By Reinhard Zollitsch

Nancy and I have come up to the island since our early married years, then with our four kids, and we are still enjoying the tranquil rural landscape and the stunning red and white coast-line now that the kids have left home and are almost all out of college.

In recent summers I have been especially interested in the PEI coast- line. Having done a lot of sea canoeing along our shores from Boston to Machias, Maine, it was only a matter of time when I would venture out into the waters cradling this beautiful island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

I did not set out to circumnavigate the entire island, all 400 miles, in one long uninterrupted trip, but rather do it in stages, like three days or 75 miles each summer, so I would not miss out on the family fun and be missed too long by the family.

Since we had always come to the island in mid-June, when school vacation starts in Maine, my trips mostly started out on or around Father’s Day. And I thought to myself, what a great present for a dad, to be given the confidence, trust and family support to carry out a venture like this.

Year 1 - How it All Began

The first stage was an easy decision: from North Cape 60 miles back to our home base at Cavendish. As usual, I was fully self-contained with tent, sleeping bag, food, water and small propane cook-stove. “After three days keep a look-out for a lone canoeist approaching the beach,” I told the kids, and they did - and I was right on time, having had a wonderful trip along the narrow sand-spit islands off Cascumpec, Malpeque and New London Bay and awesome, majestic, steep red cliffs in between, especially the Cape Tryon area.

My second over-night stop, on Hog Island, though, was a different story. I was all set up on a slight elevation along the ocean shore when a violent thunderstorm passed right overhead. Being the highest point for miles and all alone, I did not feel like taking chances of being fried in my tent, so I curled up in a tarp near shore. When the storm finally passed, the mosquitoes came out, all night and all morning, thick voracious clouds of them. I donned my head net, soaked up a bottle of Ben’s, but to no avail: the beasts bit through my clothing without mercy. Somehow I also misplaced my favorite Oakleys in the confusion there, and two days later my entire body broke out in those all too familiar poison ivy blisters. Enough said.

Year 2 - The Windy North Shore

Next year was windier and I made it only to Tracadie. The shoreline was stunning, though, along the PEI National Park past Orby and Turner Head and along the white beaches and dunes at Covehead, Stanhope and Dalvay. But I had my eyes on the ocean and learned the limits of my old 16’ open solo white-water racing canoe by Jensen. So I decided to invest in a new boat, a semi-decked 17’2” sea-canoe by Verlen Kruger. It has a rudder and spray skirt like a sea-kayak, but I still sit elevated like in a canoe and propel the boat with a single bladed canoe paddle, a high-tech 11 ounce bent-shaft user-friendly carbon-fiber wonder.

Year 3 - Rounding East Point

My circumnavigation started in earnest the next year when I was able to reel off two 31 milers from Tracadie to Naufrage and then on around East Point to Basin Head.

Naufrage was a most interesting harbor where the lobster boats were moored five deep. Before sunrise the harbor came to life when one boat after the other shot through the channel into the ocean like bats out of a cave. A never-ending stream of boats, it seemed. I decided to stay out of their way on the beach near the entrance.

Rounding East Point was challenging with lots of surf off the point where the two currents meet. I managed an inside sneak through a narrow segment where the waves seemed to cancel each other out, but then I had to slug my way against the tide to Basin Head. Souris was our predetermined take-out spot the next morning, and Nancy was there to celebrate the point rounding.

Year 4 - Bound for Charlottetown

When next year’s stage was discussed, the confidence and trust level of my family had risen even more, and I clearly heard Nancy say: “Charlottetown would sound good.” Over 100 miles? I would need at least 3 1/2 days. I accepted my Father’s Day present and challenge and went for it, also because the pick-up was going to be nice and easy.

From Souris I paddled around one point after another - Howe, Durell and the very toothy Spry Point - to Panmure Island, a very long 9 hours in the boat, or 31 miles. Next day was equally tense, canoeing off a very steep and very inhospitable looking shore stretching from Murray Head past High Bank to just before the Wood Islands ferry. In retrospect, though, the shore looked awesome, proud and beautiful.

Rounding Point Prim with its long sharp ledges extending far into Northumberland Strait was a very memorable and trying moment. The breaking tidal rip reached way into the bay, and I was dancing, bracing and out-sprinting the breaking parts of the waves. It was tense, and perhaps a bit too chancy for a solo boater, but very exciting, more so in retrospect than in actuality.

Year 5 - The New Bridge

From Charlottetown back up to North Cape seemed like two perfect 3-day, 75-mile summers, and that’s exactly as it happened in 1999 and in June of 2000. I was able to hop across the long bar to St. Peter’s Island and on around several points to Victoria, where I pitched my little green Timberline tent on a small patch of grassy/duny sand near the lighthouse.

The new (1997) 9-mile-long PEI bridge filled my view for most of the next day, but it seemed to take an eternity to get to Borden and the bridge itself. From my point of view in my little 17’ sea-canoe, Prince Edward Island is still an island, even though I do notice the rapid change of the island communities as a summer guest.
The stretch up to Seacow Head lighthouse had some spectacular views of the entire bridge, a true engineering marvel.

Cape Egmont the next day required some strong and skilled paddling because the tide was running hard against me. But I had to get around the steep point and past Red Head and into the bight at Maximeville, our predetermined take-out point for that year. It wasn’t easy, though, because a line of impenetrable breakers extended way up into big Egmont Bay.

How am I supposed to get through that stuff into the bight to Maximeville and the route 11 bridge, I thought, when I suddenly noticed two small channel buoys in the water and two directional lights on shore. I took aim for the smoothest stretch, picked up speed and surfed down the big waves into the calmer waters leading to the harbor entrance.

Year 6 - Back to North Cape

I had thought about this place many times over the winter. Would it be as rough again the next year, the year I hoped to finish my circumnavigation? Naah, you can’t hit the same tide and the same tidal rip two years in a row... But when we drove down route 124 and 11, on Father’s Day again, we not only saw 4 miles of breaking waves, but also heard the surf from high up on the road. My heart sank and I am sure that of my dear wife too; but we did not say anything.

The put-in in the harbor was calm, very quiet and a bit surreal. I had decided not to go out through the opening and slug it out with the elements, but try to sneak along the shore between outer tidal rip and inner shore break. And it worked all the way to Rocky Point, for an entire hour, but then suddenly the rip decided to touch shore, and I felt I had to jump through the surf and dance the waves as best I could.

I was doing great for a while. Adrenaline was kicking in, but then the waves came faster and were more confused. I got smacked in the face by the waves several times, water forced its way into the boat despite the spray skirt and I was soaked, and knew I had to get out of there fast. And while I was thinking that, a wave caught me and I had to brace, and it pushed me sideways, and I had to brace some more, till my low brace was sinking lower and lower in the water and I had the distinct notion of rolling over.

OH NO, I yelled, and with one last mighty heave I wrenched myself upright. It worked, I paddled furiously, now aiming for the beach, surfing, accelerating, leaning back and bracing on the rushing wave crest. I made it back towards shore --- but I had pulled some muscles on my right rib cage from that mighty wrench. I was hurting, and it was only two hours into the trip. What a bummer!

At the tiny harbor of Sandy Point I found my Tylenol and found out I could still paddle, mostly on the left, but with greatly reduced power. So no excuse to stop, and on I went. West Point Harbor looked very good that afternoon after having struggled in my boat for 6 more hours. I was exhausted and hurting, but left a message for Nancy at our campground in Cavendish that all was well at West Point. I had made it; that was all that mattered.

The weather report for the next two days was great: sunny, and light winds out of the west. I needed that, and by sunrise I was on the water. The 43 miles along the western shore of the island, between West Point and North Cape, are truly spectacular and with its steep ragged sandstone shores very formidable for small boaters.

Howards Cove was the only little harbor along today’s 25-mile stretch to Miminegash. But I did not stop there - I kept on paddling - and made it non-stop up into the harbor of Miminegash. Suddenly I felt very accomplished. I had made it to Miminegash - I always liked that name - and I was getting real close to North Cape now, the end of my circumnavigation.

18 more miles to go! The fishermen went out before sunrise, mostly to collect Irish moss, since the lobster season on the west coast of PEI starts in August, not June. This way there are lobsters most of the summer on the island.

The steep shore was only briefly interrupted by long undulating duny sand-spits near Nail Pond. Then it got steep again, and I was waiting for the tide to rip or cause problems. I surely would not want to be here in anything but the best of weather conditions, and I lucked out. It was splendid: sunny with unrestricted visibility, a light westerly wind, no rips, no breakers other than the usual shore break. I was wishing the Cape with its lighthouse into view, but it would not do me the favor, till all of a sudden, there it was, with a huge antenna near it.

End of trip

This is it, I thought, nothing can stop you now, just hop across the one-mile-long bar and you are home. There was even enough water on it so I did not have to go out too far. And then rounding the last point I saw my familiar van, and there was Nancy, camera in hand to record the event.

I had made it and was feeling very accomplished and for a moment forgot my hurting chest. 400 miles in 16 days total, for an average of 25 miles per day over a span of 6 years! What an adventure, what a gift to be allowed to do so. And what great scenery there is to see from the ocean; how different from driving point to point.

I got my certificate at the North Cape pavilion, with the additional note of CANOED AROUND THE ISLAND hand-lettered on it. After the flawless conclusion, all seemed suddenly easy --- the hardest part now was getting my 55-pound boat back on top of my van. OUCH!

Before heading out to PEI, check out their official web site at:

Click on THINGS TO DO, KAYAKING, KAYAK RENTALS, if you don’t have your own boat with you.

Check out PICTURES for a first glance at the island and plan where you want to stay well in advance - some areas of the island are very popular with the normal tourists.

If you decide to do some serious paddling, make sure you get official nautical charts ahead of time or stop in at ‘Coastal Stevedoring’ on Water St. in Summerside, as I do. (The official PEI road map just won’t do - don’t try it!)
Here are some pertinent chart numbers to consider for PEI: 4403, 4405, 4905, 4906, 4491, 4467, 4425.

Work out your courses ahead of time and write them on your chart in pencil. Have a compass mounted in front of you in case you get fogged in suddenly. (You cannot paddle in the fog with a hand-held compass!)

Remember, there are lots of points to go around, and tides can make it real rough for you or strand you way off shore. So don’t forget to plan in the tides and carry an official tide table with you. (Tides on the North Shore are different from the tides in Northumberland Strait!)

If the weather does not allow you to go off shore, don’t be dismayed; explore one of the many large protected bays or rivers. You can always find some place to paddle on PEI. So don’t get obsessed, and make the best of your limited time and weather window. Always have an alternate plan ready, and carry a weather radio.
Leave your itinerary with another person. Call in periodically from a public harbor phone or bring a cell phone. I always carry a VHF marine radiotelephone with weather channels with me, and yes, I always wear my life jacket with whistle.
Now, have fun, be prudent (don’t paddle beyond your ability) and you will enjoy this beautiful red and white “island cradled by the sea”.

(Distances of my circumnavigation are given in statute miles.)

© Reinhard Zollitsch