Final Leg: Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast

In our last Ariose Note, Tim and I shared that we had made a very tough decision. We would call it quits, for now, anyways.  We would end our voyage. We would take space to consider whether our relationship had also run its course. And then, as ridiculous as it sounds, we proceeded to spend the next month continuing together in the very tight quarters of our boat, as we sailed a further 450 nautical miles from îles de la Madeleine to Cape Breton, through the Canso Strait, and southward along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast to lovely Mahone Bay.  We’ve talked before about how cruising amplifies experiences. It also has a way of distilling what is important.  No need for relationship counselling when you have a month aboard to help process what you’re going through!

Yes, we could have hauled and stored Ariose in the Magdalens, and been done with it, but aside from the Islands’ remoteness (difficult for us to return to the boat, smaller pool of potential buyers if we decide to sell), doing so felt too reactive. In future, would we question if we had given up too quickly? We still had good weather ahead in the season, and felt it was important to get back on the horse, so to speak. We did not want a hurricane and a break-up to colour our final impression of sailing.

Our good friend George, has become a bit of a sailing mentor for us. Along with wise and encouraging messages of support, he also sent us details of several marinas in his home waters in south-easterly Nova Scotia, that could haul and store Ariose for the winter. He offered his garage for our gear. And a guest bed in his and Joan’s new home. And a shower. And laundry. How could we refuse? We would head Ariose’s bow southward and chart a course to Mahone Bay.

Tim and I were feeling rather raw, and in order to succeed on this final leg, recognized that we needed to be as gentle as possible – with each other and with our sailing. We had no immediate time constraints so once we made the overnight crossing of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Cape Breton, which we detailed in the last Ariose Note, we agreed to only day-sail, and only in favourable conditions. We also vowed to be as patient and compassionate as possible with one another. We weren’t perfect in this intention, but the fact that Tim and I are co-authoring this Note says something, doesn’t it.

Overall, Tim’s in-the-moment focus, without the inclination to worry too much about the future, protected him. I on the other hand, felt fully gutted on some days. The planner in me chided myself for having let the power of our sailing dream put blinders on compatibility issues. Then on better days, I recognized that I had staked hope on the possibility that those issues would fade when Tim and I were in the environment that cruising offers, with a shared purpose. Had we not taken the risk and set out on our adventures, we would have robbed ourselves of memories we’ll treasure for life.

Some days unfolded in comfortable silence. We’d agree on plan for the day, communicate the essentials, and otherwise, give each other as much space as is possible on a small boat. Some days were filled with appreciative reminiscing. Tim and I have shared a lot of amazing experiences, and we have grown through one another. We also brainstormed options for what could be next in our lives. And not unexpectedly, on some days, the atmosphere onboard held more tension than a tightly winched sheet in a blow. But all crew remained onboard, and we still enjoyed much of the voyage’s final leg.

Over to Tim to fill in the highlights of that final leg.

If you google the the Nova Scotia Tourism website, a little sailboat icon will appear as the page begins to load.  How fitting! Even with all of the stress we were under – the hurricane, the relationship whirlwind, and the ‘normal’ stress of just sailing – the trip down the Atlantic coast of the province was amazingly memorable. It’s such a fantastic place to sail. It is very rugged with no end to the inlets, islands and shoals where the large seas display their boisterous and frothy white exclamations!

Entrance to Sambro, south-west of Halifax, shows typical rugged coastline.

Port Hawkesbury, a town southeast of the causeway is where we dropped anchor once through the Canso lock. Not an especially pleasant spot with its highly industrial shoreline – piles of various materials, big cranes and the drone of large machinery – but a special place that reminded me of my motorcycle tour over 30 years ago.

A younger, thicker-haired Tim!

 I was a solo sailor of the 2-wheeled kind, (an 87 Yamaha XT350 enduro, to be precise) and, as such, was much more inclined to create social connections than I usually am. Sitting in the Tim Hortons in 1991, journalling, I struck up a conversation with a local fellow.  Blaize has stuck in my mind for all of those years. I don’t even have to go back to my diary to remember that he was a retired teacher, that he struggled with his alcohol addiction, and that he played a lovely little ditty on an old, beat-up guitar, Cape Breton style, when he invited me to his home for lunch. We were two lonely guys, appreciating a chance to chat about our lives.  Port Hawkesbury was one of many unforgettable stops on my 12,000 kilometer journey of the Maritimes, and Newfoundland & Labrador over 4 months in my 20’s. Guess I come about this travelling thing quite honestly. Sure was nice to revisit the memories. 

By mid-morning the next day, Shirl and I were heading south-east across Chedabucto Bay, in a direct line towards Canso Harbour through a narrow series of rocky islands. The conditions were less than ideal. We attempted to sail in the light winds for a few hours but realized that if we were going to get into the intimidating-looking channel at Canso before dark, we needed to call up the Yanmar for a few hours.

We anchored off the town. It looked as though it had seen better days, when it was a fishing hub, but still had charm. It would have been interesting to go to shore, but we were on a mission to get south, so, we left early the next am.

Most of the next day we motored through pine-topped rocky channels, with buoys marking the way.  It was nice to see the land so close and get an intimate view of the coastline, something that often isn’t possible under sail. It felt like we were boating in the Muskoka area, close to our northern Ontario home.

We were a little nervous as we rounded the most easterly part of mainland Nova Scotia and hit the open Atlantic, as we had heard that there can be conflicting currents there. It was fine, though. In fact, the conditions were very mild. There were large swells, but they were so widely spaced they offered no resistance. We had enough of a breeze on the beam to keep us going about 5 knots. Very pleasant.

Strong south-westerly winds were forecast for the next few days, so with our intent to avoid vigorous conditions, we tucked into Tor Bay where we would be protected. This gave us the chance to explore this area a little. I was quite happy to get Poco, our dinghy, off of the deck and head into Webber Cove. A provincial park showed on my terrestrial maps, so I went to explore. Turns out that this bay gets pretty shallow and even in Poco with the 3hp electric motor, I had to be very mindful of the prop. After nosing around a little, I found a deeper channel that took me near the road. I pulled Poco, wading to shore in deep mud, and emerged at a sign we would see in other areas along the coast, warning of contaminated shellfish.

Just a few minutes’ walk down the road was Tor Bay Provincial Park.  It is open to the ocean to the south-east, and also has beautiful inland salt marshes.

It’s a small day-use park, with well-maintained boardwalks and it was free!  It was well worth the effort to get there. I love plants and found myself checking out every one along the path. Most species were familiar – just like those in wetlands back home in northern Ontario – but, every now and again, there would be something new and intriguing! A gorgeous and wild beach with crashing waves over sand and rock was a feast for the eyes and other senses.

Shirl had stayed on board, appreciating some solo time, but when I returned, I encouraged her to make the trek too.  The next day, she did join me for my second trip in, and this time, we avoided the mud by motoring ashore to the gorgeous sand beach just off our anchorage. I went on a hunt for road access, and sure enough, an ATV trail was just discernible through the muskeg-like vegetation and, as hoped, it did lead to the road.

En route to the park, we checked out what looked like an abandoned house that we had noticed from Ariose. 


It was indeed deserted, and was an interesting place to poke around. The house was in pretty good shape and there was an odd 30 year old Isuzu truck with Massachusetts plates beside an ancient barn. It’s always fun to think about the story behind such a house that probably held promise and witnessed a family’s lives, and to wonder what led to it being left behind. The yard was long since grown in with native vegetation. I then gave Shirley a tour of the Park. She agreed, it was a lovely little gem.

That afternoon, we hauled Poco up on deck once again, lashed it down, and got ready to head out early in the am. We used to often forego going to shore as lowering then raising our 120 pound Portland Pudgy dinghy seemed such an arduous task. With all our recent practise, the manoeuvre was getting easier.

Heading out of Tor Bay was one of our more spectacular mornings. The brilliant early morning moon in the west sky lighting our stern, and after pulling up the anchor,  we pointed Ariose eastward into the sun just rising over the horizon!

 These are the experiences that make sailing so worth it! We’ll include a video with this day’s start, and other clips, at the end of the post. There is a peace to end all peace and a wonder that puts your soul at ease. All is right with the world in those moments. 

We anchored that night in Holland Harbour, then a 6am departure next day, allowed us to anchor by 5pm for the night at Sutherland Island.

Despite us having agreed that we wouldn’t rush this last leg, that we’d enjoy the journey, Shirl felt impatient with our inching-along progress. The drive to “get there” seemed to overpower her desire to savour these last days aboard. I was fine with that. We still appreciated the special moments, like a burst of sunset capping off an otherwise stormy day.

There aren’t many opportunities to provision along this section of the coast. Sheet Harbour does have a grocery store and gas station within close proximity to the water, and we were due for fuel and groceries so headed up the inlet. As we were rounding Sheet Rock, a lighted shoal several miles out from the entrance to the harbour, I was in contact with my sister Cynthia and sent this picture to her!

It was really nice to share a part of our trip at the exact moment that it was happening.

The town has placed a few mooring balls, so we helped ourselves to one just off the back-end of a hardware store. Although the docks had been removed for winter, we rowed in, strolled through the “staff only” section of the store’s yard, receiving cheery “good mornings” from the workers. The famous Maritime friendliness abounded, from the chatty grocery cashier, to the elderly woman who,  noticing jerry cans beside Shirl while I was in paying for the diesel, pulled a u-turn to offer a ride.

We were thinking of staying here a couple nights but the wind was now forecast to allow us a brisk close reach, and we looked forward to an invigourating day! 

It  ended up, however, being a torturned sail with wind on the nose and not much progress, so after hours of zig-zagging, we decided to fire up the Yanmar and head in to an anchorage.  We picked a spot behind Cow Island.

Anchored at #77. Tim dinghied to Harbour Point, exploring ashore to Burnt Point and back.

We ended up staying here for 3 nights trying, with only marginal success, to shelter from strong winds. We were in the lee of a cluster of islands that seemed to cause a bizarre redirection of currents and swell. Steve and Lisa’s trick of bridling the anchor to angle Ariose saved the day. We took Poco down and I headed in to the eastern point of Clam Harbour Provincial Park. The waves were crashing on the rocky shore, but once I tucked in behind the point everything calmed right down and I was able to slide Poco up onto a smooth even rock, pull it up with the painter and tie it to a big boulder many times Poco’s size.

The rocks along this shore were endlessly variable from smooth and undulating to jagged and standing on edge. As I walked along, I looked for potential trails installed by the park. There were none, until I came to the opposite point where a trail was marked from the campground.  I took it. Every time I rounded a corner I’d ask myself, should I? Considering that the further I went, the longer it would be to get back. But, every time I countered with “maybe I’ll find another trail that loops back along the other side of this peninsula to take me back to Poco.”

Turns out that there was none, but the gorgeous beach that I “found”, about a kilometer long and a 100m wide, made up for that miscalculation. It was still well worth the several kilometre walk over sand, jagged rock, folded rock, boulders, wave worn rock, pebbles, around cliffs and back to Poco, still holding onto the giant, well, you guessed it rock,  I left it tied to. 

The tide always seems to be working against me when ashore, receding, leaving Poco far from the water, as it had again this time. Luckily, it was a slippery smooth rock slide back into the water and an easy ride back to Ariose. I missed not sharing this little side trip here with Shirl. The remaining 2 days there while we awaited better sailing conditions were soggy and cold with waves too robust to feel safe dinghying in again.  She lamented the chance to go to shore. (Shirley’s edit: Tim’s being kind.  Actually, I was hit with major cabin-fever and spent 2 days darkly moping.) But, these are the Days of Our Lives! sigh…….(Oops, did I just say that out loud?)

Eventually, we got back underway. We took a direct route along the off-shore buoys where at  5 nautical miles out, we could avoid the many shoals. The ocean on this day was spectacular. There was only the slightest breath of air, so we had to mainly motor. This was boating on hilly terrain, though, with swells coming from winds that were perhaps hundreds of miles away.  Waves were several metres in height, but with such widely spaced periods, they were just large rounded hills and valleys. We’d motor up-up-uphill, feel like we could see forever in the view from the top, then slide down-down-down before heading back up. Very gentle. All day.

We made our way across the open expanse of Halifax Harbour, all the way to Sambro, keeping an eye on our AIS for other vessels. After spending more than a month on the St.Lawrence River, often with a freighter in view, we had expected the same along this coast since Canso lock provides a short-cut for shipping, and we assumed Halifax Harbour to be a major port. After leaving the St. Lawrence, aside from occasional fishing vessels and a couple of other sailboats, we found that we were alone out there.

Lighthouses certainly help you feel less alone on the sea. We’ve seen so many along the way, and here in Sambro, yes, another.  There’s no mystery on why the road that snakes along this coast is known as the lighthouse route by the N.S. Tourism authority.

Net day, we glimpsed Peggy’s Cove, the iconic landmark, in the distance as we sailed across St. Margaret’s Bay. Its lighthouse remained but a little elf with its tiny red cap, surrounded with smooth rounded, barren rock. We were way too far out to appreciate it. We’ll visit Peggy in the next Ariose Note.

Then, before we knew it, the end of our voyage was just ahead. Back to Shirley:

There it was. The distinctive red/white fairway buoy that signifies safe water to mariners. Buoy “MA” guided us between Little Tancock Island and Sandy Cove Point, welcoming us into Mahone Bay, a gorgeous sailing area, and our final destination.  

Emotions for me, ran high, and like some of the seas we had sailed, they ran confused.   There had been days in the last weeks where I wanted nothing more than the voyage to be over, and to move on to whatever our next chapter would hold. And now, as we made our way to where we expected to haul, I was hit with waves of deep sadness and loss, conflicting with uplifting feelings of accomplishment. Watching Tim on this final approach, he seemed less affected. As usual, he whistled his way across the bay, enjoying the perfect conditions we had that day.  We even considered anchoring with the bay, just to extend our time a little longer. But the marina was expecting us, so we shouldn’t dally. And truth be told, I couldn’t shake a superstitious feeling that we would be tempting fate, that if we spent even one more night at anchor, something disastrous would happen. As a logical, fact-based thinker, that I was harbouring such irrational worries concerned me.

As we sailed into the bay, we both revelled in the gorgeous day with steady breeze. It really was a perfect day, and we wanted to hold the memory, the sensation, painfully aware that this could be our last sail on Ariose.  We’ll end there for now, and wrap up this voyage in our next Ariose Note.

Until then, if you’d like to sail along with us a little more, here’s some video clips … no high-seas, just some typical day-to-day sailing (& motoring) caught by Tim’s GoPro, mounted on the stern rail. Enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Final Leg: Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast”

  1. Tim, did you find any fossils on those layers of rocks? I’d have been running around splitting open some of those layers looking for fossils not worn away through water erosion. I really need to go fossil hunting.

    1. Yes in fact! Every once in a while i came upon an exposed layer that had interesting looking grooves and seamed very fossil like! I’l send you a picture.

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