Trip to the Bras D’or Lakes

July trip to the Bras D’or Lakes, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Originally, the trip was scheduled to be taken the first two weeks of August, 2005.  My work slowed down a lot, and Mary Beth had a flexible vacation schedule, so it was time to go!  We set the date for Saturday July 2 to cast off.

I went to the boat on Friday, July 1 and installed the new opening Beckson window in the head, put a new connector on the attached VHF, put a new spark plug wire on the motor (all four were worn, but only one fell apart in my hands), and tightened up the alternator belt, and purchased a spare.  (who’d believe it, all the problems I had with the batteries last year were due to a loose alternator belt).

Now, MB and I have decided we are only going to cruise (without heeling more than 12 degrees), not race.  I agreed to this readily, for without it, she wouldn’t come.  It is going to be an enjoyable trip, and a lot of fun.  It was to be a learning experience, learning how to anchor, and learning to live within 30 feet of each other for an extended period.  To help accomplish this, I put the 90% headsail up instead of the 135 Genoa.  With the headsail of 90%, and a reefed mainsail, I should still be able to make 6 knots in any type of wind, except really light.

MB of course, wanted to know that the exhaust had been completely repaired and would never break again, spark plug problems were a thing of the past.  I assured her it was so.

Saturday it rained.  Hard. The wind blew.  Hard.  I am determined to make sure she enjoys this trip, so, we delay until Sunday.

Sunday morning, we loaded up the vehicle, and drove to the boat.  We packed, filled the water tanks, and off we went.  MB wanted me to take spare gas, so I brought the tank, I didn’t fill it up though, we could do that our first stop.  She wanted to know if the main tank was full, I told her I wasn’t sure, and it didn’t matter.  We are going sailing, not motoring.  They were calling for 15 – 20 knot winds, slowing to 10 – 15 in the afternoon, then light overnight.  We sailed to the bridge on a beam reach, traveling 6 knots, it was a beautiful day.  Then at the bridge, as always, the winds get a little screwy, and the currents are quite strong.  If I can’t get on a nice run, I will start the motor to go by the bridge, I’m not a purist!

We lost our wind, so I started the motor, went by the bridge, and then starting sailing again.  Or, as MB and I have begun to call it, bobbing (we have decided to call anything less than 3 knots bobbing).  When she suggested we motor instead of bob, I of course was too embarrassed to tell her I wasn’t sure if we had enough gas.

After several hours of bobbing (hey, we did move closer to our destination), I gave up and started the motor, fingers crossed all the way to Charlottetown.  Everything worked great, it was a sunny, hot day, the cold beer tasted good when we arrived (ha, I DID have enough gas, although, there was a funny black streak behind the boat).

We went to Charlottetown for 2 reasons:

  1. The radar cable was cut to run through the mast, and I wanted a professional to solder on a proper connector.  I needed to run the cable back to the cockpit wall, so I had purchased a new cable (to attach to the cable coming through the mast) and an inline connector (one side only, the other side was on the other half of the cut cable).  There are ten little wires, needing to be soldered to a tiny connector.  Best left to professionals, I know my limitations.  One thing, somehow, we lost the connector, so I called Garmin to get another, and they didn’t sell them anymore, but gave me the name and part number of another company, I ordered it, bought it, and put it with the cable this time.
  2. To get the boat measured for Dinghy Davits and solar platform and a wind generator mount.

Now, we ordered a Natty Dodger last Christmas, for spring delivery so we would have a Dodger for this trip.  I remembered the trip to the Madeline Islands with no Dodger in the rain, and I knew we would need one.  When I called them in June to see if it was ready, they said they had been unable to find a pattern, and I could have my money back, or measure the boat myself.  I measured it, of course, and sent them the measurements, telling them they had until August so no rush.  So naturally, they didn’t rush, and I am on this trip with no Dodger.  (didn’t matter, its now 2nd week of August, and still no Dodger).

To summarize, I am going to (arguably) one of the nicest cruising grounds (and foggiest) in North America with no Dodger, no radar, and no Dinghy.  This should be fun.

As soon as I had tied up the boat, I called Joseph, the guy who is going to do my davits and mount, and he said he would be there in twenty minutes.  When we walked to the office, we met Wellington, the man who (I was hoping) would do my radar cable.  Small world.

Wellington came to the boat, looked at the job, and said he would do it early Tuesday morning, earliest he could.  No problem, we would spend Monday at the marina enjoying the scenery.  We had high speed internet, sunny weather, and lots of beer.  I was learning to make a good rum punch as well!

As soon as Wellington was finished, Joseph showed, we measured for the davits, and we were done.  A friend met us on the boat for BBQ sausage and beer, and we had an enjoyable night tied to the floating dock.

Charlottetown Harbor was hit by hurricane Juan a few years ago, and hit bad.  It has mostly been rebuilt now, and Charlottetown Yacht Club has slips for 114 boats.  They are building a new marina in a more protected location with slips for over 200 boats, but for now, the marina is in the same location it was, and fairly open.  They have an outside line of heavy concrete floating docks for the break wall protection, which does a job, but could be better.  I was told to tie up on the inside of the outside docks, so was tied to the heavy concrete floating dock wall, with a spare bow line attached to the heavy dock in the other direction (for safety, right).

Charlottetown harbor is open, and any boats going through the harbor (including the big cruise liners) put their wake into the CYC.  The heavy docks help stop some of it, but not all.  The wind of course picked up, and there were no halyards tied up that night (at least it seemed like it).  The boat was banging, I got up several times through the night as I thought the boat was coming apart.  It wasn’t but every time the concrete dock shifted, it jerked on the boat.  It was better when I removed the second bow line, so there were not two heavy docks jerking in two different directions.  We certainly discovered which cabinet doors were loose.  MB finally got up through the night and took some of them right off.

Now, all this jerking, rattling of cupboards, halyards clanging, and wind whistling through the shrouds and stays was sounding like a symphony, and about 3 in the morning, a low, long groan came from the side of the boat, sounding just like a tuba.  MB and I both started laughing so hard I thought we were going to cry.  She suggested I tape the music.  I got up, got dressed, and went out to see what the sound was.

Monday was a relax day.  We read, soaked up sun, cleaned up the boat, went for a walk, stocked up on some food, and drank beer.

Tuesday morning Wellington showed up early, and set to work.  All the wires were soldered and finished by 11:00 am.  The connectors would not go together.  The second one I had ordered didn’t fit into the one from the original cable.  So, I will be traveling without radar, we’ll get it done again later this year.  Doesn’t matter, people sailed for thousands of years without radar.  I have a radar reflector, everyone else has radar.

Instead of driving the boat to the gas dock, I decided to fill my Jerry can to top off the motor, and then refill the jerry can for my spare.  After two trips with the Jerry can and the motor almost full, I decided I should have driven the boat.  We were lucky we made it in, guess I didn’t top the motor off last year (I was sure I had!).  The coast guard vessel drove by, I requested a courtesy inspection as I have never had a Canadian one done, and it could avoid problems in the future.  I finished the gas, and suggested MB hide all the booze.

MB and I were not much for wearing life jackets with our first boat.  Even though I had bought fancy designer jackets, they were bulky and uncomfortable.  So for this boat, I bought the small, self inflating with a built in harness ring jackets for both of us.  Bought in Canada when I bought all the other safety equipment.

The coast guard did an inspection of all the paperwork, licenses, and optional equipment relying on verbal answers for the optional equipment.  For the required safety items, they required personal inspections.  They were very professional and thorough.

They looked at my fancy PFD’s for MB and myself, and said they were very nice, but had no ULC sticker (they had UL approval) and would work very well probably, but were not acceptable for the Canadian Coast Guard.  I have three of the $5 bright orange light vests that I bought at the boat show on board, I showed them those, and they were acceptable, so we pass that test!  Go figure.

The other item was my fire extinguishers.  I very proudly said I had 3 brand new marine fire extinguishers, and showed them all.  They are not acceptable for the Canadian Coast Guard without service tags.  Even if they are brand new.  I argued for a while, meantime MB is on the phone to the fire extinguisher place, they said if we took a cab over there, they would put tags on right away, for $10 each.

The place I work deals a lot with the fire and safety store.  I had asked the salesman a year ago to sell me two fire extinguishers, and he suggested I go to Canadian Tire, as they were much cheaper.  So I did, and bought an extra one for the savings.

I’m thinking how I didn’t save anything after all now, and when I get there, he can’t put tags on them because they are disposable.  Where’s your salesman, I wanted to know, I had to shout at someone!  He’s on vacation, and I still can’t have my service tags.

So I now buy two new fire extinguishers, with tags.  Lets see, instead of saving money, I wasted money on three cheap fire extinguishers, and two cab fares (he did give me a discount on the new extinguishers, I figure its equal to how much they went up in price in the last two years, so the discount is equal to nothing in my books).

I call the Coast Guard on the VHF (its performance has been spotty, but it works this time, so I feel I must change the fitting at the top of the mast, it must be wrong too.  Oh well, the handheld will do the job this year now) and they inspect the extinguishers, and I get my sticker and paperwork.  Yoo Hoo.

It has been hot the last two days, and Tuesday is no exception.  Its hot, I have been carrying cans of fuel, arguing, going to the fire extinguisher place, finding out I will have no radar, I’m pooped and need a drink.  We decide to leave early Wednesday morning.

Wednesday is a nice breeze, we leave by 8:00 am, sailing to the Bras D’or lakes, finally.  Although we were moving nicely, we were only doing about 4.5 knots with the current and tide against us, so I unreef the main, and put it up fully.  That helps, and we move a little quicker.

It was cold, and started raining around noon.  We had on sweaters, jackets, and raingear.  No, I did NOT buy waterproof rainwear this year (yet), MB showed me some when walking around Charlottetown, and I felt I could get a better deal somewhere, sometime.  Damn I can be stupid sometimes.  I did learn a lesson from last year though; I will keep Otto dry and warm, even if I am wet and freezing.

Just before we got past the island, in the strait where it opens to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I told MB how I had read that when you first think about reefing the main, it is time to do it.  She suggested I do it then, I, being me, said I will do it later, it’s too early.

Well, it started raining harder, the wind and waves picked up, at one point we were heeled over 30 degrees, the rail was covered with water, (I missed seeing the rail under water), MB was below, mumbling to herself and hanging on for dear life.  I, being me, holler, “let’s reef the main now”.

The waves are easily 10 feet, with 15 foot big ones.  The boat is heeled way over, I assure MB it won’t roll over; she says “I know”.  I am so proud of her.

She takes the helm, Otto can’t possibly hold us in irons, and MB tries, and does a good job.  I lower the main completely, and we sail in at 7 knots (8 down the waves) under 90% jib only.

We didn’t have everything battened down in the galley, and I watched in horror as my toolbox went flying, and hit the electronics switches, breaking one of them clean off.  Well that is not good!

Fortunately, I remembered a spare (ok, not really a spare, it was one I bought for something, and decided to put two wires on one switch, so it is really a leftover, but for now, I’m calling it a spare!).  I installed it, and we continued on.  Just as I watched the radar reflector go flying away.  I guess it came loose when I reefed the mainsail.  Oh well, we’ll keep watch.  Next, our solar shower (new, from the boat show, went in the drink).  HA!  No showers this trip, we’ll have to go swimming.

My GPS point at Cape George was just a point I had picked that appeared safe, knowing I would give it a wide berth when we came around it.  We were now sailing under stormsail only, with large waves (ohmigod, they are breaking, I must be way to close) and these are rocks, not sand.

There was a boat that crashed on the rocks somewhere in Cape Breton last year, I didn’t look too much at it as I didn’t want to jinx myself, but I’m now thinking I hope I did a good job of rigging this puppy, those rocks look big.  I bear off as much as I can to move away from them, and still round the corner.

I have prepared emergency stop points on the charts, and GPS’d them on my chart plotter.  We round Cape George Point, then pull into a small cove, Ballantyne’s cove.  It has a wall of rocks, with a flashing red light, then floating docks and a small fishing harbor.

The motor sounds pretty sick coming in, and leaving a trail of black dust on the water, but we get in, tie up, and pour a drink.  A double.  The night was incredibly quiet, the only noise I heard was my halyards flapping, I should have tied them down, and I am too tired to do it now.

I belong to a couple of email lists, one on A-Fours, and one on Morgan’s.  They are both very useful when you want to discuss issues with others who own the same equipment you do.  There had been a thread on the A-Four list about black dust on the water, and although I didn’t follow it closely, I remembered something about the carburetor setting for this issue, and since I rebuilt the carb last year, that probably has something to do with it.

In the morning, I check the main jet on the carb, it is of course at the back of the carbureator, which means I must climb over the engine, and look down and back.  The jet is all the way out.  Hoo Haw.  I screw it in, then out one and a quarter turns.  Motor won’t keep running.  Out a little more, runs like a top.  I’m good.

On our way across Cape George by 7:00 am.  Sailing.  Cold, windy and wet.  Yes, its still raining.  MB refuses to eat anything, after yesterdays trip, she’d only throw it up again.

I still haven’t ate anything, haven’t been hungry.  Going into Canso Canal, the winds let up some, then a lot.  Ok, its motor time, doesn’t bother me, I’d just as soon motor the canal, as there are ocean going tankers, barges, and probably a lot of pleasure boats here.  The motor starts well, then vibrates and bangs, I put it in neutral, let it warm up, then it runs well.  I’m starting to think some of the issues are with the high powered alternator (not that high, 75 amps, but the motor was designed with a 33 or something like that).  After its warm, it seems to run better (less alternator draw?).

When we got close to the Canso lock and swing bridge, I radioed the lockmaster, as directed in my cruising guide.  He asked me how far away I was, I suggested about one and a half miles, he said he had a barge on the other side, he would let me in first then we’d go together.  I thanked him and told him it was my first lock, and I would appreciate his assistance, and told him my fenders and lines were on the port side, he said that was correct.  Woo Hoo, this is going to be fun.  Our first of many locks.

He radios me in a few minutes, and asks how much longer I will be, I say about 10 minutes.  He calls back in 5 minutes and says he’s not waiting any longer, the barge is coming through.  I say ok, I’ll wait for the gate to open.  When we reach the lock, there is a wall of concrete, with some cleats up high, so I pull up to the wall, and try to get us tied off.  My first mate is trying to grab a cleat, and can’t reach.  She is used to someone being around to catch her line.  Throw the line up, I’ll tie off the stern, then grab the bow line, says I.  I jump up, start to tie the stern line off, but she has already thrown the bowline, and MISSED.  The boat is floating away, tied to nothing.  I’m at least 10 feet above it, ok, no choice, I jump down, and land hard.

I move the boat back with the bow by the ladder and tell her, ok, you go, grab the ladder.  She tells me she can’t reach it, I tell her she can.  She jumps to the ladder, about 3 feet away.  Not sure where the bowline is, she must have it in her teeth.  I so wish I had a picture of this, she must have looked just like Spiderwoman!

I tie off the stern just in time to see the big concrete abutment crash into the side of my boat right at the shrouds on the port side, breaking the plastic wraps around them.  I go back on the boat and push it away, just in time to hear the lockmaster say there is no need to tie up the boat, just float around the canal until he opens, he can see us.  Probably filmed the whole thing for “America’s funniest video’s”.

I tell MB we don’t need to tie up, and get back on the boat with the lines.  If looks could perform, I’d be tied up and tortured before being burnt at the stake!

We do circles in the canal, inspecting for damage (there was none except the broken plastic) waiting for the barge.  When it gets through, we go through without incident, the lockmaster and helper held our lines, it was quite pleasant.  I looked behind the boat, and still see lots of black dust on the water.

Everything we owned was soaking wet.  It was still cold, although the rain finally stopped for now.  We stopped in Port Hawksbury once past the Canal.

It is a small marina, but had a nice office, ice, a sitting room with a TV and VCR, showers, and a washer and dryer.  We spent the night there, washed and dryed everything, bought some ice, and relaxed a bit.

Later we walked around, had something to eat, went to the liquor store (drinking more than we thought this trip!), I then took another look at the motor, as it was still not sounding good again.

I have long since thrown away the directions for rebuilding the carbeurator, but seem to recall that the jets were supposed to be open about one and a half to two turns each (there are two jets, highspeed and idle).  The high speed jet was adjusted yesterday, and it was way out, so I checked the idle.  It was way out too, so I turned it in and ran the motor for a while.  Ran good, idled good, and no black dust.  I didn’t have the proper wrench to tighten the locknuts, but I will when I get home.  Maybe its fixed this time.  Sure runs good now.

Friday we head off to the Bras D’or lakes.  We left a little later than we wanted to, had to wait for the fog to lift.  Did I say lift?  I should have said to let the fog get to the point where you can see past your hand without radar (of which I don’t have any, at least, any that works, I bought the wrong part, remember? And of course, no one can see me, I lost my radar reflector in the wind, remember?).  We motor through Lennox passage, then reach a spot that is nice and wide, some wind, and the sun is trying to break through the clouds.  Its not raining today, but cold, we still have on winter clothing, but we’re on holidays.  Up go the sails, we’re sailing in (close to, at least) the Bras D’or Lakes.  After about 40 minutes, we get socked in with fog so bad we can’t see the front of the boat, and we show about a mile from St. Peters Canal and lock, down go the sails, start the motor.  It sounds sick, real sick when I put it in gear.  Let it warm up, says the first mate, and I do, sounds a little better, but not much.  I’m not sure I like the idea of traversing an unknown lock with a sick motor.  I’m sure these lockmasters call each other and tell their funny stories about who’s coming next (Spiderwoman this trip should be in St. Peters soon?).

I can’t find the entrance to the Canal.  Its clearly shown on the chart plotter, and I still can’t see it.  I call on the VHF, he explains to just keep going to the white house, even if it does look like a wall of rocks.  Aha, I find it, pull in, he catches the lines, ties us to the cleats, and raises the water for the lock.  Very pleasant indeed.  He calls me on the radio, says we’re ready to cast off, he throws us our lines, and away we go.  One half mile in a small canal.  Motor is running mediocre, not perfect, but no black soot in the water, I speed up a bit.  I see a sign that says “Light green when bridge fully open” and keep going.   There is no green light.  My first mate says, “are we going to hit that bridge?”  WHOA!!  I put the motor in reverse, and the boat stops, then actually backs up (I can’t believe this damn motor is doing what I want it to) and I don’t hit the bridge.  Lockmaster (bridgemaster?) calls me on the VHF and says to go ahead through even though the bridge is not all the way open.  Whew.  Another story for these guys about “Spiderwoman”.

While in Port Hawksbury, my first mate struck up a friendship with a skipper who had just returned from the Bras D’or’s.  He told her about a couple of anchorages that seemed to fit our needs, and she marked them on the chart.  One looked perfect, and that’s where we headed.  We arrived early, about 4:00 pm, the fog had lifted, sun came out (but still really cold!), set an anchor then watched to see if we would drag.  Although we didn’t drag, we did swing, and the entrance to the little spot was narrow, and I am here for the experience, so I dropped a second anchor from the bow.  That seemed to do the job, and later in the evening, another boat came and was able to get in the anchorage, so I guess we did OK.

About 2:00 am, I remembered I had not put up an anchor light.  Just my luck someone would try and navigate in at night, and smash my boat.  Out I went and raised an anchor light.  Woo Hoo, we’re anchoring.  I explain to my first mate (and spouse) that the trip to Mexico will be very similar to this passage for the most part.  Not sure if that excited her or not.

Saturday, we’re still at anchor, solar panel is keeping everything running, the refridgeration is working great at keeping food (and beer) cold.

To boil water and run MB’s hair blower the new inverter is working well, but it drains the battery quickly, so its easiest to start the motor to boil the water (it boils fast, and gas is easier to come by than alcohol).

Actually, after a few times boiling water with the motor, and seeing the actual battery drain, we’ll stick to alcohol to boil water for coffee.  An even better idea (mine) is to quit coffee, and stick to beer in the mornings……………….

We anchored for two nights in a nice little cove, and so far, we have seen the sun this trip for a total of 2 hours.  First Mate sat out in the cockpit, in her winter coat (it was still really cold), but didn’t want to miss the sun.  I tried fishing, never caught a thing, but hey, I was fishing.  Had I my dinghy with me, I could have gone and dug clams, scooped crabs, etc.  Instead, we ate hot dogs & sausage.

The weather was cloudy, and cold, and it rained daily.  We decided to head back, taking our time, and enjoying the trip as much as possible.  Transiting the lock & bridge was a piece of cake this time (when you know what you are doing, this is probably what they call “experience”).  We stopped at St. Peters again for the night.  We then went to Ballantyne’s cove again, across St. Georges bay, and tied up for the night.  We met up with some people from our home port in Summerside, and some others from Halifax on their way to Charlottetown race week.

Early in the morning, the “Hillary” headed out into some pretty rough water, they were going to head straight through to Charlottetown, we were only planning on heading across, and stopping for the night at Woods Island (a fishing & ferry dock, not very pleasant on a windy night).  After an hour and a half of high rolling seas, I was ready to head back to the cove, my first mate on the other hand, could smell home, and wanted to continue.  So I unfurled the headsail to try and help stabilize us, and off we continued.  By late afternoon the seas settled, and of course we were at our destination.

I did learn the kind of clothes I want for this type of sailing.  Waterproof.  From head to toe.  The skipper of the “Hillary” was decked out and it didn’t matter how much water came over the side, he was dry.  I, on the other hand, (still with no Dodger) was getting wet.  Waves were breaking over me, waves were coming over the front of me, and the boat was doing that side to side thing.  Next year, I get waterproof clothing.

We then went to Charlottetown, to get our ‘ Dingy Davit Solar & Wind Generator Holder’ put on.  It is beautiful, although needs a little more stability.  More parts ordered.

The trip home to Victoria was uneventful, but cold.  We will keep the boat in Victoria for a week, as we have family coming to visit, and they may want to go for a sail.

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