31 August 2010

To New Bedford MA: 28 - 31 Aug - Stateside Again

We departed Shelburne Harbor 0830 Saturday, 28 August, bound for Provincetown MA. According to the chart this was to be a 260 NM leg. We'd been pinned down in Shelburne by a series of offshore depressions and tropical cyclones since 22 August and it was beginning to seem that we'd shortly be granted Canadian citizenship by default. We finally identified a window of several days with fair or light winds that allowed passage to P-Town, so off we went.

Jean and Josiane on Kurika were directly ahead of Kerry Deare as we both motored the 10 or so miles down harbor to the Atlantic Ocean. My final view of these close friends was as Kurika passed the Cape Roseway lighthouse on McNutts Island, heading to sea (photo left). They were headed to Portland ME and all my efforts to lure them to the MA coast had been unsuccessful. It seemed I would not again have the pleasure of their company.

The first obstacle one encounters when sailing west on this route is Cape Sable. The Cape has a reputation for turbulent waters, particularly when the 2 to 4 knot current there is opposed to the wind. All the cruising guides and pilot books recommend that mariners stay well offshore in this area and I planned to do just that. I'd rounded this cape several times in the past without issue, but of course there's a first time for everything and this was that time. Despite a forecast of light winds and calm seas, the NW wind came up with authority at 1300, attaining a speed of 25 to 30 knots. Ahead I could just make out Kurika under all plain sail smashing to weather and doing well. Little Kerry Deare however had other ideas and in short order we were hove to under double-reefed main with the helm down, leisurely waiting for the wind to pipe down. The old man just didn't want to bounce all that much. We got underway again at about 1700 (now using EDT).

A short time later I spoke the 154 foot schooner Meteor bound for Maine (photo at left by Kirk on Arion). I wanted to inform her captain that his AIS signal was broadcasting his destination as Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which was obviously incorrect based on his course and speed. This is one of several instances on this cruise when transmitted AIS data did not correspond to a vessel's actual intentions. Meteor's skipper said he would investigate.

We continued motor sailing into light airs on relatively calm seas for the next 38 hours without incident or interruption, shutting down occassionally to check fluids, transfer fuel, and check systems. Then, while resting below about 60 NM east of the tip of Cape Cod, I was startled to learn we had a passenger. A small bird, possibly a sparrow, had landed on Kerry Deare for a rest and was flying around the main cabin (photo at right). During the visit the bird made a point of checking out the accommodation below decks several times and left his personal calling card on the cabin sole. Since I didn't want to tempt fate, the mess remained in place until we were securely moored at our final destination. After an hour or so he decided he didn't like sailing all that much and flew off.

After 55 hours underway I finally picked up the signature of Cape Cod on the 16 mile radar range. An hour later I was able to make cell phone contact with my wife Sonia and let her know we were getting close to home, and it was during this call that she gave me the latest weather advisory on offshore tropical cyclones. We'd been out of radio contact for a few days this was very important information that helped shape our course of action for the rest of this leg.

The situation wasn't pretty. There were at least 2 and possibly 3 tropical systems offshore (Earl, Fiona and Gaston) that gave every evidence of heading in our direction, so finding a safe refuge was the next step. Although I'd been off soundings for well over two days and had planned a rest stop in Provincetown, I decided to continue on through the night, transit the Cape Cod Canal when the current went favorable at 0200 local, and head directly for New Bedford MA, one of the most secure harbors on the US East Coast. This decision added 40 or so NM to the leg, for a total of roughly 300 NM from Shelburfne to New Bedford via the Canal.

I entered the Canal at almost exactly 0200 31 August, a Tuesday morning, about 64 hours out from Shelburne. As predicted the tide was just going favorable and we were soon riding the current and making 7 to 8 knots over the bottom. The Canal at night is a mysterious and quiet place and I used the full array of electronics to keep Kerry Deare lined up down the middle of the route. Fortunately there was no commercial traffic to worry us, and we exited the Canal at 0330 into Buzzards Bay. We were greeted by a light northerly, a perfect breeze to sail for New Bedford. That we promptly did, finally shutting down the diesel after far too many hours of constant running. Things were looking up.

At 0730 we passed through the famous gates that guard New Bedford and Fairhaven from hurricanes and tropical systems. We were secured alongside at Fairhaven Shipyard at 0800, 31 August, almost exactly 3 days out of Shelburne. After a long and uneventful passage and safe arrival stateside, a welcome rest for both Kerry Deare and me was in store.

27 August 2010

At Shelburne: 27 Aug - On The Waterfront

We are still in Shelburne waiting for the weather to sort itself out. The complex mixture of cyclones and depressions offshore still has not allowed us to begin moving toward Provincetown MA.

This morning I took the dinghy out along the Shelburne waterfront to capture a few final photos of this charming town. It may be quite some time before we have the good fortune to return. Click on a photo to enlarge the view.

25 August 2010

At Shelburne: 25 Aug - Kerry and Paul

We are lying Shelburne and waiting weather for our return to the US. Yesterday we interviewed several candidates for the position of Figurehead Second Class (FSC). On ships the "figurehead" is located right at the bow just under the bowsprit (technically, at the "stem head"). From this position he or she has a clear view of the dangers ahead. Obviously this is an important job.

From the start one candidate stood out from the crowd. Young Kerry Arcon, son of local boat builder Charlie Arcon and his wife Kim, was head and shoulders above the other candidates. We knew this immediately after watching this brave lad survive a bicycle wipe out in front of his home. He faced the consequences with courage and honor (Kerry's mom Kim supplies medical aid to the wounded bicyclist at left).

Kerry's performance during sea trials was not without complications. While we were tooling around Shelburne Harbor during the interview process and getting to know one another, the spray from the waves gave him second thoughts about the job and he asked if the position of Cabin Boy was stll open. Unfortunately the minimum term for a new FSC is 3 years and FSC Kerry still has 2 years, 364 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes left to serve before he can even be considered for promotion. To ease the disappointment, FSC Kerry was awarded an extra portion of ship's rations (photo right) and given afternoon liberty.

This morning I visited the shop (photo left) of local boat builder and designer Paul, a Shelburne resident who until recently lived in British Columbia. Paul specializes in wooden boats with a traditional flavor and it was a pleasure to watch him at work (photo right). Although many modern materials are used in the process of producing a wooden boat, the basic steps of design and construction are not far removed from the methods shipbuilders developed hundreds of years ago.

24 August 2010

The Cruising Life: 24 Aug - Questions For Cruisers

I am no longer cruising full time. There, I've said it.

Yet there was a time when I numbered myself among the degenerate masses, aimlessly wandering the seas and oceans (not quite sure about the distinction, mind you). We had our code and we lived by it. We rarely allowed outsiders inside, and tolerated them only when personal gain seemed probable. For one thing, "they" kept asking questions we couldn't answer, or didn't want to contemplate. Here are some of the deal breakers.

Question One: How long does it take to get from ... to ... ?

Wrong Answer: 3 days, 7 hours, and 24 minutes.

Right Answer: There is no right answer. Cruisers get somewhere and realize that Doris and Fred on Bottomscraper are there. This means they're in a good spot and it's time to start the party. It really doesn't matter that everyone has another 1200 miles to the planned destination. The concept of "right now" is much more important that the idea of "destination." Besides it takes forever to get to the "destination," and I'm not even going to get into the part about tacking and light winds and that sort of thing. After all, it's now now and I have important stuff to do. Now.

Question Two: When you sail to Bermuda, do you anchor each night?

Wrong Answer: Only if we are making a souffle for dinner.

Right Answer: Listen, idiot, and I'm only gonna tell you one time. If you buy the 6 miles of anchor rode and pull it up each morning, it's a deal.

Queston Three: How much does this boat cost?

Wrong Answer: $63, 500.

Right Answer: $24, 700, two good jobs, 1.6 marriages, 8 tuition payments, and one's sense of humor.

Question Four: Do you really live in Wilmington, Delaware?

Wrong Answer: Well, my accountant told me ... (on and on for 15 to 20 minutes).

Right Answer: Yes.

Question Five: How many does it sleep?

Wrong Answer: The sales brochure says eight adults and two cats.

Right Answer: This boat sleeps 2, feeds 8, drinks 12, and tolerates essentially no one. so get the &*%$#! outta here now.

22 August 2010

Shelburne Redux: 20 - 22 Aug - Where Did Nova Scotia Go?

We arrived at Shelburne Harbor Yacht Club this morning at 0800, Sunday, direct from Canso (Shelburne waterfront at left). The trip began 1000 last Friday and required two nights at sea. There isn't much one can say about the trip itself. When we saw a "weather window" that allowed us to make miles west, we jumped on it. Our reward was the last night at sea. Though windless, the night was a beautiful combination of calm winds and seas, a full moon, and time to reflect on this wonderful cruise and the many people who made it so.

When eastbound to Newfoundland this past July, we sailed direct to Canso from Shelburne. Canso is at the eastern end of Nova Scotia, and Shelburne is at the western end, so this means we bypassed all the harbors along the Nova Scotia coast to gain time for Newfoundland. Having visited Newfoundland (albeit all too briefly) we returned west to Shelburne direct from Canso, again bypassing the attractions of this beautiful province (Kurika westbound to Shelburne at right). In effect, although we've visited Nova Scotia this summer, at the same time we ignored most of Nova Scotia. This contradiction is a natural result of the "voyaging" mentality needed to accomplish cruising objectives with a small yacht, and this discipline is the basic ingredient for "making miles."

Now we are preparing to return to the US. It's about 260 NM from Shelburne to Provincetown MA, and departure will depend entirely on the availability of another weather window with favorable winds and conditions. As I write this entry, the weather picture is a bit uncertain. A deep low pressure system is making its way up the US East Coast over the next few days and the ocean will remain unsettled until at least Friday or Saturday. The North Atlantic under such conditions is no place for a small yacht. Stay tuned and we will keep you posted.

19 August 2010

St. Peters and Canso: 18 - 19 Aug - You "CAN-SO" Go Home Again

We are in full "homeward bound" mode and the last 2 travel days exemplify what that means. We departed Baddeck (leaving Baddeck Harbor at left), the northern extremity of the Bras d'Or Lakes cruising area, Wednesday morning and arrived at St. Peters Canal and Lock (right), the southern extremity, by 1500 that afternoon, a distance of 30 NM. The Bras d'Or Lakes are considered by some to be one of the finest cruising grounds in North America. In our case we treated the Lakes as merely an obstacle between where we are, and where we want to be. Instead of the weeks many boats spend cruising the Lakes, we passed through in 6 hours.

St. Peters Canal and Lock separate the Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean. This is a delightful stop on the route and is one of the prime provisioning areas for boats cruising the Lakes. It's also quite pretty (photo below) and we enjoyed our brief stay. Early this morning the calm waters allowed me to capture Kurika (left) and Kerry Deare (right) totally at rest on the Canal.

Later this morning we departed St. Peters Canal for Canso, a 20 mile hop, arriving just after 1200. This afternoon while Jean and Josiane explore Grassy Island, I will take a close look at the offshore weather to determine the next step.

17 August 2010

Baddeck, Cape Breton: 17 Aug - All That Glitters ...

For the first time on this cruise, I have encountered a destination that simply does not live up to expectations. Although Baddeck is the logical center of yachting activity in the Bras d'Or Lakes, it functions largely as a tourist magnet drawing visitors arriving by automobile and tour bus (photo left). This doesn't mean Baddeck lacks the facilities and amenities that allow it to claim being a first class yachting center. What Baddeck lacks is authentic charm.

We stayed alongside at Baddeck Marine just west of the Town Wharf, and the service and facilities were more than satisfactory. However as I was walking through the village, I had to force myself to use the camera. There simply were no photographic subjects that compelled me to shoot pictures. There are indeed one or two attractive churches (photo right), offset by many tourist-oriented restaurants. There is a multitude of tourist gift shops filled with identical "junk" imported directly from China and stamped "Baddeck." Indeed there is no unifying characteristic that pulls Baddeck together.

The biggest tourist disappointment was the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, an agglomeration of every conceivable detail related to this man's life and considerable achievement, but at the same time an almost unmanageable array of minutiae that would put even a Bell enthusiast to sleep. And a good sound sleep it would be. However the Bras d'Or Lakes Interpretive Center (photo left) was both an interesting exhibit on local ecology and the nature and characteristics of the Lakes, as well as well staffed facility whose representatives were able to answer all the questions we posed. The Lake system is a marvel and it deserves the care and attention is seems to be getting.

I am glad I finally visited Baddeck, "the goal of many a cruising man" as they say in all the stuffy New England cruising guides. However I won't fret long about leaving.

16 August 2010

To Baddeck on the Bras d'Or: 16 Aug - Still Waters Indeed Run Deep

All good things must end and unfortunately so must our Newfoundland visit. We departed Ship Cove on Ramea at 0730 local on Sunday 15 August, bound for Baddeck on Cape Breton's Bras d'Or Lakes. Conditions were tame, with calm winds and seas, bright sunshine, and unlimited visibility. The distance of 164 NM meant we would spend a single night at sea and arrive Baddeck late Monday afternoon. That's exactly what occurred.

Although I hoisted the mainsail for technical reasons, we never encountered any wind while crossing Cabot Straight. Only rarely have I seen such calm waters (photo left). The diesel ran well for the entire 32 hours of the passage. The way we usually handle situations like this is to shut the diesel down every 12 hours to allow checks of fluid levels, connections, possible leaks, make fuel transfers, etc. This we did twice, and in each case all went well. That's fortunate, because without a breath of wind, an engine malfunction would have meant sitting out at sea for a very long time.

In calm conditions the routine at sea is a bit unusual. Regular "housekeeping" of a type not possible in rougher waters can be attempted. One does not have to hold on for 24 hours a day, and projects requiring two hands and some dexterity are possible. One of these is planning future aspects of the cruise, sorting charts, getting computer records up to date, and the like (photo right).

A sunset at sea is always something to behold, and I will admit that I could have done it more justice with a few camera adjustments. For those who have not enjoyed such an event, feast your eyes (photo left). Once the sun has disappeared, the remaining light plays tricks with the horizon and offers up visual treats simply not available on land (photo right).

Finally when it is dark and the skies are clear, it is never really dark because the starlight is sufficient to allow surprising colors and images (photo above).

We entered the Great Bras d'Or channel at about 1030 local time (Atlantic Daylight Time) and were officially on the island of Cape Breton, itself a part of Nova Scotia. Since we were still in Canadian waters and had never left them, there was no requirement to contact the authorities and we simply proceeded toward Baddeck, about 25 miles further on. We reached Baddeck at 1530 and after a bit of dock socializing decided it was time for some real rest. After all, the great Bras d'Or Lakes adventure was about to begin.

14 August 2010

Ramea Day Four: 14 Aug - Local Music and Authentic Flavor

We were able to stay at Ramea for only 2 of the 3 days of music at the Rock Island Music Festival (, but that was enough time to prove that the islands are filled with musical talent. The musicians ranged from the local heating oil delivery man who played his Fender Stratocaster bass to perfection, to a retired fishermen who "wailed" on a mean button accordion, to a Nashville "session" musician whose original music hit at the heart of the out-port experience. What these musicians had in common was talent and the desire to create and present music based on their own experiences, history, and values. This they did at a very high level.

I had several favorites among the many players. Stan MacDonald (photo left) has been making music in Ramea and elsewhere in Newfoundland for many years. He was kind enough to dedicate several of his popular songs to a few of the visiting sailors in the audience. Stan was accompanied by banjoist and sailor Jim Shaw (photo right). Jim and wife Judie spend part of the summer on Ramea, and we were able to compare sailing experiences and well as musical tastes.

Craig Young is another musician I met on the wharf just prior to the festival. Craig was born in nearby Grey River and has worked in Nashville and many other places in the US. He is well known and appreciated throughout Newfoundland. It was a pleasure to watch Craig work and to listen to his original songs describing life and family in and near Ramea and Grey River. Like most musicians at the festival, Craig was accompanied by close friends and family members on stage.

Another special favorite was Roland Skinner, whose music included some of the older traditional ballads of the British Isles as well as music specific to this part of Newfoundland. In addition to being a talented and capable musician, Roland also found time to fill Kerry Deare's larder with fresh moose steaks from the hills of Newfoundland. "Yummy" just doesn't cover it. Thanks, Roland.

Don't think for a minute that this kind of music is comprised entirely of staid front porch ballads sung by retired postal workers. Once these musicians get going, there is no way for the audience to sit still. They just get out on the floor and "do it."

13 August 2010

Ramea Day Three: 13 Aug - Lucky "Friday the 13th"

Friday August 13th was first of 3 consecutive days of music at Ramea's Rock Island Music Festival, and I was looking forward to the performances. To get in the swing of things I decided to do an early morning walking tour of the island. Many residents had suggested it was the only way to truly learn about the island. The Ramea Heritage Center provides a hand-drawn map with many points of interest, but there is little doubt that the (literal) highlight of the walking tour is a climb to the top of Man-of-War Hill. The problem: I hate heights. In fact I'd already told any one within listening distance that I was simply not going up that hill. So much for idle threats.

When I came to the location on the walking tour (photo left) where the sign to Man-of-War Hill is posted, something strange happened and I found myself drawn to the challenge. The next thing I knew I was climbing to the top, despite the fact that this activity is completely alien to me. I am still not sure why I did it, and I'd never do it again. Even the pictures give me vertigo.

Here for your viewing pleasure are views from the top of Man-of-War Hill.

While we're in the mood, here are a few Ramea images that caught my fancy.