Crossing the Bay of Maine, Again
10 August 2018 | St Peters, Nova Scotia
Pamela/Sunny and warm
When we came through Canada on the St Lawrence River three years ago, we were moving fast to make a November deadline for a passage to the Caribbean. We loved the Canadian Maritimes and vowed to come back when we had time to enjoy it! We set our sights on Bras D'or (pronounced Brah-DOOR) Cape Breton, Nova Scotia's majestic inland lake.
Our departure from the Narragansett Bay took us through the Elizabeth Islands with stops in Cuttyhunk, Tarpulin Cove and Hadley Harbor. We waited out some weather and enjoyed some shore time with our friends Bobbie and Peter and our godson Mick. Our last US port was Provincetown which served as a fantastic send off!
If I were completely honest I would tell you that I was not looking forward to crossing the Gulf of Maine again. Our last trip was quite miserable and stands to this very day as the worst passage ever! Some passages are rougher than others but we often say, "at least it's not as bad as the Gulf of Maine! And yet here we were, ready to try it again.
Since a lookout must be maintained on the boat 24/7, we have developed a watch system that has us alternating three hours at the helm and three hours off watch. My hours are 1000-1300, 1600-1900, 2200-0100, and finally 0400-0700. Leaving Provincetown I took encouragement from the Pilgrims Monument which you can see miles out to sea, much further than you would expect! Think of how brave those pilgrims were, heading into the unknown, crossing these very waters, which I personally know to be treacherous.
But on this occasion, the winds were light and the sea was calm making for a nice easy motor sail. But make no mistake, the strong currents coursing through that area can wreak havoc on your navigation. If you are not vigilant, you can easily be swept off course. Every six hours the current changes. We generally expect to make between 7 and 7.5 Kt an hour, and we found ourselves pinging 11 kts surfing down surging swells. Other times we ground down to 5 kts as the current pushed against us. Nonetheless, we made great time.
Once the pilgrim monument disappeared over the horizon there was nothing but ocean in every direction and nothing else. Then the dolphins started showing up at dawn to play in our bow wake! The moon was incredible in the night sky and Mars put on a real show! On the second day Kurt spotted a whale off our port side! He called me up from the galley and sure enough we saw the blow then the surfacing of the pilot whale! While keeping watch you are always looking for lights on the horizon indicating another boat to keep an eye on. But we didn't see one of those until the last night.
Having made good time, I had the last watch coming into Bras D'or. At the watch change, the Captain confirmed two large pleasure craft several miles off on our port side. No change from the previous watch, as well as a single boat, likely a fishing vessel far to our starboard with no AIS signal. Automatic Identification System allows boats to broadcast their heading, speed , length and purpose. We have gotten comfortable passing quite closely to enormous vessels knowing their location, speed and direction relative to Big Frisky.
About ten minutes into my last watch I identified trouble. What previously seemed like a stationary fishing boat far off our starboard was suddenly, RIGHT off our starboard! By the time I got a handle on his speed and trajectory, in the dark, it was clear that we would be passing very closely. Evaluating my options, it seemed too late to turn off as I would be turning right into him. He did not contact me via VHF radio, which made me think he was not worried. He should have been. I know I was. I made my intention clear that I was continuing heading at same rate. Though I'm not always very religious, I did pray to God and Jesus to delivery me. And it worked! I watched in the dark as I saw first his port light, then both port and starboard, and finally just the green starboard, we'd passed each other. Thank you Jesus!
We arrived, appropriately at St. Peters. The lock allows you to come in from the Atlantic Ocean into the inland Lake of Cape Breton. After guiding us into the lock safely, I took my off watch to sleep while the Captain checked in with Canadian immigration and set up our canal transit. The St Peters Marina is fantastic! Great showers, grocery store shuttles, laundry etc. But the best part is meeting fellow cruisers.
The two pleasure craft crossing the Gulf of Maine with us turned out to be Nordhavens. Classic trawlers! They were going same place we were and we ended up having a visit with them at the marina. We talked about many things, then the captain of April K finally spit out"
How close did you actually come to that fishing boat?" They could see both boats on their radar and at one point, both bleeps merged as one. As hair raising as it was it was for me, it was even worse for our observers a few miles away! Yikes!
We have received a warm welcome to Bras D'or where the ocean meets the inland sea and we look forward to exploring more of this magical place!