Dinghy Cruising Along Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore
Rob Dunbar sails Celtic Kiss (CL2120) from Dartmouth past Canso
to Pirate Harbour on the Canso Strait in September 2006
Days 4 to 6
DAY FOUR: Tuesday September 5, 2006
From listening to the weather forecast the night before, I knew that the gale had passed.  A small craft warning was however, issued with maximum winds of 25 knots.  Given the confidence I had in the seaworthiness of Celtic Kiss, I decided to head out.  Anxious to get going, I awoke shortly after daybreak and had a quick breakfast, which consisted of mixed fruit, granola bars and almonds.  After re-opening my float plan and going through the lengthy process of tearing down my camp and restoring the boat, I set off for the most exhilarating sail of my life under reefed main alone.
The gale had left behind very large offshore swells, which made for great surfing.  The combination of 25-knot winds and 12-foot waves had Celtic Kiss speeding down the Eastern Shore in excess of 9 knots for the entire day of sailing.  My course took me across Pope's Harbour, Spry Bay and Mushaboom Harbour.  It was around here that I noticed many breakers offshore as I was entering a very rocky area of the Eastern Shore.  Common sense dictates to stay away from the string of breakers or face the direst of consequences.  Given the large number of breaking waves over any offshore rocks, it was easy to spot them from a great distance.  I termed this "breaker navigation" which required a particularly keen eye on the breakers because Celtic Kiss and I were, in a way, sailing blindly along this portion of the coast.  I was never in any danger, but I would say sailing blindly because I could not read my charts as they were securely tethered to the mast.  Proper weight and balance are integral factors in a sailing dinghy and given the wind velocity and sea state, it was imperative that I sit as far aft as possible so as not to bury the bow in the back of a wave. Hence my charts were out of reach.

Though I was thoroughly enjoying my sail, and my confidence in the seaworthiness of Celtic Kiss had grown exponentially, safety is always first and foremost on my mind.  In my many years of dinghy sailing, I have learned that the difference between paradise and chaos can be a matter of only seconds.  A broken split ring could cause certain rig failure: a dismasting is bad at any time but in an angry sea it could be a disastrous situation. Once I was clear of Beaver Island, I spotted a red spar buoy, which I knew from experience, marked a channel into safe haven: Quoddy Harbour.  Though I had told the coast guard I would go as far as Tuffin Island (see second chart, Day 5), I had spotted Quoddy on the mainland and now altered course to make a landfall there.  But to get into the harbour, I had to pass through a narrow passage between two islands with breakers all around them.  This required some precise navigation and careful planning.  I couldn't fall too far off the breakers because I wouldn't make the channel, but on the other hand, I could not go too far upwind as I would be at a bad angle to the waves. 

Eventually, I was able to thread the needle between the
Harbour Islands at the entrance to Quoddy Harbour.  I estimated 700 feet as the distance between the two islands where towering breakers marked the sides of the narrow channel with less disturbed water in the middle.  To starboard of Celtic Kiss, white foam was within a boat length, and to port I could stare into green water of breaking waves that were higher than the spreaders.  Once I had sailed into the lee of the Harbour Islands, the swell disappeared, but the high wind was still evident even though the forecast had called for diminishing wind.  Thus I tacked under reefed main into Quoddy Harbour and admired the beautiful homes.  One mansion in particular stood out, and I noticed a person standing on the back deck watching my every move as I guided Celtic Kiss to the public dock at Gammons Creek Harbour. (Al's note: for marina pics and info, click here.) Upon my discreet arrival into the picturesque village, I immediately sought a bit of local knowledge and soon found myself walking up the driveway to the mansion I had been admiring from the water.

Quoddy Harbour

View of Gammons Creek Wharf  (West Quoddy)

Celtic Kiss looks so small.

The ladies in the house in back were most hospitable.

Being shy by nature, I gently knocked on the door and was greeted by the young lady who had been watching me entering Quoddy Harbour.  As it turned out, Elisabeth and her two roommates were also sailors and quickly made me feel welcome to their home. Elisabeth, Marika and Karin were also sailing adventurers and currently had their sailboat in balmy Mexico waiting for their arrival to go off to far and wonderful places.   In great maritime fashion I was quickly provided use of their telephone so I could close my float plan and contact various family members who had been following my trip.  While speaking to my mother, I received some great news.  My father was scheduled to fly in from Calgary the next day. 
Seeing that my little vessel was receiving quite a bit of attention from my new found friends, I invited them to come down to the dock with me to give Celtic Kiss the once over. I think it was at this point that the gals took pity on me as they saw my sparse accommodation and offered me the use of their studio for the night.  The thought of a warm stable bed that would allow me to stretch out at night was definitely appealing to me. Needless to say, I eagerly jumped at their kind and very much unexpected offer. 
Noting that it was still quite early in the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the warm sun’s rays to dry and generally air out my sleeping bag and assorted items of clothing.  And of course I found myself continuing to re-arrange my cargo of food, clothing etc. into a more orderly mess.  And I especially made sure that the batteries for my handheld GPS would never be far away.  According to this little wonder, I had reached a maximum speed of 9.1 knots and sailed 23 miles in only 3.5 hours on that particular day. As well, a total distance of 75 nautical miles traveled thus far in my journey was recorded.  What a great feeling to know that I was well into a coastal cruise that at one time I could only dream about.  As the lazy afternoon wore on into early evening, I could still hear the North Atlantic’s towering waves crash into the many jagged rocks that dominate this part of the coast.  I went to bed hoping that the sea state would be a little bit less harrowing in the morning. 
Day Five: Wednesday, September 6, 2006
Just as the forecast had predicted, I woke to a dismal day of rain with a threat of fog patches developing late in the afternoon.  It would have been easy to roll over in bed and wait for better weather, but the wind speed and direction were in my favour, as was the tide. Again, a quick breakfast at daybreak, and Celtic Kiss was once again prepared to go to sea. From a conversation I had had with the local wharf master the day before, I was assured that Liscomb was within striking distance.  After a quick call to the Coast Guard to re-open my float plan with Liscomb given as my intended destination, Celtic Kiss quietly slipped from West Quoddy.  Intense chart study the previous night, along with some local knowledge gained from my gracious hosts, allowed me to guide Celtic Kiss safely back out into a calmer Atlantic Ocean.

The plentiful shoal waters provided larger swells for an early morning wake-me up. While I was passing the many rocks that were waiting to eat my fiberglass, I encountered the same whistling sound I had heard at
Egg Island.  And just like at Egg Island, not a sign of sea life except for some seaweed that gave a distinct odour of fish. After I had passed the shoal waters of Quoddy Harbour and entered the deeper water of the North Atlantic Ocean, the waves became much more bearable and provided a comfortable broad reach towards Liscomb Island.  Today’s visibility was rated as fair to poor in showers, so my trusty compass was closely monitored as I sailed towards my next waypoint of Barren Head. 

Since my departure from Halifax, I had mostly followed a course of 090 degrees and soaked in the scenery of the vast ocean expanse at the eastern edge of Canada’s mainland.  While I gently sailed past Ecum Secum, and on to Tuffin Island, I noted to myself that I had been much better off spending the night in West Quoddy rather than Tuffin Island. Though it would have been nice for once to close a float plan from the destination I had provided the Coast Guard with. 

Barren Head is getting larger on the bow and though it’s early in the day, I need to make some decisions as I can see the weather coming in from the sea. Feeling confident that I can make my destination of Liscombe Lodge, I also feel confident that I can make it as far as Sherbrooke and spend a night with some relatives there. I know that I’ll get an excellent home cooked meal, great company and no doubt a few beverages.  So, as Barren Head falls astern of my little luxury yacht, I carefully weigh out my options while the weather closes in on me.  I know I definitely don’t want to be out here in fog.  My concern is not so much being hit by another vessel as I’m sure there wouldn’t be another foolhardy soul out here, but I particularly don’t want to run afoul of a rock with my name on it.  Though I hate to give up Sherbrooke, I navigate my way to the entrance of the Liscomb River with a plan to reach the Liscombe Lodge resort.  I must be living a pretty good life when one of Nova Scotia’s finest tourist destinations ranks second on my places-to-stay list. But with Liscombe Lodge, another challenge presents itself: It’s a seven-mile run up the river in steady rain and I’ve never sailed up Celtic Kiss up a river before. But I’m up for the challenge. While the rain intensifies, I am more than ever convinced that I made the right choice in closing the float plan at Liscombe Lodge. 

Beached and then ...

... secured at Liscombe Lodge

Resting comfortably

Upon arrival at the little dock of the resort, I find a little space to secure Celtic Kiss for the night.
(Al's note: for marina pics and info, click here.) I then gather up my duffel bag of clothes and my charts before taking the short walk up to the main office of the Lodge.  “Do you take vagrants?” I jokingly ask the office staff. 
The friendly ladies behind the counter laughed at my remark and were extremely helpful in getting me settled into a luxurious room overlooking the Liscomb River. Having been informed that I must make dinner reservations for the dining room rather than just showing up looking for a meal, I made plans to dine at 2000.  As it was only 1530, I would have time to check my messages on the internet, have a shower, shave, make a few phone calls, and either get a little sleep or watch a bit of television. When I contacted the coast guard, it was quite satisfying to report to them that after four days of sailing I had finally arrived at an intended destination. And of course I was able to study my charts and plan my next day’s sail in comfort. 
This section of the Eastern Shore is a bit intriguing to me for I was now approaching an area that my father and his two brothers once attempted in a 34’ Cape Island power boat when I was only a young boy of eight.  Their Pirate Harbour to Halifax voyage did not meet with much success, as Trebor (Robert spelled backwards) succumbed to engine failure in dangerously close proximity to Nixon Mate Shoal and had to be towed by a rowboat to safety.
As my Uncle John Dunbar wrote in his journal:
… At 0530 hours a change in the sound of the motor brought Charlie rushing into the cabin.  After a cursory inspection, it was discovered that the transmission had become overheated and seized, although there was no evidence of any transmission fluid in the bilge. Upon further investigation, Charlie announced that we could proceed no further. A fix was obtained on the chart which indicated that we were just east of Indian Harbour and about six miles off the coast and two miles southwest of Nixon Mate Shoal.
This was most disappointing. Here we were, with no radio and adrift six miles off the coast on a Sunday morning, when no fishermen would be putting out to sea.  How thankful we were that my father (author’s grandfather) had insisted we take his rowboat along as a tender; it immediately became obvious that it would be put to good use.
As daylight approached the wind began to increase in velocity from the southwest, which would eventually blow us onto the reef unless we took evasive action. While Charlie and Bob (author’s father) were checking over the motor, I got into the rowboat, attached a line to Trebor’s bow and commenced to row, saving gas for an emergency, as we were not at this time in any immediate danger. Slowly but steadily she moved forward. At 0845, three hours after I had commenced rowing, we were well past the reef with several miles of good water between us and the lee shore. With the increasing wind, the waves had now risen to a height of seven or eight feet, while the sky became overcast.
Sadly, that was the last voyage for Trebor because, after being towed to Halifax, she was put on the hard and repairs were interrupted by a move to Calgary.  Thirty-one years later I now had an opportunity to visit the area where this infamous sea saga took place and would get a better appreciation of what my father and two uncles endured.
My dining reservations were soon approaching, so I did my best to find a dry set of clothes and shoes to wear to the classy dining room. I didn’t want to look like an unkempt hippie though I had earlier declared myself as a vagrant. But considering my circumstances, I think I could have been excused because I was in the middle of a somewhat daring adventure.  After enjoying a fine meal, I ordered one of my favourite drinks to celebrate the midway point of my dream:  The Long Island iced tea was sipped with much satisfaction. It was at this point that a couple stopping here in their Nonsuch 30 Feline Fine spotted me.  They were retired and sailing from their home in Quebec City to the Bahamas. I was invited aboard for a nightcap.
Day Six: Thursday, September 7, 2006
Having enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep in my Queen Size bed, I gathered my belongings, secured them aboard Celtic Kiss, and once again found myself in the dining room feasting on an all-you-can-eat buffet. Though this was a great treat, I didn’t want to savour it too long, as I didn’t want to lose a good tide to take me down river and out to sea.  My friends on Feline Fine had already slipped their lines.  After quickly consuming breakfast, I continued with my morning ritual of calling the coast guard and told them of my plans to go as far as Fisherman’s Harbour. 

Charts in a bag, tied to mast next to GPS and VHF

Leaving Liscomb River

Blue skies welcome me back to the North Atlantic.

Breaker Navigation makes it easy.

Hungry rocks waiting for a victim

Liberty Ship Fury wasn’t ...

... so lucky.

As I reached the mouth of the
Liscomb River, I sailed a course that took me in close proximity to an old Liberty Ship (photos above) that had run afoul of the many rocks that litter the coastline. Seeing this hulking derelict, one can only imagine the feeling of terror the crew members felt on that fateful night so long ago. And judging by the gentle breakers giving away the position of the same rocks that took the life of the ship, I know that I must be careful of my own navigation. 

A visit from cousin Don

Don’s on a crest, I’m in a trough.
Upon crossing the mouth of the St. Mary’s River on a very relaxing day, I heard a speedboat (above) quickly bearing down on my position. I knew right away that my cousin, Don, had got word of my presence and made a special point to greet me. The Dunbars of Sherbrooke are not only my family, they are great friends. Though I hadn't had a home-cooked meal the night before in the comforts of their kitchen, a non-perishable treat bag was now placed on a boat hook and passed over to me. Any navy in the world would have been impressed with the precision of that maneuver. 

Halifax is far beyond the horizon now.

My new crisp sails are getting broken in.

After the exchange of pleasantries, Don sped off to
Sherbrooke, and I continued on my course to Country Island where I would alter course into Fisherman’s Harbour. Immediately I opened up the bag of goodies to find some apples, oranges, a bag of chips, chocolate bars, a few cans of pop, and a few cans of beer.  Given my lack of refrigeration facilities, I deemed it necessary to find a new home for the beer before the sun got to it.  Thus I raised a can of Alexander Keith’s and toasted my father and his two brothers, Charlie and my late Uncle John. Ironically, the last time I ever saw my Uncle John was at Liscombe Lodge.

This chart has me approaching Tor Bay - note how I opted to stay offshore.

After having my moments of nostalgia, I soon get the spinnaker up, which helps me get closer to Country Island faster for a short time before whitecaps appeared when I am abeam of Wine Harbour.  Down comes the spinnaker, and soon the lighthouse of Country Island makes its appearance. A steady SW wind takes me ever closer to my destination and according to the GPS my ETA for Country Island is 1430 and since Fisherman’s Harbour is west of Country Island, my ETA for Fisherman’s Harbour should be around 1330.  That’s simply too early to call it a day, so I carefully study the chart and try to locate a destination further ahead.

Country Island Lighthouse

If the wind stays steady,
New Harbour is within reach. As Celtic Kiss glides past the twin lighthouses of Port Bickerton, New Harbour is becoming more of a real possibility.  Soon I am abeam of Fisherman’s Harbour, and the lighthouse of Country Island is taking a definite shape. I have always been fascinated with lighthouses, so I opt to sail outside of the island to get a better view, since judging by the chart I’d be running into shoal water again if I stayed inside Country Island. For the first time in my voyage I am surpassing a destination provided in my daily float plan.  Considering my previous failed attempts, this is cause for celebration. Hence I plan to have another gourmet meal done on the barbecue similar to the one I had on Baltee Island. 
Having successfully navigated past Country Island, I set course for the buoys that would guide me into New Harbour. The increasing swells let the buoys voice their location to me while warning me of submerged rocks and ledges. Each buoy was carefully studied on the chart, as I wanted to make sure I knew what each buoy was marking - it’s not always as simple as “Red-Right-Return” when approaching a foreign port.  To complicate things a bit, the wind was rising more than I had expected and I soon found myself reefing the main for the final approach into New Harbour. I could also tell that I was being watched from ashore and didn’t want to make a foolhardy approach in front of an audience. (Al's note: for marina pics and info, click here.) Upon reaching the public wharf at New Harbour and securing my lines, I immediately tried to call the coast guard and let them know my whereabouts. To my chagrin, cell phone service is non-existent in New Harbour so I relied on the kindness of the wharfmaster, Trenton, and his wife, Charlene, for the use of their telephone. Again in true Nova Scotia form, Trenton and Charlene offered to assist me with any of my needs. The only question Trent asked me was if I had seen any tuna, as the season was opening in just a few days. The answer was unfortunately “No”.

Fine dining aboard a fishing boat in New Harbour

I set up my tent and gathered my sleeping gear prior to pulling out the barbecue and having a hot meal of bottled beef, baked potato, and a celebratory glass of rum and Pepsi.  As darkness set upon me, the wind didn’t abate as it normally does at dusk. This was a disappointing turn of events for I know that this part of the coast has quite a reputation that I didn’t want to be involved with.  The Nova Scotia Cruising Guide states on page 111:  If fog prevails or if the sea is heavy from a southerly direction, it is advisable to sail well offshore clear of all dangers, round up into Chedabucto Bay and enter Canso from the northwest.  That night I could hear the waves relentlessly breaking on house size rocks in the distance and went to bed hoping I would have a favourable sail to Canso.
days 1-3
days 4-6
days 7-8