting from Rhode Island through the Cape Cod Canal to Provincetown, and

2. Getting from Provincetown to Maine.

The first leg is about 85 miles and the second leg is about 120 miles. First leg generally takes two days. Leave early on day one and get as far up Buzzards Bay as you can. You can anchor in Hadley’s Harbor, which is about 50 miles from Cove Haven, or Marion which is a little further. The goal is to get far enough up Buzzards Bay so you can leave and time the Canal passage.

Day two is from your anchorage in Buzzards Bay through the canal to Provincetown. The current is an honest 4 knots for over eight miles in the canal, so you MUST time your departure with favorable current to get through the canal and then have 4-5 hours of daylight left to make Provincetown and get settled in. There’s plenty of room to anchor or rent a mooring in Provincetown.

Once at Provincetown, you’re halfway there and the hard part is over. For the second leg you leave Provincetown and head offshore direct for the harbor of your choice. Boothbay, or Matinicus Island, are both good choices and each is about 130 nautical miles from Provincetown.

Yes, this is an offshore passage; but as an offshore passage goes this one is usually pretty benign. No big currents are affecting you and the wind is almost always in your favor blowing from the southwest almost all summer. For most boats this is about a 24 hour run.

You leave late morning, average 5 knots and get there around noon the next day. The stars will be glorious and you may be lucky enough to see a whale or two!

Altogether, you can figure about a four day trip.

Two days to get to Provincetown, a day in Provincetown getting set; and then about 24 hours for the passage. I was behind schedule this year when I left and did a condensed version of this. I left Cove Haven at 0330 at high tide. I had the current with me for six hours as I motored down the length of Narragansett Bay passing Sakonnet Light at 0730 and reaching Buzzards bay as the tide turned; and had the current with me the length of Buzzards Bay. I reached the canal at 1:30 PM and was through it by 2:30 with the favorable current.

I then sailed the 25 nautical miles direct to Provincetown arriving at 7:00 PM, getting the anchor down before sunset. Sixteen hours from Cove Haven to Provincetown. We slept the night and pulled anchor at 8:00 AM heading to Matinicus Harbor as it is a very easy place to get into.

As we had plenty of time we sailed the whole way averaging 4 knots with light wind. Picked up one of the 13 moorings in Matinicus Harbor at 3:00 PM. The moorings are first-come, first-serve with a bottle attached to the float to put your $30 into! That’s because the mooring guy is out lobstering.

So we made that trip in two and a half days… and we were very tired. We pretty much slept the whole next day. The next several weeks are being spent poking into the quiet harbors and soaking up the Maine culture. Watch for the next installment next month!


Rob Lawnsby

Meet the Author, Rob Lawnsby

Rob was the ASA Instructor of the Year in both 2011 and 2013. He has been sailing for 40 years and has accumulated a great wealth of knowledge. Today, Rob’s certified to teach several classes at NSS, including ASA 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 114, 118, and 114 Mutihull, as well as Diesel, Boat Systems, & Marine Electrical.