Cruising Nova Scotia, Part II - SailNet Community
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Cruising Nova Scotia, Part II

SailNet's DIY duo drop anchor in one of Nova Scotia's many secluded coves, just one of several alluring features that await cruisers willing to venture this far north.
A few miles south of Halifax Harbor, we decided to anchor just off a small island called Inner Sambro. This uninhabited island beckoned us with her beautiful, granite-lined shore, so we jumped in the dinghy and headed ashore to explore on foot. We pulled the boat up on the small beach surrounded by huge rocky boulders and happily set off. Thirty minutes later and halfway around the island, we were distracted by a boat tooting its horn, repeatedly. Figuring something was up, we headed back toward our boat and soon saw two men in a skiff. It was obvious they were looking for us.

"We found your dinghy floating out to sea!" cried the man on the bow. Well, so much for our thinking that the tide was going out. We hadn't pulled our dinghy very far up on shore for that reason, but that's the last time we leave our dinghy untied, regardless of what we think the tide is doing.

We were extremely happy to be rescued from the island since the water temperature here was the lowest we had seen yet in Nova Scotia—a frigid 45 degrees F. There was no need to pack a bathing suit for this trip. After securing the dinghy, we invited our two new friends aboard Serengeti and declared an early happy hour. Their faces broke into toothy grins as we served them some of good dark Bermuda rum as their reward. The afternoon went quickly by as we traded fishing secrets.

The next day, we rounded Chebucto Head and laid a course for Halifax, Nova Scotia's largest city and one of the biggest commercial shipping ports on the eastern coast of North America. Here we had a choice of tying up at the bustling waterfront docks in the downtown area, or sailing up the backside of the city to the appropriately named Northwest Arm. You guessed it; that's the compass heading needed to get into the place. Being anchorers at heart, we chose the second option. This beautiful but relatively narrow stretch of water is home to one of the busiest sailing communities you'll see anywhere in the world. We had to dodge kids in boats from Junior Sailing programs and then try to find an anchor spot that wasn't in the way of any of any moorings and didn't encroach upon the channel where evening and weekend club races are regularly held this time of year.

The lovely setting of the Armdale Yacht Club in Halifax, where local members greeted the authors with open arms and treated them to unprecedented hospitality.

Finally, after anchoring in 35 feet of water, Sue and I went ashore to check out the Armdale Yacht Club. Here we were greeted with open arms and given a guided tour of the historic property. We were encouraged to join in on the bar activities, invited to other organized suppers, and even asked to partake in some of the racing events. You'll not find a friendlier club than this one anywhere.

Back on the boat, we surveyed our proximity to a nearby empty mooring ball. We were anchored just off a very nice house where a racing boat that had just finished the Marblehead to Halifax race was tethered to the dock. Thinking that this empty mooring ball might be for that boat, we half expected the homeowner to ask us to move.

Sure enough, that evening a man walked out to the end of his dock and called out to us. Sue and I jumped up, ready to tell him we'd move right away, when he surprised us by asking if there was anything we needed. Water? Transportation? A shower? Relieved, we thanked him, but assured him we were just fine.

The next morning, a young boy named Graham dinghied out to Serengeti and told us that the man we spoke to yesterday and his wife were expecting us at their house at 10:00 a.m. We were welcome to do laundry, take showers there, and later they'd take us to the grocery store and on a tour of Halifax. Thank you Elaine and Bobby; your kindness to total strangers is well remembered.

Sue minds the helm while sporting the appropriate summer regalia for cruising the coast of Nova Scotialots of fleece.
A few days later, we met up with a boat that left Bermuda at the same time we did. Tempest had sailed to northern Nova Scotia, then cruised south along the coast, while we started in the south and were heading north. During our passage, we had a schedule for twice daily SSB radio contact with them and had enjoyed talking to each other so much that we kept right on with our daily schedule, comparing the different ends of Nova Scotia. It was great to finally meet each other face to face and we had fun spending time together in the wonderfully energized small "big city" of Halifax.

We soon realized that we'd dawdled too much and it was time to head south again. With much of Nova Scotia still left unseen we felt compelled to return again some day. Maybe we'll plan our next trip to coincide with the annual Stan Rogers Folk Music Festival that is held in the town of Canso, near the Bras D'Or Lakes in northeastern Nova Scotia. Many cruising boats spend the entire season in these pictographic waters alone.

We departed Nova Scotia with heavy hearts and a strong gale system located south of the Grand Banks, which was moving northeast. Our plan was to traverse the Gulf of Maine and sail directly into Provincetown, MA, at the tip of Cape Cod. Although the gale was far away and heading out to sea, we did experience its far-reaching impact. As expected, we soon found ourselves in a sea pattern of ever increasing proportion. Swells of 15 feet soon became 20, then 25, and then 30. Fortunately the very long period between waves meant they weren't cresting and breaking, making the whole ride a most unique experience. Even though the winds were moderate to strong, at the bottom of each wave our sails fell limp since the wind was completely blocked by the huge walls of water.

Waves dispersing their energy on the craggy shores of Nova Scotia bid the peripatetic authors goodbye.
When we looked back at the rocky shores of Nova Scotia, they were magnificently jeweled by huge formations of spray as the giant waves found their first resistance in hundreds of miles and complained bitterly. Looking ahead we saw a fleet of 30 to 40 good-sized fishing boats dragging nets back and forth below Cape Sable, right where we were headed. Just as we were wondering how we were going to maneuver through this congested fleet that kept disappearing in the enormous troughs of each wave, the constant theme of friendly Nova Scotians paid us one more visit. An official looking Canadian Fisheries boat, the guys who keep tabs on the fishing fleets, pulled up along side and told us to follow them through the fleet. They said they'd clear a path for us.

Once safely through the big fleet, we waved goodbye to our guide boat and to Nova Scotia. Sue, at the top of her lungs, broke out singing a rousing rendition of "Farewell to Nova Scotia, your sea bound coast..." She claimed that it's a popular seafaring song she remembers from growing up in Canada, but I'm not so sure she wasn't just making it up. We both say, farewell to Nova Scotia for now, but we'll definitely be back!

Novie Necessities

Expect Cold—If you want to enjoy cruising Nova Scotia, we recommend that you install a heater that will help take the chill off. It's not so much the air temperature, since in the summer Nova Scotia is quite temperate, but the water that never really heats up. Below decks it always seems cold due to the very cool water temperatures that surround the hull. We took a big diesel heater off Serengeti to make room for a large freezer during our refit, and have not yet put another heater back on board. We tried heating the boat with just clay pots turned upside down on the stove, but definitely missed not having a real heater. There will certainly be one on board before we return to these waters.

Expect fog—This part of the world is prone to fog and you will no doubt encounter plenty of it during your cruise. Radar is a huge asset and not something we would want to leave off the boat if navigating these waters in the future. Though fog is not something any of us want to travel in everyday, it does have an element of challenge to it and will make you a better sailor for knowing how to handle it. A note of interest: the fog is usually only on the water. On the foggiest days down on the coast, as soon as you get ashore, you'll often find a nice sunny day.

Plan Wisely—With prevailing winds out of the south during the summer months, it's easy to get up the coast quickly, but it's always tough to buck the headwinds when heading home again. Don't try to cover more distance than you have adequate time to cover safely.

Eat Right—Lobster season ends in Nova Scotia on May 31, so you don't have to deal with the thousands of lobster pots that are so bothersome in Maine during the summer. On the down side, you don't have the same easy access to fresh lobsters in every port, but salmon, on the other hand, is in abundant supply from the multiple farms.

Log On—The Canadian Government has established a program called CAP (Canadian Access Program) to ensure that travelers will find easy and free access to the Internet in virtually every small town. We found connection opportunities in schools, some in community centers, and others even in quaint little museums. It's a great service and much appreciated by cruisers and road travelers alike.

Tide Times—Tides on the east coast of Nova Scotia run just five to 10 feet and are relatively easy to deal with. The farther north you travel, the less the tide. On the west coast in the Bay of Fundy, the tides are much more challenging, running 12 to 28 feet or more! These are the highest tides in the world.

There are a few good guidebooks and resources for sailors available on Nova Scotia. We recommend:

  • A Cruising Guide to Nova Scotia (Digby to Cape Breton Island) by Peter Loveridge
  • Cruising Guide to the Nova Scotia Coast by John E McKelvy, Jr.
  • A Cruising Guide to the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River, by Nicholas Tracy
  • Cruise Cape Breton by RD MacKeen
  • Yachting Guide to the South Shore of Nova Scotia (Halifax to Yarmouth) by Arthur Deckman
  • Reed's Nautical Almanac, North American East Coast Edition


  • Suggested Reading:

    Friendly Cruising in Nova Scotia by Sue & Larry

    Entering Foreign Waters by Liza Copeland

    Weather Forecast for Sailors by Michael Carr

    SailNet Store Section:  Vests and Pullovers

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