On the way to Newfoundland

By Chris Bray 8 November 2013
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Chris and Jess have made their way from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.

WE MADE IT – our first ‘crossing’ – from Nova Scotia up to Newfoundland, and what a beautiful part of the world it is up here in the Gulf of St Lawrence. It’s full of wildlife, waterfalls, fog and friendly people.

After two peaceful days in St. Peters, Nova Scotia – spent fixing and improving several systems, we at last pulled ourselves together and left. Armed with great info, advice, and encouragement from several other lovely yachting couples we enjoyed meals with there, we sailed up through the spectacularly scenic and wonderfully protected Bras D’or Lakes.

The wind (5-15kn) was mostly against us, but even tacking to and fro (as you can likely see from our tracker) wasn’t unpleasant, and we passed many picturesque lighthouses, grand lake-side mansions, and under various bridges including the Barra Strait Bridge where we had to radio ahead and have them stop traffic and open up a huge span for us to pass beneath! Flicking through our ‘Cruising guide to the Canadian Maritimes’, we were surprised to learn that the imposing grand manor on the approaching hillside of Baddeck was actually ‘The Bell Estate’ – as in the old home of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone.

As evening approached we swung into ‘Big Harbour’ (it was anything but – just a small quiet inlet with a couple of cottages veiled behind trees and enough room for maybe two yachts) and dropped our anchor for the first time this season, and went to sleep, ready to wake early and make the most of the incoming weather.

I was heaving the anchor up by 7am and we had breaky underway, sailing up the remainder of ‘The Great Bras D’Or’ (the last, narrow 18 miles of the lake, lined by mountains), where the current at times roared us along at an exciting 8 knots despite only sailing at about 4kn. We had a bit of a premonition (of a day perhaps like 4 years away) as we passed under the Seal Island bridge – spookily identical to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and amusingly, only a couple of miles from the city of ‘Sydney’ here in N.S.

Heading out into the open water of Cabot Strait, the current sucked so fast that it made the channel marker buoys look like they were charging through the water towards us throwing up huge bow waves as the water rushed past them.

The wind – as predicted – was a favourable 15kn on a broad reach, and with the self-steering gear now working properly, we rocketed along at 6-7kn, watching hands-free as Nova Scotia faded into the mist. Drugged up with two types of anti-sea-sickness drugs, Jess was still smiling as we commenced our night-watches (4hrs on/4hrs off during the day, 3hrs on/off at night), clearly ecstatic to be feeling so well and able at last to enjoy the experience.

One of the great joys was using our AIS WatchMate system, which automatically shares the position (as well as course, speed, name and everything else) of boats with others nearby using VHF radio. Well and truly before we could visually spot an approaching ship on the horizon, our AIS system would detect it, display it on our GPS chartplotter, and alert us if the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) was less than comfortable. We could then change course to avoid disaster, even call them on VHF by name and chat to their skipper to warn them.

Conveniently, our system is a transceiver, which was very reassuring, as we had a few ships that kept changing their course (back onto a potential collision course) every time I settled on a new escape route, and so in times like this when I eventually hailed them on the radio, they were able to reassure me that they already had me on their display and “Don’t you worry, we see you.” Considering as when these big ships are doing 20kn+ (40km/hr!), and even with our engine on and full throttle, into any kind of sea we can only do like 3-4kn, sometimes seeing the ship on AIS isn’t enough, and it’s great to know they can see us too.

At last as dawn broke, we could see the mist-draped mountains of Newfoundland looming towards us, waterfalls gushing out over the sea cliffs, and thoroughly tired, pulled into the little harbour of ‘Codroy’ at 6am for a good long sleep while the weather abated. Over 120 miles in less than 24 hrs! Go Teleport!

Without warning several pods of dolphins came leaping towards us through the ghostly white backdrop and played with us for a good 5-10 minutes, enough time for me to strap a camera onto a pole and shove it down underwater and film them. 

In typically welcoming Newfoundland style, several locals came down and literally took our ropes as we pulled against the fishing wharf and it was getting late by the time we’d finished chatting, lowered our RIB dingy into the water and went for a bit of a ‘zodiac cruise’, around the perfectly still and calm ocean cliffs outside, whereupon another minke whale actually came right over and investigated us curiously! This place is amazing.

This morning we just walked up a beautifully mossy, foggy track to the little lighthouse perched precariously on the cliffs, and as soon as we get this update out, we’re going to sail off again, perhaps direct to St. Anthony’s around the northern tip of Newfoundland, and our jumping off point to Greenland. We should encounter or first icebergs and growlers as we round the top of Newfoundland in the next few days.  

Follow Chris and Jess on the tracker position map

Preparations for the Arctic sailing adventure
Arctic sailing adventure sets off