Remembering who rules
10 August 2018 | Isle aux Morts, Newfoundland
Well, some of it was very pleasant and some of it wasn't at all.
We weighed anchor in Baddeck, Cape Breton at about 0830hrs on Tuesday with the opening log entry for the coming passage describing our intention as sailing "towards Isle aux Morts, Newfoundland". Sailors tend to be superstitious, and therefore unwilling to change what has been accepted practice for centuries for fear of incurring the wrath of Neptune: what has worked hitherto, etc., etc.. And one thing above all that Neptune can't abide is hubris in those who navigate his domain. Hence one sails "towards" one's hoped-for destination, rather than assumes one is going to get there.
The sun shone and the day was bright and clear as we made our way northwards through the Great Bras d'Or; the 20nm long fjord-like stretch of water that connects the landlocked lakes of Cape Breton with the open seas of the Cabot Strait and Gulf of St Lawrence to the north. Here one must get timings right. The point where the Great Bras d'Or meets the sea is only a few hundred metres across and through there must go all the water that the twice-daily tidal rise and fall of the open sea encourages to flow into and out of the huge area of the Cape Breton lakes. It's a lot of water, and it can be in a hurry. Ergo, one doesn't want to even be trying to go in the opposite direction, and in the unhappy circumstance of a wind-against-tide situation it would be downright dangerous. Add to that the fact that the navigable channel is only 50m wide in places, and one must not only get timings right, one's pilotage must be spot-on. So it was that tensions eased only as we passed the last of the channel marker buoys going northward on the Cabot Strait side of the maelstrom.
But the sun was still shining, the sky was blue and the southerly wind that was to take us towards Newfoundland, some 90nm distant, was filling in. Before long we had a steady 20 knots of following breeze and Kiviuq was picking up her skirts. Neptune was obviously occupied elsewhere.
The afternoon saw some high stratus cloud beginning to form and by late afternoon one could almost imagine a halo around the veiled sun, which is never a good sign. The wind now was gusting in the higher twenties and the ever-present Atlantic swell was being accentuated by wind-generated wave action on our starboard quarter. This would normally give us reason to put a reef in the mainsail and take in a little jib, especially with night approaching, but there was by this time another factor to consider. We were sailing fast, and that would have us making landfall on the 'iron-bound' SW coast of Newfoundland in the darkness of the moonless early hours of the morning. Moreover, with the now SE breeze it would be a lee shore. We therefore put not one, but two reefs in the main and jib in order to slow progress.
Next up to keep the crew on alert was the increasing shipping traffic we were encountering as we crossed what is a busy strait through which passes almost all of the shipping for Montreal. We were also not the only vessel en route to or from Newfoundland, although I think we were the only sailing vessel.
By 0100hrs the distance to SW Newfoundland was shrinking fast and the wind had backed into the east, putting it on Kiviuq's beam. This really makes her go, so something had to be done. We decided to heave-to and then concentrate on not being run down by any of the shipping around us. As it happened I only had to make one VHF call to a large vessel with a very near projected closest point of approach. As expected though, the officer I spoke to had seen us on his radar and AIS and stated his intention to alter course to pass safely to the south of us.
By 0200hrs, even hove-to as we were, Kiviuq seemed drawn to Newfoundland and we were only 10nm or so from the nearest point of land near Port aux Basques. We started the engine and began motor-sailing very slowly towards the ENE to place us for a dawn run in towards Isle aux Morts from a safe distance offshore.
Then we noticed the first flashes of lightning, quite a distance off, but something else to think about. As we puttered along it did get closer, but never close enough to be a real concern. But a sudden downpour of tropical proportions told us that squalls were now on the menu. And indeed, when Marilou examined the radar display we were surrounded by a number of heavy rain cells, but as dawn approached they moved away eastwards along the Newfoundland coast without giving Kiviuq another drenching and problems with squall-force winds.
When the reluctant dawn finally arrived it was grey, humid, and very damp with visibility down to a mile or two. But we were where we had planned to be; that is six miles south of the entrance to the very narrow Isle aux Morts fairway. We turned in, but with just a mile to go we still hadn't seen Newfoundland, such was the poor visibility, and getting poorer.
Actually the first thing we wanted to see was the red and white 'safe-water' buoy at the seaward end of the fairway. But when we were a hundred metres or so from where it should have been, a large red can buoy appeared out of the murk. The discrepancy between what we were seeing and what was charted, together with the crashing swells on the rocks that we could now just make out ahead of us, had us within seconds of aborting the approach. Then we spotted a second red buoy, as charted, just beyond the first. We proceeded with extreme caution then from buoy to buoy marking the entrance channel and between those rocks with their crashing breakers very close on either hand.
Then, as is often the case in such situations, the tension evaporated in sudden 'sweetness and light' as the entry was made. The wind was gone in the shelter of land, the water was as calm as a mill pond, and on this occasion a collection of simple wooden houses emerged through the mist where expected on the starboard side. This was Isle aux Morts.
Carefully we made our way around some of the islands in the bay to an almost landlocked anchorage called Squid Hole ('Squiddle' in Newfynese). As we crept in through the narrow entrance we expected to see an islet about one third of the way down the little bay, but the only evidence of it was a patch of seaweed showing on the surface. This was given a good berth as we passed it heading deeper into the bay. There we set the anchor and gave it a good pull with the engine and reverse gear before putting the kettle on.
So the electronic charts we were using were in error on at least two points during our entry to Isle aux Morts. First, the red and white safe-water buoy was a red can buoy, and second, the "islet" in Squid Hole covers near high water, and this was only a couple of days after neaps. Clearly we shall need to use the Newfoundland charts with a healthy degree of caution in future.
But we were safely in, although I can't help thinking it might have all been a lot easier if when I had poured my glass of sherry the evening before I had also poured one for the mighty Neptune.
Note: A position report has been filed separately and our current location in Isle aux Morts should show on the map page.
Correction: In the previous post I stated that Baddeck is the main town in Cape Breton. It isn't. Sydney, a commercial port and industrial town, is by far the largest centre of population. Baddeck is the 'capital' of the Bras d'Or Lakes region.