Thursday, October 17, 2013

Return From Newfoundland to Cape Breton via St. Pauls Island

All good things must come to an end. Cooler nights and the first forecast of northerly winds encouraged me to take a turn to the south and start working towards the Bras d'Or Lakes and home. After sitting out the winds that came before the wind shift I got in the anchor, which had slipped a bit on the shelf, and set off in relative calm with the motor to get out of the fjord and Bonne Bay. Winds were forecast to the NW and that is directly into the mouth of the Bay. Didn't want to get caught in a head wind and hoped that the promised shift would not be too long coming.

On the way out I saw Pelorus Jack anchored near Norris Point.

We got out of the Bay and the promised winds came up and rose quickly. Setting sail then taking in a reef as the wind came up was a great way to say goodbye to Newfoundland. The front passed through putting the winds into the high 20 knot range but with small seas. Great sailing with the wind on the starboard quarter, sails out to port and Reggy doing a fantastic job of steering. The winds diminished a bit after the passage of the front and we settled into our passage routine of watchkeeping, eating and sleeping. Good to be back at sea again putting the land behind us. Later in the day Pelorus Jack showed up on the AIS having left Bonne Bay shortly after I saw them. We had a nice chat on the radio. They were cruising down the coast while I was heading offshore. Old habits of sailing without an engine are hard to shed. I like to get at least 20 NM offshore before I can relax and get a little rest.

The winds diminished overnight but we were still able to sail well into the next day. During the night there was a display of Northern Lights. I woke up at one point and looked around. Sure enough there was a ship going by without displaying their AIS. Likely Coast Guard of Military. They routinely leave the AIS transmit off but keep good watch so not to worry.

Southeast of Cape Anguille, NFLD. the winds went very light and I decided to motorsail towards St. Pauls Island and Cape North, Cape Breton Island both of which were now clearly visible. I can see how the First Nations people travelled bewteen NFLD and Cape Breton without problem and never out of sight of land.

St Pauls Island has two lights, one at either end, and is the site of many ship wrecks. The tides conflict with the currents of the St Lawrence River and create serious rips. In heavy fog conditions one would not see the island before running into it as many ships have done over the centuries. No one lives on the island any longer but there are still lighthouses and the remains of the lifesaving station. There is no safe anchorage here and winds were forecast to rise so I decided to head towards Dingwall in behind Cape North to take a break and visit this part of Cape Breton.

While passing by St Pauls Island and crossing a current line I had the distinct priviledge of seeing the first of five leatherback turtles that I would see over the next three hours. These turtles are rare and seeing one is fortunate, five almost unheard of. A couple of turtles came as close as ten metres from Easy Go giving a great viewing opportunity.

Arrived at Dingwall around midnight on a clear but moonless night. Felt my way in with the digital charts picking out the mostly unlit buoys and through the narrow entrance to the harbour. Found the fisherman's wharf and tied up for the night. Up early the next morning in calm conditions and headed towards the Bras d'Or Lakes but once out of the bay I ran into head winds from the south so returned and anchored for the day and night while I explored the area of Dingwall. This predominantly fishing harbour has seen better times but I still got to speak with a few people and took a tour of the St. Pauls Island Museum located there. Also took a walk to the beach which is miles long and had no one but myself there.

The next day promised northerly winds so I set off towards the Bras d'Or Lakes early. The winds strengthened from the south so we spent the day tacking towards the entrance to the Bras d'Or Lakes. Arriving after dark at the entrance with an opposing tide we motored in making, at times, only one knot against the current. Fortunately the wind died down at sunset and the waters were calm. There are not many lighted buoys so using the digital charts on the tablet and a flashlight I was able to feel the way up the channel and pass through the Seal Island Bridge. Once past the bridge the fog started to settle down on the top of the hills. Time to find a place to anchor.

A large harbour, appropriately named Big Harbour was close by and being around 2:00 am was an easy place to get into and get the anchor down. Quiet and peaceful. I fell asleep quickly and soundly. Woke at 7:00 am completely fogged in. I had hoped for an early start but enjoyed a leisurely breakfast instead. The fog was starting to lift around 10:00 so I got in the anchor and headed towards Barra Straits.

The route through the lake is well marked and straight forward so I was able to enjoy the scenery as the skies cleared. Went through the bascule bridge at Barra Straits against the tide and continued on to St Peters Canal.

Outside of the canal I saw my friend Greg with a day charter on his sailboat. They came along side and we chatted while I prepared Easy Go to transit the St. Peters Lock and head on home. I called the lock. No Answer and only 4:15 in the afternoon. I got a call back from Gerry at the St. Peters Lions Marina that the lock was closed for the day. Parks Canada, managers of the lock, have reduced the hours considerably this year negatively impacting tourism in the area and inconveniencing local sailors. Hope they find the resources to get back to longer hours. Oh well, tied up to the wall below the lock, close to the swing bridge to get protection from the strong North East winds predicted for the night.

Walked over to Greg's house to use the phone and call Kathy to let her know I was staying in St. Peters for the night. Five more miles and I would have been home. Saw a few other people around the village and went to the Bras d'Or Lakes Inn for a beer and fish and chips. Nice change from my own cooking. After supper I went for a walk to the ocean side of the lock and saw Pelorus Jack tied up but no on aboard. Georgie and Harold from River Bourgeois were there in the car having ice cream so we visited for a while. Georgie looked down the wharf and said that she could see Kathy walking along. I said I didn't think so but Georgie was pretty sure she was right. And sure enough she was. Karin had brought Kathy to the lock to find me and say hello. A definite surprise! Thanks Karin for the very thoughtful gesture.

Kathy spent the night at the boat but the winds that were predicted made it impossible to continue the next day so we stayed tied to the wall. A few boats transited the lock towards the ocean side but went no further and tied up above the lock for the day. We spent the day visiting and getting some supplies.

The next day dawned calm with a little fog and drizzle but we locked through at 8:00 am with a couple of other boats and made our way home.

By noon Easy Go was tied to her mooring in River Bourgeois and the Newfoundland adventure was at an end.

See the photo essay with pictures of Dingwall.

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