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Old 04-04-2002
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Friendly Cruising in Nova Scotia


The often bleak coastline of Nova Scotia speaks volumes about those who inhabit it, but when the fog lifts you'll find it's one of the most scenic and friendly places to cruise.

We could smell Nova Scotia long before we reached her briny shores. With Serengeti completely engulfed in fog and still a 100 miles to go, we both perceived an unmistakable aroma that could only be attributed to fish. So far, things were just as we expected from reading seafaring tales of this part of the world—fish and fog.

For many years we had wanted to cruise Nova Scotia. Several years back we headed up that way, but got caught up in the beauty of Maine, and didn’t have time before the weather turned. This time we found ourselves anchored in Bermuda in late June, trying to decide where to go next. With July and August being the best cruising months in Nova Scotia, we decided the timing was perfect to make the 680 mile hitch almost due north. Surprisingly, Nova Scotia is only about 70 miles further from Bermuda than New York City or Beaufort, North Carolina—so why not?

Nova Scotia is essentially a large island with a magnificent craggy shoreline that’s indented by thousands of inlets and bays and speckled with close to 4,000 smaller islands. Connected by only a small isthmus, it is the most eastern of the mainland Canadian Maritime Provinces and is located just north and east of Maine.

After almost five days at sea, and still enshrouded with fog, we transitioned into a heightened and more aware mode of navigation as we approached Shelburne, a small town on the southeastern shore of Nova Scotia. We were disappointed that we weren’t going to get to see any of the beautiful shoreline that we’d heard so much about. Actually, we’d chosen Shelburne as our landfall specifically for the situation we now found ourselves in fog. The harbor here is one of the largest and easiest to enter that you’ll find almost anywhere in the world.


Proudly sporting the flag of their province, these Novies wave hello to the authors.

Happily, the sea buoy marking the harbor entrance popped up first on radar, then visually, as the fog thinned for just an instant. As we entered the mouth of the harbor, the fog miraculously disappeared. Must be good living! Lush green forested shores dotted with charming and simple houses surrounded us on both sides. The air was crisp, clean, and refreshing. Turning off the radar, we were finally able to relax a bit and enjoy the excitement that comes with any landfall after a long passage.

Sailing down the four-mile long harbor, our visual senses were heightened even more by splashes of brightly painted fishing boats tending to the feeding of salmon. These were the first of many floating aquaculture pens we would see over the summer, and we now recognize them as a new way of fishing for many Nova Scotians. Of course these often non-charted pens are definitely not something cruisers want to avoid at night and in the fog.

"Customs agents were boarding every boat that arrived and confirming that the information reported on the phone jived with what was actually on board. Reportedly, drug smuggling is a nagging problem."
After tying up at the single dock in front of the Shelburne Yacht Club, we were welcomed by a number of its friendly members who make it a point to personally greet every cruising boat that arrives. The club has a "network" of people who spot a boat as it enters the harbor and then advise each other of subsequent arrivals. One of the club members offered to drive us around town and help orient us to the area. We gladly accepted their offer, but first we had to clear customs. Canadian Customs agents were boarding every boat that arrived and confirming that the information reported on the phone jived with what was actually on board. You don’t think of drug smuggling when you think of Nova Scotia, but due to its remote shoreline, it’s reportedly a nagging problem. We had a whole case of black Bermuda rum on board, which was apparently a little more than they liked, but we worked things out.

Shelburne, "made-over" in 1994 to look like Boston during the early 18th century, was the filming location for Disney’s production of The Scarlet Letter. The set was made permanent, resulting today in about as pretty a little town as you will see anywhere. After clearing customs, we moved from the yacht club to the free town dock, where a 48-hour stay is allowed. Ready to catch our lines were some cruising friends we had last seen in Key West. We had fun swapping adventures while walking about town and taking in the architecture of the beautiful houses. Friendly folks greeted us every direction we went. As it turned out, Nova Scotia was having a heat wave. We got a chuckle out of all the locals complaining bitterly about the incredible heat. It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Nova Scotians are known to be a tough breed, but I suppose that’s only true with regard to cold weather.


The coast of Nova Scotia is dotted with harbors like Lunenburg, above quaint, historic, secure, and inviting all at the same time.

After a few days, we started heading up the coast. There are many more interesting harbors to choose from than there is time available, so we had to be judicious in our stops. There’s an excellent cruising guidebook written by Peter Loveridge, a doctor who has for 20 years explored every nook and cranny of Nova Scotia, called A Cruising Guide to Nova Scotia. His book rates each harbor on a one-to-five-star basis, taking into account beauty and interest, and separately rates protection and ease of access. This book was very helpful in making sure we experienced many of the real gems of the province and skipped some of the less appealing places. Although, I must add that we didn’t find any areas unattractive. We tried to vary our stops with remote, out of the way places, while taking in some of the more popular historic towns that attract visitors from around the world.

It was in a quiet, picturesque anchorage called Port Mouton (pronounced Muhtoon and named after a sheep that fell overboard), that we met three young men in a small sloop who were out celebrating the last few days of bachelorhood for one of their crew. That night in Serengeti’s cockpit, they introduced us to the wonderful seafaring music of Stan Rogers, a Nova Scotia singer-songwriter legend. Through listening to Stan Roger’s songs, and seeing firsthand the effects that the collapse of the fishing industry has had on many erstwhile busy fishing ports, we got a better feel for the Nova Scotia people and how things have changed so dramatically for them. It’s wonderful music and we recommend it to anyone who has a passion for the sea.

Sailing into the eighteenth century town of Lunenburg took us back to a time long forgotten. It’s here that the famous Bluenose Schooner was built. In 1919, after an America’s Cup race was cancelled due to "the high winds of 23 knots", the schoonermen, who had always scoffed at this pretentious yachting event, could take it no more. They started their own racing series between US and Canadian working ships. This event, called the International Fisherman’s Trophy, would test the skill of "real boats" and "real sailors" in real life conditions. The schooner Bluenose was built in response to Canada losing the first year’s competition. For the next 18 years, she was unbeatable on the race course. She also reached the fishing grounds of the Grand Banks first and was able to return to market ahead of the others. Lunenburg today still revolves around memories of the Bluenose, boat building, boat repair, and other maritime activities. In 1995, this scenic town was added to the World Heritage List, whose purpose is to ensure beautiful and unique places in the world stay that way.


Lunenburg is famous for its fishing schooners like this one; just another element of Nova Scotia's colorful coastal culture.

Just moments after dropping the hook, we were approached by a man in a dinghy who welcomed us to Lunenburg. He was a local, there for the weekend on his own boat. The third sentence out of his mouth was, "Would you like to join us for dinner?"

"Boy these guys are friendly here," I said to Sue as soon as he’d left. We made plans to meet up later.

Leaving Lunenburg in our wake, we headed for the protected waters of Mahone Bay. Sprinkled with hundreds of wonderful anchorages, we were torn as to where to spend our time. Entering Deep Cove we experienced a hold-your-breath-type, narrow, rock-lined channel that led down a long protected cove, as depicted by its name. Having traveled in complete fog the day before, we welcomed the warm sun and tranquility of the anchorage. Sailing into Chester was a real eye-opener. This is the Canadian version of Newport, RI, and magnificent mansions adorn the pretty coastline. An overnight stop at Tancook Island gave us a glimpse of the rugged lives many Nova Scotians live on these out islands. The town of Mahone Bay, best depicted in postcards by the spires of three churches clustered together gracing the waterfront, was also a fun stop. Unfortunately we just missed the annual Wooden Boat Festival that is one of the provinces biggest attractions. Such is the cruising life. You can't do it all, but what you do experience is so wholly worthwhile.

Sue & Larry will be back in a few weeks with Part Two of their adventures in coastal Nova Scotia.


Suggested Reading:

Sailing in Fog by Sue & Larry

LandfallBurrin, Newfoundland by Beth Leonard

Tidal Mysteries by Tania Aebi

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