Monthly Archives: September 2016

Cape Breton and the Bras d’Or Lakes

Wednesday, August 24th:  after a late start (Moray didn’t get back to the boat until 2am, after 36 hours of travelling), we took a walk to Downtown Halifax, so that Moray could see some of the sights.  We spent several hours at the Citadel, which is the original fortification and barracks for the Scots Guardsmen of the town.  The Citadel is very well preserved, and there are several exhibits inside, showing the history of the barracks and all the wars the Halifax soldiers have been involved in.  There is even a reconstruction of the World War I trenches which you can walk through.  The tour guides are all in costume, and are knowledgeable and entertaining.  But the highlight of the tour has to be the demonstrations of musket and cannon firing!  All in all, a great place to visit.


Musket firing by guards who wear the MacKenzie tartan since the regimen was raised by the Head of the Clan

Thursday, August 25th:  after preparing the boat, and re-fueling, we said farewell to Halifax and started an overnight trip to St. Peter’s Canal, the entrance to the Bras d’Or Lakes.  Our dock neighbors in Kemah, Philip & Sharon, know the area very well and had recommended it to us.  They had also given us a great Cruising Guide which covered just about every spot we could hope to visit in the Lakes!  The weather was great and we had a stiff breeze so we managed to sail the whole way, which was wonderful.  We arrived at St. Peter’s Canal at around 6pm, only to find that, due to budget cuts, it closes at 4pm every day.  That wasn’t a problem, as there is a long dock you can tie to, while waiting for the locks to open.  So we did that and settled in for a relaxing evening.


the approach to St. Peter’s canal where we tied up for the evening

Saturday, August 27th:  At 8am we were up and ready for the lock to open, as was one other boat that had waited at the dock the night before.  The lock keeper opened the gates and we both went in.  Once the water had risen, and the lock gates were opened, we had to wait so that the lock keeper could drive to the swing bridge to open that also.  Once we got the signal, we left the canal and headed the short distance round to St. Peter’s Harbor, where we going to anchor for the night.  The Harbor has laundry facilities, wonderful showers and internet access, so we made full use of all of that, getting weather forecasts etc.  Then we headed back to the boat where we were visited by the fisheries guys.  They wanted to ensure that we knew all the regulations for keeping the Lakes clean, but also to welcome us to the Bras D’Or.  One of them regaled us with various stories, including the reason why there are no skunk or porcupine in the Bras D’Or.  It has something to do with a Shaman curse on a porcupine stopping it crossing over the peninsula….. don’t ask 🙂

Shortly after they left, the RCMP showed up to check our cruising permit and to again, ensure that we knew what the rules were for keeping the Lake clean.  After a short conversation, they were on their way.  Once they had left, we headed back to shore for a walk around the town.  First of all, we walked back down to the Canal, where we chatted with the lock keeper for a while.  It turns out they are in the process of building a new swing bridge that is 2 lane so they can keep traffic moving in both directions while the bridge is closed.  We then headed back into the town for a drink and to buy a few groceries before going back to Sol Purpose to eat dinner in the cockpit, while watching the deer grazing on the side of the lake.  Wonderful!


Sol Purpose at anchor in St. Peter’s harbor

Sunday, August 28th:  mid-morning, we left St. Peter’s Harbor and headed towards Marble Mountain, enjoying the amazing scenery all the way.  We arrived at about 3pm, and anchored in a sheltered quiet little cove called Clark’s Cove.  There was a sandbar nearby, and several boats had pulled up onto it.  There were people enjoying the water and gathering mussels.  It looked like they were walking on water…


We went for a swim around the boat.  The water was not exactly warm, but not unbearable and it was so nice to swim.  Afterwards we took the dinghy to explore the cove, and found a shallow spot with hundreds of mussels.  Moray gathered lots, and we brought them back to the boat, where he cleaned them.  I made a broth and cooked the mussels, which, along with some fresh bread from the co-op in S. Peter’s, made a wonderful dinner.

Monday, August 29th:  we awoke to pouring rain, so we decided to just stay put for a while until it cleared.  Our next planned stop was only an hour away so there was no need to rush.  At around 4:30 we set off, arriving at Little Harbor about an hour later.  There is a narrow entrance to Little Harbor, but then it opens out into a huge sheltered cove, surrounded by amazing trees.  We had come here on the recommendation of the Cruising Guide and the lock keeper, to try out the Cape Breton Smokehouse restaurant, so we anchored as close to the restaurant as possible.  There were two other boats in the cove, but as there was room for more than 60 boats, it was not at all crowded!  After calling to check that the restaurant was open, we took the dinghy over to the restaurant’s dinghy dock and headed up the path.  The restaurant is in a beautiful log cabin, on a hillside overlooking the cove.  As it was coming to the end of the season, we were the only diners at that time, and so we had the best table in the house – at a huge picture window, looking out on to the water.  The menu was small, but the food was superb.  And we had a great conversation with our hostess, who is the owner of the restaurant.  She and her husband are German-born, but moved to Cape Breton, and built the restaurant, which is also their summer home.  After the season is over, they take their sailboat, Nessie (which was one of the other two anchored in the cove) and travel to the Caribbean!

Tuesday, August 30th: mid-morning, after I was treated to a birthday breakfast in bed, we set off on the 5 hour trip through the Barra Strait into the Northern Bra D’Or Lake, and to the town of Baddeck.  As soon as we left the cove, Moray realized that there was something wrong with the alternator, so we turned back into the protection of the cove, switched off the motor, and drifted around for 30 minutes, while Moray re-wired the alternator where a fed wire had broken due to vibration (one more thing to add to the project list in Ne Bern as the fix is only temporary).  That fixed, we re-started our journey.  On arrival at Baddeck, we found a great spot to anchor and got settled in.  While I took the opportunity to read for a while, Moray took the dinghy to investigate further up Baddeck Bay where there clipper Yankee sunk at anchor.  You should be able to see from the surface, if the conditions are right.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those days, but he got a chance to go speeding around in the dinghy without me begging him to slow down!

Dinner was Mac and Cheese, a la Moray, for a treat…


ham, onion, mushrooms and three cheeses… decadence.

Wednesday, August 31st:  we spent the day sightseeing around the town,  The highlight was the Alexander Graham Bell Museum.  We discovered that there was so much more to AG Bell than the invention of the telephone, as if that wasn’t enough!  He had made Baddeck his home, and it was there, with his wife, family and friends, that he studied flight, water speed, animal husbandry and genetics, amongst other things.  He was a great philanthropist too.  It took several hours to do the museum justice.  I was very impressed.  After that, we stopped in at the Yacht Club for a drink, where we met Rick and Sandra Norton.  They were travelling round Canada in their RV and had so many wonderful stories to tell.  They were planning to spend the following day driving the John Cabot Trail, which goes round the north end of Cape Breton, through the National Park.  They asked if we would like to join them.  We don’t often get to see anything other than the coastline, so we took them up on the offer.

Thursday, September 1st:  at 8am we met Rick and Sandra on the dock, and set off on the John Cabot Trail.  The weather wasn’t wonderful, but we had great company and saw lots of wonderful sights.  At one spot, we stopped and walked up to a waterfall.  At another, we looked around a Scottish shepherd’s hut, called a shieling, which had been built to commemorate the Scottish ancestry of a large proportion of the population.  We also took a walk through a huge forest of sugar maple trees – stunning!  After stopping for an early dinner, we headed back to Baddeck, crossing over a waterway on an old cable ferry!  On arrival back in the town we found that the main road had been closed for a street festival, with craft vendors, food vendors, a couple of bands and some street entertainers.  It was a nice end to our stay there.  Thank you so much to Rick and Sandra for their generosity in spending part of their vacation with us.

Friday, September 2nd:  we set out from Baddeck, heading for St. Peter’s Canal.  We had heard that the weather was beginning to change so it seemed that this would be a good time to start heading back towards Maine.  We pulled into the fuel dock at St. Peter’s Harbor to refuel and to use the internet to get the weather forecast.  It looked as though there were going to be storms that evening, so we decided to go through the canal and then tie up to wait the weather out before leaving for Halifax.  The passage into the lock was hairy for a while as the winds were very strong, but we managed to get Sol Purpose tied off and safely through the lock, where we docked and waited for the morning.

Saturday, September 3rd – Sunday, September 4th:  we had planned to sail overnight to Halifax, but the winds were so good we managed to make good headway, and changed our plan to continue on to Lunenburg.  We anchored in the harbor and spent the evening playing Yahtzee with the world’s smallest dice and scorecards!  Thanks, Mum, for a great birthday gift – waterproof and tiny – just what is needed on a boat!


Monday, September 5th – Wednesday, September 7th:  rather than spend a couple of days getting to Yarmouth, taking the shorter crossing over to Bar Harbor, and then a few days to get to Portland, we decided to take the longer crossing directly from Lunenburg over to Portland, ME,  a distance of about 300 miles.  We anticipated that, given the predicted winds and weather, the trip would take about 50 hours, which would be fine.  As usual, the winds we saw didn’t quite match up to the forecast numbers, and so that, combined with the currents around the Bay of Fundy, and the fact that our fuel wouldn’t be sufficient to motor all the way, meant that we would be under sail, however slow the progress, for some of the journey.  So long as we had sufficient fuel to motor safely into the busy port of Portland, the time taken to make the crossing wasn’t too important.  In fact, dodging lobster pots when we came back into Maine waters would be a lot less important if the motor weren’t running!  So we started a slow, but actually peaceful and enjoyable sail back to Portland.  On a couple of occasions, the progress was so slow that we had to turn the engine on for safety’s sake, but otherwise, it was a pleasant.

While we were looking forward to getting back to the USA, the crossing was bittersweet.  We had an amazing time in Nova Scotia. The scenery was stunning, the towns were boater-friendly and above all, the people were fantastic – so welcoming and friendly.  We were given rides when we needed the, guided tours, and even the cars stop to let you cross!!!!  That plus no lobster pots till November… bliss!

During the passage, we took stock of what we had on board and realized that we had a lot of fresh produce, which can’t be brought back into the country.  So Customs and Border Patrol, or CBP, Stew was born – a 5lb bag of potatoes, chopped; two onions, chopped; a few carrots, chopped;  a large can of sweetcorn and peppers; a can of mushrooms; a little flour and butter; stock; wine – all put in the pressure cooker and cooked for 15 minutes!  Yum!

The other “treat” was that we heated up some soup and put it in the thermos flask, so that we could have a hot drink when we were alone on watch at night.  Delicious and comforting!

What we were not able to do, however, was plan the arrival time into Portland, so of course we arrived at night!  Rather than try to cross over the harbor, tired, in the dark and unsure of our fuel level, we decided to anchor just before reaching the harbor in Simonton Cove.  We dropped the anchor, but couldn’t get it to set, so started to raise it to try again, when we realized we were caught on a line.  Moray managed to free us, but by now the fog was setting in!  We decided to just grab one of the private mooring balls so that we would be safe for the night.  We checked the diesel level and found that we had come in perfectly on fumes 🙂


That done, we raised the yellow quarantine flag and settled down to get a few hours of sleep before an early start the next morning.

Thursday, September 8th:  we got up early to get to the Spring Point Marina Fuel Dock just round the corner from Simonton Cove when it opened at 8am.  Having filled up with fuel, we headed over to the Portland Yacht Service slip which we had reserved.  PYS offer a great service to boats which are coming into the US and need to clear customs – one free night at a slip, with electricity and water.  We took up the offer and one additional night so that we would have a couple of days to relax.

Once Tom, the dockmaster, had us safely tied off, Moray called the Customs and Border Patrol.  They arrived about 30 minutes later, asked us a few questions, checked our passports and then welcomed us back to the US!  Yellow flag down, and we were free to leave the boat.  After a couple of hours relaxing in front of the TV(!) we headed into town for a drink at the Porthole, and dinner at Hi Bombay, before having an early night.

Friday, September 9th:  while doing various chores during the day, we discovered that of the 6 crew members of the three boats on the transient dock, 5 were British and 4 had ties to my home town of Bristol!  So that evening, all 6 of us were sat in the cockpit of Sol Purpose, exchanging sailing stories, Bristol memories and generally, chatting away!  Thanks Brad for the bottle of 20yr old Plantation Rum, which made the small party go even better!  Thanks also, to Tino and Lisa, of Sweet Emotion and Roger and Nick of Iona.  Turns out the Roger is an author and he very kindly gave us a copy of one of his books “a girl from Zanzibar” which Moray is currently reading. We hope to meet up with you again in the Caribbean, and Nick – we need to know how the visit went 😉

Saturday, September 10th:  the journey south started in earnest, when we said goodbye to Portland and Maine and headed for the Isles of Shoals, NH.  We arrived just at sunset and took a mooring ball for the night.

Sunday, September 11th:  we headed out from the Isles of Shoals, towards Gloucester, MA.  We had a little scary moment when we were caught in a squall, when the winds doubled in strength and veered through 180 degrees, but it was soon over and the boat under control, with us continuing on our way with only minor damage to the jib which we would later repair with our Sailrite machine on the deck of the boat in Gloucester.  We arrived in Gloucester at about 3:30pm, and marveled at how large the approach and the harbor were when not shrouded in fog!  We’ll be here for a few days, as it looks as though there may be some thunderstorms coming, but then we will continue south – next stop Boston, MA.