Ile Bonaventure is home to thousands upon thousands of beautiful gannets, large, white, graceful seabirds with buttery yellow heads and black outlined eyes that live in huge colonies on the steep, rusty red crags of 200 foot cliffs that line the edges of the island. Their long pointed white wings, tipped with jet black as if dipped into an ink well, flap effortlessly above the sea and then collapse against their bodies as they nose dive straight down into the water to grab an unsuspecting fish for dinner. Now image, not one gannet but 30 or more of them hovering nearby your sailboat and on some silent cue, all plunge into the water together. That is how it happened all around us as we very slowly sailed around the east and south sides of the island. Hundreds of gannets drifted on the water, dotted the sky and blanketed the cliff tops. My thoughts immediately went to my dear bird watching friends and how they would have loved to witness what we were privileged to see.
We continued on, heading south, and Bonaventure, in all of her living splendour, gradually slipped below the horizon. The both of us relaxed in the cockpit with Auto the pilot at the helm. Winds were light out of the northwest with following seas making for a gentle sail onward, thus reassuring us that our decision to do an overnight passage of 160 nautical miles to Summerside, PEI, was reasonable. Because my watch would be from 6:30pm to midnight or 1 am, I went below to nap for 4 hours. During that time, the wind had gradually shifted to close hauled 10 to 15 knots and waves were 2 to 3 feet. When I took over the helm, we were still under full sail and husband went below for his nap. By 9 pm, winds had slowly increased to 20 knots and waves were now 5 feet. At 10:30, I struggled to roll up the Yankee head sail so he came up and helped me and from there on things deteriorated. By midnight, winds were a steady 25 knots and hitting us on the bow.
We shifted watches and I went below knowing this was going to be a rough night and I would never get to sleep with the intensity of the wind and waves. I was right! I joined husband on deck very early in the a.m. to find him braced at the helm, battling 30 knot winds with gusts up near 40 and 10 foot waves, some hitting us from 3 different directions. Waves broke continuously over the bow so fiercely that we were doused repeatedly with gallons of cold salty seawater. The hours rolled by so slowly as did Southern Cross. In early morning’s light, the west shore of Prince Edward Island gradually rose out of the water and hoping to seek smaller waves, we headed in her direction.
It became necessary to motor sail as we made no progress in the heavy chop wrapping around the island, thus our beating journey continued and then, just to add a little more discomfort to our situation, it started to rain. I laughed when husband said, “it may as well snow.” The prospects of reaching Summerside by early evening dimmed as 40 nautical miles lay between us and our destination and sailing in darkness was out of the question. I did not have 40nm’s of energy left in me nor did he as we were already awake over 24 hours, exhausted, weather beaten, sopping wet to the skin, shivering and very hungry, a dangerous combination for levelheaded decision making.
He had heard of a Shediac Bay Marina west of our location on the shores of New Brunswick and according to our chart, it was only 19nm’s away. With the sun setting now, he attempted to radio the marina several times but with no response. The last evidence of sunset was fading in the western sky as we continued heading towards this unknown Shediac Bay and finally in my frustration, I got on channel 16 and announced that “this is the sailing vessel, Southern Cross. we are 4nm’s from Shediac Bay, we are seeking safe harbor anywhere close. Can anyone out there give us information where we can find dockage?” Almost instantly, a woman’s voice came over the radio from the Canadian Coast Guard.
She asked all the standard safety questions, how many on board? wearing lifejackets? any medical emergency? our location? I answered and she replied, “Stand by.” I was very grateful for her assistance because she found the marina on the chart, called them, told them our situation, gave us the phone number and stayed with us on the radio until we were in contact with Shediac Yacht Club. A BIG shout out to the Coast Guard is in order. The channel into the bay was long and convoluted and hadn’t it been for the very patient, instructive voice on the other end of the radio guiding us past every red buoy, I’m sure we would have gone aground. The bright lights of the marina were now before us and seeing so many eager helping hands at our assigned slip made me certain that all radios were listening in to our stressed broadcasts. So nice to be on land, I thought. We stayed 2 nights with some of the most hospitable fellow sailors at that club. They drove us to the grocery store, invited us to a special regatta dinner at the club and even gave us a bottle of champagne when we left. Met many wonderful people who share the love of sailing. We left for Summerside after many heartfelt goodbyes and promises to keep in touch.
After a good night’s sleep we readied the boat for departure. We had to reposition the dinghy in the davits as it had been dislodged in the storm, so we did that along with a few small repairs. Once our laundry was done we cast off and went down to the pumpout station, then picked our way back down the channel to the sea and set a course for our original destination, Summerside on PEI. There was a 10 knot breeze from the SW, so it was pretty much a dead run. We put up the spinnaker and sailed for a few hours at between 3.5 and 5 knots until the wind died. Begrudgingly we turned on the engine, lowered the spinnaker and motor sailed the rest of the way. A flood tide gave us quite a good push as did the wind, which came up again so we killed the engine and sailed at between 6 and 8 knots the rest of the way, dropping our sails at the start of the channel into the marina and then motoring in. We stayed at the Silver Fox Sailing and Curling Club – a marina in the summer and a Curling venue in the winter.
After checking in we sat at the bar and had a few Irish coffees to unwind while we chatted with the bartender. He took us back to show us the Curling rink and found a practice stone for us to look at – they weigh 35 pounds! We got to see all the tools of the trade but it was dark and we could not see everything clearly, so we decided to return during daylight hours the following day. We went to bed.
Our dock is right at the wall where the Silver Fox restaurant is located. It is open to the public for lunch and dinner, so we had a few people walk by and ask us questions about the boat, where we are from and where we are headed, our dinghy caught some people’s eyes as well and they had questions about it. We met some very nice people during the day and then at lunch, Phil Hamlin’s wife Pauline came to the marina and met us. She works in the building right next to the club and could see our boat from her office.We met Phil in Columbus at the Polaris Grill. He is a rep for a company and lives in PEI, so we exchanged information and contacted him when we arrived in Summerside where they live.
After work, they picked us up and took us on a quick tour of the PEI countryside and then took us out to dinner. It is beautiful! The north side of the island is scoured with huge inlets and bays that are very shallow and inaccessible to sailboats, but are used by the local fishing fleets. Many of these areas contain Mussel farms, as they are shallow and easily tended. We drove through the beautiful rolling countryside, past the huge Malpeque Bay inlet (Oyster capital of the world) and up along the North coast of PEI – its very rural and there are no highways. We stopped at one of the golf courses at the top of a hill – it felt like we were on the highest spot on the island – with a beautiful view out over towards the ocean and we ate dinner there. One thing I noticed – no geese on the course, but they had seagulls instead – lots of them. We had the obligatory PEI mussels and we both had Haddock with Capers and shared a bottle of Malbec with Phil and Pauline. It was a wonderful dinner. Then they took us back to the boat through the town of Summerside so we could see the commercial side of it as well, then dropped us off at the boat. We made new friends that night and will always be grateful for their kindness and generosity – thank you!
Next morning we were scheduled to depart for Charlottetown, the capital of PEI. During the night the winds came up and by morning it was blowing 30. I went outside and took down our dressing flags before the wind shredded them, and we decided to stay an extra day and wait for the winds to abate. Good thing we did! Although it was still reasonably warm (low 70s), the wind howled all day and then rain moved in, so it would have been a miserable trip.
We went out to dinner with Pauline at the club restaurant that evening and enjoyed a great seafood dinner. Then we went home with Pauline and Phil and chatted for a while over tea and dessert before heading back to the boat for the night.
Next morning we headed out after chores into a rapidly dying wind from the SE – it was supposed to be SW. So we ended up motoring all day AGAIN – at first against a 2 knot current until we passed under the bridge, and then we were helped by a 1 knot current going East. We spent the whole day dodging lobster pots, some of them had looooong leader lines with polypropylene line that floated (illegal btw) and actually managed to get one of those wrapped around the rudder. A quick 180 to head back the way we came, along with some coaxing from the boathook managed to dislodge it. I was this close to cutting the line out of frustration. Its bad enough you have to dodge the pots, but when they put a 200ft line on a pot in 40 ft of water that is ridiculous and dangerous. Apparently some unscrupulous fishermen do it to prevent others from putting their pots near them. With the current and the lack of wind we ended up reaching Charlottetown just after sunset.
We stayed at the Ch’town marina which had the “best” rating of the local marinas. It was disappointing however. Not clean, sparse services and in general not a good place to stay especially considering it was the most expensive marina we have stayed at yet on this trip! The local boaters however were very nice and friendly. After work the next day we had lunch at the restaurant on the marina – lunch consisted of a 3 pound bucket of mussels. We explored the town next afternoon, walking around and soaking in the local culture. The main downtown area is quite small – the town is only about 30,000 people, so a long afternoon walk covered prettty much the whole area.
It is dotted with churches and other old buildings and was quite pleasant to stroll around. It is high tourist season so things were quite busy. We came back to the boat and did some chores before eating a light dinner and then we started chatting to some of the local boat owners. That turned into a challenge and Melanie who has never touched a live fish in her life got a quick lesson on how to clean a fish. They had been catching Mackerel off their boat that day, so Jerry taught her how to clean it and then gave us about 20 which she did and then he wrapped them for us to take, so now we have a freezer full of fish!
The following day we left around noon. There was a nice breeze out of the SW which was favorable for us to head East. Half a mile out and we realized we had forgotten to buy ice, so we turned around and headed back in to pick some up. Then we started again, and motored out of the Charlottetown area and into the channel where we killed the engine and sailed. The wind was a little shifty, and it jumped around a little before fizzling out entirely. We decided earlier that based on the favorable wind forecast, we would attempt to sail through the night and try to get to Canso. So Melanie went down below and I took the first watch. After switching to the North and dying completely, the wind gradually filled in until we had a good 7-10 knot wind from the North and once again we were close hauled.
The wind direction stayed steady but the wind came and went. Sometimes we had a great breeze and then it would fizzle, not that we were concerned because it was a long night, but by dinner we were approaching the Wood Islands which was the last bail out point on PEI. The wind had filled in nicely so we continued. I went below and tried to sleep, but the wind came up as usual and rest down below was scarce. We were bouncing around quite a bit. At 11pm I came up and helped Melanie roll up the Yankee as the winds were now 20. It was hard to go back to sleep again, so we chatted for a while and then she went to bed and I stood watch. The wind fizzled and for a while we were rolling around quite a bit before it came up again. Around sunrise we were coming out of the large bay at the North end of the straits of Canso, having sailed all night and the wind finally fizzled completely, not to reappear. The last 2 miles to the lock were under power. We passed through quite quickly and ended up motor sailing the rest of the way to Canso, where we anchored for the night.
Our first impressions of Nova Scotia were quite favorable. The land is very unspoiled; lots of life up here, but you have to be self sufficient. It is beautiful, reminds us both a lot of the wilderness in Alaska. Seals spy hopped and watched our progress down the strait and into the Atlantic. Whales were feeding as they cruised by and then slipped below the water to escape our eyes. Islands, both large and small, all very rocky, dotted the landscape. And best of all the sun was out, so we gradually peeled off our foulies during the day until we were in shorts again. It was a nice relaxing day. After motoring past the quaint little town of Canso, we headed into a sheltered bay among some rocky islands and there we dropped the anchor for the night. Then we napped for a few hours to catch up on sleep before waking up in the late afternoon to prepare dinner.