Monday, August 4, 2014

Saint John Reversing Falls

For those of us that don't have a lot of experience going through a significant water feature, like the Reversing Falls, it can be daunting. The first time I went through the Falls I thought I was going to vomit in anticipation! It really isn't that bad though. Once you have done it a couple of times it will be one of least concerning parts of your journey.


Reversing Falls tide chart exampleThe Reversing Falls result from the 14' difference in water level between the St. John River and the Bay of Fundy. (28' in total change)

Twice per tide cycle the level of the river and the level of the bay are equal and allow for a safe traversal for approximately 10-20 minutes. The timing of this slack tide will vary somewhat depending on the level of the river during flooding or low water conditions.

Generally, in normal water conditions, the slack tide occurs at:
  • Low slack, add 3 hours and 50 minutes to low tide
  • High slack, add 2 hours and 25 minutes to high tide
I have documented this year's slack tide times here for your reference.

If you are unsure about slack times, or want confirmation of the times, Fundy Traffic (on VHF channel 12 will usually confirm times).


From the River

The Reversing Falls are accessed via The Narrows at the south east end of Grand Bay. This is a ~4 km narrow channel that starts around 45.285376, -66.120209.  The channel is easy to navigate but can have a reasonably strong current.

If coming from RKYC, a distance of approximately 10km,  the travel time (at 5 knots) is approximately 1 hour but you should give yourself some extra time due to currents.

From the Bay

The channel from Saint John Harbour to the Falls is well marked and easy to navigate.

Market Slip is the normal holding place for those waiting to traverse the falls. From market slip the distance is approximately 2.4km and you should give yourself 1/2 hour to get to the Falls from the Slip.

Market Slip is a very nice docking area but you should avoid staying here overnight as it is also very uncomfortable in a southerly swell.

Holding areas

On either side of the Falls there are easy staging areas where you can wait for the slack tide. Both are very close to the rapids, so you can see the current water state, but they are calm. The following map shows the general holding areas in green.


Once slack has arrived you can enter the falls. I would keep a reasonable speed (4-5kn) through the rapids since there is still a lot of turbulence. 

Watch for debris and logs in the rapids as they tend to get caught in the whirlpools and eddies. 

You should review the cruising guides for more information on traversing the falls safely.

There is some information in the cruising books about the Reversing Falls but not a lot of information online.I would appreciate comments from experienced sailors in the area so that I can add to this reference and make it as useful as possible for newbies. Please comment below or email me with suggestions for useful information.

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