THE LAKE EF­FECT

A Maine-based crew finds ad­ven­ture and makes new friends on a voy­age to Nova Sco­tia’s Bras d’Or Lake

SAIL - - Contents - BY DAVID SHORT

Years af­ter weath­er­ing two hur­ri­canes in Nova Sco­tia, David Short and crew make a re­turn trip to this sto­ried cruis­ing ground

Ihave rarely had a cruise that wasn’t dif­fer­ent from my ex­pec­ta­tions, and my Nova Sco­tia trav­els have borne that out. For my friend and ship­mate, Steve White, and me, our 2017 trip to Cape Bre­ton Is­land and the Bras d’Or Lake on One Timer, my Sabre 362, was a much an­tic­i­pated re­turn to Nova Sco­tia. On our pre­vi­ous trip, in 2009, we’d had to take shel­ter from two hur­ri­canes—Bill and Danny.

Both, for­tu­nately trop­i­cal storms by the time they found us, fol­lowed the same path over Nova Sco­tia on suc­ces­sive week­ends, a level of storm ac­tiv­ity without prece­dent. The re­sult was a lot of port time, tied to a wharf up the LeHave River in Bridge­wa­ter for Bill, and along­side the fish­ing boats in Woods Har­bour for Danny.

What drew us back last year, more than any­thing else, was the warmth and gen­eros­ity of the Nova Sco­tian peo­ple. In 2009, folks in Bridge­wa­ter came by the wharf to make sure we were OK and give us rides into town to do our shop­ping. In Woods Har­bor, the owner of the fish pro­cess­ing plant drove Steve up to the Coop where you need a spe­cial card to buy diesel, filled our two jugs and then re­fused pay­ment. He later in­vited us to use the shower in his house.

An­other friend, Chuck Bellinger, joined us for the east­bound por­tion of the trip, and time con­straints meant we had sched­uled just over three weeks for the en­tire cruise, al­though six weeks would have been ideal. Days un­der way were eight to 10 hours, cov­er­ing 40-60 miles, un­til we got to Hal­i­fax.

Along the Maine coast, many cruis­ers get to Mt. Desert Is­land and go no far­ther. Sim­i­larly, in Nova Sco­tia many stick to the south shore, west of Hal­i­fax and east of Cape Sable. In both cases, how­ever, many of the most in­ter­est­ing ar­eas to ex­plore are far­ther east, es­pe­cially if you’re par­tial to less de­vel­op­ment and hav­ing anchorages to your­self. In part it was weather that had us in this stretch longer than the oth­ers, but per­haps it was also good luck.

Our in­tro­duc­tion to Nova Sco­tia’s eastern shore was in Three Fathom Har­bor, about 10 miles east of Hal­i­fax. Work­ing with 10- to 20-year-old in­for­ma­tion from our cruis­ing guides, we nosed into this tiny port and headed for the an­chor­age north of the government wharf that, as ex­plained to us later by a lo­cal, was com­pletely silted in due to a re­cent project that al­tered the wa­ter flow. As my depth alarm sounded and the dis­play told me we had a foot less wa­ter than than my draft, we cir­cled around and likely plowed our way back through the silty mud to tie along­side Knot-T-Boys, a hal­ibut boat at the end of the wharf where we spent a peace­ful evening.

The fol­low­ing day dawned bright and clear. The fore­cast north­west­erly came in as a light south­west­erly on our tail, and we made 48 miles, sail­ing wing-and-wing, to an­chor above Har­bor Is­land where we took in a beau­ti­ful sun­set that was matched by the sun ris­ing out of the North At­lantic the fol­low­ing morn­ing. The next cou­ple of bright, sunny and mostly light-wind days took us to St. Peter’s Canal, the south­ern en­trance to Bras d’Or Lake, an in­land sea in the cen­ter of Cape Bre­ton Is­land. Part fresh­wa­ter, part salt, the lake is over 100 miles long and con­nected to the At­lantic by sev­eral chan­nels.

St. Peter’s Canal has a sin­gle tidal lock and a bas­cule bridge. The height

dif­fer­en­tial is about 4ft 6in, de­pend­ing on the tides. Pas­sage through the quar­ter-mile canal is on re­quest, as long as there is no op­pos­ing traf­fic en­route. Af­ter lock­ing you through, the lock­mas­ter hops in his pickup truck and drives around to the bridge, stops traf­fic, swings the bridge and sends word back for you to pro­ceed. Sim­i­larly, the Barra Straight draw­bridge, be­tween Great and Lit­tle Bras d’Or, opens on re­quest. These bridges are on two of the three cross-is­land routes, but there is no hes­i­ta­tion to stop traf­fic for vis­it­ing sailors.

The wa­ter tem­per­a­ture had now climbed from about 55F to 68F as we pro­gressed from the Gulf of Maine east­ward along the coast to Canso, a pleas­ant sur­prise in­deed. On the lake, wa­ter tem­per­a­ture was in the 72F range. The lack of shore­side show­ers proved no prob­lem, as bathing off the tran­som and a fresh­wa­ter rinse with the cock­pit wand did the trick. At the Cram­mond Is­lands, we had to spot for one an­other as the red jel­ly­fish were also en­joy­ing the wa­ter.

Our Bras d’Or ex­pe­ri­ence ranged from a flat calm on our sunny and warm first day to a sporty reach across a short while af­ter that un­der a dou­blereefed genoa in 25-30 knots from the north­west, plow­ing through a short steep chop and dodg­ing rain show­ers. The lake re­minded me of the Fin­ger Lakes in Up­state New York, with high hills rolling down to the wa­ter’s edge, ex­cept it was mostly forested and with fewer farms than you might ex­pect.

Why­co­co­magh Bay is a west­ern arm of the lake, into which we sailed in a 15-20 knot west wind: tack­ing down the bay and then re­turn­ing on a down­wind sleigh ride to an­chor in Camp­bell’s Cove off the Washabuck River, watched over by a large bald ea­gle, the first of many.

We also ob­served blue herons in most of the qui­eter anchorages, in­clud­ing one in Cape Ge­orge Har­bor, our last stop on the lake. The lat­ter we even saw spear some break­fast along the shore be­fore mov­ing up to perch high on a tree­top. In ad­di­tion, we saw lots of seals and a few por­poises, but only one whale on our ini­tial trip over from Maine.

Our re­turn home started with a visit to White­head Har­bor, where we stayed for three days wait­ing out a nasty south­east­erly blow be­fore con­tin­u­ing on down to the Lis­comb River through a still-sloppy sea. Roughly half­way along the Eastern Shore we took refuge at the Lis­comb Lodge, where we spent a windy, rainy day show­er­ing, laun­der­ing, wa­ter­ing, ic­ing and fu­el­ing. The dock was small, and the two boats tied up left no room for fu­el­ing, so we an­chored down­river and dinghied over the fuel and wa­ter.

The fol­low­ing day, with the wind still blow­ing and the seas kick­ing up, we tucked around Lis­comb Point to take ad­van­tage of the In­land Pas­sage

as we headed back west. This is a 20-mile stretch among the is­lands, largely shel­tered from the open wa­ter, which al­lowed our west­ward progress in fa­vor­able con­di­tions with great scenery. Af­ter that we ex­ited the pas­sage and crossed some open wa­ter past Tay­lor’s Head in the af­ter­noon to reach Shel­ter Cove south of Pope’s Har­bor and an­other great soli­tary an­chor­age. Next day we mo­tored over large rollers in calm con­di­tions, west­ward to­ward Hal­i­fax, en­joy­ing a cou­ple of hours sail­ing as well.

Ar­riv­ing in Hal­i­fax, the con­trast from a de­serted Eastern Shore an­chor­age to berthing at Mu­seum Wharf down­town couldn’t have been greater. Or more fun, since we hap­pened to be there on a Satur­day night—and a warm early Septem­ber one at that, so that the water­front was alive with strollers and tourists. Af­ter a bit of a walk­a­bout, we sat on deck eat­ing sup­per from some lo­cal food ven­dors, oc­ca­sion­ally chat­ting with passersby. Steve and Rick got sen­si­ble lob­ster rolls, but I had to try “don­air meat,” some­thing we first saw on the menu in Cape Bre­ton. Con­sist­ing of shaved steak with toma­toes, onions and don­air sauce, it came from a shack that spe­cial­ized in pou­tine, a Cana­dian spe­cialty in­volv­ing French fries, cheese curds and gravy. It was OK, though not some­thing I’d fly back to Hal­i­fax for. On a more pos­i­tive note, our meals were all washed down with one of Nova Sco­tia’s bet­ter sur­prises, Alexan­der Keith’s IPA. I have yet to be tempted by pou­tine.

Later, Rick Chan­dler, our west­bound crew­mate, and Steve were kept awake un­til 0200 by the party boat tied up be­hind us, al­though I re­mained obliv­i­ous and slept through it all. It was all I could do to keep them from blast­ing the fog horn as we de­parted first thing the next morn­ing.

The government’s pres­ence on the water­front seems to be a dou­ble-edged sword. On the one hand even the small­est of har­bors with just a few fish­ing boats have sub­stan­tial wharves and break­wa­ters built and main­tained by the government. The same is true of Hal­i­fax where the wharves are built and op­er­ated the government.

How­ever, Nova Sco­tians are quick to point to government in­ep­ti­tude, even more so than in the States. Dur­ing our stop in Lunen­burg, for ex­am­ple, one of the few har­bors pur­port­ing to of­fer yacht ser­vices, we were look­ing for­ward to show­ers, a pumpout and top­ping up the wa­ter tanks. Then Doug at the Boat Locker, one of whose moor­ings we picked up for the night, ex­plained that the government-owned show­ers had gone out of com­mis­sion ear­lier that sum­mer, two weeks be­fore a tall-ships event and had sim­ply been shut­tered af­ter that rather than re­paired.

The dock with the pumpout and fresh­wa­ter was also in­ac­ces­si­ble be­cause the har­bor author­ity had rented the whole dock for the sum­mer to a lo­cal de­vel­oper with a large yacht, and he wouldn’t al­low any­one else to use it. Luck­ily, we man­aged to top up our tanks from a tap out­side the mu­seum restau­rant, in­stalled by the owner for this very pur­pose, us­ing our col­lapsi­ble jugs.

I have also found Cana­dian nav­i­ga­tion buoys cu­ri­ous. They vary a fair bit in size, with lit­tle ap­par­ent rhyme or rea­son. I find this es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing given that this is a coast known for fog and heavy weather that many of the cans and nuns are no big­ger than a 5 gal bucket and don’t show up too well on radar. Of­ten, they are sim­ply not there, though marked on the light list and up­dated charts.

From Hal­i­fax we headed out around Sam­bro Head and sailed west across St. Mary’s and Ma­hone Bays, es­cap­ing rain show­ers fore and aft, to the LeHave Is­lands. Up the False LeHave we went and then on into Folly Chan­nel, a tight lit­tle an­chor­age be­tween Coveys and Hir­tle Is­lands. It is sit­u­ated such that it would have pro­vided good shel­ter from the fore­cast 25-knot north­west­erly blow that didn’t ac­tu­ally ma­te­ri­al­ize while we were there. Our bug screens proved handy here as the “mossies” did not hes­i­tate as the sun re­tired over Coveys Is­land.

Up and away by 0800, we had a great beam reach in a 15-20 knot north­west­erly down to Lock­e­port, 50 miles away, the same place where we had cleared in on the way up, less out of the way than the more pop­u­lar Shel­burne, but lack­ing show­ers or dock­side fuel. While there, Steve called a lo­cal ser­vice sta­tion whose owner drove down af­ter hours, made two trips with jer­rycans to fill us up and re­fused any­thing more than the cost of the fuel. Again, the best rea­son to visit Nova Sco­tia is the peo­ple.

It was here, af­ter clear­ing in, that we also spent a day wait­ing out the weather in the com­pany of a cou­ple of in­ter­est­ing boats. The first, An­droméde, a 41ft steel ketch set up for dis­tance cruis­ing, was be­ing pi­loted by Julien, Nina and their two young chil­dren. They were Hal­i­fax-based where Julien worked as a ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist pri­mar­ily en­gaged in mon­i­tor­ing off­shore min­eral ex­trac­tion com­pa­nies. They were headed off­shore, hop­ing to ob­serve some whales and pre­pare their kids for pos­si­ble dis­tance cruis­ing.

The other was crewed by a pair of 20-some­things who had quit their tech jobs to get a taste of free­dom while they still could. They were sail­ing a ‘60s vin­tage Cal 40, largely as orig­i­nally equipped. They had spent much of the sum­mer ex­plor­ing the Maine coast, had come across to Nova Sco­tia a few weeks be­fore and were now headed south. We re­garded these fel­lows with more than a bit of jeal­ousy.

From Lock­e­port, we mo­tored around Cape Sable with a clear view of the light­house so many never see due to fog. A fa­vor­able south­west­erly then came up and car­ried us up to Pub­nico, a crowded fish­ing har­bor on the south­west coast, where we tied to a lob­ster boat with clear decks due to it be­ing the off sea­son on that part of the coast. The fleets are a lot larger and more ac­tive here, as the cooler wa­ters and the large Fundy tidal range yield big­ger catches. We had a de­li­cious sup­per of just-off-the-boat had­dock and scal­lops at the Den­nis Point Cafe and re­tired to a peace­ful night.

In the morn­ing, tim­ing our home­ward de­par­ture back across the Gulf of Maine to avoid the ubiq­ui­tous lob­ster traps in the dark, we watched a cou­ple of boats un­load­ing and sort­ing their had­dock catch from Ge­orges Bank. Off at 1100, we mo­tored out through the Tus­ket Is­lands rid­ing 4.5 knots of (for­tu­nately) fa­vor­able Fundy tidal cur­rent. At one point we got up to 10.5 knots over the ground in the roil­ing wa­ters fun­nel­ing be­tween the is­lands. As we came onto a course of 305 de­grees for Great Duck Is­land, south of our home on Mt. Desert Is­land, the south­west­erly filled in at 10 knots, giv­ing us a close reach overnight, with the sun set­ting off the bow, lots of stars over­head and a cres­cent of moon ris­ing off the star­board quar­ter at mid­night.

The breeze waned at 0400, which was timely as we scraped along a cou­ple of lob­ster buoys with nav­i­ga­ble light still 90 min­utes off. With the ar­rival of civil twi­light, vis­i­bil­ity was suf­fi­cient to fire up the Wester­beke and mo­tor on into Blue Hill Bay, where we tied up to the Bartlett’s Land­ing dock at 0930 af­ter 25 days and 1,058 miles of sail­ing in all kinds of con­di­tions and meet­ing lots of great peo­ple. s

closed his ar­chi­tec­tural wood­work­ing busi­ness to con­cen­trate on more im­por­tant things, like sail­ing. He lives in Amherst, Mas­sachusetts and sails out of Mt Desert, Maine.

The rugged beauty of Nor­way’s Har­dan­ger­fjord left a last­ing im­pres­sion

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