Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. 7/1/2006 to Halifax, Nova Scotia, 8/2/2006
Charlottetown to the Bras d’Or Lakes:
The folks at the Charlottetown Yacht Club were so helpful and friendly, trying (unsuccessfully) to get charts and marine supplies and providing (successfully) useful information about cruising in Nova Scotia.
Land entrance to the CYC Sea entrance to the CYC
Jellyfish were thick in the harbour.
Two species … the Moon Jelly Fish and the Lion’s Mane … both sting
We bought some groceries and walked around the “home of Confederation” before departing on a foggy morning.
The whole of the city … much less than we expected …try to think of a 7/11 as your main grocery store
The weather report for strong winds was inaccurate; we motored the 67 miles across the east end of the Northumberland Strait to Cape George and tied up at the fishing wharf in Ballantyne’s Cove. The lobster season ended on June 30, so there were stacks of lobster traps on the wharf (and no more lobster floats).
Lobster season over so thousands of pots line the docks … instead of around our prop shaft
Two shots from the same place 180 degrees apart … to the right are high hills … to the left the sea
A couple on a trawler from Halifax helped us dock, and after dinner we got together to swap charts. They are going up the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario as part of the Great Circle Tour (Great Lakes / Mississippi River / Gulf of Mexico / Atlantic Ocean / St. Lawrence Seaway). We gave them charts for the St. Lawrence and they gave us charts for Nova Scotia.
The Halifax trawler (Mystic Bond) departing Ballantyne’s Cove
We had a good sail across Georges Bay to the Strait of Canso, the water between mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island. In the 1950’s a causeway was built across the strait for cars, trucks and trains with a swing bridge to allow boats passage. A lock also had to be built; the passage for water was so narrow, that the current would have been 5- 6 knots and very difficult to navigate without the lock.
Great staff and a small level change made the lock a non-event
There is still a large scar in the mountainside where the fill for the causeway was mined.
The scars of progress that will never heal …
There was no delay in locking through, but what amazed us was our short interruption of traffic caused a backup of at least 100 vehicles; it’s a busy corridor.
Our brief lock passage backed up over a hundred cars
We sailed the rest of the way through the strait past Port Hawkesbury fascinated by the loading operations along the way and a huge windmill.
The port that never freezes makes this a very busy year round freighter stop
We found an anchorage just before we got to the Lennox Passage that leads up to the Bras d’Or Lakes and were serenaded by two Loons. Squirrels were quarrelling on land.
The round circles indicate freighter anchorages … we anchored in the dark blue
The Bras d’Or Lakes (July 7 – 20):
Dameon’s Cove, St. Peter’s Inlet. There is a leveling lock going into the southern end of the Bras d’Or Lakes at St. Peters. Two sailboats (one from Norway and the other from either Australia or New Zealand) locked through with us. This is a tidal lock with two doors at each end, one angled out and the other angled into the lock. The drop was about 6 inches… we hardly noticed. The boat from Norway was a wooden ketch with both main and mizzen gaff rigged. It sported huge wooden turning blocks and was quite the beast of a sailboat.
The St. Peter’s lock …3 boats from 3 countries The skipper awaiting the green light
Wooden ketch from Oslo heading for the north end of Cape Breton then to Iceland
Once we got through the lock, a short channel and a swing bridge,
At the left is the traffic light the skipper was waiting for … still red
we followed a buoyed channel around a number of islands. We felt as if we were in Lake Superior again.
Sheltered waters with no currents or tides just like Superior or North Channel
There is no noticeable tide and the currents are about what we find in the Great Lakes. The shores are covered with pine trees draped with lichen and grassy beaches.
The vegetation was very similar to the Slate Islands in Lake Superior
A tern perched on our anchor float.
So were the birds
The lakes are about the size of Lake St. Claire in surface area. On the other hand, the water is warm enough for swimming, salty and full of jellyfish. The lakes should have Cod and Mackerel but the reported abundance was not found. Trolling off Pilgrim, casting from the dinghy and jigging for Cod netted just two fish during our two-week stay.
Brian and Jane engaged in our two main vices … in Dameon’s Cove
However, a big fish took a large lure along with its 40-lb. test leader off Dameon’s Cove.
Clarkes Cove at Marble Mountain. The Marble Mountain derives its name from an old marble quarry (from the 19th century) that has left a huge scar on the hillside visible from across the lake.
A massive bite out of the mountain that has not regenerated after 100 years
The once-thriving town almost ghosted away, and now is coming back to life with a number of retirement homes and cottages, some very large and opulent looking. Many Germans have bought property here and built cottages since the land is relatively cheap and available.
Another form of foreign investment Jane getting the goods on Halifax Yacht Clubs
We hiked to the museum (the old one-room school).
The old school house now museum MacDonalds take out … wonder if this was the first one
There were a number of items I can remember in my grandmother’s kitchen, and Brian says he actually used some of the items on display in his youth (i.e. a carbon lamp). The teenager who was on duty was pleasant but did not know much about the community and its history. Her supervisor arrived while we were there, and we learned that the quarry at Marble Mountain closed quite suddenly when marble was discovered on the eastern shore of Cape Breton Island in an area that was not icebound in the winter months. Over 1000 people were employed by the quarry (plus more support people) from the 1860’s until the early 1920’s. Now most of the residents work in Port Hawksberry, about 45 minutes away, or are retirees who are moving back “home.” We hiked up to the quarry, which was impressive in its size, but did not climb to the top of the mountain (750 feet high).
View from the quarry View in the quarry
Jane in her “rock hound” glory
The lakes are home to many bald eagles and we saw many soaring, fishing and guarding nests.
One of a dozen Eagles that call the area home … they always check out newcomers
MacRae’s Cove. We were the only boat in this bay. On the way we were able to catch our first and only cod. The fish is non-too-bright and does not fight when caught. I guess that is why their numbers have been decimated by over-fishing.
Brian cooking up the first catch of cod using a Portuguese tomato-based recipe
There is an island NE of the anchorage (Bare Island) covered with gulls and cormorants. Our cruising guide (written in 1974) indicates that the island is covered with dead trees in which the cormorants nest, and the island is known locally as Toothpick Island. Today there is no evidence that there were any trees on the island (it is indeed bare) and I would call it Toothless Island. We were enchanted at sundown tonight watching the seagulls gathering over the island. They sparkled in the setting sunlight and almost looked like fireworks.
Maskells Harbour. This is a most marvelous cove on the NE side of the Barra Strait, that separates the larger Bras d’Or bays in the south from the NW bays and the major city, Baddeck. The coastline was white limestone / marble on the SW approach to the strait, and red-orange sandstone after the strait on the NE side.
The north shore of the cove is a steep, but wooded cliff that plunges into the cove, giving 25 feet of water within a boat length of shore. The south shore has a low sandstone face with (almost) sea caves. We are not sure what has gouged out the pseudo-caves, but it is probably ice rather than wave action since there is little wave action in this cove.
Not quite sea caves and the area was infested with stinging “no-see-ums”
Baddeck is the only city of any size on the lakes and we stopped there to do laundry and buy some provisions, including 5 pounds of fresh Mussels.
Tour boat sailing into Baddeck The marina at Baddeck
Indian Cove, Washabuck River, Bras d’Or Lakes. This is another lovely anchorage. The shoreline is reminiscent of the Slate Islands in Lake Superior. Tall pine trees with lichen dripping from the lower limbs and little dense tuffs of growth at the top – a last ditch effort to stay alive.
The eagle flew into the frame as I was shooting the photo
While we were in Baddeck we bought a large stainless steel pot in the hardware store (mainly for future lobster or crab). We discovered that none of our other pots (not even the pressure cooker) was big enough to hold 5 pounds of mussels. We cooked them all, and then ate them with gusto (actually with the steaming liquid with a butter swirl).
Little Harbour. We had a nice sail back to Baddeck, passing just as the Bras d’Or Yacht Club race started. We sailed along with the race all the way down to a navigation buoy at the Barra Strait. That was their turning point to go back to Baddeck. The boats started out under spinnaker but the northwest wind was quite shifty around points of land, and soon we were on a close reach (wind off our starboard bow) rather than a broad reach (wind off our starboard stern). Down came the spinnakers. We had winds around 15 knots. Brian was constantly adjusting our sails as the wind came aft, then moved forward, and we were able to keep up (every pass) some of the fleet. It was a great sail.
Boats to the right … boats to the left … where did that wind go
OK … who steered us into the hole???
We lowered our sails to go through the drawbridge at the Barra Strait, then hoisted them again for a close reach to the point outside this anchorage.
Barra Strait lift bridge Passing the Church at Iona just before our knockdown
The high hills around the strait caused a microburst that hit us, probably around 50 knots, for just about 10-15 seconds, but enough to bury our rail (another first for us in this boat). We discovered more things down below that need better securing for such winds.
Little Harbour has a very narrow channel into a large bay and in secure in any wind. It also has a German restaurant (Cape Breton Smokehouse) famous for its smoked salmon. Just about every boat that cruises the Bras d’Ors stops here. Not recommended.
The Smokehouse owners’60 ft sailboat used to cruise warm waters in winter … the restaurant
Crammond Islands. We motored with no wind to these islands that form a deep harbour and were purported to have abundant fish.
Trolling for the abundant fish Th ever skeptical Jane on auto-pilot
We anchored, then Brian tried finding the elusive fish without luck. During the day a number of runabouts and fishing tugs came and went, mainly from Dundee, about 5 miles away. We had never seen boats “raft” together on shore before.
Bows on shore …15 feet of water at the stern … an on-shore raft
Pringle Harbour. We anchored between the mainland and Pringle Island and watched the fog roll over the hill on the mainland from the Atlantic. The eastern sky looked like a huge grey mountain. The air is so damp the towels hanging on the lifeline became damper rather than dryer.
The fog rolls in from the ocean
In the evening one of the cottage residents who also owns a C&C 30 (30 foot sailboat) moored off the cottage, dinghied out to us to offer some June Berries (like large wild blueberries with a tinge of pink and a small soft seed, and very tasty). We invited him on board and had a great visit with him, gaining some local information about wind, fog, and other anchorages.
Cape George Harbour. We had a great sail, hard on the wind, from Pringle Island to this anchorage. We raced a trimaran we had gotten to know in Maskells Harbour and Baddeck (Honeywind). They outsailed and out-pointed us.
Honeywind on a reach … 8-10 knots in 18 knots of wind
Cape George Harbour is formed by a creek and in the morning we rowed as far as we could. There were about 5 or 6 Great Blue Herons stalking shell fish along the shore and so much fun to watch as they waded up to their bodies looking for morsels to eat.
Tropical Storm Beryl was developing in the southern U.S. as we left the lakes. Gale warnings were predicted for all the shorelines of Nova Scotia for the next day, so we decided to find a secure marina on the mainland while we still had relatively benign weather. We prepared Pilgrim for the open ocean waters; we put the dinghy on the bow and secured everything on deck and below deck. We had a bit of a delay getting through the St. Peters Lock since a boat was coming into the lakes. It turned out to be a 130-foot powerboat from the US.
Real Boaters (Sailors) – in training Rich wanabees (this one at 130 feet had a paid crew of 6)
We left the lock at 1:30. As we left the buoyed channel the south winds were 14-16 knots and the waves were about 2 feet on top of 4-foot swells. The ocean swells were another first for us. There were about 5-8 waves per swell and our decks were awash with salt spray.
Back to Atlantic conditions
The Eastern Shore (July 20 – 27):
Canso, Nova Scotia. As we entered the harbour we heard an unusual sound … a rhythmic “ting” of metal on metal. It was coming from the engine room. The support bracket of the alternator had become loose which caused the belt to loosen and allowed the alternator cooling fan to clip the engine block. We were within ¼ mile of the marina, but could not continue on. Brian ran to the bow and deployed the anchor (in 56 feet of water) and let out 100 feet of chain. The anchor caught, but we were now in 35 feet of water, and a lighthouse on a cement block was just at our stern. Luckily Brian was able to disable the alternator within about 2-3 minutes and we could haul anchor before we drifted far (if the anchor had not bit… we will never be sure). The anchor came up draped in kelp! We managed to get into the marina and secured to a dock, facing south (the likely direction the tropical storm wind). We were in 7 feet of water and the tide was going out. We took out the leadline and looked at the tide tables; we were sitting on a spongy bottom when the tide was out.
Canso was a thriving fishing town just 20 years ago, but is now a ghost of its former self. There is a pharmacy, a grocery/hardware store combined, a liquor store and a couple of restaurants.
Canso from the marina The shore line a short walk from the marina
There is also a fish processing plant and crab boats were at the wharf. To pass the time while we waited for the storms to pass, we bought snow crabs, had a feast and put some away in the freezer.
The Humane way - First wack them with an axe …rip off the claws and drop into the pot
A fine mess of crab claws cooling off
We enjoyed talking with other stranded cruisers and two young couples who have immigrated to Canada from Germany, have a boat (named Jaws)and love to fish … for sharks of course (catch and release).
Stranded cruisers heading west A shark fishing boat named Jaws
Eastbound wooden ketch waiting for a weather window A nice sunset with unfulfilled promise
Waiting for the weather to improve takes patience, which we are just learning how to acquire. When the weather is benign, but the weather forecast is not, it is hard to stay at the dock and watch the hours pass. Our first day in Canso we waited out the tropical storm Beryl, that turned out to be quite a fizzle by the time it reached our latitude. The second day high winds were predicted preceding a low from New England, but we never experienced anything over 10 knots in the harbour. The third day we were back to gale warnings and we did have winds up to 28 knots, so we were glad to be in port. The fourth day we were waiting for strong SW winds before another low approached from the south. Following the low, the winds were supposed to be from the northwest. We waited all day as the wind hardly fluttered the flags. Finally at 3:00 the wind veered to the West, so we saw that as the moment to leave.
Taylor Head Bay, Mushaboom Harbour. We left Canso at 4:15 in the afternoon, planning to make an overnight passage to an anchorage within 50 miles of Halifax. As we motored out of the harbour, past an island of curious seals, we began to feel the swell of the Atlantic. The further we got from the protective islands, the larger the swell became. The navigable waters were shallow (less than 100 feet) for almost 5 miles, so we thought we should begin to experience a more comfortable ride in deeper water. The swells and waves were about 12 feet, and very confused, tossing us around like a matchstick.
A bit of a swell kept us from getting bored
Even getting around in the cockpit required handholds. Pilgrim was traveling very well, but like a corkscrew. We unfurled a bit of Genoa for speed and steadying, which helped somewhat. It was an uncomfortable ride, and neither of us felt we could either safely heat up dinner in the galley much less eat it. There were ugly clouds over the land to the southwest, coming our way. The storm hit us at 8:00 PM. This was the low we were supposed to wait for! The rain pelted us and even came through small openings and the zippers in the front windows of our enclosure. Everything we normally keep in the cockpit (books, charts and electronics) were secured below. The wind increased to 20-28 knots (we were glad we did not have the main up and by the time the storm hit, we had the Genoa furled). The storm lasted about 15 minutes and was followed by the promised NW winds at 15 knots and a beautiful clear sky of stars and the Milky Way as well as the existing 12-18 foot waves on the nose. We motored with a partially furled Genoa and made very good time, but the wind kept pushing us further and further from shore. By 4:00 AM we found ourselves 25 miles offshore (that’s the width of Lake Ontario at Toronto). It took us 4 hours to go Northwest to get to an anchorage.
After the storm passed, a bird kept circling our boat, like a guardian angel (Greater Shearwater). During the night we saw sparkles in our wave … phosphorescent organisms in the ocean to glow in our wake … beautiful. We spelled each other off at hour intervals, but stayed in the cockpit off watch. The corkscrew motion with the height of the waves caused some new dislodgements. The worst were:
There was little else that went flying down below. We think we now have most of our gear stowed securely.
A sunrise before the fog settles in … again
At 7:00 AM Canadian destroyer (074) hailed us on the VHF radio. We are not sure if this was a training exercise, or if it was standing on guard for Canada, but they identified us as the boat at a specific latitude and longitude going a specific direction at a specific speed. They simply wanted to know who we were, where we came from and our destination.
We were challenged but not boarded by a destroyer
As we approached land under a blue sky and bright sun, we saw a grey cloud covering part of the shore … fog. When we got near the channel, the fog descended on us. The channel was not difficult and narrow, the Radar was on and the chart program was working fine so we were not overly concerned. As we entered the channel, the fog lifted (almost like our guardian angel lifting the hem of her gown) until we were safely anchored, then the fog descended again and we could not see land. The waves/swells were only 6-8 feet when we arrived, but still sent crashing breakers onto the shoreline.
Breakers as we enter (no fog) Breakers as we anchor (fog settling in again)
Minutes after we anchor the visibility drops to zero
It was 9:00 AM when we anchored. There was a gentle swell that rocked us to sleep after our all-night sail. The next morning we were in fog again and decided to stay an extra day in the anchorage when the fog did not lift by noon. We saw what appeared to be fish under our boat on the depth sounder/fish finder (so often the images have only been of jellyfish). Brian did a few casts, and within an hour we had 5 good-sized mackerel. While Brian was fishing, the shallow water alarm sounded on the depth sounder indicating we were no longer in 20 feet of water, but 8 feet. By the time we got out the lead line to investigate, we were back in 20 feet. This happened several times before we realized there were seal heads popping up around us. The mackerel were swimming under the boat and the seals were following them. When they were directly under the sonar, they looked more like a rock than a fish.
Brian’s fishing competition … we think they won
Wreck Cove, Halifax. Our third morning in Taylor Head Bay there was a dense fog again. We decided to leave, realizing most mornings there would be fog. Visibility was about 4-5 boat-lengths, and we required Radar and our GPS and charting program to get out of the harbour and on a course for Halifax. Whenever we saw anything on Radar that could have been a boat, we sounded our horn every 2 minutes. The fog was with us until 2:00 in the afternoon. We saw only one fishing boat. The best visibility we had before the fog lifted was ¼ mile. There was no wind, so we motored the 60 miles to Halifax.
What we saw of the east coast of Nova Scotia … Canso to Halifax
This fishing boat came within 2 boat-lengths …we both used radar to keep a safe distance
We anchored in a cove on McNabb Island named for the schooners that were left to rot and sink when they were no longer economically viable. As we prepared dinner we could see the fog bank coming in. It looked like a tsunami wave … a grey wall. At 9:00 PM we were enveloped in fog and could not see the shore or any city lights. If you don’t like fog, you should not have a boat in Nova Scotia.
The next day we sailed north to Bedford Basin and moored at the Dartmouth Yacht Club. It was fascinating passing the (entire?) Canadian Navy in the harbour. Older frigates and submarines were being dismantled and newer frigates, destroyers and other vessels at docks, possibly being refitted. Bulk carriers and Container ships were at docks. A huge drydock operation was painting two large commercial boats. We dodged the Halifax – Dartmouth ferry and watched the excursion boats touring the harbour.
Cruise ship at the downtown docks small gaff rigged boat owned by an airforce crew member
Double-ended, gaffed rigged schooner and a mega-yacht Citadel Hill
Bluenose at dock
The surface and submarine fleet (if the subs ever went to sea they would sink … even at 200 feet they look badly damaged from their trip across the Atlantic in a container ship … could not make the trip on their own)
This is the real Canadian Navy Dual vessel dry dock … a massive structure
Halifax in rare sunlight Royal Halifax Yacht Squadron
Dartmouth Yacht Club Our guardian Osprey
Final Dartmouth Sunset before our trip back to Toronto
We left Pilgrim on August 2 to fly back to Toronto for some time with Jane’s daughter, Amelia. She works for Save the Children in the West Bank / Gaza and underwent interrogation, detention and then deportment by Israel in July. She will not be permitted to return and is coping with getting her possessions out of Ramallah and finding a new position within Save the Children. We will be in San Francisco on August 12 for Jane’s other daughter’s wedding. We will fly back to Pilgrim, do a 3-month re-provisioning, and continue working our way down the Nova Scotia coast during the second half of August.