After Bouctouche, we parted company with Madcap and crossed the Northumberland Strait to Summerside while they headed south to connect with Jim’s family at Cape Tormentine. We docked at the Summerside Yacht Club which covers all bases by doubling as a curling club in the off season. This is an active youth sailing club; Optimists, Lasers and 29er’s crisscrossed Badeque Bay in front of us, both as we arrived and when we left. The College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada center was a 10 minute walk from the yacht club so we took in their Wednesday night performance and were treated to a professional caliber of dancers, pipers and Celtic singers. The College of Piping band won the North American piping championships three times, the last time in 2006, so we knew we were in for a treat. We had enough time the next morning to trudge through the pouring rain to the People’s Protestant Cemetery where we found the grave site of Blair’s great uncle Claude Hopgood.
The next day, we crossed back over the Strait under the Confederation Bridge, to Cape Tormentine. This bridge is the world’s longest bridge over ice-covered water at 12.9-kilometers. Carleton University and University of Calgary have 750 sensors installed all along the bridge as well as sonar and a video feed and they monitor just about every stress on the bridge that you can think of. There are quite a few arches that are marked by the coast guard for ships to pass through but we went out of our way to use the very middle arch (just because we could) and got some great perspective on the built-in curve that is meant to prevent people from getting tunnel vision while driving on the bridge.
We dropped anchor in the old Tormentine-Borden ferry terminal within sight of the bridge. The terminal was deserted except for Madcap and Strathspey and looked a little down at heel since it’s decommissioning in 1998 when the bridge opened. The big event in Cape Tormentine was a lobster boil on the beach at the Bissell family farm with Jim’s extended family. The Bissel’s outdid themselves and I can safely say, I’ve never been asked so many times ‘are you ready for your next lobster?’ I definitely know I have never had better lobster in finer company.
We left Madcap at the ferry terminal the next day and, after a three hour motor in heavy rain, made a sharp right and followed a dogleg track into Pugwash to the Pugwash Yacht Club. The club consists of one floating dock that is on the honour system for payment at $0.50 per foot. It’s a small club but very friendly and shortly after we docked, one of the members, Dave Fuller, was at the boat offering Blair a ride up to the gas station to fill his diesel can; just some more of that Maritime hospitality. Pugwash is home to the Windsor Salt company; the same stuff that we put on our roads every winter. On a loftier note, it is also the site of the Pugwash Peace conferences. Believe it or not, since the 50′s cold war, this village of 800 continually gathers influential scientists (most notably Albert Einstein), scholars and public figures from all over the world to ponder our global problems.
After Bouctouche, we endured four days of rain; sometimes light, sometimes heavy, but I can say with certainty that four days on a sailboat in the rain is only marginally better than four days in a tent in the rain. The salt water in our clothes absorbed moisture and made them take forever to dry. The towels smelled musty and the shoes even worse. During the trip to Pugwash, there was so much salt spray that my hair got quite damp; four hours later it was still wet. Only after I washed it, would it dry. The damp weather has tested our patience and the final straw was me upsetting a large glass of water on our bed (unfortunately, or not depending on your point of view, it was on my side).
Boats, both sail and motor, are few and far between in this neck of the woods. Last Sunday, a beautiful sunny day with a gentle 15 knot wind, we saw only one other sailboat between Pugwash and Pictou. Since Quebec City as well, channel 16, the hailing channel, has been silent except for Madcap and Strathspey. Just outside Pictou, Nova Scotia we started hearing boats hailing each other occasionally. This is a big change for us because in the 1000 Islands, channel 16 is constantly busy (sometimes annoyingly so).
We’re still seeing lots of sea life in the Northumberland Strait. Whenever we motor, the seals pop up about 100 feet off the boat with a big “huh?” written all over their faces. They tread water and swivel their heads 180 degrees and when they discover the source of the noise, they watch us ’til we’re past and then dive deep. We thought we’d seen the last of the whales until we crossed to Maine but in St Georges Bay, on the approach to the Canso Strait, Fin Whales were surfacing on both sides of Strathspey; bigger than most of the Fins we had seen in The Saguenay. Other boaters we’ve met reported seeing humpbacks breeching the calm waters we sailed through.
The Canso Causeway feels like a big landmark for us because we’re leaving the Northumberland Strait and starting to make that big swing to the west. The causeway prevents ice from getting into the Canso Strait so this a year-round navigable harbour; a busy one at that. Connecting the causeway to the Island is a short bridge and we stopped all the traffic onto Cape Breton Island when we passed through. Blair called the bridge tender for clearance through and was asked for our boat name, registration, gross tonnage and the captain’s name. It’s a friendly lock and fairly informal, unlike the St Lawrence locks; after we cleared the lock, the tender said “Thanks Blair and good hovering in the channel”. We stayed the night at the Strait of Canso Marina in Port Hawkesbury, about four miles past the Canso Causeway. This marina sorely tested my docking ability but we managed to snug our 35 foot boat onto a 25 foot dock and had a fairly noisy night flanked by a train station and a gypsum plant.
The reward for handling the ocean vagaries to this point is the Bras d’Or lakes. Just past Port Hawkesbury, we swung a hard left and sailed up the Lennox Passage, a protected little laneway to St Peter’s canal, the entrance to the Bras d’Or Lakes. Without any warning, a light billowing fog rolled in from the open ocean in Chedabucto Bay but, expecting this, we had switched on our radar so had no trouble finding our way from buoy to buoy. It still perplexes us as to how we can have fog in 15 knots of wind but everyone assures us that this is something we must count on in Nova Scotia and Maine. St Peter’s Canal and Lock has double lock doors because of the tidal differences between the Bras D’or Lakes and the ocean. The drop was pretty benign however and we had time to chat with Gratton and Jennifer on Moon River, our shedmates from Iroquois.
Moon River shared a shed with us all last winter while we were preparing Strathspey for this trip. They left Iroquois after us, we saw them once in Quebec City and now again in St Peter’s; how strange is this that we both arrived at the St Peter’s Canal Lock within five minutes of each other?
We’re at St Peter’s now, the sun is shining and there is nary a wave in sight. The Bras d’Or Lakes are the 1000 Islands of the east coast. Everyone heads this way to grab a little flat water sailing, a little rest from the ocean unpredictability and to listen to some fiddles and bagpipes. We’re going to chill here for a bit, meet up with Madcap and their friends on Atlantic Star and then regroup for the next leg to Halifax.