Canada’s Ocean Playground

Passage Maker - - Contents - Adam Lan­g­ley

Learn­ing to boat, for me, was a rite of pas­sage just like learn­ing to ride a bike. My par­ents are boaters, and many friends are, too. When you live in a place like Nova Sco­tia, a Cana­dian prov­ince that is al­most com­pletely sur­rounded by the ocean, you are never far from the wa­ter’s edge. My brother and I grew up in, on, and around the ocean; the salt wa­ter never fully rinsed off be­fore we were in it again. My first boat was a wooden row­boat named Bull Frog. A Zo­diac with a 9.9 horse­power mo­tor quickly fol­lowed, and even­tu­ally I was teach­ing my­self how to sail on a Laser, driv­ing it up the beach on down­wind runs un­til I learned how to tack.

My teen years were spent bomb­ing around in an old Bos­ton Whaler. That boat took me to undis­cov­ered beaches and small hid­den in­lets; to­gether we ex­plored Nova Sco­tia’s rugged coast­line in a way that only a beach boat and a de­ter­mined teenager could. When I wasn’t play­ing on boats I was work­ing with them as a sail­ing in­struc­tor on the Bras d’Or Lakes. Best. Sum­mer. Job. Ever.

I re­al­ize now how lucky I was to grow up in a place like Nova Sco­tia. It truly is a lim­it­less ocean playground. Now with a fam­ily of my own, I am re­dis­cov­er­ing the magic of boat­ing here through the eyes of my two chil­dren as we con­tinue to dis­cover new des­ti­na­tions and visit old fa­vorites.


Boat­ing sea­son here runs gen­er­ally be­tween May and Oc­to­ber. Prime sea­son is July through late Septem­ber, and sum­mer is tem­per­ate, with highs reach­ing the mid­dle 70s to low 80s. Nova Sco­tia, cling­ing to the rest of Canada by a nar­row isth­mus, is al­most an is­land. Coastal land­scapes vary dra­mat­i­cally across more than 4,300 miles of coast­line, which fea­ture hun­dreds of is­lands, coves, har­bors, and in­lets. The prov­ince also in­cludes an in­land sea in­side Cape Bre­ton Is­land and the warm wa­ters of the Northum­ber­land Strait. And with the pop­u­la­tion of the prov­ince just un­der one mil­lion, these des­ti­na­tions feel un­touched, though you’re never more than a short sail away from amaz­ing seafood and wine or a lo­cal brew from one of Nova Sco­tia’s more than 30 craft brew­eries.

For a for­eign yacht ar­riv­ing from the south, a good point of en­try is Yar­mouth, a jump across the Gulf of Maine near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Cana­dian cus­toms ser­vice is pro­vided here, and they will hap­pily work through your en­trance re­quire­ments. Should you wish to ex­plore the Bay of Fundy re­gion, fa­mous for the world’s high­est tides, you can find good float­ing docks and ser­vices in the Port of Digby and some of the world’s best scal­lops. The Fundy’s dra­matic tidal range is unique to the bay, and most of coastal Nova Sco­tia has very man­age­able tidal im­pacts. While in this area you are likely to en­counter abun­dant marine wildlife, in­clud­ing a va­ri­ety of whale species. For a shore ex­cur­sion, I strongly sug­gest se­cur­ing a rental car and head­ing to the An­napo­lis Val­ley, about an hour away, where you will be pleas­antly sur­prised to find a thriv­ing bou­tique wine re­gion sur­rounded by pic­turesque farm­land and or­chards.


If you pre­fer small har­bors and shel­tered is­land an­chor­ages, the South Shore of Nova Sco­tia is your place. Pic­ture New­port and Cape Cod, but with far fewer peo­ple. Once home to wooden ships and iron men, the coast is still dot­ted with fish­ing and boat­build­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Through­out the South Shore re­gion you will find quaint com­mu­ni­ties and peace­ful an­chor­ages, in­clud­ing Chester (home to Chester Race Week, the largest keel­boat re­gatta in North Amer­ica), Ma­hone Bay, Hub­bards, the fa­mous Shore Club, and St. Mar­garet’s Bay. Not to men­tion the al­most in­nu­mer­able, un­in­hab­ited is­lands along the way.

A must-visit port of call is Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Her­itage Site and home to the fa­mous schooner Bluenose and its replica Bluenose II. The Fish­eries Mu­seum of the At­lantic is also worth a visit. The culi­nary scene here is among the best in Nova Sco­tia, and work is un­der­way to en­hance ser­vices for vis­it­ing boaters and pro­vide bet­ter ac­cess to the his­toric town cen­ter. The town has many lo­cal marine trades, with a proud ship­build­ing tra­di­tion. For cruis­ers in need, Lunenburg is also a good place for haul-out ser­vices.


The cap­i­tal of Nova Sco­tia, Hal­i­fax has a long mar­itime his­tory and is home to Canada’s east coast navy base. The city’s his­toric water­front has been trans­formed with me­an­der­ing pub­lic board­walks and fixed piers with float­ing docks and marine ser­vices for vis­it­ing boats. At the water­front ma­rina, you are in the cen­ter of it all. Pubs, res­tau­rants, mu­se­ums, his­toric sites, gal­leries, and mar­kets are all within walk­ing dis­tance of your boat. But if you pre­fer to be out of the spot­light, there are other mari­nas in the har­bor, in­clud­ing the Royal Nova Sco­tia Yacht Squadron. Founded in 1837, it is the old­est yacht club in North Amer­ica. If you’re in Hal­i­fax, stop by and say hello to our friendly team at Water­front De­vel­op­ment. We man­age the Hal­i­fax Water­front Ma­rina and are al­ways happy to as­sist in get­ting you set­tled, whether you pre­fer to be close to the ac­tion down­town or in a more se­cluded slip.

My fam­ily’s fa­vorite Hal­i­fax Har­bour des­ti­na­tion is McNabs Is­land. Great for a daytrip, the is­land has his­toric forts, hik­ing trails, and great beaches. De­pend­ing on the wind, you can en­joy a shel­tered an­chor­age off Maugher’s Beach on the west side of the is­land or Wreck Cove on the east side. Or take a voy­age up the North­west Arm to ex­pe­ri­ence many of Hal­i­fax’s stately man­sions lo­cated along the shore­line.


Not far from Hal­i­fax is a col­lec­tion of is­lands stretch­ing nearly 20 miles along the East­ern Shore of Nova Sco­tia. Known as the 100 Wild Is­lands, this un­touched ar­chi­pel­ago was re­cently granted pro­tec­tive sta­tus by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment as a wilder­ness pre­serve. Here you will find re­mote an­chor­ages, white sand beaches, and abun­dant wildlife. A lit­tle far­ther along the East­ern Shore is the Lis­combe River, which leads you to a rus­tic lodge and ma­rina. The river is a beau­ti­ful run with a well-marked chan­nel pro­vid­ing a unique in­land ex­pe­ri­ence on the rugged and wild East­ern Shore.


The spec­tac­u­lar Bras d’Or Lakes (trans­lated means, “arm of gold”), a des­ig­nated UNESCO Bio­sphere Re­serve, welcome you to Cape Bre­ton Is­land. The lakes, with over 600 miles of coast­line, are said to be as deep as the sur­round­ing moun­tains are high. From the east, en­ter through his­toric St. Peter’s Canal, where you will find the vil­lage and ma­rina of St. Peter’s, or from the north through the Great Bras d’Or Chan­nel. The vil­lage of Bad­deck is the largest com­mu­nity on the lakes and a strate­gic des­ti­na­tion for ex­plor­ing in­land. Once the sum­mer re­treat of in­ven­tor Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell, the vil­lage has ev­ery­thing you need to re­stock for the next leg of your jour­ney. This is an­other place you’ll want to ar­range for a car so you can ex­pe­ri­ence the Cabot Trail, one of North Amer­ica’s most scenic drives. Much of my ado­les­cence was spent ex­plor­ing the many nooks and cran­nies of these lakes, and I look for­ward to re­turn­ing each sum­mer to visit my fam­ily in Bad­deck and con­tinue ex­plor­ing these brack­ish wa­ters that ex­pe­ri­ence lit­tle to no tide or fog.


My ear­li­est boat­ing mem­o­ries are of the Northum­ber­land Strait, be­tween Nova Sco­tia and the neigh­bor­ing prov­ince of Prince

Ed­ward Is­land. The strait is said to have the warmest wa­ters north of the Caroli­nas, and I def­i­nitely have a soft spot for this place. Here a day on the wa­ter is usu­ally fol­lowed by a bar­be­cue with lo­cal fa­vorites fresh from the sea and typ­i­cally ends with a spec­tac­u­lar sun­set fol­lowed by a beach bon­fire un­der a star-filled sky. This is a great area for day-trip­ping, break­ing out the ten­der, kayak­ing, or stand-up pad­dle­board­ing. The beaches around Melmerby, Black Point, and Chance Har­bor feel like a re­sort, es­pe­cially in peak sum­mer, but with­out large crowds. Close by is my fa­vorite place, Pic­tou Is­land. This small is­land, which rests about four miles off the coast, is home to only a hand­ful of year-round res­i­dents and sees vis­i­tors only in­fre­quently. With fa­vor­able sea con­di­tions, you can an­chor off a breath­tak­ing beach and sand­bar on the south side or an equally beau­ti­ful beach on the north side of the is­land. (The wind di­rec­tion of the day will help you with this tough de­ci­sion.) While round­ing the north­east end of the is­land you will likely be en­ter­tained by the res­i­dent seal colony. If you want to stay the night in this area, scoot back to the main­land coast. A good an­chor­age can be found in Merigomish Har­bour, and marine ser­vices are avail­able in Pic­tou Har­bour; both des­ti­na­tions are close. Prince Ed­ward Is­land is also a short mo­tor away.

The big­gest mis­take made by vis­i­tors to Nova Sco­tia is not bud­get­ing enough time for their stay. These are just a few of Nova Sco­tia’s se­crets—I rec­om­mend you re­search your visit care­fully.


Visit www.novi­as­co­­ing to get started on your boat­ing itin­er­ary in Nova Sco­tia.

Adam Lan­g­ley is the Di­rec­tor of Op­er­a­tions with Water­front De­vel­op­ment, an or­ga­ni­za­tion de­voted to guid­ing the strate­gic po­ten­tial of wa­ter­fronts and their re­spec­tive mari­nas in Nova Sco­tia. Fol­low his Nova Sco­tia boat­ing ad­ven­tures on In­sta­gram:

Above: Lan­g­ley Boat Bums in front of au­thor’s par­ents’ home, Bad­deck, NS (Adam, Gray, Amanda, and Elle)

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